A Field Guide to Amajuba Minibus Taxis

Blog-Challenge-2016

The Blogging Abroad Boot Camp Challenge 2016 Continues! This week’s topic: on the road (aka the aspects of our communities that keep us entertained while moving through our communities). My source of constant amusement are the minibus taxis (I live 500 meters from the local taxi rank) and I could probably write an anthropological case study on minibus culture. For the sake of brevity and in the spirit of South Africa’s safari-dependent tourism industry, here is my take on a field guide for the vehicles that keep me mobile. My page code names for South African places are found here.

Side note: “Minibus” and “taxi” are interchangeable. However American-like taxi services are available in the big cities like Pietermartizburg and Pretoria. Keeping my audience in mind, I tried to refer to the animals…er vehicles as minibuses except the traditional model which is only called taxi.

A Field Guide to Amajuba Minibus Taxis

While they have numerous names across Southern Africa from “combi” in Botswana to “dala dala” in Tanzania, minibuses or taxis in Northern KZN are the lifeline between rural communities. For men who do not get to leave their communities after metric /high school graduation, minibus driving is a sustainable job, especially in rural areas with high unemployment rates. The country of South Africa is connected through local taxi associations and their dedicated drivers. The people of Amajuba are  dependent on minibuses to maneuver groceries, luggage, and of course relatives.

Appearance

A minibus is capable of being any car color such as blue, red, orange, turquoise, or lime green. The majority of minibuses are white. Décor is minimal but a predominate design is the South African flag emulating a comet on the passenger doors with the five colors (red, blue, yellow, green, and black)  appearing as intertwining flames throughout the bus’ exterior perimeter. Occasionally minibuses serve as an advert for a variety of products like groceries and in some cases soapies/televised soap operas. These minibuses are a rolling billboard with the entire décor theme based on the product.

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A typical minibus, bringing people home in the Drakensburg Dusk

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A minibus sporting Huletts (one of the main sugar brands in SA) adverts in Duke City

 

Sounds

A minibus (or driver) makes their presence known by incessant honking of the car horn and boisterous music. This music ranges from the latest KZN sensations like Dbn Nights to flute covers of Celine Dion’s greatest hits (I kid you not, yesterday most of my 5 hour drive from Gauteng was spent trying to identify the songs). If loud music is a problem, it is imperative to bring earplugs for the minibus encounter as it could be one decked out with large speakers next to your ear.

Species of Minibuses in Amajuba District

There are currently 5 types of minibuses that serve the rural areas of Amajuba. At minimum taxis are capable of transporting 15 people (and they will not leave until they are close to 15 passengers. Fares are determined by distance and are same regardless of the minibus model.

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Traditional and Quantum in Research Town’s taxi rank. Quantum are the taller cars

Traditional (15 Passengers):

The oldest model, traditional taxis have the defining feature of folding seats as seen in the cross section below. The only seatbelt available for passengers tends to be the front seat. Traditional models are the least expensive option on the market and drivers in the rural areas can easily obtain this form of minibus. By far traditional models are the most available species of minibus in all of South Africa.

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Interior layout of a traditional South African Taxi that seats 15 passengers

Quantum (16 Passengers):

 As the traditional minibus is cramped in space, more drivers are starting to opt for Toyota Quantum. The additional space supports passengers with physical disabilities, provides and additional passenger seat and more space for groceries. Quantum also tend to have seatbelts available in all of the seats.

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Interior layout for a Quantum, that seats 16 passengers

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Shoprite (SA’s discount grocery chain) Soup Kitchen service at my org, with a Quantum adapted for their needs

Sprinter (21 Passengers):

Located near larger cities, advantages of the Sprinter include space, a comfortable height, bag storage above the seats, and storage in the trunk for luggage. These models also have seatbelts accessible for all the seats and are by far are the safest transport option in rural Amajuba. Sprinters are the most expensive model to obtain and only drivers serving urban destinations are capable of obtaining them.

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Interior layout of a Sprinter for 21 passengers

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Sprinter in Duke City’s local destinations taxi rank

Nyathi (13 Passengers):

 The Nyathi is used for celebrations as opposed to practical purposes. Nyathis are rented out for parties, weddings, and metric formals. Passengers are treated to loud music and dancing on the way to their destination.

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Nyathi (with a blue stripe), right of my local taxi rank (500 meters from my compound)

School Buses (~40 Passengers):

For frequent destinations like local cities, some rural areas use school buses to transport large groups of people.

