Finetastic Adventures

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

In South Africa

I've written this entry offline not knowing when I might actually get to a computer to post it. No matter, since things should be pretty stable for the next few weeks. At times it's hard to believe we're really in South Africa, and at others it seems like we've been here for a very long time. Suffice it to say it's been wonderful!

Our group of 82 Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) left Philly on July 26 after 1 1/2 days of staging there. We bussed to JFK and flew to Joburg without incident, arriving tired and feeling as if we'd lost a day. PC met us at the airport and we were transported on buses to a youth camp near Dennilton. Rondovels (round huts) were our home for 6 nights. Each day we either rode in the PC van or walked to a nearby nature preserve where we held our first of many training days. Here we continued to bond with the group, which slipped to 80 by the end of the week. We are split into 34 of us in the NGO HIV/AIDS group and 46 in Education. There are two married couples in each group and about 15 of us over the age of 50. It's hard to count exactly since we've been separated from the Ed group since Aug 2 when we moved to our village. We had begun the training before splitting up with a variety of sessions on safety, culture, language and a little tech, plus getting shots. We had outside speakers but for the most part sessions were led by PC staff including language trainers and a few current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). We also had our interviews with our NGO boss. We began by learning greetings in several languages: Zulu, Sepedi, Ndebel, Setswana. By the time we left the youth camp for our host family stay in the village we had been assigned to a specific language group. This was determined by the location in which we will be placed. Though we won't know our placement until September we surmise we'll be placed in the Limpopo province since that's where Sepedi is spoken. I know there's so much to learn but I am pleased with how much we have learned in 10 days. Our trainer Primrose is very patient and a good teacher. There are only 4 of us in our class and another Sepedi class of 3. So the 7 of us may be near each other once placed permanently. One of the young women in our class, Steph Frazier is from Mequon, an '02 grad of Homestead. It's such a small world!

So for the next 5 weeks or so we'll continue to live with our host family in the Mpumulanga village of Boekenhoudhoek. It's a large spread out rural village. Dave and I feel so lucky to have been placed with a wonderful family who is also fortunate enough to afford a nice 4 bedroom house. We live just across the street from a tiny store where we go almost daily to buy bread. The old age home where we have classes is just a hundred yards away so most days we come home for lunch. Lately our language sessions have met at one of the other host homes at 8 AM, then we head to the center for other sessions, again focusing on culture, tech, etc. Last week we had two outstanding speakers from whom I learned more about HIV/AIDS than I could have thought possible.

Last weekend, our first here in the village, we were busy with a morning culture session and then actual cultural experiences. On Sat afternoon we walked over to the home of the bride whose wedding was that morning. Some people, like our host family, had received invitations, but the whole community is expected to attend. So several of our 34 were at the reception, which was beautiful, decorated with flowers and white satin covered chairs under the tent. We received and ate huge plates of food. After leaving there we stopped by a neighbor's, where an initiation was happening. We had been told a couple of days before to come. We were invited in for tea and cookies and were told we must come back Sunday for the celebration (after the cow was slaughtered in the back yard). A boy in the family had been one of three in the village to become a 'man'. They had just returned from a two month stay in the mountains where they were circumcised and taught to be men. This only occurs once every few years in each village; so our timing couldn't have been better. On Sunday we returned to a huge feast and the ceremonial gift-giving. It was a full weekend.

This weekend was more restful with more family time and a little shopping trip. Sunday we attended church with Betty, our 'sister'. The rest of our family includes her brother and a niece. But the undisputed head of the house is Gogo (grandmother) who is funny and loving. Everyone speaks English, mostly very well, with our sister speaking 9 languages. We have a room in the main house; the house is in great shape and immaculate. We always have electricity except in brown outs and our kitchen has everything, a frig, stove, microwave. The pit toilet is in the backyard, then at night we use a chamber pot. We have a tv that gets 2 channels; once in a while there is an English speaking show. We have goats and chickens always in the yard and roosters crow at all hours. Most roads are dirt and people walk everywhere, except to do shopping, which is a 20 minute taxi ride. There are no pay phones here which is why we have yet to call anyone. We have an internet cafe about 1/2 mile from home, which has 2 computers in a small room. Since our group's arrival it's constantly busy. It works slowly and we have given up on finding any wireless hotspots--haha.

The weather has been great for the most part. We had a rainy cold spell for several days, but it's been cloudless and very comfortable for the most part. It still cools down at night a bit then warms up to the low to mid 70's during the day. We are in the hills and the sun is beautiful on the distant hills. It's just very dry. The night sky is incredible.

