The End of Term 1

There are three more days of school. Actually, two and a few hours on Wednesday.  End of term means that very little teaching is done but there are a lot of exams (assessments) for several weeks for the kids to take.  Then, the teachers spend their class time marking (grading) papers and figuring out Term 1 grades for the first report card.  Being an American teacher, I do no marking in class time but do it all in my free periods or take it home and work on it.

Grade 7 English teachers in Kwa Zulu Natal Province had a “surprise” exam.  Grades 3 and 6 were scheduled to do Provincial exams but one-day prior to the exam date, the Provincial education department added in Grade 7 too.  So much for what teachers had planned!  When there is a formal country-wide (ANA) exam or a provincial exam, there are strict guidelines on how it must be administered.  There must be only 30 learners in the room and it can not be administered (invigilated) by their own class teacher.  Fair! There is an exact time limit as well.  So, due to space considerations, grade 5 played outside while we spread out grades 6 and 7 into three classrooms.  Because I teach English to grade 7, I could only invigilate grade 6.  It was a very pleasant hour and a half.  There were 30 kids, it was very quiet, and they all were working diligently.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to only have 30 students in a class?  I remember when grade 3 at North Star went from 20 to 30 kids and how shocked we were.    Now, I would give anything to have 30!

Oddly enough, although you can’t administer (proctor/invigilate) your own class, you are the one to mark (grade) the exams for your own class.  The grade 7 exam is two hours long.  It took me 11 hours to mark the 50 exams!  Also, the test was just awful, in my not-so-humble opinion.  There were mistakes in the English, there were poorly written questions and instructions, there was a story about a car accident where someone died, and the rubrics for marking the writing portions did not go with the prompts.  (I got permission to create my own rubric.) By the end, I wanted to call whoever wrote the thing and have a long “chat” with them.  It also seemed that they did not even know a twelve-year-old child let alone make any allowances for the fact that these kids are second language learners. Their instructions need to be clear, familiar, easy-to-follow and well-written, with some important words in bold or caps.  Not on this test!

As you might imagine, my kids, except for a very small handful, did not do very well. But, because the English pass rate is set at 40 percent, only 13 actually failed.  I personally felt that only 10 actually passed, given a 70 percent cut-off. I have spent the last week “revising” (reviewing) with Grade 7 instead of doing the mandated curriculum.  I am teaching them to read the instructions, what words in the instructions actually mean, techniques to answer reading comprehension questions (look in story!!!!), how to write a narrative paragraph, never leave a multiple choice question unanswered because you have a 25% chance of getting it right, never just copy the question and think you have answered it, and follow all the directions.  I hope this will help them in their future government exams.

This was very frustrating, annoying and sad.  Also, it was super hot this last week, uncomfortable for teaching, taking exams, and marking exams.

On top of this, the tests for maths (they don’t say ‘math’), were three-and-a-half hours late in arriving on their given test date.  Students from grades 5, 6, and 7 just stood around talking and playing because they couldn’t start something else just in case the tests arrived.  The maths teacher said only 22 out of 50 passed the maths exam.

I am sure I will have more to say on teaching, exams, standards, marking and answer sheets in the future.

On another note, I am including pictures of my garden.  Every single vegetable plant was a victim of bugs and drought except those three pathetic radishes I included last time.  However, the flowers are doing well, along with a volunteer melon vine with no melons.  Because it is all inside the four-foot high fenced area, I can’t really see the flowers but I walk over and say “hi” “I am glad to see you” and dowse them with soapy water.  It has rained a bit so they even got a good soaking.   I bought a small shovel to use. I will try again with vegetables after my holiday, perhaps using yogurt containers and bringing them inside at night.


I had 6 lovely sunflowers blooming brightly all at the same time


My flowers are doing very well

Soon, I will be leaving here for several weeks.  I am going to St Lucia on the Indian Ocean with three other volunteers.  It is in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park and is a World Heritage Site.  From there, we all go to Regional Training near Hluhluwe Park Game Reserve.  There I hope to learn how to write the grant to get donations through Peace Corps to electrify Okhayeni Primary School.

Last Friday, I went to Newcastle with my principal and two members of the School Governing Board. It was a 4-1/2 hour drive each way!  We went to Builders Warehouse to get the invoice for the parts needed on the project.  We spent just about all the R20000 donated by Empowerment Concepts.  The rest of the project will be funded from your donations through Peace Corps. I will let you know more later.

Oh yes, I have done more stenciled paintings on my little house.  It makes it even cuter!
And unique!


I have stenciled trees and flowers on the front of my little house. No one here does this! I think it makes it look even cuter.

And lastly, but not least, I received a Care Package from America! Lori and Sumaya were the engineers who took great care in putting it together.   I got the cutest blouses that I get tons of compliments on, my favorite denim shirt, seeds, three good books, lots of cards and letters, Clif bars, and other stuff.  It was so exciting to get the package! It took just under a month and didn’t seem to have been tampered with.  Thank you! Thank you!


Here I am at school, very happy to have received a care package from my friends.


My wonderful Care Package arrived from America. It made me feel loved and cared for. Thank you.


Reflections from KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

Turns out, you take yourself with you wherever you go.  For those of you who know me well, the following list will not be surprising.  For the newer or less close friends and readers, you might need to rethink who you think I am.

I am


I am also

Hopeful (sometimes)

I keep thinking: Am I really the right personality to thrive in the Peace Corps, with “thrive” being the operative word?   Sure, I can muddle through being sad and lonely a lot of the time and missing the golden opportunity to “connect” with the Zulus.  I can be easily discouraged by my attempts to reach out and make friends, rather than “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  I can also work hard at teaching the learners and put less weight on “finding a friend.”  I can “embrace” my solitude.  Or, all of the above.  Or not.

Turns out, wanting deeply and insecurely to be included by others is not a great way to start making friends.  I always wonder if I have some sign radiating out from my being that only I can’t see. It says “I want you to like me.  I want you to like me so much you will invite me to hang out (go for coffee, come to your house for dinner, go to a movie, go to the beach) with you and we will have such a great time together that we will do it often.”  It repels rather than attracts.  It is too much, too needy.  Most people here (everywhere) have on-going lives, with jobs, husbands/wives, children, church activities, extended families, housework.  They are not fully available for new friendships even if time, culture, and curiosity allowed it.  They are, however, very friendly.

I can remember back in 1992 when I moved to Redwood City from Berkeley.  I was very lonely, knowing only Pam and Mike.  I would drive back to Berkeley many weekends to visit friends.  I also was a brand new teacher and often worked 6-7 days/week, 11 hours/day, just to get prepared.  And because I had no social life.  As time went on, I made a few wonderful friends, got married, and my community grew.  I am now at home there (well, not right now, but prior to July 2014).  And yet, I left for a while (a LONG while) to join the Peace Corps.

Did I think about all my combined personality traits when contemplating this adventure into another country, another culture, another language, far away from my family and friends?  Yes, I did. But it is one thing to do it while you are sitting comfortably in your California home, and another thing when you are living it on a daily basis in rural Kwa Zulu Natal.  I remember Ian saying, oh, the two years will just zip by.  Only in hind-sight my child and wise man.  Each day seems very long, not hard, but long. With 20 months to go, September 2016 seems very far away.

Six people have left my cohort.  We started out as 35 in Philadelphia, ready to fly the big airplane.  Now we are 29 in SA30.  Whenever I hear about someone leaving (medical or early termination), it hurts, even if I completely understand why they leave and I was not particularly close with them.  It is such a personal decision and apparently not unusual for a significant number of PC volunteers to leave at this point in their service.   I thought we would all stay together until the end of our commitment.

