The Saga of the Leaky Roof

So, it seems that the “Saga of the Leaky Roof” is nearly at an end. Praise the Lord!

Yesterday my APCD was up to visit from Pretoria, which ended up being perfect for two reasons: one being a grant I’m writing that she needs to look over, and the other being my leaky roof that I need fixed. You might remember a post or two on this whole leaking roof thing (actually, I thought I had written two posts about it already, only to go back and find none), and it has caused me a considerable amount of stress over the last few weeks. Last night I was up until 2am dealing with an internal deluge of rain.

So my roof leaks. Not a drip-drip trickle. A constant downpour of water from a wooden beam, numerous drip-drip-DRIP-PLUNK leaks, and crying walls. It takes 2 containers and three basins to manage this, one being my huge laundry/bath basin. It means disrupted nights and preoccupied days. And a constant worry about when the next rain is coming. Even now, the sky is filling with clouds. Sigh.

We had a guy over last week to fix the holes. He got up on the roof and laughed. It seems that my roof dips in the middle, causing water to collect there and eventually pour into my room. Sometimes over my bed. Without taking off and essentially replacing the whole room, it’s unfixable.

However, yesterday I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. My APCD came and checked it out, and we decided I would move. A whole 10 meters to the rondeval next to my room!

A rondeval is a circular thatched roof house that is what most people envision houses in Africa to be. I’m actually kind of excited to move into it. Because the roof is high up and thatched, it’s quiet, doesn’t leak, and is COOL in the summer (praise the Lord again). It’s huge, and just a cool place to live. Some small repairs have to be done before I move in, and burglar bars have to be installed. But hopefully over the weekend a good portion of that can be done.

No more leaky roof. It’s somewhat of a trade-off because I might get more critters in the rondeval (spiders, mosquitos, lizards, and bats), but I can handle those. If anything, they make for very interesting (blog) stories!


Visiting the Clinics

Though I’ve been in South Africa for over 2 years, I’ve never really been to a clinic. I think I went to one once, during a visit to my permanent site over 2 years ago, and met with the “matron” or head nurse. Then again, that was an insane weekend and I don’t really know where all I went. I vaguely remember visiting a sick relative of my principal in a hospital at one time (one of the most awkward experiences of my service….”Hello half dressed, very ill man. I’m a young white woman who can’t speak your language, who has come to sit in the corner and stare awkwardly not-quite-at-you”), and I went to a hospital once to hand out teddy bears to babies with another volunteer (another awkward experience involved scarcely clothed, breastfeeding women and adorable babies). Those were nice facilities in larger villages that were technically hospitals and not clinics.

Now I live next to a clinic. I have since July, and still haven’t gone. If I get sick, I’ll go to the private hospital in town, not the clinic next door. Seems insane? I thought so too, until I went there.

Have you seen movies of overflowing, run down clinics in The Middle of Nowhere, Africa? That’s about what the clinic was like. The facilities were old, but in good condition. However the waiting room was packed with narrow benches without backs, on which sat many old women and babies, squished together as much as humanly possible. The line of (almost exclusively) women and babies stretched down the hall, and women sat on the floor, waiting their turn which was unlikely to come for hours.

I went into what appeared to be an examination room to meet with the “matron” about starting a gardening programme at the clinic, and a huge box of medicines sat on a rickety old table, and medical supplies lined the wall. Everything was chaotically arranged, and I can only imagine what it must be like to take inventory.

I went to another clinic, which was much larger. The wait line was smaller, but the same scene awaited me at the waiting area, just with less women. The rooms were still roughly organized, and women appeared to be crammed together in one examination room I passed (perhaps they were family).

These are public clinics, supported by the government and at little to no cost to the people who seek services there. I hate that I would go to a modern facility in town because I can afford to take advantage of the private services. I hate that inequality has created a system where the people that most need medical help get substandard services.

