Finetastic Adventures

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Final Chapter: Part 2

Though we left the 'real' Africa behind when we flew out of Rwanda, we weren't yet on our way back to the US. There was still the trip to Cape Town; that was our destination--via Addis Ababa where we had to spend a night before arriving, once again, in South Africa on September 14. This part of our post Peace Corps trip was added just before departing Polokwane, when our daughter Alyssa informed us that she and Laval had decided to get married. After much thought and research, they picked the wine country outside of Cape Town as the site for the ceremony. Alyssa had lived in Cape Town for a semester during college a few years before, and the area remains one of her favorites.

We were the last ones to arrive; Alyssa, Laval and seven members of his family flew in from Mauritius the day before, as did our son Larry and his girlfriend Laura from Atlanta. After two full days in Cape Town, we packed the 13 of us and luggage into three small rental cars and drove to the beautiful wine country an hour away. A wine farm in Franschhoek was our home for the next three days, where we had three fantastic, beautifully situated cottages. The lawn in front of our cottage rolled down to a pond with mountains in the background―an idyllic spot for a wedding. Alas, we awoke on Thursday, the wedding day, to what was undoubtedly the worst weather we had seen in our two years in South Africa. The rain, fog and cold wind forced the ceremony indoors, with a roaring fire in the fireplace to serve as not only the backdrop, but as our source of warmth-instead of the usual blue sky and big sun to which we had grown so accustomed. But all still went well; the marriage officer arrived on time from Cape Town (on time even by American standards); the cupcakes from Charly's Bakery were delicious; and the wines which we had tasted the day before were perfect.

After Laval's family, Larry and Laura left on Saturday, Dave and I were able to spend three more days with the honeymooners in Cape Town. We had perfect weather, and enjoyed what we knew would be the last time with them for many months. We said our goodbyes at the airport, not only to Alyssa and now son-in-law Laval, but to Africa. Being in Cape Town, at least, was not like the Africa we had known, so we hoped this would ease our transition into the West. So began a long flight to Chicago, and a long separation from our kids. What comes next for us? Only time will tell....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Final Chapter

Though we've now been back in the US for over a month, madfineadventure (marti and dave fine adventure) isn't complete without a short description of our backpacking trip through East Africa. I had hoped to be able to post some of our goings-on while we were traveling, but time at internet cafes was too limited.

We said goodbye to Peace Corps and South Africa on the 10th of August from the Johannesburg airport, where we caught a flight to Blantyre, Malawi. Going overland had been prohibitive: time constraints and the fact that unstable Zimbabwe stood between South Africa and Malawi. We stayed over one night in Blantyre before catching a couple of kombis to Zomba, the former capital of Malawi. These public taxis made those of South Africa look pristine, and this fact would remain throughout every country we traveled on this entire trip. We had a full day in Zomba to go up to the Plateau; once on top we hired a guide and hiked to a couple of viewpoints where vibrant Zomba town is visible below. Coming down the mountain we got our first exposure to the use of bicycles in Africa as cargo carriers; in this case men loaded the bikes with wood that they cut down from the forests atop the mountain, and then guided them down the mountain road while fighting to keep the bike upright. This sight became a common one throughout East Africa; the only change would be the type of cargo the men carried on their bicycles. I vowed never to complain about carrying a heavy load on my bicycle again!

A crowded, hot bus ride took us from Zomba to Monkey Bay, on the southern shore of Lake Malawi. Alighting from the bus we were met by a 'beach boy', a local who is looking for a tip after guiding visitors to an accommodation. We tried a couple of guest houses in the desolate town before deciding to walk with him the 2 km to Venice Beach Backpackers, which we found very suitable and affordable. There were only a couple of other guests, and the beach was quiet. Shortly after settling in, we heard a familiar voice—Lizbeth, a fellow PCV who had been traveling on her own for a couple of weeks already, arrived. She had plans to meet another Peace Corps friend there who had also been traveling. Erica arrived the next day; then the following day we all boarded the Ilala ferry.

The ferry was crowded; but the four of us found space on the first class deck, where we would sleep on the floor. Our two days aboard the Ilala were enjoyable; the lake is beautiful, the shore lined with small villages amid the hills and baobabs. We were treated to two beautiful sunsets (and sunrises), and the phenomenon of lake flies. It was now, after hearing from other travelers (primarily Liz), that we changed the remainder of our itinerary. Instead of going from here to Zambia and Lake Tanganyika, we decided to head north and put Zanzibar back into our plans, then head to Rwanda through Kenya and Uganda. Our second night's sleep was permanently interrupted when the boat docked and many of the men who boarded at 2 A.M. headed straight to the bar. That would have been ok except that our floor space was very near the bar, and it re-opened to serve them. Then we had the awful experience of disembarking at Nkhata Bay. Liz and we escaped being trampled; Erica had gotten off at one of the islands the night before. Even with its problems, we loved the Ilala and being on Lake Malawi. A rowboat from Mayoka Village met us at the dock and delivered us to one of our favorite places in which we stayed during this trip. Fortunately I had chosen this place to spend our next two nights, thanks to recommendations from friends. Our chalet overlooked the lake; the food was delicious; and the owners ran a socially conscious business. Nkhata Bay was a thriving village and one that we liked a lot.

