Home

I am home. I am no longer in the Peace Corps.  I arrived on July 1, 2016 and have been “readjusting.”  First I stayed with Sumaya and Don, then I moved into my own house. I am living alone again, like in South Africa, but with old friends, neighbors, and family close-by.  I am driving my car!  I am taking showers!  I have a kitchen with a sink! I have an indoor toilet!

The most amazing thing is that although I have memories and photos and blog posts of my two years in South Africa, I don’t feel like I went.  It was a two-year time warp!  Days and weeks in South Africa felt very very long. But the two years?  Over in a flash!  However, I am texting with my new friends in South Africa!  I must have been there!

The last two weeks after my farewell went quickly, first with Marie in the Battlefields area, then with the whole remaining gang (17 of us) at our Close of Service Conference in a hotel near Pretoria and then a week in Pretoria at an approved backpackers doing Close of Service (in my case, Early Termination) activities and touring Pretoria.   There were a few of us remaining in Pretoria and it was fun to meet volunteers from other cohorts and hang out with volunteers from my cohort during the last few days.

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The 17 remaining volunteers from an initial group of 35 who landed in Johannesburg on July 3, 2014.

 

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Julie Burns, South Africa County Director, is a wonderful woman and a great “boss.” Marie and I went out to dinner with her and talked “woman to woman” for several hours at her favorite Italian restaurant in Pretoria.

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There was time for last minute photos and selfies at the Peace Corps office as you try and complete all the required steps on the Closure Checklist before flying away to America. Here I am with Chelsea, Julie and Lalumbe.

 

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I flew back to San Francisco with another volunteer, Chris Vitt. We had flown together to Philadelphia on June 30, 2014, but didn’t know each other then. It was great to be together at the airports in Johannesburg, Frankfurt, and San Francisco. We played lots of games of backgammon on his little travel game board.

 

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Lufthansa flew us to San Francisco on an Airbus, full to the brim, double decker, with over 500 people. 11 hours to Frankfurt, 5 hour layover, 12.5 hours to San Francisco.

 

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My family was away when I arrived but soon returned from their wonderful national parks tour. I was overjoyed to be with Ian, Caitlin and Sadie once again. I hadn’t seen them for a year!

I am almost over jet lag, finished taking de-worming meds, still taking malaria meds, can’t sleep much, have rotten digestion, interviewing professionals who might refinish the hardwood floors in my house, got a new phone and new phone number, am learning online banking so I can pay my own bills, coping with the end of a marriage, walking the hills with friends in my new Keens shoes, reading a great book for one of my two book clubs, talking and talking with friends, going out to eat at Mexican restaurants, eating sourdough French bread.

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Some of the walking group in the hills of Redwood City on a gorgeous Sunday morning. We walked over 5.5 miles!

I am trying to construct and reconstruct a life here in Redwood City, California as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, a single, 70-year-old woman, with many options and possibilities.

THANK YOU to all my supporters who have called, written, sent care packages, visited, given money, listened to my whining, complemented me and commented on my blog postings over the last two years.    I could not have done it without you!
THANK YOU a million times over!

I want to see you!  Call me!  Write to me!  Visit me!

Remember all the money you donated at my farewell party in June 2014?  I have wired it to my friend and principal, Mam Ndlovu.  It came to 15,712.79 Rand.  It will employ Mxolisi as our school clerk for 10 months!  Thank you!

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Mxolisi, at school.

What a long strange trip it has been!

Beginning of the End

I have left my site.  I no longer live in my cute little rondaval.

I am on a “weekend away,” visiting another older PCV, Marie, at her place in the Battlefields area.  I got here by taxi, with two heavy suitcases and my daypack, holding all my possessions, in anticipation of flying home very soon.  There is still a Close of Service conference to attend in Pretoria.

Saying goodbye to my South African friends and the place I have lived for 22 months was difficult.  I may have endlessly complained about everything but in the end, I realized how precious they have become.  Bittersweet.  I am ready to go home.  It is time.   But I will miss my school and my colleagues and my friends and my house and the children.

Sifundo, one of my Grade 7 boys, came by on my last Saturday to give me a letter he had written for me.  I was stunned, amazed, and deeply touched.  He stayed a while and I taught him how to play Backgammon.

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Sifundo’s letter. Sifundo is in Grade 7

There was an intense “farewell and thank you” function at school on June 10, honoring Mr. Mfuzi (our well-loved former math teacher) and Mneli (our former admin clerk) and me.  Mneli couldn’t make it because she is now a teacher in Gauteng province but there was much praise for her and her work.  Mr. Mfuzi is now a subject advisor and he arrived but was late because of a required earlier meeting elsewhere.  There were honored guests (the local induna).  There was entertainment (the choir and my Grade 7 kids doing the two line dances I taught them).  There were speeches (School Governing Board, Mam Ndlovu, induna, Mr. Mfuzi, Nomvelo for Grade 7, me, Mam Gumede).  There was food (the usual braii menu).  The event was originally planned for just the SGB and the teachers but someone realized that 500 children would be unsupervised so the children joined us, brought their chairs, and enjoyed the event.

My host father, Mr. N, and head of the SGB, did not come to the event.

I had a prepared speech that I glanced at for reminders and security.  I had made thank you cards with my photo for the SGB and Mam Ndlovu and Mam Zulu.

Everyone thanked everyone and showed their love and appreciation for jobs well done!

There were moments when I wondered who this person was that they were so highly praising.  I am beginning to realize and believe that I have had an impact, they liked me, they were glad to have me, and I did a good job.  That is monumental for me personally (I have always been “invisible” in my eyes).

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The induna (far left) and members of the SGB

 

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The choir, with my neighbor, Phelele, right in the middle.

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Mam Gumede reading the poem they wrote about and for me.

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The Poem, Footprints.

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Message from Grade 7, read by Nomvelo.

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Mr. Mfuzi giving his speech.

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Grade 7 doing one of the line dances.

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Me giving my thank you speech.

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Me, with my still fabulous principal, Mam Ndlovu.

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Me, with Mam Zulu.

My last day at my school was June 15.  Mam Ndlovu called a staff meeting first thing in the morning.  There were heartfelt thank yous from her and the teachers praising my sacrifice and the work I had done for the school.  We even acknowledged the difficulties that occurred due to clash of cultures and personalities and that on both sides, we bravely overcame them.

Mam Zulu said she knew that I did not like or feel comfortable with the religious aspect of the school, having prayers at opening and closing assemblies, singing hymns every day.  She said that even though I didn’t like it, I participated and even learned a few songs.

I was also able to say how lonely it was much of the time and how long it took me to realize that Zulus don’t “invite” except to large gatherings.  I explained how Americans wait for invitations but also invite friends for coffee dates, lunch, dinner, hikes, where you can sit in small groups and talk about many things.  I encouraged them to consider this when the new volunteer arrives in September.

Although most teachers said nothing, a few were full of praise and gratitude. At the end of the meeting, I was hugged by the women teachers and shook hands with the men teachers.

Outside, after the meeting, Mam Ndlovu called morning assembly, with a song and a prayer. She then told all the learners that it was my last day at Okhayeni.

It was a hard day emotionally. I never relish saying goodbye.  It is painful. Throughout the day, I was given beautiful notes and decorated letters from children.  The Grade 6 class (my Grade 5 kids from last year) asked me to come to their classroom.  Individually, they stood up and thanked me for teaching them English and wishing me a safe journey home to meet with my family once again.  It was so touching.

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Letter from child.

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Letter from child.

After school, I went to my rondaval with Mam Zulu in her car to pack up and leave.  I had a bag of things to give her plus my refrigerator, kettle and iron.  I gave a blanket to my grade 5 neighbor Lungelo.  I gave all my dishes and pots and pans to Miss Mlambo, a former colleague and struggling single mom.  I gave a blanket and crayons to the neighboring Gumede girls and their gogo.  I had been steadily giving things away for the last month.  I also left many things for the host family.  Mam Ndlovu came and took the stoven for the next volunteer, her TV, and a camp chair.

