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Month two: around the village

When I walk outside my door, I no longer see palm trees, busy streets and freeways, smog, murals and graffiti. I no longer hear the tamale lady selling tamales early in the morning, the annoying ice cream trucks that cruise through South Los Angeles every day or Spanish being spoken on the streets.

Now when I walk outside my door, I hear people speaking isiZulu. I hear roosters crowing at every hour during the day and night (even at 3 a.m…) and cows mooing. I see vast grassland with clusters of houses scattered around. I see bright blue and clear skies.

Needless to say, I went from living in a hustling and bustling city to a remote rural African village. Two completely different worlds.

In my village, everyone knows everyone. Most people are related in blood or marriage. Teachers live close to learners (my host brother is a student at my school). Teachers attend all the same community events that learners attend. This is one apparent difference I keep noticing between America and here.
In America, there are very strict boundaries between teachers and students. Teachers can’t even give students rides home or to school because of liability. Teachers can’t get too personal with students due to sexual harassment accusations.

Here, boundaries are thin. I even walk to school with students, whereas in America a student probably wouldn’t wait for you at your gate before school. Most learners and teachers at school know where I live and can show up at my door whenever. In America, work can be so separated from your personal life, but in South Africa it’s all intertwined.

My village is very small and only has a tuck shop (small, small convenience store you can buy bread, eggs, but no produce) at, a church (that is practically everyone’s second home), a primary school, a secondary school, a liquor shop and a clinic.

The village has running water — there are hand pumps in various locations. Other households, like mine, have water taps in the yard, so you use a bucket to fetch water and bring it into the house.

Unfortunately, the village runs dry every so often — sometimes even for a month at a time. The water actually ran out for two days last week and I haven’t had time to buy extra buckets for water storage, so I am very thankful it came back on. I’ve never had to worry about water in my life and the possibility of water shortage is something that doesn’t cross many American minds. At least I’m prepared in some ways — my newly shaved head has become even more practical for my new lifestyle!

All of these amenities are definitely enough to survive, but I’m beginning to understand why South Africans place so much importance on relationships. With not much else entertainment, it’s everyone’s job to keep everyone else entertained and happy.

We have so much in America to keep us entertained — movies, malls, technology, bars, restaurants, sports arenas, you name it. We, Americans, can usually something different to do every so often.

Those in my village can’t and don’t. They do the same thing every day. Many are unemployed and live off government grants. For instance, my host mother sells airtime (the South African equivalent of pay-as-you-go cell phone minutes and SMS), sells electricity, sews torn clothes, sells baked goods, etc. Thus, on a daily basis people visit with each other, cook, clean, do chores, attend church and every funeral, wedding or birthday, or take a taxi to town to buy groceries.

And ya know what? From what I’ve observed, it seems like everyone’s pretty darn happy. These Zulu and Sotho people are proof that you can live with the bare essentials to survive and still lead a happy and fulfilling life. Now who woulda thought that back in Los Angeles?

It’s amazing how drastically life has changed for me in the past two months. This village is my new home now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My hardest Peace Corps challenge in the village so far is facing the harsh reality that I can’t buy ground coffee at my closest grocery store. Hey, everyone needs something to look forward to and I look forward to drinking a good cup of coffee every morning — it’s a healthy addiction!

Want to send me a care package? (Hint: with lots and lots of coffee), here’s my new address.

And finally, here are pictures of my village, the main tar road and the vast grasslands:

Yours in Service,


7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dwight W #

    Are you sure you are not living in Blackduck? There are so many parallels (nearly everyone is related in some way, fewer boundaries between students and teachers, the “drop-in” mentality). Thanks for posting. Enjoying what you are sharing

    September 24, 2012
    • You’re definitely right — life here might be somewhat similar to smaller American towns. I didn’t think about that because I was comparing it to Los Angeles. Now that I think about it, life is a little similar to my hometown, which was a smaller town too! 🙂

      September 25, 2012
  2. Dear Liz,

    Looks just like Pechanga when I was a child … and honestly you are living like I did then (but with a far better room, and many more people).

    We didn’t have television, and the radio would die at 6pm sharp (when the signals were reduced in power). That’s all we had for entertainment — a big radio.

    And at first no indoor plumbing, telephones, and never any ready made heat in winter. We had to gather firewood (the kindling) every day in winter. We lived in a plywood home, basically, with no insulation — and sometimes it snowed, and every winter it was bitterly cold at night.

    There was no grocery store but a little convenience store like yours, several miles away by bike. I used to ride my bike down there to buy berries.

    And folks from the reservation on their way to more westernized places to get groceries, or on their way back, would drop by at any hour. Same thing when I was doing fieldwork — that part of our culture (the emphasis on visiting, and narrative/storytelling) was still alive, even when I was in my thirties, and had just had you.

    Are there dogs in your village?

    I think I would like your village, too.

    Love you,

    September 25, 2012
  3. Mother F*ing Bill Clinton #

    First of all, don’t talk smack about the tamale ladies. They will find you.
    Secondly, this all sounds amazing. Im super jealous. Im not as strong as you though, I would love it for like a day and a half, and then I would need to go home. I am thoroughly enjoying these posts tho, keep it up.

    September 26, 2012
    • Ohhhh Tessa, why does this comment not surprise me at all?

      Wanna do me a favor? Send me a tamale. And some chanos nachos if you recall them from our last city year night. And some tacos from the Watts taco truck.

      hope you’re killing it in skewl.

      Ngikukhumbula (I miss you). Uyahlenga (you are crazy…in a good way of course)

      September 27, 2012

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