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.


Pitching Fruit

When planned experiences deviate from the norm, one of the go-to American cliches of comfort is “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade”. This phase is one of the many plaques of American craft store phrases of positivity, complete with sappy grosgrain ribbons and flowery calligraphy. We are so uncomfortable with acknowledging hard situations that people sloppy attempt to shut down negativity with proverbs associated with fruit. Here is the hard truth: life is messy.

Those lemons that pummel our emotions are not beautiful Meyer Lemons with a shade of yellow that cues “Walking on Sunshine.” No, they are green, unripe, lemons who had no business falling off the tree. There is no amount of sugar that will change the fact that green lemons straight off the tree (or adverse situation in life) are sour and ugly. Eventually with time, the lemon will ripe and can be made into delicious desserts. As you process the situation, there are still bitter moments that are okay to acknowledge as it helps you move into a stage where the lemon is actually worthwhile. There is no right or wrong way to handle a green lemon situation, because it is hard.

The site change was a massive green lemon. Y’all probably know this by now I keep things real, and sometimes knock the rose colored glasses off of others with a force I wish was less harsh. Unfortunately, in a Peace Corps setting (and residing in a backpackers for 6 weeks) it is hard to keep those emotions private. Multiple PCVs have taken the liberty to share their insights about how I am handling the situation. The jury is out of if I have handled this well or poorly, but it probably has not been aesthetically pleasing 24/7 (spoiler alert, nothing in Peace Corps is…even without a site change).

I am not a placid person who quietly takes my lemons and waits for them to ripe with rose colored lenses. Here is an accurate description on how my anxious brain handles lemons in general with this process (no credit for the originality), let alone green lemons.


As much as I dislike cliches, the “making lemonade” part comes once I am at the new site, but without the ingredients (new organization and housing) not much can be done.
So what do you do when the PC lemons are unusable? I reflect, cry, vent to anyone who asks, try to ignore the obnoxious PCV grapevine’s commentary regarding the situation, budget to make the modest stipend last between reimbursement requests, and do my best to remain productive. In other words you deal with it. I do not want to label my behavior as positive or negative, or evaluate my performance on the situation. That just sets up self-judgment. All people need to know is that I am holding up and still working with PCSA as a team on this (but really want to go back to work).

Now that soliloquy is out of the way, where have I been for 7 weeks (yep…reached that marker last Friday)? A good portion is on a couch (in the Backpackers or the PC library) curled up with wifi or a book. Most of the time I have been in Pretoria, with a few opportunities for work related travel. I did help with two tasks at the country office, typing a workshop evaluation and editing a fellow PCV’s grant draft. There have been several regional medical evacuees and these PCVs have taught me about country programs in Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Madagascar, and Uganda. Also through spontaneous circumstances I crashed SA 32’s swearing in ceremony last month!

The PC staff and I are in agreement that extended time in Pretoria without a set end date is bad for mental health. I was encouraged to find opportunities to get back in the field. It took a while to obtain permission but thankfully I knew that there were other PCVs who were once in my shoes. One of the PCVs of SA 29 and I really hit it off during my PST. She happens to live near Pretoria and I spent 3 days with her. The most memorable activity was helping her Zazi (female empowerment and sexual health program for SA) club on an introduction to cancer discussion I co-facilitated. My cancer analogy (weeds in a flower bed) actually turned out semi-well.

Drawing flowers

Drawing flowers

If you can forget the f bombs underneath the chart, this could be an iconic PCV shot (thank you parents for point it out). There are some things common in all teenagers regardless of culture, in this case both American and South African Adolescents like to have fun with chalkboards

If you can forget the f bombs underneath the chart, this could be an iconic PCV shot (thank you parents for pointing it out). There are some things common in all teenagers regardless of culture, in this case both American and South African Adolescents like to have fun with chalkboards

A week later, I returned to KZN for a week for my “KZN Potential Sunset Tour”. There I supported the Social Worker, Anthropologist, and the MSW couple during a substance abuse retreat we were planning. We also stayed at the Anthropologist’s organization on the Tugela River. After the retreat I went across the province and visited my dear PCV friend (the Gogo) near the Indian Ocena. I explored a previously unfamiliar portion of the province, examined a potential site, delivered wheelchairs to clients, and celebrated Heritage Day deliciously! We also watched “The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency” to our hearts’ content.


