How do you say Zulu without a “z”?

Housekeeping: If there is a change to the blog, news that I do not want a separate post for congratulations I want to issue, I will place it in italics here.

On that note, I have had questions about the fate of my Master’s of Public Health (MPH) so here is clarification. I am tabling my MPH with a gracious 2 year leave of absence from the university. Technically I am an active student (and should have access to my catmail if international firewalls permit) but I will not continue my coursework until after Peace Corps. My graduate institution does not participate in the Masters International Program where volunteers attend graduate school and then start their service. Ideally, Masters International students have one year of course work before they leave, and asking placement to hold off until summer 2015 was not an option due to my medical holds. My college contemplated Peace Corps for my MPH internship, but I would not have enough coursework (and besides the Masters International format is not a great personal fit). I left with the best grade scenario and plan to return and finish my coursework in 2017 when service is over. Rest assured, I care a lot about my MPH and intend to complete it.

When you are invited to Peace Corps, sometimes the country office will provide language lessons on a computer file for you to practice. One of my close friends is invited to Mozambique and starting her Portuguese studies before the September departure (because unlike me, she is a responsible invitee). I will bust myself and say that I have not studied my languages Peace Corps gave me beyond the alphabet (graduate school has the uncanny ability to absorb your free time.) What I can tell you is that learning a target language for Peace Corps South Africa is an adventure in itself.

In the case of South Africa, there are 11 official languages including South African Sign Language, English, Afrikaans (the language or Afrikaners and basically a colloquial dialect of Dutch), and the majority of the languages are from the Bantu language family (the same linguistic group that contains Swahili and Setswana…what I learned in Botswana). The Bantu languages of South Africa are split into two branches: the Sotho-Tswana and the Ningui branch.

The CHOP program works in three provinces: Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and Kwa-Zulu Natal. Coincidently, the country office provided three language files for Sepedi, isZulu, and siSwati (the language of Swaziland). Sepedi or Northern Sotho is in the Sotho-Setswana branch and the other two are in the Nignui branch. While there are similarities in the alphabet, each languages has unique characteristics. For example, some of the words in Northern Sotho are similar to Setswana but they are different dialects. The Nignui branch stands out because it employs use of tongue clicks. It is difficult to type this phonetic feature but take the late Nelson Mandela’s ethnic group Xhosa. The “x” in isZulu and the Xhosa language is a tongue click.

If you look at a language map of South Africa, you would see that native speakers of all three languages are in close proximity to each other. What is ironic is that the all three alphabets have challenging differences.\Zulu has three distinct clicks, Siswati has one and there is no “x” or tongue clicks in Sepedi . Also, Sepedi does not have a letter “zet” or “z” which I find interesting. South Africa is bordered by Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, and the most widely spoken Bantu language is Zulu. Last I checked all countries and Zulu had “z”s and I am curious to see how they reconcile with their language’s absence of “z”.

While taking a break from packing, I was watching a TV show where they described a hipster teacher from San Francisco who was teaching himself conversational Zulu. My first thought was, how does someone teach themselves conversational Zulu voluntarily without a native speaker’s support? I have listened to a few language lessons, but think I have one generic tongue click. I need a native speaker to teach me proper annunciation for all three clicks. Zulu is exotic to Americans, probably because English has a weird “Z” aversion (besides zoos, few landmark names start with “Z”) and any language that starts with the letter “Z” is automatically cool. I just found the thought of someone teaching themselves a Bantu language in California for fun, without a native speaker’s feedback hilarious. Those who can get a language simply by listening to phrases have a rare gift, and I am not in that caliber!

The next 3 months will determine what language I will learn for the next 27 months. I think it would be fascinating to take on a language with tongue clicks, but we will see if Peace Corps feels that my brief stent with Setswana equips me with helping a community that speaks Sepedi. I am flexible, and aware that language is not my strength.

English is spoken throughout the country, but it seems like the Rainbow Nation is thriving with the linguistic diversity (and if South Africans are capable of speaking languages beyond English, then it is more than acceptable for Americans to speak Spanish and other languages, just saying). Also, while this may seem unusual, there are hundreds of indigenous languages in the United States without official language designations.

All the best,

PS: I am using my Youtube accessibility while it lasts. Hopefully the two provide a visual appreciation for the beauty of linguistic diversity.


IPhones Actually Have SIM Cards

Happy and Healthy 2015!