Two days later we left, reluctantly, with Liz on a kombi headed north. We thought we would only make it part of the way that day, but with Liz's encouragement, and to our dismay, we crossed the border into Tanzania and arrived by bus in Mbeya well after dark. Another couple from Mayoka Village arrived even later at the same hotel; it had been recommended by the owners there. We had more time than expected in Mbeya; the Tazara train was very late arriving from Zambia. We were able to get a first class compartment when we bought our tickets that morning, and were told the train would leave 5 hours late, at 8 PM that evening. But a phone call from the ticket office informed us we wouldn't leave until 1 AM, so we booked a dirt cheap room for the 3 of us, resting until we left for the train station at midnight. Arriving at the station, we found the entire lobby filled with sleeping bodies and luggage. We too tried to sleep, without much success, until the train finally did arrive at 9 AM, 18 hours late. Our four bed compartment, which we had planned to have only for us three, ended up being filled with another American. It worked out fine, and was very comfortable. The ride through southern and eastern Tanzania is beautiful; the large, open country is dotted with small villages, fields, baobabs, and hills. Half of the 22 hour ride to Dar Es Salaam was during the night; we arrived in Dar early on the morning of August 22 and, at the suggestion of our cab driver, found a comfortable room at the Safari Inn, a backpackers in the city centre. Here we parted ways with Liz; she was off to meet up with other PCVs. We found Dar to be a friendly, safe city, where we were able to walk to dinner after dark. The following morning we boarded the early, fast ferry to Zanzibar.

I could ramble on and on about Zanzibar, the exotic island off the coast of Dar. We spent a glorious 5 days there, three nights in Stone Town and two nights at Kendwa Beach. Stone Town is an African-Arab town whose narrow alleyways and buildings reminded us of Jerusalem. We spent one day on a spice tour, learning and seeing dozens of different spice plants that used to be a large part of the industry; now only cloves are exported from there. Our two wonderful days at the beach near the northern tip of the island were picture and book perfect. The accommodations at Kendwa Rocks were very comfortable ; the food was great, and the beach....ah, the beach. Soft white sands, and the most crystal clear, turquoise water. With no waves (not sure why) it was possible to see several feet to the bottom. Tofo Beach in Mozambique had been like paradise; Kendwa probably only beat that because of the lack of the waves-allowing the visibility. The one other thing I must mention about Zanzibar, because it was the first place we saw this, was the prevalence of Obama stickers and signs! They were everywhere, from bumper stickers on cars to handwritten scrawls on homemade pushcarts. The upcoming election was big and important news to Africans everywhere; we never had trouble finding a local to talk about it; and Tanzania seemed to have more evidence of Obama supporters than in any other country we visited.

After a very bumpy ferry ride back to Dar, we arranged a two day safari from Arusha, in northeast Tanzania, where we were headed the next day. We fortunately nabbed two of the last seats on a 'luxury' bus for the next morning. The all-day bus ride passed near Mt Kilimanjaro, though it was covered by clouds. Arusha was our least favorite city, being filled with touts, who constantly bombard tourists selling either souvenirs or safaris. The city's location near Kili and the Serengeti make it a busy place. We spent a fantastic two days/one night on a safari that took us to Lake Manyara National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. Prior to taking this trip we had decided we wouldn't be doing any safaris or game drives; we had done our share already and seen most of the big game. But this safari was so different; we are so glad we listened to other travelers' advice. Lake Manyara was beautiful; the crater was exceptional. The drive starts out on the rim, then you descend into the huge crater; it's filled with large herds of animals. We had seen all of these animals before, but the sheer numbers were amazing. Wildebeests, or gnus, by the hundreds, as well as the dwarf antelope, the dik dik, roamed the crater floor.  Hyenas, warthogs, gazelles, hippos, elephants, buffalo, rhino, and so many birds were sighted. The only animal that doesn't live in the crater, understandably, is the giraffe. But we had seen them the day before in the Park. Giraffe had become my favorite park animal during our stay in South Africa; and here I was treated to seeing a new species, the Masai giraffe (as opposed to the Cape giraffe). The crater was definitely another highlight of our trip so far; we began recommending it to other backpackers as well.

