Yebo - Joey and the Deltones

In a way, this song kind of represents me at my best. It is a snapshot of me at my most idealistic, dreamy, and hopeful.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pigs - I'd Rather Eat Them Than Catch Them

Raise your hand if you've ever been peed on by a 2 day old piglet while being chased thru tall grass and thorn bushes, running over logs, rocks, and small children who couldn't keep their footing, by a larger than you ever imagined mama pig who is intent on taking a big bite out of any piece of flesh she can get her teeth close enough to latch on to of yours.

I guess I should set up the scenario first.

It was a slow day at the farm a few days ago, and I was coming out of the kitchen looking for a tomato to eat. I didn't find any. Tomato picking season has just ended here.

As I came outside, I saw Lindy, 13, carrying a baby pig to the stoop to show Sophie that one of the pigs just popped out a few piglets. It still had the umbilical cord dangling from its underside.

Very attractive.

Lindy was sweating a good bit. I asked her why. She said she had been running. Odd, I thought. Her friends weren't around, just a few young boys from the compound next to the farm. She doesn't usually play with them. I wonder why she was running?

Lindy asked me to come with her to get the rest of the pigs on "that side". I agreed to go with her. I assumed the pigs were all laying
around in the pig cages on "that side" of the farm, where the pig cages are. I assumed she just wanted an extra hand to put them in a different cage.

Well, off we went - me, Lindy, and 4 or 5 younger boys to "that side", past the pigs cages, over the railroad tracks, across the sugar cane fields of the farm next to us, and into the thicket of reeds and thorns and tall grass where I soon found out mama pig was hiding out with her 6 remaining piglets.

You may be wondering, why do we have to get the piglets anyway? A few reasons. One being that anyone can steal them when they're out there, also, mama pig and her youngins can't get fed out there, and I was told a few others that I don't remember. Whatever. Two reasons are enough, right?

We were supposed to get all the piglets, then get mama pig, then put them in an isolated cage on our property, where mama can take care of them without worrying about the bigger pigs eating the young ones. Because that does happen. Quite often I'm told.

Back to the story.

As we approached the thicket, all the boys and Lindy began picking up stones and holding them in their shirts. Lindy told me to pick up a stick. So I found a small stick about the size of my forearm and continued walking. "No! You must get a big stick!" Lindy said. Somewhat confused, I blindly followed her directions and found a stick about a meter long. I also found a piece of rubber pipe about the same size and thought it might do the trick. What trick? I wasn't really sure.

I felt left out though that everyone else had stones and I didn't, so I retired my rubber pipe and stick before I got to use them, and picked up about 3 or 4 stones and walked into the thicket with the kids towards mama pig.

First thing I noticed was that the kids were just guessing where to throw their stones, hoping to hit mama pig and get her moving a bit. Second thing I noticed was that once mama pig started grunting, none of the kids got closer than 20 feet from her. It was soon told to me that it would be my job to grab any baby pig I could reach while the kids threw stones at mama. Ok, I thought, doesn't seem too hard.

Famous last words, right?

I entered the thicket. The baby pigs didn't seem to be moving too fast, and mama was about 15 feet away from me and them. So I dropped my stones, reached down, wrapped my right hand around the closest baby pig, and everything went white momentarily. The next thing I knew, both me and the baby pig were having a panic attack.

The baby pig's panic attack started because it was being stolen by a scary looking white man with a beard, and the attack took the form of it squealing its head off (the most god awful sound I've ever heard in my life - it sounds like demons escaping from the depths of hell, the whole way up, scratching their nails on an infinitely long chalkboard, yelling obscenities at each other in a language more harsh than anything that my ears have beheld on this earth) and writhing around in my hand like it was spinning around in a blender. My panic attack began when my eyes and ears honed in on the sight of mama pig dashing towards me like an over sized dark orange/pink cannonball, grunting loudly and persistently, breaking branches and hurdling stones in her path. My attack took the form of me yelling, "SHIT!"

I froze momentarily to grasp what the hell was happening, and the next moment, all I remember was dashing out of the thicket by the clearest path possible, hurdling logs, rocks and kids who couldn't run as fast as me, the baby pig over turned in my right hand, still writhing, while I yelled at the kids "GIJIMIA!GIJIMA!GIJIMA!GIJIMA!GIJIMA!GIJIMA!GIJIMA!GIJIMA!"