I had made a card for the N family, gave the blanket I crocheted to Luyanda, gave Qhawe headphones for his phone.

Within an hour, my two heavy suitcases and daypack were stowed in the car, goodbyes were said to my lovely Nombulelo, and we drove off to Jozini.  We went to Mam Zulu’s, got her kids and grandchild, and drove to Pongola Country Lodge.

The hardest goodbye was to my dear friend, Mam Zulu. We hugged goodbye in my room at the lodge.  After she left, I walked over to Pik N Pay and bought ham, potato chips, a Kit Kat,  juice, a scone.  I walked back to my room.  Alone.  I watched TV, some episodes of The West Wing on my computer, took a shower and never left the room until the next morning.

Follow up on Strikes and Protests

On Monday, May 30, there were actual riots in the small mountain town of Ingwavuma, over unmet promises for development.  Protestors were burning wooden stalls, tires and screaming and running around.  We have four volunteers in the area but only one has her site in town.  She was outside at the time of the riots and witnessed the police using tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the riot.  She quickly ran to her work space and got indoors out of the mess.  Apparently her co-workers didn’t understand the level of fear it caused her.  She called Peace Corps security in Pretoria and a decision was made to evacuate all five of us, even though only one of us was in any danger and most of us were far from Ingwavuma town.  The situation was unpredictable and could calm down or get very violent. Peace Corps wanted us to be safe.

Drivers were found who were willing to get us to Tiger Lodge in Jozini, our long-time designated evacuation point for KZN volunteers.  Within three hours, all five of us were there, with instructions to stay put for at least two days.  Tiger Lodge just happens to be one of the most high-end resort lodges in South Africa (Google it!). Rich people stay there.  The Zulu King stays there. The President has stayed there. Cabinet and parliament members stay there. And, Peace Corps stays there.  It is beautiful, right on the lake formed by the Jozini Dam.  It is quiet and peaceful and only a five-minute walk to the totally bustling, congested, filthy, chaotic town of Jozini.  There are lovely rooms with bathtubs and showers (although baths are discouraged because of the long-time drought in KZN and with the lake at 44 percent of capacity).  There was free wifi, but mostly it didn’t work.

Peace Corps arranged a package deal for us at R1410 a night including breakfast, lunch and dinner. We helped them out by sharing rooms.  I was in a room with Josh and Caroline.  Olivia and Vince (CHOP volunteers — health) were together.  So there we were, out of the fray, in the lap of luxury.  My liberal guilt and frugality objected but I did as I was told.  I also spent my own money at the lovely spa for a one-hour massage.  We ate meals in the dining room, buffet style, with many choices.

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This is the view from our room at Tiger Lodge.

 

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This is a view of the dam/bridge from Tiger Lodge.

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Here I am on the veranda by the restaurant at Tiger Lodge.

A highlight of my time there was when Mam Zulu came to visit.  We showed her our room and had iced tea on the veranda. We talked and laughed and enjoyed our friendship.  She had not seen a room at Tiger Lodge before and loved it.

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My friend and colleague, Mam Zulu, came to visit me at Tiger Lodge.

 

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Caroline, Josh, Olivia and Vince are sitting at the dinner table in the restaurant at Tiger Lodge.

On Wednesday morning, I was released by Peace Corps security to return to my site.  PA Tiger Lodge driver drove me to Boxer, a huge grocery store right next to my taxi rank.  It was the “first of the month,” (June 1) Pension Day!  There were crowds of people everywhere, in lines to collect their benefit money, in lines at the shops, walking carrying many bags, getting in and out of crowded taxis or private cars, throwing their snack garbage everywhere, jamming the only road through Jozini with cars, trucks, and taxis.  Overwhelming, especially after the two days of first-world peace and cleanliness at Tiger Lodge. I went into Boxer for a few necessary food items and almost walked out.  I just kept telling myself, “you can do this.” I got less than 10 items and got in a line (probably cutting in) and got out of the madhouse.  Because of the greater numbers of people, the taxis filled more quickly than usual and off we went.

At home, I put away the food, and walked to school.  That was where I wanted to be, with Mam Zulu and Mam Ndlovu, working.

From Friday afternoon to Saturday, I stayed at the home of my wonderful principal.   I drove in with Mam Ndlovu.  When we got to Jozini, the traffic was so clogged that she made a U-turn and went back across the bridge.  She stopped and went to the car wash!

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Mam Ndlovu is waiting and looking at her tablet while her car is being washed. She has a big bag of fresh vegetables from the community garden near school.

Her husband and 14 year old daughter were welcoming and glad to have me visit.  They are very religious and said prayers before the meal. At bedtime, the TV went off and Mam Ndlovu sang a praise song and the other two joined in.  They prayed aloud and then we all shook hands.  There was a heartfelt thank you to me for all I have been doing in the school.

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Snegugu and her father, Mr. Ndlovu, are standing on the back entrance to their house.

Remember the money you all gave me before I left two years ago?  Remember that we do not have an admin clerk any more at our school?  YOU are going to be funding an office worker, Mxolisi, for six months at R1500 a month.  Mxolisi was a teacher’s aide until March but the payments to workers weren’t being made by the NGO and he quit to look for a job.  He wasn’t successful and he accepted our offer to return for a while to Okhayeni.  I will send the money to my principal as soon as I am in America and no longer in the Peace Corps.  It is so good to have him back!

I have two weeks left at my site.  It is good and it is sad.  I am excited to be going home soon but sad that I will leave these good people here.  There will be a thank you event on Friday, June 10, at school with the teachers and the SGB.  Our former math teacher, Mr Mfuzi and myself will be thanked.

Just yesterday, we all got an alert from Safety and Security in Pretoria.  The US Embassy in South Africa has received information that terrorists have threatened attacks on places where westerners gather in South Africa (Johannesburg and Cape Town, malls, art fairs, etc.), during the month of Ramadan.  My cohort is supposed to go to Pretoria for our Close of Service conference during this time, through Jo’burg.  We have not been informed yet about the site of the conference or travel details.  To be discovered!

Strikes/Protests in Jozini and Mathayini

On Tuesday, early in the morning, some citizens engaged in a protest in Jozini.  They took large stones and put them in the road.  They took tires and set them on fire in the road.  They blocked all the access roads to and from the small town of Jozini.

Why?  Water service is not available for all of Jozini inhabitants nor does it extend to the rural areas around Jozini.  Water service in Jozini itself is on again, off again, unreliable.  People have been promised improved water services for many, many years.  It has not improved, apparently.

Another reason?  The Jozini mall has not hired many locals to work there.  Unemployment is a huge problem in this area (and South Africa in general).

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I found this news report online.

 

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Both reports are from online news.

 

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Burning tires in Jozini.

7:00 am.  I went to school as usual on Tuesday, right after putting a visiting volunteer on a taxi headed to Jozini and hopefully on her way home to the Battlefields area.  Once there, I was informed by some teachers that four teachers were unable to come to school because they live in Jozini and all the roads in our direction were blocked.  I Whatsapped the volunteer and learned her taxi had reversed direction and was headed south to Empangeni by another route.  I was able to cover some of the teacher-less classes, teaching English with impromptu lessons to Grade 4, plus teaching my own Grade 7 English and Creative Arts classes.  I haven’t taught a full day in years!  I was exhausted!

7:00 am.  The next day, Wednesday, I again went to school as usual.  The same four teachers were still unable to get to school and again I taught impromptu English lessons with Grade 4.  There was sporadic news about the advance of the protestors coming north on our main tar road towards us.

11:00 am.   I heard and saw a mad rush of learners with their backpacks heading towards the exit gate.  I went outside to find out what was happening and was told that we were going to send the children home.  A few former students had been dismissed from their high school up the road and come to report that they had seen the protesters, had seen the stones in the road and the burning tires.  We quickly halted the riotous rush, formed an assembly, told the children what was going on and that they should go directly home.  The entire school was evacuated in record time!

