Monday, December 27, 2010

a long december

I, for one, am glad this year is almost over.  It's been a long December.  I haven't been one for New Year's Resolutions for the last few years, but I am really looking forward to 2011.  Each year has been getting better and better, minus a few road bumps (or parking humps, if you prefer), and I have no doubts about the following one as well.

Current plans:  look into volunteering at the local library, vehicle hunt, take an art class, continue with copious medical appointments, and test as many North Carolina barbecue joints as possible.  I've only been to one establishment and it was a total dud.  Look forward for some food reviews coming soon...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

party pooper

Pity party pooper, that is.  How good does it feel to finally be out of the pity party?  I asked a friend of mine the same question just the other day, after she posted how she was finally happy, after 17 long months, just by changing her attitude. 

For five long weeks, I saw myself in the likes of Frida Kahlo, Lieutenant Dan and Dr. House.  In lots of pain, with a leg that doesn't work, embittered, jaded and unable to see any light at the end of the ever-lengthening tunnel.  I was lugging myself around on crutches, and more recently, scooting up and down the stairs on my bum.  Well, as of two days ago, I can use that bum leg.  That has really helped to change my attitude about my leg, my health, my surroundings, and life in general.  Instead of being pissed off about leaving South Africa earlier than I planned, I am now cherishing every moment I get to spend with my family, and the technology that allows me to talk to South Africa every day.  Instead of missing my Northern Cape birds, desert landscape and heat, I am getting to know the North Carolina varieties and am happy for all the warm clothes my sister owns.  I am no Pollyanna, but at least I am not Oscar the Grouch anymore. 

Many people have commented that things happen for a reason.  That's kind of a dumb platitude, but I tend to agree with it nonetheless.  Or rather,  I choose to agree with it.  I'd like to think me breaking my leg has less to do with chance and more to do with the grand scheme of life.  Perhaps karma caught up with me?  Maybe there is a fabulous money making opportunity just kilometers away.  Maybe my nephew was getting tired of Elmo and needed some Morrissey in his life?  Who knows. 

During my convalescence at the guest house in Pretoria, I met some amazing people; all fellow injured Peace Corps volunteers, but from other countries in Africa.  There were a menagerie of injuries represented, from appendicitis to broken bones and even a mental meltdown.  Between us all, we represented one whole person and could manage shopping, cooking, drinking and lots of talking.  It was uplifting to be able to help other injured people, to hear their stories and even see some of their photos.  When you realize you aren't the only person who has ever been hurt so far away from "home" and that "home" can be anywhere you make it, your pity part becomes less appealing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The end?

Is it coincidental that the end of my volunteer service with the peace corps lines up with thanksgiving? I want to reflect on the things i am thankful for, highlight major lessons learned and things that happened. Maybe in the near future, i will be able to do this, but right now, i cannot. I can bend my knee 100 degrees, make my way to the kitchen and slowly prepare something to eat. I have to stop and rest after a few minutes. My days consist of blood testing, physio therapy, the odd paper gathering and question asking. Worries about a visa, short-term health and my future are looming. My family can't wait for me to return, but i am less than excited. It's not what i planned, to break my leg and leave south africa before my time. Why am i upset?

I am staying in a cozy guest house with running water, helpful staff, other injured volunteers and free breakfast every day. I have all my medical needs taken care of, and even transportation provided by my organization. But i would trade it in a heartbeat for my house in the Kalahari with the tin roof, resident bat, harsh sun and wind, and batswana neighbors. My language barriers, overworked and undermotivated colleagues, lazy municipalities, lack of funding and physical challenges seem like a dream compared to this current life, with television and air conditioning.

I miss my weekend visits from my sweetheart, my daily visits from kids in the village, going to school to face whatever new challenges arose that week. I miss my friend in my village, the one person i could share secrets and my lunch with, and she could appreciate both.

I miss being a helpful, valuable asset to my communities, and my fellow peace corps volunteers. I guess that's what is so upsetting. Now, instead of helping lots of people do lots of different things, i can barely even help myself. I've never been so helpless or hopeless. It's hard to imagine being able to walk again, to not be apart from my sweetie, or what will happen in the next few days, even. But i'm trying. Life threw me a big curveball, and even though i tripped and fell, i try not to stay down for too long at one time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On limited mobility

This is the first time, save when a broke my ankle at age 2, that i have been immobilized; this reason is the left tibia has two fractures, and i cannot bear any weight on the leg for 5 more weeks (total of 6 weeks of estimated healing time). There are metal pins and plates now inside, at knee and shin, keeping the bones level while they heal. Surgery was much less scary than i anticipated, but the pain is oh so much more. Not only do i feel the ache and throbbing at the site of said cutting and metal, but an almost constant cramping of the calf muscle. When i move from a horizontal t vertical position, there is several minutes of pain from rapid circulation, i guess.

Pain management was one of the two most difficult parts of my hospitalization. There were times i felt like Frida, waking from nightmares, screaming in pain, only to be stilled by in injection of strong analgesic. Never have i seen my body tremble so violently from a negative experience. The other terrible part was being alone. I never imagined i would come to need and enjoy the company of others, until this past 15 months of experiences in the peace corps. Especially in such a difficuly time, as being hospitalized, having surgery, and enduring so much pain. I did bond with the peace corps driver who picked me up from kuruman, took me and Jackei to our respective villages, then drove me to pretoria. He agreed to pick up a fellow volunteer so she could accompany me to the hospital. She also came to see me the next day, with another volunteer, and they brought me stuff to read, candy and a really nice card. The following day, a different volunteer came to see me. There aren't people i know all that well, or people i even see very often, but when you're in the peace corps, your bonds with fellow volunteers are very strong. You share this unique experience, and also don't know anybody else. Jackei couldn't leave work to come right away, and i was so grateful for the way these friends quickly accommodated time for me. Without them, i seriously don't think i would have been able to handle this situation. Last weekend, 5 or 6 of my friends were in town to celebrate their birthdays, and stopped by with mimosas to chat for awhile. People have been calling, texting and facebooking me every couple days. I am definately feeling the love.

Since i left the hospital, i have been staying in a private, en suite room with a double bed at this guest house in Pretoria. The peace corps uses this one for all africa volunteers who are in town for medical reasons. Currently, there are 4 other pcvs staying here. Having the company, albeit limited, is really great. One day, they helped me go grocery shopping. Let me describe that experience, just to give you an idea just how limited i really am.

Each morning, the peace corps sends a driver with a minivan (we call them kombis) to the guest house between half past 8 and 9. From here, people are taken to doctors appointments, the peace corps office, or on other errands. On this particular day, i went to the office for a check up with the peace corps doctor. I didn't have an appointed time, as things mostly organically evolve around here rather than adhering to a rigid schedule. I had time to use a computer for about half an hour before i checked in. Hobbled my way, on uneven cobblestones, and up four gigantic steps into the medical building. Up two more steps and down a hallway, to the exam room, and i am dripping with sweat and breathing heavily. By the time i fill out and file some paperwork and finish with my checkup, it is 11 and i am tired. A driver is available, and other volunteers are running errands, so i go so they can help me. The driver pulls right up to the entrance of the shopping plaza, but i must still walk a short distance to the grocery store. Mind you, one week out of surgery, on crutches, tendonitis in the left arm, i am moving at a turtle's pace and sweating again. Trying to remember what i need, my helpers pick and weigh my produce, accompany me to block other idiot shoppers from my hurt leg (people have come dangerously close!) And to make sure i don't fall. What normally takes 10 minutes took me (us) almost 45. I kid you not, i was so weak and shaky and positively soaked in sweat by the time it was over, that i wasn't sure i could make it.