Our last day in Arusha was spent at the International Tribunal for Rwanda Genocide. This is something we were very interested in visiting, knowing that we would be ending this trip in Rwanda, and having read about it in a book in preparation for the trip. Unfortunately, most of the day was spent waiting--sometimes waiting for a trial to start, but primarily waiting for one of the three courtrooms to have an open session. Anyone with a passport can watch the sessions, but only a few of them aren't closed to the public. We finally got to watch and listen to about one hour of testimony from a man who had apparently murdered several people. It wasn't very exciting, being slow and repetitive, but it was still eerie to be there watching this proceeding.

The following morning we caught a shuttle (small bus) to Nairobi, Kenya. Mt Meru was still clearly visible that morning, as it had been the day before. At one point before crossing the border, looking out the window at the dry and mostly flat landscape, I spotted a lonely giraffe. This was a timely sighting, saying goodbye to Tanzania by seeing my favorite animal in the exotic Great Rift Valley through which we had been traveling.

Nairobi is a huge, bustling city, and supposedly dangerous. So we were cautious since we stayed in the city centre, walking to dinner while it was still light out, but taking a cab back the 6 blocks later. We were able to have a delicious lunch and spend an afternoon with Krupa, a PCV whose family lives there. We had expected, with Kenya being Obama's father's home, to find much more Obama paraphernalia here; there was literally nothing--how odd! We finally happened upon a store with a t-shirt in the window--turns out the Indian owner has another store outside Chicago and goes there often. We had him make us each a t-shirt, that we had to pick up before noon, since Ramadan had just started. After two nights in central Nairobi, we caught the morning bus to Kampala, Uganda.

Though this was truly one of the nicest buses on which we had ridden, the ride was also the worst. The roads were in horrific shape; some were being redone, but for long stretches of several kilometers there would be no evidence of workers or equipment. But the scenery was beautiful. Lush green hills, tea plantations, and oh, the bananas. Nearing the Ugandan border and for the entire rest of our trip, bananas were everywhere. In Uganda we rode near Lake Victoria, and at Jinja we crossed the Victoria Nile, one of the 'sources' of the great river.

Kampala is a crazy city; we arrived after dark and so caught a private taxi to a backpackers. The driver was helpful, showing us some of the sites while driving through this city built on seven hills. The moto (small motorcycles used as taxis) drivers are insane; thousands of them are on the streets day and night and swerve dangerously in and out of traffic. When we walked to town the following day we were afraid to cross the streets; we escaped being hit by any of them but it made walking a nightmare. While at the backpackers we found a brochure for a retreat on an island in southeast Uganda; one of the women there had been to this place and recommended it. The price was right, and they had a 2 bed dorm available for us, so we booked it and left on a bus for Kabale the following morning. The bus was very late in leaving, so we were forced to stay in Kabale overnight when we arrived there after dark. It was another beautiful ride; Uganda is very green and lush. Throughout the country we saw so many men riding (or walking) bicycles loaded down with loads of all sorts, but mostly bananas. It was an enjoyable ride too, not too uncomfortable and with other passengers to whom we could chat. The man sitting next to us spoke excellent English, and of course, the American election came up. He, as usual, knew a lot about the election; but, not as usual for a black African, he was not an Obama supporter. He, like only one or two other people with whom we spoke, was a Christian who could not support pro-choice. We began to realize how important this election was to everyone in Africa, and around the globe, and how the outcome would affect them. No wonder many of them wished they had the right to vote too!

We left Kabale the next morning with a young Israeli couple whom we met at breakfast; we had to travel by private taxi to the boat dock of the island retreat where we all had reservations for the next couple of days. Lake Bunyonyi has several small islands that have private lodgings; our island was a 50 minute dugout canoe ride away. Two canoes took each of us couples on a perfectly quiet, relaxing smooth ride to Byoona Amagara, an absolute paradise which would become our favorite place at which we would stay on this trip, and possibly in our more than two years in Africa. Only a few other guests were there; the deck/dining area of the wooden lodge overlooks the lake and an adjacent island to the west, where one can snuggle up with a good book and watch the gorgeous sunsets with the volcanoes of the Virungas in the distance. The food was incredible; not only fresh and delicious but more varied than food anywhere else we had stayed. The library/resource center and computer lab serve guests too, but primarily they are used in an after-school program for students who are brought over from the island to its west. This retreat not only boasts wonderful accommodations for travelers, but the NGO that runs it provides services for other students too; meals are prepared and boated to several hundred needy students on the mainland. When Dave and I heard from the manager that the NGO was getting a Peace Corps volunteer later this year, we were envious of that lucky soul! We took a short hike around the island (the only option since it's small); and rented a dugout canoe. What an experience; we had canoed before but we had read about the 'Muzungu corkscrew' in the guidebooks, and did we oblige! We hoped no one could see us, but we laughed at ourselves until we finally sorta figured out how to make the canoe go sorta straight. (Muzungu refers to white people.) We were proud of ourselves for being able to dock the canoe without calling out for help. (We later learned that David and Talia had captured our hilarious moments on video!) After two glorious days and nights in Paradise we hired a canoeist to take us back to the mainland The taxi driver who met us at the dock agreed to take us all the way to the Rwanda border, which wasn't very far. There we walked across to get a shared taxi to Kigali, which fortunately didn't take too long to fill.

