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.


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).


The induna (far left) and members of the SGB



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


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


The Poem, Footprints.


Message from Grade 7, read by Nomvelo.


Mr. Mfuzi giving his speech.


Grade 7 doing one of the line dances.


Me giving my thank you speech.


Me, with my still fabulous principal, Mam Ndlovu.


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.


Letter from child.


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.


This is the view from our room at Tiger Lodge.



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


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.


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



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!


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.


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!