Cooking regales a similar experience. Everything takes twice or 3 times as long, and i can't carry anything. I must put it in a backpack, or a bag that can hook on my crutches. I have carried beer in my pockets and pushed coffee on the tile floor with my crutches. I wash my hair in the sink with my drinking cup while i precariously balance on my good leg. My daily routine involves a distance of less than 1k, no doubt. I am doing seated and lying calisthenics for muscle strength, tone and rehab.

Mentally, it has been tough. Just knowing i can't go anywhere, run for stress relief, do my old yoga routine, almost anything i am used to, is tough. Not knowing if a can go back to my site while i recover or if i will get medically separated and be forced to recover in the states is kind of stressful. I am in the middle of visa applications, community projects, and leaving right now sort of mucks up all my plans. I am supposed to just concentrate on getting well, but when my near future fate is frightfully unknown, it is distracting. Almost as much as the constant charlie horses.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy halloween, tricks and treats

Wow, the last month has flown by and been quite eventful! I am writing this blog post from my phone in a hospital bed in pretoria. I tripped and fell while crossing the street in my shopping town, and manage to fracture my tibia in every way possible! Not even rescuing a child, running, or anything out of the ordinary. My peace corps doc says i should eat more calcium. I never thought about that until now. I don't drink milk, eat much cheese, spinach but i do eat yoghurt. Hmm...anyway, so this happened last friday night. Me and my fellow volunteers were staying together to celebrate halloween by making a braai and hanging out at a guesthouse. Showers, indoor plumbing, good company. So the electricity goes out during dinner, and a friend and i walk across the street to get my tobacco, next thing i know i'm on the ground and can't move. My friend says i grabbed his shoulder, so i didn't even fall with my whole body weight (of 68 kilos). The next morning, peace corps said to go to a local doctor and then phone from there. Alter the xrays, they plastered me to stabilize the knee/leg for the long trip to pretoria. My friends were so great, and Jackei, too. They carried me places, cooked my meat, got me beer, helped me find all my stuff, were just so helpful. Peace corps sent a driver to take me there, it's a solid 7 hour drive from my village. We had a great journey, had awesome conversations and he let me bring Jackei to help me pack and say goodbye, and pick up a friend who came to meet me in pretoria and came to the hospital with me.

Tonight at the hospital, i was fitted with a brace, given crutches, ct scanned, wheeled here and there, given a needle in my arm with sacs of fluid in them (HATE needles) and fed. Tomorrow afternoon, i will be having Orthopedic surgery involving plates and things. When i meet with the surgeon tomorrow, i can find out about healing time, recovery, what what. I just want to be able to run again. And wake up from the anasthesia.

Friday at school, my librarian and i prepared halloween craft masks for 50 kids to celebrate our american halloween. It was so awesome to see how excited they were, and how patient as we tied the string to secure each and every one! I just love working with my librarian, each time we bond a little more, share and grow together. I shared my lunch with her that day, too. What a wonderful thing, to share a meal with a friend! It always tastes better that way. I took my weekend bag, purse, and our projector to town on the bus. Another volunteer is borrowing it for a project at her school.

The day before that, i woke up at half past 5, walked to my far school, had coffee with Jackei and met his newly arrived brother and cousin from bangladesh, and went to a workshop for computer stuff for school. I am performing many duties of secretary there because they lost theirs, and the department is not replacing her. Why? Good question. Then i watched some john travolta terrorist movie with rahman bai over at Jackei's, walked back home, cooked black beans and sour porridge for dinner, and went to bed. Trained a new community volunteer on the computer at school the day before that. Started library planning, book cataloging, and did peace corps committee work before that. Busy busy! And now, everything is on hiatus again. What is the universe trying to tell me? I think i need to be still and listen to her direction.

Monday, October 4, 2010

mid service

I spent the last week with my group of volunteers at this gorgeous lodge near Pretoria.  Soft, luxurious double beds, running water, swimming pool, warm tub, tons of rich, delicious food, and awesome company were the perks of the week that accompanied the mandatory conference.  Despite this pocket of luxury, the company of my fellow volunteers and the smile on my face, I am really freaking depressed. 

It has been over a year now that I have been volunteering in South Africa.  During the last 14 months, I have seen a lot.  I have pushed my body to limits I never thought were possible.  I have seen the depths of my soul and not been able to run away.  I have lived in poverty with no running water, and I have been fed some of the best meals I have ever eaten.  I have fallen in and out of love.  I have learned to like children.  I have gardened in the desert.  I could go on ad nauseum with a list of crazy, fucked up and wonderful things I've experienced here, but I think you get the idea.  In short, I have been pushed to the limit in every way imaginable, some by external forces, mostly by myself.  Living on the edge like this is a very dangerous thing, because if something big happens, something major, the person on the edge is the least stable and likely to fall.

As an education volunteer, I work mainly with schools.  Last month, there was an almost month-long teachers' union strike.  We are not to affiliate ourselves with anything political, so we were instructed to stay home, away from the schools and not to do any community activities.  Coming from a country where unions are all but disbanded and powerless, this was a really upsetting, uncomfortable time.  Everything was in upheaval.  From one day to the next, we didn't know what to expect.  Were the demands going to be met?  Would there be picketing?  Would there be rioting and looting?  Intimidation from union reps?  Parents and kids asking when can they go back to school?  Dazed volunteers feeling useless, scared, depressed, and very confused about tons of conflicting information?  Yes, yes, yes, and yes.  All of these things happened, to smaller or greater degrees depending on what part of the country you were in.  I personally witnessed demonstrations, speeches, walk outs, but no violence.  That doesn't mean I still wasn't extremely uncomfortable, fearing for my already questionable safety and well-being.

The winter was still lingering in the Kalahari, and that meant super cold nights and mornings, me being less active due to the cold, waking up later, eating more (meat, rich curries), less sunshine, general glum ho-hums.  I seem to be greatly affected by the weather, thriving in the hot sun and becoming quite blue with cold, wind and no sun. Perhaps I have always been this way, but living as an isolated foreigner has a way of bringing things like this to the spotlight where they cannot be ignored.  I am also still dealing with the loss of a relationship, which has not been easy, to say the least.  Mostly I wander around, only half-engaged with whatever I happen to be doing, only half-enjoying life and not caring about anything nearly as much.  The strike rode winter's last wave, and left my already shaky psyche tumbling to the shore, choking up salt water and trying not to knock myself unconscious with that surfboard which slipped out from under me the second I got in the water.