At home, I contacted other volunteers to tell the story and I was soon contacted by Peace Corps Safety and Security chief, Gert Ackron.  He listened to what I knew, said he was going to make some calls and investigate.  I am the only volunteer on the exact route the protesters are taking. I am about one block off of the tar road on a dirt road.  Gert told me to stay in my house and don’t get curious and try to see what was going on.

Gert made some calls to the Ingwavuma police headquarters (my area) and gave me the number of a policeman to call and tell exactly where I am located.  I did that.  He knew exactly where I live; my host father is a policeman!

So basically, I have been under “house arrest” and haven’t been anywhere.  I heard noises in the afternoon and evening, protestors in our area, blocking the road, chanting, singing.  Then, a quiet night.  I Whatsapped my cohort and received supportive messages. I have heard from my principal (stranded at her home in Jozini) and other teachers. Everyone says “stay safe.”

6:00 am, Thursday, my principal called and said there would be no school today.  I took the quiet early morning opportunity to walk out to the main road to view the scene.  There were branches in the road, stones, burned piles of branches, tires and a twisted guardrail pulled into the center.   No traffic, of course, although one car drove in and through and around the debris to get through.  I took some photos.

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Barricades built in the road.

 

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More evidence of a night spent burning things in the road.

There were protestors outside mid morning.  I could hear them and kids came to tell me what was happening.

I have managed to make it through the day somehow. I have had visits from neighbor kids.  I have begun packing to leave, taking pictures off the wall, filling my small suitcase with things I want to bring home.  Giving away things I don’t want.  Watching Ken Burns’ film about our National Parks. Reading an Emma Donoghue book titled “Frog Music.” Playing Solitaire and doing Crosswords.  Texting friends.  Making chicken soup.

Gert called again. He said the “memorandum” had been given to the government officials and things would be winding down.  Someone was clearing the road.  The Ingwavuma police were going to drive down the mountain and see if they could make it all the way to Jozini.

4:45 pm, Thursday.  I got curious (oops!) to see the road again.  I walked there and it was totally blocked by branches, stones, tires and guardrail, there were police parked nearby, onlookers gathering, and blockades going farther up the road.  There is no traffic and it isn’t over, apparently.

I am not concerned for my safety.  However, I am anxious about running out of water.  The water trucks cannot get through to bring water to the community JoJos. I am not at school so I can’t get water from there.  I am only using small amounts of water so I don’t run out.  No laundry. No bathing. Just cooking and drinking and dish washing.

I am also concerned about running out of food.  I heard that some stores in Jozini were open but I can’t get there. I don’t even know if I can get to Bhambanana.

It is odd for me to not be allowed to be involved in a protest!  It is not my country! Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to do any political activity.

8:00 pm, Thursday night, Gert decided that I should leave for the weekend.  I decided Togo to Manguzi.  He heard from the Ingwavuma police that there was a huge number of bulldozers ready to start clearing the road at 7 am Friday.  There was also supposed to be a huge number of police ready to keep the road clear.

Bad night.  3 hours sleep. Worry, think, worry, think.

7:00 am, Friday.  Nope.  No bulldozers.  No police.

11:00.  Host brother went to Bhambanana and bought me some food!

11:50. I told Maite (Peace Corps) that I was safe, I did not want to go to Manguzi, and the road wasn’t open anyway.

Lots of children have come to draw and read books.

12:00.  Principal arranged with Mxolisi (our former teacher’s aide) to bring me water!

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The big white tire is usually in place at the side of the road as a landmark. Mathayini means tire.

3 pm. The road is still blocked.  Some community members are awaiting the arrival (1:00) of government officials to discuss the situation and come to an agreement.

5:30 pm.  Calls from Gert.  He has been told the road will be open tomorrow.

It is a very long day.

6:45 am Saturday.  Mxolisi brought 50 liters of water!  I can wash my clothes. I can wash my hair.

The road is open to Jozini.  Mxolisi told me that there will be a meeting with parliament officialson Monday (or Tuesday?) in Jozini to hear what will happen with the water situation.

Done.  For now.

Update

About 11:00 today, I got a phone call from one of the teachers from our school.  She also lives in this area, along the road.  Her husband is a policeman.  Apparently, the road at the Bhambanana T-junction is blocked in all three directions.  Last night and this morning, angry protestors came out and made a lot of noise and stopped the traffic.  It is NOT a water issue.  They are angry because the white man who owns most of the land at the Bhambanana area does not want others to come in and develop it with their businesses.  He has been in the area a very long time and rents out business space to various shops.  I was told that a meeting was called and the issues are being discussed by tribal leaders, government officials, business people, community members.  This road is the connector to Ingwavuma (west), Skemelele (east) and Jozini (south).

Random thoughts and happenings from rural KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

**Strong gale force winds for 24 hours make me edgy and confined to my little house.  Thank goodness some neighbor kids still come over to draw and play cards and eat my cookies and get crumbs all over but then sweep them up.

**Some days there is no food provided at school.  The supplier doesn’t deliver or the department decides it is a day we don’t give food.  Do they think (?) that children aren’t hungry every day?  For some children, it is their only substantial meal of the day.  The children are at school from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm and they are really hungry by the time school is dismissed.

I am also wondering about the connection between nutrition and cognition and attention span.  Many of these children have very short attention spans, can’t think through a logical problem, and have short memories for what has already been taught.  Their diet is short of protein, green vegetables, and fruit but high in white carbs (mealie maize, pap, rice, samp, potatoes) that fills their bellies but not their brain.  Is there a connection (outside of a culture that doesn’t support reading and math skills)?

**Qhawe came in second in the regional competition in solo singing performance.  His high school choir came in first.  He has a beautiful voice!

**A regret: I wish I had been placed with a more interactive family.  There are so many times when I am here alone.  If Thulile is home as well, she stays in her house and never seeks me out for company.  We greet each other in a friendly way but that is about it.  Luyanda has been away at boarding school for over a year and comes home only during holidays.  Qhawe is staying with relatives close to his high school and comes home only occasionally.  Mr. N. has three wives, three homes, many children, his job as a policeman, his work as a church elder, and is chairperson of the Student Governing Board of Okhayeni.  He comes and goes for short periods, occasionally says hello if I am outside, but really is rarely seen.

**The neighbor children come to my house and knock on the door and ask if I have water.  They take my empty water containers over to the JoJo and fill them and bring them back to me.  Isn’t that sweet and wonderful?!!?  I give them cookies or candies as a thank you reward.  I don’t give them money.

**It is 70 paces across the compound to the privy (toilet) from my front door.  Usually, I am walking there sometime between 5 and 6 am, carrying my roll of toilet paper and my pee bucket.  If it is still dark, I take a torch (flashlight).  It is usually not a problem, except when it rains. Then, the ground is wet and slippery and muddy and I am always thinking that at any moment I will splat onto the ground, be covered with muck, be embarrassed, and wish for the millionth time that I lived in a place with an indoor flush toilet.  So far, probably because we are experiencing a drought and it doesn’t rain too much, it hasn’t happened.

**It is getting to be winter (autumn, really) here in South Africa, and it is a bit cooler. There have been two chilly days.  It is still quite warm in the afternoons.  My fan died but it is no longer hot enough to need it.

**One of the native plants here is called umhlangula. [oomthlangoola].  It is a small tree/large bush with very small fruits on it.  The fruits are ripe when they turn purple; they have a hard seed inside.  On the way home from school, the kids attack a bush, tear off a branch full of fruit and munch on the snack as they walk.  It is a wonder the plant survives but they are quite plentiful.  The kids share their fruits with me and laugh loudly at my attempts to pronounce it.

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A close-up of a branch of umhlangula

 

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Zulu (a neighbor and a Grade 2 learner working with me on SOUNS) sits on my porch eating umhlangula fruits from a branch of a bush.

