When “Going to the Mountain” Does Not Involve S’mores


The final prompt for the Blogging Abroad Boot Camp: My new normal (aka the behaviors we required). One of the biggest PC adages in existence is that service makes you a completely different person. Some PCVs do undergo a personality transformation, yet I cannot say South Africa completely changed me. Hopefully I am less brash and gained bit more tenacity with humility but honestly I feel like the same Katey-Red that left. What South Africa has impacted is my view of the world and patterns of thought. These new perceptions I have obtained applies to serious topics and fascinating cultural interpretations of concepts I was  familiar with in the States.  Like I will never think of camping or mountains in the same manner.

I am a proud mountain girl and regardless of where life leads me, mountains will always symbolize home. Every place I lived (North Carolina does not count as I was a baby) had dramatic conglomerates of rock that pierce the sky. This pattern has continued in South Africa where for the first 5 months of service I lived in the Central Drakensburg foothills and here in my Amajuba site I can see Utrecht’s Balele Mountains on clear days. Anyways, like most mountain appreciators two of my hobbies are hiking and camping. South Africa’s natural beauty happens to be breathtaking.


I rest my case: South Africa is aesthetically pleasing. Taken on the way to Tugela Falls, March 2013.

As time passed in South Africa, I felt uncomfortable because my communities did not share my enthusiasm. There are black South Africans who enjoy hiking, but the people I usually encounter in outdoor stores like Cape Union Mart are other whites (usually Afrikaaners) There were other signs as well like in May when I hiked in Royal Natal and a prep school class comprised of Indian children from Durban was there but I did not see many Black people. When I wanted to hike the hill that overlooks my site to get a photo of the valley for the Community Needs Assessment, my host cousin just balked.  

Last month I was attending a PCSA training of the trainers and gained an answer for why the lack of enthusiasm exists. I was at breakfast with three PCSA staff (our training manager who I believe is Pedi /Northern Sotho and siSwati and Xitsonga Language teachers) who happened to be men, when the conversation arose about mountains. Then I asked if they shared my admiration for the outdoors and with wide eyes they shook their heads as they started to share their childhood cattle camping trips.

Little boys in the rural areas would join the male adults of the family in herding the cows wherever the bulls wanted. Sometimes the bulls would decide to spend the night on the mountain in spite of Southern African elements that can be lethal. After the training, I related my discussion with Mr. Swazi who laughed and then proceeded to tell me about all the snakes he encountered during those forced hikes in Swaziland. Eish. He may have ruined my hiking plans if I make it to Swaziland.

When typing this, I remembered an additional connotation for South African mountains. “Going to the mountain” is another way to describe boys attending South African initiation schools where circumcision takes place. Unlike the United States where most infant boys are circumcised at birth, many African cultures use circumcision as a rite of passage. These days the events usually take place during the winter school holidays (June-July) and every year initiates experience injuries and some even die during this process. There is a continuous and conscious effort on part of the South African governments to incorporate medical procedures with traditional practices in order to keep these boys safe.

 Surprisingly while other Nguni cultures like the Xhosa practice initiation schools, the amaZulu do not generally participate. King Shaka banned the practice in the 19th century because it put warriors out of commission for months during the recovery time and it has become part of culture to abstain from the practice. However the advent of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) as a reliable method to prevent HIV transmission, the amaZulu King has encouraged VMMC and some teenager boys are opting for the experience in medical facilities. Like most things in South Africa, circumcision is at the heart of a debate of preserving traditional cultural practices or adopting modern practices to address problems.

There are two ways Americans would not usually perceive mountains! Moving forward I will continue to enjoy the local scenery (and maybe attempt hikes) but respect that the amaZulu will not feel the same way.

Side note if anyone was curious about what initiation schools are like, Nelson Mandela vividly describes his Xhosa initiation in “A Long Walk to Freedom.”  Granted things have changed since the early 20th century but Mandela did a beautiful job explaining the cultural significance behind initiation schools.