The icing on the cake, the piece de resistance, was the very recent betrayal of a dear friend by another among our group of volunteers.  The results of this situation are that I cannot trust one and will greatly miss the other because he is no longer allowed to remain as a volunteer.  Instead of blaming or being angry, I am really, really sad.  I am hurt, I am confused.  I feel betrayed, and I feel the fool.  One person's actions reverberated so strongly within our group, and I wonder how one person can hold so much power.  Does this person know it?  Was it planned or meditated, manipulated and forseen?  Was it a simple mistake made out of anger, hurt, or revenge?  I don't know.  I don't know if I ever want to know.  People do stupid shit all the time, myself included, for no good reason.  The problem with doing anything is that you can never take it back, good, bad, or ugly.   What's done is done.  The end.  Move on.  Stew, reflect, learn something from it, but move on.

I'm hoping to do this very soon.  I'm hoping to not let this crazy chain of events keep me down.  I'm trying to take lessons from each situation and start again.  The latest thing I have learned is how important it is to reach out and keep in touch with my fellow volunteers.  I created a nice social circle of local friends in my village, and get busy doing "my own thing," not worrying about anybody else.  If I didn't hear from someone, I just assumed they were okay and went on with my own business.  Now, I am going to make the effort to be more available to more volunteers more often.  We are the only support systems for each other, we are our surrogate family and friends, and damn it, it gets really hard sometimes.  I think the peace corps says it's normal to be depressed at this time in our service, to be disillusioned, or to be really excited about the coming year.  If we are neither and all the above, I think that's okay, too. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Friends in low places

What qualities do you look for in a friend? What do you expect from someone who is a close friend? Or a best friend? Mutual respect, trust, comraderie, understanding, active listening and shared interests are qualities i enjoy in a friend. Between human imperfection and expectations, it is amazing when you find someone who can be a true friend, especially when times are tough, and when you can also hold up your end of the bargain.

When i was little, i was so envious of my younger sister; no matter where we were, she could make friends so easily. I was always so shy, too embarrassed or hesitant to ever initiate new friendships. As i got older, i emerged from my cocoon as a social butterfly of sorts. Beginning in high school and through all my higher ed years, i have made lots me friends and contacts of various varieties. I still keep in touch with many of them, no matter when or where i met these friends. However, i have noticed since joining the peace corps, i have again become shy.

Perhaps being a foreigner, a stranger in a strange land, or experiencing one of those nearing age thirty crisis moments, i can only speculate. For a while, i relished meeting new people, secure in myself and was not bothered much by all the social interaction. I enjoyed my new freedom and isolation, and did not really worry or miss people from "back home," save my best friend. We communicated regularly via email and weekly by telephone. He was the first to hear good news, and the first to talk me through and listen about the hard times. In some ways, it was funny because neither of us expected to have that kind of a connection while i was here, but we both enjoyed the journey. Our relationship shifted and we did our best to understand and cherish the process and each other, especially given the circumstances.

Recently, our friendship was put in jeopardy. I don't think it is fair to assign blame, but sometimes, very unexpected things happen. I feared that these changes would mean the dissolution of our friendship. I stopped communicating because i didn't know how to say things i needed to say. I do not like to hurt people, least of all my friends. Eventually, we found a way to talk and listen, to hurt and to laugh, because that is better than crying, and realize that we truly are great friends.

I am so grateful for good friends, for people who have the courage to share very intimate parts me themselves with me, and to appreciate me, for better and for worse. Here's to you, one of my best friends.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Living the life you like

"you can like the life you're livin' - you can live the life you like- you can even marry Harry and mess around with Ike" -Chicago

or something like that...

The lady in front of me shouts in delight for the taxi driver to turn up the music. She really likes the song, and is rockin' to the beats. She lifts her hands, bobs her head, clearly unconcerned what the rest of us passengers might be thinking. How unrepressed, how liberating, to witness such freedom of spirit!

To live the life you want takes a lot of courage. From a Western perspective, a person who is a product of social and educational systems designed for conformity and oppression, doing things out of the ordinary seems out of reach, or a goal to accomplish "someday," after going to college, finding a job and filling your mortgaged home with stuff, as the systems demand. It is amazing the repressive tone our culture takes on when compared to southern African culture, whether urban or rural. They encourage free expression where we stare and feel embarrassed if we see it out of context- at a music concert, for example, would be an appropriate place for expressing unabashed pleasure.

"Freedom from stuff" as a topic alone could fill pages; how fulfilling it is to have little, less to clean, less to move, and less to worry about people stealing. What I really want to talk about, though, is discovering my passions and purpose. I finally think I've done it.

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed art: drawing, painting, colors, shapes, light, both looking at and making it. Nature and I have always been close. I remember loving natural sciences and going to the zoo as a girl, and even entertained the idea of making a career as a marine biologist- that is, until I enrolled in my first biology course and quickly realized microsciences were not for me. Inheriting my mother's green thumb and joy for cultivating the earth, I guess I would consider myself more of a "naturalist" than a "scientist." In recent years, as an adult, I've developed a passion for food and cooking. Healthy, minimally processed, simple and delicious is the kind I love. There also exists my love for reading, quest for knowledge and understanding, and the career in library sciences. All these passions, so little time I have to pursue them; this was my dilemma before joining the Peace Corps.

The million dollar answer for the question, why did you not want to go job hunting after earning the masters' degree? is because information science is not msole passion. I do not desire to work in any library, no matter how great, for 40 hours of every precious week of my life. I have worked in kitchens, bakeries and restaurants and don't particularly want to do that again, either. Not all the time. I don't want to paint all the time either and try to earn my living selling my artwork. So, because I didn't know what to do, joining the Peace Corps seemed like a good idea. It was a vehicle to allow me the time to figure all this out; bide some time, let me travel, meet new people, challenge me in new ways. Little did I know that this experience would lead to me discovering my true purpose.

Amid the sea of self-help books about purpose, habits, missions and the like, this one washed up on my shore last week. I checked it out from the Kuruman public library after searching for books about business. I have been helping the youth in my village with their business ideas and was also considering learning more for my benefit. This little gem is called Authentic Business (2005), all about the integrity of purpose and passion you must have within your business. Not just acting ethically or how to write a business plan, but the author offers a paradigmatic shift when examining the discipline of businesses. The author, Neil Crofts, had dyslexia and never learned to write for content until after he left high school, which is amazing because he is a great writer. The book reminds me of another inspiring book I read called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, talking about overcoming your creative battles. The similarities are that both authors have their priorities in line with ethically sound, humanitarian, sensible but profound ideas. Profit is not an authentic motivator for neither art nor business. Somewhat surprising to see printed in black and white on the page in front of me, but quite refreshing, nonetheless. One passage in particular had (has) me grinning from ear to ear, ready to shout with joy: (pp 29-30)

"What is your non-negotiable dream? So precious that, so far, you have told no one for fear of it being compromised. What is the purpose to which you would commit body and soul if only you were allowed? What is your purpose that is profound for you and positive for life on Earth?

Say it.

Write it down.

Discuss it with people. If your regular friends won't discuss it with you, find other friends to discuss it with you."

