10 things I will miss about the bush

10 things I will miss about the Bush

1. Photo shoots with cheerful babies

2. Family is never far away…introduce yourself as a Sibanyoni or a Mahlangu and chances area stranger turns out to be a distant cousin (for the record I am really sad to loose Sibanyoni as my last name)

3. Sunday dinner and visits with my 90 year old Gogo.

4. The toddler girl who lives across from the truck shop who would greet me every morning with the one English word she knows…Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!

5. A slice of New Mexico at my bus stop.

I think they look like yuccas

I think they look like yuccas

6. Sunsets almost as good as New Mexico. Almost…

7. The relentless antics of goats

..eating Mam's mealie (corn) plants

..eating Mam’s mealie (corn) plants

8….and the parade of hilarious ihaha (which sounds exactly like the sound geese make).

9. Mam. She is an amazing woman who would laugh at my humanistic attempts of sarcasm.

10. All the children on my street screaming MUSA and racing up the street for a hug at the end of the day!



Ngiyabonga the Bush. I will sincerely miss you.
– Musa Sibanyoni (maybe I can hyphenate my last name).


In Awe of Ndebele Women

Originally written on March 29, 2015
Remember my first experience with Ndebele costume ( where I posed with a topless girl)? Well, during the host family farewell, several of my fellow trainees flaunted their host family’s traditional Ndebele clothing. Our family was too busy to have me wear traditional clothing for the actual event, but my Aunt was determined to have me wear Ndebele dress before I left.

I made it very clear that although that Ndebele women are bare chested in the costume, my breasts would be covered by a camisole for a photo-shoot. We arrived at Gogo’s house at 3:00 PM and quickly found out that I do not have the typical body type of Ndebele women. First the beaded skirt had to be attached (with a gigantic and anxiety-inducing safety pin) on my waist. Then we tried on several rings to go around my waist and eventually found one that fit over my broad shoulders. Once the waist rings were in place then it was time to adjust the leg rings.

Eish the leg rings. Since I stand on long legs, I had to try and place 4 rings below my knee. The first two went on with out an incident, and then we try to get the 3rd ring on…then things got tricky. The 4th ring, Mam and my aunt put a plastic bag over my foot and gently worked the last ring over my foot. It took about 15 minutes but once the padding was in place, we slowly stuffed padding down the rings, and walked (well in my case swung my legs around and waddled) outside for a photo-shoot.

The entire Ndebele ensemble and my buckling leg rings!

The entire Ndebele ensemble and my buckling leg rings!

When the entire street heard that the American was trying on Ndebele costume they all wanted to join the photoshoot. We spent 30 minutes posing in various parts of the costume. It was really neat to see how excited everyone was about sharing their culture. Once it was all over (and I was safely sitting down) we pulled the leg rings off. My family was very caring and the minute they started to pull too hard, they let me slowly guide the rings off myself.

 A beaded blanket that physically strong women can wear for hours. I was done after five minutes.

A beaded blanket that physically strong women can wear for hours. I was done after five minutes.

Maybe, I’d be a whiny Ndebele woman but I am astounded by the strength of my host family astounds me. These women dance, stand, and with thousands of beads for hours. They also drop everything for a neighbor in need. Just last week Mam went to Pretoria to help a woman with her job, because she needed a day off to visit the doctor. Another day she left at 5 to take another woman to the hospital so she could deliver a baby girl. Even though Mam is back in school to hopefully become a Creshe (preschool) teacher and does not have a lot of resources, she is always thinking about others. The generosity and strength of Ndebele women is astounding. I am so humbled that I got to experience it in the Bush and that one woman calls me her child.

My Ndebele family

My Ndebele family

Euphemisms are Deadly…but not this Time

Originally written on March 3, 2015

(Scene)This morning at the breakfast. Musa (Katey-the-klutz’s name in the bush which ironically means grace) is frantically packing her lunch before she walks to isiZulu class and Mam is eating breakfast.

Mam: Musa this morning my mom passed.

Musa: Puts down the bread, processes the heartache for a few seconds, and comes up with a response. Mam, I am so sorry.

Mam: She passed her regards.

Musa: recovering from the thought of her 90 year old Gogo’s demise Mam for the record that means something very different in the United States.

