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Month one: oh, PST, how I love you

Sanibonani eSouth Africa!

Igama lami ngingu Liz Waka Warden. Ngibuya eAmerica kodwa ngihlala eWatervaal eMpumalanga. Ngiyafunda isiZulu kodwa angikhulumi isiZulu. Ngiyavolontiya le Peace Corps, ngizosebenza ezikoleni. Ngizohlala eKwa-Zulu Natal noma Mpumalanga iminyaka ewu-2. Ngizobhala kakuhulu.

My name is Liz Warden. I am from America, but I am staying in Watervaal in Mpumalanga. I am learning isiZulu but I can’t speak isiZulu. I am a Peace Corps volunteer and I will be working in a school. I will be staying in Kwa-Zulu Natal or Mpumalanga for two years. I will write a lot.

I’ve been in South Africa for a month now for pre-service training (PST, the Peace Corps loves acronyms). I’m learning the language of isiZulu, which I am thankful for because it’s a language that uses the same alphabet English does!

My language and cultural teacher, Nokonzo, is a 22-year-old from Kwa-Zulu Natal. She’s a great teacher, but cramming in at least a year’s worth of isiZulu grammar and vocabulary is challenging for me. I have faith I’ll be able to at least have small conversations with people and be able to get around my village when I move to my permanent site. As I become immersed in the language soon, I’ll become more intermediate/fluent.

About 30 people in SA 26 (my Volunteer group that I will refer as) are learning Zulu then there are two smaller groups learning siSwati and isiNdebele. I most likely will be placed in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa in Manguzi or Sisonke (not that anyone back home really knows where this is, but I could either be in a rural mountain area or closer to the eastern coast of South Africa. You know I’m hoping for some water!) Some Zulu speaking groups also stay in Mpumalanga, the province I’m currently staying in. I’d love to go to KZN; I’m hopeful wishing. We find out where we will be living for two years on Friday, August 25th!

During PST, we live with a host family close to our training site in Siyabuswa. I am living in Watervaal, which is a rural, but developing village.

I live with a Gogo (grandma), Thandi, a 23-year-old girl and Thandi’s kids: Leto, a 6-year-old boy, JuJu, a 4-year-old boy and Emihle, a 1-year-old baby girl. Gogo speaks isiNdebele and Thandi is fluent in isiNdebele and English.

My Gogo has a great sense of humor and is so open and caring to have me in her home. When she picked me up for the first time she held my hand the whole way home because she was welcoming me to the family — I’ve never felt that kind of familial love before. It was so different.

Thandi, my host sister, is very easy to get along with, absolutely gorgeous (America’s next top model status!) and dresses really fashionable. I have a great time talking to her, asking questions and the best yet, watching South African soap operas.

I’ve never been around kids before, so this is a first. The boys warmed up to me in a day and call me “Lizzie”. Leto loves to write and has learned to count up to ten in English. JuJu is a little naughty 4-year-old who cracks me up, but I lock him out of my room a lot. Then Emihle, the little girl, is just adorable. She recently started walking so she never stops going. However, my motherly instincts haven’t set in. I still can’t make a baby stop crying (sorry to disappoint you my friends, but this experience isn’t changing my mind about not having kids).

The house I am staying in is in a rural village — dirt roads, cows, chickens and goats just chill on the streets. There is electricity, but no running water so I bathe in a bucket and use a latrine. Other than that, it’s just like a typical small family home.

Everyone in the village knows everyone. Everyone is welcome to each other’s houses whenever, so neighbors are always in and out. Everybody shares (what up, Ubuntu?) Everybody has to greet each other in the street. I never again can get away with not saying hi to one person walking down the street like I did in America. I no longer can be in my own little world because now — in this culture — everyone is apart of each other’s worlds.

We eat lots of pap (maize meal), chicken, beef, mashed potatoes, coleslaw (South Africans love their mayonnaise…I’m slowly forcing myself to get used to that), cooked veggies, but most of all, we eat A LOT of pap. The food isn’t bad, but there isn’t much of a variety, so those Mexican food and sweets cravings come around every now and then.

At the beginning of September, I’ll feature an “Ubuntu” piece about my whole host family experience with pictures and everything. Right now, I don’t have the ability to upload photos. My computer and other electronic cords are in Pretoria stashed away in my second bag of luggage the Peace Corps is storing until site placement. If only I knew I’d get blogging access before then…

Training is training. Many, many presentations. However, the sessions led by current PCVs about their experiences in their communities and classrooms have been very enlightening. I am grateful that they are allowed to attend our PST and help train SA 26.

I’m counting down the days until site placement so I can move to where I’ll be going and figure out everything on my own. No matter how many sessions on teaching I sit through, it’s not going to make me a better teacher. Even visiting schools and guest teaching like we have isn’t going to help much because it’s not the school I’ll actually be working at. It’s all a learning experience as you go — I just want to jump in there. I know why I’m here and can motivate myself to do the best I can. I want my classroom. Now. Now. Now. I have to be patient though!

All I’ve really had time to do is attend training, eat with my family, sleep and do it all over again. I only get Sundays off, which is usually laundry or cooking time (South Africans cook as much as they can on Sundays and try to incorporate every color they can into their side dishes).

I’ve gotten to know my fellow Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) pretty well so far, which is one definite plus of PST. I’ve especially bonded with a CYLA alum who served at 112th Elementary in Watts during 2008-2009 and had one of our Markham 6th graders as a 3rd grader! (I have an individual post about that coincidence to be posted with pictures soon). I find myself uncontrollably giggiling through all the presentations because of my friend’s side-comments.

I’m happy I’ve met people who find humor in similar things, but I miss my Markham teammates so much! Everyone on my City Year team had such distinct personalities and I’m having a hard time realizing I’m not going to find all those personalities here (Where’s my Char City? Becktra? Tessa? Laurens? Marissa? Daniel? Mel? Etc, you guys get the picture).

One more month until I move to my permanent site! Photos to come soon, I promise!

Sala kahle (stay well),


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