He has simply articulated, or more aptly, abstracted, what I have been unconsciously doing during the last year; asking and mulling over these questions. After one year of "new"s: continent, languages, places, faces, names, goals and dreams, I am ready to answer these questions!
When I am honest, as I must be, I do not want what I thought I did even 2 months ago, 6 months, or twelve. My life looks very different. I am excited to see where it leads.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Survival of the fittest- feeling the blahs

I came to the realization yesterday that i might have a parasite. I knew something was not right, but thought it might be the cold and wind, or post vacation blues.

i was helping take care of a sick friend who doesn't boil water, so maybe i picked something up there. It's really something that divides the worlds-development and basic sanitation. Clean water is something most people around the world do not have and we americans take for granted. I have lamented in a previous post that a majority of my time revolves around water, but for good reason. One careless time of not boiling and one contracts cholera, parasites or who knows what.

i stayed with some fellow american friends who experienced the same thing before. The anecdotal evidence out here in volunteer land is priceless. Never before would i put so much stock into something so un-scientific, but changing with the times must happen for survival of the fittest. I truly feel like i have morphed into another species sometimes.

Friday, July 2, 2010

On usefulness, or best use of skills and nuns

As a volunteer, i am frequently requested to help with a wide variety of tasks, about many of which i know little to nothing. When the opportunities arise for me to help in areas better aligned with my expertise, it has been a real joy. This past week, i was afforded several of these opportunities.

I was originally invited to serve as an information technology volunteer, and suppose that a good portion of my work does involve i.t., just not in the ways I expected. I assist another volunteer in making a monthly newsletter for all volunteers and staff in south africa, and the two of us, a few months ago, came us with the idea of having an i.t, workshop during the world cup school break (we get an extra week). Although the peace corps approved our idea, they said there was no money for food, lodging or travel, so we would have to arrange for these ourselves. Not to be dissuaded, my friend and drafted an itenerary of relevant topics, he wrote the proposal, found a venue, got some spouses to help with cooking, and away we went.

Three days were spent discussing best practices and advice for teaching computer literacy (that was me), cloning hard drives, virus and anti-virus, file sharing, among other things. I also helped cook on day 3, which was awesome. I adore cooking for people, and cooking WITH people is something i have learned to enjoy while i have been here. Taking it easy, better planning and timing, not taking it too seriously, and bonding time with different people was the highlight of the week.

The venue was the site where my friend and his wife stay during their service, and it happens to be at a catholic mission. The ladies stayed with the sisters in the convent, and they were super. Three of them come from ireland, and one is a local motswana. The fathers allowed us the use of the rectory for the kitchen space and utilities, and we had a great time there. It was so pleasant to be in an atmosphere of love and godliness all week. The grounds were full of flowers, trees, dogs and rabbits, and some lush mountains.

Wedged in a taxi like a tinned fish, i am now on my way home after a whirlwind three weeks of travel. It will be nice to be in one place for awhile, until the next time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The eclectic, dysfunctional but fun family vacation

Four peace corps volunteers and one visiting american head off into the wild blue yonder. Various roles include mom, dad, twin sisters and the little cousin. Nobody made definite plans and only two of us can drive. We rented a car and are backpacking. In south africa, there are tons of places, like youth hostels, that are cheap and all around the country.

Our journey started in Pretoria, around 3 pm. When we finally converged and headed out, it was four or half four. We sat in bumper to bumper traffic for almost two hours in joburg. (Surprise) Our first destination was a little town nestled in the mountains just north of Lesotho called Clarens. We didn't arrive until half ten, and it was positively freezing. I think the temp, according to the thermometer in the car, was minus 7 c. Remember, nothing is insulated or heated in africa. Thank god i brought my sleeping bag. I also sleep fully clothed. So, i did not get frostbitten.

The next morning, i had the chance to view the gorgeous surrounds. Tall pine trees, even taller mountains, some teepees, it was like an american ski town without the snow or ski slopes. The town has art galleries, coffee shops and other specialty stores. The microbrewery was disappointing, but was a nice alternative to the (crappy) usual beer we drink.

After Clarens, we headed toward Port Elizabeth, using our Coast to Coast backpackers guide to Southern Africa, and found this this strange and wonderful place that is called Nieu Bethesda (or New Bethesda, if you prefer English and not Afrikaans).  In the Karoo (which was touched with SNOW on our first visit- apparently they haven't seen snow in over 20 years), New Bethesda reminds me of that town on 'Northern Exposure' in Alaska- one pub, run by a teddy-bear type, jovial fellow named Ian, a microbrewery with AMAZING ale, a Swiss transplant who runs the local backpackers, restaurant and gift shop selling items made by locals, donkey cart tour of town, and the famous Owl House.  We actually liked this so much that we returned for another night on our way back from Port Elizabeth.

The other 4 family members had tickets to watch some World Cup action, but I was just along for the ride.  I did, however, get sucked in to the fun, learned how soccer "works" and really enjoyed watching multiple games at pubs and restaurants.  Several witnesses could tell you I could officially be described as a fan, according to my jumping up and down, booing, cheering, and overall "ke nako" feeling.  Mzanzi!  Even though Bafana Bafana didn't make it out of the 3rd round, I met some people from Chile and cheered the Chilean team, of course cheered for USA vs. Algeria, which was a totally exciting game.

Port Elizabeth has been poo-pooed by several other volunteers who have previously visited, but i absolutely loved it.  We stayed 3 nights, which was a goodly amount to preview what the city has to offer.  The beaches are gorgeous, it's not nearly as big as Capetown but with some of the same beauty, has a much more laid-back vibe, and is actually called "The Friendly City" of South Africa.  The art museum, which was conveniently located near the FIFA Fan Park, was filled with incredible modern art.  Incredible!  I wanted to take photos of everything, but the guard insisted I show him each photo (I think he just wanted to make sure I took a nice one, but it was still distracting) so I just snapped one of my favorite pieces.  It is so incredible to see that South Africans are capable of producing creative works that rival those from any other nation.  And are maybe even more provocative because of the racial tensions that accompany the history of this place. 

One day in P.E. we spent the day at Addo Elephant park and saw over 30 elephants.  They were so close we could have probably touched them (with a long stick), and there is nothing more incredible than watching elephants that close!  You can really see the different personalities, watch the babies play, see their massive hulk and strength, but they are also gentle as well.  And those eyes...they really keep an eye on you.  So curious!

The last night of our journey, we stayed in this swanky "cottage" in Pretoria.  The backpackers were all booked and overcharging out the wazoo, so someone hooked us up with another place.  Chandeliers, individual bathrobes, gourmet breakfast, terrace, veranda, granite countertops in the kitchen...ahh.  Who says the life of a volunteer must be suffering?  We cooked mushroom risotto, shared sparkling wine, and basked in the glow of USA's win over Algeria, and I was giddy 'cause Bill Clinton was in Pretoria watching the game at the same time I was.  Who knew?

One of my proudest moments was teaching my young friend how to drive a stick shift- first in Borakalelo game reserve, where we saw giraffe, wildebeast, tons of birds and bock, zebra, warthogs and some squirrels- then on the way to her village.  There is no better compliment than when someone says you are a great teacher, and you can watch the confidence level and skill rise. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cultures colliding celebration

I serve two villages, which are about 7 k apart from each other. I live in one and walk to the other. Although these communities are close to each other in distance, they might as well be worlds apart, in some ways.