Yet at the same time, it’s wonderful that my village has a functioning clinic, one which is being used and helping to curb the HIV/AIDS and TB crisis in this country. They are likely understaffed, underfunded, and under-equipped, but the clinics are doing great work.

Pension Day

In South Africa, anyone over a certain age (somewhere in the 60s, I think) receives a pension.  I’m not 100% sure if only families living below the poverty line get it, or if everyone does, but for all intents and purposes, everyone in my village gets a pension.  It’s delivered to a specific spot in any given village one day a month, paid out in cash, and I believe it’s R1200 ($120).  In my village, it’s given out in a few places, including across the street from my center, at the tribal office, and in a bushy area down by the river.

The food security project I work with often sells at the pension market, and I asked if I could go this week.  Even though I’ve been in South Africa for two years, it was never feasible to go.  In my old village, it was on the other side, which is a 5km walk from my school.  So I’d have to miss school and walk 10km roundtrip, and I knew I wouldn’t buy much if I had to go.  But I’ve been wanting to go to see a pension market for a long time.

It’s a cross between a farmer’s market and a flea market, with a good dose of rural Africaness added in for good measure.  In other words, it’s utter chaos, but in a good way.  We pulled up with our bakke full of beetroot, green pepper, and spinach a little while before they were paying out, but there was already a good crowd there, and we started selling right after we parked.  Picture it: a beat up old bakke full of fresh veggies pulled onto the dirt along a tarred road, women sitting on bits of cardboard nearby, selling all manner of goods, chattering away in Tsonga.

I got a lot of looks, but far fewer than imagined.  For laughs, I’ll let you know what I looked like: a young white lady in a nice knee length skirt, white cardigan, and mary jane shoes….I came straight from work and was a little overdressed.  Oops.  And I forgot my hat and/or umbrella.  Double oops.  Most of the women were in some form of traditional dress, so I definitely looked more out of place than usually.  But it was all good!

We stayed there for a few hours (in the hot, hot sun), and sold almost everything, which was very encouraging.  I bought a few avocados and bananas, and enjoyed seeing what was all for sale.  Next month I plan to bring my new site mate to the market.  They sell everything, and for really good prices: all sorts of produce, steel wool cleaning pads, ice cream, live chickens, tobacco, mealie meal, sugar, minchekas and xibelani skirts, beadwork, buckets, basins, mopani worms, funeral plans, life insurance, achar, vetkoeks, biscuits….so much stuff, and I didn’t even leave the bakke.  I only saw a small portion of the market!!

I had an unpleasant experience with a very irate gentleman, and my race probably added insult to injury.  He wanted us to move our bakke because we were in his friend’s spot (there aren’t assigned spots…mass chaos, remember?), and I couldn’t, and my counterpart was away looking for avocados.  I didn’t have the keys, but it was also unreasonable for him to ask.  Mind you, his friend wasn’t even there.  It put me in the awful position of having to reinforce some racial stereotypes, which made me feel awful.  Though his cussing me out didn’t make me feel any better.

Overall, it was a great day, and I really enjoyed seeing the market.  I definitely got a kick out of the women I’d see carrying live chickens tucked under their arms….guess what’s for dinner.  I look forward to going back, and I might just buy myself some traditional beadwork or a xibelani skirt.  But probably not a live chicken.  And, we sold quite a bit of produce, which supports our food security project!

Morning Commute

I’m officially a commuter, again.  It’s been a few years since I’ve had to endure the morning commute.  The most I’ve had to deal with during my walks to school in the village was weaving through the congested cow traffic.  Seriously.

But as of last week, having officially moved from one village to the next village over, I’m a commuter.  This morning I walked out my front door with my travel mug of coffee, went out the gate, and waited for a ride to the next village over.  It reminded me of my semester living in Washington, DC, oddly enough.  There, I left my apartment and either walked 2 blocks to the metro, or took a shuttle to Union Station to catch the bus.  Usually I took the bus because it was half the price, although much longer timewise.

