Beautiful Venda

Rondevals and maize in Venda.

Rondevals and maize in Venda.

I had been asked by a fellow PCV in December if I could come facilitate a permagarden workshop at her site, which I quickly agreed to. I was a little worried because her site is quite far from mine, in an entirely different climate in SA: up in Venda, or northern Limpopo province.

Start of the workshop!

Start of the workshop!

Fun fact: during Apartheid, Venda (home of the Venda people) was one of the few regions that actually because a sovereign country. The Apartheid government intended to make several of these areas, but Venda was one of the few that were actually created and recognized as a sovereign nation. Due to this, the Venda culture is still very strong. Where I live in SA was also an independent homeland during Apartheid, Bophuthatswana….but the Tswana culture didn’t survive Apartheid as well as Venda did.

Completing the compost heap.

Completing the compost heap.

Anyways, I was delighted to travel to one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, and excited to garden in an area where things actually grow (unlike the Kalahari Desert). After approval with my APCD, I merged this workshop into a trip that would include a visit to a potential third year site, where one of the awesome SA24 PCVs live.

Takalani and her counterpart, Bruni.

Takalani and her counterpart, Bruni.

After a stop at my favourite backpackers in Pretoria (Khayalethu), I hopped on a bus up to Venda. The further north I went, the more lush and mountainous the landscape became. Finally, up near Louis Trichardt, I fell in love with Venda, its numerous mango trees, the intense green of summer, and the gently rolling mountains that contrasted sharply with my dry, flat, Kalahari home. I met up with Takalani, the PCV who I was helping.

Nearby students dancing....hard to talk over the drums and singing, but fun to watch anyways.

Nearby students dancing….hard to talk over the drums and singing, but fun to watch anyways.

The next two days were spent leading an intense permagarden workshop and drinking in the beauty of Venda. The workshop went very well, despite near constant translation, a cramped room, and interruptive culture dancing while we were working in the garden (ohhhhh Africa….it was still fun to watch). Despite my age, the people-adults and professionals who work in OVC drop-in centers all over Venda-were eager to listen and learn from me. A guy from the department of Agriculture attended the whole workshop and was excited to see the permaculture methods I was teaching. This is the second very positive experience with the Dept of Agric I’ve had while training, and I really hope to make some connections-they are amazingly supportive of permaculture, which makes me very happy!

Getting ready to plant seedlings.

Getting ready to plant seedlings.

A completed trench bed, with Takalani and the Dept of Ag guy next to her.

A completed trench bed, with Takalani and the Dept of Ag guy next to her.

At the end of the workshop, I knew a little more Venda and honestly didn’t want to leave the area. I’ve learned to see the beauty of the desert, but it was hard to leave the lush semi-jungle of Venda. However, I managed to travel via 4 (FOUR) bush taxis down to Southern Limpopo the day after the workshop to visit a potential third year site, but I think that deserves its own post.
-Jen

Wormery session.

Wormery session.

Sibasa, near Thohoyandou in Venda.

Sibasa, near Thohoyandou in Venda.

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Visiting Around

This is how I travel….squished in a hot kombi, always with an interesting variety of people and cute babies.

One of Tumi’s schools. It’s nice and green, at least!

One of our scrabble games

Me and the 2 puppies.

Sleeping puppy…awwww!!

The Gautrain station. Believe it or not, the Y-shaped metal thing is a bench. A very strange bench.

One of the fun parts about being a PCV is having the chance to visit other PCV’s sites. In my group, SA24, we all are in pretty rural villages, but our sites are all pretty different.  So over a long weekend or whatnot, it’s cheap and relatively easy to visit nearby PCVs, though most of our villages offer few things to do.

My school is interested in starting a Mathletes team, which 2 SA24 PCVs created in their schools.  In order to get the files and info from the PCVs to use at my school, I decided to make a 2 day visit to Tumi’s site, on my way into Pretoria for the Warden Training at the beginning of June.  I had wanted to visit her site for awhile, and this provided the perfect reason to go.