While 2014 was full of personal growth and incredible opportunities, I am glad it is in the past. I learned in 2014 to not interpret my life ambitions with certainty (or in colloquial terms: with a grain of salt), but it is nice that I will likely be in South Africa for the rest of 2015 after January 20th.

Like all Peace Corps Invitees, my month before staging has been spent accumulating items for the next 2.25 years. South Africa has nice department stores, but in my brief experience they are expensive. I am probably not the tallest female volunteer in South Africa, but I struggle enough to cover my legs in the States. Wearing short dresses/skirts in Southern Africa can instigate cultural clashes and the country office established a certain dress code for training. My scavenger hunt for appropriate knee-length apparel meant copious amounts of time on Amazon, Ebay, Sierra Trading, and an overly successful visit to the neighborhood Goodwill.

Today was one of two phone conferences the country desk coordinated for SA 31-to-be (That is my group number). I was hesitant to join at first because phone conferences are not my favorite (I cannot read body language and usually interrupt people) but it was a good experience. It was dinner time in South Africa but the country director and new head of programing and training generously stayed late to answer our questions. There were two times, and about 12 of us joined for the West Coast half hour. This was the first time I heard other invitees on the line, which put my irrational fear about me being the only member of SA 31 to rest (I would feel really bad for the country office…I can be a handful)!

My question triggered a funny moment. I am one of the few members of my generation who chooses not to have a smartphone. I asked if we needed e-mail capability on the phone and would have time to shop for one if necessary. The country staff said we would have time to shop for phones during training and in order for a smart phone to work in country that we needed a SIM card capable phone. The country desk officer at Peace Corps headquarters said that his IPhone did not have a SIM card, and the director of programing and training quickly corrected him as IPhones have SIM cards. The desk officer then semi-joked that he would drop his phone to see if he could find the SIM card. Everyone laughed and someone at headquarters quickly showed the desk officer where his SIM card was. No valuable electronics were harmed in the confusion!

In addition to a bit of humor, the country staff provided us with a general outline of expectations and asked us to reflect on what we wanted to bring to South Africa. Ironically I just had a tiny-existential crisis about this Tuesday night. I could not pinpoint a special exact reason or purpose for doing Peace Corps, except that I have had fixations about different cultures and service since elementary school (not being facetious….I really was a weird child). I am wary of establishing purposes because I do not want set expectations and am fresh out of college. Beyond my bachelor’s in psychology and a grasp on public health, I do not have a snazzy skill set to offer like a law degree or counseling license. Granted I have 9 months experience with Motivational Interviewing, tutor certifications, and fantastic lessons from college organizations abroad and on campus. Still I will probably be one of the youngest members of SA 31 and I do not have a lot of formal work experience. There is nothing wrong with that because I still can add value in South Africa.

I am ready to learn from my South African community and support their solutions for addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic. I am also someone who really wants this experience and realizes that it will be extremely difficult. In the words of my insightful classmate from last semester (who was a volunteer in Paraguay), “You can only accomplish what your community lets you accomplish.”

Is that awareness and passion enough to bring to South Africa? That is what I am providing to the Rainbow Nation at this time.

All the best,
Katey (who is still not getting an IPhone…maybe a blackberry if I have to be forced into smartphone-dom!)

Earth to Staging, We have a city…Let the Travel Logistic Quirks Commence!

Greetings from the 505,

Due to my jagged Peace Corps’ application process, I have been holding my breath. Despite receiving a final medical clearance in late August, I was still unconvinced this South African extravaganza was happening. The piece of information that would assure my future status with Peace Corps was the location of staging. Staging is when members of a Peace Corps cohort gather in an American city for final logistics and then fly together to their host country. Based on my limited research, groups serving in African nations stage on the East Coast and 3 cities in that area have reliable direct flights to Johannesburg (New York City, Washington D.C. with South African Airways, and Atlanta through Delta). I know last year’s CHOP group staged in Philadelphia and drove to New York for the flight.

In mid-October, there still was not an established location for staging and since due to particular logistics (more in a minute), I decided to e-mail the South Africa country desk to try and plan. I received a gracious e-mail from the country desk officer who told me that he could not give the information and but to stay tuned for future instructions. True to his word, the staging unit started to send reminders in Mid-November and weekly updates from the country desk in December. I started to consider that staging was a mythical initiation only special invitees attended. One e-mail asked if I wanted a free mocha brown T-shirt and I provided the requested information, unsure if I would ever receive said-shirt in an unspecified location. Yet I still tried to complete tasks, while simultaneously preparing for finals and the move back home.