From the moment we entered Rwanda until the day we left, we were amazed at this small Central African country. Not only is it beautiful, with its green hills which are covered with terraced fields, but it so doesn't seem like a place that underwent the worst of genocides just 14 years earlier. The entire country is clean; we learned that one Saturday every month is cleaning day - countrywide. Kigali is a vibrant, clean, safe city. For the first time in years, we crossed streets on crosswalks, and the traffic actually stopped to let us cross. Walking alone at night, anywhere, is safe; what a thought! We collected our gorilla tracking permits that we had arranged and paid for three months prior, and had a beer on the pool patio of the hotel known to Westerners as 'Hotel Rwanda'. Then a funny thing happened. While walking through town we saw a sign above a building door with the name of an organization for which Alyssa had worked near Chapel Hill before she moved to Mauritius two years ago. We knew they did work in Africa, and had met her boss once while on a visit to see Alyssa while she was doing research for them. We had time to kill, so we went inside just to see what was there. When we told the receptionist our story and asked if by any chance Alyssa's boss might sometimes be there, she didn't really answer but asked us to follow her. After going up and down several flights of stairs and her talking to coworkers, she said that "yes, Candice was there, in the building somewhere". Well, sure enough, a few minutes later we surprised Candice. She was only in Kigali for the week, having to present a paper the next day; that paper was the one Alyssa had done research for and Candice showed us Alyssa's name as a co-author! Though it was in French, we were excited to see Alyssa's name on a project that had come to fruition after 3 years, and in the country for whom it was done. What a small world!!

Several hours were spent at the Genocide Memorial: a short, safe (helmeted and slow, normal-driven) motorbike taxi ride away from city center. Though the genocide had ended less than 14 years before, this memorial opened a few years ago to commemorate the atrocities, not only of that genocide but of others worldwide as well. Over 250,000 bodies have been moved to the site. It is very well-done and though difficult, is well worth seeing. It is a testament to the fact that this country and its president see its citizens, Hutu and Tutsi, as one people-Rwandans.

Two days after arriving in Kigali we had a beautiful two hour bus ride to Ruhengeri, where we caught a kombi to the village of Kinigi, in the north of Rwanda. We got lucky and caught a lift the last few kilometers to the guest house where we would stay for two nights; park headquarters were just a few hundred meters up the road. Finally the time had come for us to visit the National Park of the Volcanoes for gorilla tracking! In the morning we 56 permit holders gathered at headquarters to be divided into 7 groups; each group would track a different mountain gorilla family. Dave and I seemed to be the only ones without transportation, which is necessary to reach the beginning of the trek. A young couple graciously agreed to let us join them in their truck; the four of us plus four other visitors with their drivers followed our group's guide to the start of our walk. Porters were waiting for us; hiring one, though unnecessary, is expected; if not, these men go home without this day's wages. Even though no one has more than a light day pack, we all hire one and I will appreciate the walking stick and my porter's hand once we hit the hills. A tracker has been in the hills for hours following our gorilla family and now communicates with our guide so that he knows in which direction to lead us. Our long day begins easily enough, hiking through fields of potatoes and pyrethrum. Bamboo fields are dense and dark; then the climbing begins. After about one and a half to two hours of difficult trekking, our mountain gorilla family is finally spotted. It is quite an amazing site, though only six of the eleven are within sight. We are too far away, and so the arduous approach is begun. At one point there is a vertical drop of about eight feet, but the wet undergrowth makes the going treacherous. The guides had to literally catch each of us as we slid down; otherwise there's no telling how far down the mountainside we might have gone! The rain had begun falling; by the time we reached the gorillas it was pouring. Though we were within the allowed 7 meter distance of them, the rain kept the remaining silverback and infant nearest to us from being active. So for about 15 minutes we sat in the rain and heavy mist, watching the two of them sit--the silverback with his arms folded and head down, the infant at his back trying to stay warm. It was disappointing not to be able to see the silverback stand and possibly beat his chest, but it was still amazing to sit so close to these marvelous endangered creatures in this beautiful country. Dian Fossey's “Gorillas in the Mist” had been appropriately named. The trek out was equally, if not more, difficult; the mud often forcing us to slip and slide and leaving no one with unmuddy pants—I know I butt-slid down more than once. If not for the kind hand of our porter and the strong hold of bamboo, I would have tumbled downhill more than once. We were exhausted and muddy after walking back to our lodge, but we were exhilarated too. Seeing mountain gorillas up close is a truly awesome experience and well-worth the expense.