Tumi lives East of me, a wee bit closer to Pretoria, though she is still part of the Vryburg 7.  Her village is twice the size of mine in population, but insanely spread out.  It actually has a huge red salt pan that occasionally fills up with water in the rainy season, right in the middle of the village.  Her schools are both over 800 learners, which is a LOT, and she even has a new library and big tuck shops/stores in her village.  I was impressed.  🙂  But I am fairly easily impressed too.

We visited her schools, though most of the teachers weren’t there or weren’t teaching, which is apparently a very common problem for her.  We knocked off early because the learners were just cleaning the school and arranging desks for examinations the following week, rather than learning or revising for exams.  Before we left, we took the projector from one school and the scrabble board from the other to entertain ourselves that night.

Once we got to her home, her host Mom showed us two brand new puppies that she had bought to guard the house.  They were beyond cute, and we played with them a lot and let them fall asleep on our laps as we chatted.  That seriously made my day, and maybe even my week!

That afternoon and evening, we talked about Mathletes, played 4 games of Scrabble, and watched a movie using the projector on her wall, which was nice.  I had to get up relatively early the following day to catch a kombi to Mafikeng and then to Pretoria, and met up with another PCV who was headed to the training.  Mafikeng is a long ways from my site, so I had never been there.  But the other PCV showed me around to a mall and we had lunch, then got on a kombi to Pretoria.  Despite the construction on the N1N4 highways, the trip went fairly fast and we made it to PTA around 5pm.  After locating the Gautrain station, which is a swanky high speed rail system through PTA and JHB and has too few signs telling us where the station was, we took the train to Hatfield, where Khayalethu is.  We got pretty lost and literally wound up on the wrong side of the tracks, but we finally arrived at Khayalethu right as 2 other SA24 PCVs were.  And now we all get a week of wifi, good food, and showers, which I love.  Yay Warden training, nee?

-Jen

How Does a PCV Eat?

Believe it or not, I eat food here in SA, and I even cook my own food! However, considering the whole “living on the level of the locals” philosophy of the PCV living stipend, I eat fairly simply, though I will allow myself a few luxuries every now and then (mainly things like Coca Cola or chocolate).

Before I describe the things I tend to eat, I must first describe how I get food. Gone are the days of hopping in a car, driving to the store, and loading up a cart with weeks worth of food. Wow…that description just made me miss the ease of shopping in the US even more.

In my village, I can buy the bare basics: bread, beans, coffee, tea, etc. But not a whole lot more than that.

Remember-I live in a deep rural South Africa village. Anytime I need to buy food, and adventure begins.

Step 1: Get to the neighboring village where there are luxuries like transportation to other villages and larger shops that sell things like shoes and spices. This involves being really lucky to catch a ride to the town. Due to construction that is currently happening in between our villages, this pretty much doesn’t happen anymore. So instead I walk the 7km to the village, usually leaving before 7am to avoid the heat of the day.

Step 2: Once I get to the other village, I can buy a fair amount of food items (I just found this out last week). I can find milk, eggs, different soup packets, spices, baking supplies, etc. I still haven’t found a place to buy fruits and vegetables in my village or the next one, but I think there probably is a place somewhere.

Step 3: If I want to go whole hog and do some real shopping, I have two options: going to Ganyesa where there is a Shoprite grocery store that has just about everything I need. Or I can go to Vryburg, which has several stores, fast food places, clothing stores…well, all sorts of shops. No fancy things like malls or movie theatres, but I can buy almost anything I would need. The ride there nearly always involves waiting a while for the kombi to fill up, driving around the village looking for customers, returning to the taxi rank to pick more people up, slowly driving through the village looking for more people to shove in, and then blasting off to our destination.

Step 4: Go shopping and try not to buy too much.

Step 5: Find a taxi back to the nearest village. This is done in a kombi, or an 18 person van in varying states of disrepair. The music is nearly always blaring, the windows are not opened even if it’s crazy hot, and there are almost always more than 18 people in here. It can take 5 minutes or more than an hour to fill up, and you wait in the hot vehicle while vendors come to the windows and offer anything from ice cream (it was delicious) or bootleg CDs and software. You have to find a place to jam all your groceries, as does everyone else. By the time it fills up, there is normally a pile of groceries, bundles, buckets, etc piled precariously in front of the door. Then we bump and jiggle all the way to the nearest village.