This concludes the Blogging Abroad Boot Camp Challenge! Thank y’all for the likes, comments, visits, and a special thanks to Blogging Abroad for the opportunity! I now have at least 20 new post ideas and enjoyed exploring other cultures through the other bloggers. Also, Blogging Abroad has an awesome blog directory of Peace Corps Blogs. Please check out the directory and meet more of the stellar bloggers (there are some incredible voices currently in the PCV field) and once the stipend comes in I will update my own directory with a few blogs that encountered through the challenge! Feel free to continue following Eish. My intent is to keep the commentary on South African Life until March/April 2017!

All the best,




The Domesticated Big 5: Amajuba Style


Blog-Challenge-2016This entry’s prompt for the Blogging Abroad Blog Contest: Top 5 (aka a condensed set of community highlights).  In Southern Africa, Safari Companies have a promotion called “Big 5” which refers to 5 large species of game: Cape Water Buffalo, Rhino, Lion, Elephant, and Leopard. It is a source of excitement to spot all 5 animals on a game drive. As an exchange student in Botswana, I saw 4 out of the 5 in the wild(minus the elusive lion). Yet as my time continues in South Africa, I realize that animal excitement does not require expensive stays at a national park. The unsupervised livestock of Amajuba keep me plenty  entertained.


A blurry photo of the big 5 (minus elephants, those stamps were already used) as illustrated by the South African Post Office…just to prove that I am not making the concept up!

In honor of our neighboring municipality’s seat Utrecht and its designation as the only town in South Africa completely surrounded by game park (alas with no Big 5 there for the sake of Utrecht’s residents), here is one of Casa de Izilokazane’s activity options: game viewing (Amajuba edition). Presenting: izinkomo, izinkhuku, izimvu, izimbuzi, and izinja.

Casa de Izilokazane offers prime game viewing for the Amajuba “Big 5.” We guarantee our guests will at least see 3 if not all 5 on the list.

Izikomo or Cows


Typical life in rural South Africa. One day I walk to work and a cow is tied up next to the gate.

South Africa competes for the title of “Beef Country of the world.” The amaZulu love cows and consume most body parts including tripe (the stomach) and livers (an excellent source of iron with a bloody taste). Cows are also the heart of a traditional practice called lobola. Common in many indigenous cultures of Southern Africa, lobola is a bride price where a man provides a certain number of cows to his hopeful father in law.

Best time for viewing: Cows are present year round but calving season is in the summer (January-March) when green grass is readily available.

(Side note: calving season depends on the area. At site 1.0 calving season with its nocturnal births was in the winter from June-September. In the Drakensburg there is a parasite in sprouting grass that kills young calves. Even though the grass is sparsely availably in the winter, the calves would build enough immunity by the time spring hit).

Prime Locations: Any place with grass.

Izinkukhu/ chickens


Right outside Casa de Izilokazane’s windows. In the late morning our building’s shadows provide an oasis from the South African heat.

Chickens are the best source of protein with meat and amaqanda/eggs!

Prime Locations: Chickens are free spirits and wander through out Amajuba’s bucolic terrain. Ideal settings are blanketed in corn kernels (Our Gogo can provide some if you are pining for a chicken encounter).They are the only animal our host family domesticates on our compound.

Best time for viewing: Anytime, according to our Hosts, “Goats, sheep, and chickens birth like humans.”



I am cheating here because the izimvu were elusive this past week. This is from site 1.0 in the Drakensburg.

The amaZulu use sheep practically for food and wool in the cooler Battlefields regions. Utrecht is also a major producer of wool in KZN. However an interesting use for sheep is a common prize for amaZulu dance competitions because sheep are the least expensive animal to obtain (although if funding is great goats or cows are the first choice). The winning team kills the sheep and enjoys mutton.

Prime Locations: the rolling hills covered in luscious grass (and often they trail behind cow herds).



