Finetastic Adventures

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Busy Couple of Months

It's hard to believe that we have now been in South Africa for 8 months and that it's been 6 months since we were sworn in as PCVs and working at site. Depending on the day, or even the time of day, it can seem like we've been here forever or that we just arrived. Either way, it's been enjoyable, frustrating, educational, relaxing┬┐ the full range of emotions has been elicited.

Since IST in late January/early February we have stayed pretty busy. Most of our working hours have been spent in the office of the children's shelter where many of our adult intellectually-impaired client reside. There is a computer in the office so we have been setting up admission databases, financial spreadsheets, creating new application forms, and writing parent newsletters/updates ┬┐ taking full advantage of having the printer and copier available to us. It's not going to be overnight, but our hope is to train the staff to use the tools we are creating. Up until now all record-keeping has been done by hand, which can lead to accounting errors as well as inefficient analysis and client management.

Our NGO is in the process of building a new facility, so within the next couple of months our office should move, along with many of our clients. Over the next year or two the plan is to have all clients living in the new location, where their workshops will also be located. At present we are sharing space with the children's shelter, which not only means it's overcrowded, but that our clients who are intellectually impaired live with the younger orphans and vulnerable children. This isn't good for either population though, so everyone is excited about the upcoming move.

We've been kept occupied outside of work too. Since IST we've returned to the same area of Mpumulanga for more Peace Corps training; this time it was Life Skills, but we were only there for a couple of days. It was held in mid March, and since it ended on a Thursday and we couldn't make it home before sundown, we stayed over for a night in Nelspruit, then traveled toward home the next day by taxi. It took all day to get to a village which would have been about a two or three hour drive. Some of that time was sitting in the taxis waiting for them to fill; another long wait was at the last stop before the village where we had to wait with the driver for at least someone else to show up besides us. So we sat outside the tuck shop until a couple of other people needed a ride to the village that was only 12 km away. We stayed overnight there with another PC couple (older than us even) whom we had not met, but enjoyed their company, talking late into the night. The next morning (Sat) we had to leave by 7 or we would have stuck there until Monday. As it was, we were left behind by the bus driver, who left early, and fortunately found room on the only taxi headed out of the village.

We have our new bikes! Dave worked tirelessly for months, and he came through. Trek donated bikes to 14 of us volunteers who had been patient through the process; they are wonderful! Since we ride our bikes to work every day, having a comfortable bike with parts that work is incredible. We donated the bikes we had, and when our service here ends, we'll donate these too. That's part of the agreement with Trek: that the donation is actually to a needy South African but we get to use them in the meantime. Since I also use mine as a means of exercise, I really appreciate having a decent bicycle. I go for a 40 K ride every Sunday morning; I hope to increase the distance once I find more roads that I can ride on safely. In addition to riding to work and for exercise, we also use the bikes to go shopping and run errands. You'd be amazed at how much stuff we can load on the bikes!

Last week we spent a couple of days and nights in Pretoria, the big city. Dave was appointed to the VAC, yes, another acronym. This is the Volunteer Advisory Committee. There are representatives from each group, SA 14 and 15, as well as from Education and NGO. In all there are 12 members. Since our NGO is closed for school break, and will be until April 11, I tagged along to check out the city. While Dave spent many hours in the meetings on Thursday and Friday, I hung out with some of the many, many PCVs who were there for all kinds of reasons. We ate our first Chinese meal since arriving here 8 months ago. We have several new staff members at PC South Africa, so Dave was able to get to know them better since they were in meetings together; not only did he have his VAC meeting, there were other planning meetings as well. In the last few months we have a new Country Director and two new APCDs, our direct contacts with the office.

Our local newspaper asked us, at our suggestion, to write some articles about how Americans see South Africa. So we have written and submitted 6 articles to be published over the next couple of months (though he published 2 in last week's paper, guess he needed to fill space). We call them "Through the Eyes of Americans", each having a subtitle reflecting the topic. We actually took some of our past blog material to produce several of them. For instance, there is one on language, similar to my recent blog. Other topics include: business and banking, riding the bus, the perception of all Americans being rich, separation of church and state, and shopping. If they are well-received (how will he know this?) we will be asked to write more.

With our NGO being closed now for the next two weeks, we are working from home and preparing for our next adventure. On Friday we, along with about 60 other PCVs, will travel to Sabie, in the same area where our two recent trainings were held. In our commuting back and forth over the last couple of months to this area, we have ridden over the Long Tom Pass, the site of the upcoming marathon and half marathon which Peace Corps is supporting. The half marathon run/walk, which most of us are doing, begins early Saturday morning at the highest point of the pass, ending in the town of Lydenburg, 13.1 Km later. With only a couple of uphills, we'll be trying to protect our knees and toes on the long downhill. Dave will be finished long before me since he'll be running; I'll be walking along with a couple of other PCVs. Later I'll post photos; the pass and surrounding area is beautiful, verdant with forests of pine.

It won't be easy to get up early the next morning, but we must. We'll be heading to Maputo, Mozambique, along with Steph (our Milwaukee gal) and Charlene and, from what it sounds like after talking with other PCVs last weekend, several others, probably enough to fill our own taxi. From Nelspruit it should be about a 3 hour taxi ride, not counting the time at the border to get our visas. We'll stay in Mozambique for a week, traveling north to Tofo beach for a few of those days. Not only is the beach supposed to be gorgeous, but that's where you go to swim with the whale sharks, which are the largest living fish, docile and enormous (like school bus size). We are just hoping it won't have cooled off enough for them to have moved offshore too far. Maputo is a popular destination for PCVs based in South Africa; we'll be able to go out at night (wow!), seafood should be great as well as the Portuguese bakeries. We'll come back to site right after Easter, when our NGO opens back up after break.

Night before last we joined a couple of PCV friends for dinner at their house; they've been wanting us to come over for a while. But a dinner invitation here also includes sleeping over, since dinner typically ends after dark (which is about 6:30 now). The only alternative to staying over is to call a private taxi, which we avoid as much as possible. We rode our bikes there (our new Treks, yea!), ate dinner, chatted, stayed over and rode home early the next morning when they had to leave for work. Not that we mind staying over, it's just knowing that once we go anywhere after dark, we aren't free to just 'come home'. This is one aspect of socializing that's hard to get accustomed to, and one we'll probably never enjoy.

The weather should start changing soon; yesterday it actually rained most of the day and into the night; this is the first time it's done that in months. Actually, we can't think of another time it's ever really rained like this since we moved to Polokwane. We've had short downpours, but most of the time it's been sunny and dry; rain is desperately needed. The days will soon be cooler; at least that's what we are told. Nights have continued to be comfortable even when the days are hot. Surprisingly enough, we haven't been terribly uncomfortable with the heat; as long as we stay inside or in the shade it's tolerable.

Thanks to all of you who keep those cards, letters, packages and emails coming; we cherish each one. Happy Spring!


  • So glad you got those bikes!! They must really make a difference!

    You guys are doing great. It's finetastic to hear your latest experiences....


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:22 PM  

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