Me “in ” the Tugela River, which I have made my designated Rio Grande

After the “KZN potential Sunset Tour” I left Pretoria one last time for a site visit, but that is worth its own post (coming soon)!

If there is one thing that I have done during this site change, it is make the most of it…with my own style.


Now that is what I am talking about!

All the best,


Ubuntu: Computer on a Minibus edition

This past week I was in Pietermartizberg for a database training. Tiny bit of history: Pietermaritzburg (PMB, Martizburg or uMgungundlovu for those with an isiZulu preference) was named for two Afrikaaner leaders Piet Retief and Gert (Gerrit) Maritz were two leaders of the Voortrekkers. Retief met his demise at the hands of Zulu king Dingane and Gert (Gerrit) Maritz died of an illness near my current shopping town. Neither of them made it to Pietermartizburg’s modern boundaries. The area also served headquarters of the Zulu kingdom…until the infamous battle of Blood River in 1840 (more in a later). The isiZulu name translates to “The secret conclave of the elephant” and indlovu (elephant) is used to refer to the Zulu king. Yet another example of the dual life of South African cities. Currently it is the 2nd largest city in KZN and according to kzn.gov it is the provincial capital (though people have told me it recently changed…I will get back to y’all).

In terms of the training, I do not care to get into global health politics but HIV relief funding is dramatically changing on all fronts. The idea for this training was to learn about the Department of Social Development’s data base so our organizations can eventually try to get funding from the South African government. Since our new data staff had yet to be hired (interviews were last Wednesday), I was asked to go and eventually train the new staff in the DSD database as the unofficial Monitoring and Evaluation personnel of my org (I lacked M&E experience until Peace Corps).

One of the cool or weird things about CHOP volunteers is that you go to any HIV related training in South Africa and chances are you will run into PCVs…or their supervisors. In this case I met two of my close friend’s supervisors through the database training. It was really neat to hear about my fellow PCV’s orgs and be happy for their awesome org matches (and get official requests for me to visit)! Anyways, my director came for one day of training and had to leave as her husband was out of the country (installing solar panels at a Mozambique bush camp…because Africa offers epic opportunities for independent contractors) and she had to take care of her children. The plan was for me to come and eventually train the new data person. I decided to use my one weekend away to go Msinga and catch a taxi to PMB from research town. I was lucky to find a straight shot, but prepared to transfer in the town after Research Town.

Now, I am not the most independent traveler (I am always willing to have people join me) and transportation logistics give my autistic brain a workout u if I want to get…anywhere I have to at least take a minibus to my shopping town. Visiting my cluster volunteers takes at minimum at least another taxi ride….by myself. Peace Corps does not allow volunteers to drive and I lack a driver’s license anyways. It is a bit of a process of figuring out new trips routes. In the case of PMB there are three taxi ranks. The Anthropologist’s supervisor told me to get off at the rank with the KFC where there would be metered taxis I could hire for the hotel. The taxi driver dropped me off at KFC…and there were no taxis. No problem. I walked down to the BP gas station we passed asked the clerk for a safe taxi, and they provided me with a phone book.

When I got to the hotel I encountered some of our OVC caregivers were in PMB for another training. They were shocked that I came on taxi by myself and stayed alone in a hotel room. One of the caregivers made it a point to ask me where I was staying and said, “We are in room 21, if you need anything come to our room”. So sweet. Then the second day of training, my director asked my friend’s supervisor to give me a lift on the way back to Pretty City. They only had a bakkie (pick-up truck) and it is against PC policy to travel in the back. So I started to ask people about the taxi routes out of PMB. The amaZulu started to get concerned as I would be hauling a donated laptop on at least two taxis. I was not concerned about it but the other attendees (who came in cars) were. They campaigned to have someone who worked for the funder (who was doing KZN site visits this week) drop me off in my shopping town, and then I took a taxi to the major intersection to turn into my valley for my director to pick me up. I still had to wait outside for 15 minutes but nothing happened to me or the laptop. In the end the hour lift to my shopping town it was nice ride with a seat belt (which I do not turn down these days)and good opportunity pick an another American’s brain about global health.