After a 6.5 hour car ride to move back home, I could finally exhale! Not only did I do unexpectedly well on graduate school assignments, but as of the 18th I have a concrete staging date and location! Staging is on January 20th in Philadelphia and at 2:30 AM on the 21st, the group will travel to New York and fly out of JFK around 10 AM. While I am still getting used to the idea of that time of a departure (hey at least I openly admit that I am neither the nicest nor a cognitively coherent person at 2 AM), I am embracing flexibility and grateful that there is at least a departure! Also, our schedule ends at 7 PM and enables additional sleeping time.

This morning I called the travel agency that supports Peace Corps with travel logistics, to see what would happen with my situation. For anyone who is unfamiliar with air travel in New Mexico, there are only a few daily flights that head East. Most destinations (like Philadelphia or Charlotte where my American parents are from) require a connecting flight. This situation provides additional flight experience (which I have benefited from) but does not work when it comes to arrival deadlines. In the case with staging, I had to be in Philadelphia by noon on the 20th.

While on the phone with the travel agent, I quickly found out that meeting the noon deadline was impossible and I would have to leave a day earlier. Thankfully Peace Corps would pay for an additional night in the hotel and I agreed to a January 19th itinerary. Now, I thought the travel agent was lovely because she was genuine. She got slightly distracted by her coworker’s holiday sweets (she recently lost 80 pounds) and was excited to find out we share the same birthday (which is rare). Shortly after I hung up, I checked the itinerary and saw that it was for April 19th . Oops.

I called back the agency and talked the same agent (who was still being taunted with her coworker’s treats). She rapidly addressed the problem and sent a January 19th itinerary. After 20 minutes, I do not see a January 19th itinerary e-mail on Outlook and decide to make a 3rd phone call. I talk to another friendly agent (who was ready to leave for the holidays), and find out their e-mails were backed up due to a computer glitch. The agent graciously stayed on the line until I had the January 19th itinerary!

Thank you SATO travel for your friendly service and patience with New Mexico’s high-maintenance airline logistics! Sorry for the frustrating technological issues and dessert torture but it made this story more entertaining beyond “Yea I got my ticket to Staging in Philadelphia and I am officially making this South African adventure a reality”.

Although the news is exciting, it is surreal to think that I now have less than a month before Peace Corps. Eish! There is a lot to accomplish before then, but I am so grateful that this long-desired ambition is actually about to happen.

On a side note, I do not have the best luck flying American through Dallas Fort Worth (My family was once stuck in Dallas overnight and another time I missed my flight back to NM, thankfully I caught a later evening flight)…and that is my connection to Philadelphia. The only other option was connecting through Chicago in January, so I will take my chances and give American the benefit of the doubt (all airlines are prone to snafus, not just American). Still any crossed fingers on my behalf for a smooth, finite, 2 hour layover, on MLK Day 2015 in Dallas are much appreciated!

All the best,

A Quick Welcome!


Thanks for visiting! If you are looking for the internet home of Katey’s African Antics 2.0, this is the right spot. I am currently occupied with finals, maintaining ties with my graduate institution, and moving logistics. Once I am back home, I will probably publish a few posts before staging in mid-January. In the meantime feel free to browse around the site and provide feedback. I will probably make a few edits over winter break, but at least the site is ready for public viewing (one task completed on my December-to-do-list…yea)!

I better get back to studying but just to give everyone a vital status, I am well. This experience gets more real as staging inches closer. I just had a lovely Thanksgiving with my loved-ones and am excited to share Christmas with them before service. While I am nervous (welcome to life with an anxiety disorder…you get used to it), that energy is currently directed towards finals than the snakes of South Africa. Yes, that is really my irrational thought related to service at the moment as I have yet to hear of a volunteer’s encounter with a snake that ended irreversibly bad. However, I will take an animal phobia over a fear related to human actions any day! Even with my spontaneous freak-outs (which apparently are normal for Peace Corps Invitees) it has not dimmed my excitement for this South African adventure!

If I do not get to post before the time of merriment, I wish everyone a healthy and happy holiday season! Please stay tuned for more insights and reflection.

All the best,