Why am I writing like this, more intimately personal?  Partly, because each time I add a new blog post, I get fabulous comments from some of you that talk about a person I don’t recognize as me.  Sue H. says my “grit is awe-inspiring.” Toni says I am an “incredible creature.” Eileen admires my patience with the difficulties and “willingness to adapt to some of them.” Carolyn says I am a “trooper.”  Others say I am brave and they could never do what I am doing.  Get the picture?!?

I often think of myself as a big whiny baby (a 69 year old baby?) moaning and groaning about being old and lonely and not being able to sit in a coffee shop, drink coffee, and enjoy free wi-fi.  To put things in perspective, last Monday morning I heard about: 9 people of one family who died in a lightning strike, the son of a teacher who was in a car crash and hospitalized, and our Grade 1 teacher being taken in an ambulance to a hospital and kept for 5 days while they tried to figure out what caused her pain, and an Oregon nephew who had emergency abdominal surgery.  And I am moping about what?!?!

I am not brave.  I totally freaked out when a 3 inch toad fell from the ceiling onto my head while I was reading.  I totally freaked out at the bat situation.  I cried buckets during a unusually severe wind storm.

Turns out, you can’t be someone you are not.  So, here I am in the Peace Corps.  They accepted my application, they decided I should go to South Africa and teach English in a rural primary school plus live in the manner of the local population, and I said “Yes.”  I wanted to do this, not even really knowing how hard it would be or how frustrating the bureaucracy rules would be.  It IS hard for an old, white, single, highly-educated, Jewish, secular-humanist, female reader to fit in in rural KZN!!!!!!  In reality, I am probably doing pretty damn well, given that set of differences.

So far, I have no intention of leaving the Peace Corps before my 2+ years is up.  I am sick of the bugs flying around and dive-bombing me in the evenings while I am reading, the big spider way up high on the wall, peeing in a bucket, volunteer friends leaving, waiting “forever” in a taxi until it it is full before it can go, and not having a coffee shop anywhere nearby with scones and free wifi.  Oh well, if it was easy here, I wouldn’t be here, right?  Well, some  traits on my personality list are keeping me here.  Let’s just hope I am doing some good along with the whining!

Update on my cute rondaval: I made it cuter.  While I was at the Victoria and Alfred Wharf in Cape Town, I spent a lot of money on stencils, oil paint, and brushes.  I have painted little trees on my house (to combat ugliness)!


I love seeing my new African trees painted on the front of my rondaval. I can’t decide if I should stop at minimal and understated or add more.

Update on the garden: I have harvested three skinny, not very red radishes.  I gave a teeny bite to my host mom and she was surprised at the tang/heat. No one has radishes here.  That may be all I have. Some bug (perhaps the 2 inch long grasshopper) is sneaking in and eating my baby bean plants and lettuce sprouts. The sunflowers have tiny buds in the centers!


Here are three scrawny radishes. Only one made it into a salad.



Here is the inoyi tree in the yard. This is view from my porch looking west towards the mountains/hills.

Things here are no longer dramatically new although I am occasionally startled by odd events I observe around me. For example, as I was sitting on my porch, reading, a while ago, a pickup truck (bakkie) goes whizzing by on the dirt road by my house. Two young boys from school were standing up in the back and they waved to me.  I waved back.  Tied onto the back of the truck by a long rope was an entire dead cow, horns and all, bumping and scraping along the road!  It was probably on its way to a BBQ feast, a braai, and was to be the main attraction for this culture of meat eaters.
My life is entirely undramatic at the moment.  I have a daily routine for my 5 days of teaching life, separated by very long, mostly alone, weekends.  My host family is small now that the wonderful 12-year-old left for boarding school.   They are gone all day Saturday at church.  Sometimes I will have a lovely overnight visit with some volunteers who live 8 km from Manguzi. Sometimes I will go to Jozini to shop or go to the library.  There are Peace Corps rules on how often you are allowed to be away from your site on overnight visits. As you might imagine, this rubs me the wrong way! I am 69 years old and being told where I have to be and when I can go!  As they say here, Eeesh!

I usually wake up around 5 am (after a restless night) to the sound of roosters crowing and a peacock screeching.  I put on my robe and filthy crocs, move aside the bucket of water from last night’s bath, take my chamber pot (small white plastic bucket with a handle) and roll of toilet paper, and walk across the big yard to the latrine. As I sit inside the outhouse, I think about how many more days I will have to use this facility and when might be the next time I will get to be in a bathroom with a flush toilet and shower.   

After using the outhouse for the purpose for which it was intended and emptying my chamber pot into the pit, I go back to my little house.  These days I take my previous night’s bath water out to the garden and water my baby plants.  I save all water I can for this purpose.  We are having a drought! More about water later!


Here is my baby garden at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon in 90 degree heat. I am out of extra water and it is drooping badly. It grows extremely slowly because the soil is bad and there is not enough water. The fence, however, has miraculously held together and kept out the big critters.

Back in the house, after closing off my soda bottle garden fence with a pile of branches, I prepare breakfast.  I usually have granola and yogurt, instant Nescafé coffee and milk, one malaria pill, and one multi-vitamin, courtesy of the Peace Corps.  The malaria is required (or you get sent home) and the vitamins were free for the taking.   I read and eat.  Right now, I am reading “After Mandela, The Battle for the Soul of South Africa” by Alec Russell.  I then get dressed in a skirt, blouse and sandals, pack some food for break time, brush my hair and teeth, and go out the door.  I walk to and from school, 2 km each way.  I walk with the children along the sidewalk, the one you all saw in an earlier blog.

I say “Good Morning” to the children (they need to hear English) and “Sawubona” to any adults I pass.   

At school, I have a newly delivered desk in the office/admin/library/meeting room. I share it with the HOD.  I keep my textbooks and notebooks in a cabinet.  I can work at the desk when I am not teaching.

I teach 13 hours/week.  I teach English every day to Grade 5 and Grade 7 for one hour each day.  I teach Social Science to Grade 6 for 3 hours/week.  I have a “reduced” teaching load because I am a Peace Corps volunteer.  The average teaching load for intermediate phase (4-7) is 20 hours/week.  I have lots of breaks!  I also have lots of learners (the South African word for students).  There are 65 kids in Grade 5.  There are 40 kids in Grade 6.  There are 51 kids in Grade 7.  It is too many but there is nothing that can be done about the overcrowding.   We have no empty classrooms.  No portables are on the way.  No classrooms are being built.  

So far, I have taught a few weeks.  I have had good days and not so good days.  Sometimes I remember why I retired from teaching!  Some days, the kids are well-behaved, engaged and doing their work. I marvel at their ability to be crammed three to a desk and still do anything productive!   Some days, especially when it is 90-100 degrees outside, they are loud, disruptive and can’t be settled.  Then, I wish I was somewhere else entirely.  

South Africa uses a set curriculum, CAPS, with lessons and standards and pacing all set out clearly and carefully.  The lessons themselves are not bad and there are some interesting stories and activities.   Teachers can even chose their own stories but don’t do that usually because the student texts/workbooks are easier to use. The problem as I see it is the pacing.  Every two weeks you are supposed to cover so much set curriculum (Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking, Grammar).  There is too much and it goes too fast and there is NO time for reinforcement or review or tests or projects. And if you are in a meeting or assembly and your class time is cut short, you just don’t have enough hours to cover what you are supposed to cover in those two weeks.  You can get “behinder and behinder” unless you are very careful.  Obviously, you are just not going to get to it all so you have to pick what you think is most important.  You also have to document what you didn’t cover!