One barrier that prevents collaboration is lack of transportation. Most people use donkey cart, bus or local taxi for travel, as owning a vehicle is too expensive. There is almost zero opportunity for employment in each place, and many are pensioners or young school children. For example, in the village where i live, there is one primary school, housing grades 1-7 with just over one hundred total learners, one bottle store (with a jukebox, which is technically not allowed, so don't tell) where beer is sold, one general store type shop run by bangladeshis, and one preschool. And houses, farm animals and some shrubby trees. Anything that happens takes place at the school. This leads to my next point, that none of the school teachers live in the communities where they teach. The government has set up the system in this way. Lack of integration between the major community centre and its leaders is built into the rural education system. Thirdly, the apathy that comes from a culture of poverty rears its ugly head around every turn. Lastly, one unique challenge is the rapidly approaching retirement of one of the school principals, from whom the tone of everything is set, and she is not ashamed nor quiet about her readiness to exit.

In a previous attempt to join these schoolteachers and principals (community leaders) together, i invited another volunteer to come and help me facilitate a workshop for the group. The workshop was great, but only the hosting school's teachers were in attendance. I can't remember the reason the others didn't come, but the following week, they asked me to give them the same workshop. I did not, and explained to them why. There were no hard feelings, and there are so many weekly fires to put out, the topic was quickly forgotten.

The second attempt occurred when we hosted a workshop for all interested volunteers, their principals and counterparts about libraries. That principal again had an excuse why she could not make it. Not to be deterred, i had the idea to host a party, in my home, for both schools, including non-teaching staff and the parents groups. Everybody loves food, and an excuse to have fun, right? The idea came to me after several months of feeling like i needed to do something about the situation, but not knowing exactly how to proceed. I pitched the idea to the reluctant principal first, to give her the opportunity to help me choose an appropriate date and time that would work for the end of the term. To my surprise, she was excited and did just that, help me plan.

(Ausi: SGB member, me: volunteer, Mmoloki: General Worker, Keitumetse: Typist)

With logistics taken care of, i started menu planning. There might be 25 people attending, so what could i make using my limited resources? This is one of my favorite parts of being a hostess. The more challenges, the better; stress brings creativity to a shiny apple glow. I utilized a recipe my sister loves but i have only used since coming to south africa, the no-bake cookies one from the peace corps cookbook. South africans have major sweet teeth, so i knew that would be a hit. I made one batch with cocoa and dessicated coconut, and the other with only peanut butter. For the savory treat, i made martha stewart's delicious egg salad recipe for tea sandwiches. The tea was inspired by something my mom used to drink called 'constant comment.' Water steeped with orange peel, clove and black tea. A friend of mine owns a shop and donated the bread, spices and cocoa for me. Menu planned, shopping done, house cleaned, party time!

(Kebo: Principal, me: volunteer)
At first, i was concerned that word of my party had spread throughout the land, and EVERYBODY and their grandmother and dog would come. What would i feed them, where would they sit? After half an hour after the designated party time had passed, i began to wonder if ANYBODY would come. True to south african form, one hour late, mostly everyone i invited arrived (except the other principal- she had an appointment with a doctor, no worries). I played johnny cash's greatest hits on my ipod docking station, and finished the sandwiches while everybody mingled and had tea and cookies. I was so happy to see both communities represented and enjoying themselves! My enlightened principal says, 'now that you have us here together, say something.' i love this part, because it is always inevitable. I never say very much, but always make it meaningful. "somebody asked me the other day if i was going home for the long school break. I looked at him and said. 'what do you mean? I am home!' i want to thank you for making me feel so welcome, for working together, sharing food, songs, and cultures. Here's to another year of working together!"
(Mma Sebusho and Rra Sedumedi, SGB members)

I recieved hugs, help with dishes, requests for the next party, songs of thanks and a really nice speech and prayer, led by my wonderful, enlightened principal. It was truly an event to remember.
(Ipeleng: Librarian, Mma Sebusho:  SGB member, Tumiso: Library Volunteer)

(Kebo: Principal, Kgomotso: Senior Teacher Grades 1-3, Ausi, Motlalepula: Teacher Grade 1)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

World Environment Day in Logaganeng

Today, 5 June 2010, is World Environment Day but since I have such a forward-thinking principal, we celebrated it at school yesterday.  This time of year is the end of a term, which means the learners are writing exams only, not attending class.  They may write 2 exams per day, then can loiter around school or go home.  Keeping that in mind, I thought to find some books in the library about energy, conservation, global warming, anything eco- or environmental, and make some lessons.

When I make lessons, they almost always involve drawing; both from me and the learners.  They really enjoy it, and it's something I know how to do.  So, I put together a short (20-25 minute) lesson on the environment for a smallish group on Thursday.  We looked up definitions, including rubbish, littering, recycling, looked at photos of floods, polluting factories, oil spills in the ocean, all sorts of things.  After we discussed the issue, I could see some lights coming on inside their heads.  They were thinking, and realizing that every action causes a much bigger and pivotal reaction, especially concerning our natural world.  It was super!  We were lucky to have the available books in our library (Thanks, Northern Cape Provincial Library Services!) but could have done without them if needed.  After our lesson, I charged them to make a drawing of something that inspired them about our lesson.  There were a few trees, animal and drawings of the world.

The next day, I gave my lesson again to the whole school, and all the kids were really interested.  My principal piggybacked off me and reiterated things in Setswana.  The note of her lesson was putting ideas into action, not just talking about recycling and making a difference, but DOING.  She brought garbage bags from home, and we split up into about 5 groups, and went forth to pick up rubbish from our village.  Woo hoo! Talk about exciting.  I used to do this in Stillwater, both with the City-wide initiatives and on my own, or with friends.  I am very passionate about being a good steward of the environment and educating others to do the same, but the problem seemed so...insurmountable here that I put off dealing with it until now.

When I say insurmountable, I mean townships just covered in litter.  There is no sanitation system here, people are burning their garbage and littering really badly, too.  I should take some pictures to add to this blog, I think.  I did take some photos of my group picking up rubbish yesterday.  They were so good!  The little girl was helping me pick up the small, hidden bits, and the boys enjoyed tackling the big junk.
I realize our village will probably be filled with rubbish by the end of the next term, but the point is to make a difference in the life of one person at a time.  I know these kids will think twice about throwing their snack wrappers out the bus window now that they have hauled bags of litter back to the school.  :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the humanity of sex ed

Remember squirming in your seat in your junior high school health class during the sexual reproductive system lectures? The boys and the girls were separated, and each learning about their own body parts and hormonal changes, as well as those of the opposite sex? Or what about those assemblies in high school where safe sex was discussed, complete with the presenter applying a condom to a banana, with giggles and snickering all around? Embarrassing as the education may have been, at least you received it. Many young people around the world never hear about sex until they are already engaging in it. By then, it is too late to prevent disease, infection or pregnancy. What is a shame is that in the USA, one of the world's most wealthy and developed countries, many students are not receiving proper sex-ed.

