Apparently Pinafores Make You Look Married

I have not been able to put my clothes or dishes away since I switched rooms. A couple days ago I walked out and shoved a dress skirt over jeans. One of the home based carers called me out on my frumpy fashion choice, and gave me permission to wear jeans or a skirt but not both! When will I ever learn, wearing jeans is okay in Southern Africa (in some areas pants are not okay I was also called out for a fashion violations in Botswana). Regardless, I live in a tribal authority and I have only seen my Zulu supervisor done jeans once. If I am working with gogos, I build more rapport with skirts.

Yesterday we had special visitors (more later), but the home based carers generously waited an all day for a high school to show up. While we were waiting I tried to do a small activity for the needs assessment. We finished the activity and the same carer who gave me permission commented on that day’s outfit.

Carer: Zama you are wearing Jeans. Just jeans!

Zama: Yebo, I have not had a chance to put all my clothes away since I moved rooms. Jeans were what I could find this morning.

Carer: You should wear Jeans more often.

Zama: But if I am working with gogos I feel more comfortable in my pinafore (a gift from my Ndebele family).

Carer: Haibo Zama if you wear you pinafore you will look like a Gogo!

Zama: My mother has called me a Gogo since I was 15! (truth)

Everyone laughs

Carer: Zama you only wear the pinafore if you are married.

Zama: Well good! If people think I am married then they will not bother me! Laughter ensues

Carer: I still want you to wear jeans.

Zama: Sure but where are your Jeans! Why are you not wearing them?

Carer: No response

That concludes this round of “Katey Could Dress Better in the Eyes of AmaZulu.” I am sure there will be other options to tune in!


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!


isiZulu word of the post: Siyaphila
isiNgisi: part of the traditional Zulu greeting: I am alive

As in:

A:Sanibonani: I see you all
B:Yebo: Yes
A:Unjani: How are you all?
B:Siyaphila. Wena Unjani? : We are alive, and how are you
A: Nami Siyaphila, we are also fine

Today marks one month at as a PCV (I will probably never get tired of calling myself that title)! My one month at site will fall during the holiday weekend (South Africans like to cram most of their public holidays in April…that and Easter fell in April this year).

Traditional isiZulu greetings work well with inability to fib and tendency to take things literally. I do not have to fake saying, “I am fine” when I am really tired because my infant roommate woke me up at 4:30 (again, poor thing had the flu this month). I am alive, but I still tell my host family that I slept well (Ngilale Kahle). That is how I am doing. I am learning and finding everyday adventure here in the Berg.

A few highlights:

  • Completing almost one month straight of daily bucket baths and learning how to not splash water everywhere (less water is more in this case), yet often experiencing a cockatil effect with my hair.
Exhibit A: Thankfully South Africa's natural beauty trumps my hair issues! Taken at the base of the Royal Gorge!

Exhibit A:
Thankfully South Africa’s natural beauty trumps my hair issues! Taken at the base of the Royal Gorge!

  • Learning how to operate the hospice data base and seeing all the diverse needs in the valley.
  • Experiencing low-shedding during the work day (with hilariously bad timing): The power went out at 10 AM during a day when all of my org’s 21 carers were swapping out their visit sheets, and our tasks were completely dependent on the hospice database…online. I have to admire our carers’ dedication. Apparently the inability to access electricity was not an adequate excuse to delay their files!
  • The first time I felt underdressed: I was co-facilitating a support group session for caregivers and stealing local insight for my community needs assessment. That day I wore my longest skirt, but suddenly felt self-conscious when I realized that with the exception of one other woman, I was the only one with my hair exposed. Everyone else had a head covering or duka!
  • A hike into the Berg in Royal Natal. It will not be my last, I plan to take full advantage of my site location!
    If you can see a white trickle, that is Tugela Falls, the world's 2nd highest waterfall, during dry season!

    If you can see a white trickle that is Tugela Falls, the world’s 2nd highest waterfall, during dry season!


  • Formally meeting my induna (a local leader in AmaZulu culture) and his wife, and unsuccessfully asking her to teach me how to make beaded jewelry. She was not impressed when in response to her question, “can I make anything with my hands”, my only ability is a basic crochet stich (and I am not able to create doilies). I am not giving up yet!
  • The first solo trip to my shopping town during the dreaded end of the month (when the Government of SA releases their payments and pensions). This consisted of walking up the valley about 20 minutes, taking the taxi up 30 minutes, and then towards town. Verifying my bank account at an ATM to check my finances online involved a 30 minute cue to enter the bank, and yet I still cannot view my account on the internet! Then when returning home, I had to maneuver my groceries from the back of the bus and leap over the 25 kilo bags of rice, sugar, maize, and flour at my stop. It was a good call to wear tennis shoes and capris (the only time I am not in a skirt is when I am in town), especially when another woman disembarked behind me and need help getting her 25 kilo bags out of the taxi.