Every day we have a half hour of silent reading time, on the daily schedule. It takes 15 minutes to get the books and settle down to read, ten minutes of almost quiet reading time, and then the books are collected and put away. The time, in reality, is not always used for reading, but for teachers to get missed curriculum taught or reviewed. This photo shows some of my grade seven learners.

Here is the most difficult problem: my students, except for a handful, do not work at their grade level of the CAPS curriculum.  Their English skills are still quite low, especially Grade 5.  They have only had one year of all-English curriculum.  Grade 4 is the transition year. So I have them in Grade 5 just after their first year of English, in a group of 65!  I am trying to make the work accessible to them.  But the pacing is nuts for new English speakers! I have my work cut out, getting them ready for the standardized tests.  Teach to the test anyone!?!

School is out most days at 2:45 and on Friday at 1:30.  Teachers and staff are out the door, in their cars, and driving away within 5 minutes of the children leaving.  It is a ghost town! I was astounded at first since in the States we stay and prep, have meetings or workshops and sometimes go to Whole Foods for coffee and a scone (OMG that would be wonderful).  Meetings here are held during school hours with children in the classrooms unattended.

I walk my 2 km home and fill the afternoon with watering my garden, studying isiZulu, reading, playing Solitaire, doing crosswords, chatting online with other PC volunteers.  Then I make some semblance of a dinner (usually a salad if I have lettuce, with tuna fish) and watch the news on TV at 6:30.  Then I read, prep for school, play more games on my beloved iPad. I heat up 3 cups of hot water in my electric kettle, mix it with cool water, and have a bucket bath.  Sometimes Sue calls me all the way from England!  Sometimes Ian calls me all the way from Oakland!  I go to bed by 10. And start all over again the next morning.

I spend some time wondering if I will be able to last the entire 27 months.  It has now been 7 months.  Four volunteers have quit for various reasons within the last 30 days.  More may quit.  Who knows?

So now, the water situation.  As I explained in a previous blog, there is no water system in the area I live in.  Water is trucked in.  Even in Jozini, water is not always available although there is a system that brings water into people’s houses.  People fill buckets there too!   I was at the library a while ago and noticed there was a bathroom!  The woman’s room was locked and I asked for the key.  The man at the desk said I couldn’t use the bathroom because there was no water that day!  I was stunned (but probably shouldn’t have been).  I asked why people weren’t angry about not having access to a basic human necessity of life. He told me “It is our culture.  We don’t get angry about these things.”  

I have asked a few other people.  The explanation is similar but with the added element of fear.  There is so much corruption involved with construction projects that people are afraid to open their mouths and complain because they might be hurt or killed or some other bad thing might happen.  There is money but somehow it “disappears.”  So, you stay quiet and you endure life without a reliable source of fresh water.  Would this happen in the U.S.?

Load-shedding: at scheduled times (not always on time), the power goes off for 2.5 hours or more at a time, in different areas of the country. There is more demand for power than the amount of power available from Eskom, the power company.  For many, many years Eskom has been aware that the infrastructure will not be able to handle the increasing demand and for many, many years Eskom has said they are adding more power stations and are asking people to be patient.  The projects are behind their scheduled completion dates and over cost.  There are rumors and speculations that the whole country could go dark.

It has been very hot here. Without electricity, there is no fan going, no refrigerator on, no overhead light to read by, no hot water in the kettle, no charging of devices and no TV.   Abraham Lincoln did all his schoolwork (total of one year) by firelight.  At least I have power sometimes!

Good news (but ironic given the precarious state of power): this morning I heard from David Patient that his organization of rich Americans has agreed to give my school R20000 toward the electricity project!  This amount is not enough to complete the electrification of my school.  I cannot begin to get the money from YOU and other U.S. donors until after I attend the Peace Corps training in mid-April on how to do it within the Peace Corps bureaucracy.  We need to practice patience!


George, a Peace Corps volunteer, was teaching some learners how to play basketball. Here is Ma’am Gumede, one of our grade three teacher, attempting to make a basket.



Here are the kids and a teacher practicing their new skills playing basketball for the first time. It is similar to netball, a game they know well, so they forget to do the new skills.


Before I Start Teaching For Real (Part 2)

Life Outside Deep Rural KwaZulu Natal
January 3, 2015


Carolyn, Karen, and Catherine – Three friends enjoying time in the sun and wind, away from our rural villages

It is SO strange to be first in St Lucia (a resort town in a World Heritage Site) on the Indian Ocean, then in Durban, and then in Cape Town.  All three are just like being in the USA or Europe–paved streets, traffic lights, indoor plumbing, restaurants, coffee, tables and chairs, silverware, diverse populations of people, high rise buildings, etc.  At first, I could barely recognize it as my former “normal.”

The Indian Ocean is lovely and warm.  Wind whipping across the sand makes it not quite as enjoyable.  I went to St Lucia for one night only, on the way to Durban, with 4 other PC volunteers.   We ate lots of delicious food, walked on the beach, and took showers!  The next day we all drove to Durban, a huge city and port on the Indian Ocean.  I met up there with Carolyn and Catherine, two wonderful “older” volunteers, in a lovely flat, where we spent the night.  

We spent the morning at the botanical gardens, a short walk from our flat.  It was lovely there.  I showed the horticulturist a photo of my “mystery” flower from Tembe Elephant Park and he said he would do the research and get back to me about what it was. 

The three of us flew to Cape Town from King Shaka International Airport.   Although the morning had been bright, hot and sunny, by afternoon an electric rain storm was raging.  We sat in the plane at the gate for an hour getting periodic updates from the captain.  Then, for some bizarre reason, the plane was given permission to take off–a break in the pattern–and we quickly got out of there through wind, rain, thunder, and lightning.  The plane rattled and shook and Carolyn held my hand while I not so quietly freaked out.  Once we were above the clouds, all went well on the two hour flight across a varied and beautiful country.

Cape Town is a lovely city on Table Bay on the Atlantic Ocean.  It is modern and wealthy and just like any beautiful city in America (think San Francisco).  Well, not quite as spectacular as San Francisco. It has a massive mountain (Table Mountain) in its panorama, often covered in clouds, like a tablecloth. There are a lot of tourists from around the world and from other areas of South Africa.  You can hear some of the 11 official languages of South Africa (identifying them is another matter) and many others.  


Table Mountain from the V&A Wharf in Cape Town

Our first day was spent on the Hop On-Hop Off bus, with two offs: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and Camps Bay (a beach with white sand on the Atlantic coast).  At the botanical gardens, I saw the “mystery” plant and it was labeled as “balloon milkweed” (gomphocarpus physocarpus).  Just as I found it, I had a Whatsapp from the Durban horticulturalist informing me what it was! The botanical gardens are exceptionally lovely.


Carolyn, Karen, and Catherine – Three friends enjoying time in the sun and wind, away from our rural villages

On December 26, we took the boat 12 km across the ocean to Robben Island, a small, isolated spot where successive governments have isolated (lepers) and imprisoned (criminals and political dissidents) human beings.  Most notably, it was where Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists were kept for a very long time in very harsh conditions. It is now a World Heritage site.  It is a testament to human resilience in the face of wretched treatment.  The tour takes visitors to the limestone quarry where the black men worked crushing rock (no white prisoners and no women prisoners were incarcerated here). The tour shows the village area where wardens used to live but now houses site workers and in the end, takes visitors to the cell block where political prisoners were housed.  Former inmates are the guides.  Visitors are shown Mandela’s cell.


