End of Term 2 AND “The Visit”

Amazingly enough, there are a few things that just don’t bother me the way they did previously.  Here is one: for the last few weeks of school, the teachers are very busy marking exams and doing the learners’ report cards.  The children are quite often outside playing or inside their classes without a teacher in the room with them.  If the teacher is in the room, he or she is not teaching and may or may not be controlling behavior.  Imagine 65 grade five learners on their own!  Sometimes I just walk by and cringe when I look in the window and see them acting out “lord of the flies.”  I try and teach my one hour/day at each grade level, but I do not offer to spend the day monitoring the wild behavior of 11-year-old children.  “That is just the way it is in South Africa,” is the most common response to many of my questions, said in a resigned manner, implying there is nothing we can do about the obvious insanity we are discussing.  Last term, I was astonished and worried sick that so much time learning hours were being wasted.  I have now joined the program!  “Isn’t it nice that the children are playing?

Here is number two.  I worried and worried that I was failing too many children, that I wasn’t doing a good enough job (probably true), that I wasn’t teaching what they needed in order to pass the yearly ANA test (probably true).  I hate teaching to the test.  I wanted to teach them English and have them understand me and the reading passages.  I naively thought I could make changes in the method and content.  No!!!!!!  I can’t.  The system is flawed, the methods are entrenched, few are interested in making change, the standards are appallingly low, and I am an outsider.  It takes years to learn a language well.  In 24 months, with one hour per day (sometimes) of instruction, holidays, and 8 weeks of exams and marking, most of these kids do not get enough class time to become proficient in English.  I must be here in South Africa for another reason. [An ongoing discovery.]

Almost all the above was written before June 24, 2015!

*July 3, 2015. One year ago exactly, I arrived in South Africa and began this adventure.  I have learned so much over these past 365+ days.  Some days were/are depressingly slow.  Other days seemed like “normal” time.  And sometimes I wondered how the “visit” weeks sped by so quickly.  However, it is still daunting that I have 15 more months to go to complete my Peace Corps service.  I am still determined to do that.

On June 24, 2015, my son, Ian, my daughter-in-law, Caitlin, and my granddaughter, Sadie, drove into the parking lot at the KFC in Jozini. I was “impatiently” waiting for them inside.  They have warmed my heart, eased my mind, provided love and companionship and hugs in ways that no one else can.  What a treat it was to see them, hold them, talk to them, travel with them, be in the same space with them.

Being me, I anticipated their departure with dread. But how could they stay?

My fabulous principal had waited with me at KFC and met the family.  She was almost as excited as I was! We said we would see her in the morning, and drove off (in a car!) in the dark to my little house, about 34 km north of Jozini.  An easy half-hour drive later (in a car!), we arrived.  I gave them the tour of the kitchen, bedroom, living room (all in one room!) and showed them the toilet way across the yard.  We were set!  Then Thulile and Luyanda came over to greet them with warm hugs and smiles.

They were exhausted and jet-lagged from their long, long journey from San Francisco to Frankfurt to Johannesburg to Jozini to my house, and after a quick snack meal, we put the borrowed sleeping mat on the floor, covered it with the borrowed warm blankets, and Ian and Caitlin went to sleep!  Sadie and I were all cozy together in my double bed. We read a while and then she slept.  I was so keyed up and amazed and excited that I didn’t get much sleep.  (I am sleep-challenged anyway!). Here they were!  In my little house!  In South Africa!  The long wait was over!

They came to school with me on June 25, the second to last day of Term 2.  They were celebrities!  They were introduced at the staff meeting and photos were taken.  They were introduced at the Parents’ Meeting.  They went to each of my classes and answered and asked questions.  I had prepped the kids the day before and they were ready with questions for Mr. Britton, Ms. Sweeney and Sadie.  The kids were delightful and respectful and welcoming.  Some kids took Sadie with them to “talk” and “hang out” and other kids just wanted to stare at the amazing white American family right there at Okhayeni.   It is exhausting to be that “on” for so many hours and with Mam Ndlovu’s permission, we went back to my little house to rest.


School staff and the family, a formal portrait


My family with a few staff members outside at school


Ian answering questions from students in the dark classroom


The family with their new “brother” Sifundo, my new and delightful “son”

I had a text from Marianna (a Peace Corps friend) inviting us all to come to dinner at their place near Manguzi.  It was possible–in a car!  We accepted and decided to pack up everything and stay at Thengani Lodge rather than drive back at night to my cramped, showerless abode.

After a nice afternoon walk with Luyanda in the neighborhood, we set off for Manguzi. Term 2 was over for me!  I was off on another adventure!  We had no problem getting nice rooms at the Lodge and taking showers.  There was a delicious dinner and good PC friends to meet and greet.  Maureen (my Peace Corps friend) came too and at the end of the evening Ian and I drove her home (in a car!) to her two-room PC dwelling.


Sadie and Luyanda on our walk around the neighborhood. Luyanda is my host daughter, now 13, and home for the holidays from her boarding school.

