Leaving this Place Better than Before, Part 2

Though I’m not yet leaving South Africa, I am moving from one site to another as I switch from my original assignment to my third year assignment.  In one way, I am finishing up my service and starting anew.  This past week, I attended the COS conference for my cohort, SA24.  Of the 57 of us who came to country, 47 made it to the end of service.  For SA, this is amazing….most cohorts lose far more than we did due to ETs.  45 of us were at our COS conference…two having already COS’d.  And while most of the information given at our COS conference won’t be relevant to me for another year, it was a time for reflection on what I’ve done so far.

Have I really left this place (my old village) better than it was before?

The Village.

The Village.

One of the things that is unique to SA is that just by being in my village for two years, I make a small impact.  Children and adults in my village were able to interact regularly with a white person-one who was learning their language, making efforts to honor their culture, and who tried to help them.  This certainly hadn’t happened to them before.  Children began to change their attitudes: instead of being terrified that a white lady was speaking to them, they began to laugh, then they stopped laughing and greeted me normally.  At the end, children would run up to me, gleefully shouting my name and greetings in English and Setswana.  Adults stopped averting their eyes and speaking Afrikaans to me, and instead happily jabbered at me in Setswana, or tested their shy English skills.  I scarcely heard “lekgoa!” being shouted at me as I walked through the village.  Women would stop and offer to help me carry my things, and men would help me find transport.

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Even if PCVs in SA do nothing else, we change the stereotypes.  We leave our villages a little bit better than they were before, no matter our race.

My host family.

My host family.

Yet there were a multitude of projects I wanted to start, and things I wanted to teach the children.  There were things I allowed to slip through my village, whether through exhaustion, frustration, or simply not knowing how to solve the unceasing problems.  I wanted to do many things: start a girls’ club, host a Camp GLOW, get funding for the garden club, reach out to more home gardeners, significantly improve English and NS scores, start a LoveLife, set up a library, focus more on HIV/AIDS nutrition, engage the community….and many more than I can’t even remember now.  It’s easy to set your goals too high and dwell on the things we failed to do.

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But I believe that every PCV leaves their home a little better than before.  It could well be that all of my projects have completely failed six months from now, and that the people in my village forget my name.  Maybe they’ll start to forget that I was ever there.  But small things will remain: the adorable Grade R who ran to greet me each day might vaguely remember how to plant seeds, my 13 year old host sister might have strong enough English skills to attend university someday, my counterpart may glance at the garden year plan we made from time to time, and the teachers might remember to take the learners outside every now and then and teach in the garden.  Or they might not.

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It was really hard to leave my old village behind.  I had invested a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears over the past few years.  Even though I saw my counterpart and the Garden Club learners take ownership of our garden, I didn’t want to let go.  I wanted to stay and see what they do next.  But I can’t.  And while I’m hoping to visit in 2014, who knows what the future holds.

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I hope and pray that I’ve left my old village a little better than before.  I doubt I’ll even know if and how, but as long as one little things changed, or one opinion shifted, then it was two years well spent.

Adios, my village.

Adios, my village.

-Jen

Term 1 Has Disappeared

As we all expected, the second year Peace Corps is flying by. Term 1 exams have commenced, summer is petering out into fall, and SA24 is looking at one full term of teaching (or not teaching) before most of us head home. Where has the time gone? Lucky me, I have a whole third year left to serve, so I’m not panicking about starting my real life yet.

But I’ve been incredibly busy this term! With the full support of my APCD, I’ve spent a fair amount of time outside of my village, doing permaculture workshops. Often times PC will discourage PCVs form being away from site often because we aren’t as effective at site. However, because I’m not a full time teacher and because I’ll be doing this work for my third year (and the rest of my life), PC has been pretty great about allowing me ample work leave during the school term. Because of this, I’ve done 3 workshops in 3 different provinces and have another planned for this weekend! Remember that travel here isn’t like travel in the USA, and realize that I am pretty darn pooped after all this traveling the facilitating!

