Monday, September 24, 2007


The hoops have been jumped through, the language tests have been passed, the swearing has been in – errr the swearing-in has been completed – the US Ambassador has admitted to liking Peace Corps volunteers, and I have made it back to site! It’s now Sunday, September 23, and I have one South African holiday to get through tomorrow (no one seems to know what it is), and then I start working. I’m celebrating with a haircut, because hair longer than a couple of inches just is a pain in the ass here, so it’s back to short-short hair. I’m also excited about that!

I guess everything’s exciting to me right now (cue the foreboding music… This means that in a couple of weeks, monkeys will have broken into my room, eaten all of my chocolate stash (of course I have a chocolate stash) gotten sick on my mosquito net, causing me to come down with a resistant strain of malaria, and my housemate, Lulu, will make a deal with the devil to torture me horribly in order to get some relief from the now oppressive heat. But for now, life is fabulous!). I cooked for myself today, sang praises to the gods of running water, found that my local supermarket carries both olive oil AND balsamic vinegar (a little expensive, but WORTH it!), and I went to a traditional wedding yesterday, and I’m sure the bride and groom will be asking themselves who that white person is when they get their wedding video back. I’ve done yoga now two days in a row and I’ve noticed that my arms are now tan, although my belly is still lily white. I’m going to see how many shades I can become at once during my time here.

Besides that, there’s not much to tell. Work hasn’t started for me yet, and that’s the highlight of my time here. Now it’s just adjusting to hot running water, control over my eating and bathing, and appreciating all the little things that we take for granted on a daily basis.

I’m hoping to update on a weekly basis, so no more mass emails. Just check in with me whenever you remember. And hopefully there will be pictures soon! Yay monkeys looking through my window!

PS. Yes, it is hot here now, and it’s only spring. It’s so hot that Lulu did tell me that if killing me would make it cold, she would do it (inspiring the story above). We have both contemplated the oversized freezer that is big enough to crawl into, but then what would we do when it gets to be 110?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Almost a Volunteer…

Greetings everyone!

I’m grabbing a few hours before we journey to Pretoria, where we get sworn in as official volunteers and then get whisked away to our site. We’ve battled through training, which included frustration, boredom, heat, cold, friendly flying cockroach-type creatures, and the joys that accompany survival and persistence.

I “passed” my language test (which doesn’t mean much except that satisfaction of passing) collected language books for two of the four other languages I may use, and I’m ready, oh so ready, to go!

Apologies to anyone who may have tried calling me. It turns out that, after hours of research and talking to T-Mobile, that my phone does not, repeat not, work here. Ah, well. I’ll buy another one when I get to site, and I’ll keep my number, so either try your luck again, or wait for my all-clear.

So, I feel like I haven’t been able to really go into details about my life here in Gopane during training, who I have connected with, what I’ve learned, or how I’ve changed. As far as how I’ve changed, so far there hasn’t been anything significant except that I got over my phobia of white tennis shoes and dressing like a dork. Hopefully there are no pictures at my worst. Oh, and I might be turning into a morning person, waking up before 7:00 on a consistent basis (and, yes, that IS my definition of a morning person, mom!). Who I’ve connected with has been much more significant.

As I may have mentioned, Cole and Lauren have been my language buddies and I love them dearly. We’ve kept each other sane and cracked each other up, and god, I will miss them. That’s one thing about Peace Corps that is tough; you don’t really know what will happen, you get attached to people or to a certain assignment, and then that’s not who you’re living next to or what you’re doing. I guess it’s just like life, but high intensity and without the illusion of being in charge of your destiny.

Fortunately, I like the people I’m close to, and there are lots of people, both in my group and in previous Peace Corps groups, around me. Maggie is my closest neighbor, possibly walk-able, but we haven’t tried that out yet since my house in Shatale is still being renovated. She’s awesome, and we’ve been planning Scrabble sessions and dance parties (but don’t worry, Gene, I’ll still have lots of time for community integration). It’s great to find someone who can relate to both my intro- and extraverted sides. Rose is also close by, someone I haven’t spent a lot of time with, but I’ve enjoyed talking with her, and we’ll get to know each other pretty quick! There’s lots of great people in my group, lots of stories, lots of things to blog and oh so little time. There’s just so much happening everyday that I don’t know what to write. So, a few things that I’ve thought about…

I’ve noticed that since I’ve been eating a fairly bland diet, not a lot of veggies and not at a consistent time, that when I eat food that’s more my style, I totally binge, I eat as much as I can stuff into my body, without really noticing it or tasting it, but I can’t make myself slow down. I feel like I’ve gotten a little window into the psychology of poverty and deprivation and insecurity. You take whatever you can get, whenever you can get it. There’s almost a meanness to me, a greedy hunger that I never really related to before. But it explains things that have been uncomfortable for us, like people, adults and children, asking for or taking things from us. It’s still uncomfortable, but I get it a little more.