Nelson Mandela’s jail cell on Robben Island for 18 years

December 31 was Catherine’s birthday.  She thought that would be a perfect day to go to the Cape of Good Hope and so we booked an all-day peninsula tour that included the opportunity to climb a steep path to the non-functional lighthouse at Cape Point and tromp along the rocks at Cape of Good Hope.  It was here that the first European, Bartholomeu Dias of Portugal, sailed around the point (but didn’t land) in 1488.  Different from his scary experience at the “Cape of Storms,” we had a very windy, sunny and gorgeous day at the most south-western point on the African continent. It was literally crawling with tourists from all over the world, probably including someone from Portugal. 

Cape of Good HOpe

View from Cape Point to Cape of Good Hope

We have spent time touring the Cape Town area and time relaxing at Villa Garda, our B&B in Mowbray, a suburb of Cape Town.  We have talked, played Scrabble, gone to a mall to shop (not my favorite thing), eaten in restaurants, taken showers, read books, bought school/teaching supplies, ridden in van taxis just like in KZN (R6 into Cape Town), viewed thousands/millions of African crafts/souvenirs and wondered if they were really made in China.   I keep thinking of the children who attend Okhayeni and how little they know about this world I am in now and how big a hurdle it will be if they are someday able to leave deep rural life and enter first world life.  Most of them do not know how to eat with a knife and fork. They are adept at eating with their fingers and a spoon.  There is so much we just know because it has always been our way of life but for these children/young people who leave rural life and Zulu culture, the learning curve will be steep and challenging.

I haven’t seen a cow or a goat or a chicken or a peacock or a pig since leaving my site.  They are not in the road here.  

I have not been able to find herb teas yet or a place that sells a variety of seeds to plant in my “still-in-the-future” garden.

I bought a 6-hole muffin tin with the intention of baking muffins in my stoven for the first time.

I bought some new jeans and right outside of the mall there was a woman who had an “alterations” booth.  I left my new jeans with her and she did a fabulous job of shortening and hemming them for R45.

The Time Before I Start Teaching For Real (Part 1)

School was over for the year on Dec. 10 for kids and Dec. 12 for teachers.  The new school year starts on January 19 for teachers and January 21 for kids. In between, is what I call the “doldrums.”  It is a long period of time to fill up in positive ways (or not) and when the Peace Corps wants to know where you are and limits the amount of “away time” you can have.  It is also “holiday” time and a time when you are missing the activities that you, your family and friends often do together to celebrate.  It is also time when Zulu families get together, people return to rural areas from the cities, and there is good food and family time.  You, however, are away from your family and are not part of the Zulu family life, so it enhances the aloneness.  Except for ads on TV (yes, I have a TV), there is really not much evidence of Christmas hype–no lawn decorations, no house lights, no reindeer, no Santa ringing bells on the street.  Of course, there is absolutely no evidence of Hanukah anywhere at all, including TV.  I am appreciating the lack of Christmas hype.  

I have been “at site” (home) since Dec. 6 when our 10-day training ended.  I was able to see how the last week of school was conducted.  There were very few children at school on Monday and Tuesday because the teachers weren’t teaching (they were doing year end report cards) and no food was being served.  Any children who did come (about 50 out of 470), played outside all day long.  I was able to help a few teachers with their reports and attendance registers.  There were a few meetings to finalize the “duty load” for next year and to create the new teaching schedule.  The average weekly teaching tIme is about 20 hours at the intermediate (Grades 4-7) phase. Teachers go from class to class in the intermediate phase; students stay in their one classroom.  

On the last day of school, students come to school for an hour or two. No classes are taught but attendance is taken and there are morning songs, prayers, assembly, a speech by the FP (Fabulous Principal), and certificates given to the top ten learners in each class.  The learners go to their home room teacher to receive their report cards.  They are handed out to each student and then there is a mass exodus of children going out the gate to their homes. Some are hugging and dancing and shrieking with glee. They passed! A few others are not so happy — they will be repeating the same grade!


Learners waiting for their final grades

I will be teaching English Grade 5 (68 learners, 5 hrs/week), English Grade 7 (51 learners, 5 hrs/week), and Social Studies Grade 6 (41 learners, 3 hrs/week).  There is a standard curriculum to follow with student workbooks.  As long as you teach the required curriculum, you can use any materials but it turns out in reality that teachers use the workbooks. The curriculum goes in fast-paced two-week cycles with no time for review, repetition or catch-up if there is a holiday or illness or assembly or whatever.  With that many kids in each class, I wonder how you can get to know each child’s learning style, reading level, and area of strength or difficulty.

I have been hanging out at home except for one delightful sleepover with friends in Manguzi.  I have been trying very hard to stay positive and fill the long, long hours with interesting or productive activities.  Most of the time I am successful.

I have started a garden.  Well, the garden part will come much later.  I have blocked out a 4 ft by 8 ft plot against an existing fence.  I dug a trench around the other 3 sides.  I looked online under “building a fence out of plastic bottles” and got some good ideas.  I started by collecting a lot of 2 liter plastic soda bottles.  If you have read my earlier blog posts, you will know that this area of KZN is a virtual garbage dump.  I have had no trouble collecting bottles and now folks are bringing them to me, stopping me and handing them to me. My fence at the moment is 3 bottles high but I am now convinced that this prototype needs changing.  A stray cow will have no trouble leaning over and nibbling any little green thing I choose to plant.  I cut off the bottom of two bottles, nest them inside each other and then use one uncut bottle for the top level.  The ground here is cement hard, poor, heavy, no worms.  I used some water to soften it up so I could get the shovel into it.  I went around the neighborhood and found some fairly straight sticks to set in the trench to support the bottom level.  I backfilled with dirt from the trench when all was in place, for support.  I also tied them together with yarn.  (See photo.)  I now have almost the entire three sides enclosed, a lot of the inside dug down about 4 inches, added some sand, added a bit of composting food waste.  It has been raining a lot so now the soil is wet and heavy and muddy.  I need to go up a few more levels and to figure out a “door.”  This may sound tedious but it isn’t.  It is semi-hard work, it is using trash in a good way, it takes a lot of time which I have a lot of, and if my back holds out, and the cows, goats, chickens, geese and pigs are kept out by my designer fence, I may someday be able to grow veggies.  Whew!

Soda Bottle Fence

Soda Bottle Fence

Today, I dreamed up a new time-consuming project!  I started a rock entryway to my house.  I collected small flat rocks from the vacant lots around the area, laid them out like a jigsaw puzzle in the front of my rondaval, filled up the cracks with sand, watered and swept, and there it is!  It can be expanded at any time and in any direction.  (See photo.). Two little girls came by to visit and they helped carry rocks. I rewarded them with chocolate chip cookies (not homemade).

Rock entryway to my rondoval

Rock entryway to my rondoval

A Variety of Stories and Events


It is our culture

“It is our culture” is a statement I have heard many times, mostly from the teachers at OPS and my host mom when they are explaining a Zulu cultural activity that is quite different from cultural activities in the USA or Europe.  For example: when a man wants to marry a woman and she is willing, he must negotiate with her parents on a lobola price.  Quite often he needs to give 8-12 cows (or the monetary equivalent @ $8000/cow) for her hand.  She also gives his family blankets and woven mats. Sometimes there are two wedding ceremonies, a Zulu celebration with traditional clothing and food plus a white wedding, with the western style wedding gown and tuxedo, a tiered cake, and a sit down/buffet meal.  Not all families can afford these events so often (especially in cities) the couple just lives together, starts a family, and perhaps someday will marry, when they can afford it.