Purposefully withholding information from someone is like serving your dinner guests hamburger steak while you feast on a tender cut of fillet; it's not fair, and some might say morally objectionable. Imagine taking a modern world history course in Germany and any mention of the Holocaust has been omitted. Germans have an understandable right to be embarrassed by this shameful part of their history, but does that mean it should be wiped from memory or documentation? Yes, genocide is terrible, as are acts of torture and violence. They are crimes against humanity and probably considered sinful by any major religion which purports human behavior as good or evil. Pretending these activities never happened, however, does justice to no one.

From out of the awful come lessons of learning, forgiveness, tolerance, pain; lessons that might not be learned elsewhere. Lessons we must be taught because, although some find it offensive, each person can decide what to do with the information she receives once she has, in fact, receives it.

Sexual education is a topic which finds controversy from many people and groups worldwide. However embarrassing or morally objectionable it may be for some, each person deserves to know facts surrounding this aspect of health. Denying or only partially educating someone is not fair and ethically questionable. This is especially relevant in the place I stay, South Africa, where 25% of people die from a preventable sexually transmitted disease caused by HIV.

Abstinence-only education, as is practiced in certain areas in the United States, does not make sense for several reasons: 1) it presumes all pupils have the same moral objections to sexually active behavior, prior to marriage, as the design of the curriculum, 2) it purposefully withholds vital health information, and 3) it assumes that risky behavior will disappear if the mention of it is also absent. All of these reasons are irrational, unfair and unsafe.

Sexuality is an integral part of human life, like nutrition, clean water, family, love, and forming relationships with other humans in various aspects. In certain parts of Southern Africa, having multiple partners is common and encouraged according to tribal custom and practice. It stands to reason that there is more chance of spreading sexually transmitted diseases when more body parts are in contact with each other. What is devastating is the lack of knowledge, fear and denial surrounding the epidemic that exists here with HIV and AIDS.

Everybody knows the terms HIV and AIDS, but some people are clueless as to what they really are, how diseases are transmitted and treated, and how to prevent their contraction. Some common myths are that it isn't necessary to use a condom as long as the act is with someone from within one's own ethnic group; you can cure yourself of HIV or AIDS if you have sex with a virgin; if a woman inserts traditional herbs before having sex, she will not contract or spread the disease. A national leader recently became infamous for his comments about showering after sex and how that could reduce his chances of contracting HIV. However, after interviewing a cross-section of young people who live in rural villages in the Northern Cape province, I realize that sex-ed has come a long way in South Africa. It is no longer a taboo among popular culture. One woman in her late 20s said that no one talked about it when she was young, not even in schools, but that she learned from watching television. Advertising campaigns and special television programs have aimed to educate people about the diseases, how to protect themselves, and that they can abstain from having sex as long as they choose. Young people in their early 20s said they began to receive sex-ed starting in grade 7 or 8, and in high school they learned about condoms, safe sex, STDs and HIV/AIDS. An educator in my community says that, although HIV/AIDS is part of the curriculum starting in grade 1, many do not receive an education after grade 7, and people outside of the school are not discussing the issue.

Whether from fear, lack of knowledge, shame, or some other reason, sex is not discussed in rural South African life, although much is being had. Many parents here feel that talking about sex is not their job, their children are too young, or the parents themselves are unaware of certain facts. Healthcare groups who are trained to educate others in rural communities are sometimes actively educating others, sometimes they are not. Most of these people are volunteers, so they are not supervised or held to any recourse for lack of activity. The only momentum for conversation about sex, health and diseases is coming from self-motivated individuals in the community.

I have been fortunate to meet with two young women in the area where stay who are both HIV positive, who encourage others to get tested, declare their status (HIV), who speak at schools and churches and other community events to bravely tell their stories. They are passionate about breaking the silence and busting the myths that surround this deadly disease because they want others to have the chance to protect themselves. They are honest; they tell of their initial apprehension to get tested, their fears, and finally how they are living with HIV. They are gems, serving as leaders in their respective communities.

When facts are not presented clearly, whether about world history or sexual health, many myths and unhealthy practices abound. Blame it on the witches, bad luck, anything but the truth. From a humanitarian point of view, I am excited about the chance to talk openly about sexuality. Regardless if I have a moral objection to the behavior, telling the truth about the consequences of said behavior means more to me than whether or not I think said activities should happen. Any chance I get to help destroy a myth and arm a person with accurate information, so that person can then make an informed decision, truly makes my day. In a way, it is like traditional reference work-finding facts, facilitating education; the big differences are that there is no desk, no posted hours, and this information can save a human life.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When i was in high school, my youngest brother was not yet in kindergarten, and really liked for me to read his bedtime stories. Sometimes i would make them up, always on the fly, and they were inspired by whatever i had seen, read or experienced recently, or from distant recollections from my own childhood. Little did i know, i would be doing much the same thing here in south africa a decade later.

In the last two weeks, i have given at least four speeches, none of them prepared, about topics of varying interests; from Reading, librarianship, democratic elections and womens suffrage, the importance of community involvement in education, and probably more i cannot, at this time, recall. I have given loads of advice about health, exercise, budgeting, and listened to many a plight. Have i formal training in health or finance, or consider myself an expert in these fields? No sir/mam.

Being viewed as an expert at everything, which i am just for being an american, is flattering, sure, but it was stressful at first. My instincts were to conduct thorough research before offering tentative advice. Now, i realize playing this role is as complicated as reading a toddler a bedtime story; that is to say, not very. embracing my western education, creativity, wisdom and sense of humor have allowed for some really neat tales. No one need be aware that i am spinning them from yarn, barn twine and whatever else is lying around in my mental cobwebs- and by the way, my favorite book to read to my other brother is called, 'the stinky cheese man and other fairly stupid tales.'

other recent news is that i have taught several classes at both schools, including gardening, storytime, literacy, and math. I enjoyed bonding with the learners and keep a stress free attitude about it.

I also made mexican cornbread for thirty peace corps volunteers and a few friends. It was such a big hit, i came home and taught my host sister how to make it using the steam method. No one here has ever heard of cornbread or tried it! And when i say no one, i mean all the non-americans that live in south africa. Our mealie pap works great for the cornmeal part.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fall/winter gardening in the kalahari

Here in the southern tip of the kalahari, we can grow food year round, more than in oklahoma, anyway. Its coming on winter now, nights are getting really cold, but days are generally warm, sometimes hot, and sunny. Our rainy season is summer, but we have been experiencing an, apparently, unprecedented amount of tiny showers. In general, the only problem with winter gardening here is lack of water.

keeping that in mind, i wrote a letter to an ag supply shop in kuruman asking for a hose, so my host family and i aren't breaking our backs hauling water from the community taps to our garden. They did donate a hose, but it only reaches halfway there. Until i get to town again, we are only half breaking our backs. :-)

i turned over three trench beds which grew carrots last season, and lined one with glass wine bottles, to see if it helps hold water better than just soil. In bed one, i planted garlic, sweet pea and swiss chard. Bed two has african daisy, radish and i forgot. Bed three has cabbage and rocket.