English translation = "RUN!RUN!RUN!RUN!RUN!RUN!RUN!RUN!RUN!"

I've never spoken siSwati so fluently since I've been here such as I did that moment.

Mama pig eventually gave up on her chase about 50 yards from the start. I was out of breath from my sprint, as were the kids, and we were all laughing. The kids were laughing because of the sight of me running away with the pig in hand, yelling siSwati to them to run the hell away. I was laughing because of the hilarity of the situation, the adrenaline rush I got, and due to the relief that it was all over.


"No!" Lindy said. "We must get the others too!"

I handed my pig off to one of the kids, asked them to take it back to the farm, and then gave Lindy a quizzical look. I thought we only had to get one. But no. Ok, so we have to get the others. Silly me. I hatched a plan to get the process over and done with as quickly as possible.
I asked Lindy to translate to the younger boys for me. The plan was, the kids would again throw rocks at mama, getting her away from her piglets, I would swoop in, and pick one up. Mama would then chase me as I ran away, and as I took her further away from the rest of the piglets, the rest of the kids would go in and get the remaining 4 pigs, and we'd be done.

I thought it sounded like a great plan.

We sprung into action, though this time I picked up the big stick I had thought unnecessary during my first run. I considered briefly the rubber pipe, but then thought better of it as I picked it up and it flopped over in my hand. All I could think was, I don't need my tool going limp on me when I need it most.

I looked at the kids, shook my head and decided that no one would get the joke there, so I dropped the subject and the rubber pipe and went on with the mission.

So here I went again, into the thicket, armed with a thick branch (my "pig stick") in one hand, my heart pumping harder and harder, and my right hand ready to do some pig snatching. The kids started throwing stones, and I kept my eyes on mama pig as she began grunting and moving away. I noticed that this time around, the piglets were moving with mama. I wanted to get mama further and further away, so I picked up some of my own stones and started throwing them at her. Hard. They bounced right off her, as if they were nothing more than spitballs. Eventually she turned her back long enough for me to bend down and get my hand around a piglet. Again, the squeals were deafening, and my heart started pounding as I saw and heard mama pig start to charge.

There was no clear exit this time, I was too deep in the thicket. And mama pig was only about 10 feet from me. So instead of a clean get away, I found myself running thru sharp grass as tall as me, breaking clean thru thorn branches and tall reeds, getting swatted in the face by thin tree branches, stepping into divets, nearly tripping on hidden stones, getting my foot briefly stuck in mud, all the while mama pig gaining on me, and little piglet peeing down my arm. I was hoping to lose mama thru the thicket, but she proved much more arrow-like and agile than me, and as I emerged into the clearing, I turned around to see if the kids were getting the other piglets.

To my horror, I saw two things that I did not want to see. The first thing I saw was all the kids running the complete opposite direction as me, empty handed, piglets nowhere to be seen, pointing directly towards me as they ran. The second thing that horrified me turned out to be what the kids were pointing at - mama pig right on my heel, no more than a foot away, mouth engaged to start chomping.

My eyes were as big as dinner plates. I managed to narrow them enough and I let out what I was the most vicious and aggressive yell I've ever managed in my life. At the same exact moment, I swung the stick in my left hand as hard as possible, and clocked mama pig right across the face as she opened her mouth to take a nice size chunk out of my balls.

It stunned her enough for me to get a few steps on her, and I was gone like the wind.

I regrouped with the kids, half angry that they didn't get their share of the pigs, half ecstatic that my balls were intact, and half feeling like a hardened outdoorsman for clocking mama pig at the most crucial moment of our previous engagement. That's a whole person and a half worth of emotions.

I started pointing at each of the kids individually and saying half-seriously and half-mockingly, "Uyasaba, uyasaba, uyasaba.... etc." Translation "You're scared, you're afraid, you're a scaredy-cat etc." "Angisabi!" (I'm not scared!) each of them answered. "Bamba tingulube!" I fired back. (Then grab the pigs!)

Three pigs left.

Same process. Rock throwing, me approaching, stepping thru mud and getting cut up by sharp tall grass, searching in vain for the remaining 3 pigs who were surprisingly mobile and staying very close to mama.

