I’d like to Teach the World to Sing…about Adult things!

Currently there is an awesome contest happening with Peace Corps Blogs. The Office of the 3rd Goal (3rd goal=sharing host country culture with the US) is currently hosting the 3rd annual blog it home contest on Facebooks. One of PSCA’s response volunteers up in KZN’s battlefields, is a finalist! I have met Annette several times, and she is as epic in person. She is fantastic and generates a much needed love of the sciences in KZN…in other words she deserves a free trip to DC!

Although Eish did not place, it is still a great competition. Peace Corps experiences are as diverse as the countries and volunteers who serve them. In the spirit of redefining nations outside of the US beyond the single story, I am encouraging my communities (and my big Catholic family…lots of people) to donate their votes to the blogs they think have merit (Annette’s cough cough). Voting (aka liking the blog picture on the website) ends August 10th. Enjoy your trip around the world through PCVs (I am biased but nice to see Botswana and Ecuador represented)!

It has been quiet on here as of late. Well for 13 days I was away from site partaking in In-service Training (IST). Unfortunately everyone’s favorite power utility was working on the power lines, and the electricity was having a heyday. My plans to skype my friends and blog were derailed. However not even the lack of hot water and dark workshops could quell SA 31’s enthusiasm. We made it to month 6, and are now allowed to implement projects (and leave the country for annual leave).

Honestly, I was under the weather for most of IST. In addition to random agitation I could not shake, there was a nasty cold that hit me one week into IST. Hilariously the day before I had to give an impromptu speech for PC committee elections, the bug struck and my voice was compromised (that never happens to me). I had to do my 90 second spiel with half my usual volume! Even though I did not win the election, I am still proud that I pulled the speech off!

Honestly when I reflect back on IST, the highlights involved music. It all started with my supervisor. We were trying to find a Zulu phrase for our proposed program. She started to sing Masidose Kanye Kanye.

Masidonse kanye kanye. Kanye Kanye, Masidonse kanye kanye. Sijabule sonke!

Rough isiNgisi: Pull Together, together, together, Pull together, we are happy together!
This is the tune for your creepy throw back Friday: In creche they have a rope children play with as well.

So we may have the Masidonse Kanye Kanye Impilo (health) Adherence clubs in the future (TBC).

Fast forward a few more days, and I am in a group (PCVs and South African counterparts) who have to create a song on safe sex( I try to be “G” rated but I am a health volunteer in an HIV concentrated program). This is our brilliant musical opus to the first verse of the tune!


Then on day 10  (out of 13), my group has to do a creative and educational travel health skit, covering the entire alphabet (A-Z) based on the medical office’s presentation! Using one of our older PCV’s mad puppet skills, the Nutritionist’s general entertainment, and the Anthropologist’s insistence on education (they got REALLY competitive) we revived Sesame Street. My group we won the hazelnut cream filled Belgian chocolate seashells based on our education component.

We were winning as they say in SA!

We were winning as they say in SA!

Not all of health education is cucumbers/bananas and condoms…but I will not psychoanalyze what our tendency to use childhood references means about our first 6 months in Peace Corps!


Ubuntu: The Baby on the Bus edition

Still chugging along with my Community Needs Assessment but wanted to share a positive example of humanity. I am open about my mental health needs and a proud mountain girl (definitely not complaining about living in the ‘Berg for PC). Some of my college classmates are participating in an awesome project starting June 8th. They plan to summit all of Colorado’s 14ners (14,000 ft, peaks) this summer to raise awareness about mental health. This is not an easy journey at all as there are 53 summits and some of the mountains are notoriously vicious. Then again it is fitting as life with mental health needs is unpredictable. Some days are very stormy and other days consist of clear skies of optimism. I plan to follow the team (which includes the illustrious Aaron McDowell who kept our Village Aid Project Teams together) on their 10 week journey and encourage my communities (readers sounds too pretentious) to do the same at:



Thank y’all from a current PCV who wants more mental needs accommodated in the world! Wishing y’all good luck and safe conditions. Please enjoy hiking season for me!

isiZulu: intwana

isiNgisi: baby human (could also work for animals but let’s not go into noun class conjugation right now)

Meaning: what likes to cry (ukukhala) on long bus trips

This past week I have been in Pretoria. Pretoria is one of South Africa’s 3 capitals…because South Africa likes to be epic: Cape Town hosts Parliament, Bloemfontein has the Supreme Court of Appeals, Pretoria is home to the President, and if we want to be technical Johannesburg is the location of the Constitutional Supreme Court. In my case, Pretoria is the location of the country office and where I go when PCSA business arises. Getting to Pretoria is a bit of a progress from my area as I am trying to find alternative routes in the nearest city (Ladysmith). Racing after Citiliner buses at remote gas stations of the N3, is not a fun past time for me. Anyways it is at least a 5 1/2 hour ride from my stop to Pretoria (usually you transfer to another Citliner at Jozi’s (Johannesburg) Park Station and then brave the N1 traffic.