My corner of Schnizteland’s taxi stop for Duke City, occupied by izimbuzi. Immediately prior to this photo, the izimbuzi were engaged in a passionate albeit inconvenient (for everyone else) head-butting competition.

The clever goats are important in isiZulu culture, as they are the only animal who can communicate with the ancestors. They are traditionally slaughtered at ceremonies called umsebenzis where families communicate with the ancestors. At Casa de Izilokazane, the adjacent rondavel is the ancestor house with a small shrine. Space is limited for our large host family and people live in the rondavel full time. Yet in the event of an umsebenzi they would offer the goat inside the rondavel before cooking it for the guests.

Prime Locations: Everywhere. Goats are the real mayors of Amajuba, they own the street. Their favorite place to exert power is at the local taxi rank for Duke City, where they frequently strut in front of moving vehicles.

Izinja or dogs


A typical February izinja scene, scrambling for food at the taxi rank.

As my former host uncle said, dogs are security systems not pets in rural South Africa. Casa de Izilokazane is not liable for all potential events that could perpetuate if you touch said dogs.

Best time for viewing: February. The isiZulu word for February “uNhololnja” means “dogs in heat” and this time of the year, dogs all over KZN are desperately trying to procreate. Come see females devouring every scrap of food insight and hear lover’s squabbles at 11 PM!

Prime locations: any trash can in a resident’s yard, especially after dinner.

Guests who spot all 5 animals win a pair of earplugs and eye mask! If the sightings occur at night or in the workplace, they receive a paid meal (their choice of South Africa’s chain restaurants) in Duke City!


Imbuzi butt, scuttling out the door after being caught red-handed in my organization’s building. This was my first work day in Amajuba.


*extra isiZulu cultural note: You may have noticed that all of the animal names start with “izin” or “Izim” This is because they belong to noun classes for plural animate objects (these classes are primarily composed of animals but as in every language there are exceptions to the rule). To talk about one animal the vocabulary is as follows:

Chicken: inkukhu       

Cow: Inkomo

Dog: Inja

Sheep: Imvu

Goat: Imbuzi

Culture Shock: CVs Edition

A quick belated congratulations (almost a week after the event) to the MEZCOPH MPH graduates at University of Arizona class of 2015! There was a Cadbury Oreo Chocolate Bar toast in your honor on the 16th (it is as good as it sounds…and I do not like chocolate)! I will miss seeing you when I get back to Tucson but please feel free keep in touch!

My org has one of the few accessible computers in the valley and community members often come in for schoolwork or typing CVs (curriculum vitae). The term “resume” is unheard of in my South African area. This has been a personal adjustment, as the only reasons why I have a CV is it was required for my graduate school applications and I conducted research in college. Creating the CV was a week long editing process, not a document people ask me to type in 30 minutes (but I am a perfectionist when it comes to my resume/CV/LinkedIn Profile, I will edit and reformat until someone pulls me away).

Regardless of what you call the document, they are important in a municipality with a 48.6% unemployment rate as of 2011(thank you Statistics South Africa…I cannot come up with these numbers alone!). Since most learners and carers are unable to type, the org Staff has the task. I have typed  two CVs so far. The first time our carer gave me her CV to type I was floored. There are usually five sections: Personal Details, Contact Details, Education, Achievements, and Personal Skills. The format appears similar the American counterpart but the Personal Details are…very personal. Anything you would want to know about a person from their birth date, identity number (equivalent to a passport number or social security number), marital status, criminal offenses, nationality, and gender is included. Really the first part of the CV is a demographic checklist.

I asked my American director if it was okay for me to type this information, and she informed me this is usual. I did not believe the director (even though she has lived in the country for 10 years) and actually googled CVs in South Africa. Turns out this information is expected on CVs in South Africa, across all cultural backgrounds. It was not just a quirk exclusive to the AmaZulu and I need to listen to my director more often…lesson learned. I have to laugh at how Americans who make a living on constructing resumes would react to the South African CV. Apparently all the classroom discussions on how to create a resume…er CV to reduce the chances of identity theft and gender discrimination I had in college are irrelevant in South Africa!

