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Posts from the ‘Just Another Day in the Peace Corps’ Category

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!

Just another day in the Peace Corps: my school’s fridge is being held hostage

Peace Corps Volunteers all over Africa love sharing TIA stories (#TIA). TIA means “This is Africa”, which entails every random, absolutely ridiculous, bizarre and hilarious thing we see or experience. Nothing can explain the odd things we experience except…THIS. IS. AFRICA.

The one day I wasn’t at school last week and instead attended Paige’s Grassroot Soccer training, an EPIC TIA moment happened at my school.

Our fridge hadn’t been working. My school’s security guard mentioned it to someone in the community he knows can fix appliances. The man showed up to my school unannounced, fixed the fridge without even consulting my principal or anyone else. After he fixed the fridge, he demanded 800 Rand (equivalent to 80 USD, but that’s a lot of money here) from her. My principal is an intelligent and stern lady, and can tell right from wrong in an instant. She questioned why she should be paying him 800 Rand when:
1) She didn’t consult him to fix the fridge.
2) She never got a quote from him and others.
3) He did it without her permission.

So, the man did what any normal and logical handy man would do. Him and his friend picked up our fridge and lugged it off school grounds, across the street and somewhere to the top of my village. Teachers and learners apparently could see this site through the windows (WHY DID I MISS THIS DAY?!)

During morning meeting on Friday, I heard a bunch of Zulu, “iFridge” and “Simpiwe” (the school security guard), and looked over to see a bare wall in the kitchen. I thought it had been taken for repairs. Later, my counterpart told me/translated the whole story; I couldn’t stop laughing.

OH – and I must mention that this is the ONE week, the ONE week, during my service where I actually needed to use the school’s fridge. I needed the fridge to store polony (gross, I know) for the kid’s lunch at my Grassroot Soccer Camp this week. Oh, you know, but the one time I need the fridge, it’s being held hostage. No big deal. No big deal at all.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. This is just one example of the absolutely ridiculous things we experience here. But, at least every time I think about this story I laugh out loud. A sense of humor is mandatory as a PCV…

I’ll let you know when the fridge makes a triumphant comeback to my school.

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

Just another day in the Peace Corps: no water, no problem!

I don’t have running water at my site, but I do have a water tap in close proximity to my hut. I fetch water once or twice a week from the yard tap and carry the buckets to store in my hut. Back in the day, when my principal was younger, people from my village used to buy water at the local shop bucket-by-the-bucket.

Every so often, my village experiences a water shortage; the water taps in our yards run dry. In the village, there are a few other communal water pumps — boreholes — in the area that everyone uses when the yard taps are out. To be honest, these past few months I’ve gotten really lazy and will only fill up one bucket of water when needed. Usually, families store buckets of water in case of such a shortage. My laziness nipped me in the butt because now I need that storage water. My water has been out for seven days and counting (in the past, it has been out for a month or so at a time. It’ll be fun to keep tallying and see how far we go).

Communal tap

Communal tap

My guide to living with little water:

  1. Eat lots of eggs, bread, peanut butter and ramen – all of which take very little or no water at all to cook. I try not to cook canned food because then that creates a non-reusable dirty dish.
  2.  Use a wet soapy cloth to bathe and only one small pitcher of water to wet your hair, wash and rinse it.
  3. Reuse dishes (gross, I know, but it’s what PCVs do. Seriously, we hate dishes).
  4. Don’t do laundry – or do as little as possible to get you through the week. When laundry is needed, as it was in my case, wash with only one bucket of soapy water and avoid washing whites because the dirt from the water and other clothes will stain them. The clothes may be secretly dirty, but at least they will smell better than sweat!
  5. Attempt to catch rain water in your buckets if it’s raining really hard. Hey, I’ve caught enough to make a cup a coffee and that’s something!
  6. Learn / attempt to twala water.
  7. And most importantly, make sure you have enough water to fill up at least two cups of coffee worth each morning (drinking water, by my very wise decision, is optional; coffee is mandatory).

It seriously amazes me how much little water one can live off of (disclaimer: I don’t drink a lot of drinking water. I know it’s bad, but my eating/drinking habits are quite strange). I’ve lived on a small bucket for the past week and been completely okay with it. Granted, I could have a lot more water if I was able to carry the bucket from the communal tap so I wouldn’t have to resort to my “living with little water” practices. There’s one little problem: I struggle to carry the water bucket from the communal tap. I don’t have “amandla” (power/strength in Zulu). Give me a break here; I’m a 5’1 itty bitty girl who has never tried it before until now!

When I’m in desperate need of more water, I’ll stroll on down to the communal pump and pump some delicious murky, brown water. All community members twala the water from the communal pump, which means they carry the bucket of water on top of their heads back to their homes. My attempt at twalaing a medium-sized bucket full of water was an epic fail, as I was drenched in water and could only rest the bucket on my shoulder at the most. Everyone who walked by me said, “Mpho! You must put it on your head!” My response to all the witnesses: “Ngiyazama! (I am trying)” and a bunch of laughter. One thing a PCV must be able to do is laugh at him or herself because more than often PCVs are stuck ridiculous and embarrassing situations and have to think, in a comical way of course, “Yup, this is seriously my life.”

