July 7, 2014 – Just Barely in South Africa

Hello (Sanibonani) from the land of no internet. Thank you to Caitlin for posting these words on the blog, since I have no access to the connected world and am likely to be off the grid for a while. [Note from Caitlin – apologies for any errors in transposing Karen’s letter!]

I am in South Africa! I am in Peace Corps Pre-Service Training with 34 other volunteers from all over the USA. We are at a lovely resort near Pretoria and are mostly busy all day long. The PC has a tightly packed schedule of trainings to help get us ready for the day sometime in September when they place us in a small village (not yet disclosed) somewhere in Kwazulu Natal province all by ourselves. We have gotten meningitis, rabies, thyphoid, flu and Hep B shots. We have learned about common diseases and malaria and were given a well-stocked medical kit. We have discussed Development, Diversity, Core Expectations, the school project and our general work assignment, and current PC volunteers have visited us to tell us how their service has been.

We are “bonding” with each other and many of us have recognized that there is a very special magic happening among the SA30 group. There is so much enthusiasm, inclusion, friendliness, talent, participation, humor and acceptance with NO negatives (at least that I can see). There are 35 of us, about 2/3 female, about 2/3 in their 20s. There are a very few 30s or 40s, a few 50s, and 6 or 7 in their 60s. I think I’m the oldest. There are 5 African-Americans, 1 Asian, one Hispanic/French Canadian/Native American, one person born in Belarus, two married couples, another born in Sambia from two PC volunteers! There are singers, artists, teachers, recent college grads, mountain climbers, actors, parents, grandparents, and one woman awaiting news of her first great-grandchild. People share their gadgets, their music, their books, their fears, their ideas, and their caring and empathy. It is amazing! I am loving it!!!

Every morning, after a talk from our Training Director, Victor Baker, a group of LCFs (Language and Culture Facilitator) teach us some words and phrases in isizulu. We can say hello, how are you?, I am fine, I am from California, America. Some folks pick it up so easily. Other cry, feel like throwing up, read their notes, and everyone keeps on trying to get it. Everyone is supportive and kind! Did I say this group is amazing? It is! Did say I love it? I do!

As I write this, I have only been in SA for 5 days. We have been well-taken-care-of at the Bundu Inn. The abundant food is served cafeteria style, the grounds are flat, dried grass with thorn trees, hills in the distance — imagine the land near Yreka (without Mt. Shasta). The resort buildings have carefully made steep thatched roofs and our “chalets” are duplexes with sleeping space for four on each side. I have a double bedroom to myself on the ground floor and the other three women sleep in single beds upstairs in a loft. There is a bathroom with tub and shower. It is very comfortable.

At 7 am, we walk across the field to the dining area for our breakfast, picking different people to site with each meal, to get to know each other. The days start out chilly but in the late morning and through 5 pm, it is warm (70 degrees) and sunny, clear blue skies. It is dry here in the winter.

Later this week, we will go on a field trip to Jo’burg (Johannesburg) to visit the Apartheid Museum. On Saturday, we will go to live with families somewhere near Vryheid in KZN (K Zed N). Extensive language training, school visits, trips to volunteer sites, curriculum and lesson plans on are the agenda.

It is evening. We have returned to our chalet after watching a movie about Nelson Mandela and the change from apartheid to a democratically elected government based on one person, one vote. We walked across the field under African skies, under the stars of the Southern Hemisphere.