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Example of the school buses in rural Amajuba

Habitats

Beyond their usual rounds on country roads and urban streets, minibuses typically reside at a taxi rank. Minibuses retire under tin awnings for shade when available, and nicer ranks have signs indicating the destination names.  In ranks, you can spot minibus by watching the local vendors. Vendors will congregate around taxis selling a myriad of goods from airtime, towels, and of course food. For passengers waiting for taxis to fill, vendors sell cold treats directly through the windows.

In rural areas without rank facilities, drivers create their own ranks by clustering minibuses on the side of the road. Ask the community members where the rank and minibuses stop (different destinations tend to have different watering holes…or parking spots where the minibus waits to fill).

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Scotland’s taxi rank, with vendors in position at the windows

 

How to Approach a Minibus

Unlike most South Africa wildlife, minibuses will not automatically stop at the presence of humans. Especially if all seats are full Approaching minibuses involves an acquired technique, the below tips are only meant to serve as a guide.  

Before approaching a minibus, research where you want to go and the fare. Unless you are going a significant distance, most drivers cannot break large bills like 100 or 200 ZAR. Do your best to break the fare at local tuck shops or in town; exact change is always the best option. Also, learn the local language enough so you can maneuver the minibuses because chances are high that the driver will struggle to understand English.

Once the fare and language skills are covered, you are prepared to take the minibus. Using the local knowledge walk towards the side of the road. If a minibus approached, point your index finger up for the nearest city or down the nearest hub. If the bus is full, the driver will turn his palms up and go past you. If there is space and you are visible, the driver will pull over! If your community has a taxi rank that services the desired destination, simply walk to the rank and locate the minibus.  

When on the minibus, wait for the locals to start paying before offering the fee. Often minibuses serving rural areas need to transfer passengers to another driver for specific destinations and the fee will not be paid until everyone boards the new bus.

One last tip:. Building rapport through acknowledging a driver’s presence as you wander around the community may help when you actually need a ride. They make respond to a friendly wave with a lively honk for “hello” in return!  If the ride was particularly safety oriented and smooth, a local “thank you” and “go well” to the driver when you disembark never hurts.

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Casa de Izilokazane

 

Blog-Challenge-2016

Ngiyabonga khakulu/Thanks a lot for the kind feedback on my last post! I hope y’all enjoy my future contributions for the Blogging Abroad Boot Camp  Challenge for early 2016. This entry’s prompt: home (aka where I reside and type most of my observations on South African Life). Special thanks to Blogging Abroad for the task and a much needed excuse for me to clean the house!

Round up link will be posted here when received.

Side note: Here is the page of my place code words with an explanation why I use them.

Casa de Izilokazane

“Our Slice of Heaven in Rural Amajuba”

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Located in beautiful Schnizeland Municipality, Casa de Izilokazane provides an authentic amaZulu cultural experience. The building is part of a traditional amaZulu compound, directly across from a rondavel where the ancestors protect the property.

Under Schintzeland’s spacious skies that provide views of infamous Majuba Hill on clear days and equally stunning night time displays of the Southern Hemisphere constellations, we guarantee your stay at Casa de Izilokazane will provide you with an appreciation of why “Zulu” translates to heavens.

Facilities:

This two room residence consists of a bedroom and living space with bathroom and kitchen amenities. The Bedroom has a double sized bed and a wardrobe. Wide windows in both rooms provide plenty of natural light. Casa de Izilokazane is lucky to have an effective security system through the neighborhood watch and a gracious host family in an altruistic community. We also have aesthetically pleasing burglar bars that maintain peace of mind.

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Front door with a peek of the rondavel. These adorable spirals were worth the extra 2 week wait in Pretoria to ensure they would be installed properly!

 

Our state of the art kitchen consists of a borrowed refrigerator, pantry, and minimal kitchen utensils. At the moment Casa de Izilokazane is receiving a much needed electrical system update and the hot plate stove and hot water kettle are currently out of commission. The kitchen equipped with an oven on the main compound is accessible upon request. Guests have unfettered access to the accumulated library of South African Cooking Magazines, which fuel the host’s Rainbow Nation cooking adventures.

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An eclectic kitchen: dishes, refrigerator, water buckets and the sink with the PC water filter

 

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The pantry next to the bedroom door

Running water is available through a tap, 10 meters from the doorstep. In the event the water supply is interrupted during your stay, the host stores extra water. Even though hot water is not available at the moment, frigid baths are quite reinvigorating in the Amajuba Summer. All water consumed at Casa de Izilokazane, goes through the Peace Corps initiated gravity fed water filter which also doubles as the faucet for the sink.