Really, nothing about my new morning commute should remind me of commuting in the capital of the Good Ole US of A.  I stood on the dusty sidewalk along the tarred road, greeting learners on their walk to school.  I watched a cow cause a traffic jam as I waited about 15 minutes for a junky bush taxi to come by, then hopped on for the short ride.  I passed my 7 rand fare up to the driver when I hopped out, then walked across the road to the the Xitsavi centre.  In DC, I waited alongside other interns, DC professionals, tourists, and homeless people at Union Station for the bus.  The distance I rode (a few miles) was the same as I’m taking here, but it usually took an hour as we chugged through DC traffic.  I usually read on my kindle during the ride, snatching up a seat if possible, but often standing.  Ironically enough, my bus dropped me off outside the Peace Corps HQ, and I walked a block to my internship.

I am enjoying my new morning commute, as it gets me more visible in the community, and the taxi drivers will soon know who I am.  And it’s nice to be in a more professional work setting than I have been the past two years.  I’m sure some days I’ll hate my morning commute (rainy season, anyone?) or fail to have the correct change.  But for now, it’s nice to be out and about so early in the morning, interacting with the community and learning how to navigate the taxi system in my new village.  Believe it or not, it’s quite different than in my old village!


A Long Awaited Vacation

Sorry for my absence for the past few weeks.  There are two good reasons: the demise of my blackberry, and the arrival of my DAD in South Africa!!  Dad came for about 8 days, and we managed to pack a LOT of stuff into those few days, which left no time for blogging.  I’ll probably write a few posts about our trip, so this one doesn’t

My host family.

My host family.

become insanely long.

Dad flew in on the 23rd of March, and I stopped by Spar in Hatfield to buy him a few Mountain Dews and hopped aboard the Gautrain to meet him at the airport.  I had to wait almost a whole 1.5 hrs for him to walk through the gate, and when he did, this was our conversation:

Dad: I have to go through customs.  Where is customs?

Jen: You just walked past customs.

Dad: No, I have to go through customs.  There was a sign.

Jen: Yeah, and the sign pointed to the counter and you walked through the exit.  Let’s go before they realize you skipped customs.

Dad: What?

The NEW tar road TO my village.

The NEW tar road TO my village.

Joburg customs is a joke.  We found our rental car, and I had a lot of fun watching him get used to driving a car where “everything is backwards”.  He did pretty well at staying on his side of the road….that day.  We made it to Pretoria before sunset, and grabbed some pizza at my favorite backpackers, Khayalethu.  He got to meet a TON of PCVs, many of whom were excited to meet him because meeting parents is just fun.  We hit the hay early for a long drive to my site the next day.

After a mishap with my new phone’s alarm, we started only about half an hour late, and I only got us a little bit lost.  Or drive was a little longer than expected because I was getting used to my new phone, and got us a little lost a few times, but not horribly lost.  In desperation we stopped at Wimpys for breakfast at around 10am.  I had forgotten how horrible Wimpys food is, and apparently had just gotten used to it.  They brought out the plates and Dad took one bite….then I remembered how awful the food really is.  His face was quite hilarious though.

Kids in the village.

Kids in the village.

100_1512After an uneventful drive….well uneventful for Africa which meant driving through an active construction zone….we made it to Vryburg, which Dad immediately announced as sketchy.  We stopped and bought an insane amount of groceries as we had a car, then I took over the wheel and drove to my village.  That was really exciting, to DRIVE into my village.  We had several conversations like this:

Dad: Now those, are those houses for animals?

Me: No, those are houses for people.

Dad: No, those short ones with the metal.  Those can’t possibly be people houses.

Me: Those are houses for people.

People Houses.

People Houses.

Soccer time.

Soccer time.

The Tuck Shop.

The Tuck Shop.