I am learning more and more that it is not about what my brash independent self wants, but how my actions impact other people. There are many reasons why I joined Peace Corps, but bonus would be to gain independence in an independent setting. Independence has a very different connotation in South Africa
Because if you are too stuck on independence, you miss out on the beauty of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu: if a computer is stolen, we all hurt

Tour de Msinga

Rural is a relative definition for PCVs. You could easily start a lively debate over who in SA 31’s Team KZN has the most rural site, but no one has time for that purposeless display. For comprehension purposes I will officially establish my area as rural as there are only dirt roads to access the communities after the highway, we have no indoor plumbing, the nearest fair-priced grocery store is an hour away, and our overcrowded clinic is the only medical facility that serves 50,000 people. With such vastness, it is easy to forget not all SA PCVs in KZN see long dry grassy plains in the Drakensburg (technically I am the only one at the moment).

Southern Msinga landscape...from the Anthropologist homestead

Southern Msinga landscape…from the Anthropologist’s homestead

My friend the anthropologist (as that is how she views the world) frequently mentions her rural area and the challenges it entails on our daily What’s App Chats. When I was battling with wasps, she was feuding with scorpions. I have a 20 minute walk to work, and the Anthropologist is picked up by her Org every work day because her area is so remote. While I spent my first three months of service comprehending data bases, she was also out of her comfort zone learning how to make goat feed blocks. I think y’all can tell my interest ballooned, I had to see this mythical place called Msinga where a health extension volunteer could with goats. With the response volunteer leaving South Africa coupled with an organization training in Pietermaritzburg this past week, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to venture out to Msinga to see what the Anthropologist is talking about, and also visit my other friends the MSW couple (who met while getting their MSWs…really my names are not that creative).

Msinga is one of the municipalities in South Africa that is plastered with unpleasant public health statistics. Granted it is the emergence-place (birth place sounds weird) of multidrug resistant tuberculosis, has high poverty rates, and where there is high poverty in South Africa…chances are there are also high HIV/AIDS rates. Also unfiltered tap water is a bad idea for any PCV, but in Msinga there are periodic cholera outbreaks every few years and the filter is not an options. Yes that cholera bacteria behind John Snow’s initial epidemiology map in the 1800s still wreaks havoc in 2015. Hug your reliable toilets extra tight tonight.

Maybe that is why I feel so much affection for Msinga, because like New Mexico it is an acquired admiration you either have. New Mexico also has delightful public health statistics like our high teen pregnancy, DWI, and violent crime rates that can leave a bad first impression. Case in point: My first week of college an illustrious jerk from Denver asked me if I was from Albuquerque how have I not been shot yet? Good luck trying to get that kid to break his stereotypes towards a state. The other area of derogatory comments that both New Mexico and Msinga get is the heat. I have not been to the northern part of Msinga yet, but my director used to live in MSW couple’s town/city in the South part of the district and frequently talks about the unbearable heat. Yes if you do not like the desert, Msinga and New Mexico will make you miserable. Deserts and mountains are my home so I find the jagged titan rocks that gently cascade into the wide Tugela River among uniquely African plants breathtaking (but ask me in December and maybe I will complain about the summer conditions).

This could be New Mexico...until you analyze the plants

This could be New Mexico…until you analyze the plants

Entering Msinga involves a taxi ride to my shopping town (where all South Africa trips start these days) and another taxi into the Social Worker’s town. It is amazing how the topography changes between shopping town and Social Worker’s township. The west side of the shopping town currently sports colorful fall leaves and the east side starts to ramp up to the desert. Taxis out to Msinga are limited and I waited about an hour before we got on the road. The dust was so thick that the Anthropologist’s detailed directions went out the window. Thankfully I rode in with her supervisor’s cousin who was home from varsity for her holiday break. She is studying zoology and true to a budding KZN Wildlife guide, she was able to tell the taxi driver where I needed to get off even though she got off after me (that takes skills). I was greeted by five excited children and the Anthropologist’s hugs. After we said hello the children quickly picked up my bags because they wanted to and not letting them do so would have caused an incident. Thankfully I did not injure a child’s back (to be fair I was gone for a week so I had to pack thoroughly) and we were able to start preparations for the Sabbath.