Three teenage boys accompanied us on our walk to Kinigi village the following morning and we paid for their kombi ride to Ruhengeri; we were impressed with their English and dedication to school. We arrived back in Kigali a couple of hours before we headed for the airport. Rwanda had been a perfect country with which to end this amazing journey. It was with mixed emotions we flew out of Central Africa; we looked forward to our return to the States, but knew that Africa would always be a part of us.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

PCVs no longer

Well, the time has finally come.  Over two years ago we landed in South Africa, not knowing where we would end up living and what we would be doing.  Now we leave this country, not knowing where we will end up living or what we will be doing.  Funny how some things never change!  The one thing we can count on is that no matter where we do live, English will be the primary language!


It's been an amazing time.  Sometimes it seems as though our service here has been for naught, but when writing down on paper our accomplishments, the list is surprisingly long.  Most of these we have written about in previous blogs; suffice it to say, there is much more we had hoped to get done.  But we leave behind co-workers who will hopefully continue using some of the skills we have taught them.  And a library for the OVCs.  And a promising position of a volunteer bicycle co-coordinator for Polokwane.  And, and, and.  So we know we ought not to kick ourselves too much; besides, when it came to fulfilling Peace Corps objectives 2 and 3 (see previous blogs for those) we know we leave here as successful volunteers.


Our last week at site was very busy.  We spent the last weekend with Beth and Leketi, and Joanna and Rob and 1 year old Roscoe at a wonderful cabin in the mountains near Venda just over an hour from home.  The cabin was built around a large boulder, had no electricity, and wonderful views (even a great loo with a view).  We hiked both days and enjoyed the incredible night sky with no ambient light to interfere. We cooked a turkey and baked bread in the outdoor charcoal oven, and enjoyed a delicious thanksgiving meal with our friends to whom we had to say goodbye.


The week was busy with cleaning out drawers at work and showing coworkers things for the last time.  We were given a farewell party one afternoon and were treated to touching songs by the Reakgona choir and traditional dancing by some other clients.  We were pleasantly surprised that there was almost no prayer.  The afternoon was followed by a feast, and then Dave and I were at our supervisors' house for dinner and another farewell by everyone who lived on our plot.


I donated blood for the last time and turned in my library card.  We had gathered several bags of clothes and household items to give away, mostly ours but also from Steph and Beth.  A coworker drove us to the poorest area of town, where another coworker lives and we had made arrangements for the give-away.  Within 10 minutes of our arrival at the appointed time, every item had been claimed.  We limited each person to 1-2 items, and it was wonderful to see everyone walk away happy.


As promised to Trek when we were given our bicycles, we each found a deserving person to whom to donate them.  On Thursday afternoon we met each of them at the local bike shop and turned them over.  A young man from Beulah Children's Shelter received Dave's bike; he is going to school to learn to be a mechanic and will use it to get back and forth to school in Seshego.  I gave mine to a man who rides from Seshego to Flora Park (over 15-20 km) to sell ice cream from his bicycle; he had been riding an old beat up bike.


Last Sunday we closed up our wonderful little house in Dalmada and took the kombi to town for the last time.  The bus ride to Pretoria was uneventful, as always hoped for. This last week has been full of the logistics of COS (close of service) for Peace Corps.  We completed our medical and administrative requirements and exit interviews.  Fortunately only 4 of us were COSing this week, so we weren't inundated with goodbyes.  We were able to spend some quality time with a few volunteers with whom we have been close.


I don't think it's really hit us yet that we are leaving; I am not sure when this will happen.  Though our time here has been challenging in many ways, we are also sad to leave.  After living here for two years, this feels like home.   But on Sunday  (tomorrow) we fly out with one loaded backpack each to begin our post PC travels.  For the next few weeks we plan to visit Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Rwanda.  I don't know how available internet cafes will be, but we'll try to post a blog or two during that time.  If not then, it will have to wait until we get back to the US.  Until then, 'sala ga botse' (stay well).  And from you, we hear your 'sepela ga botse' (go well).

"Ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu"
"People are people through other people"
Xhosa proverb