On an entirely different note, I’m re-affirming everyday that working with small international NGOs is what I want to do with my life. The conversations I have about it are consistently exciting and invigorating, and I’m so happy when I’m working with people and their organizations. I’m glad to be doing this and that I have two years to figure out how to keep doing this work from the US.

I’ll be having a new P.O. box soon, I just have to make sure it accepts packages (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Many of you have been asking what types of things to send, but South Africa seems to have most things available, including Harry Potter and the Simpson’s movie. You know, the important things. Mostly I want almond butter and Dr. Bronner’s soap. Oh, and home and all the people in it. It’s pretty wild to think of being away for two years, and sometimes I wish that my passions and interests were more related to the States. On the up side, though, I’m giving you all the chance to see an amazing part of the world. There’s nothing quite like South Africa and you have a ready-made excuse to visit. In a couple of months, I will figure out all the mosquito-free beautiful spots to take you, and will customize your experience to your specific dietary, comfort, and wildlife needs, while impressing you with my five sentences in five languages! In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m looking forward to visitors, and you should really, really try to come. Chance of a lifetime, folks!

And a shout-out to Tshwarelo eseng Mogakane! I got your comment and would love to chat with you. Just let me know how to get in touch. I’ll be in Bushbuckridge or Shatale in a few days and will check the internet soon.

So, soon I’ll have a phone, relatively regular internet access, and a permanent place to live with room for visitors (hint, hint) and the ability to cook for myself, and even better, exciting work to do. I can’t wait. I wish you were all here for my swearing in. It’s so official! Singing the American and South African national anthems and everything!

Oh, and quick hellos (since I don’t have time for emails today) to:

Dorothy (congrats on your new job! Yay!), Elena (I am the envy of the mail box because of you!), Luisa (belated thanks for the b-day card. I’ll write you back soon!), Dorian (unfortunately, I can’t view your Burning Man pictures until I’m not at a public cafĂ©! The locals will talk…), Jeff (I got your email and letter. I’m so happy you’re at my house. I couldn’t have asked for better!), Chris (I love you and miss you! Don’t worry, I’ll call soon and give you all the Peace Corps gossip I can’t write here!), Mom and Brian (I saw the pics! Sooooo cute! Thanks for taking care of the little ones, and you’ll both love South Africa!), Angela (I’ll give you info on a cheap phone card so dad won’t panic! I love you!), Dad (I love your emails! I wish I was walking Zuni with you, too), Kat (Good luck with school! There’s lots of amazing horse trails near me, ya know), Liz (I can’t WAIT to hear about your journey. I’ve been sending lots of love!), Vera-Ora (thanks for keeping me informed of all the family news. You’re the best!), Ingrid (so good to hear from you! I hope you’re on my email list now, but things are a little scattered. Love you!), Ben (hey, sweetie! Thanks for the words of encouragement. I miss you. And impressive "Tobela"!), Peter (How do we keep missing each other?!?), Olga (so good to hear from you! Hang in there!), and Lisa (thanks for the birthday greetings! It was great to see you in Seattle. Its was too short. A punch in the arm for Ken from me.)

Until next time. Much love!

Monday, September 10, 2007

I'm an idiot and life is wonderful

6 Sept 2007

I can't believe I'm finally at site and that I'm so bloody happy to be here! It just goes to show you that you don't always know what's good for you and letting go of expectations is good. Mpumalanga is beautiful, my organization is doing interesting work, and I've got comfortable digs. Yay!

My office is in Bushbuckridge, which, I've been told, does not have any bushbucks. My supervisor, Rita, is an Afrikaans social worker with 30 years experience working with the African population. This means she was working with black communities at the height of apartheid. She's given me some of the history as she has experienced it, but I have a feeling that there's more stories to come. She's doing community development work and is encouraging me to have at it with my own projects. When we talk, ideas just fly back and forth, and I think she'll be a phenomenal mentor.

My other co-worker is a Xhosa social worker, Lulu, just out of school. We're having a fabulous time hanging out, and we're both fairly new here, so we'll be learning a lot together, although she'll be doing the child welfare kind of work. It really looks like I'll be able to do the types of projects I've been dreaming of, and being surrounded by social workers is an added bonus. It's like meeting anyone with a shared and similar passion; you can skip the getting to know you chit-chat and dive into the meaningful stuff. So I have a great living situation, great work, and smart interesting co-workers...