But man do I love it. I’ve have 2 workshops planned for early next term as well, one if Northern Cape and one with PCSA staff in KwaZulu Natal. Talk about polar opposites: the Kalahari Desert versus some of the lushest land in Africa. 🙂

I’ve also had the chance to visit a potential third year site and spent a few days with a PCV friend in Limpopo. It’s been a pretty good term because I’ve seen dozens of PCVs from SA23, SA24, SA25, and even SA26. This is not usual for us far NW-NorCapers during a school term, so I’ve enjoy it and the several showers I’ve been able to take. Enjoying the small blessings for sure! I also was able to see my friend Sue and cajun, who work for Food and Trees for Africa, at a workshop last weekend, and I’ll see them again this weekend. So even though I lost Lorato and Tsiamo, the nearest PCVs to me, I’ve been able to see some friendly face. And…AND my father comes IN ELEVEN DAYSSSSSSS!!!!! (excited dance)

On the extension front-there are 2 potential sites in Limpopo, both were new groups are going to be placed. I visited the one village in February, and quickly came to love the village and the area. There are a lot of work-related issues at this site, but there is certainly potential for good work. Last week I was asked to submit a resume for another potential site (thankfully I had a mostly updated one done) and they seemed REALLY dedicated and hardworking. From the work description, it seems almost perfect, and is apparently in one of the most beautiful areas in South Africa, near Tzaneen. As one PCV put it “Tzaneen is seriously my favorite town in South Africa.” Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s in Tsonga/Shangaan area, and I’ve wanted to learn Tsonga since my first day in South Africa!

In short, I’m really pumped to serve for my third year, and wish I could start NOW! But I’ve got several trainings I need to do first! 🙂
-Jen

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Stopping by Bonolo’s Village

Nolie reading the the creche.

Nolie reading the the creche.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to host a workshop at another PCV’s school in the NorCape province. Since the workshop was to be Wed-Fri, I thought the weekend before would be a great time to visit another PCV who lives in the general area (aka province). So on Saturday, I hopped aboard the bus, visited Tsiamo in Ganyesa, had a hilarious encounter with a delightful Afrikaner family, caught a ride to Vryburg, then settled into the 3-4 hour ride to Nolie’s village.

After one of the most ridiculous bush taxi rides ever, I stumbled off the taxi in an oasis-like village. Nolie’s village has elevation, built along a ridge that once border a massive pond/lake, but which is now I dried up salt pan. There’s a cave there, though it was too hot to walk the 1.5 hours to), and bushveld which looks like a scene from the Lion King, which I pretty much have around my village. And there are lots of cool rocks, which my village certainly doesn’t have. It was nice to see a real NorCape village.

Bonolo’s village is a lot like mine in the sense that nobody speaks English. This is actually pretty rare in SA, and thankfully I know enough Setswana to handle this, after living in this reality for 1.5 years. Unlike my village, hers has cool rocks everywhere. I like rocks, can you tell? 🙂

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.

I was spending 2 full days in her village, before heading to the next village for the workshop. On Sunday we thought we might walk to the cave, or into the veld a bit…until we realized how hot it was. We lazed around all day, watching movies and sweating. Hello summer! The next day, we headed off to the crèche around 9am, which is a preschool. Nolie was starting to read with them for 10-15 minutes everday, just to introduce them to English. After her inspiration, I am doing the same in Grades R-3 at my school. The crèche kids were adorable, as most 3-4 year olds singing and listening attentively are.

Mma Bonolo in English class.

Mma Bonolo in English class.

Helping learners answer some NS questions.

Helping learners answer some NS questions.

After we read and sang, we headed off to the school, just in time for Nolie’s classes. She’s a real teacher here, responsible for English and NS in her multigrade 6-7 class. She’s set a beautiful classroom, and her kids were pretty great, considering it was the first week of school. I took lots of photos that she could have of her teaching and in the classroom, and was impressed by how well she handled her class. I joined PC and found out I am NOT a teacher, but some people find out they are great teachers. Mma Bonolo is one such person, even if she hasn’t realized it.

I took some clippings from a few succulents in her garden to grow back in my village, and shared a few seeds I had along with me, as well as some tips for her garden counterpart. After school, the learners ran home to get their traditional clothes and did some great dances for me. I certainly felt like a guest of honor. All the kids seemed bummed to hear that I was leaving the next day, and I really hope to visit again.

Boys dancing.

Boys dancing.

The next morning I woke up early and found a taxi to Kuruman, ready for the workshop the next day! The first taxi I was in was the most full I’ve ever been in-the 14 person kombi has 24 people in it, only 2 of which were kids. Me, 4 adults, and a baby were shoved into the back seat. Thankfully we reshuffled about 20-30 minutes, and some people got out. Crazy!
-Jen

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Girls dancing.