we can still plant broad beans, carrot, onion, kohlrabi, spinach and some others. We have chilies going strong, the last tomatoes, and spinach. We have a slow compost pile with old plants, scraps and ash. When we feel like it, or after a rain, we dig a bit more to slowly expand. We are teaching each other and reaping the fruits of our labor. No clay is really nice, i must admit!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tuck's visit part 2

The following day, we thought to head to the wine region, which is east of capetown. It being easter weekend, it seemed all the cars were rented out. So we left our backpackers not sure what we were doing the next couple days. If we couldn't get transport out of the city, we planned to attend the big jazz festival, with regina carter playing sunday. As it turns out, the lodge we were in contact with about doing an eco wine tour let us ride in the back of one of the employee's land rover's who was running errands in town at the same time we were waiting. The guy turned out to be the co-owner of the lodge and our tour guide the next day, and he comes into this internet cafe where we were waiting and booms, "is there a jenneffer in here?" that set the tone for our laid back, off-the-beaten-path weekend in elgin valley. We stayed in tented cabins, which are like wood cabins but with a canvas roof and in a sort of rustic setting. The staff were local kids and immigrants from zimbabwe, and were really invested and excited about their hospitality jobs. They treated us like royalty, and fed us even better. We toured local wine makers farms, tasted at more established wineries, saw the commercial flower industry up close, and got an ecological education in conservation and restoration of local flora. Plus had a lovely picnic in an apple orchard. Three nights there, and we returned to capetown on tuck's birthday, this time staying in green point, closer to the beach. And beach we did. We explored two days, finding the best one and our best meal on that second day. It took us over an hour, maybe almost two, to get to clifton beaches, but it was totally worth it. Walking uphill, rounding bends and getting to see the ocean the whole time was the experience there. Finally, we arrived and descended to the white sands and green blue waters of clifton. Once at the shore, you could turn your back on the ocean and see lion's head mountain like it was almost in your face. The water was ice ice cold, and my friend shirley is training in it to do this epic swim sans wet suit! I dipped in one toe and decided to make a sand bicycle, which tuck then proceeded to ride. Then i did some yoga while tuck electrified his persona with atlantic ocean. On our way back, we did a pint hop and eventually made it for dinner at doppio zero on main road, right across from the new stadium. I highly recommend it! Wonderful service, outside seating, great menu selection, and nice wine. We had mussels in white wine, chilies and garlic, gnocci with a roasted lamb sauce, brick oven pizza (which is all over south africa and actually really good) with gorgonzola, carmelized onions, pine nuts and honey. I had amarula creme brulee for dessert, and when i say i had dessert, that always means tuck says he doesn't want anything, but helps me eat mine. Which is a good thing. Next day, a little babbalas, we enjoyed a late breakfast at this place called miss k, which was like a fairy tale come true for a baker. In the center of the bistro were giant bowls of meringues, plates of little cakes and platters of muffins, which almost looked too good to eat. I enjoyed (immensely) scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and rocket, while tuck liked his poached eggs with spicy chili sauce with toasted ciabatta slices and rocket. I tried a lime pistachio mini cake, which reminded me too much of those sliced cakes they sell at wal mart, but they did have wonderful espresso, so i don't worry too much about the cake. Then we stocked up for another epic journey on the intercape bus.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuck's visit to south africa, including marathon update

This is a blog entry from my cell phone, so the formatting is bound to be horrific. This is my disclaimer. Tuck arrived to o r tambo airport, safe and sound on march 24th, with only a little harassment from airport security. We rested a bit before taking the intercape bus to nelspruit, the capital city of mmpumalanga province. They are growing avocados, mangoes and the like there. Then we took a local taxi up the mountain passes to sabie, where we left the next day to run the big marathon in longtom pass. I made a nice supper of pap with tomato, onion and pilchard gravy, then off to bed and up at four am to board the bus and travel to the starting line. On the bus, as we kept climbing higher and higher in the early morning fog, the bus was full of excited, chattering runners and a few supporters. Some stretched, some drank water, some continued chatting until the start of the race. Tuck somehow got to ride with a referee, because i was about 3-4 k into the race, getting into my groove, when all of the sudden i hear, "sixkiller!" and i turn to see a camera clicking pics. It was a nice, if funny, surprise. After about k 10, i am going up a really steep hill and think there is a rock in my shoe, so i stop to quickly dump it, only to discover it is instead a giant blister. I knew i should have gotten new shoes, but then it was too late. I press on. The mountain roads were majorly sloped, which was also difficult. I hobbled for about half a k, trying to find the inner strength to keep going, because by then i was really hurting. My foot was sprained from all the issues, and by then i could see a water station. Not sure how i did it, but i kept on and kept on and finished at 2:33:02 for 21k. Tuck was waiting at the finish line, snapping pics and with cold liquids. I've never experienced anything quite like it, pushing so hard through pain but knowing your greater goal is worth more than temporary feelings. I was elated, even though i was limping for about three days. Two days later, we boarded the intercape for capetown. We left nelspruit at ten am, and arrived capetown two pm the following day, non stop. It was epic. But i managed to book us a room at the backpackers, plan to meet my friend trevor, who lives there, and tuck and i got a ton of time to talk. We arrive capetown and the wind is blowing our hats and hair around like crazy. You can get four seasons in one day there! We stop for some spicy, healthy chow at nando's and check our map and hoof it to the backpackers. These are like hostels, but nicer, all over southern africa. I negotiated a peace corps discount, we got settled in, washed some clothes and i think we cooked there that night, just trying to get accustomed to the time. By the way, it is not advisable to eat a ripe camembert on a bus, as people complain and you can smell it for a long time after you finish eating. Next day we pack a picnic lunch and head to table mountain. The weather looked good and it is a capetown must-see. Myself, i have now seen it twice. About an hour after we arrived at the top via cable car, clouds began descending and it got very cold. The hooter sounded, to let us know to queue for descent. We must have stood in line for forty five minutes, positively shivering. It was beautiful, though. After hiking back down to town, we went for caipirhinia cocktail and a fabulous seafood dinner. Giant tiger prawns, langostinos, calamari and portuguese sardines, all grilled to perfection, accompanied by a chilly, local sauvignon blanc. Next day was find good espresso then picnic in the company gardens day. The national library is at one end, which we visited, and several museums on another. The squirrels were vying for our seeds, and the children for the squirrels. Then we hit the waterfront, which is on the northeast end of town. I was told we should rent a car to really enjoy capetown, but we decided to walk. That way, you don't miss anything and really get the feel for a place. So we did, discovering a brewery (not in our guidebook) and one that was. We marveled at the different boats and ships, and the beautiful atlantic ocean, as well as a slave of garlicky mussels. Our way back was around quittin time, so we dodged traffic and walked down long street. This is "the" happening place in capetown, tons of bars, lodging, travel companies and just about everything else you can imagine. A nice detour, but we had to look presentable for dinner with trevor, so we didn't dally too long. Trevor took us for asian fusion cuisine, which was nice. I was happy to order amarula for us, since tuck had not yet tried it. The morula trees grow only here in south africa, and when the fruits ripen and fall, the elephants like to eat them to get drunk. They look like litchis. Anyway, a liquor is made from them, and it is kind of like baileys irish creme. Nice for dessert, and in south african car bombs. As you can imagine :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jenneffer in Africa cross-listed with libraria miscellanea

I intended my Jenneffer in Africa blog to be targeted to the non-library audience, i.e. general readership comprised of friends, family, lurkers, etc. However, I see that my work here is a lot of 'libraria miscellanea' now, so I may need to cross-list posts from time to time.