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Latrine at the edge of the compound (left to the to the family garden) and tap in the foreground.

The facility provides complimentary access to a large bathing tub, buckets, and toiletries. Toilet facilities are a comfortable western toilet on a pour flush system located at the edge of a property (all guests will receive an orientation on how to operate the toilet at registration).There is also a nocturnal bucket provided for your safety and convenience.

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Buckets upon buckets: 1/3 of Casa de Izilokazane’s simple plumbing system

Nature provides our heating and cooling systems. It also serves as our reliable alarm clock with our on-site, reluctant, bird sanctuary and resident chickens. On warm nights, guests may be lulled to sleep by melodic frogs croaking at their habitat (a nearby dam).

Amenities:

Internet: Minimal internet access is available upon request (depending on the signal’s level of corporation at the time of your need.)

Grocery Stores and Petrol Station: There is a China shop and Shell Petrol staons about 3000 meters away from the house that address basic needs. For special food requests, Duke City contains several branches of South Africa’s upscale grocery stores less than an hour away.

Transport: Casa de Izilokazane is a convenient 2000 meters from minibus ranks to Schnizteland, Duke City, and Scotland.

Conference Facilities: A community HIV-focused organization located 500 meters from the premises provides a professional meeting space. Brief volunteer shadowing opportunities at the organization and local clinic may be feasible depending on the time of year. Ask your host (the full time volunteer) for more information.

Potential Cultural Excursions:

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The Unsupervised Livestock of Amajuba as seen from the solar powered laundry facility

  • Wildlife Viewing of the Unsupervised Livestock of Amajuba
  • Minibus Taxi Rides
  • KZN Battlefield Tours
  • Hikes in the Central and Northern Drakensburg

2016 rate includes: opportunities to witness a brand new Peace Corps Site, be immersed in amaZulu Culture, and see a part of South Africa many tourists will not experience.

In other words: Priceless.

Casa de Izilokazane is a certified safe place for site-less PCVs to have a work experience and nighttime stop for PCVs traveling through the Battlefields region of KZN.*

*No certification exists in PCSA but I make myself a contact so the staff can offer another resource for site-less PCV stuck in Pretoria.

Behind the name: “Casa de ” is a nod to my New Mexican background but izilokazane translates to “small creatures”. It is the most appropriate isiZulu word to encompass my stubborn roommates: ants, spiders, mosquitos, centipedes,and the ever resilient iziyoni/birds. The current methods I have used have not encouraged a migration. Anyone who visits my place may possibly have an intimate bug or bird encounter.

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Flashback to the time two birds got stuck in the bedroom. Yebo/Yes, this is the window right above my bed

 

Phezulu Position

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Every year, Amajuba Host Family has a huge braai (barbeque in South African Jargon) to have a festive eve with visiting relatives that come as far as Gauteng.  My 19 year old host cousin claimed that I was still going to have a sleepless night and the family would rally. Even though my body does not allow all fighters (I can make it to midnight in a calm environment), turns out she was right.

2015 did not want to take the whimper route for exiting, and I spent the last hours feeling crappy. Definitely not the worst malaise I have experienced in South Africa (I was back eating amaZulu food 12 hours after this episode), but any gastrointestinal issues in the heat puts me at risk for dehydration. Which is probably why my body took its time to decide if it wanted to be ill that night.

Around 7 PM, I came out ready to party. We watched Scandal! per our evening routine, and once the next soapie came on (which I do not like) I went outside to enjoy the fresh air. That was when I started to get a headache. A light sprinkle starts and I head back to the house make sure my house is ready if the rain intensifies and to switch the lights for an illumination of the courtyard.  At 9, my host cousin comes and asks me for a plastic dish (one of the corners stores a few of Amajuba family’s supplies). I grab the dish and then go rest.

Around 10:30 PM my host sister (arguably the most vivaciously of the bunch screams repeatedly, KATE…I’ll explain why Kate has surfaced another time). I muster enough energy to meander up to the door, and explain that I am sick. She says that I am lying but lets me go back to bed. At this point my body decides that the digestive system really wants to be sick and I spent the rest of the hour curled up into my bed. It is New Years Eve and Kosi FM is blaring, so I am hearing the South Africa loudly move towards midnight in my semi-consciousness.