This time around, me being newly emboldened by our last encounter, and mama pig being angrier than ever, we had a short game of chicken. We faced each other, looking each other square in the eyes. She would not budge, despite the barrage of rocks being thrown at her, and I would not leave without another piglet. She made a few mock charges, and I countered with my war cry and by whacking everything around me with my pig stick, almost daring her to try something.

Again, she foolishly turned her back for just a second, and I grabbed the closest piglet. Again, over the river and thru the woods, mama close on my tail. My footing stalled in a mud patch again, thus giving mama a chance to chomp my calf, but fortunately I was in too much of a hurry not to get bit to let that happen. I regained my footing, got out of the mud patch, turned slightly to my left, let my stick fly, gave mama a good whack across the noggin, stunned her, and again I was gone, and mama was left behind feeling beaten and embarrassed for the third time in a row.

The kids again were empty handed, and I gave them a lot of crap for being scared again. Not that I blame them - mama pig is the scariest creature I've come across in a long time - much scarier than any snakes or spiders I've met up with here.

Two pigs left.

Same process, although now three kids were gone with the three pigs we had taken up to that point, so it was only me, Lindy, and one other boy. They threw rocks like they meant it. I told them to try and chase mama out to the clearing so I could grab the last two pigs with relative ease. That didn't happen.

Face off again.

This time, I could see the two piglets standing side by side, halfway between me and mama. I decided to take a risk. I didn't yell or hit anything around me with my pig stick. Instead, I dropped the stick to my left, and like something out of an old western, I readied my hands to spring into action. I could feel my heart pounding... my veins throbbing, swollen with adrenaline, my pulse making its presence known thru my arms, hands, feet and neck. Instead of grabbing a six-shooter and firing off a couple rounds (I don't own a six-shooter), I leapt forward, grabbed the two remaining pigs with both hands, jetted out of the bush, and was treated to their squealing in full surround sound as I carried them above my head, half in a declaration of victory, half in avoidance of the sharp grass and thorns leaving their traces on my exposed torso. (I don't wear shirts most days here - those of you who know me probably aren't very surprised) I must've looked like the Flash thru this whole process, because mama pig didn't have the slightest chance to catch me. I left her so far behind, eating my dust that I half wanted to go back and lap her again. Kinda like the Tortoise and the Hare. (I'm aware the Tortoise eventually gets the upper hand on the Hare, but this Hare had more brains than the one in the fable)

I handed the last 2 pigs off to the two kids and started walking back.

"No! There are more!" Lindy said.

After a small exchange of me saying no their weren't, and Lindy saying there were actually three more I told her I'd suck it up and go back and check.

I wanted to leave on this high note, but I decided to swallow my pride and fear, and face off with mama one more time. I picked up my recently discarded pig stick, as well as an 8 foot hardened reed that I would use like a lance to keep mama at a safe distance from me. As I looked around the ground for more piglets, yelling at mama, trying to keep her away with my reed-lance, I found nothing but a mother pig with nothing left to lose. She charged me not once, but TWICE within the 30 seconds I was there. This time, it was mama pig who was like the Flash, because both times she charged, I barely had time to react. My reed-lance proved useless as I couldn't move it effectively once mama got around it, so again and again, my pig stick saved my balls from certain destruction and a life without children, as I knocked mama clean across her snout when she was right on top of me.

Mama turned around, dejected, I and walked away victorious.

Chasing mama back to the farm was a simple process being that she had no more babies to protect. Only after I returned to the farm did I find out that normally, the baby pigs are put into a burlap sack immediately after capture which makes them stop squealing practically instantly, thus confusing the hell out of mama, and making the process so much easier. It would've been nice to know that beforehand.

Getting mama pig back into the cage with the piglets is a whole other story all-together involving transferring skittish chickens from here to there, baiting mama pig around the yard with her piglets, keeping the alpha male pig, Boss, in his cage, and holding cage doors shut with all my body weight as mama slammed her self against it, much like the scene from Jurassic Park when the Velociraptors are trying to get into the main control room when the auto locks aren't working and no one can reach the gun because it's just 2 inches too far away.

I emerged from the whole experience covered in baby pig urine, my feet caked in mud, my torso, arms and hands scratched up from all the sharp grass and thorns I tore thru, and my entire body head to toe, itchier than I have ever felt in my life.