**My last package arrived from the Cherry Pie in July book group.  Inside were about 300 ballpoint pens that were collected in various venues (including their messy drawers) by the group.  The teachers, once again, were overjoyed to get pens from America!!  I gave each of my 42 Grade 7 learners a brand new “ordinary” pen and taught them to say “thank you” when someone gives them a gift.  There were Clif and Luna bars in the box, and two novels, and letters from friends.  It is so interesting to receive a letter written several months previously.   Reminded me of the pioneer times or the early white settlers waiting for news from family in Europe.  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!

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My package from America arrived, full of goodies!

**I painted tree and flower stencils on one of the family’s houses, the children’s house.  It matches mine!

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The stencils are now decorating two of the three houses in the compound.

**Interesting lunchtime conversation: just like when I was at North Star, one of the best times of the day is when a group of teachers eat and talk.  Here, I sit with a small group and I learn so much:  Married Zulu men and women do not usually hold hands when walking in public.  They might not even walk with each other but rather one in front/behind the other.  They do not kiss or hug in public.  They do not hug or kiss in front of their children.  After age 9 or so, girls are not hugged or kissed by their fathers.  Women do hug other women.  Men hug other men.  Full-on frontal hugs are reserved only for a spouse.  A hand shake and a side shoulder hug can occur with other people you know well, including family.    A married man does not hug other married women and may be upset if his wife were to hug a married man.

I have only rarely seen anyone hug a child.  Babies and toddlers are carried around on a woman’s back tied on with a big bath towel or light blanket.  Only rarely have I seen an adult play with a child.

**Ma’am Zulu had all four tires (recently new) stolen off of her car at night while it was sitting in the carport in front of her house.  The thieves took the tires and rims and left the car propped up on stones.  She took the day off school and went directly to the police department to report the incident. She needed the police report to give to her insurance company.    They told her they would come to her house to investigate.  She went home and waited all day but the police did not come.  Fortunately she has many friends and helpful family, and soon four “spares” were donated so she could get her car back on the road. The following day, she told one of our teachers about the “no-show” of the police. The teacher’s husband is a policeman.  He intervened and phoned the police who then phoned Ma’am Zulu to apologize for not coming.  She said, “thanks for nothing.”  They said they would come in the afternoon when she came home from school.  They did not come.

**I have a few wonderful, competent, friendly, willing grade 6 girls who are taking over some of the library chores.  I am hoping that will help with the transition between when I leave and when the new volunteer arrives in September.

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Here are two of my grade 6 library helpers.

**Remember the story on one of my blog posts about my attending a funeral way up in the mountains?  The teacher involved was googling Peace Corps, found and read my blog, and was extremely upset about her family event and her religion being written about. She does not want anything about her or her family written about in my blog.   I was approached privately by both HODs who explained the problem to me and asked if I could delete the post.  I said that I wanted to apologize and that I had no intention of hurting anyone’s feelings or abusing their right to privacy.  I also said that I would contact Caitlin (my daughter-in-law and savvy blog tech helper) and see if the offending portion could be deleted.  I apologized to the upset teacher.   I contacted Caitlin and she very quickly edited the blog.  Thank you Caitlin.  I learned a lesson from this episode.  I am much too casual about using full names. I could have used initials or aliases.   I am also not such a private person. I also know that blogs are only the opinion of the writer.  And even though I don’t like censorship, I was willing to have some of my words deleted, as I am a guest in this country and do not want to hurt anyone.  (I am also SO surprised that anyone found and read my blog!)

**The R20000 from our MassMart grant has been spent!  Electrical supplies for the proposed administration block were purchased.  They are stored safely in a nearby home.  They didn’t take up as much space as I thought they would.

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Electrical supplies stored and waiting for a building to be erected in the future.

**i joined a group of volunteers for a fun weekend in Manguzi.  Hilly arranged a boat trip on the Kosi Bay lakes system for all of us.  It is beautiful and protected area with very difficult and limited access.  The weather was perfect, the company running the expedition did a good job, the volunteers enjoyed each other’s company, drank huge amounts of alcohol, danced and sang and talked and snorkeled and ate delicious food.  I stayed over at Maputaland Lodge (showers!) with a few volunteers and was hardly ever alone!  Such dramatic amounts of socialization were shocking and wonderful and healing and exhausting!

Laura, celebrating her 26th birthday, publicly thanked me for paving the way and making it possible for her to have the rights and privileges young women now enjoy.  She is a strong, vocal feminist and had me in tears.  I just thanked her and said keep on fighting for women’s rights!

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This is a view from one boat.

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This is a view of the other boat.

 

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There were wonderful birds flying and perching and entertaining us. There were even flamingos! And we saw several groups of hippos!

 

Two Months From Leaving South Africa

UPDATES:

1.  As of April 27, 2016, there is work being done on the new container building but it is not completed.  It is very close though.  I have no idea why it isn’t complete.

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This is the container classroom before the roof was put on.

 

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The roof pieces are assembled and are then put in place.

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The workers are finishing with the final roof work.

2.  As of April 27, 2016, the paint job has not been completed and no one has been coming to work on it.

3.  The motivation letter we wrote about the need for an administration clerk did no good.  All such positions are frozen and no hiring is being done throughout the district.

4. A woman from the Ed Dept came to tell our principal that they want to electrify the school!    Of course, no time frame was given but since that was going to be done by us with the MassMart grant, we now need to find another use for the money.   There are plans to build an admin building; perhaps it can be used there.  I just hope the grant doesn’t fade away because of lack of use!

ACTIVITIES

**Another Funeral

I went to another funeral on April 17. The boy who died, Lindelani, was in grade 7 last year at our school.  He was 17 and had been sick a lot with kidney problems his whole life, missing a lot of school and spending a lot of time in the hospital.  He seemed to be getting the treatment he needed and seemed to be doing better.  But he didn’t make it.  The family is very large and poor and no one is working.  They survive only on government grants.  Teachers collected some “condolences” money (R400) and the family was grateful because then they could feed people who came to the funeral.  I went there at 5:15 am with Mam Ndlovu and we stayed for about two hours.  There was singing, praying, a calm sermon, chanting, a procession out to the yard for the burial, more singing, chanting, praying.  I was happy to see and greet a few learners from last year’s grade 7.

**Reading Competition

I helped to prepare a small group of learners (4) to compete in a district-wide reading competition.  There were six books, two in isiZulu, four in English (24-59 pages).  Obviously someone else (Mam Khabela) prepped them for isiZulu.  They did “Storytelling” which is summary.  Each school was allotted 15 minutes to cover all six books, about 2.5 minutes per book.  There were 26 schools participating.  We arrived “on time” at 8:30 a.m.  However, things didn’t get started on time and it took a very long time for the judges to listen to all the schools.  The children waited all day long in an outside tent.  It was about 100 degrees that day, April 21.  The teams were brought into the air-conditioned room at the Jozini Education Centre where the judges and teachers were sitting all day.  From watching other schools, I realized right away that I did not prepare them properly.  They did not win any of the top five slots. They were shy, too quiet, forgot their speech, sounded too rote, and had no gestures.  The winning school, Emanyiseni, put on a brilliant performance, with gestures, change of tone, hand movements, and a clear, loud, complete summary.  Food was served, finally, at 4:30, kids last, and we got home just before dark.

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Before going to the Reading Competition, I got a photo of the team: Thembeka, Nkosingiphile, Senzeko, Olwethu and their Grade 6 teacher, Mam MKhabela.

 

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Inside the Jozini Education Centre, our learners lined up and presented their six summaries before the judges.

**SOUNS

Since term 1, I have been working with 29 struggling Grade 1 and 2 learners on a special phonics program called SOUNS.  It is funded by Rotary Clubs and each Kit of large sturdy plastic alphabet letters costs about $250.  I have been teaching the sounds of each letter in isiZulu, along with very simple directions in isiZulu.  IsiZulu is a phonetic language so it works well.  I also have them spell some English words with the same vowel sounds as in isiZulu.  The grade 2 learners are given time to make their own words too.  I have been hearing that some of the struggling learners are now catching on and being more engaged in class.  I have also been able to identify a few who need A LOT of extra help.  I work with these 7 small groups on the floor of our tiny library area.  The kids love to come see me but most have the attention span of a flea and do not always behave well.  I get stern and send them back to their class and they don’t like that much.  The hardest part for my ancient body is getting up off the floor after our 10-15 minute session!

