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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International Permaculture Design Course

Session time! Outside under a tree!

Session time! Outside under a tree!

Back in October, I decided I wanted to enroll in an 11 day Permaculture Design Course (PDC) during the December holidays. Since I want to continue with permaculture as a career, the PDC gives me the certification I need to do so, and would make me a legitimate Permaculture Designer. Fun, right?

So right before the school term ended, I hopped on a bus to PTA (where I randomly met two other PCVs from my cohort), then on to Joburg. The course was held about an hour outside of Joburg, in a rural area. I chose to attend the International PDC through Food and Trees for Africa, which is the organization that also hosted the EduPlant school gardening competition. All the winning schools were able to send 1 educator to the course, so the PDC was geared towards using permaculture in education.

I was able to meet people from all over SA, and even 2 from Lesotho and one from Egypt. I learned a lot more greetings in SA languages, particularly the Nguni languages (Ndebele, Zulu, Xhosa, Swati), and practiced some of the greetings I hadn’t used since PST (Venda, Tsonga, Afrikaans). It was pretty amazing to be exposed to some many different cultures, and to be able to communicate somewhat in their languages. One day I did part of a summary in Tswana, to gales of laughter and loud applause. Communicating to people in their mother tongue is a powerful thing.

I learned an incredible amount of information at the PDC. I went in thinking I knew a fair amount about permaculture-HA! Hahaha! Not even close! I learned so much that my brain almost turned to mush, but it was pretty awesome. The previous permaculture trainings I had attended really discussed permaculture only in relation to garden. But the PDC addressed the lifestyle of permaculture, from Earth building to permakitchens.

Workshops in SA are very different that workshops in the USA. I thought that since many different cultures were represented, it would run more like a workshop in the States. And in a few things, we did. We kept to a schedule fairly well, and cell phones ringing during the session was not acceptable. But the different cultures were truly embraced throughout the course, not removed from the equation. Singing, dancing, prayers, more singing and dancing, poetry, stories…..this is how we would begin after our breaks. We even sang “Away in a Manger” in some language. I spent breaks learning Xhosa tongue twisters, speaking Setswana, and seeing what the Rainbow Nation is truly like. I saw a future picture of South Africa-one which rarely exists now, but shows us the promise of what could be.

I was told before I went that attending a PDC would be life changing, and it’s true. I look at the world a little bit differently, and I’m more inspired to figure out how the Lord wants me to use my permaculture knowledge. And it made me a lot more excited about my options for a third year, and showed me the breadth of permaculture projects that exist around the nation.

For the “talent show” at the end of the course, I wanted to share what living in SA meant to me. So I chose to write a poem in Setswana, which I will post. It’s a little cheesy, but hey, my Setswana only goes so far. And it was appreciated by the other participants.

“Mo lefatshe la rona,
Go na le bothata.
Batho ba bua, fela
Ga ba reetsa.
Bath oba ituta, fela
Ga ba itse.
Batho ba bereka, fela
Ga ba tlhokomele.

Lefatshe la rona le a bobola,
Le kopa thuso.
Re tswanetse go reetsa.

Jaanon, re a change.
Re tswanetse go improva.
Le Permaculture, re kgona…
Re kgona go thusa,
Re kgona go reetsa,
Re kgona go tlhokomela.”

Translation:
“In our world,
There are problems.
People speak, but
They do not listen.
People learn, but
They do not know.
People work, but
They do not care.

Our world is sick,
It asks for help.
We must help.

Now, we are changing.
We must improve.
With Permaculture, we can…
We can help.
We can listen.
We can care.”

So if anyone wants a permaculture design for your yard, school, or place of work, you know who to contact! 😉
-Jen

Salads we made during the permakitchen session.

Salads we made during the permakitchen session.

Dance time!

Dance time!

Working on my design!

Working on my design!