Step 6: Try to convince the driver to take me clear to my village, which probably won’t happen. Otherwise get dumped out of the side of the road and catch a ride back home with the bakke taxis that infrequently go to my village. It could take awhile…So I sit on the side of the road next to other villagers and try not to look too out of place (yeah, right).

Step 7: Try to get the driver to take me directly home, which I either can’t communicate in Setswana or they won’t do. So I get dropped off at the entrance to my village and walk the kilometer or two home, with all my groceries.

Step 8: Stumble into my home, gulp down some cold water from my fridge, and collapse in exhaustion.

At some point I must carry all my groceries for some distance. I haven’t yet walked the 7km home with my groceries, but I probably will at some point. I take a backpack or drawstring bag and shove all the heavy stuff in there, so it works out fairly well. By the end of the journey, no matter where I go, how long it takes, or what I buy, I am almost always exhausted.
And I almost always fall asleep on the kombi, which is nothing short of a miracle!

Feeding myself is kind of a pain.
I’ll try to convince some pictures to post soon (I’ve tried, and my reception at site doesn’t agree with it).

-Jen

I Left the Tar Roads Back in Ganyesa

So, it is time to tell a bit more about my little village.  The nearest large town in Ganyesa, which is supposed to have around 50,000 people in it.  There is a grocery store or two, some places to buy clothes, and just about everything I will need, which is nice.  That means instead of traveling about 85km to my shopping town to get food, I can go about 30km out to get whatever I need-which is awesome.  However, that is where the tar roads stop.

From Ganyesa to my village there are only dirt roads, roads which might have had gravel 15 years ago, or possibly off the road completely. The villagers in my area rioted last year to get a tar road into my village and the surrounding ones, and after evacuating some PCVs (precautionary) and burning up some schools, the villagers won.  So now there is a massive construction project to build the tar road, which may or may not be done before I leave in 2013.  Such is life.  So there are many detours, one which actually left us rolling through the bush off the road completely.  That’s a classic PC/Africa moment.

Untarred roads are NOT fun to travel on.  I believe that if a baby went on a kombie on a dirt road, they would have shaken baby syndrome.  Seriously.  It’s jarring, bumpy, hot, squished inside a overfilled taxi-this is my mode of transportation.  It’s safe, but not fun.  However, it’s only about 20-30 minutes until we reach the tarred road, so it could be worse.  And I will have fun taxi stories to tell at the end of two years!

So, please, come visit!  But bring some tarred roads with you!

-Jen

A Whirlwind Week

The past week has been crazy busy with my Supervisor’s Workshop (Monday-Wednesday), my site visit (Thursday-Sunday), a day of travel (Monday), and a full day of training (Tuesday).  Boy!  I finally made it back home to my host family during PST, and I am glad.  I have really missed my host family this week, and know that leaving them in a week and a half will be hard.

Which brings me to an important point-I swear-in as a legit PCV in a week and a half?!  Wow!!  Time goes FAST!  I am beyond excited to actually be a PCV and start my service.  I visited the village I will be living in for the next 2 years, and I am excited!  It’s a TINY, deep rural village in the western part of Northwest Province, in the general area of Ganyesa.  That’s where my mailing address is.  Check my “mailing info” page for my new address and start using it ASAP, if you feel so inclined to mail me anything.  🙂  By the way, I got 7 letters today from 7 different people, so thank you to everyone who sent me mail.  I shall mail back, when I get stamps and postcards!

Since my village is deep rural, it’s a bit isolated.  I’m only 7km away from the nearest PCV, Sue, so that’s awesome.  But transport to her village can be hard to get.  Thus, I am getting a bike.  In part to get out of town and in part because my second school is about 5km away from my home so a bike is considered necessary for work.  Thus PC pays for it. 😉 Once I get to Sue’s village I can get a taxi very easily.

I will post in more detail tomorrow or the next day about my site, leaving the tar roads behind, hanging with current PCVs, and what life in my village is like.  But I’m beat tonight and am ready to hit the hay.

-Jen