We spent two nights/days in St Lucia (hippos!) and two nights/days in Swaziland.  Lots of driving (in a car!) to get to these places and during our one full day at Mantenga Lodge in Swaziland we all agreed that it would be a no-driving day (no car!) and we would walk to the Swaziland Cultural Village, waterfall and crafts center.  The Lodge had a magnificent view of nearby Execution Rock, a place where convicted criminals were marched to the top and pushed off to their death. Humans are an interesting lot!


Sadie was brave enough to go swimming in the Indian Ocean at our stop at Sodwana Bay.


I love this photo of Sadie at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Sodwana Bay. It is also a great restaurant–a California style menu!


Sadie is dancing with the wonderful Swazi dancers at the Swaziland Cultural Center.


There is a lovely waterfall near the Cultural Center, now, in winter, with less water than at other times of the year.

From Swaziland, we drove to Jo’burg and then flew to Gabarone, Botswana.  We visited and traveled with Ian’s high school friend, Thea, and her husband, TK Khama, the Minister of Environment, Tourism and Wildlife for Botswana (and the President’s younger brother).  The President of Botswana is Ian Khama.  We were living well in Botswana and felt welcome.

All of us traveled the next day to eastern Botswana to Tuli Safari Lodge.  It is one of those lovely high-end tourist lodges with luxurious tent-cabins, daily safari rides into the bush, meals included.  We saw lots of elephants, giraffes, hyenas, impalas, duiker, kudu, eland.


Caitlin had a close encounter with a curious and bold elephant. Caitlin was very brave.


A nursing baby elephant at Tuli Nature Reserve.


We stayed in unaccustomed luxury at Tuli Safari Lodge. Beautiful rooms with white terry robes, huge showers, soft towels, comfortable beds. Definitely NOT Peace Corps.


Thea and TK Khama with our safari guides.

After two nights, we left for the next spot, but first Caitlin, then Ian, and finally Sadie were detoured/felled by a disgusting 24-hour illness (nausea and vomiting). It was in succession rather than all at the same time which was convenient for care-taking and long car rides.  Ian and Sadie and I saw the rhinos at Khama Rhino Sanctuary and only Thea and I went to Serowe, the ancestral village of the Khama family.  I saw the tribal center, the graves of Sir Seretse and Lady Ruth Khama, and toured a small interesting museum with exhibits about the village, the Khamas, and cultural displays.


Gravesite of Sir Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana, and the father of Ian Khama, the current president of Botswana and TK Khama, our host.


Gravesite of Lady Ruth Khama, the British wife of Sir Seretse Khama, mother of four.

Back in Gabarone, we were all well for a short tour of the city, lunch with the Khamas at Mugg & Bean, and for some, a movie night in town.  Not me!  I did not want to see a Terminator movie, even though Ian’s name was on the credits (!!!!!) and I haven’t been to a movie in over a year.


My family, on the couch at Thea’s house.


My family and our wonderful hostess and friend, Thea, in front of a statue of Sir Seretse Khama, in Gabarone.

We left Gabarone on a Monday afternoon, after a delightful hike up the rocky hill by Thea’s house.   Sadie was weak but finished with vomiting and able to fly.  Thea and I never got the sickness.  Ian claims it was because we are “Africans.”  The hard part came at the airport, when the three of them went to the left marked “international transfers” and I went right to passport control.  Hugs.  Hugs.  Hugs.  Goodbye.

An incredibly quick and satisfying and comforting visit from my dear family was over.  I won’t see them again for 15 months, which as I have said before, only seems fast in hindsight.  The visit did not make me want to quit the Peace Corps.  I am still resolved to complete my service no matter how hard and lonely it is at times.  I actually think the visit helped me.  I saw them. I hugged them.  I was with them.  They are in the world.  I will see them again. They assured me I am loved somewhere by someone.

6 thoughts on “End of Term 2 AND “The Visit”

  1. Wow. What a great blog post! Your transformation in 1 year is amazing. Thanks so much for taking us along on your journey Karen. Having had your family there seems to be what will help sustain you for the rest of your time. And you seem to have come to terms with the different cultural and educational norms there. Looking at the happy smiles on you, your family, students and friends is the best! Love you my friend and am so happy for you!

  2. Loved this post, Karen. I cried tears of joy when you sent pics of their arrival, and again in reading this. I’m so happy that you had this time with Ian, Sadie, and Caitlyn. And your resolve is awe inspiring! Sending virtual hugs and (continual) love! Julie

  3. Karen, the last paragraph really moved me. So often we don’t get the opportunity to realize how important the closest people in our lives are to us until it is too late. You are amazing!!!! Kathy H

  4. Dear Karen, I am so so glad that the family got to go see you and spend some quality time. For them, it was the adventure of a lifetime and their photos were gorgeous. For you, I assume it was absolutely perfect and I don’t doubt you experienced some sadness when they left.

    I knew you would stay but it seems you really knew it when they left. You have much courage and maybe a wee bit of stubbornness (just enough to get you through!!)

    And before you know it, you will be back in California and regaling us all with stories about your two years in South Africa. Much love, Jacquelyn

  5. Dear Karen, What a wonderful story of your family’s visit. I hope that you are saving all of your notes and letters and emails to us. They are so interesting and informative. I think you should write a book about your adventures. Best wishes, Tempe

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