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.
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.
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!
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.
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!