    One crabby goat...I think he was aware that that day was his last.

    One crabby goat…I think he was aware that that day was his last.

  • My first South African party. I woke up Saturday morning with goats in my yard, and we do not own goats. My host family tells me about an impromptu party and I decide to go into town. I get back around 3:00, and there are literally 30 drunk men on my stoop and lawn and the goats are now meat. That is the largest amount of men I have ever been around, let alone near my house so I was a bit freaked out. The left after sun down but were back Sunday morning, but I still stayed locked in my room for most of the night and Sunday, until my caring host mom came and bailed the irrational PCV out. I met most of the extended family and they kept me safe on the female side of the party (apparently it was segregated by gender…just like middle school!).
  • Finally at said party my first actual marriage proposal. I have had men wanting to hook up with me (because I am an American walking down the street) in both South Africa and Botswana, but never a proposal. One of the intoxicated men came up to me and the cousins, kissed my hand and started to talk in a mixture of isiZulu and isiNgisi (English). I tried to make every organ create a unified body language that translated to not interested full stop/period, but alcohol tends to impair brain capacity. He then starts to say he needs me and proposes lebola, the bride price of cattle. I try to tell him he could not get x amount of cows into the US with customs, and besides my father would just eat them as opposed to using it for my brothers in 30 years. That did not work so I appealed to Peace Corps, and saying it is against our policy rules to marry The man still is not getting it and once he says he loves me, I finally told him off.

    Zama: Ngiyaxolisa (I am sorry) but I do not love you.
    Man: Why?
    Zama (in blunt English): Well for one thing we just met 2 minutes ago and you are completely drunk.

    At this point, my host family decides that they have had enough entertainment and asks the man to leave. Apparently he is usually shy, when not under the influence of alcohol. Leave it to me to bring out another side of his personality.

Cheers to more experiences and remaining on my toes for the next (life willing) 27 months!

Rooibos Milkshake...yes they exist and I may be getting slightly addicted to them...every trip to the shopping town I try to budget!

Rooibos Milkshake…yes they exist and I may be getting slightly addicted to them…every trip to the shopping town I try to budget!

All the best,

PS: Huge congratulations to Fort Lewis College’s class of 2015! While I wish I could be there to cheer you on, I will toast to your futures and hard work with a Rooibos Milkshake (8 hours early…I will probably be asleep for the actual event but am still very proud of you).

Ubuntu at a Latrine: Clean Version

Note: I am fully comfortable discussing bodily functions (my first taste of international service was building water systems and latrines in Latin America), but I respect that not everyone is. If anyone wants the dirty details (pun intended), contact me in person.

My selection of 4 pit latrines. The following incident took place on April 4, 2015 in the latrine on the far right.

My selection of 4 pit latrines. The following incident took place on April 4, 2015 in the latrine on the far right.

Minus cutting my finger on a pitcher, face planting in front of my host family’s house in the Bush, and an angry suspension file unleashing its furry on my thumb, my time in South Africa was for the most part accident free until I dropped her Blackberry in a pit latrine, and bonded with my three new host sisters.

I currently reside in a compound of 5ish houses (I am still figuring out the exact number), at the very last room. I share the house with my host sister, her infant, and the Response Volunteer who leaves in June. While we have electricity (with the exception of lowsheading), we do not have plumbing or a ceiling. Our plumbing (it may seem gross but I clean it and no night time encounter with a snake is worth it) I have a roof, but the exposed rafters create an ecosystem for wasps.
That particular afternoon I was in an off mood. The response volunteer’s sister was visiting so I was alone for my first weekend at site and had my first encounter with street harassment. Nothing happened, the man who followed me for 10 minutes was completely drunk and not a threat, but it still added to the weird mood. I came back and started to type on my laptop when I hear the loud buzz of a wasp…over my bed. That was my threshold and I ran outside to grab the can of Raid (one of South Africa’s main insecticides).

An epic battle with two wasps ensued and ended with a wasp carcass in my bucket. Wasps can still sting when they are dead and in the midst of my fury I stormed off to the selection of latrines…and completely forgot to that I had my Blackberry in the other hand. As you may have guessed I dumped the wasp and accidentally knocked the phone down, in slow motion with me screaming “Noooo” to the amusement of my host family.