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A few Grade 2 learners are making words with the big plastic letters from the SOUNS Kit. I have encouraged them strongly not to put them in their mouth or sneeze and cough on them.

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These Grade 2 learners are enjoying playing with the letters and making their words.

**Water Buckets

The SA Army folks were so impressed with our school after their “health” visit, that they wanted to know what else they could do to help.  They were advised that water is a big problem in our area.  They set a date and time to return and did exactly as they planned! With a donation from a trucking company, UNITRANS, they brought and distributed empty 25  liter water buckets (R43) to every child and teacher at our school.  They also brought water in a truck and filled our JoJo containers.   They gave a speech about water usage, took photos, and left.  Well-planned and well-executed! It can be done in South Africa!

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The South African army team came early and were totally prepared to give water buckets to 530 learners for use at home.

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After getting their water buckets, Grade R and Grade 1 learners posed for a group shot carrying their treasure.

 

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Nomvelo helped with the distribution of the water buckets. Here she is giving buckets to some of my Grade 7 learners.

**Teddy Bears

Through the amazing work of Amy Berman who began The Mother Bear Project, I distributed hand-made teddy bears to all of the learners in Grade R, grade 1 and Grade 2.  This is a Minnesota-based nonprofit and the bears are made and donated by very crafty and artistic knitters and crocheters.  Postage to South Africa for our four large boxes was over $100 per box and the boxes all made it here in record time.  I only had to pay the SA post office fee of R39 per box.  What a deal!!!!!  I also had to take a photo of every child with their bear and email it to Amy.  She will make sure the bear maker gets the photo.  The children, especially the Grade R group of 71, looked miserable in their photos.  One explanation may be that they don’t have toys and are quite unused to being given gifts.  They may be afraid it will be taken away from them.  They don’t smile easily but I saw them loving and treasuring their gift.

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Lerato is one of my SOUNS kids, Grade 2. She gives me hugs at the end of our sessions. She was reading to me the other day, sounding out each word carefully! Success!

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Londeka, Grade 1, likes to hold my hand as we walk from her classroom to the office to do our SOUNS work. She has settled down a lot, pays better attention and her class teacher has noticed her improvement. Success!

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The Grade 2 class is showing off their beautiful new teddy bears.

Thoughts

I have been busy at school this term.  That is a good thing because I am counting the weeks until I can get on that airplane and come home.  I miss my family.  I miss my friends.  I am lonely here.

I do have a good friend in Mam Zulu.  She didn’t go to her home in Nongoma last weekend.  Because she was in Jozini, she invited me to come stay with her and the kids.  I went to her house Saturday afternoon, shopped at Shoprite, made dinner for them, ate with them, slept in their house, and enjoyed being part of a family.

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At Jozini Dam, I took photos of my dear friends: Nomtha (Grade 12 matric student, second rank in her high school), Siya (Grade 7 learner at Jozini Primary School and Mam Zulu’s wonderful grandson), and Mam Zulu.

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Nomtha took a photo of me with my dear friend, Mam Zulu. She calls me Karen or Ms. Fine. I do not call her Thembeni. It isn’t done.

Stories Continued and Stories Added

March 17, the bad news

The saga of the admin clerk position continues.  Today, my principal got a call from the district office.  They said there is no money to hire an admin clerk.  This is after the job was posted, this is after 150 people submitted their CVs, this is after the chosen seven short-listed candidates came for an interview, this is after the principal and SGB members spent one full day preparing questions and conducting the interviews, this is after the candidate was chosen and was set to start April 5.

The district said the school could submit a “motivation” letter.  This is an odd use of the word but it means provide good reasons why our school needs an admin clerk.  Does that mean that if you convince someone that you really need a clerk, there actually is some money?

I was stunned!  I can still hardly believe it.  I am stunned at the timing.  I am stunned at the disrespect of people’s time and effort.  I am stunned at the inefficiency.  I am stunned that there is doubt that we need a clerk.  I am appalled that they say there is no money.

Mam Ndlovu asked for help.  After thinking about it (and quietly fuming) for about an hour, I knew what the letter should say.  I told her and she handed me the computer and I sat down and typed a motivation letter listing 20 reasons why we really need an admin clerk.  I read her all the points, she added some items, she printed it and took it to the appropriate office.  I have no idea what will happen now.  I do know that she is exhausted by trying to do her job and the clerk’s job plus trying to teach her IsiZulu classes to grade 6 and 7.  The kids lose out every time there is a time crunch.

The interview process was interesting and astonishing to observe.  The seven candidates all showed up at 9:00 am and sat in the office for two hours doing nothing, all dressed in their nice interview-appropriate clothes.  The interview panel was busy preparing the questions.  At some point, someone provided the candidates with a snack of juice and muffins.  Then they went as a group to the room (grade7) where the interviews would be held.  They met the panel (SGB, HOD, principal) and were told the procedures and were told to chose among themselves the order of interview.  They returned to the office to sit and wait.  Interviews went on until late afternoon, one by one.  I was struck by how different job interviews are conducted in the U.S.  There were no individual appointment times.  Again, a time issue.  You certainly couldn’t have done anything else with your day.

There may be one very unhappy person out there who was first selected and then told no, we can’t hire you.

March 17, the good news

A large truck drove through the gate loaded with huge metal pieces.  The driver came into the office and explained that we were getting a portable classroom and the rest of the pieces would arrive shortly.  It was a surprise to us but later Mam Ndlovu said she knew about it because someone had come to choose the site.  She had requested four classrooms but we got one.  Better than nothing!  Thinking about the still not finished paint job, I asked how long it would take to assemble the classroom.  She said it could be done in one day!  Oh I am so cynical and skeptical!  I will believe it when I see it! (As of March 31, no building!)

An additional classroom will allow grade 5 to be split.  There are 77 learners in grade 5.

March 24, 2016

The admin clerk story continues, sadly.  Our admin clerk discovered that the resignation paperwork she filed with our local circuit office was never sent on to the correct office.  She has not received a proper teacher’s pay yet from Gauteng and is still being paid as our admin clerk in KZN.  Gauteng province won’t pay her until KZN clears up the mess.  As she investigated further, she found out that her resignation letter and other paperwork was actually lost and she has to start all over submitting the resignation, sorting out the pay problem, sorting out the ensuing taxation problem, and the medical insurance problem that covers herself and her daughter.  It is a nightmare that has cost her the entire two weeks school holiday meant to be spent relaxing here with her family, has cost her money to travel to the various offices to sort out the problem, and so much stress on her mind and body.  This all could have been avoided if someone (?) had done their job carefully and efficiently and correctly.

My question is: Is this nonsense happening all over South Africa?  If so, the country is in big trouble.

Note: Mneli went with our principal, by car, to the offices in Ulundi  (many hours and kilometers from here) to see the only person (apparently) who could get the papers filed.  Doing it by fax from here did not work.  The papers have been submitted.

Term 1 — Holiday Adventures

I spent three days with Marie, another older volunteer, at a lovely BnB in Mtunzini.  It is an up-scale pretty village at the coast (Indian Ocean) next to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve.  We were able to go to the beach and several restaurants and walk around in the forest and see the largest ever Palm leaves–the Raphia palm.

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We walked to the Indian Ocean.  After climbing a steep sand dune, we found a totally deserted beach.  Exquisite!

