Sanibonani (greetings) from South Africa!
We've been doing well here our past 7 weeks in South Africa. There are 52 volunteers altogether in our group and three couples including Woody and I. The village that we are staying in is called Maganagobušwa (Mahana-ho-bushwa). The first week after arriving, we stayed in the dorms of at the local Teacher's College in the village. There are 11 official languages here in South Africa and during our first few weeks at the collage, we learned greetings in 6 languages including isiZulu, isiSwati, xiTsonga, SePedi, Ndebele, and Afrikaans. We have about 8 LCFs (Language and Cultural Facilitators) who have been living and working with us during our PST (Pre-Service Training) to teach us these languages. We've also had a lot of vaccinations during these past few weeks and we each received a medical kit from Peace Corps. Within the first week of arrival, we were divided into separate language groups. Woody and I are learning the language xiTsonga (The X makes a “sh” sound in xiTsonga). XiTsonga originates from Mozambique and is spoken by the Shangaan people in the northeast provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Then in our second week of training we moved from the college campus to live with current our home-stay families. Woody and I are staying with a family of four. We live with a young widow and her three sons ages 13, 11 and 6. We also have a family cat named Smokey. In our home-stay, we have electricity but no running water. Therefore we have to wash our clothes by hand, take bucket baths in a large basin in our bedroom, and are using an outdoor latrine. Our home-stay family doesn't speak xiTsonga, so we don't have anyone to practice speaking with in the area other than our LCF. In addition to language training, we have cultural and social training. We learned a lot about the former Bantu Education System and internalized oppression affecting the black South African people during the apartheid era. Although, the apartheid era is over, there is still a lot of residual effects in the school system. So, our job here will be to help them develop a better educational system in the schools. One of the largest challenges that we will face in schools is the habitual, and illegal, use of corporal punishment. We were able to visit one of the local primary schools before the nationwide Teacher's strike began here 3 weeks ago. And during our brief visit to the school we've already witnessed the use of corporal punishment.
Visiting the local primary schools was exciting. The kids are very energetic and eager to learn. It's uncommon for white people to visit the villages much less actually live in the villages. So, the kids go crazy every time they see us. The have given us African names. My name is Lerato (which means “love”) and Woody's name is Kamagelo (which means “welcome”). Each time we visit the school, the kids treat us like rock-stars. They all want to shake our hands and they often scream our African names when they see us walking past the school campus. I've never been so confronted about my race as much as I have here in South Africa. It's a very unusual experience. At home in the US, I almost never think about my skin color unless I have to indicate my race when filling out an official form of some type. But, here we are confronted with our race on a daily basis. We often have random people just saying Mulungu (“white people”) to us as we walk down the street. Even though the apartheid era is over, it just shows that there is still a lot of work to be done regarding race relations here in South Africa.
Finally, we recently received our official site announcements from Peace Corps. Woody and I will be living in a rural xiTsonga speaking village a couple of hours north of Nelspruit bordering Kruger National Park. We are exited to see our new home and are hoping that we will see a lot of animals there. We will also be replacing another couple who are currently serving in the community and who are about to finish their tour. We will be working in two primary schools and one high school. We are very exited about our site. However, due to the current nationwide strike spearheaded by the public sector service unions, our site visits have been delayed. The strike has been spreading throughout the country and is now affecting more then just the schools. It now involves most of the public-service sector. Since the strike began 3 weeks ago, schools have not been in service and we as volunteers also have not been able to continue to visit the schools for observation. Due to the strike, Peace Corps has decided that they do not want us dispersing to our individual sites until the strike ends. So, for now, we are waiting it out. Next Tuesday, we will be taking our language proficiency test and then hopefully in the following week, we will be swearing in as official Peace Corps Volunteers!