We stopped at my school, toured the garden, then I drove happily to my house, waving to my surprised host family.  Dad had fun meeting them, me acting as the translator, and giving them little gifts from America.  We went on a walk to the edge of my village, stopped by a soccer game, and went to the village shop to buy cold drink aka Coke.  Then I cooked up a dinner as he slept, then wandered around my yard asking too many questions and taking a ton of pictures.  It was a nice night in the village.  Of course, a rain storm blew in, knocked the power out, and we spent some time chatting by candle light.  He got the full African Village experience!  Some people pay money to do such things on holiday! 🙂

Kids who push the donkey carts to haul water.

Kids who push the donkey carts to haul water.

African Sunset.

African Sunset.

The next day was spent on an even longer drive back past Pretoria to Mpumalanga, but I managed to get us not-as-lost that time. The next stage of our trip was the typical African holiday experience.


When You Know It’s Worth It

What a beautiful garden!

What a beautiful garden!

Sometimes (aka often) as a PCV, I wonder if what I’m doing makes any difference. I wonder if my village will show any sign of progress in 1, 5, or 10 years. Change can be so slow to happen that I often think I’ve done practically nothing with the last year and a half of my life.

And then days like today happen, and I know I’ve done something. I know my hard work hasn’t been for nothing.

Today we went to visit the home gardeners. We visited them in September, before the rains came, and most of them do not have taps at home. Therefore, without rain, they are unable to plant. Unfortunately, it hasn’t rained much this year, so the gardens have suffered. But what I saw put a HUGE smile on my face!!

In every garden we visited (5 total), there were new permaculture techniques being used. I saw intercropping, the 3 sisters, drip irrigation, mulch, compost, manure, trench beds, companion planting….in short, the main things we’ve been doing in our garden at school and at our trainings. It was amazing to see how the people have implemented these new techniques, and embraced the things I was so desperate to teach. Some of the beds were empty, and the people would tell us they had just eaten the carrots, beans, spinach, beetroot, etc.

Food in hungry bellies, what I’ve wanted all along.

Sometimes I wonder if what I’m doing has any impact, and I’m one of the lucky PCVs who actually can see that impact-tangibly, visibly. In the education sector, most PCVs have to hope their impact will come about years down the road, and they may never see real change in their school, even though it happens beneath the surface. I’ve been able to see a metamorphosis at my school, among the learners, and in the village, and I’m so thankful to see some of the changes.

Last week, I glanced at my host family’s garden (which I don’t use) and saw drip irrigation, which I had taught my host sister about during Garden Club. On my way to school, I’ve seen a garden or two that planted the 3 sisters. Learners are respectful of the garden areas at school and rush to help me out.

Change is slow, and fragile. It could be that in 5 years, nobody remembers the name of the young lekgoa girl who played in the dirt for two years. But I hope they remember what I’ve tried to teach. I hope my school still takes pride in the garden, and has blossomed into a leader in the community. And I hope fewer kids show evidence of kwashiorkor, a protein-energy deficiency, because they are eating veggies from their gardens.

I realize that when I leave, everything I’ve done with the permaculture project could completely fall apart. But I don’t think that will happen, not entirely. And to prevent that, I’m looking for an organization that is willing to fund supplies, seeds/seedlings, and a few stipends for the next 2-3 years (so if you’re interested, or know someone who is….let me know!). By having funding through the next few years, my school can focus on growing and improving the school garden, regardless of whether I’m there or not. A few ladies from the community could have temporary employment through stipends, and would be motivated to care for the garden.

The amazing thing about these home gardeners is that, despite serious poverty, they were willing to give. One lady gave us the biggest squash in her garden, and another the ripest watermelon. A lady with a beautiful forest-like garden broke off reeds of sugar cane and passed it around, and we chewed on it as she chattered about her garden, then promised to give us some later to grow at the school. The generousity of people who have far less than I do never ceases to amaze me! Ubuntu at its best.

Stunning garden! Compost, almost forest gardening, diversity, intercropping, trench beds!

Stunning garden! Compost, almost forest gardening, diversity, intercropping, trench beds!

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).


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!