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ABCs of being a PCV in RSA

Apartheid - though democracy is now in its fifteenth year, the effects of apartheid are still so evident in everyone's daily lives.
Backpackers - the accommodation of choice of most volunteers, these inexpensive hostels make traveling on a PC budget possible; also a great place to meet one another.
Crime - last tallies show murder rates in a slight decline, but armed robberies and theft on the rise.  Tough to understand how people live and work in these conditions their whole lives, but they do.
Dust - daily sweeping and cleaning can't eliminate the layers, it's especially bad since most yards and roads (as are ours) are dirt.  Cars don't slow down when passing us on our bikes on these dirt roads, making breathing difficult and our clothes dust collectors.
Electricity/Eskom - though the availability of electricity seems to be temporarily under control, the periods of blackouts are sure to return.  We are not sure how our house/plot escaped the load-shedding schedule of power outages, but we are thankful.
Funerals -  every Saturday morning (or Sunday if a taxi driver died) there is always at least one funeral to attend; too many young people die of 'unknown' causes.
Glass - otherwise known as broken beer bottles, South Africans think it's better to shatter them when tossing them from the kombies and cars, making cycling a constant obstacle course and littering the roads.
HIV/AIDS - scourge of the country, the pandemic seems unstoppable and enters into every aspect of life here.
Internet - who would have thought access would be so available in a Peace Corps country?  If not on your laptop, it's accessible on a compatible cell phone (though not our cheapies!)
Jozi - the city of Johannesburg or Joburg, where we visited the excellent Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill and Court, fun Melville, and saw the South African version of the Lion King.  And then immediately left, being that Jozi is incredibly dangerous.
Kombies - the public taxis, volunteers' most common mode of transport, is still rarely used by white South Africans.
Litter - though homes and yards are kept spotless, public areas are full of garbage and it's totally acceptable to toss trash out of vehicles.  Where is their Lady Bird?
Multilingualism - we are still amazed at how almost everyone here speaks several languages, and moves between or among them with such ease and accuracy.
Now now - meaning pretty soon, as opposed to 'just now' which can mean any time in the foreseeable future.
OVCs - orphans and vulnerable children.  With the high death rate from HIV/AIDS, there are drop in centres everywhere and too many child-headed households.
Patience – we heard this word so many times before joining PC, but now we know why.  One develops an unbelievable amount of patience dealing with the frustrations faced daily.  It would be impossible to remain sane without it.
Queue - the ever-present long lines, especially in the bank and post office, are a constant test of the afore-mentioned patience
Religion – the overwhelming influence of religion on everything done here; we often say the missionaries were extremely successful.  We never thought we'd hear Jesus' name invoked so openly and constantly, especially at public meetings and functions.
SMS - with few landlines and the prominence of cell phones, the short message service or text messaging is the primary means of communication; it's much cheaper than talking on the phone.
Transport – always a topic, considering most people don't own their own cars.  For most, as well as us, taking kombis or buses is often the only option, and we know we are going to be in for an uncomfortable ride (if it's a long distance trip) and probably also putting our lives on the line.
Ubuntu – a Xhosa proverb, meaning "people are who they are because of other people" is an often quoted one, and a national theme.
Vendors - selling everything from airtime to hangers to fruits and veggies, these street sellers are on every city/village street, at every taxi rank and busy intersection, and typically offer the best prices and best quality produce.
Walls - every house in the entire country is surrounded by either a wall, a fence or both, and likely to be topped off by an electric fence.  When a new subdivision or house is built, the wall goes up first.
Xenophobia – though it's highly likely that the recent attacks were partially politically motivated, several South Africans themselves were victims.  If a potential victim couldn't tell the attacker the word for elbow in isiZulu (for example), he/she would be assumed to be a foreigner and thereby be injured or killed.
Youth League of ANC – one of its leaders recently exclaimed he would "kill for Zuma"? How is this to be interpreted? This is the future of the majority political party.
Zimbabwe – what else is there to say, just the utterance of the name of the country two hours to our north evokes such emotions.  What does the future hold for this devastated country?  How many billions of Zim dollars will a loaf of bread cost?
Zuma – how can we not mention the other Z name we hear constantly?  Will South Africa be better off with him as a leader?

"Ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu"
"People are people through other people"
Xhosa proverb

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Our Final Month

It's so hard to believe that we finish our service one month from today.  The time seems to have flown, though sometimes when thinking back to our arrival here in July 2006 it seems ages ago.  Has our time here been successful?  According to Peace Corps, even if we feel we haven't accomplished all that our 'job description' states, we have succeeded simply because of the relationships we have built, the lessons we have taught South Africa/ns about Americans, the lessons they have taught us and the lessons we have taught and will continue to teach Americans about South Africa/ns.  But we know that we have made many positive influences in our positions here with our NGO as well.  The big question remains, as usual, as to how much of it will be sustainable?  We can only hope that at least some of it will be.

A couple of weeks ago Steph came to stay with us after having to leave her village suddenly.  She was unsafe there, so Peace Corps had her throw all her belongings in their vehicle, say quick goodbyes, and leave.  We are happy that she asked to come to our house, and we enjoyed her stay.  She was able to use the time and space while here to sort through her stuff and repack.  Unfortunately she is leaving South Africa prior to her planned COS in September; we look forward to seeing her again in Milwaukee.  We have always felt close to Steph since being in the same language class at PST, all being from Milwaukee, and being in touch and traveling with her over the past two years.  The last 2 1/2 weeks with her have left us missing her presence.

