Site Announcements: where I’ll be living/teaching these next two years!
We’ve been in pre-service training since we arrived in South Africa and had little knowledge about where we’d actually be spending our two years here. The only hints we had were what language we are learning (hence, I’m learning Zulu, so I figured I’d be in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province and I am!)
As we get closer to the end of training, our sites were finalized and finally announced today!
I will be living in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Province of South Africa closer to the Northern region (Manguzi). My site, M-town*, is located in the Battlefields Region, where the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars were fought (yes, you best believe I wikipedia-ed that as a source; I just relinquished any aspiration of being a reliable journalist later in life).
Pictures I’ve seen of the area are beautiful — some mountains and LOTS of grass. I’ll be seven hours from the Peace Corps main office in the capital city Pretoria and probably four-seven hours from other PCVs serving in Kwa-Zulu Natal besides my geographic group.
I will be teaching at M-town* Primary School (Grade R-Grade 7). I am the first PCV to work at the school. The school requested a Volunteer that can teach English to grades 4, 6 or 7. I might not be with my grade 6 students from Markham Middle School in grade 7 this year, but I can still teach grade 7! As I think more and more about it, I’ll probably go with older students because I love working with middle school-aged kids. I remember telling my Markham students during a presentation I gave them about South Africa that I hope I can find their personalities and passions in my South African students. Of course they’ll be extremely different, but I’m sure my South African middle schoolers will remind me of those back in Watts sometimes. Differences set aside, 12-year-olds will be 12-year-olds.
All classes in primary school from grade 4 and on are taught in English. Some of the kids in my community will be able to speak at least a little English and high school students will be more fluent. My host family, however, will be speaking Zulu at home.
The primary school also requested a PCV who has solid classroom management and can organize sports with the kids. Classroom management was extremely challenging for me last year, but as my partner teacher told me: “Once you’ve taught at Markham, you’re prepared to teach anywhere.” In other words, I’ve seen cases of good and bad classroom management, which taught me by observation; I just hope I can successfully implement everything I learned to do and what not to do.
As for being a “sporty PCV”, sure, I have an athletic background — I played basketball, volleyball, softball and ran track throughout my childhood. That sounds like a good set-up, but there’s one problem: I’ve never played soccer, which is the popular sport here. Looks like it’s time to learn those rules and the rules of netball (South African’s version of basketball).
The host family I will be living with has a mother, father and three boys (ages 15, 16 and 17). My host family requested a young female Volunteer, so I’m assuming the mother did so to get a “daughter.”
I will have electricity, but no running water. There is a water pump in the yard, but it goes out every couple of months for a month or so at a time. I will have to buy a bunch of buckets to store water in so I will always have back-up supply. I’ll be living on my host family’s yard in a rondoval (a round, cement hut), which was honestly what I was hoping for!
I will be cooking for myself in my rondoval and plan to live off of rice and beans made on hot plates (easy to make, no refrigerator needed).
There’s a small tuck shop in my town that sells essential things like bread, beans, etc, but all South Africa PCVs have a “shopping town” — a town that has a grocery store and other stores — that they share with a group of Volunteers. My shopping town, Nqutu, is accessible by combi (a 14-person taxi) and is close by; I’m one of the closer ones to the town out of my group.
There are four other PCVs in my group that share the same shopping town. Two of the females, Laura and Katie, and the only male, Will, are in their early 20s like me and then Monica is in her early 30s. These are Americans I’ll be seeing more on a regular basis because we all live closer to each other than the other clusters of Volunteers. I’m happy with this group because I’ve enjoyed talking to all of them throughout training. Yet, I do have to get to know everyone better, but we’ve got two years for that!
M-town* is a small community with one road going through it. Summer temperatures run from mid to high 80s (oh haaay LA!) Winter is cold and temperatures can drop to below freezing level at night with no insulation or heat. I will definitely be wearing my onesies and many more layers to bed.
The community is very religious and the school and host family requested a PCV that will attend Anglican church every Sunday, although they will understand if I don’t. And in case you were wondering, South African church services last up to three hours.
I am not religious, but I was raised Catholic so I can put on a front and recite some prayers. I’ll test the water when I get there and see what’s the best move for integrating into my community.
The unemployment rate in M-town* is high — many live off of government grants. The only places to work at in my community are the schools, clinic or tuck shops. Many men leave their families to work in major cities. I questioned this structure in Watts after reflecting on the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Now, I’ll get to reflect on how my community has improved since Apartheid, which I’m assuming is a factor to the high unemployment rate. I have two years to observe and analyze with my journalistic eyes — who knows, maybe I’ll see a lot of similarities in my two service communities even though they are thousands of miles away.
I will be moving to my site on Monday, Sept. 3! As excited as I am, I am also sad to be leaving my current host family. When I make my way up to Pretoria for Peace Corps business I’ll definitely try to visit them.
I wish I could post up a map of my geographic region, but I can’t format photos from my BlackBerry. One more week until I can get my actual blogging routine going again (with multimedia!)
My bedtime is your worktime,
*Disclaimer: because there are safety and security rules that Peace Corps volunteers must abide by, I can’t disclose my exact location on my blog. This disappoints me because I will not be able to fully report on my experiences here in South Africa, but at the same time, I’d rather not get in trouble.