But I was victorious, and all the pigs are where they're supposed to be.

I kept my pig stick and intend to take it on all dangerous missions from this point on.

Though, to be honest, I hope there are none. :)
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 15, 2007

So Hot Right Now part. 1.

As my hands lay on my laptop at this moment, my palms are dripping with sweat, which I am feverishly wiping away from the key pad as it puddles beneath my wrists. Anyone who owns a laptop knows that laptops get very hot when left on for a long time - that's why you don't actually put them on your lap. In fact, my mother's biggest fear is that my brother and I will forget this rule, overheat our family jewels, and she will be cursed with no grandkids forever, thanks to portable technology.

My laptop is hot enough at the moment, but add that to the 43 degree plus (celcius - we do the metric system here) cloudless weather, and you've got a recipe for sweaty palms like only a skinny junior high boy with a shade of a mustache at the homecoming dance can compete with. The pillow I'm sitting on is becoming increasingly damp, the longer I sit here, and I can feel the start of a heat headache coming on. So I've been drinking H2O mixed with an electrolyte mix called Energade like a fiend. Also, I'm as close to fully nude as possible, without actually being so. I just don't want to make any surprise visitors uncomfortable. Or the cats. They look at me with such judgmental eyes.

There is an obvious haze hanging throughout the air - you can see it on the edges of the mountains, and it filters the sunlight a bit, making it appear whiter and hotter than normal. I've come back to my house mid-day - no one does anything during the day on days like this I'm told, and I can completely understand why. This is the 4th very hot day in a row, and we're all hoping for a spell of rain to break it up a bit. But as I look out the window here, it doesn't look promising. The weather can change in a heartbeat though, so we can hold on to hope for a bit.

To get anything done on a hot day here, you must wake up before sunrise. Because even as the sun comes over the mountains at 5:15 am, it has a nasty tinge of hotness to it. Waking up before 5:15 am is nothing I'm used to, and to be honest, I don't see myself getting into the habit of getting out of bed that early. So, I must make a plan for days like these, because apparently, this ain't nothin' yet. Everyone keeps saying, "Wait till January/February. You'll shit, it's so hot." Why the heat would induce any sort of bowel movement, I'm not quite sure, so I'm guessing it's just an expression they use here. But I'll let you know if there's any truth to the expression come February.

Nothing helps to cool down on a hot as balls day, like a cold cold cold shower. Take one in the morning, maybe midday, and then before you head to bed. Three showers in a day may seem excessive, but I think on days like this, I wouldn't mind even 4. However, as there is usually some sort of twist to "would be nice" situations I bring up here, I will say that all the water that comes to my house is pumped from an exposed water tank on a hill, carried thru black pipes laying on top of the ground, to the intake hose at the back. The water in that tank is just basking every minute of the day, soaking up every degree of heat the sun throws at it, which is then made even hotter when carried thru the black as nite pipes to the house. Technically, you could still shower in these conditions, but I personally think the situation is better cut out for a more daring experiment. I would create a life size replica of myself, made entirely of uncooked pasta, stand it up in my shower, turn the water on, and see how long it would take to get just past al dente. I'll be taking bets starting from now. I'm putting money on between 4 and 5 minutes.

Seriously, the water = very very very hot. Cooling down in the shower is not an option.

So instead, I'm sitting inside, with all the doors and windows in the house wide open, with my oscillating fan fanning me as it oscillates. That's actually a lie. I have it standing stationary right next to me on full blast. I won't let it oscillate. I want the full breeze. All the time. I can tell my beard is getting a bit bushy because I can feel the breeze coming thru it, tickling my face slightly. I should probably take care of that and take the bushiness down a bit.

So what have we learned today?

1- It's too hot
2- Drink H20 with Energade
3- Get naked (if you don't own judgmental cats)
4- Sit next to a window
5- Don't try to shower
6- Do try to make life size replica of yourself out of pasta
7- Get an oscillating fan, but don't let it oscillate
8- Shave your beard if you have one
9- Shave the cats if you don't have a beard

I'm sure at some point I'll have more commentary on the heat here, which is why this entry is labeled with "part. 1.".