The week before last our entire group of PCVs, with whom we arrived here two years ago, met for a few days at a lodge near Pretoria for our COS (close of service) conference.  This always takes place 3 months before the end of service, which for us SA 15s is September 20; but we, as are most of our group, are COSing early.  Of the original group of about 82, we were about 70 as of last week; from then until early September, all but about 15 volunteers will have left.  The gathering was, thankfully, not emotional.  The purpose of the conference is to provide us with the information we need to finish our service, as well as help with readjustment and career searches.  We also had to take our final language test; those PCVs who will go on to graduate school or into the foreign service can use their scores on applications.

Fortunately the lodge was extremely comfortable and clean, but the biggest plus was the excellent food.  This was in contrast to the place we met in October last year for our Mid-service training, so we all were over-indulging-and enjoying it!!  After the conference ended and we had said our goodbyes to those we won't see again, we spent a wonderful weekend with Steph and Liz.

The clients at our NGO, Reakgona, have been on winter break since mid June and return on Monday, July 14.  So until then we have been working at home: myself spending time with Beth at the library we have built at our children's shelter, and going through all my stuff in the house, tossing what's not being sent or taken home and bagging what's being given away.  Steph was also generous in donating some soccer balls and other toys/games to the children at the shelter; she had some money left over from her unfinished projects.  The kids were thrilled when we delivered the balls and toys last week.  We'll also use some of the funds to order some kids' magazine subscriptions; they will be overjoyed to have mail coming to them monthly.  And we are excited that they will have new reading material.

Dave has been busy still trying to locate a new volunteer with the Polokwane municipality for the position of bicycle co-ordinator.  He has a potential PCV ready to go; they are just waiting for clearance so that they can start working together in Dave's last few weeks.  Though he was never officially in this position, he wrote the plan that the municipality is taking forward for approval; he has developed the contacts and has worked on various aspects of Bicycle Coordinator position that he needs to share.  Hopefully his last month here will be spent finalizing the position for the volunteer.  In addition, he wants to finish the training of our new bookkeeper for Reakgona.  He encouraged her to take the computer home during break so she could practice.  We will see her progress upon our return.

Most of my time this last month will be spent partially at the NGO, helping with the third quarter registration of clients, and at the shelter, putting the finishing touches on the library there.  But with the end of our service now so close, much time will be spent clearing out our house, packing, saying goodbye to friends, and preparing for what is coming after August 8.  And I can't help but say how we will continue to enjoy this wonderful winter; it's been a bit warmer than last year.  Being dry season, there is absolutely no rain; the nights can get cold, making it hard to get out of bed since there is no heat in the house.  But the days have been very mild, many of them staying in the 70's, and even the cool days are in the 60's, all of them sunny.  When we see that the temperature here is the same as in Milwaukee, it's hard to remember that we are in the opposite season.  We will definitely be remembering these glorious days when we are in Milwaukee in mid winter!

"Ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu"
"People are people through other people"
Xhosa proverb

Friday, May 16, 2008

From the Wild Coast to the Sunshine Coast, with a bit of fever in between

The Wild Coast and the Sunshine Coast, with a bit of fever in b

The day after Larry and Alyssa's departure in early April Dave and I headed to the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape. Ever since hearing Alyssa rave about the five day hike (though she brags how she did it in four days, mostly barefoot) from Port St Johns to Coffee Bay, we knew we couldn't leave South Africa without completing this trek. And did it meet all our expectations! This hike is along one of the few remaining unspoilt coastlines in the country; it's mostly inaccessible by car. The village-based accommodations were very comfortable, and the group we attached ourselves to was friendly and welcoming; but it's the amazing coastal area through which the trail passes that makes it so special. We spent the first two days with our own guide, but hooked up with another guide and his group of 5 for the last three days. It's a long story (and one typical of South Africa), but having reserved the guide months in advance proved to do more harm than good. In the end all worked out well and we had a terrific time. The hike is 60 km and for close to a quarter of it we hiked along the beautiful sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean. Otherwise we climbed green hills for wonderful views and walked through small Xhosa villages, spending the nights in a rondavel belonging to a villager who hosts trekkers. My favorite day was the third; much of it was spent walking along the water, where local fishermen were casting from the rocks. It's the middle of crayfish (lobster) season, so we bought several, plus some zebra fish, for an incredibly low price, which our guides carried until we stopped for lunch at a nature reserve. They then cooked them over an open fire, and we had our most delicious seafood lunch. It's not hard to understand why the Wild Coast has become one of our most favorite places.

The fever referred to in the title occurred upon our return to site after the hike; and it takes on two forms. The first was the hectic, feverish activity we came back to at our NGO. Clients returned the same day we did, and the place was abuzz with construction, rearranging of furniture and shuffling of offices. This is the most movement we've seen in our entire time here! And we're not sure why, but it continues even until now. The other fever hit us about a week after we returned. Both of us knew we weren't feeling quite right, but it wasn't until I got a text message from one of the young Germans with whom we had hiked that we knew it was more serious. He asked if we were feeling ok because the three of them were at the emergency room getting tested for several things, including tick bite fever. Our own visit to the clinic the following Monday morning verified this. Indeed, for the next week we experienced almost every symptom connected to this fever. Five days of antibiotics took care of it, but it wasn't a pleasant week.