A bit more about Bbr (as I'm abbreviating Bushbuckridge). It's on top of a small mountain from Shatale, where I'll be living. I'm staying at the office, and I've had three hot showers in three days. Let me tell you, this is now the height of luxury! And although there are no bushbucks in Bbr, guess what we do have... Monkeys! That's right, ladies and gentlemen, a whole herd of 'em, dancing and playing for my amusement. They come right up to my window to check me out checking them out, and they look around my room like they're casing the joint. I have heard that they like to play with cell phones, so they probably were looking to see where I stash my goodies.

As I was inside my room, taking pictures so that I could prove to everyone that, yes indeed, cute curious monkeys are right outside my window, I suddenly felt like I was in a zoo. I have burglar bars on my window, so it does kind of look like a cage. Maybe I'll put an informative sign outside my window. "Homo sapiens in her natural environment."

One other thing about my area: there are about five different languages spoken in the area. Sepedi, the language I've been learning, is quite minor. Although I'll try to learn a little of all of them, and English is spoken with regular ease, don't be surprised if I come back speaking like a first-grader. It seems like every word I learn pushes something else out!

10 Sept 2007

I'm typing this up at a backpacker's hostel. I'm on my way back to training for a week and a half, and then back to site. That will mean more regular communication/internet. Yay! Pretoria's great, and I finally saw the Simpson's movie! God bless South Africa! We'll, my time's up, and there's a line for the computer. So love to everyone! More soon.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Site Placement News and Minor Miracles

Hey everyone!
It's been a crazy couple of weeks since I last emailed. I can't tell you what a miracle it was that my email actually went out to you guys! I spent one hour consecutively trying to get my blog to work, Yahoo to work, and typing out my email, and nothing was working. Yahoo wouldn't send anything, and as time was running out, I clicked "Send" for the 15th time and got a "This page cannot be displayed" response, and then the screen went blank. So, it was only two days ago when I got some letters that I realized that my email was indeed sent. Yay for minor miracles!

So thanks for all the responses. I'll try to answer as many questions here and if there's time, then I'll send some personal responses. You have no idea how happy I am to hear from you, in either email and letter form. You guys make my day!!!

First things first. Just so you know, I am indeed using toilet paper. I consider it to be just this side of a necessity, and Peace Corps provides it to us, and when I run out, I buy some more. My family has started using it now because it's softer than their version; they basically use scrap paper for themselves. In our pit toilet, they have old magazines that they use (although it does provide reading material for me when I need it, and I can tell you that Tyra Banks is more popular than Angelina Jolie in South Africa, just in case you were wondering).

Second: my emotional status. I am doing well, and things keep getting better and better, with the occasional bump in the road. We finally found out the basic information about our site placement yesterday, and there are now 50 of us at the internet cafe writing frantically back home. I was lucky to get here first and bought an hour and a half of time, which seems like a total luxury!

So, what is my site placement, you ask??? Well, unfortunately, all the finger crossing that you guys did didn't help. Maybe it doesn't travel across the ocean very well. However, I think I have an awesome site, very close to Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga (not Limpopo). I'll be living in a small two-room house in a small village named Shatale, and the nearest "big" city is Bushbuckridge. It used to be a part of Limpopo Province, so a lot of maps of Mpumalanga don't include it, but if you want to read some tourist propaganda that will make you want to visit me, here you go: This is both a touristy and poor area, so if you are scared of creepy-crawlies, there are nice hotels, and if you want to get off the beaten path and experience how the majority of Africans live (I promise I'll provide toilet paper! However, no promises of showers yet), you can do that, too.

I think my MSW kind of worked against me from getting the placement that I wanted because my site is a child welfare organization that (I guess) needed someone with my qualifications to help train social work students. It's tough to know exactly how Peace Corps works, and a lot of people got assignments that they are struggling with. And some are happy as clams, so it all depends. I was disappointed at first, but there is a lot of potential for me to work with youth and help the next generations of social workers and South Africans. Change is happening so rapidly here, and the youth and children provide the best opportunity to make changes for the better, so I'm excited to help with that. Hopefully, I'll be able to help with NGOs or other organizations on the side.

Next week we'll be traveling to our site, so I'll have a lot more news after that. Again, I don't know my next internet cafe excursion. Maybe there will be internet at my site! After September 20th, I should have a cell phone, which hopefully will mean internet access on demand (but very slow). Then I can also receive phone calls (check into Skype. You can call my cell phone from your computer) and other fun things.

In the meantime, keep me in your thoughts, emails and letters are appreciated, and I'll be in touch soon!