A traditionally minded Zulu wife will kneel before her husband and present him his plate of food that she has cooked for him.  One woman now in her 40s told me that when she first got married that it was hard to get used to kneeling before him.  She had thought they were equals.  As time went on, she saw things differently.  He was the King and she was the Queen, and she, the Queen, was treating the King royally, presenting him her gift of food.  Another woman said she had been questioned by well-educated women because they wondered why she didn’t mind kneeling when she brought her husband his food.  She said that she too was educated but felt totally comfortable following the traditional Zulu custom.  She said simply and beautifully, “he loves me.”

I did ask one woman if there was some equal honorific treatment of a woman by a man.  She had a hard time thinking of something.  Then she explained about the slaughtering of cows which is done by men.  There is a special tray that the sliced meat is put on and when the meat is cooked it is presented to a woman as a gift.

Kneeling before elders is important in Zulu culture.  One must kneel on one knee before parents and grandparents to speak to them.  When children come into the office at OPS, to make a request, they stoop over and talk quietly.  They are also supposed to speak in English in the office but that isn’t always enforced.  I must say that even though I am the oldest person at school, the children don’t kneel or stoop to me.

Multiple wives

In Zulu culture, it is long-practiced that a man, if he wishes, may have multiple wives.  It is legal under South African law as well. I think I mentioned previously that it is against the law for a woman to have multiple husbands.   One woman told me that when her father (4 wives) married her mother (first wife), her mother’s sister cried and cried because she knew she would be lonely without her big sister.  The man then went and paid another lobola for his wife’s sister and she, too, became his wife.  Everyone was happy with this arrangement.  When two other wives eventually joined the family, they were welcomed as sisters as well and there was harmony in the family.  The man has died but his four wives live close to each other and share their lives.  Another woman said her father had eight wives and over 30 children.  I didn’t hear how the women felt about the situation.  My host father has three wives presently; a prior wife died.  They share children and daily events, all wives are working, and they seem to get along.  They each have a separate home.  I śtill haven’t heard a full explanation about why a 35 year old woman would want to be a third wife to a 50+ year old man.  I don’t know how he figures out which wife to visit and for how long.

Bat Saga


Dead bat

The saga of “bats” continues.  A pest control specialist came over a week ago to spread some blue bat-repellant powder in the ceiling (there was a nest!) and into entrance holes around the outside of my little house.  Afterwards, I cleaned up the mess inside from droppings and powder.  I was really ill that night. Was it from the chemicals?  The man (who charged 900R) said that if the bats were not gone in a week to let him know.  They are still not completely gone although they are definitely less in number.  However, this past week, five dead bats have fallen from the gap in the ceiling into my room!  It is freaky but since they’re not flying, I can sweep them off the bed or floor and out the door to the yard.  Never in all my imaginings prior to joining PC did I think I would be sweeping dead bats out of my room!  It has made me nervous and edgy and tired, never knowing when there will be another falling bat.  The smell of rats living and dying in my roof area (between plastic and tiles) is nauseating.  I try to keep the door open when possible for fresh air.   At the urging of several volunteers, I wrote to PC staff and sent a photo of a dead bat in my room.  They were rightly concerned, called me, and said they would urge that my host family do something to fix the problem right away.  I also sent the pest control bill to them because the money for payment came from school funds.  I think the PC (or the host family) should pay for it, not the school.

It is Saturday morning, and no bat has fallen for 24 hours.  It is a relief but I am sure it is over.  The family can’t work on the problem today; it is their sabbath and they are at church.  Perhaps tomorrow!

I waited all day Sunday for the “boys” to come work on the house.  I understood it was to be the older N boys.  Thulile said they would be coming.  However, no one came at all. No one contacted me to say no one was coming.  I unpacked a few things.

On Monday morning, Mr. N came by and told me that he had been waiting all day too and the guys he had hired did not show up.  He said he would have someone for the next day. I asked him to please let me know if someone was ‘really’ going to come.  About 5:30 pm he came with two young guys. They looked over the inside of the house and agreed to come back in the morning at 6:30.  I packed again. When My Fabulous Principal came by at 7:00 to get me, the guys were just arriving.  We all carried stuff to the garage to keep it safe and dry.  We went off to school and expected the job would be done when we returned at 2:45. But no. There was a pile of mud and debris and dead bats on the porch and a pile of torn plastic on the ground in front of the house.  Inside, there were still chunks of stuff clinging stubbornly to the exposed rafters. I wasn’t sure if it was bat nests or concrete from the past installation of the roof tiles. It was dry inside the house so that was a good sign that the roof wasn’t leaking. The Fabulous Principal  called Mr. N and explained that the job wasn’t completed and she was taking me off to her home in Jozini.  He said they would return and complete the job.  Granted, it was a disgusting job but they did agree to do it!

Cultural issues: PC told us in training that Zulu people do not like to take blame/responsibility for something that goes wrong and do not apologize for the event.  The Fabulous Principal  said this is particularly true with the men.  This bat incident played out according to cultural norms. I was at a loss on how to handle it and just listened to his excuses (without really believing them).

We returned this morning to find that the dirt and plastic were removed to outside the gate, and my things were locked away. However, the roof leaks and I can’t move back in. I do not like imposing, I want to be independent, I want my own space, my own lonely routine, my things.

And so, after school today, I moved home. The Fabulous Principal  poked at the hanging cement bits with a long metal pole, I swept, she mopped, and the family girls brought my things back.  I convinced the Fabulous Principal  to go home, I thanked her for her help and hospitality, and she left for her home in Jozini.  In two hours, I had my house back together, almost.  I don’t even care if the roof leaks! It has rained for two days!


My home laundromat on the porch of my rondaval

Ways of dressing for women

In this area of South Africa, women in general do not wear pants.  They wear skirts, blouses, tee shirts, dresses.  Very rarely, you will see a young woman wearing jeans.  Most older and/or married women also cover their heads with a wrapped scarf.  A manufactured wig can be worn instead of the scarf or in combination with a scarf. Most women wear some form of sandal.  I am wearing skirts to school!  Imagine that!  At home, I change into jeans.  Hey, I stand out like a sore thumb anyway, why not add this to the mix!  I recently saw a photo of some teachers in their staff room at a large (1000+) high school.  There were women teachers in jeans! They can teach wearing jeans! It is OK!


Me with the Head of Department intermediate phase from Okhayeni. We are attending a Peace Corps workshop together on literacy, teaching English, and classroom management.

Carrying babies

You will see many women carrying their babies and toddlers on their back, using a big bath towel to wrap the child tightly and securely, fitted under the kid’s butt and tied in front.  Sometimes instead of or in addition to the towel, they will use a large acrylic baby blanket.  The babies are comfortable with their legs spread out to the side against mama’s back, and their head able to be flat or popping up to see some of the world.  They sleep easily in this position and crabby children can be comforted from this position they’ve known since infancy.   She can do her daily work or walk around town with baby on her back.  When a woman gets on a taxi, she unwraps baby and settles him/her on her lap.

Library being used

One of the little neighbor girls who comes to my house to crochet told me she wants to read books.  I told her to come into the office/staff room/library at school and say to me, “Ms. Fine, I want to read a book.”  I honestly thought it wouldn’t happen! But the very next day, there was Nombulelo, asking for a book.  I showed her the three shelves of English picture books and she happily selected a book to take home.  The next day, Nombulelo and four other Grade 5 girls came, all wanting a book! Now, it has mushroomed from Grade 5 boys and girls, to Grade 4 and some Grade 3!!!!!     I am excited!!!!  They are reading!  The deal is they have to take the book home, read it, bring it back in good condition the next day, and then they can get a new one. Later I will see if they understand or are just decoding.   It has become too labor intensive for me to write down their name and the book because there are so many of them.  Time to devise a new tracking system (that does not involve bar codes, a computer, a card catalog).


