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Memories; the good and the bad

This is a list of memories, good and bad. Some are inside jokes or “you had to be there” memories, but I wanted to keep documentation of them forever. Anyways, what would my Peace Corps service be without ridiculous memories?

Town

-Cramming in the backseat of a public taxi with three bags of groceries, which is clearly only supposed to fit three people, but somehow its managed – even if only part of your buttcheek is on the seat – to fit four.
-Making it home with a loaf of bread that isn’t squished.
-Long distance taxi rides – taking a day to basically get anywhere in this country. (Leave my house at 7am, get there at 5pm or later – aside from Durban.)
-The battle of the window. No one, NO ONE, will open a window in a moving vehicle, even if it is 90F outside with the African sun beating down on you. You. Can’t. Win.
-Traveling through town as usually the only white person in plain sight that day, unless PCVs are around.

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A special place

-Getting called in town, “umlungu” (white person), “baby”, “honey”, “sexy”, “beautiful” never fails.
-Ignoring men has always helped. (Screaming, when need be, helps too.)
-The mama vendors on the street who always cheerfully greet any of us.
-Seeing a rat scuttle through my grocery store and laughing, totally not grossed out.
-The day my grocery store stocked Nutella (dude, what?)
-Avocado season, obvi.
-The time a teacher yelled at someone in town who called me umlungu (white person) and told them to call me tombi (girl). Bless her soul.
-Sitting on the post office stoop with the other Volunteers, which is in a somewhat secluded area and the only place in town we are 100 % harassment free.
-Pot O dates – a hole in the wall place where you can buy “viennas” (hot dog equivalent) and soggy fries, but the owners have always welcomed us and it’s our special food haven.

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-Walking through town with an American male and not a soul hoots and hollers at you.
-The awesome – but really just flavoured ice – ice cream from the liquor store.
-Month end: when all the people within the municipality get their social grants, and thus come to town to withdraw cash and grocery shop. Lines for ATM/groceries can be an hour or more. NEVER AGAIN.
-Buying 800 Rand worth of groceries for four people for three nights and taking a five Rand taxi up the road because we were too lazy to carry groceries to the other rank.

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-Puddles of water (or?….) that never seem to dry.

School
-The first day of teaching grade 5, scared as hell, and the kids didn’t catch onto my accent until about two months in.
-My extraordinary and hardworking principal.

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-Morning assembly: singing gospel songs, praying, and school announcements. Totally normal life now.
-Staff meetings that last one hour standing in a hot room. D—-yyyiiiiingg.
-When one of my favourite learners slipped a note for me in her English workbook asking if I could be her mom, with a check yes or no.
-Sebetsang, my little writer boy, who is all kinds of amazing, and I WILL fundraise in America to send this boy to college.
-When Sebetsang heard a kid had stole my earphones, found the kid in the village wearing them, and got them back for me.
-Phumla, another favourite learner, coming to me when it was too noisy in class, or she was bored by the other kids, and wanted to just help me label library books.

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Phumla, far back left

-Walking past Grade R (kindergarten) and them in unison saying, “Sawubona Ms. Mathebula!” or “Shine Ms. Mathebula!” waving their little hands, then always saying, “buh bye!” (Seriously, this can make any day SO much better.)
-My staff doing everything they could to help me with the Books for Africa project and the library.
-Getting letters from Nolwazi, a student now at the Secondary school, to just chat.
-When my grade 5s started laughing because someone “suza” (fart), and I had to seriously hold back laughter too.
-The first time I saw girl’s boobs out in the open and felt uncomfortable. LOL, whatevz now.
-Coming into school late to find grade 7 using the library for research (and even using encyclopedias!)
-Smelling what I thought was dead whale, but really was just a cow head being slaughtered across campus.
-Freaking out when my staff later told me to eat it. They got a good laugh.
-A fellow teacher pulling me aside after a meeting and asking me half serious/jokingly, “Liz, when was the last time you were kissed?”
-Beans and phutu school lunch day — best food EVER.
-Class never starting on time, or being canceled.
-Standing on my tippy toes to write on the chalkboard.
-Playing Heads Up Seven Up with the other PCVs and grade 5
-Always some type of noise or kids screaming.
-Staff meetings in Zulu – whyy
-My counterpart befriending Sphe, the 16-year-old boy who can’t write or speak, but can hear. He always would come looking for her during break. They are the best of friends.
-Sphe coming into the library after school to help me put away things, wrap up my computer cord, etc. and cracking up when I would speak Zulu to him. ADORABLE.

My Peace Corps People
-WhatsApp conversations about anything and everything ridiculous or good that happened during our days.
-Movie dates/Breaking Bad dates with Shawn via WhatsApp.
-Karaoke voice notes and pictures of half eaten food with George via WhatsApp.
-Battlefields sleepovers at Monica’s house or Will’s site.

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Sleepover!