In a panic I asked my host family if we could get into the latrine, and my host Gogo thought I was crazy (which is correct but beside the point). They said it was not possible to get into the latrine and I responded “ I don’t know what to tell you but somehow the phone needs to get out”. It was an expensive phone and also even if the phone did not work, having a cellphone battery leach into soil was not a great environmental situation.

I sat on my stoop to regroup for 15 minutes to regroup and my host sisters came and said “Come Zama we have a plan to get the phone out.” They had a bucket and a big stick ready. I grabbed my headlamp and walked back to the latrine. Holding my breath I put my head into the latrine, but it was too dark for my fancy American headlamp to work. We tried for a 10 minutes, and then a Drakensburg downpour started. It is never a good idea to be under a tin roof during a thunderstorm so we postponed the search, and I had an emotional meltdown in my room.

30 minutes later the storm stopped. I put on my rubber proof shoes and ventured back into the latrine with my host sisters. 15 minutes later, my light still was not bright enough so we sent my 8 year old nephew to find a torch (flashlight). Our neighbors generously lent their torch and less than a minute after trying the new torch, we found the phone on the side of the latrine. I tried to maneuver the phone towards the center with two sticks with little success. I demoted myself to torch duty, and one of my host sisters took the sticks and got the phone to the center on the first try.

Then we tried to place a bucket in the latrine, but realized the bucket was too wide. As the American wracked her brain for how to solve the new problem, one of the host sisters found a netted onion bag, but it would not stay on the stick. Another host sister found a plastic juice bottle and promptly began cutting the container. They got the makeshift “bucket” into the latrine. I held the torch as my host sister gingerly pulled up the phone from the latrine, dropped it once, and then successfully placed in the bucket.

As the miraculously lit-up phone emerged, I grabbed it with my Ziploc-covered hand (the one bit of innovation I contributed) . With their shocked faces my host family family watched as I walked our rural trashcan (aka burn site for rubbish) to address the next issue: How to clean the phone that was covered in …well things you would expect to find in an active pit latrine (Hey I said I would keep it clean). At this point I wanted to throw it in a bucket of water, but my host sisters rightfully convinced me that was not a wise idea. One of the host sisters brought a roll of toilet paper but it was not removing the waste. A hilarious exchange followed:

Zama (my Zulu name): Do we have any wipes?

Host sister (who is holding her 6 month son): Zama are you asking if we have any wipes for babies’ bum?

Zama: Yebo.
Host sister (answers instantly while giving a bemused glance to my cousin who has a baby daughter): Of course we do! Sends 8 year old son to get the wipes.

I used up the entire pack of bum wipes and we were still trying to get to get into tiny crevasses. The same sister who thought of the juice bottle brought up the idea of toothpicks and ran to fetch them. When she came back, she decided to get her hairdryer ready for the next part of our operation. We walked into the storage house and layer the dried but stinky phone out on the ironing board. I disassembled the phone and started to blow dry the pieces. The hairdryer stopped three times in the process but it lodged the liquid (and other organisms) out. Finally it was time to do my American-go-to tactic (and the one my cohort suggested repeatedly) and place it overnight in rice.

I wish that I could say that my phone was fixed after all the effort from my host family. Unfortunately, the risk of electrocution was too great for it to be used. I had to purchase a used phone from an Indian shop in my shopping town However not all was lost. We were able to salvage my memory card and SIM card (it is a process to register phone numbers in South Africa at the moment). More importantly I bonded with my host sisters and learned ubuntu first hand.

Ubuntu is a hard word to translate into English, but it is an Nguni word (the branch of language isiZulu belongs to) that basically means, “I am because you are”. It is the rationale behind South African hospitality and thrives in the community oriented cultures of Kwa-Zulu Natal. When I was blow drying my phone and pulled out the SIM card, my host sister was relieved. She told me that she knew what it was like to lose a phone. While doing laundry her phone slipped out of her pocket and into a bucket. She did not discover the issue until she finished. Not even a grain bath could save the phone (y’all rice is no match for African environments’ toll on electronics). Yet she remembered how she felt when she lost the phone and was willing to help me get the phone out, despite how disgusting it is to deal with a pit latrine.

In the end, it was not the American with flashy electronics (and who caused the problem in the first place) but it was the three South African women who came up with the practical solutions. They got the phone out, if it was just me it would still be stuck there. My cohort had a great laugh and used a lot of excrement related puns at my expense (but I gave them permission). I thanked my host sisters with a chocolate avocado cake with yellow frosting, because I have a sick sense of humor. I still owe my roommate a bag of rice.