It’s quite impressive how Zulu women lift the water — and just about everything else — and balance it on their heads and walk for long distances, especially old gogos and young kids. I know balance/strength comes from much practice over time, so maybe eventually I’ll be able to do so myself. Some of my PCV friends can and practice on the regular! As for now, every time anyone sees Mpho trying to twala water, I can promise it’ll be a good laugh.

Mama carrying a bulk bag of potatoes up our hill

A mama carrying a bulk bag of potatoes up our hill

Yours in embarrassment and good spirit,
Small heartMpho

Just another day in the Peace Corps: rural electricity woes

Some of my PCV friends live without electricity, but most of us have at least one electrical outlet in our huts or houses. I have one plug and one light bulb to see that oh-so-not bright light, charge my technological devices and use my appliances.

The area I live in in KwaZulu-Natal, the Battlefields, has spotty electricity and intense lightning storms more than often. As being a Native Californian, I don’t REALLY know what lightning storms entail.

Call me stupid, but last week during a lightning storm I was charging my phone on my power strip and using it at the same time. All of a sudden I heard a loud lightning bolt strike close to my hut and then saw a huge ball of bright white light in front of my face.

I chucked my phone across my room and then my hand hurt really bad. I had no idea what had just happened, considering when something traumatic happens, one generally can’t remember the exact moment.

After consoling my American father and PCV friends, I figured out I had just been the victim of a huge power surge on my property.

Well, I survived, and so did my phone. Nothing too bad.

Wrong. A day later I figured out that my sweet little netbook wouldn’t charge anymore because the power surge fried the power supply in the computer.

I took it to my closest “Westernized” shopping town about an hour away to a repair store. I was saddened to hear the news that my little guy wouldn’t make it through the traumatic event. RIP.

Six months into service, I have to tap into American money to buy a new laptop (thank you, Baba). It would take at least three months to save money to purchase one on my stipend. I guess this is a more epic story than my computer getting stolen, right?

A day later, I turned on my light and the light bulb burst and shattered onto my ground. I’ve been living without light for a week because I can’t find a replacement light bulb. Thank you for keeping me company, head lamp. Now I know what it’s sort of like to live without electricity!

I’m grateful to have electricity here, but lesson learned: This electricity ain’t something to mess around with. It’s…not the safest. Or the most reliable.

Editor’s Note: this all happened, of course, a week before I start teaching. I can’t help but laugh.

Oh, it’s just another day in the Peace Corps.

Yours technologically-disadvantaged,

smalltransparentlogo1Liz

The scene of the crime — my electricity wiring

Just another day in the Peace Corps: Mohawk Monday

Ever wondered what happened to all those cool kids who shaved their heads during pre-service training? I kept my shaved head and now collecting headbands is one of my favorite hobbies in South Africa. Others took a different path…

Mohawk Monday!

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Katie, Diana and Briana rockin’ mohawks

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The bros Michael and Shawn at it again

My friends are a little hlenga (crazy).

SmallTransparentLogoLiz

Merry Christmas from the Battlefields PCVs

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our dysfunctional American family to yours!

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A normal family picture — aunt Monica, baba Will, mama Paige, big brother Katie and twin sisters Laura and Liz

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“The dysfunction makes us function.” -Laura’s words of wisdom

What’s a holiday without a little dysfunction? I’d say that’s a part of American culture we can share.

SmallTransparentLogoThe KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields Peace Corps Volunteers (Christmas card 2012)

Just another day in the Peace Corps: sure, let’s shave our heads

One major change for me since I’ve been in South Africa is how I bathe. Many villages do not have running water (only a pump or faucet outside), so people bathe in small plastic buckets.

The winter is cold and dry and now that spring has approached, the weather is getting warmer (in the 80s), so I can only imagine what summer will be like.

With that said, a group of brave, young PCTs in my Volunteer group decided to shave their heads (four females included!) I told myself before coming here that I would never shave my head, but I tend to act very spontaneously. As soon as I saw everyone cutting their hair after training one day, I had the urge to jump in. My hair was already really short and I didn’t want to grow it out (really, how would I have cut it without it looking completely horrible?) So, I did what any sane 23-year-old would do: I shaved my head.

You only live in Africa once and you’re only in your early 20s once. How many girls can say that they’ve shaved their head before? Now five of us can!

Brooke taking the first chunk of my hair as my heart was pounding

Katrina picking up all the extra hair

After-product #1 (the length I want my hair to grow to soon)

Shawn had the honors of actually shaving my head the next day (although he looks creepily happy to do so, he’s just always smiling!)

The final-final product

The group from left to right: Ted, Michael, Shawn, Will, Brandon, Diana, Katrina, Katie, Liz and Briana (switching gender roles!)

So soft!

Two weeks later — me. I’m rocking some headbands and believe it or not bought hair clippers on my move-in shopping day in Pretoria. I never in my life would have thought I would be buying hair clippers…here’s to easy bucket baths!

Please still be my friend,
SmallTransparentLogoLiz