Epic Everyday Travel

PCVs always have the best travel stories, and they usually revolve around something as mundane as grocery shopping. So you can imagine how much fun I can have on a trip to the capital for medical.

At MST, the dentist and I decided I needed to have my last wisdom tooth removed, based on the fact that it had been causing me a lot of pain for the last 10 months. Peace Corps agreed, after a discussion with the regional medevac doctor and a disgruntled PCMO (pretty much all PCVs have to have theirs removed, and my PCMO was not happy that I had one left). Because of scheduling with the surgeon, I couldn’t have it done at MST and had to return to PTA later in the month.

I was not happy about having to travel to Pretoria twice in a month, especially because crime against PCVs in Pretoria has become noticeably worse. But I decided to make the best of it. I worked with medical to have the surgery scheduled the week after a wedding I had been invited to, and thus began my epic everyday travel.

I left my village and managed to meet two PCVs in Vryburg, one who was sick and going to a local doctor, and one who just wanted to be our bodyguard (it’s sadly necessary). So Tumi, Tsiamo, and I had an early lunch together and had fun sharing our crazy village experiences of the past few weeks. We got Tumi to the doctor, and Tsiamo walked me to the rank where I found my taxi to Rustenburg. Sound familiar? Rustenburg’s the heart of the current mining unrest that has swept the nation. But luckily I wasn’t headed to Rustenburg, yet. After waiting hours for the taxi to fill, more hours traveling, and an hour or more stopped at construction, I managed to arrive at the farm of my friends Sue and cajun, who were getting married the following day. I spent the next two days celebrating their beautiful marriage, chatting with white, coloured (not an offensive term here), and black South Africans…and even 4 other Americans!! It was an incredible weekend, and I found my real South African family. I was invited to spend time with 3 or 4 families that live in Johannesburg and had some very interesting discussions about village life versus urban life. One guy laughed and pointed out that he was asking a foreigner (me) about the culture in his own country….nobody visits rural village here unless they have to.

On Sunday, after a beautiful rainstorm, I was given a ride to Phokeng, the township of Rustenburg and about as close to the mining unrest as I could be (don’t kill me Mom, I swear I was safe). I visited a PCRV, a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, who was spending about 10 months in country assisting with the Special Olympics African Unity Cup. She lived (LIVED!) in a B&B, one where the police who came to assist with the mining unrest were staying. I spent on night with her, and we talked long into the night. The next morning, after gifting me with a few things she wouldn’t need once she COS’d, she pointed me to the taxi that would take me to Rustenburg. I hailed the taxi like a pro and quickly found the taxi to Pretoria once I arrived in Rustenburg.

After a quick stop at the office, I got to the backpackers and spent the evening getting to know some new PCVs. The next day I had a quick tooth extraction-it was seriously like 5 minutes. The next few days I spent eating soft foods and in a codeine-induced haze. About 48 hours after the surgery, I was on a taxi to my friend Tumi’s site. I was doing a permaculture workshop with her school, which deserves its own post.

A bakke, 6 kombies, 4 taxis, and a fair amount of walked led me to a wedding, 2 PCV sites, and Pretoria. Oh how epic a simple doctor visit can be!

American Wedding

I went back home for my older sister’s wedding, and though I was only home for a week, I managed to have a lot of fun, eat a lot of food, and make enough American memories to last me for another year. I’m not gonna go into all the details of the trip, but here are some highlights.

-Starbucks. STAR BUCKS. Real good coffee!
-My sister’s husband trying to set me up with his friends.
-My sister actively trying to prevent said setups.
-Having the Best Man inquire about where to buy a bulletproof vest, then going to Walmart to find one (he was visiting from India and didn’t know that Walmart doesn’t actually carry everything).
-Going to the CITC church-awesome church in Houston!
-Getting mistaken for a foreigner at a Chinese restaurant and then getting ripped off.
-Getting denied from Sams Club-we had a membership and they wouldn’t honor it.
-My sister’s inability to stop talking.
-Getting all dolled up and wearing makeup for one of the only times in the past year.
-McDonald’s French Fries, Tex Mex food, Shipley’s donuts, and Starbucks. J
-Seeing my beautiful sister walk down the aisle and marry the love of her life.
-Getting soaked in a downpour on the way to the reception and looking like a drowned river rat when I gave my speech.
-Going to IKEA for the first time ever.
-Seeing family and meeting new friends.
-Getting to spend some time with my sister and new brother-in-law.

It was a really good week, although busy and stressful. My sister and I spent half our time laughing and playing practical jokes on each other (one of which I discovered at the airport security checkpoint-not cool). I thoroughly enjoyed things like going to a real grocery store or not being squished into a hot, junky car. I noticed the reverse culture shock was a little bit harder to handle than it was in June, when I was back in Iowa, and that I was more easily annoyed by parts of American culture-seriously, 15 minutes late to dinner is not unreasonable. I was also annoyed with things that I THOUGHT were innate American values, and weren’t-it’s called a line, wait in it. But all in all, I had an amazing time!

Me and Meg in her Saree!

Me and Meg in her Saree!



I was invited to a wedding last week, on a Friday night.  Now, you Americans think of weddings in a very different way than South Africans do.  So, here’s how a typical wedding goes.

An invite to a wedding is rarely extended in an invitation form.  Basically, if you hear of a wedding and decide you want to go, you go.  They are very much open to the community, and I could have gone without my principal, but that probably would have been a very awkward and confusing experience.

Wedding receptions are nearly always held at the house, in a big tent in the yard, and this one was no exception.  Cooking is done in huge black pots with three legs, over a woodfire.  The menu is usually a variation of: beef, goat/sheep, chicken, rice, pap, sour pap, samp, squash/pumpkin, a spicy cold salad, a not spicy cold salad, and some sort of gravy.  Give or take a few dishes and you have about every wedding in SA. 🙂

Cars park all willy-nilly outside the family compound, and you wait for the bridal party to come from the church, or wherever the ceremony was heard.  In my case, this time was spent being stared at intensely and being shuffled from one area to another.  Once the bridal party arrived, an older woman lead the way, sweeping the ground, and an older man walked in front dancing, carrying a stick, and wearing a bloody animal skin.  Don’t ask me why, I have not learned what this means.  The bridal party dances in, with the bride in a stunning white dress.  They head into the tent, and then, as honored guest, Lorato and I are shoved through the crowd and pushed through the mosh pit of people to arrive (slightly beaten down) in the bridal tent where we merit a seat near the center.

Oops, I forgot the part where I was chased down by the brass band, almost trampled by them, and probably received some permanent hearing loss.  Oh well.

Next comes a plethora of speeches-all in Tswana-along with songs and dance.   A few prayers later and suddenly the place explodes into motion as people rush towards the buffet.  Lorato and I elbow our way through the crowd and manage to get some delicious food.  In my absence my seat has been taken, my cup disappeared, and my fork went missing as well.  The seat thief hops up, I pilfer a fork from someone else’s plate, and steal sips from Lorato’s cup as I down my food-SO GOOD!!  The food is always a reason to accept an invite to anywhere, as it is always very good.

As darkness descends, we prepare to leave, but are held up by the prospect of seeing the traditional dance of the bridal party, all in traditional clothes.  They finally dance out to some more crazy (but good) brass band music.  This time the bride is in a strapless dress, done up in traditional colors and patterns.  The guy wearing the bloody skin is nowhere to be found, but the dancing continues. We make it out well after dark (oops), but full and happy at being exposed to another incredible SA experience.  I shall post pictures in the next post, so check them out.