-When we cooked tacos for my birthday, ate so many, then my family invited us in for another dinner and cake. (Never been so full.)
-Seeing an African animal and camping for the first time. (Hippos in St. Lucia.)
-Dropping ground beef into a water bucket, but still retrieving it all and cooking it, because hell, we can’t waste any meat!
-Katie’s egg in the hole for breakfast.
-Cutting each other’s (and shaving) our hair.

-Sleeping on a twin bed horizontally with three people and chairs to extend our feet on; horrible decision.
-Everyone’s jealous of my spittoon.
-Watching videos of sloths, pugs, and porcupines at MST.
-Walking two hours to get to Will’s site from mine in the pouring rain.
-Buying horrible, dry, semi-tasteless cakes but still eating the whole thing.

-Taco nights from care packages.

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Monica's birthday taco night at the lodge

-Romantic date night over a bucket turned upside down and wine in a tin cup in a dimly lit straw hut.
-Dancing in the rain with no shoes around FNB Stadium in Joburg for the Bruce Springsteen concert and screaming “AMRUCIA”. (Might as well be my favourite because it was so close to home.)

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These were indeed some glory days

-Beer and burgers in Durban never fails. (OK, sometimes we are Posh Corps.)
-Rakeesha’s beauty salon at IST in our room.

Village
-Babas/Umkhulus – older men. SWEETEST PEOPLE EVER. “ahhhh, Sawubona Tombi!” (Hello, girl!) with a big fat smile on their faces. Heart melts.
-Kids knocking on my door to say hi, depending on my mood.
-Weekend playdates with my favourite kids – making clay pots in mud after it rained, playing uno, and watching the Lion King.
-When Siyabonga came to me the first week after teaching when the class completely misbehaved, and apologized on behalf of everyone, and said in broken English he wants to learn English more. He is still shy, but now a top learner.
-My host mama dancing and singing a Zulu house music song, shaking her booty and all.
-My family always bringing me beans when they cooked them because they knew how much I love beans.
-Giving my family a taco and my uncle calling it sushi, loving it, and saying he was the Sushi King!
-Watching my mom yell at the kitten in Zulu when it’s getting too frisky. Hai bo kitty, hai bo! How wena! (Stop it, stop it, you!)
-Gogo (grandma) loving watching WWE wrestling and yelling at the screen.
-Rejecting sheep intestines on Easter, and my aunt playfully scolding me, saying she won’t eat anything I make with avocado.
-When I once told a woman I would help (ngizosiza), but I accidently said I will fart (ngizosuza).
-Unbearable – or barely bearable – winters. Wrapping myself up in an onesie, sweatpants, down NorthFace jacket, two oversized blankets as the only time I can ever retain any heat. Other than that, being cold 24/7 with no source of heat.
-The rootster raping hens infront of my hut.
-Slaughtering a cow on our lawn and then eating it.
-A chicken with its head cut off running at me.
-The satisfaction of killing mosquitoes, and having mosquito killing contests with fellow Volunteers.
-Killing insects with my bare hand/not flinching if a spider crawls on my blanket.
-Hiding behind a house on my property on my way to school to avoid the village crazy while he herds his cattle.
-Literally living off of eggs, ramen and lentils.
-Generations nights with my family. (Watching a corny, but oh so good soap opera every night at 8pm) with my family.) Yea, I’m gonna miss that show.
-My counterpart dressing me in traditional Sotho wear and taking me through her village; she introduced me to Gogo (Grandma) Mandela, who was born the same year as Nelson Mandela.

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-Living with no water for a full week and only saving enough rain water for coffee.

Here’s to remembering!

A month in photos: May 2014

  • Library renovating and the FINAL PRODUCT! We’re DONE!
  • Library opening ceremony at my school to thank all the donors that made our library possible (the David Rattray Foundation for the furniture and some books, Books for Africa for a majority of the books, and the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation in Nigeria for even more of the books!) Department of Education KZN officials attended, whom I partnered with on our second BFA container here in South Africa that was funded through the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation. About ten Peace Corps Volunteers that weren’t part of our first Books for Africa project received books from this project, and then 32 other schools  identified by the Dept. received books. My principal was beaming with pride and joy, and I will never forget that day! In total, 71 rural libraries have been established since the start of all our Books for Africa efforts! THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO WORKED WITH ME AND MADE THIS POSSIBLE!
  • Monica’s farewell function – one of my closest Volunteers geographically and friend in my cohort. She is traveling back to America soon, but I know I will see her! Her school put on an on-time, meaningful and beautiful ceremony for her. It was incredible to see how much her community loved her and the impact she has had.
  • Miss Molefe, my counterpart, graduated from University of South Africa with a bachelor’s degree in education in Durban. We traveled there with her family and friends from her house at 4:30 am in the morning to make the 10 a.m. ceremony. I am so happy I got to attend and see her graduate because she is one of my best friends here. I’m happy when others I care about are happy!
  • George’s 30th birthday/farewell function. In the course of a weekend, I took six forms of transportation to get to my best friend George’s site in Mpumalanga to celebrate his 30th birthday, attend his farewell, and help him finish his library before he moves to KwaZulu-Natal for his third year. Tiring, but worth it.

