Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cheers to a New Year!!

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” ~Neil Gaiman

We hope everyone had a festive and very happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, or generic Winter Solstice holiday season.  We wish you all a New Year full of love, joy, and happiness. We hope that this new year takes you to great unknown places and new horizons. Whatever 2011 has in store for us, here is to wishing that we all will have the strength, wisdom, and fortitude to seize the opportunity and create something extraordinary with it...

IST (In Service Training)
We are almost 6 months into our 27 months of Peace Corps service. Therefore, Peace Corps required that we do an In-Service Training and workshop to discuss our completed Phase 2 assignments, how our community integration is coming along, as well as to gain knowledge and training on new topics. Our IST was held in Piet Retief, in the Mpumalanga Province. It was a great time getting a chance to get together with our fellow SA-22 volunteers, many of whom we haven't seen since arriving at our respective sites. It also gave us a chance to compare and contrast our individual living and work situations with other volunteers. As a result, Woody and I have come to the conclusion that we are grateful that we have been placed in a good community. So far, we get along with all of our Principals and Deputy Principals; no major personality conflicts with any of the staff at the schools or with host family members; our living situation, while not ideal, is certainly adequate and in no way hinders us; our village and community both seem safe and welcoming. Additionally, we are lucky to be living so close to one of the largest game reserves and illustrious national parks in Africa. While we by no means have a perfect situation, we also don't have a whole lot to complain about. So far, our village and the people in the community have treated us well. Thus, we are excited to continue our service into the new year.

Having said that, still nothing is perfect. We still get called Mulungu by some people in the village. I often want to say to them “Vito ra mina a hi mulungu!” (my name is not mulungu!) – but don't. And communication can sometimes be challenging. Especially when people keep trying to talk to us in Afrikaans! Regardless of how many times we tell them in xiTsonga “A ni twisisi Afrikaans” (I do not understand Afrikaans) or “A ni vulavula Afrikaans, Ni vulavula Xilungu” (I do not speak Afrikaans, I speak English), we still have people who continue to talk to us in Afrikaans. Maybe it is because they don't speak English themselves or are too embarrassed by their English skills to try and speak to us in it. But regardless, they often assume that because we are white, then we must understand Afrikaans. People also often assume that because we are white, we must automatically be rich. Recently on our way traveling back to our village from IST, we were sitting in a khumbi (public taxi) at the taxi rank waiting for it to fill up and leave, when a local hawker (vendor) came up to the window and tried selling us a bag of grapes by telling us that they were special grapes for rich people... Well, now tell me why would we be riding on a public khumbi if we were rich??! People often don't believe us when we tell them that we are volunteers and that the living allowance we get from Peace Corps is lower than any local teacher salaries. Many people were also surprised when they asked us what we were doing for Christmas and New Years and we said that we were just staying in the village. They expected us to be jet-setting back to the US for the holidays. However, minor frustrations and annoyances aside, both Woody and I are doing well so far and hope our good fortune continues into this new year.

Christmas in St Lucia.
Hippo swimming in the Estuary
After IST was complete, we decided to take our holiday break while relaxing at the beach and seeing the Indian ocean for the first time before eventually making it back to the village for Christmas. We went to St Lucia Estuary which is located along the coast about 3 hours north of Durban. Having been our first official “vacation” in South Africa, it was a little touristy but still very rejuvenating. We chose St Lucia mostly because another volunteer, whose family came to South Africa to visit him, was hosting a holiday Christmas party for all of our SA-22 group there. It was very thoughtful and generous of his family to host the party for all of the volunteers who can't be with their families and loved ones during the holidays. While in St Lucia, we got a chance to see a lot of wildlife that we haven't seen yet in South Africa including hippos, crocs, Vervet monkeys, warthogs, and a small antelope called a Red Duiker. Now that we have had a chance to restore our selves, we are exited to get back to work in the village and can't wait to see what 2011 has in store for us.
Mama Warthog with Babies

Beach bums...

Now that 2010 has been wrapped up, please indulge us for a short recap of what we've seen since leaving Dallas in July 2010:

*     Philly: Ever too briefly, and just long enough to realize that it is a city that we will have to investigate more thoroughly when we are back in the States.
*     JFK International: Seriously, that is all we saw after Philly, and before strapping in for the longest non-stop flight we both have ever been on. But I guess that's what happens when you've got a 1:00AM wakeup call to be on the bus to JFK at 2:00AM. Thanks go to South African Airways for making a 15 hour flight seem like only 15 hours, and not more like 27...
*     Upon our arrival, rushing past Johannesburg on a chilly mid-July morning, we got to see the vast countryside of mid and eastern South Africa driving through Gauteng province and about ½ of Mpumalanga province to reach the KwaNdebele area and the teachers college where we would stay for the next 2 months of training.
*     Cows, goats, chickens, donkeys, and stray dogs, mostly wandering anywhere they wanted around the village, including wandering on the main roads passing between the villages... and disrupting traffic. Ostriches and peacocks, usually on the other side of the wall at the teachers college, though the peacocks would often fly over the wall to pick around for bugs on the college grounds.
*     Block after block of RDP housing (government housing), giving us some idea of what kind of housing we would eventually move to at our permanent site. As well as, traditional rondavel houses. Some houses were nicely painted and some were even done in the traditional Ndebele style.
*     Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!.... Okay, so there are no actual tigers or bears native to South Africa. But we have seen lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, hippos, crocodile, warthogs, fish-eagles, hornbills, duiker, kudu, springbok, impala, nyala, and a few other kinds of deer and antelope that we like to collectively refer to as “Bok-boks,” just because we can't remember what they are actually called at the time.
*     Farms as big as anything in Kansas (only not on flat land!) growing everything from apples, oranges, and bananas to avocados, mangoes, pineapples, and pine trees. It's just impressive to see, and smell, as you pass by in a cramped khumbi (public taxi), the miles and miles of produce growing around you and stretching down from the mountain-ridge road to the bottom of the valley. Fortunately, when it's at peak season, we get some of it in the markets around us. Unfortunately, most of it is grown for export, so other than when it's in peak season, we only see the staples in our nearest shopping town.
*     The Indian ocean... We got to swim in it, walk along a few miles of beach collecting shells, and even saw someone fishing from the beach catch a small shark (yikes!).

And now since we start back to work tomorrow, here are a few things that we are looking forward to working on over the next few months of Term 1 of the new school year:

  • Libraries: Starting back on the one that's fully functioning, getting things rolling on the library introductions and literacy lessons on the recently completed library, and getting back to work on cleaning up the one that is still a warehouse and a work-in-progress.
  • Computer labs: Getting to Johannesburg to pick up the donated computers and start setting up the computer labs at the two Primary Schools. Working with our counterparts at those schools to plan a curriculum that we can use in classes, mainly for the learners during school hours, but also possibly as an after-school program or with adult education.
  • Helping the educators at the High School supplement their English language classes with more literacy and comprehension focused lessons.
  • More computer literacy classes for the educators at all 3 schools. This should be a good opportunity to assess what their current skills are and to find out what areas they would like to work on improving.
  • Initiate a mobile hands-on science lab program at the High School for all grades. Teach hands-on science activities using locally available and low-cost materials.
  • Murals! We're hoping to get something started by the end of the term at one Primary School and possibly at the High School on world-maps painted on the ends of class-blocks.

Whew! Sounds like our 2011 is going to be busy... 

1 comment:

David said...

This is so amazing! What a cool life you're leading. Keep us updated!