We also had car trouble, on the N2 toll road, heading towards another supposedly beautiful beach, Zinkwazi.  We called our host at the BnB and he called the people who do repair and rescue on the tollway. They arrived within an hour and were kind and helpful and they called a tow truck to come get Marie’s car.  All these guys were of Indian ethnicity and were willing to talk about their difficulties in the new South Africa and to ask questions about life in America.  (There is a quota for each ethnicity applying to get into South African universities.)  The car was towed to a repair shop owned by the brother of the tow truck driver in the city of Stanger (renamed KwaDukuza about 5 years ago).  This brother had just had a heart attack at age 42 and was in the hospital. His family was helping to keep his business running.  We had to leave the car there: it was Good Friday and they were closing early and wouldn’t reopen until the following Tuesday.

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Marie watching her car get attached to the tow truck.

One of the women of the BnB host family had been in Durban that day and came by Stanger to give us a ride back to the BnB.  It all worked out and everyone was kind and helpful.  We, of course, were extremely grateful.  The young man’s heart attack put everything in the correct perspective.  A car is a fabulous convenience but it is a machine that can be repaired.  The man was recovering in the hospital and he was dearly loved by his wife and two children and it would have been a tragedy if he had died.

Marie and I were back on taxis for our transportation.  Our hosts at the BnB had NEVER been on a taxi and thought we were incredibly brave to be relying on them to get around.  As wealthy white South Africans, they had always had a car of their own.  We took taxis from Mtunzini to Empangeni and from Empangeni to Hlabisa and from Hlabisa to Nongoma.  We waited outside Shoprite for Mam Zulu’s cousin to fetch us in a car.

The road to Hlabisa goes right across/through Hluhluwe-IMfolozi Park.  All along the road there are “Wild Animal Crossing” signs with warnings to take care.  And then, right in front of the taxi, a HUGE rhino crossed the road!!!  Amazing!  Too fast, unfortunately, to get a photo.  From then on, we were on the lookout for wild animals and saw elephants, many rhinos, water buffalo, and zebras, all in the distance.

Marie and I were welcome guests at the home of Mam Zulu.  She is the HOD of the Intermediate Phase at my school.  She is also warm and welcoming and funny and wise and the mother of five grown children (4 girls, 1 boy).  Her husband is the induna (person in charge) for that tribal area.  Their second daughter, Zama, was getting married on Easter Sunday, and we were invited to this pre-wedding event.  They waited for us to arrive before beginning!

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Mam Zulu and her husband, the induna.

In Zulu tradition, the bride dies in her family of origin and is reborn into the family of her husband.  She may not go stay at her mom and dad’s house ever again without special permission from her husband and his family.  She must transfer her loyalty to the new family.  This ritual we attended was the “funeral” of Zama, saying goodbye to her mother.  Because it is a symbolic death and rebirth, the mother cannot attend her daughter’s wedding!  Everyone else can.  Zama and her two attendants and two (unmarried) of her 3 sisters dressed in traditional Zulu clothing.   Zama’s face was covered with a yarn veil and money was safety-pinned to a cloth on her head.  She carried a small shield and a kitchen knife.

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Zama and attendants

Her father and other men of the family came into the rondaval as a group, chanting and singing.  They stood in front of the women and told them what was happening to Zama.  They called on the ancestors to take care of Zama as she leaves her home and goes to live in a new place with a new family.  Then the men, followed by all the women, went outside and across the yard to the cattle kraal.  The women formed several lines and danced and sang, practicing for the wedding where they would dance and sing for a longer time.  The front line of women knelt down as Zama’s father paced in front of them, calling on the ancestors and telling them what was happening and asking them to take care of her.

Behind Zama and her friends is the “kist”.  It is a chest that she will take to her new home and keep forever.

Zama has been with the “groom” for many years.  They have two daughters aged 11 and 6 months).  She is a primary school teacher near Ingwavuma.   He works in Jo’burg and they will visit once or twice a month.  Her new home is in Jozini, near the house where her mom stays on weekdays. She will see her mom often!

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The men came into the rondoval to speak to the ancestors and to get Zama and her women attendants to take them to the kraal.

 

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The women danced and sang. Then, Mr. Zulu spoke to the ancestors. Notice the women on their knees.

 

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These are the two unmarried sisters of Zama, in traditional Zulu attire. Nomthanda on the left (a bright, grade 12 learner, who wants to be a doctor) and Sanele on the right (a bright university student studying to be a social worker). The oldest child of the family, Smangele, is 8 months pregnant and declined the Matron of Honor position. She was told by her husband’s family that she could not go to the wedding. Njabulo, the only son, was helping with preparations.

Mam Zulu and other older women in the family sat on mats on the ground, watching the ritual.  She was both sad and crying as well as happy for her daughter.  Marie and I were on chairs nearby.  Mam Zulu was not allowed to sit on a chair.  That’s for men (and guests).
Some women ran forward and back ululating and dancing in front of the young dancers.

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Mam Zulu sitting on her mat.

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A woman dancing and ululating during the ritual.

After the ritual, the meal was served. First the older male friends of Mr. Zulu were served, at a table in the dining room.  Then other men and honored guests (Marie and Karen) were served.  It was the “same” meal.  Marie and I sat in the living room.  People are served by age and sex groupings. Children are second to last.  Mam Zulu is last!  She makes sure all people have what they need.  When she brought food into the dining room to the men, she knelt down. (Marie and I watched closely and tried hard not to let our prejudices show.)

We left soon afterwards and got a ride to Pongola, where we stayed at my home-away-from-home, the Pongola Country Lodge.  We were exhausted with all these events happening in one day!  There was so much to see and hear and learn!

I returned alone to the Zulu family on the wedding day. I spent a quiet day with Mam Zulu, a few female relatives, Smangele who lives across the road, and all the little children who couldn’t attend the wedding.  It was very special to spend a day inside a very active family compound.  We cleaned and cooked and rested and visited.  I returned to my rondaval in Matayini on Monday.  I will leave Friday for another weekend adventure.

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The main house at the Zulu family compound. It has a living room, dining room and 3 bedrooms. The kitchen is in another building. There is no water tap. Water is delivered by truck and put in the JoJos.

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The rondaval at the Zulu family home. Family meetings are held here, people sleep on mats here, women and children congregate here.

Term 2 starts April 5.  My last term in Africa.

Lots of Topics and Snippets from Life in Deep Rural KZN Province

March 4 and 5 and 6

Friday after school, I drove with Mam Zulu from school, to her home in Jozini. There, we picked up her daughter and grandson and continued on to Pongola.  She goes on south from Pongola a bit farther, to Nongoma, where her family home and husband are.  She has been trying for quite a while to get a new teaching position closer to her home but it hasn’t happened yet.  Almost every weekend she makes this 100+ km trek.  She dropped me off at Pongola Country Lodge.  I needed a break from the heat, the dust, the isolation, and the routine.

At the Lodge, situated right next to the mall, there are rooms available for R380/night.  That is about $35 and includes a big hot breakfast.  The room is clean, has air conditioning, a flush toilet, sink and a shower!  I booked two nights.  Mam Zulu will pick me up and bring me back to Jozini.  I paid her R200 (less than $20) for petrol.

It is worth it!!!!!!  I still am alone.  But the clean sheets, comfy bed, color TV, air con, and shower are worth it!  I went to the restaurant for dinner and had a gin and tonic, Greek salad, and French fries.  I will do it again tonight!  I am grateful to have enough money to do this.

I brought along some work.  Assessments have started (although the curriculum remains unfinished, of course) and I just finished marking 42 Economic Management Systems Controlled tests and 42 Descriptive Essays.

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Fewer and fewer children come to visit me now.  I am not as interesting as I once was and some come just to get the free yarn and crochet hooks.  A few come to sit at my table and draw.   I am teaching them to say “thank you” when someone gives them something.  Here are a few little girls who stayed to crochet for a while at my house.  The little one on the left you might recognize from earlier photos.  She is now in grade 4. I met her when she was in grade 2, on my very first weekend in my little house.  Amazing!

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Here are Amahle and Malwande crocheting in my house.

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The family houses have been freshly painted, a peach color.  They weren’t quite sure what to do with my stenciled trees and flowers so they just avoided painting that area.