Sabbath? In Msinga the tough topography provides a unique advantage: you are fully encapsulated into amaZulu culture. The anthropologist serves at least 6 different tribal areas through her org and lives with a Shembe minister. Shembe is a religion that started in Durban during the 1900’s, and probably is best associated with Orthodox Judaism. During the Sabbath Shembes are not supposed to clean or cook from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. The Anthropologist is extremely respectful of other cultures and since she cares deeply about her host family, she has adopted the Sabbath. It was a frantic rush to make coffee, tea, and banana pancakes for the next day. We made it…even though much to the Anthropologist’s chagrin I accidentally turned off the oven while the chicken while I was sautéing peppers…several times. It may seem like an extreme lifestyle for a PCV to adopt but if you met the Anthropologist’s host baba, you would see what a wonderful and welcoming person he is. You would also hear the beautiful prayers they sing and how important it was to them. It was humbling to play a small insignificant role in honoring their culture as a guest.

For the rest of the Sabbath, the Anthropologist and I had our own day of rest where we talked. Both she and I get worn out by travel easily. PC and our orgs had us running up to Guateng/ the West Side of KZN this month so we spent Saturday eating banana pancakes and playing with her kitten. Shembes tend to not have pets but the Anthropologist knew what questions to ask respectfully. She got a kitten that decided we were friends as it would fall asleep on my chest and attack my toes first thing in the morning. I still disagree and was thrown out of my comfort zone. The one thing I like about the cat is its name (cats do not require privacy): Baleka. There are two words for run in isiZulu; gijima is your basic gyming (running) and baleka is escaping/ running for your life. Did I mention the Anthropologist has a dark sense of humor (one of the many reasons why we are friends)?

Though he is little he is fierce...and most of the mess behind me is my doing. The Anthropologist is clean...you should see my living area at the moment

My feline-amy. Though he is little he is fierce…and most of the mess behind me is my doing. The Anthropologist is clean…you should see my living area at the moment

Once the Sabbath was over we visited the Anthropologist’s wonderful supervisor who invited us to her birthday party the following day. Unfortunately I had to be at my destination for Sunday night accommodations but tried to help create custard for her birthday. Hilariously both the Social Worker and Anthropologist are significantly older …but sometimes I am the most experienced in the kitchen (although they are catching up…the Social Worker now whips out mean tortillas apparently). But the Anthropologist decided to exploit my visit…and almond custard (there was not vanilla extract) that tasted good while mimicking spit up resulted. The Anthropologist had to buy more ingredients for another attempt in Research Town the next day. Eish y’all I tried (but we fully enjoyed it upon apples for dessert).

The next morning we headed to the Anthropologist’s shopping town to meet up with the MSW couple. The car ride to Research Town was stunning with a green Tugela River slithering through tall canyons. . When we got to Research Town, the Anthropologist confidently made her way to the main road…and forgot where the MSW couple lived. We were able to call the MSW couple who walked out meet us with hugs (although I am still worried that the Anthropologist does not know her way around her shopping town). There was excitement in the air as their daughter went into labor that morning and their long awaited grandson was born on Father’s Day back in the States. We saw their super nice house on the grounds of a hospital and ventured out for an early lunch at a restaurant where I was warned that the options were misleading. The MSW couple graciously offered to pay for my lunch in honor of my birthday (which was the previous Wednesday but bad luck prevented a formal group celebration) so I tried to order a modest chicken wrap, only to hear them say that are out of chicken. I quickly asked for a cheeseburger, and ½ of the MSW couple plus the anthropologist followed my lead. The other half of the MSW couple was brave enough to order a coke and fish and chips. Our bottled water (Research Town also struggles with cholera) never arrived but the cheeseburger was delightful.

Our area's Rio Grande...only much bigger than the Rio Grande

Our area’s Rio Grande in the middle of Research Town…only much bigger than the Rio Grande

After too short of a visit, Anthropologist had to head to the store so she could return for the party. I also decided to head to the taxi rank and the MSW couple walked me to the swanky new shopping mall where I got lucky and found a taxi directly to Pietermaritzburg. As I rolled over their steep valley (grateful that I had the seat-belt/passenger seat) in the taxi, I was amazed at how large and diverse this country is in every aspect.

On top of the valley that drops into Research Town (near the center in the picture).

On top of the valley that drops into Research Town (near the center in the picture).

The next time someone asks how I keep from being homesick, I will say that I go to Msinga for my taste of New Mexico!

