Heritage Day Singing

This is a video I took of the children’s choir at our After School Care centre. OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) come each day from about 5 different schools, grades 1-11. They learn lifeskills, practice cultural traditions, play sports, participate in a Scouts troop, receive homework help, and eat a good meal each day.

Last week, our centre hosted another drop in centre from Nkowankowa, in honor of South Africa’s Heritage Day, and this is a video of our children singing what I believe is a gospel song. Though my Xitsonga isn’t good enough to tell. 🙂

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Stereotypically African

Life in Limpopo is settling down into a nice, new normal.  Thought I’ve been at my new site for 3.5 months, I’ve been gone about 8 weeks of that for various things.  So in reality, this place is still pretty new to me, but things are steadily becoming familiar and normal.  One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how “African” things seem in my new home.  Stereotypically African, maybe.

When I envisioned moving to Africa, I had a picture in my mind of the little thatched roof hut I would live in, tucked in among the exotic fruit trees of my mountainous home. There would be animals roaming through the yard, and a ramshackle fence separated my yard from the dirt path outside.  Kids would play games in the street, hollering my African name whenever they saw me. Beautiful, quaint, and decidedly third world.

Anyone who has ever done Peace Corps will tell you how ridiculous it is to have a mental image of your future site, and I knew that.  But it was still nice to imagine.  So when I got to my dusty Kalahari, cement block home….needless to say it was the polar opposite of what I would imagine.  However, I came to love that home, and the reality that is the village life in rural Africa.

For my third year, I moved to a more developed village in Limpopo province, and I was a little sad to leave behind the quiet, deep rural Kalahari village that had been my home for two years.  I would miss the slow life, the sound of infinite roosters awakening me in the morning, and the stunning sunsets outside my window each day. That was my little piece of Africa, a home that had found a place in my heart.  Of course, I was looking forward to moving to my new site, but I was worried that I was stepping away from rural Africa a bit, and entering the first world more.

I wasn’t wrong, exactly.  My host family has running water (though I don’t), cars, and even and iPhone.  I walk out my gate to a tarred road, where I can find transport to work or town any time of the day.  I can find all sorts of fresh fruits, vegetables, and any manner of canned food in my village.  There are shops that sell buckets, clothes, food, tires, construction materials, etc, all in my village.  There even an ATM and a post office.  My workplace has high speed internet AND wifi, plus modern conveniences like flush toilets.

But there are some things that are so very African, that I feel more immersed in the culture than I ever did in my old village.  The Tsonga culture is alive, and very present in my village. From an American viewpoint, my new village fits our stereotype of Africa much more than my old one did: Women carrying their laundry down to the river to wash, children and old ladies headed to the veld to gather firewood, large bundles perched upon heads with babies wrapped around the mothers’ backs, women wearing Micheka (traditional clothes) left and right, children dancing and singing in the roads at night, young ladies dancing the Xibelani in their intricate, beautiful beadwork sold at markets and in the taxi ranks, and grannies embroidering beautiful village scenes on black fabric on the roadsides.  My daily life is surrounded by rural Africa and the modern world, yet they dwell together at peace.

I am delighted to be in a village that has held onto its culture, and that practices it so strongly.  Though I still only know a few words in Xitsonga and couldn’t dance the Xibelani to save my life, I thoroughly enjoy being immersed in this new, vibrant culture.

-Jen

Culture Shock….Again

When I decided to extend for a third year, I gave no thought to culture shock.  After all, I had been living in this country for two years, had traveled extensively, and felt prepared for what was coming.  I was adjusted, integrated, and all those other Peace Corps words that meant I generally knew what I was doing.  I wasn’t moving to a new country, so I gave absolutely no consideration to the possibility of facing culture shock.

And therefore, I was shocked.

Seriously, I don’t know how I never considered it.  I mean, I was moving to the other side of a very diverse country.  A new climate, culture, language, job description….basically everything was new, except for the rooster which likes to crow at 3am.  I could have seriously moved to another country (Botswana) with less changes than I face now. No, having to take a bucket bath no longer filled me with trepidation, and I knew how to use the kombis.  But I’ve certainly faced a bit of culture shock in the past two weeks, since moving to my new site.  And I only recently figured out that this was the problem.

On the other hand, I am unreasonably annoyed at the amount of coddling I’m facing in my new village.  I say unreasonably, because I really should appreciate the fact that my new community is bending over backwards to make me feel safe and comfortable.  But after living independently in the village reality for the past 2 years, it’s a little annoying to be told to call someone after a short taxi ride from town to be sure I made it safe, or to be asked if I will get lost when I can see my destination up ahead.  I suppose this might be a side effect of culture shock: being easily annoyed at things I should be grateful for.  But it’s difficult to be treated much like a child when I feel comfortable walking around on my own or cooking food for myself.

I had assumed that moving to my new site would be pretty smooth, but it’s been a rough few weeks.  Part of that is because I thought it would go smoothly….never have expectations in the Peace Corps!  Dealing with culture shock when I’ve been living in a country for two years was unexpected and difficult.  That was compounded by a situation at my host family which means I must move again (at least only within the village).  So while I’m trying to settle in to my new village, I still feel very tossed about and my future seems uncertain.

At least my supervisor has identified a new house for me, and I’ll have a lot more answers come Tuesday next week.  In the meantime, I am enjoying my new Peace Corps life as my culture shock turns into intrigue and curiosity.

-Jen