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The main house now has a new coat of peach colored paint.

 

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The second house had never been painted and it looks so bright and colorful now.

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A while ago, I also went to a funeral.  It was for a 12-year-old boy, a family member of my host family.  I was driven there by Mfanelo and arrived just as the sun was rising.  It was the time when the light is purple and red and golden and magical.  He went to join the family and I sat on the ground on a mat with the women attendees who made space for me.  I missed most of the service which was fine with me.  Soon the whole crowd got up and walked behind the small casket to the burial spot behind the main yard.  Men on one side. Women on the other. Women from the community recognized me and were welcoming.  There were chants and song and sermons but no loud ranting.  Very peaceful.  After the boy was buried and covered with dirt and stones, people walked back to the main house area. I checked on protocol, and found out it was okay to leave then.

I walked back home with a woman who works at my school.  She asked if I could help her with her English correspondence classes. I assured her I would be glad to.  So far, it has happened only once.  She cancelled the first time we set.  I decided that if she isn’t worrying about, why should I.  It is due on April 15 and she has a lot to read and write before then! We did work well on one beautiful poem by Gcina Mhlope about the river of tears cried by African women.

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My good friend Sifundo (and son) (he calls me mom) has left his employment at our school.  He had plans to go to Johannesburg to look for a job but he hasn’t left yet.  His friend there told him to wait, it wasn’t a good time to stay there.  I miss him terribly.  He is kind and thoughtful and loving, and 22!

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Sifundo

 

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Mxolisi, Mam Zulu and Sifundo. Mxolisi will be leaving soon too.

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As I wrote earlier, our fabulous admin clerk got a new job teaching in Johannesburg.  She calls me occasionally and I hope to see her again during the upcoming term break.  The job was posted and 150 people turned in their envelope with their CV.  A committee sifted it down to seven people who will be interviewed.  It has been hard on everyone not to have that position filled, especially the principal.  For some reason, I am allowed to make photocopies for teachers and community members on our two machines but teachers are not.  And they are not interested in learning how to do it.  They are waiting for the new admin clerk.

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We are still experiencing a long unprecedented drought.  It is very hot almost every day and night. Exhaustingly hot.   Rain is rare.  A few weeks ago, there was a bit of rain.  When it comes, it is a brief and dramatic downpour, temporarily flooding the yard with much needed water.  I put out some buckets to collect water and if there is enough and the geese don’t get to it first, I have a little more water available for clothes and dish washing.  A few days after a rain, little white flowers appear briefly, until the scorching heat dries them up.

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The yard becomes a water table, with every person and plant and animal grateful for the bounty. I stood out in the yard during the downpour and got totally and happily soaked and cooled off!

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The flowers are so rarely seen and I always greet them happily.

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The geese rush to the water buckets for drinks and baths.

The “Doldrums”

I think I am in the “doldrums” of my service.  It is not that there is nothing happening but not much is new and I not going anywhere fast.

SCHOOL

Weekdays are fairly busy at school and I enjoy seeing my colleagues.

Our fabulous admin clerk, Nelisiwe, finished her degree with distinction.  Because she knows so much and so many people, she was immediately offered a Grade 3 teaching position by a principal in Johannesburg.  Although getting all the correct paperwork done within a short period of time was a huge challenge, it was apparently not insurmountable.  Mneli left us for her new job in the city, just where she wanted to be.  Next year, her daughter, who is in grade 7 in a Durban private school, will join her and attend high school in the city.  Mneli sends frequent Whatsapp messages telling about her class size (27), that the district makes the lesson plans, that there is water and electricity at her school, and her kids are doing well.  She also says she misses us at Okhayeni.  We miss her too!  She has left a big hole but the district doesn’t seem to be in any big hurry to find a replacement.  The principal is now left to do her own job (principal and 14 hrs/week teaching) plus admin clerk duties and it is too much.  She is spread thin and is running around from meeting to meeting to workshop and occasionally to teach her classes.

I miss Mneli a lot.  She was a friend.  She spoke beautiful English, having lived in England for two years.  She loves to travel, is smart, works hard, and is kind and thoughtful.  She understood what it is like to be far away from family and friends in a foreign land.

Our local NGO educational trust (Zisize) that has done a fabulous job working with teacher training and providing teacher aides, has almost run out of money.  (I don’t know why the foreign donations have fallen off.) They have been unable to regularly pay their workers.  It is not a good situation.  We are about to lose these wonderful, hard-working people who help our school so much.

The other day, some soldiers (South African Defence Force) came and did health presentations about diseases to our learners.  They asked questions and provided information.  Our grade 6 and 7 learners were well-behaved.  I hope it was not just because the soldiers gave out healthy snacks (incentives) to learners who asked and answered questions.  The soldiers were quite impressed that our learners spoke in English as well as isiZulu.  (No guns or recruiting were involved!)

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Mam Zulu talking to a soldier about the boxes of “healthy stuff” (cheese, raisins, dried peaches, sweet aid for cough, dried soup mix, powdered energy drink mix, fruit rolls, cookies, etc.)

 

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The children were lined up quietly to listen to the information about tuberculosis, HIV, AIDS, malaria, diabetes, asthma. Each year a group of soldiers goes to schools to talk about health-related topics.

I am teaching three classes, all of which are assigned to another teacher because I will be leaving halfway through the school year.  All my classes are with Grade 7 — 42 kids with attitude!   I am teaching English (5 hours) and Creative Arts (2 hours) and Economic Management Systems (2 hours).  For each of these classes, there is way more curriculum than fits in the allotted time.  We are already one month away from final Term 1 assessments, wondering how and when to teach them what they need to know in order to pass any assessment!  It makes me crazy–but not as crazy as it did last year.

CULTURE

I have been asking Mam Zulu many questions about Zulu culture.  She is a dear friend now and always answers me thoughtfully and with lots of details.

INVITATIONS AND MEALTIMES

I asked if she and her husband ever hosted “dinner parties” for friends, couples, not family.  I explained that in America, we invite our friends over for dinner, cook a delicious meal for them, sit around the dining room table, eating, talking on many subjects, drinking wine, beer, tea, coffee, and enjoying each others’ company.  She says that does not happen in Zulu culture, especially in traditional families.  Her family is a bit more progressive and open-minded but they do not do this either.

In traditional families, the man eats separately from the wife and children, usually in the main house or a separate rondaval.  He is served by the woman.  He sits in a chair.  Children eat in the kitchen, which is a separate room or separate building.  The women eat with the children.  The kitchen is the domain of women.  The children can be noisy, free to talk and play, run in and out, enjoy themselves, around their mother.  If they are around their father, they are to show great respect, to be quiet, to sit on the floor, to only do what they are asked, to speak in a low voice, to kneel or bend over when talking to him.  They do not look an adult in the eyes.   He may ask them to fetch something.  He may call them over to ask a question.  He does not play with them.

Women do not eat with the men and do not sit on a chair in the presence of a man.  They bring the food to him, in a kneeling position, and sit down on a woven mat if asked to be nearby.

Families do not sit around a dining room table together, eating dinner and discussing their day.

This helps to explain why I have not been invited to join any family (except the principal’s) for any family meal or visit.  I have not been invited to any other house.  They don’t do that!  She also said that the language barrier is a problem, however some families (my host family) speak very good English.  I thought maybe it was because I am white and they had never had a white person over to their house.  That may be a bit of the situation.  Several people have said they want me to come over but in 16 months it has not happened.

[This also explains behavior in school. When asked a direct question by an adult, children are almost mute. They don’t look at you.  They speak very, very softly.  When they come to the office to ask for something, they bend over, look at the floor, and very, very quietly ask for what they want.  Teachers ask them repeatedly to speak aloud but the home behavior is an engrained habit hard to change.  However, they are loud and disruptive when on their own.]