 The DJ exclaims, “6 minutes to Midnight” and seconds later, I hear “KATE, SIMPIWE” alternating .All three host sisters I live with are right at my bedroom window, saying that they are waiting for me. I try to explain, “Ngiyagula…I am sick” but they are not budging. My body was not going to let me sleep any time soon, and since you are never off the clock as a PCV (and me sitting in my room all night probably made me look unfriendly to the visiting family), I had nothing to loose.  I quickly wash my hands, throw on a skirt, and decide it is dark enough to be braless (which would have added another 2 minutes). I walk out the door with my bucket just in case, and the host family starts to get that I am actually sick and not trying to get out of this party for a good night’s sleep. They greet me dancing with a bunch of sticks (my first hunch was a type of braai stake that emulates amaZulu heritage) and tell me to leave the bucket on the step.

The compound was hazy with excitement and braai smoke. One of the host sisters gives me a stick which turns out to be a cardboard tube telling me, “Don’t worry it is not dangerous.” Considering the fact that I was cognitively delayed (more so than usual), surrounded by intoxicated amaZulu and children up past their bed time, there was no other way to make it more dangerous. Before I can protest, the countdown starts and after everyone says Happy New Year a visiting sister lights a match to tube. Sparks started to fly, the mystery is solved. It is a firework.

The first flashes nearly hit my host brother, and I was pulled towards open grass by the latrine. The children were not far behind, inadvertently pointing their sticks like cattle prods. The mothers were not far behind, commanding “Phezulu”/up…towards heaven. Once the children safely adjusted the fireworks, we stood and watched our tubes sent illuminating projectiles into the calm Amajuba night. My firework stick expires after a couple minutes and an aunt passes another stick. I support that stick for 30 seconds, until my cousin asks for a replacement for his dwindling stick. In the end, nothing caught on fire (though the projectiles had a few near misses with the rondavel’s thatched roof) and it was fun.

I run back to the house for my phone, take a few photos, and embrace the small energy surge that I have. Most of that energy is wasted by asking the family members not to touch me as I did not know if I was contagious. The uncles still hugged me, the aunts dragged me for a dance (I swayed my hips for 15 seconds), and my neighbors still crammed next to me for a selfie. Then my cousin offers me a plate of food for tomorrow, and that was when I reached my limit. I wish everyone a
Feliz Ano Nuevo (yes I was out of it) and  crawl back into bed  to get some rest. With a blaring radio, I managed to be half asleep with earplugs for the rest of the party.

Around 2:30, I hear my host cousin scream, “KATE.” Putting my body upright triggered the nausea so I try to pretend they are not there. If there is one talent that my host family has, it is that they are impossible to ignore. Anyways I get to the door and host cousin is completely wasted hilariously declaring she is so drunk. She apologizes for waking me and asks for several blankets (what composes most of host family’s storage corner).

Now, to get said blankets out I would have to open my burglar bars with my keys. I thought the keys were on the nightstand, and it took 10 minutes find my lanyard buried in the bedding. Once we get the blankets out the door, I watch host cousin stumbling and thinking it was a tie between which one of us was more impaired that nigh. I am sure my slow movements, groaning, and need to grab the bucket every time I bent down to search for the keys was also a site to see. I went back to bed and slept for 5 hours. The next morning, I awoke to fresh green cow crap stains on the floor (must have stepped in it while shooting fireworks) and crazy selfies on my phone that I barely remembered. I clearly do not need alcohol to have the “morning after” experience.

It was not the most ideal circumstances to celebrate 2016’s advent, but it was still a good event. When we were standing with the fireworks, all of our community was holding their fireworks piercing the Amajuba night with colorful stripes of light. As I held my stick in phezulu position, I had a steady smile. Even though I felt physically awful, by holding the firework and facilitating this beautiful view of our corner of Amajuba I was a part of the community. It did not matter what my skin color was or my isiZulu ability, if I did not live in Schnizeland that firework would not be in my hands. Moreover, my host family cared enough about this event that they made sure I was present.

When you talk to PCVs and ask what integration looks like, there is an endless stream of answers. For me it is living life like my South Africans colleagues without special treatment. Until New Year’s Eve, the closest to integration I got was being in ques and taking transport when I was in a good mood. When I am in a bad mood, I air all my American grievances privately and do not focus on appreciating the experience. That night in Amajuba, we were all celebrating life and my host family (who has told me that I am one of them several times) made me feel like a part of the community. After months of stumbling, I finally felt that I was on the right direction (in this case phezulu).

I have confidence that 2016 will continue to move phezulu from here!

