Finetastic Adventures

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


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