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


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.

Fully Integrated in a Week…Utility Wise

Originally written on January 29, 2015.

Our week summarized in one sign!

Our week summarized in one sign!

We are more than half way through the orientation phase for trainees. This past week has been full of milestones like my first bucket bath, round of hand washing laundry, interrupted night due to a summer thunderstorm, language lessons, game sighting and the first scary safety and security session.

SA 31's first game sighting and a beautiful sunset!

SA 31’s first game sighting and a beautiful sunset!

Currently I am in an environmental center in the Mpumalanga province. We will remain here until Sunday, where we will move to our homestays in an area that borders Limpopo province. SA 31 (we are the 31st group of PCTs in South Africa) trainees are getting a taste of adventure through our facility. The girls’ toilets (as they call restrooms in South Africa) has not had excellent luck with plumbing. Initially, we could not flush the toilets and had no running water. My first night as a Peace Corps trainee coincided with my first bucket bath…I think my bathing skills will get better will get better with time! A few days ago we were able to flush the toilets and now there is a blockage. The girls have been taking our business to the boys’ and the kitchen toilets. As of yesterday we no longer have electricity. We are adapting but it was highly entertaining to see our presenters try to facilitate activities without access to their PowerPoints! The South African Peace Corps staff has been diligent with their attempts to fix the plumbing and our group (minus the one girl who early terminated day 2) has taken the changes in stride. They have not complained and are adapting extremely well. It makes me proud to be part of an altruistic community.

Even with the utility Olympics, I have been busy to be horribly concerned about where to poop. The past 7 days have been a crash course on PEPFAR (The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and how Peace Corps views development. The Health Office briefed us on medical emergencies and malaria. Malaria is in a tiny sliver of South Africa but it is endemic in the surrounding countries that I would like to visit. I have also received shots for tetanus, meningitis, pneumonia, rabies, and typhoid (since my oral vaccine will not be adequate by 2016). Thank goodness I can tolerate needles well! The only times I have questioned my decision to come was during the Safety and Security presentations, where contemplating, “What on earth did I get myself into?” is normal.

We also had our first programing interviews, where I had a chance to talk about my experiences and state my preferences. My interview time started an hour late, but the CHOP program coordinator wanted to talk for 30 minutes so I obliged. I had an opportunity to share my preferences and learn about what the coordinator would like out of a recent college graduate with little work experience.

Yesterday we had a visit from the police sergeant for the area of our homestays. After providing generous advice on how to stay safe, the sergeant closed his presentation by saying he was proud of us. In light of what has happened in the US last year, I thought it was great that an African police officer would give us that compliment.

All the best,