A Very Venda Weekend

All photos courtesy of the Psychologist! Thank you again!

There are many reasons why I opted not to E.T. (early terminate or quit Peace Corps) during this long wait but if I can place credit in one spot, I stayed because Venda skirts are awesome. When I was pulled from site, I had an irrational aversion to being placed in Limpopo. I do not know why, you would think that the most linguistically and arguably culturally (in a tribal sense) diverse province would be my preference. In the midst of a security pull, the brain complies some bizzare thoughts.

Example of a Venda Skirt (someone graciously let me borrow this one.

Example of a Venda Skirt (someone graciously let me borrow theirs for a couple hours).

Anyways, Venda is a traditional culture in Northern Limpopo’s Southpansberg Mountains. The woman’s traditional 2 piece skirt is with cotton striped fabric (which reminds me of sarapes), elaborate embroidery or binding and engineered to withstand the extreme heat. As a graduate student in Tucson the heat control skirt peaked my interest,.

On the weekend I was pulled from site, my New Mexican magnet was functioning and I finally met the New Mexican PCV from SA 29.  She is a rockstar with at least 13 different projects serving various Venda Communities (the organization manages Drop in Centers and Home Based Carers in multiple Venda communities). We hit it off well and she shared some amazing projects and an invitation to visit. Week 5 the backpackers was overbooked (again) and I decided to take this opportunity to explore Venda. On the 7 hour bus ride, I saw the general areas where most Limpopo PCVs reside, and while they do not have a 9/10 bus ride to Pretoria, I can appreciate how Limpopo PCVs also deal with South Africa’s vastness in terms of distance.

I met my friend (the Psychologist) at the suburb of Elephant Head City (the capital of Venda). We walked to her beautiful place where she has a big avocado and mango tree in the back yard. We would sit on the porch with our drinks, discussing life’s events each evening. We went to bed early, preparing ourselves for the long workday.

The next morning we had a healthy breakfast and walked to her org. The Psychologist is the only non-South African at her organization and it is awesome to see how she integrates with her Venda cowokers. After being introduced to her organization’s staff members we gathered our equipment for the day and set off to work with the day’s task.

One of the 13 projects under the Psychologist is bee keeping, aka out of my comfort zone as I do not like flying insects with stinging capabilities. I think are at least 8 hives in the project, and various drop-in centeres under the psychologist’s Org try to produce honey that they can sell. The first community we looked at was about 30 minutes from town, and the bee hive was on the chief’s land. When I say Venda is a traditional community it is not a hyperbole. I had to greet the chief in the traditional way; waiting  with bare feet on a blanket and then when the chief approaches, kneeling head down with a flat back, and then laying sideways and hiding my face. Once we gained permission with the chief, we evaluated the hive. The chief mentioned that the hive was dead and upon investigation the box got wet. So we cleaned the hive out and used corrugated iron to make a roof-like cover.

After an hour we went to another community on top of a hillside. The chief (who also hosted the community’s hive) recently passed away, so we gained the permission of the uncle. That hive was also inactive probably because it was in the sun. So it was back to greet the acting chief for permission to move the box, and we placed it under a shady tree. By the time we maneuvered the hive into an amiable position with another makeshift corrugated iron roof, it was 4 PM. The Psychologist really wanted me to see active bees so we quickly gowned up and checked the organization’s hive. Despite my delayed timing on the smoker, the bees did not sting and I did not panic.

Making bees unhappy for the sake of honey

Making bees unhappy for the sake of honey

Holding the most bees I have ever encountered in my life

Holding the most bees I have ever encountered in my life

Smiling, not grimacing...see I was a willing participant and not traumatized!

Smiling, not grimacing…see I was a willing participant and not traumatized!

In the end, bees are tolerable. I still hate wasps.

The next morning I sat in on the psychologist’s co-piloted project juvenile diversion program with the district. About 8 youth in conflict with the law and social workers came for a session on conflict resolution. Even though the entire session was in Tshivenda, I could see how much the social workers sincerely cared about their clients and that the participants loved acting out the dramas! We had to leave early for the SA 32/31 Venda area meet up in Elephant Head City, but it was rewarding to see a small part of the program.

Before we met up at the post office, the Psychologist and I stopped by the fabric store to look at the patterns available for a mosisi. Neither of us bought anything, but we marveled at the myriad of stripe patterns on the skirt. As for the lunch outing it was awesome to see the 32s thriving and I thought enjoyed my mango lassi and Pakistani food. The most eventful thing that happened was my lawn chair I was sitting in broke…one second I was right in middle of a conversation and suddenly BAM… on the floor to the shock of 12 PCVs! The poor waiter was alarmed but I guess the chair simply buckled. I was pretty calm about it, no bruises or injuries. Soon the group went our separate ways and the Psychologist and I chilled with a delicious and local fruit salad (Limpopo is known for the abundance of fruit) with grapefruit, pineapple, papaya, watermelon and sprinkles of cinnamon. Ah the semi-tropical lifestyle.

My finally day of the trip consisted of laundry (believe it or not, it is challenging to hand wash clothes in a back packers, I sort of cheat and only wash underwear and underarms of shirts) and one of the few times (the Gogo let me take advantage of her organization’s  laundry facilities) I was able to fully wash my clothes during this site change. Then we toured to Phiphidi waterfall for a nice hike and picnic lunch. For some odd reason Phiphidi reminds me of a Greek organization.

The main waterfall

The main waterfall

The Psychologist called this the Wonder Woman Pose...I call it keeping my balance while my feet ae on two rocks.

The Psychologist called this the Wonder Woman Pose…I call it keeping my balance while my feet are on two rocks.

It was a lovely weekend shadowing an amazing PCV and exploring a dynamic culture. I hope this is not my last trip to Venda, as there is so much more of Northern Limpopo I want to see (and I still need to get one of those skirts)!

My attempt at a Venda pose, while checking on the Drop in Centre's library, yet another one of the Psychologist's 13 projects.

My attempt at a Venda pose, while checking on the Drop in Centre’s library, yet another one of the Psychologist’s 13 projects.

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