Today our cleaning lady (one of my favorite people in the community) asked me to type a resume for her 19 year old daughter in Grade 12. I still feel weird about providing a teenager girl’s personal details in the open, but when in South Africa, you adapt to the established South African norm. I get a kick out of her hobbies of “Playing netball (SA version of Girl’s Basketball)and music”The municipality is actually building a road next to her house so she actually can declare a concrete physical address (do not ask me what my physical address is as it would take a paragraph to explain). The physical address is not the same as the postal address (that would be an hour away in my shopping town). Subjects she has passed include English, Mathematical Literacy, History, Tourism, Geography, and Life Orientation (a combination of health and home economics). The girl seems well rounded (I cannot claim anything cool like tourism from my High School electives) and I sincerely hope she finds a job with her CV.

South Africa has broaden my views of CVs, but I still prefer the American format. I will not declare my gender or social security number on either document! If my surname is hyphenated at any point in the future, y’all can assume my marital status has changed!

PS: I am aware that typing the resumes is not a sustainable solution (what will the community do when the resident secretary leaves and no one is available to type after April 2017?). Not sure if I am the best fit for typing classes or broadening computer access but if anyone has any ideas I am open!

Since When is Salmon Pink a Feminine Color?

Zulu word of the post: bomvana/ipinki
isiNgisi: Pink (adjective)
Meaning: as in the color of a ljezi (jersey) that caused an interesting interaction this week.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to embarrass my dad and for his birthday purchased him a salmon pink shirt and pastel castle play set to try and make him more of a girl. Being an awesome dad, he played with the castle often and dutifully wore his “pink” shirt to work. As a result I started to realize how colors do not really have a gender, but it is people place things into pink and blue boxes.

Leave it to South Africa to show me that despite great parenting and fantastic Safe Zone training to support LGBTQ+ individuals at the University of Arizona last semester, I still have more progress to make when it comes to not assuming gender.

Many people in Zulu culture address each other by calling each other sisi and bruthi lto show respect. If they are older you can say gogo, kulu (grandfather), baba (father), or mama. I like this idea of a big AmaZulu family but was too shy to use bruthi or sisi in my daily greetings (except calling taxi drivers bruthi, because you need to win over taxi drivers). One morning on my way to work I saw a woman pushing a wheelbarrow with a toddler in a knitted salmon pink jumper (or sweater in South African English). I greeted the woman properly and then decided to be brave and greet the wheelbarrow occupant.

Zama: Sanibonani Sisi
Woman: looking amused, says something in isiZulu I cannot understand
Zama: Ngiyaxolisa Anguzwa (I am sorry but I did not hear/understand)
Woman: He is a boy!

Oops. However later on that afternoon, my Zulu supervisor made the same mistake so I am not the only one!
I thought about the time I came home two weeks ago, and saw my 8 year old host nephew running around in a blue stripped sweater with silver strands of glitter weaved through the patterns. I was slightly amused and thought he grabbed someone’s sweater as he hurried outside to play. Then I remembered that is the only 8 year old on the compound and that would be his sweater. In South Africa, a jumper is a jumper. If it keeps you warm in the Berg, then who cares if the sweater would only be worn by girls in America because of tiny flecks of glitter?

Also, the following day after the wheelbarrow incident, I was in the War Room (post coming on what that is) and was serving a frosted cake I made for my supervisor’s birthday. I dislike the texture sticky things and pulled out one of my mini American hand sanitizers so I would not have to leave the room to wash my hands. I was sitting next to two men who started to look at me. Granted I was the only non-Zulu in the room and I am sort of used to random stares. Then one of the men picks up the blue bottle of hand sanitizer, absolutely mesmerized. Maybe the men were also perplexed about how “Fresh Sparking Snow” has a smell (which according to Bath and Body Works it evidently does) but I have to laugh at how the two men were interested by the product, when most men in the States run away from the mere sight of a Bath and Body Works store!