See you July 19th, America!

I have been approved to close my service and leave South Africa on July 19th — 30 days before graduate school orientation. The process of leaving makes me extremely sad, and already teary-eyed, but I can’t stay here forever. My projects are done, and it’s about time to go home — it’s just bittersweet. I will leave knowing a new Volunteer will be with my family and school next September, which I’m thrilled about.

But, I don’t want to talk too much about the sad stuff yet, so I can talk about the things I am looking forward to! I’ll be coming to my dad’s house in Houston, then flying to San Francisco to visit my hometown and best friends, and then to New York to search for an apartment. (I’m really trying to make it out to Los Angeles as well, but had to reassess my plans because I’ll really be scraping funds on this whole moving to one of America’s most expensive cities after I’ve been living on a stipend for three years thing.) I’ll be living with my friend Rakeesha – a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from my cohort – who is also attending NYU, but for her master’s in journalism!

Although life for me here is normal now, adventure awaits! I’ll be leaving here with nothing but happy memories as those trump any bad ones, and that’s exactly how I had hoped I’d leave.

See you soon friends!!!

See you soon friends!!!

Yours in service,
Soon to be Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Liz

Education is the most powerful weapon; part two

I’ve been MIA on my blog lately because I’ve been busy finishing projects and spending time with people before this journey is up. Anyways, here’s a late — but better than never — video of Sebetsang reciting one of his poems at a library opening ceremony at my school. I wrote the quote, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world” (Nelson Mandela) for him once, and from there his ideas have spiraled into an essay and a poem. Take a look and see just how bright this grade 8 boy is! I’ve recently learned his name means “hard worker” in Sotho. He’s come a long way, and I can’t fathom how well he’ll be doing in five years.

 

Thank you, Umkhulu Warden!

After a short weekend away, I got a pleasant surprise at school this morning. The ceiling on my school’s library was completed quickly on Saturday!  My grandpa (umkhulu) Warden donated to make this construction possible; my library now looks like a real room without wood boards spanned across the ceiling. Before this renovation,  we just had boards that kept the roof upright, but nothing adequate over our heads. Grade seven was in awe – a few favourite quotes to come from them, “Miss! Our school is perfect!” and “I feel like I’m just dreaming!”

Thank you for your generous donation and helping leave a Warden legacy here in South Africa, Grandpa Warden! The kids of my village will benefit for years to come and treat their library as a home away from home.

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Presentation to the teachers

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So purrrrty!

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Wardens

I’ve been working nonstop in the library until 5pm everyday in order to prepare for our official opening ceremony this Thursday with representatives from the Dept. Of Education,  Peace Corps and David Rattray Foundation to thank the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation for donating a second container of Books for Africa books to South African schools,  and Books for Africa for working with Peace Corps South Africa for the past two years to make these libraries a reality.

Almost. Done. But, as always,  more to come. Two more days!

Yours in service,
Liz

A month in photos: April 2014

  • Although we just had a week long break from school the first week of April, a bunch of South African holidays collided, so we got another week off! Shawn came down for a visit for and then we spent a few days at Umzinyathi house on Fugitive’s Drift Lodge’s property with Laura, Monica and Katie. (A cute and secluded budget/self-catering house in the Battlefields.) Laura’s mom booked us for a little staycation — thanks Mama Bram!!!
  • Happy 37th Birthday Monica! (She thought we forgot. Little did we not…we had been planning some activities for about a month now. Lots of surprises and good food for her!)
  • Climbing up Isandlwana mountain, which is close to Katie’s site. (Isandlwana is where the Zulus and British fought in 1879, and the Zulus won.)
  • Yes, this month was American-based. No, I’m not done with my library,  and thus no new project pictures.

Third time’s the charm!

Low and behold, our library is back into renovation/complete mess/looks like Liz’s room mode — but with good reason!

Ben of the David Rattray Foundation recently met with my principal and I to discuss renovating our library, as a thank you for the Books for Africa project. We agreed that DRF would supply new shelving and furniture.  My principal was to add burglar bars to the windows and compromise with the secondary school — to receive five boxes of secondary books from our first project, the grade 12 boys would come and take down this awful metal shelving for us. I was in charge of organising my host mom to make curtains for the windows.

All did and done in about two months!

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We’re in the process of re-labelling all the fiction books (more to come on why we are doing that part of the renovation process again…) Yes, you heard right.  More. Labeling. I’ve got a mean team of staff members and learners who have been helping and making me laugh during the process,  so it ain’t so bad after all! Teamwork makes dreamwork and it goes so much faster with more hands.

Look at the awesome furniture below!  I am so ecstatic I had to post pictures,  and so are the grade 7s who used every positive descriptive adjective they could to describe these wooden beauties. Now that we have the room for the books, we can’t wait to finally,  finally,  finally make this the best it can be.

Three has always been my lucky number. Third time we’ve mixed things up in here. Third time’s the charm,  right?

Thank you DRF! Stay tuned for more presentable and not things-all-the-place-ultimate-chaos pictures.

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Yours in service,

Liz

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