Township Trekking

In America township is the confusing name for communities with strict boundaries (especially in New Jersey or Pennsylvania) or specific land measurements. South African townships may have boundaries but have little to do with rhetoric. Townships were created through the infamous apartheid government to isolate the races. In a grotesque fashion, different ethnic groups were removed from their lands and relocated in a designated community or township. This was how places like Soweto (South Western Townships) emerged. Even though apartheid was officially ousted in 1994, poverty and racism (which can unfortunately is known to stick around for 100s of years in some countries) still confines people to townships. Townships still exist all over South Africa, and unfortunately have a bad rap.

Take the township in one of my closest towns. Across the local SPAR (grocery store), there is a beautiful bridge that crosses a river. On one side the view is a grain silo and the other is Katane a township. Mention Katane to the town residents and people quote extreme sexual assault and HIV prevalence rates that would make any Public Health student triple check their numbers. Yeah any area with high unemployment will have nasty social issues like domestic violence, substance abuse and in my program’s case HIV/AIDS. We can dwell on those statistics all we want, but then the townships are unable to share their positive attributes. My experience with townships is that they have an incredible sense of community. Many of the movements that counteracted apartheid originated in townships. With houses in close proximity to each other, everyone is aware about everyone’s business. People are forced to care about each other.

How can I claim this? I spent a weekend in a South African township (and am fine parents!)

Last week, my living arrangement got a much needed ceiling. While the addition curbs my irrational fears of freezing to death in the Drakensburg winter, it was a trying week for someone who dislikes packing (the process puts this autistic in an overwhelmed frenzy). Also my host family asked me to move rooms so the kitchen is close to the outside (with no plumbing it makes more sense). In the middle of my moving angst, one of the wonderful PCV ladies of my cluster (we all share a shopping town) offered me a brief escape from my temporary chaos. So Friday, I went into town for a much delayed flu shot and took a taxi to my friend’s (aka the Social Worker as that is how she views the world) township for a weekend away.

My first interaction with the Social Worker’s community was being the palest occupant of the taxi, and the other passengers helped me get off at the right taxi rank. My particular taxi got there in record time, and I had to wait for my friend to get a taxi to town In South Africa travel through taxis is unpredictable and eventually she decided to walk 20 minutes to the towns taxi rank. During the wait, some man started to yell at the sight of a white girl from his truck. I was not uncomfortable but two women came up addressed me in isiZulu

Nicela usizo? (Please can I help you).

In my community, people usually address me in English (which makes my isiZulu practice difficult). These ladies forced me to adapt to their community and I loved that push! Even though I told them Kulungile (I am okay) my friend is coming, they still sat with me on the curb when I moved to get away from the uproar of “Hey Mamas” from the truck driver’s jeers. I watched a calf devour peanut shells while a gogo dissected enormous bags of peanuts into packets for sale. Simultaneously, I saw goats walk in front of the car, as if they owned the road (there may be a rude awakening for entitled goats in South Africa). Eventually I started to play with one of the women’s infant sons and warmed up to the women. One of them actually worked as a Home Based Carer, and by the time my friend arrived we were deep in conversation about South African hospices.

Shortly after reuniting with the Social Worker, we parted ways with the women and headed to the grocery store for supplies. I am slightly jealous that the grocery store was reached on foot. With the exception of tuck shops (junk food central…plus eggs) the closest overpriced grocery store in my community is a 20 minute taxi ride (and 12 rand). Usually I get buy food in town and hope that I did not forget any supplies in the process as we have two shopping weekends a week. We bought a few groceries and walked back to the taxi rank for a 5 rand/10 minute ride to her township and disembarked at a tuck shop. We met the Pakistani owner and a Sotho worker, apparently the owner is the only other non-black in the area. The Social Worker is turning to eggs as her primary source of protein, so the tuck shop owner bantered with her copious egg purchases while I attempted Setswana with the Sotho cashier.

Rondavel...it is so lovely

Rondavel…it is so lovely

After obtaining eggs, we walked 5 minutes (really I am amazed at how close everything was) to her house. The Social Worker lucked out and was placed in a rondavel separate from the house. The round shape provides great ventilation and space. Since a New Mexican was visiting, the Social Worker decided to put me to work making tortillas for tacos (I made them for a party during PST and my cohort raves about Red’s homemade tortillas…I am still figuring how to make them well in SA) The end product was chewy but okay, except klutzy Katey was sidged by flying flour particles. Nothing major, it was easily fixed by the PC provided antibiotic ointment. We also met her lovely host family that night. In addition to making good food, we spent the weekend taking it easy and talking about social justice for hours straight (somethings will never change…my quirky conversational preferences is one of them). We needed to recuperate after our Saturday visitors.