Girls dancing.

This boy was particularly awesome.

This boy was particularly awesome.

CAPS LOCK!!

One of the biggest cultural difference (yes, I attribute this to culture, read on) I face is the use of Caps Lock. Caps Lock is the scarcely used button on the left side of the keyboard of most Americans. When accidentally pressed, it automatically means yelling. In South Africa, that aspect of computer culture was never taught.

What I mean to say is, Americans interpret All Caps as yelling, which is a cultural phenomenon. In SA, there is no indication of All Caps relating to yelling. In fact, many people consider it professional and nice looking. So when sometimes sends me a message “HELLO HOW ARE YOU? I HOPE YOU HAD FUN ON THE HOLIDAYS”, I mentally think that this personal is literally yelling at me. In my mind, I hear them hollering through a long corridor at the top of their lungs. A South African sees nothing unusual in this text. Of course, some people write in All Caps, so why shouldn’t they type in All Caps?

I actually get really stressed when people start writing in All Caps. I can’t help but read it as yelling, an innate part of who I am and the culture I was raised in. Department memos, examinations, enrollment charts, circulars….you name it, it probably has All Caps sprinkled throughout the paper. All day long I am surrounded by yelling text. I’ve tried to communicate that this is not professional nor is it good computer etiquette, and my principal told me “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” As in, I should just shut up and type everything in All Caps.

I can’t do it. I despise the Caps Lock button. I get angry when someone has used it and then left my computer, so when I start typing I end up yelling at myself through text. Not pleasant. No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot overcome this cultural difference.

Nor do I want to. I’m sorry, All Caps seriously is not professional. I know people here use it because they weren’t training in typing, so it is easy to press Caps Lock than hitting shift whenever they need to make a capital letter. But still, shift isn’t THAT hard! And it looks so much better! And it’s something I focus on in typing lessons with the educators at my school.

GOOD BYE MY FRIENDS! (See, it seems like I am yelling, right?)
-Jen

Gratitude: Day 15, 16, and 17

Day 15: As far a PCV living quarters go, I have it pretty good, and I’m thankful.  I have a nice, big room with a fairly new ceiling and a window or door on every wall.  That means I can almost always get a cross breeze.  Some PCVs are in tiny rooms and can hardly host one other PCV, and some only have 1 or 2 windows, and I have to imagine their rooms are boiling how right now.  My living quarters aren’t perfect: sometimes chunks of the wall fall down in my kitchen area, I get wind scorpions on occasion, my electricity is not stable, and I don’t have running water.  But I do have a yard tap (can’t drink from it, but can use it for all my washing needs), which means I don’t have to haul a wheelbarrow to a communal tap.  Some PCVs have their own houses, or two-three rooms, but my room serves me just fine and gives me enough room to stay sane!  For that, I am thankful!

 

Day 16: I never thought I would say this, but I’m thankful for burglar bars.  What with the crime rate in SA and the fact that I have more wealth in my room than almost everyone in my village, I am a target for crime.  But with my windows and door secured with burglar bars, I feel safe.  I feel secure at night, when I hear drunk men hollering outside.  Someone could still break in if they wanted, but they’d have to cut through my roof, and my host family would probably notice.  I am very grateful for the peace of mind my burglar bars give me.  Also, I can lock my burglar door to keep curious family members out while still having a nice breeze.  Another added benefit. 🙂

 

Day 17: I am thankful for the motivation of the school’s garden workers.  Without the garden project, I probably would’ve thrown my hands up in frustration by this point.  Most of my work is with the school garden, and it’s having an impact on my community.  It makes me happy to see a patch of brilliant green when I walk to school, and I love purchasing veggies from the garden to support the project.  Seeing the joy on kids’ faces when they get to help in the garden is one of the best rewards of my life.  And visiting villagers to see their new home gardens made me want to cry for joy.  The garden project has been an incredible part of my service, and to have such dedicated and hardworking gardeners and educators has been a true blessing.

-Jen

They Will Bite Me and I Will Go to Heaven

Worms! This is one BRAVE girl!

Worms! This is one BRAVE girl!