MST

Upon my return to SA, I went back to the middle of MST-Mid Service Training. MST is 40% celebration that we lasted so long, 45% medical and dental checkups to make sure PC isn’t killing us, and 15% sessions on somewhat relevant information. It’s also kind of a PC-paid vacation, so thank you taxpayers of America! Actually, it’s really low key, and we stayed at a backpackers in Pretoria and not in a nice resort, like at IST and COS. So thank you a little bit, taxpayers of America. 🙂 Although I was horribly jet lagged and utterly exhausted, I arrived at the backpackers around 11am and immediately was inundated with “JENNNN!!! YOU’RE BACK!!!! *hugs galore* How was America?!?!” I love my SA24s!! I had brought back Reese’s PB cups for everyone, and made myself quite popular when I began handing them out!

I missed nearly all the sessions because I had been gone for the first two days of MST. However, the important part is the medical and dental checkup, where I received good and bad news. I was declared worm-free (yay!) but was told I have to have a wisdom tooth take out (ugh). That’ll happen before the end of the month, when I have to travel back to Pretoria (ugh) but get showers (yay!).

MST was mainly a nice time to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen for months and relax a bit before heading back to site. I managed to travel back to Vryburg with 3 other PCVs, and one of them and I ended up staying at a guest house for one night in Vryburg before headed back to site. It was nice and we enjoyed getting one last shower!

I caught a ride back to Kudunkgwane with my principal Monday morning, and spent a long, tired day back at school before I got to go home and unpack. The first week back was hard because I was exhausted from all my traveling and battling flu-like side effects from my Hep A shot. But all is well now, and I am enjoying village life once again!

Some of the PCVs I saw at MST I probably won’t see again until COS, the Close of Service conference in May. How crazy is that?! COS will be the last time SA24 is all together, ever. Sad!
-Jen

How to Make a Trench Bed

Let's learn how to build a trench garden bed (sometimes called lasagna bed)!

Let’s learn how to build a trench garden bed (sometimes called lasagna bed)!

The steps where you add organic materials don’t have to be in any specific order, nor do you have to use these exact materials. Just use what you have!

First take out the topsoil, which is darker in color and goes down about 15cm (here at least).

First take out the topsoil, which is darker in color and goes down about 15cm (here at least).

Then dig down another 30-85cm, and put the subsoil in a different pile.

Then dig down another 30-85cm, and put the subsoil in a different pile.

Then add some sticks and rusty, crushed tin cans to your bed, which add iron to the soil.

Then add some sticks and rusty, crushed tin cans to your bed, which add iron to the soil.

Tear up some paper and toss it in the hole.

Tear up some paper and toss it in the hole.

How many people can YOU fit in a trench bed? (not a necessary step, fyi)

Then add fruit peelings and vegetable waste. NO meat or cooked foods, and few citrus peels, please!

Then add fruit peelings and vegetable waste. NO meat or cooked foods, and few citrus peels, please!

Then add cardboard, nicely torn up.

Then add cardboard, nicely torn up.

Sprinkle in a little old manure-it should not smell. If it does, it is too new.

Sprinkle in a little old manure-it should not smell. If it does, it is too new.

Add some dried grass. Green grass will take nitrogen from plants first, so use dried grass.

Add some dried grass. Green grass will take nitrogen from plants first, so use dried grass.

Add water.

Add water.

Shovel ALL the subsoil in the hole.

Shovel ALL the subsoil in the hole.

Shovel ALL the topsoil on top. The bed should be raised above the surface now.

Shovel ALL the topsoil on top. The bed should be raised above the surface now.

Make rows and plants. Then mulch! An now you are done.

Make rows and plants. Then mulch! An now you are done.

Alphabet Soup

Being a government agency, PC relies heavily on acronyms.  When I am blogging, I try to type them out so it is less confusing to y’all, but we’re gonna have fun today.  Typing them out is so much worse.