I think my American was Showing

Originally written on February 10, 2015

A couple weeks ago, our group had a discussion on nudity. I currently reside in an Ndebele community which has elaborate coming of age ceremonies. The first night of homestays, some of the group attended as one concerned trainee put it as a “Naked Girl” ceremony where breasts were exposed. I think it is fair to say that most Americans would be shocked at the sight of exposed breasts in public. Our training director explained that American’s definition of naked and South Africans definition are different. If the public area is covered in South Africa, then people are not considered naked. Breasts are not classified as private parts, but in my experience most South Africans opt to cover their chest in public. However women can show their chest during traditional ceremonies.

I was invited to a coming of age ceremony Mam’s in-laws threw last Friday, but had a prior engagement. Last Sunday morning, I was doing my laundry when my host mom said to bring my camera, last night’s honoree from the party was waiting for me in traditional costume. I finished my wash and walked across the street. I walked into the house and saw a topless woman putting on her costume. Slowly she stacked the beaded rings on her arms and attached beaded belts to her waist. I was waiting to see what they used to cover breasts, when the woman fastens a beaded collar around her neck and then says, “let’s go show the Americans Musa”.

Wait…what? Show Americans breasts…am I trying to get in trouble?

She slowly walked outside and her proud mother has found a good background for the photo-shoot. They ask me to start taking pictures and I oblige. My impromptu subject did not seem intimidated or upset. She looked serene with silent pride for her culture and surrounded by support. There were no cries of disgust or judging stars at her breasts as her family directed the pose. It was a pleasant interaction and despite my American definition of intimate, I never felt that I was intruding.

Then the family asks me to pose with her and I was thrown back out of my comfort zone. I slowly walked over her and tried to keep my hands at a respectful distance. The woman tells me “Don’t be shy Musa” and I placed my arm around her shoulders. At this moment an aunt positions a smiling baby girl in my arms. We take several photos and then we look at my images. The family encourages me (with the model’s consent) to share the moment with the Americans. After contemplating on how to handle the situation, I decide to use this moment to share American culture. I told them I would share the pictures, but because Americans are uncomfortable with breasts, I will edit the photo on my computer. The impromptu photo shoot was too beautiful not to share.

My American moment...and decision to block out the breasts

My American moment…and decision to block out the breasts

After the photo shoot I thought the least I could do was help the woman out of the costume. After four years of participating in a form of dance with elaborate costumes and quick dress changes, I can gently peel off costumes without hurting the performer. Yanking off the beaded rings off her legs was a snug fit and while we had several close calls to pulling too hard, she did not flinch. I am still impressed by how carefully she handled each part of her costume and gingerly placed them in the suitcase. After Peace Corps I should strive to handle of my group’s costumes with such dignity.

The traditional wear, the beaded rings are actually not that heavy.

The traditional wear, the beaded rings are actually not that heavy.

All the best,

Piesangbrood with a side of Protein

Originally written on February 17, 2015

I love to bake and luckily my family-in-the-bush has an oven. Last week my host mom bought bananas and asked me to make Banana Bread. The only recipe book available was in Afrikaans. Like English, Afrikaans has Germanic language roots so I was able to decipher the ingredients, and relied on previous quick bread baking experience for the rest. We were out of flour but Mam has voiced concerns about our mealie (SA version of cornmeal) surplus, and I decided to attempt a South African Mealie-Banana Bread or in Afrikaans Piesangbrood (with way less margarine and sugar than the recipe originally called for). When I poured the sugar, dead bugs were mixed in with the crystals. Like my Mam, I do not like wasting food so I decided to pick the 5 bugs out of the sugar.

Afrikaans...you can sort of see the Germanic/English influence

Afrikaans…you can sort of see the Germanic/English influence

It took 10 minutes but I accomplished the task and started to measure the Mealie. There was much more Mealie than bugs but I lost count of how many dead insects were in the cup. The organisms were dead, there was no fecal matter present, and they probably would incinerate in the oven heat. I decided to take my chances and came out with a delicious Banana-mealie bread that both my family and the trainees enjoyed. Plus, the cooking adventure made a great weekend story for isiZulu class!

IMG_0383 (2)

The delicious product...with no additional bug flavor!

The delicious product…with no additional bug flavor!

For some places in rural South Africa, it can be a minimum two hour taxi ride to obtain a basic grocery item like sugar. In America, I would be the first to throw out a case of sugar with bugs in it. Here, I cannot afford to be wasteful and learned that it was still a bag of sugar with extra protein. It made me wonder how much food Americans waste every year.