Ubuntu: Computer on a Minibus edition

This past week I was in Pietermartizberg for a database training. Tiny bit of history: Pietermaritzburg (PMB, Martizburg or uMgungundlovu for those with an isiZulu preference) was named for two Afrikaaner leaders Piet Retief and Gert (Gerrit) Maritz were two leaders of the Voortrekkers. Retief met his demise at the hands of Zulu king Dingane and Gert (Gerrit) Maritz died of an illness near my current shopping town. Neither of them made it to Pietermartizburg’s modern boundaries. The area also served headquarters of the Zulu kingdom…until the infamous battle of Blood River in 1840 (more in a later). The isiZulu name translates to “The secret conclave of the elephant” and indlovu (elephant) is used to refer to the Zulu king. Yet another example of the dual life of South African cities. Currently it is the 2nd largest city in KZN and according to kzn.gov it is the provincial capital (though people have told me it recently changed…I will get back to y’all).

In terms of the training, I do not care to get into global health politics but HIV relief funding is dramatically changing on all fronts. The idea for this training was to learn about the Department of Social Development’s data base so our organizations can eventually try to get funding from the South African government. Since our new data staff had yet to be hired (interviews were last Wednesday), I was asked to go and eventually train the new staff in the DSD database as the unofficial Monitoring and Evaluation personnel of my org (I lacked M&E experience until Peace Corps).

One of the cool or weird things about CHOP volunteers is that you go to any HIV related training in South Africa and chances are you will run into PCVs…or their supervisors. In this case I met two of my close friend’s supervisors through the database training. It was really neat to hear about my fellow PCV’s orgs and be happy for their awesome org matches (and get official requests for me to visit)! Anyways, my director came for one day of training and had to leave as her husband was out of the country (installing solar panels at a Mozambique bush camp…because Africa offers epic opportunities for independent contractors) and she had to take care of her children. The plan was for me to come and eventually train the new data person. I decided to use my one weekend away to go Msinga and catch a taxi to PMB from research town. I was lucky to find a straight shot, but prepared to transfer in the town after Research Town.

Now, I am not the most independent traveler (I am always willing to have people join me) and transportation logistics give my autistic brain a workout u if I want to get…anywhere I have to at least take a minibus to my shopping town. Visiting my cluster volunteers takes at minimum at least another taxi ride….by myself. Peace Corps does not allow volunteers to drive and I lack a driver’s license anyways. It is a bit of a process of figuring out new trips routes. In the case of PMB there are three taxi ranks. The Anthropologist’s supervisor told me to get off at the rank with the KFC where there would be metered taxis I could hire for the hotel. The taxi driver dropped me off at KFC…and there were no taxis. No problem. I walked down to the BP gas station we passed asked the clerk for a safe taxi, and they provided me with a phone book.

When I got to the hotel I encountered some of our OVC caregivers were in PMB for another training. They were shocked that I came on taxi by myself and stayed alone in a hotel room. One of the caregivers made it a point to ask me where I was staying and said, “We are in room 21, if you need anything come to our room”. So sweet. Then the second day of training, my director asked my friend’s supervisor to give me a lift on the way back to Pretty City. They only had a bakkie (pick-up truck) and it is against PC policy to travel in the back. So I started to ask people about the taxi routes out of PMB. The amaZulu started to get concerned as I would be hauling a donated laptop on at least two taxis. I was not concerned about it but the other attendees (who came in cars) were. They campaigned to have someone who worked for the funder (who was doing KZN site visits this week) drop me off in my shopping town, and then I took a taxi to the major intersection to turn into my valley for my director to pick me up. I still had to wait outside for 15 minutes but nothing happened to me or the laptop. In the end the hour lift to my shopping town it was nice ride with a seat belt (which I do not turn down these days)and good opportunity pick an another American’s brain about global health.

I am learning more and more that it is not about what my brash independent self wants, but how my actions impact other people. There are many reasons why I joined Peace Corps, but bonus would be to gain independence in an independent setting. Independence has a very different connotation in South Africa
Because if you are too stuck on independence, you miss out on the beauty of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu: if a computer is stolen, we all hurt

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