Also, if future conversations require me to share my most memorable New Year’s Eve, the one in rural Amajuba will be hard to beat!

 

Life Administration: How I Cope in Taxis

When I filled out my health history form, I knew that transport would be an agitating trigger as an autistic. Almost a year and a half after declaring this, I realize that I was right. Navigating the logistics of South African transport can be anxiety inducing, but there are methods for reducing the anxiety. By monitoring finances (so they cover the taxi fees), being prepared to move once you reach the destination, and being cognizant of sensory triggers, it is possible to have successes in taxi transport…meltdown free!

First the ability to move around South Africa via minibus is dependent on your ability to cover fees….which involves a whole other set of logistics. The taxi fee from site 1.0 to shopping town 1.0 was 21 rand exactly. My current taxi fees are 16 rand to Duke City (with the last 2 rand paid at a certain point), 14 rand to Scotland, and 8 rand to Schnitzeland. I try give exact change for local destination, as there is always a local passenger who will give a 100 or 200 rand bill which stresses the driver out. If I am desperate, I will ask them to break a 50 rand.

Now, PCSA’s bank of choice does not have a branch in the closest town (Schnitzeland…technically there is a perpetually broken ATM at one of the hardware stores) and at site 1.0 the closest ATM was at least an hour away. The way I manage this is that I pull out a couple hundred rand and purchase food as need at the local grocery store (at site 1.0 I did this at the tuck shops). While I am in town, I will treat myself to lunch just to break the cash for the ride home (Chicken Licken was my unfortunate choice at shopping town 1.0). Also if at all possible have extra cash on hand for public restrooms (Petrol station stops usually let you use the restroom for free but at many malls it is a 2 rand fee) and food stops for long distance trips.  Finally, taxi associations raise prices with short notice quite frequently and it is best not to be caught off guard. Listen to your host family and friends in the community about potential changes. PCSA is great about sharing safe issues but host family 1.0 knew about the taxi strikes in Pretty City the hour it started.

Also along the lines of taxi strikes, there is a lot in South African transport that you cannot control. However if you are prepared to adapt to changes in the unpredictable schedule, the changes will not shake you up too much. Take my last trip to Msinga, after Cluster 1.0’s retreat the plan was to take a taxi to Durban and stay with my PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader the 3rd year who signed up to maintain SA 31’s sanity and does a beautiful job with it) in Durban and then go up North Coast and visit the Gogo at her site. The day before I was about to leave both Msinga and Durban had nasty taxi wars, and I had to change my route by going back to Shopping Town 1.0 and taking the Empangeni taxi. I got to the Gogo’s site right at dusk (and just in time for dinner), and minimized my anxiety levels. Also, long distance taxi’s leave when it gets full, or at minimum noon. So if you are trying to take a local taxi to Johannesburg in the winter and need to go to Pretoria for PC business, be prepared to transfer to the Gautrain and navigate Pretoria at night.

The other aspect of being prepared is being ready to move when the minibus arrives at the destination. I practice staying “please drop me off at…” in isiZulu before I get on the taxi. Crime is higher in the big cities especially in the taxi ranks, and right when a taxi enters city limits I zip my bags up, hide money, and make a plan. If I meeting another PCV, I message them to establish a location before I get on the taxi (since cell service can be spotty) and try to make contact before I disembark so my phone is not temping criminals. If I am alone, I try to coordinate a local taxi, place to stay overnight (and have the address handy for the taxi driver), or locate a safe place to make a call. When I went to Maritzburg for the database training, I did not know which one of the taxi ranks to disembark at but most passengers got off to the rank next to a petrol station. I walked into the petrol station, explained my situation and the attendants got out a phone book while pointing out the reliable private taxi company for Maritzburg. A taxi came 10 minutes after I called and for 50 rand they got me to the hotel safe.

I have not had the chance to travel internationally as a PCV, but from my exchange student days being organized before reaching a border crossing always pays off.  I always have black pen (pens disappear at border crossings like leaves in the late fall and the South African government has a weird aversion to blue ink) and a potential address and contact information (hotel, friend, company etc.) ready, as long as you write something most border officials will accept the form. It should go without saying but always obtain the correct visa requirements before entering the country (All of South Africa’s neighbors have some form of Bureaucracy in their government but especially be mindful of Mozambique, it has the most requests for tourist visas and it MUST be obtained before you reach the border) and make sure you are able to renter South Africa (breaking the rule can throw you in perpetual gridlock with the South African government).  On that note, before leaving the border crossing I stow away my passport and any tickets (if on an international bus…because my Botswana-mates do not let me forget the time I left the return tickets at the South Africa border and getting the replacements nearly caused me to miss the bus back to Bots) so they are not snatched. Losing a passport is a pain everywhere, but replacing a South African visa is extremely difficult.