This particular Monday the Durban-Jozi bus was full and late (I waited 30 minutes for the bus at the gas station). I was diagonal from a baby girl who was quiet for most of the trip. Around 4:30 PM somewhere in the middle of the Free State, the child starts to scream. She finally had it and I do not blame her. 5 hours on a constantly moving vehicle and additional stimulation would make any infant have a meltdown. Unfortunately the young mother was not able to soothe her child. This is the part when the mob of angry passengers tries to stuff Benadryl in the mother’s hands right?

Nope. This is a bus in South Africa. First the passenger who got on in Ladysmith next to the mother and infant calm wakes up from her nap, picks the child up and stands the aisle for 10 minutes. At the same time a man in the front tries to offer his water bottle and then entertains the child. When the little girl made eye contact with a passenger, they would try to wave or interact with her (ironic because South African cultures tend not to be renowned for direct eye contact). As for the funny American, I tried to sing Shosholoza off key and made obscure faces which worked for 10 minutes for my tough audience. As the man next to me said, “You would have to keep making funny faces to Jo-berg.” I was waiting for someone to get annoyed and increase the volume (if you catch my drift). However no one lost their temper and eventually the girl soothed herself. The African (sorry do not know the specific culture) proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”, as opposed to the American mentality “Your child is your responsibility” applied to this situation.

The math teacher (what I call my American/biological mother…I have 3 moms to keep track of now) recently told me that being a parent made her less judgmental. Maybe it was the autistic child, but she now views meltdowns as the child losing their ability to cope and the parent is doing the best they can.

This edition of Ubuntu: You have your kids and I have mine. Screaming happens.

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!

Ubuntu and a Funeral

The isiZulu word of the post is going on a brief hiatus as my isiZulu dictionary is packed away for needed construction! Ngiyabonga for understanding!

I hesitated to write this post. When you work in a HIV/AIDS context in a high poverty area there are a lot of painful things to witness. However in the midst of extreme suffering there can be incredible displays of humanity. I decided to share the following story to show an example of South African resilience and ubuntu.

This month one of my host mom’s learners died suddenly. She was in her 7th year of school, moved to the valley last school year, and around my American brothers’ age. The week before, the War Room (post coming on what that is) initiated a debate for Freedom Day (the 25th of April) and that day she suddenly started to complain about a “runny tummy”. Teachers visited the house over the weekend where her grandmother and father said she was hospitalized. The same teachers stopped by the hospital on Monday the 4th and received the gut wrenching news.

It is one thing to see public health statistics on diarrhea but another to see your host mother blinking back tears as she shows a grainy cellphone video of the learner reciting a poem about Nelson Mandela and says her name describing her as “very clever,” I know that children die of flu complications every time there is an outbreak and once had a classmate who lost a 4 year old brother to pneumonia in the States. I do not know her medical story (nor is it my business) but I will never be okay with children dying. She had many younger half siblings, and they should not have to deal with the death of a child. I am crushed to think how she could have used her clever mind to help South Africa progress. I am also not okay with people dying from anything related to diarrhea in 2015.

In other words, there is nothing right about the situation. It is tragic full stop. Since the mother and the father were not married, tradition states that the funeral is at the mother’s home. In this case the Mother was Xhosa and the funeral would be in the Eastern Cape Province. This was pretty devastating to the school because South Africa is big (it is twice the size of Texas) and so the community would not be able to attend the funeral. The school quickly created a memorial service for the girl and made a conscious effort to make it honorable. My host mom stayed for two hours after school let out Monday to try and coordinate a choir to sing a beautiful isiZulu song about death (although she did not think the choir was ready for the 10 AM performance the next day).

After the memorial service, everyone pitched in to purchase two taxis to the Eastern Cape so people could attend the funeral. I cannot stress how moving this gesture was because most people in my valley are on government grants and minimum subsistence. The day before the memorial service my host mom did not know if it was an option to attend and I was heartbroken that this community would not have any closure (one week ago the child was in class and now they are dead). Yet, the school cared enough about their learner to go to their funeral. The taxis left at 2 AM to arrive at the funeral by 6 AM, full of teachers and a few learners. They got back late at night and yes everyone went to school the next day.

In America, families will bend over backwards if a loved one passes away. However we rarely think about what to do about the communities impacted by the loss. The tendency is to go to the memorial service if it is close enough and send flowers/monetary donations if it is too far. If someone means a lot to a community, they may have their own memorial service if the funeral is too far. In a group oriented culture like AmaZulu, everyone matters and the community grieves together.

On a slightly less depressing note, my host mom got to see the Eastern Cape for the first time. She wants to travel and eagerly awaits her retirement when she can explore South Africa. I gently teased her (we have a relationship that allows me to do so) that Eastern Cape is next door and it is about time she visited! We called my cousin (who works in Pretoria but is home in Mooi River for her Maternity Leave) who also experienced the Eastern Cape through a funeral for any tips but she was bit tired after having a child 8 days before. I have yet to experience the Eastern Cape so I told her to let me know how it is (but I really hope my time in the Eastern Cape is either work related or a holiday…not a funeral). Apparently there are mountains like our home in the Berg!