Last July, I wandered into PST in SA as a starry-eyed, innocent PCT.  After weeks of language training with our LCF and LCCs, lectures from the SSC and PCMOs, and various meetings with the APCDs, POs, and the CD, the PCSA training staff finally decided we were good enough to become PCVs, which was awesome.  Not gonna lie, the CD and DPT were kind of scary, but we survived.  Of course, we them had “lockdown” for three months, which was broken up with calls from our VSN mentor, my APCD, and a short visit from the PO.  After we finally felt like we knew what we could do in the SCRP program, we headed to IST in PTA.  We met SA21, the CHOP PCVs who were in PTA for their COS.  Our IST had the LST portion incorporated it, so we were required to being an HCN counterpart for the HIV/AIDS-focused LST.  After the counterparts left, we had elections for VSN, VAC, and Diversity Committee, then headed off to our first vacation with the blessings of our APCDs and POs.  In the past few months, we’ve gotten to meet some RPCVs and PCRVs, who are a great source of knowledge.  And now I feel semi-qualified to offer advice to the SA26 SCRP group as they prepare for PST.

 

This is kind of how PC works.  This shows only a small portion of the acronyms that exist, and they literally gave us a handbook with acronyms and their meanings at PST.  Even so, meeting with PCSA bigwigs can be a little confusing because they throw out random acronyms left and right.  I learned a few new ones this week: PCSSO, RSO, and CIRS, which all have to do with Safety and Security stuff.  And I got a kick at the first day of PST when we were handed the COTE: Calendar of Training Events.  Yes, that was a real acronym.

 

Nothing like the US Government to acronym the heck out of something.  I just pretend I learned a new language.

-Jen

Week in Photos (02/06-08/06)

Some pics from my stay in Pretoria…hello First World.

Map of PCVs. I’m off the the left-hand size, where not a lot of PCVs are.

PCVs working, and the PST schedule for SA26 in the back. Lots of flipchart paper and post-its. PC at its finest!

PCVs working up updated the map. It was a little sad popping out the pins of the PCVs who ET’d.

Easter Dinner: 3 pieces of fish, 2 hotdogs, 2 brats, a two liter of coke and an order of chips…

Helloooooo First World! A super nice (and cheap) restaurant.

Mixing Cohorts

Because of the size of South Africa, training groups (cohorts) don’t always mix much with other training groups.  My cohort is SA24, and currently in country are PCVs from SA22, SA23, and SA25, along with a handful of SA20 and SA21.  In about a month, SA26 will arrive, and SA22 will be leaving by September.  But at any given time, there are 4 SA cohorts.  You would think there’s a lot of opportunity to mix cohorts and meet volunteers from different groups, but for a few reasons that doesn’t always happen.

 

During PST, PCVs gain a close bond with other PCVs in their cohort, and during the first 3 months at site, we are not allowed to travel.  Around half of us are in North West or Northern Cape, and besides 3 PCVs, only SA24s are stationed in those provinces.  So half of us couldn’t meet up with other PCV cohorts, even if we wanted.  The ones in Limpopo have other cohorts around, but are still clustered around shopping towns of SA24 PCVs.  So for our first 5 months in country, we had few opportunities to meet PCVs from other cohorts.

 

This week, at Warden Training, I’ve been lucky to meet and get to know a few PCVs from other cohorts, and it’s been wonderful.  Thought we are different “ages” in PC/in different points of our service, we can easily relate to each other and there is a camaraderie between us naturally that is kind of rare. PCVs are a unique breed.  It’s been fun learning from them, swapping stories, and catching up on all manner of PCV gossip.  It’s been the first time that I’ve been able to mix with other cohorts much, and it’s been a lot of fun.  I wish SA was a bit more like other countries where PCVs from different cohorts were able to hand out more, but SA is a huge country and has 150-200 PCVs at any given time.  We get new training groups in twice a year, so things are always happening and changing.  SA has a crazy high ET rate, which means “older” cohorts are often dwindling in size.  And as there are two different programs, SCRP and CHOP, there are two pretty different sets of PCVs and projects going on.

 

But when we can get together, it’s a blast.  And I get to learn new things about PTA from the older training cohorts.  🙂

 

I’m just leaving all these acronyms for you to figure out.  At training today, there was a slide that had CD, PCMO, PCV, OMS, RSO, PCSSO, and CIRS on it…and I knew almost all of them.  By the end of my service, I’ll be set to work in the government!

-Jen