Monday, December 14, 2009

middlepos trip with my school

this is me at the top of a viewing perch at this little resorty-lodge called Middlepos. It's about halfway between Kuruman and Kimberly in the Northern Cape. Our school went there last week to celebrate the end of the year. The learners were totally impressed that I could swim and were fascianated by my tattoos. I dress pretty conservatively at school, so I don't think they had seen my body art before. Also I taught them the principles of rowing a boat in the pond. You can tell they are from the desert because not even the teachers knew how it worked. It was really funny :)

sweaty and loving it

It's beginning to look a lot like ... Christmas? No, SUMMERTIME. Mmm, I love it. The days are longer, hotter, sweatier, and I couldn't be happier. Even though there is *some* commercialism and Christmas stuff here, there is not NEARLY the amount here that exists in America. This makes me happy. I stopped giving gifts and doing Christmas cards a few years ago, and it made all the difference between me enjoying the holidays and not. (I enjoy them a lot more now, by the way.) In Africa, many people don't have anything to begin with, so there's not this pressure from around every corner to "buy your special someone that perfect gift," and we all know that special someone is multiplied times 20 at least, ranging from spouse, kids, grandkids, co-worker, secret santa, you name it.

So, I'm spending my Christmas holiday camping on the beach. My big goal for the 10 days is to cook homemade yeast bread on the braai, which is South African for barbecue. Like outside, on the beach, over firewood embers. And to maybe take a surfing lesson, because it only costs R40 where I'm going. That's practically free. It's technically the equivalent of $5.50. And I am also going to continue my fitness regime and run and do yoga on the beach. But that's it. I hope you're jealous, because so am I. Being a volunteer has it's perks too.

Just in case you think I haven't worked hard enough to deserve a vacation like this, you should think again. Having [sarcastically] said that, the work is fun, rewarding, and I try to make it my own. Sometimes it makes me so tired that I go home and do nothing for the rest of the day but stare at the wall, take a nap, or read a magazine article or two. But sometimes, it makes me really energized and glad I left my comfortable life back in Oklahoma. I have a whole new appreciation for clean water and men that don't ask me for my phone number now! I can only assume I'll come up with new appreciations as the months progress.

Happy Holidays from the Kalahari!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

food in south africa

People have asked me what have I been eating. That's a great question! Some recipes I've made with local flavor:

tinned fish with tomato
2 servings

1 can pilchards (approx 6oz in size) [sardines, but they dont' call them that here]
1 onion, small dice
1 can tomato (approx 14 oz in size)
olive oil

brown onion in oil in pot. add tomato, simmer on medium heat until water cooks out (approx 20 min.). pull out bones from fish, flake and add to pan. serve with bread. yum

bogobe (pup)
1 serving

1/4-more maize meal (this is pretty much masa harina, or finely ground cornmeal)
1 c water

boil water. add pinch salt. add maize meal slowly, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. stir in more meal if you like it thicker. turn down to simmer, cover. after 20 min or so, stir. cook a few more minutes, then take off the lid. eat with whatever you like, such as beans, vegetables, fish. i usually eat this with steamed green beans, the tinned fish or some lentils.

more later!


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Gardening Adventures in the Kalahari:
Okie gardener in South Africa

Among many other things, gardening in South Africa is a project I'm working on during my Peace Corps service. Last week, after a few days of rain (yeehaw!), my host family and I set to work turning over the earth, weeding and creating garden beds. Working in the sandy soil here in the Kalahari desert is MUCH easier than working in the clay of Oklahoma. The downside is that we have to water much more often, as the sandy soil drains much faster.

I purchased some seeds at a local ag store in Kuruman (my nearest shopping town), including two varieties of tomatoes, carrots, bush basil, mixed herbs, swiss chard, hot pepper (i think it's cayenne but we'll see) and green beans. They have also requested beets, onion, cabbage and spinach. These are the staple foods of the baTswana people, as well as mealies (corn), which they make into pup, which is a corn porridge. But, I am not equipped for growing corn, so we're going to stick with the more simple veggies.

I used the stake and weave method for my tomatoes, basil and green beans when I left Oklahoma in July, and have heard that it is the most beautiful site to see (I'm blushing), so I'll try to get my family to use that method here, too. They do things differently here, but the purpose of my service is not just to teach, but to also learn. I'm been an apt pupil, I'm happy to report.

I have been saving all my fruit and vegetable peelings, as well as egg shells and teabags to start a compost heap. We are going to dig a big hole in the shape of a garden bed about a foot deep and layer it with animal manure, food scraps and ash. We don't have any grass clippings in the desert, and any wood is used to burn for cooking, or to build fences and brush is used to deter the birds from eating the crops by piling it on top of newly planted beds. We will mix with a shovel periodically, and hopefully have some compost within a month or two, as it's now springtime and working into summer here.

I hope to get my primary schools composting as well, as they both have food gardens. Happy autumn gardening in Oklahoma!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Settling in at site and first field trip

September 17th I arrived at my site, which is a very small village about 20 miles from Kuruman in the Kalahari Desert. There was less than one week of school left before the spring break, so I most observed, then help the educators compile some final reports. I helped do some typing, and the librarian scheme about how to make good changes for the school library. But mostly lots of sitting and waiting. That has been the hardest part, not being busy or not knowing what to do. Just waiting.