Finally in terms of being the most comfortable as possible on taxis (and minimizing sensory overstimulation) takes a bit of trial and error to figure out what the triggers are. The main two are harassment and heat. If there are intoxicated men on the bus, I have to navigate unwanted attention. To keep a low profile, I choose to wear a knee length skirt (sometimes capri pants…depends how hot it is) and a modest top for the ride. Also I try to bring activities to keep me distracted like crossword puzzles or my Mp3 player, and most of the time people do not bother me for long when they see me occupied.

As for heat, I get carsick and more agitated when it is hot in the taxi. The first line of defense is ing the taxi during holidays, first and last weeked  of the months when government gants are realeased.

Because this was Duke City’s taxi rank on Christmas Eve,

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Introvert’s nightmare. Enough said.

Second is taking only what I need for long trips because more stuff adds to body heat (and taxis do not leave if they are full). If it is a taller taxi (I will explain taxi types another time) then there will be head space, but small minibuses are crammed. If I can, I try to get the front window seat on the right side, because I can control the window and there is a bit of leg space. However since the sun could be on my side of the bus, wear a hat, sunscreen, light and sunglasses to keep cool. If there are Cool Times (Popsicles in a plastic bubble availible in the local tax ranks) I buy one for 2-3 rand and place it at the back of my neck with wipes handy because sticky fingers can quickly exacerbate my agitation levels. Finally the last life hacks I have is staying as hydrated as possible (hard when the bathroom access is unpredictable), balancing salt and sugar intake, and having mint gum on hand (sold at all South African stores). It is a quick way to relieve car induced nausea and when swallowed serves as a laxative in a pinch (if that is TMI…well traveling in low resource areas is the epitome of TMI, you get used to it if you love this lifestyle).

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This concludes the end of the Life Administration Series. Thanks for reading this experiment!  I may elaborate on certain areas  (like minibus types and layout…I ran out of time to elaborate) but if anyone wants more information, comment on the blog (I monitor all comments but see the emails, and if you indicate this is a private message I will delete the comment but email you personally.

All the best,

Katey

One last money side note for SA bound PCTs: As I have documented on here, I have had several unexpected stays in Pretoria for PC related issues which requires bus tickets and hostel stays. I try to budget 3000 Rand in the account at all times, in the event of an emergency/unexpected and only dip into those resources when the situation arises. Also, PC reimburses all expenses related to official business and since I am horrible at remembering numbers I write down taxi fees(and hostel bills if applicable) immediately after paying them in in writing and in draft e-mail on my phone (in case I lose the paper) so they are ready for the travel reimbursement forms.

Life Administration: How I Move

South Africa has a network of national highways and several transportation options. It is pretty neat that I can access 70% of major South African cities by grabbing a taxi from my site (getting to the Western Cape would take 2 days but it is still feasible) and if I had my passport accessible technically I could get to Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, or Botswana within a day through minibuses (Zimbabwe has travel restrictions in place at our post). South Africa is huge and while long distance bus rides are exhausting it is a great opportunity to see the natural landscape evolve.  Each province has its own personality reflected in the landscape from KZN’s boastful mountains and labyrinth of sugar cane fields, Free State’s stoic plains, Mpumalanga’s meandering paths that gently transition through all of its attractions, Gauteng’s glittery urbanity, and Limpopo’s nostalgic orange soils that provide a taste of tropical Africa.  You can read a book in the way to Pretoria (from here it is about 5-7 hours depending on the method), or you can look out the window and understand one of the reasons why Tutu calls this the Rainbow Nation. Both are pleasurable depending on my mood.

There are two main forms of transport used by rural South Africans: the minibuses and buses. Minibuses or taxis run Southern Africa at large, and in South Africa they are the lifeline of the rural communities that PCSA serves. Some areas have spotty taxi service and you have to be creative. In site 1.0, usually I would have to walk up the valley 30 minutes to catch a taxi and ride another 30 minutes up until it turned around and reached shopping town 1.0. I love hiking and until security issues surfaced at the site walking up was not a problem, just a source of exercise with a good story to tell.  Getting anywhere from site 1.0 (minus Winterton which was a different routes) required another taxi from shopping town 1.0’s taxi rank. My current area serves more as a link for rural Schntizeland, which means I have a stable taxi network 1000 meters from my house (and a rank across the street). I can get to Schnitzeland, Scottland (with a minor transfer but nothing to stress about), and the most popular destination Duke City (with a reliable taxi rank that serves most of South Africa). There are also taxis for the other rural communities in the area.