The Social Worker lives in an area that has a surplus of children. This is both good and bad. Good because the Social Worker is great with children but bad because we are both introverts. The two weeks before I came, the Social Worker was overwhelmed by 15 children and penalized them for not listening by banning visits the following week and had to set a rule of only 4 children in the rondovel at a time and they could only come after noon. Saturday morning we took it easy and used low-shedding (the electronic hot water heater would not work) as an excuse to bathe late. The children were not allowed to come until noon, and I have become skilled at quick bucket baths. Once the power returned round 10 AM, the Social Worker went while I gave her privacy and then it was my turn.

Around 10:45 AM, I think I hear a knock on the door. I could be mistaken (then again I managed to understand a bit of a bar fight in isiZulu the night before from a shabeen four blocks away from the rondovel) so I notify the social worker. Sure enough another tap comes through the door and child’s voice says the Social Worker’s isiZulu name. For a second we are unsure of how to handle the situation, because I am bathing and fully exposed right in front of the door (I rather South African children learn about female bodies through their families, not a visitor to their community). The knocking and calling continues, and finally the Social Worker apologizes and while averting her vision tells the child to go away because it is not noon yet. The child runs away crying and I finish my business, amused by the new cultural context of privacy.

After the child went away, we ate our delayed frittata (which was also impacted by the power outage), gathered water at the family’s tap, and the Social Worker swept the rondavel. Noon came…and there were no children. After her descriptions of the weekend that instigated the rule, I anticipated a line of children waiting at the rondavel. Around 12:15 a few children slowly made their way to the rondavel door. The three boys asked for help with a school fundraiser. The social worker gently denied them, as she would have to give a donation every child in the township. The boys left and a few minutes’ later two girls came. They asked for a movie and a passionate debate ensued between the two choices: Cinderella and Aladdin. I said that the boy changes for the girl in Aladdin and my feminist comment (not really) resolved the argument.

The Social Worker put in Aladdin and we all started to color. A few more kids came and started a card game. They asked me to play a game called 5 cards and asked me to join. I warned them that I am a staunch rule follower and I will call any player out if cheating occurs (why I cannot play board games with my immediate family). That did not deter them and we started the game. The girls became a little bit impatient as they taught an American the strategy of getting two pairs and an ace in a hand, but we made it through. I only had to call them out once for using Jokers. Around 2, another group of kids wanted to come in so the Social Worker decided to excuse the children with a dance party to Beyonce’s Halo. Those kids could dance.

After the children left (and we got the two older girls to stop tapping on the rondavel door) we went to visit the former PCV’s family. The former PCV was one of the best presenters at PST, a great role model for how a sensitive PCV should behave, and left a great legacy in the township. The Social Worker is close to the former PCV’s host family and the sisters wanted to meet me. We took a beautiful 10 minute walk to the other side of the township and met her gogo. The generously offered juice and biscuits as we visited. The Social Worker made plans to make pizza for one of the sisters’ birthdays. I also learned from the gogo that there are Catholics in my valley (which was not something I was aware of, I am not religious but it is always nice to see my culture and know someone else understands what mass means)!


The weekend was too short but the lessons learned transcend the 48 hours. Townships are painted as this gloomy, dirty, slum of social problems. Honestly I did not see any dramatic displays of social issues. Yes there was a shabeen (or bar) 4 blocks away but I also have a shabeen down my hillside. I am just in a more rural area. There are extreme HIV and substance abuse prevalence rates but at the same time, there are vivacious children playing on every block. There are citrus trees juxtaposed with cinder bloc houses in distinct harmony. There is pain in the community but there is also life. I also have to credit the Social Worker. She and the former PCV are incredibly sensitive to ethnic injustice and you have be to live as a white girl in a community founded by racist policies. Had she not been there to guide my perceptions, I may not see the beauty of townships. I am excited to learn from her in the next 24 months.

This sort of looks like home!

This sort of looks like home!

Overall it was a nice visit. I loved seeing another area of South Africa through another PCV in my cohort. It was especially great to see the Social Worker interact with the kids (she is really gifted in that area). Also, gave me a welcomed taste of New Mexico.

This is basically a New Mexican Landscape!

No really this is basically a New Mexican Landscape!