Finetastic Adventures

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Being in South Africa

On Being in South Africa

It's hard to believe we've been in South Africa for almost a year; the time has flown by.  What's even more amazing is how this now feels like home, which is good, since it is for now!   The sights, sounds and smells that were once so novel and intriguing are now commonplace and don't elicit shock from us anymore.  Maybe that's bad in some ways, but I think it speaks to our feeling at home.  Of course we still get stared at at times, and there is, and will continue to be,  the disbelief of South Africans when they figure out we don't understand or speak Afrikaans.   And of course, I don't think they will ever get used to our walking; after all, whites don't walk. We've been stopped several times and asked either "why are you walking?", "where is your car?", or "you must need a lift, eh?"  Twice now, the second time was just last week, a car has done a U-turn on the highway (crossing the median illegally) to give us a lift.  Once we were glad and did accept; last week we wanted the exercise - try to explain that one to a South African!

Work is about the same; most of you probably read our last email about what we have been up to.  We have some projects on the back burner and will keep everyone informed about them, if and when they come to fruition.  Our NGO is in the process of moving to its new location, so we decide each morning to which location we will ride.  But it shouldn't be too long before all the office work will be done at the new offices, which are just beyond town and about a 50 minute bike ride.  One more hostel needs to be built so that all the males will live there; all the females are currently residing in Seshego at the original location.  Our most recent project involves the food service program: setting up menus, inventory, shopping and food safety.

This past week has been spent helping Alyssa edit her proposal for more funding for her sexual harassment research.  If she gets this grant from Mauritius then she will be there for many more months to complete the quantitative analysis of her study.  At least she would be on the same continent as we are for a longer time!  We haven't seen her since December and have plans to visit her later this month, so we are very excited.

Not that we have lacked any in the social department lately.  We noticed after checking our calendar that we have been busy either traveling to, or being visited by, other volunteers, or in Pretoria for the last seven weekends!  This coming weekend will be our first with no plans, and we are looking forward to it.  Saturday we were able to go for a 50 Km bike ride, but maybe next weekend we can just ride all day!  But it has been fun spending time with such a diverse group of people.  

You might have read about what's been going on in South Africa for the last ten days.  The public sector strike is affecting more than one million workers, and threatens to continue for a while.  The unions are requesting a 12% raise; the government is offering 6.5% plus many other benefits.  It has become more than troublesome for the schools and government offices; the public hospitals are dangerously understaffed and some are closed, making health care very scary indeed. We are hoping that this will end soon; so far we haven't been personally affected , but the country has enough problems without more turmoil, not to mention the children who are missing so much school, especially when they are due to write exams next week.  Today we are at home, for the second time since this began, under orders from the Peace Corps for us not to report to work and to limit travel.  There have been some violent demonstrations in the cities today (we have heard nothing happening in our city) , so we will follow orders and hope for a peaceful outcome to this strike.

Now that our first year is coming to a close, I have some thoughts that I'd like to share; I'll just call it:

You know you're not in Kansas anymore when:

or You know you are in (South) Africa when:

  • you need to know 2 different names for cities, town and villages (the pre- and post-1994 names and both are still used)
  • you hear one person speaking three or more languages fluently and interchangeably
  • the termite mounds are as tall as you are
  • you buy an umbrella, and carry it 9 months of the year, to protect yourself from the sun, not the rain
  • you don't use your cell phone to make voice calls; instead, 95% of your calls (incoming and outgoing) are text messages
  • you don't have a land line
  • you buy prepaid airtime, or you just go without and use your cell for receiving calls only
  • you take your cell phone with you when you visit neighboring countries and just buy an inexpensive new SIM card upon arrival
  • you check your parcels at the entrance to the grocery or retail store
  • you sweep your dirt yard, with a stick broom
  • you see trash being tossed out of vehicle windows
  • your car (if lucky enough to have one) is considered dirty if it wasn't washed today
  • you eat with your hands (well, only the right one) even if utensils are available
  • everything you do is slow and deliberate
  • you wait in line, patiently, for an hour or more at the bank, post office, etc
  • the water or electricity goes off, and stays off, unannounced and for no apparent reason
  • you do your laundry by hand and hang it on a line or fence to dry
  • you polish your shoes daily
  • the majority of surnames start with an "M"
  • you eat pap daily
  • Jesus' name is invoked in prayer at every meeting
  • flowers are in bloom almost all year
  • your attempts at speaking a native language are greeted with broad smiles
  • you hear people singing anytime, anywhere
  • AIDS posters are everywhere; AIDS prevention ads are on all tv and radio shows
  • you see adults and (mostly) children of all races go barefoot in stores and other public places
  • children are held in an adult's lap or are seated (or standing) unbuckled in a car
  • bathing every 3 or 4 days is just fine
  • your ID number is not private, in fact, it's used in all transactions
  • online banking is a rarity and almost impossible to set up
  • you'll do something 'just now' which means it can be done anytime
  • you can go to Church every Sunday and a funeral every Saturday
  • there is no heat so you add clothes or blankets to stay warm (remember, it's winter here!)

More to follow.....


  • "fan"tastic! Miss you guys. Glad to read all is well.

    By Anonymous Vicki, at 10:25 AM  

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