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Buses are more spacious and comfortable for long term travel. There are the more expensive Greyhounds (chuck your expectations at the door Americans…Greyhounds are living large here) and slightly less expensive Cityliner, City to City, or Translux. The nice thing about these buses is that they provide a straight shot to Pretoria, with a brief stopover in Johannesburg’s Park Station (also home to the international buses as well) before heading to Bosman Station where a PCSA approved taxi service can pick you up for 100 rand (call ahead first…I have had luck calling them at Midrand about 20 minutes away from Pretoria).

The disadvantage is that these buses always run late. At site 1.0 I would wait an hour on the N3 for the Cityliner and would not get into Pretoria until 8:30 PM (it is due around 6 PM). At that point, the 100 rand ride to the backpackers is worth it. The other logistic is figuring out how to get back your rural site, as the buses connect major hubs and usually not the rural communities.  Duke City is on the pricy Greyhound route, but I can easily get to Pretty City and stay with the SpEd for the Cityliner bus. I learned that if the Cityliner from Pretoria gets to Pretty City later than 2:00 PM, there was no way I could go further and the SpEd has graciously opened her site for visitors who cannot get home that day. Also, I have learned the hard way that if you cancel a bus ticket and ask for a refund, it can screw up a preexisting itinerary (inducing a meltdown in the Pretoria bus station the day before my birthday, because instead of providing a refund they canceled my ticket and on a public holiday the bus my friends who were coordinating a small observation with cake was full.)

Transport: never a dull moment.

Life Administration: How I Wash Clothes

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Sanibonani,

While my electricity experiences in rural South Africa are complicated, my household plumbing is straight forward. My bathtub, sink, dishwasher, and washing machine consist of four buckets: a green bathtub and three navy blue bins. One of the bins serves as the sink basin while the PC initiated water filter is the faucet. Two bins alternate between the aforementioned roles (and before anyone flips out over hygiene I clean the buckets thoroughly before they switch tasks). Water comes from the tap 10 meters from my house (I got really lucky in terms of tap access at both sites…there are SA PCVs who walk kilometers for water).

I could talk about washing dishes and bathing, but laundry is my sense of accomplishment as a PCV. Many PCVs dread laundry day, but for me it is the one task I can complete that week. Also laundry day is a treat these days because it has to be done when there is water and it is sunny.

Sunday is the unofficial laundry day, in part because listening to Kosi FM’s blaring soul classics makes the task fun!  However this summer my schedule is all over the place. Add South Africa to the list of places impacted by climate change (cough global warming) and KZN is in a bad drought. Because of this drought, the municipality shuts off the water and I am the water police who humanely confronts my host niece and nephew about their using water as a toy habit (but that is a. My second week in Amajuba, I went without water for 6 days. When the water is off my only priority is drinking and filling the PC water filter. If I get dehydrated, there is no way that the other tasks will happen. Usually I budget enough water for one bath for a district meeting or my 3 day schedule, but laundry does not happen.

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Ingredients for laundry

On a laundry morning (starting no later than 10 AM before afternoon thunderstorms are a problem), I gather my clothes, clothespins, laundry detergent, and nailbrush on my stoop. Clad in sunscreen, I sprinkle my detergent (Sunlight which is an cheap fabric softener and detergent plus a taste of my exchange student nostalgia) from the Pick N Pay yogurt container and add half a clear bucketful of water to each bin. Then I stir the detergent with the nailbrush (about 5 rand and the best laundry tool I have). After a minute the soap starts to dissolve and I add one more bucket from the tap to the buckets.

For the washing part, I have to confess that I am not high maintenance at washing. I separate my modest pile of white apparel but beyond that I mix reds with blues, towels with underwear and only “scrub” when the clothes are visibly dirty ( so far it has not ruined any of my clothes). As long as the clothes smell good, they are clean enough for me. When stains are present, I gently scrub back and forth with the nail brush. Without a lot of force, the nailbrush does a remarkable job of cleaning without rubbing the fabric thin. Once the clothes finish soaking (most are ready in 10 minutes) I wring them out and dunk them in the rinse bucket. Then after the clothes are rinsed, I ring them out and stick them on the clothesline to dry (depending on the timing, most clothes are done by the evening…quick dry fabrics are your friend. .

