Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Settling In

On Tuesday September 16th, Woody and I swore in as official Peace Corps volunteers! We took an Oath of Service and received our Peace Corps badges. The ceremony was nice and even our language teachers sang a song for us wishing us well on our journey. Almost immediately after swearing in, all of the volunteers who were learning the Zulu language and who would be going to KwaZulu Natal (KZN) had to leave for their Supervisor's Workshop. So, we lost almost half of our group right away. Then on the following days, we had different language groups leave for their Supervisor's Workshop and site placement. Woody and I were among the last group to leave the following Tuesday which included all of our group of XiTsonga speakers and the SiSwati group. 
Swearing In Day

The day before we left, we said our goodbyes to our host-family and stayed the night at the college dorms where we had our training. Our host mom gave us a nice Pap (cornmeal porridge) pot made from cast aluminum and two wooden stirring sticks as a going away gift. The next morning we awoke at 4 AM and left for our Supervisor's workshop at 6 AM where we would meet the principals of our new schools. The drive from Siyabuswa to north of Nelspruit took about 3.5 hours. As we drove in to the site of our workshop, we saw picturesque mountains and hills everywhere. There were also several Vervet monkeys roaming the grounds. At the workshop, we met the representative from the Mpumalanga Dept of Education. When the meeting started, each of the volunteers took turns standing and introducing themselves in their target language and saying which schools they would be working in. As we introduced ourselves to the group, our principals would stand and introduce themselves to us. Woody and I will be working in three schools – two primary and one high school. Only our two primary school principals were able to attend the workshop. At the conclusion of the meeting, we all loaded our bags into the principals' cars and away we went to our new homes...

Our village is in the Mpumalanga province. Our house is a small 3-room house probably around 350 sq feet.  We have a kitchen/dinning area, 2 small bedrooms and a "washroom" (without a toilet) used for bathing.  We have an extra bedroom, if anyone wants to visit us (hint hint). The house is made from bricks and concrete with a corrugated tin roof.  We have electricity but still have to use a latrine toilet outside.  We just recently got our mosquito net hung up over our bed and we are required by Peace Corps to take malaria prophylactic pills as we are close to a high malaria risk area. The mosquito net helps keep out more than just the misquotes as we have some large spiders here too. Our host mother is not living on the property.  Apparently, she is a single woman who owns the property but she has recently found a boyfriend and is off gallivanting with him.  So, instead her nephew is living in the main house in order to guard the house.  So, for the most part, we have our space to ourselves.  Although, the owner's mother lives nearby in the village too.  The first night we arrived in the village about 7:30 PM and were introduced by our principals to the Kokwani (grandmother), the nephew, and three of the nearest surrounding neighbors. 

Mbizi Game Reserve
We also live about a 45 minute drive into Kruger National Park.  Our house is about 5 KM from the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Richard Branson's private game reserve.  The area is not very mountainous but more like rolling hills.  There is a small creek that divides the two sides of the village.  Woody and I are living in the A-side of the village and the outgoing volunteers are living in the B-side of the village.  We are lucky enough to have another couple living here who are current PCVs whom we will be taking over for.  They have extended their service until November.  So, we will have about 6 weeks with them before they leave. They have been introducing us to the community and showing us around.  

We will be working in three different schools.  Two of them are Primary schools and one is a High School.  We live close to one of the Primary schools. The distance is about 2 km from one school to the next.  So, it is approximately about 4-5 km to the farthest school.  The volunteers here have already done a lot.  Their main projects were building two libraries and computer centers at each of the primary schools.  The building for the library in one of the schools has just been finished and the project was completely funded by a local game lodge.  They also painted an awesome World Map mural and a World Cup soccer mural on the sides of two of the buildings at one of the primary schools. 

Both of our primary school principals seem like very nice guys and genuinely care about us.  They have been doing a lot for us and also arranged with the school and the host family to allow us to temporarily borrow some furniture and appliances until we either get some from the Mpumalanga Dept of Education or get stuff from the outgoing volunteers.   We were given tours of all three of the schools. A few days after we arrived, we were introduced to the Indhuna (Chief's Headman) and some of the stakeholders in the community. 

The good thing about replacing previous volunteers is that our principals totally understand the process and know that we are supposed to only be observing for the first 3 months.  So, they are not pushing us yet to jump into classes.  I think that is the right way to do things so that we can learn more about the community and their needs first. 

One Saturday, Lora and Adam (the outgoing volunteers) showed us how to get to our nearest shopping town. We rode a khumbi (taxi) into town and did some shopping. Then we went to visit another nearby volunteer who was hosting a BBQ birthday party for another volunteer. Several volunteers who live in the “Bushbuck” region came to the party and we were able to meet many other volunteers in the area. It was nice to have some “American” style food with friends. Then on our travel back home to our village, the khumbi was so full that Woody practically had another woman sitting in his lap the entire ride!

Another interesting day happened when after school, we had a gaggle of children follow us home like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Each one carrying a brick in their hands. When we asked why they were carrying bricks, they answered “I don't know”. Well, it turns out that our principal arranged to have a shower drain and “septic” tank (really a French drain) installed at our house and he asked literally every child from the school to bring a brick to our house to be used for the construction of the drainage system. Then while the drain was being constructed at our home, we were interviewed by couple of 7th graders from the Library Helpers Club. They were proposing to be radio style reporters and made sure that we knew all of the library rules. It was a blast!

As we have been introduced to the teachers and the students at the schools, they often laugh at us when we try to speak xiTonga. I'm not sure if it is just our accents or if they just think its funny to see white people speaking their language. Also, when we say that we are from Texas, we often have had people ask us if we know Chuck Norris and one guy said “Oh yeah, like from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Aaaah, the best parts of Texas culture revealed...

We've also been helping Lora in the library at one of the primary schools and learning how she runs the library. She has several kids from the school who are “library helpers” who assist with running the library on a daily basis. Another day we helped Adam with his after-school art club. He was teaching the kids about 3-D art and chose clay as his medium. It was awesome for us since we both like to do pottery. I taught the kids how to make a pinch pot and showed them how to make designs in the clay with toothpicks and pressing rocks for texture. It was fun and relaxing.

Finally, after visiting the schools, it seems that the high school can use the most help since Lora and Adam were not previously working in that school. So, Woody and I already have some project ideas in mind that we would like to do there. Hopefully, we can make them work out.
Ndebele Traditional Rondoval Huts

Sala kahle (stay well)...


Anonymous said...

Congrats on swearing in. As for spiders? You'll quickly learn that a can of Mortein DOOM is your best friend. So far I have killed one venomous spider and some unidentified spiders that look like a Racluse but might not be.

Ms. Liberman said...

Robin, it all sounds so exciting. I have kept up with your activities through our mutual friend, Tiffany Lewis. I am the literature teacher who is teaching a unit on South Africa with her. We will begin researchng Aparthied from 1950-2000 starting in November. Then we are going to read the book by Beverly Naidoo, Out of Bounds. If you have any information on Nelson Mandela or apartheid you could share with us, I would love that. If possible, we are hoping to communicate by email or skype with students there as well in order to share their views on Africa, United States, slavery, apartheid , Democracy, freedon, Mandela etc with them. Letr us know as soon as any of them seems possible. You can email me at Thanks, Roz