These neighbor children are learning to crochet, sitting on the tile floor of my rondaval. I brought yarn and hooks from the USA but I have had to shop for more yarn in a Jozini shop. They all wanted many different bright colors!


Funding for electricity hookup at Okhayeni

OPS has three building blocks, two of which were mostly funded by Anglo-American corporation who visited a long while ago and saw learners and teachers working under trees.  There was no school when it rained.   Only one of the three blocks of classrooms is wired for electricity.  I asked my fabulous principal what the cost would be for wiring the other two blocks, kitchen, security building, and storage area.  She efficiently found two prior estimates, one relying on the school rather than the contractor to directly purchase materials (less graft and corruption when you remove the middle man).  The range was 36,00 to 50,000R ($3600-$5000).  If I had my checkbook with me, I would have taken it out and written a check! (Rich American that I am!)

I want to find a way to fund this expense! We have already collected $1000 from my going-away party.  My principal is talking to our active local NGO about how to process the incoming funds.  There may be a way to allow American donors to get their tax credits.

Anyone want to help?  Don’t send money now! Just think about it and let me know.


Amahle wearing the hat she crocheted. She is just finishing Grade 2.


What Is Third World?

I have been trying to figure out:  What is third world?

It has a lot to do with poverty and access to the functioning systems that first world communities take for granted.

Life here in deep-rural KwaZulu Natal province is a mixed bag.  Some people have electricity, cars, computers, televisions, substantial Western-style houses. Most do not. Most do not have indoor plumbing.  

Third world may be when you take a wheelbarrow full of large empty plastic buckets to a water source away from your dwelling, hoping there will be water, and then spending time filling up all (hopefully) your buckets, putting the now very heavy buckets in the wheelbarrow, and wheeling them to your home.  It can often be a time of socializing with neighbors as you all wait your turn to have access to the water.  This work is most often done by women and children (male or female).  All this carrying, hauling, and waiting is because in the area where I live there is no functioning water system.  Water is trucked in from somewhere else and delivered to communal water tanks, JoJos, or to someone’s home tank.

Here is another example: the children at Okhayeni Primary School are fed each morning at 9:45 according to a feeding scheme.  The government provides money for the food through a contracted provider and a few mothers are paid a small amount of money to come to the school kitchen to cook the food for 472 learners each school day.  I went into the kitchen today and discovered the women are cooking the food (today it was pap and beans) over three open fires on the concrete floor, in big round iron kettles.  It is very smokey in there.  They chop the vegetables on small cutting boards.  The kitchen building is new and as yet unfinished.  It is a windowless concrete shell with no running water or kitchen appliances.  The food is delivered to the classrooms in two large buckets.  Teachers dole out the food (one starch and one protein) to the learners onto small metal plates.  The children can have as much as they want.  They eat with their fingers; no spoons are provided. The children go to a water bucket and wash their own dishes.  This may be their biggest and most substantial meal of the day.  The school hopes one day to have a more modern kitchen.

Women cooking a meal for 472 learners in the school kitchen

Women cooking a meal for 472 learners in the school kitchen

Another view of the cooking and chopping workspace in our school kitchen

Another view of the cooking and chopping workspace in our school kitchen

Here is yet another example:  Children wear uniforms to school in South Africa.  At Okhayeni, there are several variations they can put together.  Boys wear dark trousers, ivory short or long sleeved buttoned shirts, a green/ivory sweater vest or green/ivory long-sleeved sweater (jersey).  Girls have a one-piece green/white gingham dress, or an ivory buttoned blouse and a black skirt. They also have the same two choices in a jersey.  They wear dark green socks with two ivory stripes. Some wear ties.  Some children wear the regulation black shoes.  Many of the learners wear no shoes or socks at school or at home.  Their little feet must be like leather because they easily walk on all kinds of terrain with no problem.  Many of the uniform parts are in poor condition–ripped, hem partly unsewn, shoes without laces or untied or unbuckled, shoes with the back flattened and walked on, yarn unraveling, holes in socks.  They most likely have been worn by older siblings and saved for the younger ones.  There are some children, especially true as they get older, that wear neat, clean, ironed, mended uniforms with polished shoes and socks with no holes.  They are few, however. At the beginning of the school year, a survey is made of which children have no uniform or a uniform in poor condition. The local NGO helps parents in need to purchase a school uniform for that child. Shoes are also donated.

Children from Okhayeni walking (and posing) along the paved sidewalk home from school. They are wearing all varieties of the school uniform, with and without shoes.

Children from Okhayeni walking (and posing) along the paved sidewalk home from school. They are wearing all varieties of the school uniform, with and without shoes.

Trash. A first world problem, a second world problem and a third world problem.  I walk home 2 kilometers from my school each day along a paved sidewalk, as do the children in my area.  It is a much safer alternative than walking along the busy highway parallel to the sidewalk.  This pathway and every pathway, dirt road and highway are littered with the trash of our use-it-once, throw-it-away world. Chip bags. Coke bottles. Candy wrappers. Plastic bags. Tires. Rusty metal.  You name it, it is there.  The wind blows it around and some adheres to the bushes.  It fills the mud puddles when it rains.  Here is the third world part: no garbage service as far as I can tell.  Individual families burn their trash in a fire pit somewhere on their land, as does our school, which is very clean.   Sometimes they take it and dump it somewhere else.  There are no color-coded bins for paper, cans, bottles, compost, garden waste.  When you are finished eating a snack on the taxi, you slide open the window and throw your trash out onto the road. If you are walking along the path or road, eating a snack, the trash is just thrown on the ground. There is trash in the river.  There is trash all over town (village).  It is disgusting and ugly and no one seems to mind but me. (Of course I have no way of knowing if that is true.)  I do not see trash bins in town.  There must be some sort of clean-up at the end of a day because otherwise it would be waist deep.  I just haven’t seen it.  I have heard there is a land fill somewhere.  I have also heard there is a recycling center in Jozini.  I will investigate further.  Every third world country I have been in has the same mess accumulating.  South Africa is first world (the cities) and third world (deep rural). I assume the cities have garbage service.

Trash accumulating by a culvert between the highway and the sidewalk walking path

Trash accumulating by a culvert between the highway and the sidewalk walking path

My particular peeve with the third world: I must be in a dip in the landscape.  I get internet service sporadically on my 3G phone which can tether to the IPad for wifi.  It is really hard to send anything, especially the photos for the blog, when the service lasts less than a minute at a time!  It is my lifeline to all of you in the outside world and it distresses me when the line is cut.  How brave PC volunteers were before the possibilities of internet!

On another note: two weeks ago, when I couldn’t stand being alone one more day, I invited myself to Peter and Marianna’s place in Manguzi.  I spent a wonderful day and a half with them and managed to see most of the other Manguzi PC volunteers as well. The highlight of the weekend (besides being with this warm and welcoming couple) was the informal tour given to us by an Afrikaaner man they met in town.  He sells cooking and heating fuel.  He put us in his reliable 4-wheel drive Nissan and took us into the back country to beautiful Kosi Bay and the next day to the exquisite Indian Ocean. I had really been wanting to be at the ocean and it was a lovely treat on the day before my 69th birthday.   