Right after I arrived, my host family put up a study clothes line which works great. Depending on the area, underwear can be taboo. Bras here are hung out here with no problem but bottoms are concealed. If you are like me and like underwear with adequate amount of material, one of the life hacks that I took from the roommate is grabbing the middle and loosely pulling it though a leg hole around the wire. Not only does this conserve clothes pins, and provides even areas for drying.  It also makes the underwear smaller and easier to cover up with bigger clothes on the front clothesline. Host Family 1.0 taught me to hang long sleeved clothes (jackets, shirts, and jeans) upside down so they dry quicker. Jeans and heavier materials take more clothespins to secure on the line, and longer to dry (hence why I avoid wearing jeans, I get 5 wears out of a skirt but 1 wear out of jeans). For articles that cannot be exposed to direct sunlight (in my case reusable pads) I lay them to dry on a travel towel inside the house. When there is really no space, I would purposely wash the travel towel and hang the materials underneath)

One last laundry hack: I always have a travel laundry kit consisting of a handful of clothespins, nailbrush, and a bar of Sunlight Soap in a plastic bag. Other PCVs utilize it and it helped me maintain a routine while I was living in a backpackers (and laundromats in Pretoria charge per item…eish).

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Laundry in South Africa. It is more effort than wash and dry machinery but feels better when it is done with solar energy.

 

 

 

 

Metric System Mayhem

Finally, South Africa ignores America’s rebellious tendencies and uses the metric system. Really America, we lost the measurement war and instead of bickering over why America is “behind” in math, maybe we should focus more energy on rising global citizens who can decipher the metric system. Sorry end of my rant, but it is really frustrating to be unable to read nutrition labels, estimate distance, or in a health context be unable to read a basic indicator like BMI (which was a pain during my time in Botswana). The metric culture extends to baking and I have a nifty scrapper/converter I got at Dis-Chem to help me decipher the math. Nevertheless mistakes happen and I have a story to close with.

This Thanksgiving, I crashed the Education Cohort’s gathering in the Battlefields (I will explain KZN’s ambiguous geographic classifications another time) about 2 hours from the site. One of the older volunteers has established connections with the local hotel and coordinated a wonderful feast. Anyways it was a lovely first outing away from Amajuba and this party crasher’s contributions was finding the cranberry sauce in the Scotland Pick N Pay’s menagerie of canned fruits and helping with the pumpkin pie.

The host PCV did not have a wealth of baking experience and was relieved when I wanted a baking fix. Since this was in a nice hotel, we had a state of the art kitchen including a food processor to puree produce. Using BBC recipes as our guide, the plan was to make 3 pies (1 pumpkin and 2 butternut as we could only find one fresh pumpkin) for the PCV party of almost 20 and the regular hotel guests. Anyways things were going well, I made my first pie crust (with real butter since that was what the hotel used) which was far from aesthetically pleasing but it held the filling so task accomplished!  Meanwhile the host pureed the pumpkin and once we found a good spice balance we got ready to add the milk.

The host adds the required amount and the mixture with a vibrant saffron hue gradually mutes to a pastel peach. Now the Engineer loves pumpkin pie and he finds any excuse to bake one (I am willing to bet we are the only family in Albuquerque who observes Martin Luther King Day with pumpkin pie). I had enough pumpkin pie…expertise if you will, to realize something is off. I gently encourage the host to recheck the recipe and she finds out we were supposed to use a 1/3 of the milk we poured. Curse you metric system.

Oops. With about 20 Americans craving an authentic pumpkin pie, the stakes were high.

Thankfully the head chef (a no-nonsense amaZulu woman) who has seen her share of kitchen blunders figures out a solution. She comes up with an idea to keep a 1/3 of the current mixture and prepare the butternut puree as the filling. It takes another hour to season the butternut but we find the right consistency and put the pies in the oven. As completed my kitchen duty by supporting the food processor as it created whipped cream, I was worried that the butternut would throw the taste off.

In the end, my anxiety was misplaced (typical) and the other PCVs appreciated the taste of home with the whipped cream. You could definitely taste the butternut but it did not distracted wholesome sensation from pumpkin pie. Honestly in British Spheres of influence, pumpkin describes any type of squash (not just Jack o’ Lantern material) so including butternut put a South African flare to the meal.

Most important, it made for a delightful breakfast the next morning (my favorite way to enjoy pumpkin pie).

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