When “Going to the Mountain” Does Not Involve S’mores

Blog-Challenge-2016

The final prompt for the Blogging Abroad Boot Camp: My new normal (aka the behaviors we required). One of the biggest PC adages in existence is that service makes you a completely different person. Some PCVs do undergo a personality transformation, yet I cannot say South Africa completely changed me. Hopefully I am less brash and gained bit more tenacity with humility but honestly I feel like the same Katey-Red that left. What South Africa has impacted is my view of the world and patterns of thought. These new perceptions I have obtained applies to serious topics and fascinating cultural interpretations of concepts I was  familiar with in the States.  Like I will never think of camping or mountains in the same manner.

I am a proud mountain girl and regardless of where life leads me, mountains will always symbolize home. Every place I lived (North Carolina does not count as I was a baby) had dramatic conglomerates of rock that pierce the sky. This pattern has continued in South Africa where for the first 5 months of service I lived in the Central Drakensburg foothills and here in my Amajuba site I can see Utrecht’s Balele Mountains on clear days. Anyways, like most mountain appreciators two of my hobbies are hiking and camping. South Africa’s natural beauty happens to be breathtaking.

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I rest my case: South Africa is aesthetically pleasing. Taken on the way to Tugela Falls, March 2013.

As time passed in South Africa, I felt uncomfortable because my communities did not share my enthusiasm. There are black South Africans who enjoy hiking, but the people I usually encounter in outdoor stores like Cape Union Mart are other whites (usually Afrikaaners) There were other signs as well like in May when I hiked in Royal Natal and a prep school class comprised of Indian children from Durban was there but I did not see many Black people. When I wanted to hike the hill that overlooks my site to get a photo of the valley for the Community Needs Assessment, my host cousin just balked.  

Last month I was attending a PCSA training of the trainers and gained an answer for why the lack of enthusiasm exists. I was at breakfast with three PCSA staff (our training manager who I believe is Pedi /Northern Sotho and siSwati and Xitsonga Language teachers) who happened to be men, when the conversation arose about mountains. Then I asked if they shared my admiration for the outdoors and with wide eyes they shook their heads as they started to share their childhood cattle camping trips.

Little boys in the rural areas would join the male adults of the family in herding the cows wherever the bulls wanted. Sometimes the bulls would decide to spend the night on the mountain in spite of Southern African elements that can be lethal. After the training, I related my discussion with Mr. Swazi who laughed and then proceeded to tell me about all the snakes he encountered during those forced hikes in Swaziland. Eish. He may have ruined my hiking plans if I make it to Swaziland.

When typing this, I remembered an additional connotation for South African mountains. “Going to the mountain” is another way to describe boys attending South African initiation schools where circumcision takes place. Unlike the United States where most infant boys are circumcised at birth, many African cultures use circumcision as a rite of passage. These days the events usually take place during the winter school holidays (June-July) and every year initiates experience injuries and some even die during this process. There is a continuous and conscious effort on part of the South African governments to incorporate medical procedures with traditional practices in order to keep these boys safe.

 Surprisingly while other Nguni cultures like the Xhosa practice initiation schools, the amaZulu do not generally participate. King Shaka banned the practice in the 19th century because it put warriors out of commission for months during the recovery time and it has become part of culture to abstain from the practice. However the advent of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) as a reliable method to prevent HIV transmission, the amaZulu King has encouraged VMMC and some teenager boys are opting for the experience in medical facilities. Like most things in South Africa, circumcision is at the heart of a debate of preserving traditional cultural practices or adopting modern practices to address problems.

There are two ways Americans would not usually perceive mountains! Moving forward I will continue to enjoy the local scenery (and maybe attempt hikes) but respect that the amaZulu will not feel the same way.

Side note if anyone was curious about what initiation schools are like, Nelson Mandela vividly describes his Xhosa initiation in “A Long Walk to Freedom.”  Granted things have changed since the early 20th century but Mandela did a beautiful job explaining the cultural significance behind initiation schools.

This concludes the Blogging Abroad Boot Camp Challenge! Thank y’all for the likes, comments, visits, and a special thanks to Blogging Abroad for the opportunity! I now have at least 20 new post ideas and enjoyed exploring other cultures through the other bloggers. Also, Blogging Abroad has an awesome blog directory of Peace Corps Blogs. Please check out the directory and meet more of the stellar bloggers (there are some incredible voices currently in the PCV field) and once the stipend comes in I will update my own directory with a few blogs that encountered through the challenge! Feel free to continue following Eish. My intent is to keep the commentary on South African Life until March/April 2017!

All the best,

Katey-Red