Me at Kosi Bay with the Indian Ocean in the distance

Me at Kosi Bay with the Indian Ocean in the distance

I have had a bad cough for a month.  I did not want to go to a doctor to get antibiotics but preferred to try letting my body try to overcome it naturally.  This last week I gave in.  I have been sick way too long.  I met the very nice Dr. Oni, in Jozini, who diagnosed my illness as bronchitis and, of course, prescribed a 3-day course of antibiotics.  He also was astounded that a woman of my age was willing to come all the way from America to live in deep-rural South Africa for two years.  “It is such a sacrifice.  Are you a Christian?” I told him I was not and he said that there must be something special that motivates me to do this.  True but neither of us could name it. He also said I was in good shape and health for someone my age (as I coughed and sneezed and ached and was nauseous in his office).  I sure hope I feel better soon!  He is originally from Nigeria, is married to a South African woman, has three lovely children, and loves being a doctor.  He, too, is here working in an rural area where there is greater need.  

I’ve Only Been Here 18 Days!


Girls carrying water from school to my home. The girl in the black skirt is my host family’s daughter. Her school uniform sweater is the cushion on top of her head.

This time, I want to give a different slant on what Peace Corps volunteers in South Africa, and perhaps elsewhere, are doing.  I have heard from so many friends that I am brave but I have never believed it.  I am “something else” but it isn’t brave.

George, a third year PCV, killed a small snake in his house, with a brick.  That is brave! I would just scream and try to find someone else to come deal with it, like I did when the bat came flying into my house.  I have a lot of scritching bats in the roof space between the plastic that I see and the tiles on the actual roof.  The noise is almost constant, scurrying, scritching, fluttering, and I don’t like it much.  I wear earplugs at night just to mute the sound a bit.  When one of them did fly into my house, at dusk, probably attracted by my light, I freaked out (right after I put on my Crocs) and ran across the yard to get Thulile, my host mom.  She came immediately, grabbed my brand-new still-wrapped mop and hit the bat with it.  Then she wrapped it in TP and took it outside for release.  That’s brave!

No bats have entered the house since then!

Peace Corps staff tell us that we will have cycles of ups and downs emotionally.  They even have a graph (Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment) that they have made to show us when that might occur in our 27 month service period.  Right now, at 3 to 6 months, is a vulnerable period.  We have been dispersed in various areas of KwaZulu Natal province, are now living alone in our new site, and trying to get adjusted to that plus a new community and school situation.  Although some of our group live in a “cluster”  (near other volunteers), many of us are quite far from our closest PCV.  We might even be very far from a person we came to know and like during training but now can’t see very often at all.  There is a great deal of “alone time.”

We were also told by our Country Director, Julie Burns, that as Americans we are so caught up in constantly doing meaningful work and being busy.  As PCVs, part of our work is to just be here.  She quoted Thoreau, sitting all morning watching the wildlife.  It is hard to do.  I want to “work” and be “useful.”

I read a lot (I can download books from the Redwood City Library), I wash my clothes and dishes, I sweep gecko shit and dust out of my house quite often, I walk, I watch the kids play, I wave to children and adults. I am learning to just be here.

I am not in a cluster.  I am about 34 km north of Jozini (there is one volunteer about 5 km outside Jozini) and about 28 km from Ingwavuma (about 8 volunteers).  Seeing someone from PC means one or two taxi rides, planning, shopping while you’re there, schlepping groceries home on the taxi.  Yes, it is worth it but not something done on a whim.

For a few basic supplies, I have a “tuck” shop a five minute walk from my house.  A tuck shop is a small store where you can get bread, milk, soda, potatoes, rice, candy, etc. but no specialty items or fresh produce or baked goods or even potato chips.  About 6 km away (a 10 rand taxi ride — $1) from me is Bhambanana, which is a T crossroads, right to Manguzi (more volunteers) and left to Ingwavuma.  There is a gas station with a bright clean convenience store and an ATM, there is a China shop (everyone uses this term, and it is Chinese owned) with loads of cheap crap, a non-chain grocery store with basic supplies, a hardware store, and a few sketchy looking establishments I haven’t explored.  Outside there are two taxi ranks, for travel near and far, a police station outpost open occasionally.  My principal took me for a visit to meet the taxi owners and the police, introducing the new person in the community for my safety and their awareness.  Outside also, are market stalls where friendly women are selling packages of tomatoes, potatoes, apples, oranges, huge green cabbages, corn on the cob.  The food is mostly packaged in sizes way too big for me and my tiny refrigerator.  However, I did buy two small papayas that were delicious.  I also explained (in isiZulu!) to the curious women that I was a PC volunteer and would be teaching English at Okhayeni Primary School.  They were happy that I was speaking their language and would be at the local school.

Right now, it is the week of term break, no school, between 3rd and 4th terms.  The South African school year starts in mid-January and ends in mid-December.  I have been at my school for two weeks, have met lots of new people, and barely know anyone.  There is a dip on the graph on the vulnerability side for this time because of this exact situation.  The PC has given us a small booklet called “Phase 2” (training was first) with our tasks for the period after training and before our assigned teaching position starts in January.  This week we are supposed to walk around, interview adults and children (with my limited isiZulu? Are you nuts?), get to know our shopping town.  I am less than thrilled!

I love being part of the community at Okhayeni Primary School.  I went to a meeting of the School Governing Board (like site council), was introduced to 13 new people, and told them a little about myself.  I asked and was given permission to identify the school on my blog and show photos.  They wanted to know if it might help them get some funding and I told them about the funds already donated by my friends and how PC has to be involved.  I told them they had to come up with a well-defined project that would benefit the children at the school.  They were very welcoming.  Their two questions to me were: How old are you? Do you go to church?  They were astonished at the 68 and one person said he would invite me to his church. They are also astonished at my walking ability.


Head of Department (far left), teacher, Principal Mrs. Ndlovu (in green), teacher, dressed for Heritage Month in traditional Zulu attire.

Teachers and kids are very friendly to me at school.  These last two weeks have been off of the regular schedule, however.  Teachers have been giving the required standardized tests, marking the papers, moderating (checking for errors in marking), analyzing (totaling the results), and then doing report cards.  When the children are not doing testing, they are often without a classroom teacher, either in the room or outside on the yard, playing.  (Imagine that in America!). However, it gave me an opportunity to teach in Grade 6 and 7 English.  I started on the curriculum for 4th term, following the Dept. of Education CAPS guidelines for Grade 7.  With Grade 6, I told them about me, answered their great questions, read stories.  You should have heard their universal gasp when I told them how old I was!


Top ten learners in Grade 3 holding their certificates for excellent work


All of the Grade 5 learners passed their English exam. Their teacher made cake, muffins and bought soda to reward them for doing so well. This is one table group smiling for the camera, before the prayer of thanks, and the signal to begin eating and drinking.

So, here I am, on term break.  I feel like I live two lives. First is my life in South Africa, in my little house, trying to “integrate.”  Second, is my life “online”.  I text (Whatsapp) with other volunteers.  I text and email with people from the USA, England and Tanzania.  Sue Hepworth (my loyal and true English author friend) calls me about once a week.  Ian calls occasionally.  This keeps me connected.  My phone stopped working last week–I could not call, text, or get email!  I freaked out and realized I could not be here without connectivity.  Fortunately, it was an easy fix done by our office clerk and I was back online again and back in South Africa rather than using that free one-way ticket home!

Sue H. says I am brave because I was willing to leave my close friends and family.  See how close I was to giving all this up!

P.S.  Just as I was going to forward this to Caitlin, the internet on my phone disappeared! My host dad arrived, said he and wife #3 were going on a day trip past Jozini and offered me a ride.  I checked with Vodacom; my phone is fine; their service is subject to times of “no service.”  Then I shopped (my favorite thing to do–not).  I bought a Zulu wife’s “pinafore” (think house dress with ruffles and trim) and a thing that goes under the door (does not fit on mine of course) to stop dust and geckos from easily entering.  I attached it with duct tape!  So glad I brought it all the way from America.  I was very happy to arrive home in my peaceful countryside, away from the noise, garbage, exhaust fumes, and traffic of the town.  And, I taught six children to crochet this afternoon!