This Friday, I am hosting a workshop at my school in Logaganeng for all interested Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the Northern Cape, along with their principals and/or community counterparts. The workshop is inteded to let my librarian and principal tell the story of how they started their library. I also invited the librarian from Kuruman, the Northern Cape Provincial Library Services, and the Moshaweng Municipality; all were instrumental in helping start and keep running Logaganeng Library. Each should have a turn to describe how they operate, then I will fill in any gaps and be the ringleader of the show. For truly, all events in South Africa function much like a circus; this one should be no exception, and I don't mind at all to conduct such an event.

My lovely boyfriend [who is also a librarian] has been instrumental in assisting me with resources, as my access to the internet is very limited. We spend a lot of our time talking about library and information technology issues, and have generated some good ideas. All I can do is try, and do my best. Things fail here all the time, and as a result, I am trying to make any change a slow, sustainable one. Mostly I am joining people with other people, and showing people how and where to get resources. There isn't much of me doing anything for anybody, as I feel they ought to be in a place to do it for themselves. There are too many computer labs gathering dust because of lack of people and/or training to use them. Who needs a computer when a simple book will do? Or a simple way to organize what books you have? And a simple method in which to let other people borrow them? Welcome to good old-fashioned "library science."

southeast asian- south african- inspired dish

Serves 2. 250 g whole wheat spaghetti, 4 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, few garlic cloves minced, half onion small dice, thumb size nug ginger minced, small glug oil, tbsp turmeric, one red chili minced, one and a half t curry powder or masala, salt, large pot of water, medium pot or pan. Boil water for pasta. Meanwhile, brown onion with oil, add all other ingedients except peanut butter and cook for a few minutes. Cook pasta al dente and save water. Add peanut butter to onion mix and up to a cup of the pasta water. You want a semi thin consistency. Add pasta and stir. If you can stand it, let stand and refrigerate to eat later. Yum! A nice addition would be bean sprouts and fresh coriander. A complete meal.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


This weekend, several volunteers, including myself, got together for some r and r in a nearby town. As usual, talk is flying a mile a minute (should say kilometer) with people eager to catch up. It seems every time i share with other volunteers what i am doing in my village, i inspire them. This surprises me, but also really makes me happy. I apparently have made more headway in 6 months than many volunteers do in a year and a half. The match, me and my village and co-workers, is providentially great. I love the kalahari (if you had not figured that one out already). I like people, and they have accepted me with open arms. So is it luck, i don't know but i think not totally. Anyway so far, so good and i think i have been working too hard. My major challenge now is learning my limits and how to say no. Today, i accidentally met the other librarian at the only other library in our entire province, and intived her to our workshop this friday. I thought i was finding the municipality but this was even better. Incidentally i am looking at the most gorgeous yellow full moon i might have ever seen. Peachy keen!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Comfort food

When i was growing up, my mom made sure each birthday was special for each of five kids by preparing our favorite meals. When it was my turn, my siblings would always complain at breakfast because i always chose the same dish, and they didn't like it: egg gravy. It is a cream gravy (bechamel sauce) with boiled eggs grated into it, eaten atop dry toast or saltine crackers. I had a workshop at school on friday and served curried egg salad sandwiches. There was some leftover filling, which i just ate for lunch, served atop a freshly made roti (indian whole wheat flatbread). It quite reminded me of said childhood food and was really nice. Aside: i use martha stewart's recipe for the sandwiches and everybody, even if they don't like boiled eggs, likes them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

jenneffer is running in a marathon

I can't remember if I blogged about this or not, but my camera got stolen from my backpack by some sneaky Xhosa children at Coffee Bay. Mind you, I was doing yoga alone on top of a mountain, overlooking white sands and the Indian Ocean, so I wasn't exactly *alert* and aware of my surroundings. Talk about bliss... I guess I'm as cool as a cucumber, because when I discovered my camera was missing, I wasn't even that upset. It was actually sort of liberating; one less item to worry about. In the meantime, here are some pics of my artwork I made back in Oklahoma, and one here in SA. The SA painting is pretty crappy, but the view is from my front porch. We all have to start over somewhere...

So I'm running in a marathon next month. My physiotherapist is helping me get my hamstring and runners' leg all sorted out before then, and I'm working on trimming down after a meat and beer-filled holiday. Here is the e-mail I sent to friends and family, if you want to donate:

Hello friends and family,

Firstly, I am doing well! I enjoyed my Christmas in Africa more so than any I can remember. No Christmas carols blaring from shops beginning in October, no wrapping paper, no stuff. PCVs did hold a gift exchange on the beach, but we did "white elephant" style, where we re-gifted or gave stuff we already had. The entire backpackers shared a Christmas Eve meal, and I dined with a gentleman from Greece and some Afrikaaners on scrumptious salads, homemade Xhosa bread, slow-roasted ham and turkey, and fruit and pudding for dessert.

If you want to email me, please use my gmail address instead of this one. I can check my email on my mobile phone, and it is way easier to read than yahoo. That address is

I am writing to alert you of my latest adventure, participation in a half marathon. Two Peace Corps volunteers started the foundation over five years ago, which sends local SA (South African) kids to high school who would not otherwise have the opportunity. It is quite common for black children, especially those living in rural villages, to miss out on education for severalreasons. As in the case in my village, there is only a primary school. If parents cannot afford transport (bus/taxi fare, sometimes lodging as well) and school fees, the child's education ends at grade seven or six, in some cases. This foundation has sent quite a few kids to school and paid for lodging, uniforms, etc. Each runner (that's me!) must raise at least a hundred dollars (total)for the cause. Runners can choose to run five, 21k or 56 k; i chose the twenty one. Training in the Kalahari has been great. It is dry, flat and meditatively beautiful. I have lost 15 pounds since I arrived in SA, mostly by increasing running- and it has been one of thebest decisions I have made!

The race is March 28th so there is still time to donate. Go to and click the donate pic in the top right-hand corner. Make sure to put my name in the Longtom marathon runner field so they will know who to attribute the money to. When you click the donate pic, it opens up a secure https page so you know it is secure. If you want to see the peace corps side, go to TO CLARIFY: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DONATE $100. You can donate $1, $5, $10, however much you want. I must collect $100 TOTAL, at least, to participate in the marathon.

Tuck is coming to visit sa and support me and other volunteers at the race, maybe at the water station? (ha ha) Then our reward is a trip to Capetown. So, exciting times lie ahead! All my love to each of you! And if you don't want to donate, that is definitely okay. Pass the word along to anyone who you think would be interested, though.


In other news, I am glad to be back in the Kalahari after spending a week training in Mmpumalamga, where it is sticky, humid as hell, and full ok skeeters. Also Joburg, where it is already starting to become cool and people live like they do in America. Give me the hot, hot sun, the sweat, a bucket to haul my own water and the dry, desert air, baby!