Soon we know where we will end up and that's probably the next time we'll get to update this blog. So, this might be farewell from Mpumulanga and hello ???Limpopo. Take care and please email us; we do get to the internet now and then, just not consistently.


  • This would sound like an incredible vacation but this is your life for the next two years. As our good friend from Kfar Blum would say..."unbeeeelievable"! I hope the chamber pots aren't too cold. And as for the boy who became a man---I'd think that circumsision at that age qualifies anyone as a man!

    We miss you so damn much!


    By Blogger Dean, at 11:53 AM  

  • It's so wonderful to read your blog and hear about your new life!It sounds incredible! I think about you and Dave all the time. I miss you both. Take good care.

    By Anonymous Lori, at 11:57 AM  

  • I LOVE hearing about your life there. It sounds so wonderful. I know you don't have much time to use the computer but, if you can, write often. It will also be a good recording of your experience.

    Your living situation sounds great!

    I wish we could drop in and visit! We miss you!!!

    Rena and Avner

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:57 AM  

  • Mention my name for the next wedding!

    Thanks for your blog. Wow! Biking to Cedarburg seems a bit mundane....

    be well,



    By Anonymous Rick Aaron, at 12:34 PM  

  • I'll have to bring a wireless access point with me. Just got my new GSM blackberry, so I can roam around there and provide wireless internet to anyone in range of me!

    Sounds crazy though. Don't step in the chamber pot.

    By Blogger DV, at 6:01 PM  

  • Ilsa said-it's great hearing from you guys. I still can't believe you are doing this but sounds so exciting. Good luck and keep in
    contact. I will copy this for mom
    and will email to Renee. Much love,

    By Anonymous Ilsa Young, at 9:20 PM  

  • Great an are so fortunate!

    So, are you going to compare circumcisions? (If you're impressed with their circs, find out who the mohel is and bring him/her to milwaukee!)

    Keep the updates coming!

    David and Colleen

    By Blogger davidm, at 10:45 PM  

  • Great to hear from you. I was wondering how you were doing. We think of you often. One of Eric's friends spent some time in Africa and I was telling her about my adventurous friends. Glad to know you are safe and have a pot to pee in.
    Miss you both. Love, Suzi & Phil

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:00 PM  

  • Good to hear from you. The contrast between a house equipped with a microwave oven and dirt roads with chickens goats and roosters is stunning. I'm glad you're settling in, adjusting to your new life, and making friends. We miss you here, but we look forward to hearing more about your adventures, studies, and the work you'll be doing.

    Sandy Brusin

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:46 AM  

  • I have a son over there that you may know--Brad Cleveland. He left Phillie the same time you did and is in the village you are. Do you know him? If so, encourage him to write (journal-emails, etc.)
    I was "googling" the village name and happened on your blog.
    Good luck to you both, stay well and perhaps you will come to know Brad over the next two years.

    sue cleveland

    By Blogger sue, at 10:03 AM  

  • Howrd and I so enjoy reading your updates. I am assuming that "Lori" is our daughter who misses you both very much. Be well, and get the most out of every moment. Your experience is almost too much for us to take in.
    We love you and miss you too,

    By Blogger Arlene, at 7:14 PM  

  • Dave and Marti:

    After reading all the other comments I have little to say except that I am grateful to be able to vicariously share the wonderful experiences you are having. So did the boys teach you how to say "your doing what with that knife?" in Sepedi?

    Take care.

    David D.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:18 PM  

  • Dave and Marti
    Just read your blog. The last time that we talked to Steph in SA, she told us to go to it. IT IS GREAT!! We learned so much about what you are all doing and got some additional info that we hadn't heard from Stephanie. She LOVES you guys and we feel so fortunate that you are there to be "SA Mom and Dad" to her. If there is anything you need for us to do for you in Milw. please let us know! All the best to all you guys changing the world and making it a better place!!
    The Frazier's
    Bill, Anne, Laura and Kimmy

    By Anonymous Stephanie Frazier's Family in Mequon, at 1:16 PM  

  • I enjoy reading about your amazing adventure. Glad things are going well. You sound great!!
    Continue to keep all of us posted.
    We miss seeing you at Shir Hadash, which we continue to love.
    Best wishes and Shana Tova,
    Judy and Howard Tolkan

    By Anonymous Judy, at 8:44 PM  

  • Dear Marti and Dave,

    You didn't tell me you were going away. I can't wait to read the whole story.

    From the Rimmon home to yours, we wish you a 5767 filled with love, good health, happiness, and the fulfillment of all your dreams, in peace.
    With love from Joan and Sam Rimmon and family

    By Anonymous Joan Rimmon, at 8:56 AM  

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