The day we were finished with our treatment, our NGO closed for another week. This was only two weeks after being in session following Easter break. Three national holidays, including Freedom Day celebrating 14 years since democracy, occurred that week, meaning most people headed for holiday, including us. I know it seems like we are gone more than at site, but I honestly think it's because I write more about holidays than work, since work is typically the same from week to week.

So we headed back towards the ocean, further west this time, to Jeffrey's Bay, on the Sunshine Coast just west of Port Elizabeth. This time we rented a car and picked up a couple of friends along the way, meeting other friends in 'J Bay'. Eight of us shared a house that belonged to the co-worker of one of the group, and we had a splendid week. Every night was an eat-a-thon, with different people cooking each night, except for the night we went out for a wonderful seafood dinner. The beach there is beautiful, with soft perfect sand, amazing shells, and its calling card – the home of the perfect wave and the supertube. No wonder this is the surfing capital of the continent and home to an annual international competition. One day we drove to nearby Tsitsikamma National Park where we hiked a difficult 3 km along the rocky coast to a waterfall, and returned. Another day some of us visited Addo Elephant National Park, but decided it should be renamed Addo Warthog Park. The mere two elephants we saw should have warranted us a refund of our entry fee! But there was no shortage of giant warthogs; the park itself was worth the visit, with its green rolling hills and valleys.

A two day drive back to Polokwane, after dropping off our friends along the way and putting over 3500 km on the rental, ended almost two weeks ago. Last week at work was the same continued frenzy, and there is no sign of it slowing. Dave was able to have our NGO buy a new computer; he's been teaching our financial administrator who is anxious to learn. We both just got assignments to prepare business plans for separate projects to request funding from the government. And I am excited to get back to the library. While Larry and Alyssa were here we spent time at the shelter with the children, showing them some of the new books that Beth had just received. They are so excited; and I look forward to spending time there reading to them and helping them with schoolwork. It was great to get back after Easter break and find that they had used the library in my absence, and kept it in good order. Soon Beth and I will be adding some puzzles and word games to the book collection so they should enjoy it even more.

For now we are really enjoying the perfect autumn weather; the days are sunny and warm, with blue skies and degrees in mid 20's C (mid to upper 70's F). This makes for very comfortable bicycle riding (still riding almost daily to work), fast line-drying of clothes (hung out each morning), and great sleeping temperatures. But I am not letting myself forget that last year at just this time we had 3 days of bitter cold, when we wore every layer of clothing we had and weren't able to take our hats or gloves off all day. I'm just hoping we don't have a repeat of that.

So now we're down to our last few months, and we think that's one of the reasons our assistance is being sought after at work so much more now than before. We approach COS (close of service) with mixed emotions, but the closer we get the more we look forward to returning to family and friends in the US. And I guess that's the way it should be!

"Ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu"
"People are people through other people"
Xhosa proverb

Friday, April 25, 2008

Last Family Vacation #3

Now, after so many months of waiting and preparation, Larry and Alyssa have come and gone.  Their twelve days here flew by; it just wasn't enough time.  We have a running family joke; it seems every time in the past few years when we get the four of us together I've assumed it will be the last time.  (I thought at this point it would be hard to get all of us together, or that gatherings would include significant others.)  Well, this is the third time I've been proved wrong, hence the title, and I am thrilled!!  And looking forward to #4.

The two of them arrived on March 20 and spent the night together in Pretoria before coming to Polokwane on Alyssa's birthday.  After a few days making sure Larry was familiar with our hometown and ways of living and had met our friends, we headed to the beautiful Escarpment.  We met Jessica the hippo, spent a day in Kruger, toured the Panorama route, and went to fellow Milwaukean PCV Steph's village.  Though they would see  each other in Sabie, we wanted to make sure Larry and Alyssa met Steph and spent some quality time with her, and vice-versa; each had heard so much about the other.  We ended up in Sabie for the weekend of Longtom.  You'll remember from my last blog entry that this was the culmination of all the hard work I'd done for KLM.  I am happy to report that the weekend was a huge success, both financially and fun-wise.  Over $20,000 was raised; two PCVs completed the ultra-marathon (56K); and everyone seemed to have a good time.  Larry ended up helping us out tremendously; he took tons of photos and then helped upload his and the other photographers' pics to a website for KLM and the PCVs. 

The next day or so was spent working our way towards Joburg, seeing whatever was of interest along the way.  This was the only part of their time here that wasn't planned, so the spontaneity was fun.  We spent their last afternoon at Constitution Hill and Court in Joburg; and that night we had a special dinner in Newtowne.  On April Fool's Day, they both flew away to their respective homes, leaving us to wait for the Last Family Vacation #4.