The nights are cold but calm, the days get hot and windy, but usually dies down in the evening. Yesterday it rained, which was quite noisy under a tin roof, but pretty exciting. I felt, for the first time, like I was having a true "Peace Corps experience" sitting in my own little house drinking a glass of wine and smoking a cigarette, listening to the rain, snacking on some olives. I get home from school around 3pm, wash my dishes, rest for about an hour (that usually means reading) then do yoga for an hour, then run for an hour. It's really nice to be finished right as the sun is setting.

Sunday night I went with my school on a field trip to Capetown. Capetown, the magical place! It's amazingly beautiful and very different from any other place than South Africa. It was nice to bond with the learners (grade 6 and 7) and my educators. Good to see the bright spots and know that we will all gain from each other.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I just wrote a 4 page blog about my African experience, and the computer ate it. Yes, I saved every 10 minutes. Booooo!!!

Anyway, when I left Stillwater, I was exhausted from all the going away parties, goodbyes and emotional stress of leaving someone I love very much (person and pets). I hadn’t anticipated how much the separation would affect me, so it took me by surprise. It was really hard to leave and hold it together. I hadn’t really been nervous, just wiped out and looking forward to a good night’s sleep before flying to Washington, D.C. for staging. I arrived on a muggy, cloudy afternoon to check in to our hotel, and meet my new fellow trainees, soon-to-be volunteers.
I walked into the lobby, and already people acted as if they had known each other for years. I was nervous! As much as I love meeting new people and making new friends, I always get nervous. The first person I really talked to was Karen, a gardener from Kentucky. She reminds me so much of my mom; down to earth, beautiful but totally humble and modest. After an entire day of introductions, what to expect, and some paperwork, we were given money for our last American meal. I chose a sushi restaurant, thinking I might not get to eat it again until after my 2 year service. It proved to be delicious, I could not even finish my meal.

We packed up and left for the clinic the next morning to be vaccinated against yellow fever, then straight to the airport. We arrived about 6 hours early for our flight, so us smokers (myself, Tim a young physicist from Illinois and Anne, a young graphic designer from Minnesota) found coffee in Dulles airport and smoked outside until we boarded South African Airways. Some people scrambled around to change dollars to rand, the South African currency. I did not, I want to try to live and travel solely on my Peace Corps salary. There was an excited hubbub throughout our gigantic line of 43 volunteers. (We started with 45, but one couple woke up late in D.C. and decided not to go.) I thought I might be one of the oldest volunteers at my ripe old age of 27 (now 28!) but definitely am not. There are six married couples in our group, one of them in their early 70s. Two are under 21, and a good portion of us are in our late 20s-early 30s. Some are in their 50s. We come from all over the country, and strangely enough, 4 came from Oregon and had been student-teacher a few years previous. On the plane, I sat next to Kelsey, the 20 year old from New York who recently graduated with a BS in math and attended Obama’s inauguration. We both love baking and food, among other things. It was nice to sit next to someone and form a bond so early on.

After the 19 hour plane ride (one stop in Dakar, did not deboard) we got on a bus for a 2.5 hour ride to Marapyane, where we have been in training. Our new language and cultural teachers greeted us warmly and enthusiastically with traditional BaTswana songs and dancing, and we shared a meal before being assigned individual dorm rooms and a 7am breakfast the next day. I would have loved a shower and a fall into bed, but in the Peace Corps, one rarely gets to make these decisions for oneself. It was the dead of winter and very, very cold. Peace Corps bought everyone bedding, including a mink blanket, which was much needed. No one has indoor heating here.

I wasn’t used to getting up early, complaining if I was woken before 8am back in the States. Now, I wake at 6am everyday (sometimes earlier if traveling), run 10k before dinner, and try to get in some yoga. I am actually training for a marathon in April- it benefits local South African kids to go to college- and it’s a 21k. Well, the half marathon, the one that I’m training for, is 21k. The Ultra is 56k or some crazy thing like that. I never thought I would run in a marathon, but I’ve been doing a lot of things I never thought since I’ve been here.

I’ve stayed with a local family while training in Marapyane, they are an older couple who take care of two of their grandchildren. A boy, aged 7, and a very naughty girl, aged 4. They have all modern ammentities, like an oven, refrigerator, running water, electricity, fruit trees in their backyard, etc. It’s a bit different from my situation at my permanent site, a tiny village about 20k away from Kuruman in the Kalahari desert. I don’t have running water there, but I do have my own 4 room house! A living room with some furniture, a bedroom with big double bed, vanity, and lots of space, a kitchen with a hot plate and soon-to-be refrigerator, and an extra room with nothing in it (yet). I plan to draw and paint in that room, or maybe use it if someone wants to come visit me.

We have a lot of time off for traveling, and I plan to do as much as I can. One of our volunteers stays near Meerkat Manor, some kind of popular place on the Animal Planet channel. I believe we are going there for Thanksgiving this year, and I am supposed to go to Cape town later this month with my school for a field trip. Exciting!