The title of this post was something one of the garden workers told me awhile back. We weren’t talking about fierce creatures, like snakes, lions, or vicious-flesh-eating-ants. We were talking about….earthworms.

I started a wormery at school in September, and I underestimated how terrified people are of worms here. In the US, some kids will be squeamish about worms, and a few adults will have nothing to do with them. But any gardener worth their weight in compost LOVES worms, and would love to have some in their garden.

Don’t get me wrong, my counterpart was excited to have a wormery. But if she even saw a worm, she’s scream and occasionally run out the door. I found about 2 adults that will stand to touch them. The kids are a little better about it, but when I pass worms around to a class, one inevitably ends up on the ground, quickly rescued by me before hoards of trampling feet claim it. The boys squeal as much as the girls.

Tswanas equate worms with snakes, and do not trust me when I tell them they aren’t. I explained that worms have no teeth, worms cannot bite, and worms are not snakes in Garden Club today, and the club chanted after me in Tswana smiling. Apparently I’ve said this to them more than once!

The good news is that the more I handle worms, the more the kids are willing to touch them. They think I’m less crazy as time goes on, I guess. I had a Garden Club meeting today where kids made their own wormeries to understand how worms turn stuff into compost, so the kids had to face their worm fears. When I took out my camera, most of the squeals turned into smiles, so this is now my secret weapon. Want a picture? Touch a worm!

I even got my counterpart to touch (TOUCH!) a worm today!!! Big BIG big deal!!
-Jen

Preparing the wormery.

Preparing the wormery.

Handed out worms and terrified the girls (esp girl on the right-face of terror!)

Handed out worms and terrified the girls (esp girl on the right-face of terror!)

Honestly, I have no clue what was going on here. These kids are nuts.

Honestly, I have no clue what was going on here. These kids are nuts.

Gratitude: Day 9 and 10

Day 9: The longer I work in South African schools, the more thankful I am for the education I received. I was a public school kid from Iowa, which is one of the better states for education. All throughout my school years I had teachers that challenged me, encouraged me, and helped me realize what my goals in life are. The worked hard to make sure I received the best education they could offer, and for that I am especially grateful. A few teachers have stood out as role models and are a large part of who I am today: my 2nd and 5th grade teachers who taught me how to love writing, my 5th and 6th grade science teacher who encouraged my experimentation and while theories, my TAG teacher from 7th-12th grades who showed me how to think outside the box and helped me through some difficult year, and my high school English and Calculus teachers who challenged me to my limits and helped me grasp concepts I thought I would never understand. Every teacher I had cared about ME, not about my test scores or grades, but about me, as a person. They went beyond the call of duty to give me something priceless: a quality education. Then I went to college, where I spent 4 years learning from some brilliant minds, some of whom are as much friends as professors. They taught me how to have a holistic education, one which crossed academic boundary lines and was truly interdisciplinary. That’s how I wrote my Spanish senior thesis on the effects of the EU’s climate policies on Spain’s renewable energy market, and my political science senior thesis on incorporating the local food movement into university dining halls. My education is far from complete, and even now I’m studying for the GRE in hopes of starting grad school in a few years. But my education is one of the things I am most grateful for.

Day 10: My Blackberry has been a vital tool in my service, and I am extremely thankful for it. Who knew that I’d join the Peace Corps and get my first smartphone? Seems counterintuitive! Now, we could make jokes about whether blackberries are even smartphones anymore, but in SA they are pretty much the top of the line. IPhone what?! Some PCVs get down on those of us who have blackberries, calling us Posh Corps and making jokes about how we are always on them. But honestly, the connectivity the blackberry provides has been invaluable in South Africa, what with the First World-Third World reality. There are practical reasons, like unlimited internet for R60 on my BB (like $8), and FREE BBM. BBM is amazing because over 40 of the 49 of us have blackberries, so I can message them for free. That has saved my sanity over the past year, and has allowed me to support other PCVs as well. Access to the internet via computer in my village is almost impossible because the signal is so weak, but on my BB it works decently. That means I can (and do) a lot of research for classes and the garden, allowing me a vital resource that wouldn’t exist otherwise: the World Wide Web. And keeping in contact with people back home via facebook, twitter, and this blog has HELPED me achieve Peace Corps’ Third Goal. Cool, right? So don’t get down on me for having a smartphone in the Peace Corps, because it has notably improved my service.
-Jen