Finetastic Adventures

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Winter becomes Spring

Winter becoming Spring

I write this in what should be the dead of winter; at least as I think of it when remembering late February days – the northern hemisphere counter to August.  But the days are warm to hot, and the flowers are blooming as they should in spring.  Upon coming home last weekend after being gone for the week, we were welcomed by full blossoms from as yet unidentified bulbs that we didn't know we had.  We moved into our house in late September last year and almost immediately left until mid October when Dave's father passed.  So we have now come almost full cycle and shouldn't find too many more surprises.  But we are enjoying the sunny, warm days (70's to low 80's) and the cool nights (40's).  Frankly, I can't remember the last time it rained; it must have been in March or April.  And with the winds of August we are once again finding dust in and on everything.

Since I last wrote in July, we have been busier in both our NGO and Peace Corps work.  Let me fill in a bit with what's been happening in both areas, then tell what's going on otherwise in our lives.

I have become involved, acting as volunteer administrator, in our NGO's drop-in center.  Funds have been received from the government to support this after-school program for orphans.  We will transport about 12 children from a nearby school to our location twice a week for a couple of hours.  During that time we will feed them, help them with schoolwork, and counsel them.  We may even begin doing some home visits in the near future; all of these orphans now live in shacks in a nearby settlement.   I look forward to this project beginning, which it should next week.  We also just opened our VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) clinic for HIV/AIDS.  Not only will we test our clients, but open the clinic to the neighboring community.  The advantage of this clinic is its anonymity, appearing more like a wellness clinic.  So those entering can do so without the  stigma of being tested.  Dave and I have both been occupied in the last month with job placement for some of our intellectually-impaired adults.  Many of them are very mildly impaired and very capable of holding a job.  We have just this week submitted resumes to a tentative employer in town, who was very receptive to our proposal.  The South African Bill of Rights requires companies to employ a certain number of disabled persons, so we actually saved him from searching for qualified individuals.  We are hopeful some of our clients will be employed in the next couple of months.

Dave has taken on a couple of secondary projects which help to not only fill his time, but gets him active in bicycling advocacy and cycling as a mode of commuting.  He will write more about those in a separate blog or email.

We spent all of last week in the NorthWest Province at the training of new volunteers.  Over 85 trainees are about halfway through their PST; at present there are 10 couples in the group.  So Dave and I went for several purposes, the main one being to 'counsel' the couples.  Serving as a couple has its advantages but also offers different challenges, the primary one of being together 24/7.  We discussed several issues during an hour long session with 8 of the couples, and hope we alerted them to some hurdles they may face.  I also attended as co-chair of next year's Long Tom Marathon, and in general we were there just to meet and chat with the new recruits.  Dave and I both felt this was a very worthwhile week, both for us and the trainees.  One of the most enjoyable parts of the week was spending time with the other PCVs who were there, all of whom we knew but hadn't spent any real time with.  We had some great conversations and cooked some great food.  Our host mother is an incredible woman who generously housed 5 of us for the week, and claims we were her favorite group.

Another Peace Corps initiative we just began today.  We approached PC a couple of months ago about wanting to involve PCVs, particularly ourselves, in helping to develop sites for the incoming volunteers.  So today we visited a local NGO who will be getting a new PCV next month.  We spent time discussing the orientation period for the volunteer, as well as what this supervisor should expect from him/her.  PCVs receive cultural training at PST, but the supervisors don't get training on American culture.  We also wanted to insure there was appropriate housing for the new volunteer.  We hope to continue this site development program over the next year.  We definitely have the time, and the PC staff is short of time.  We can also offer the perspective of an experienced American volunteer.

Otherwise, we are doing well.  We continue to ride our bikes to work every day, sometimes stopping by the health club on the way home.  That's right, health club.  (There go your images of us as Peace Corps hut-dwellers.)  We stopped by one about 5 K from our house and explained to the manager that we are here volunteering for another year.  When we told him we get by on a small monthly stipend but wanted to exercise regularly, he didn't hesitate to offer us a free membership!  So we go, sometimes together and sometimes not, to do our weight training that we both miss.  (We were lifting our free weights at home, but it was lacking in several areas.)  But the greatest benefit has been the showers!!  Especially since our geyser (hot water tank) has been broken for many weeks now, we truly appreciate taking a hot shower occasionally,   Even if I heated water in every pot we own, it barely fills the tub enough for a proper bath.  (And there go your images of our cold water bucket baths.)

We had our first American guests a couple of weeks ago, other than Alyssa's visit in December.  Max and Nancy from Milwaukee spent 4 days with us and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it; check with them for their take.  I must say I was rather apprehensive about their visit; what could we do to occupy 4 days in Polokwane?  But for us the time flew by with rarely a dull moment.  They were able to visit all of our work locations, meet co-workers, take public transport and sleep on the floor previously only used by PCVs.  We celebrated National Women's Day by driving to and in Kruger before they headed to the airport.  Not only did we truly enjoy their company, we would undoubtedly win the 'best household linens' award among PCVs, thanks to Max and Nancy.  Future guests will definitely benefit from their generosity.

When we were at PST last week we got the phone call we had been waiting for from Alyssa.  She excitedly announced that she had gotten the grant for which she had applied.  Her Fulbright extension is almost at an end, so this new grant from a research council in Mauritius will allow her to finish her analysis, extending her stay there another year or two.  I know this is hard on her family still back in the US, but Dave and I are glad she will be nearby for the rest of our service here in South Africa.

The next month promises to be another busy one.  The beginning of September brings the new group of NGO volunteers to Polokwane for their supervisor workshop.  We will most likely house 1-3 of them for several days, showing them around the community and teaching them the ins and outs of being a PCV.  A couple of weeks after that we will go to Pretoria for their swearing-in ceremony, which coincides with a 10th anniversary celebration of Peace Corps in South Africa.  Our NGO and schools are closed the following week, so we will take advantage of the time to travel to Namaqualand in the Northern Cape, where we hope not to have missed the spring display of wildflowers.

It's just hard to believe that we have been here for over a year, and that now our group are the veterans.  We look forward to our second year, hoping it brings a visit in March from Larry and many more wonderful memories.


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