EVENTS AND COWS

Although they don’t invite small groups of friends to dinner, Zulus have huge numbers of people (hundreds) come to their place if there is a wedding, a funeral, an engagement, a lobola ceremony, or other life-changing event.  These visitors (known and unknown) are all fed during the course of the event.  It is almost always the same menu.

Cows are only slaughtered for a special event.  They are special and provide a lot of meat.

All the parts of the cow are used and there is prescribed set of rules for slaughtering and eating.

No women or children are allowed in the kraal out of respect for the ancestors.   All the cows are in the kraal and the elders select the one for the event.  They tie it with a rope.  A special man in the family who is good at it kills the cow. They stab the cow’s brain in the kraal.  The cow dies quickly.  The blood is drained out after they slit the neck, into a dish.  They skin the cow and cook the meat in a big pot.  Then they distribute the beef.

Women get chest and thigh and stomachs and feet.

Men get the shoulder and front legs.

Boys get the head and then they cook and eat the lungs in the bush, the following day.

The heart is given to the “hero” after he fights for it.  Not everyone wants to fight and they get to eat lungs with water and they are considered a coward.  But, it is for fun!

Visitors and any others get front legs — braii  (BBQ) cooked on the fire not the big pot.

Girls eat ribs.

Little children are invited to eat anything.

If the family wants beef any other time, they go to the store and buy it!

WOMEN

Some women cannot wear trousers. It depends on what their husband says.  This is changing with the younger generation and in the cities.

In the past, some women were not allowed to drive.

Some married women cannot go out without covering their hair. Scarves are tied over their hair.  It depends on the family and what the husband wants.  In reality, most women wear a scarf wrapped around their hair.  Our teachers do not do that while they are in school, unless they want to keep the dust out of their hair.  They often have a scarf tucked away in their purse.

Although preserving your virginity until marriage is a cultural dictate, it goes unobserved by many girls.  They often have babies at a young age and get a small government grant to help support their child.  There is a special ceremony and party to honor a young woman who reaches age 21 and is still a virgin.  (I don’t know about the guys!)

Paying lobola for the woman you want to marry is often financially impossible and so marriage (but not having children) is postponed.  Cows vary in size and the number can vary from 8-16 cows, each cow being worth approximately R8000.  Some families will accept money instead of cows and will accept an installment plan.

Women must serve the men food first.

At a funeral, men and women stand in separate groups.

PAINT JOB

And here, finally, is an update on the unfinished paint job.  We are still waiting for green paint!  We were told that there was no more money in the budget so we have to wait until the next funding cycle, after the end of March.  I decided to put the library back in operation because 6 months without a library is just a big waste of resources and possibilities.  Kids are reading!!!!!!!!

Google Earth is amazing!

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An aerial view of my school!

 

A Holiday Away from South Africa

This blog post has been rattling around in my head for a few weeks now, during my three weeks away from rural South Africa.

It came to my attention during the holiday that I spent with dear friends from England and America that I sounded very unhappy in my Peace Corps service and that they felt that an “intervention” might be needed.   They felt that I might need to be persuaded to give it up and come on home.  (Excuse me for a moment while I poke at the place where a lizard is rattling around.  We both want the same thing I am sure–getting out of my space.)  I was able to explain to my friends that an intervention was not needed and that in general, I like being in the Peace Corps about 85% of the time and really want to leave about 15% of the time.  I am unhappy or lonely or pissed off in that 15%.  In the 85%, I am glad I am here.  I appreciate the opportunity to live and work in South Africa, am grateful to make new friends in South Africa, love living in my cute little house, am curious about life in Zululand, am interested in this dysfunctional educational system failing to meet the needs of poor children, am feeling lucky to travel to different parts of South Africa and Africa, and I am fortunate to know some wonderful Peace Corps volunteers from America.  Do I love every minute? No. But…

No intervention is necessary.  I convinced them.  I plan to finish teaching Terms 1 and 2 and then come home.

I am sorry if my previous posts made anyone think I was so miserable that I really needed to come home.  I have been trying to write a true picture of my Peace Corps experience.  Yes, some days I am miserable and do want to get the hell out of here.  But mostly, I am not that miserable.

My greatest support here has been from friends and family in America (and England). I do not have a great support system of Peace Corps volunteers although they are wonderful people.  I am sustained by emails, phone calls, Whatsapp, packages, letters, cards, from all of you.  Thank you so much.

The time away, in England and Morocco, was wonderful.  Best of all was seeing friends. Second best was showers and sinks.

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Alfi and family in a London pub

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Sue and me in Regents Park, London. We had scones and tea there!

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Sumaya and me in ?

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Lori and Sumaya and me

Alfi is a woman I met during a short stay in Guatemala.   She has done lots of overseas volunteer work and strongly believes that a one- or two-week jaunt to “help” others is not really much help.  It isn’t cost-effective, you barely know anything about the country or people, you dabble in some sort of assistance, and leave.  It may be good for you but hasn’t much impact in the poor country.  She said that in order to have any chance of impact, you have to stay a long time.  Her voice was in my head when I applied to Peace Corps and even now I hear her.  It was lovely to meet up with her and her wonderful husband and two little sons for breakfast in a pub across the street from her London flat.

Sue is a dear friend who lives in a very small town near Bakewell, England.  I met her ages ago at a peace vigil in San Francisco and we have been friends ever since.  Sue took the train to London and stayed one night at the hotel with us, even though she dislikes London and especially dislikes it at Christmastime.  She is a writer and a mother and a grandmother and a wife and a gardener and a sax player and a bike rider and a Quaker (and much more).  She calls me on Skype about once a week and honestly says she would never do what I am doing because she loves her creature comforts too much.  She is very supportive.

Sumaya is a dear friend from Redwood City.  We were teaching partners at North Star during the best of times there, have been friends and travel companions ever since.  I can moan and groan and be sarcastic and irreverent and philosophical and silly and she is right there with me.  She planned the trip to England and Morocco and did a fabulous job. She brought me a newish computer and guided me through the anxiety of recycling my old “vintage” computer at the Apple Store in Covent Garden.  She came all the way from California to see me!

Lori is another dear friend from Redwood City who came all the way to Morocco to see me!  Wow!  She is a walking buddy, a book group buddy, a coffee-drinking buddy, a dinner buddy, and a hard-working woman at her job with West Ed analyzing educational research.  She has organized and sent five boxes of books and stuff from California!  It was so good to see her!  Her adventure began with losing her iPhone (stolen) while we were just meeting up at the train station in Casablanca.  I can’t believe how well she handled it!

Sumaya and I visited London, Casablanca and Chefchaouen before Lori arrived.  I loved being in London.  I did not enjoy Casablanca (white houses, but badly needing paint). I loved being in Chefchaouen.  With Lori, we visited Fes (great!) and Marrakech (teeming with very fast scooters, mopeds, motorcycles that made me edgy and nervous in the narrow lanes of the ancient medina).  In both places, we stayed with great hosts and enjoyed the arts and crafts in old and new buildings. We walked a lot and got lost in the weave of streets.  At the end, however, I was tired of “too much stuff” to buy.  It may be lovely stuff, but street after street of slippers, handbags, scarves, bowls, wool, clothing, spices, olives, etc. is too much.  I liked the parks and gardens for respite.

The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It is the third largest mosque in the world and cost half a billion dollars.

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The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It is the third largest mosque in the world and cost half a billion dollars.

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Chefchaouen is the blue town in the Rif mountains. It is small and lovely and a long bus ride from Casablanca.

 

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Fes is an Imperial City with an ancient medina of narrow lanes, wonderful pottery, a fabulous art school. It is grayish.

 

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Marrakech is the pink town, again an Imperial city with an ancient medina, great mosaic art, a lovely garden restored by Yves St Laurent, and we rode there on the “local” as there is no “express.”

 

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In a little park in London, the daffodils were blooming! Daffodils! Blooming! In January! In winter!

Now I am back at school.  Term 1 has begun. I am only teaching 42 students (all Grade 7), but three subjects with them.  It is a huge relief after having 155 students last year.