Part of the small school library I am organizing

First Impressions from Near Ingwavuma, South Africa


As most of you know, I love hot summer weather.  Here in South Africa, after about a half-hour of Spring a while ago, it turned into Summer.  Yes, I do know it is the first day of Spring/Autumn. But here in Kwa Zulu Natal province, it is hot, dry, dusty, and very sunny.  Both the plants and people are thirsty.  There is a water shortage and the Spring rains haven’t arrived yet.

I’ve now been at my new house for 3 nights, 3 days. I have an adorable rondaval, painted pink, with tile floors, fresh yellow paint on the walls, a little porch in the front.


My Rondaval!

I cried when I first saw it!  It is situated in the large yard of my host family, nearby their home.  Ducks, geese, chickens, goats and a peacock roam freely keeping the dry, dusty yard free of bugs and organic matter. As I said already, there is a water problem.  Apparently, about 5 years ago, there was municipal water from taps in the yards.  The family put in a bath house, with flush toilets and a shower/bath room.  The yard had green grass that had to be mowed! The water system failed and now water is brought in by trucks to big green containers (JoJos) and shared in neighborhoods.  The family uses a latrine (outhouse) now like everyone else around here.

I heard from one of the boys that the geese eat snakes and make lots of noise at night if there is an intruder.  Good to know!

My host family is so kind and have been very welcoming.  The dad is a policeman and the mom works at the local circuit office (education).  Dad is a polygamist and has at least 4 wives and 9 children. My host mom lives here and is the birth mom of two, a boy and a girl, but considers them all her children.  The children go back and forth easily to various households.  She and I have talked a bit about the marital situation since this quite legal arrangement is new to me and I’m curious. Apparently, it is illegal for a woman to have more than one husband.

I met my principal (Mrs. N.) on Thursday at a meeting in Manguzi.  All the Ingwavuma and Manguzi volunteers were treated to a night in a lodge with a bar, a swimming pool, and showers!!!!!!!! It is a lovely thing to be able to take a shower and wash your hair with unlimited hot water coming from above your head.  What an incredible invention!  The next day we all met our principals and discussed joint Expectations and Peace Corps requirements.  We said goodbye to our friends of 2.5 months and drove off (with our suitcases, water filters, mosquito nets, some household items) with our principals to our new villages and homes.  Most of us stopped along the way for essentials for our first night.

The principal picked me up at 7:15 a.m. Friday morning to drive me to school the first time. I was introduced to the teachers and staff in a brief meeting.  I hope I can live up to the hype she gave me of what I will bring to their school!  They were so welcoming!  Mrs. N. remembered to tell them some advice from the previous day’s Peace Corps meeting–Americans wait to be invited to events; in black South African culture there are no invitations–everyone is welcome!  I was also introduced to the “learners” at morning assembly in the yard.  It is a dusty, poor school, with not enough space for 472 learners.  Some kids had no shoes, their uniforms were raggedy, and some get their only meal of the day at the state-provided feeding scheme about 10 a.m.  The “office” is also the library, staff room, and principal’s office (corner).


In the afternoon, I went to Jozini (my shopping town) with one of the teachers, in her husband’s pickup truck.  I purchased most of the things on my list to make my new home comfortable for the next two years: a stove, a fridge, mop, broom, pots, pans, dishes, extra cord of plugs, silverware, iron, sleeping bag, buckets, and some food!  By the end of the five hours, my shopping stamina was way over-taxed and I just needed to be home, settling in and nesting!  I was able to hook everything up on my own (!!!!!). 

I was apprehensive about my first weekend home alone after so much togetherness.  It has been great!  Time alone to put things away, wash, iron, etc.  and time with four little neighbor kids (from my school) who came by to play, sing and dance with me (see photo).  And today, at midday, in the hot sun, I went on a 2.5 hour walk to view my nearest clinic in a “nearby” village. Two of my host family’s children walked with me!   I had no idea it was that far!  I met the two nurses there.  They said they see 100-300 people/day, mostly for HIV/AIDS medication, diabetes, hypertension and mental illness.

I came home, took ibuprofen (Vitamin I), did some laundry, wrote this blog and made some lentil soup.  This is my new home folks!  Come visit!  There is room for a few mattresses on the floor!


Just A Week Prior To Swearing In


The hills above M_____

Peace Corps Training is winding down. Next Monday, September 15, 2014, 34 volunteers will be sworn in at the Tribal Court building in Ezudolini where we have been meeting for classes 2-3 times/week. We are finishing our Language Proficiency Interviews this week, getting additional medical and safety instructions, and hearing about what will be required as newbie volunteers at site.

On Saturday, September 13, we are hosting a Farewell Function for the open-hearted families who allowed us into their homes and families for the last two plus months. There will be food, speeches, many thank yous, and entertainment.

We are kind of like rock stars around our villages. People are happy to say “Sanibonani” or Sawubona” all the time. Children yell at us across their yard, “Hello, How are you? I am fine.” (They have no idea what comes next.) Last Friday, our M_____ moms rented and decorated a tent, cooked delicious food, and gathered entertainment (adorable little girls dancing and singing traditional Zulu dances and songs) for the volunteers staying in their homes. There were prayers and speeches and songs. We were thanked many times for teaching in South Africa (only English Clubs so far but anticipating the future teaching). We were praised for our good behavior (better than their own kids!) and the respect we have shown them and that our stay in M_____ has been entirely without police involvement in any incident whatsoever. Their praise was overwhelming!

At the same time that we are feeling sad about leaving these wonderful people and the rural villages, we are quite ready to live on our own at our new sites. We are tired of being herded around in 16-person taxis, being told how to dress and behave, of doing everything in groups, being in language classes, being in how-to-teach sessions (tech), taking exams and writing assessments, doing pair/share, dividing into discussion groups and reporting back, learning about monitoring/reporting/evaluation, learning about how to stay safe from sexual predators, getting medical advice and cultural hints, and being perpetually dusty.

At the same time that we are exhausted from all of the above, we are anticipating being separated from newly-made friends, and going to live on our own. I imagine it will be a shock after such togetherness and busyness of the last months. We will be strangers in a new community. We will attempt to speak isiZulu. We will be next-door-to but not in the house of a host family. We will be observing and integrating at our assigned primary schools but most likely not teaching until January when the new school year begins. What will we do with ourselves?

What will I do? There will be lots of free time! I will let you know!

Today I went into Vryheid by myself. I hailed the taxi by the side of the road, didn’t have to wait, was probably the last to board the very crowded van, sat squished against an uncomfortable metal bar, and helped to pass money forward and back as passengers paid just outside of eMondlo. I was the only white person in the taxi and it was all fine with all of us. I did my errands in town and ran into volunteer friends to hang out with. I was invited by two volunteers to go with them to visit an Afrikaaner family at their lovely home. Here is the amazing part: they offered to let me take a shower in their bathroom! I was almost crying! You know, indoors, warm water coming down from above your head, continuously, long enough to wash your hair! Wow! What an amazing treat! Think about how fortunate you are when you step into your shower each day!

On the way home, I didn’t have to wait long at the taxi rank by Shoprite by the tree. Again, I was the last to board and it was iffy as to whether I could fit anywhere. I finally squeezed into the back row between two very large women and we sweated together in the afternoon heat all the way back to Mvuzini.

Oh yes, there’s an entertaining You Tube video called “Poop in a Hole”–an accurate parody on Peace Corps life! Watch it!


The hills above M_____


The hills above M_____