For now, all of you back home, please enjoy the fall weather, the leaves changing colour, and of course, the cold water in your shower.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What a Difference a Day Makes

This past weekend, I went shopping to get some things for my house/room that I have been looking to get since... well, since I first got here. I'd just like to take a moment to explain how much of a difference certain items can make in one's daily activities.

I like to think that I'm somewhat of a minimalist. That's not actually true. But I'd like to think it. If I had my choice, I'd own a lot of little things that make life easier/more enjoyable, like a grilled panini press. They make sandwiches so much more delicious, it really blows my mind as to how it's physically possible. But of course, being broke on top of the fact that I live in Africa, limits the amount of things I can actually buy or own to make up a somewhat luxurious lifestyle.

Being a minimalist here, then, means simply that you can get by just fine without much of anything. That more accurately describes me. I can get by without much, I just don't prefer it.

My living situation is relatively cozy. Before this weekend, my room consisted of a single bed with a thin, soft mattress (though I prefer harder ones), a white wooden chair (not quite sure why it's in here), a very small dresser, one bag of luggage with my warm clothes packed away, a lockbox to store expensive items in, two boxes of books and Peace Corps bound informational packets (a lot of them), the small Peace Corps medical kit, a flyswatter (best investment ever), and a one square foot cardboard box that I keep my snack food in. The walls are decorated with a map of the world, a map of Africa, small holes where someone tried to hang up pictures, and the remains of formerly high pitched buzzing mosquitoes.

As of this weekend, I introduced 3 items to my room which have made all the difference in the world - especially when it comes to nitely activities. The three items include:

1- A CFL bulb where there formerly was just an empty light socket.

2- An oscillating stand up fan.

3- A screen for the one window that opens.

Previously, when coming home at nite, if I wanted to read, or write in my journal, or kill crawling insects, I had to keep my headlamp on for the entirety of the process. It was doable, but it eats up batteries like whoa, it makes my forehead sweat and get itchy after lengthy wearing periods, mosquitoes have learned to avoid the light's glare, hiding in the shadows of the room, and it attracts moths directly to my face - exactly the spot where I don't want them.

To sleep in my room, I would close my curtains to prevent very big bugs from flying in at nite (not always a successful endeavour), and close my door to keep the cats out, thus creating a stagnant, overheated cave to sleep in/lose weight in from all the sweating that occurs throughout the nite. Again, it was doable, but not ideal.

Well my goodness, the afforementioned 3 items have truly made all the difference in the world. I cut the portion of steel screen for my window with kid scissors from a large sheet that was borrowed to me, and luckily I had my straight eyes on, and managed to cut it relatively square and accurate. I attached it to my window using all purpose Prestik, or Sticky Tac, for those of you playing the home game. It works for now.

The combination of the screen, fan and light, made for an incredibly enjoyable first evening with all three. I wrote in my journal, with my room light glowing, a cool breeze coming to and fro across my body from the oscillating nature of the fan, all the while listening to the {tik.... tik..... TAK...} of bugs both large and small attempting to fly thru my screen, much to their dismay, and to my immense enjoyment. I smiled every time I heard one of their failed attempts. The best part was that I managed to sleep thru the entire nite without waking up to kill any mosquitoes, thanks to the tag team of the fan and screen.

I bought a shower head to screw in so my showers don't feel like someone is peeing on my head, but unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to try it out, because we've been out of water this side for the past few days. I'm anxious to try things out when the situation rectifies itself/we decide to fix it.

Next up is fashioning a screen door from reeds - luckily I have some contacts stateside who can walk me thru the construction process. Then I can simultaneously keep the cats out, and have a cross breeze coming thru the room. Just like heaven should be.

Catless and breezy.

Just kidding.

Only kinda.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Joys of Being Sick


Did you really think there were joys to being sick? Catching up on your DVDs you haven't seen doesn't really count as a joy. More like a "Well, what else is there to do?" type activity. But I suppose I can't exactly leave it there. This would be too short of an entry. Those of you who were expecting a sort of enlightened, optimistic outlook on time spent being sick, I am sorry to disappoint. But you should know better.

I have now been relatively unhealthy for the past week or so with various ailments - nothing serious or deadly, but my goodness is it a pain in the ass/neck. (Well, throat really)

Any time you travel abroad, especially to countries considered to be in the third world, you must half expect to get sick. It doesn't seem to be an option, it rather seems like an inevitability. It could come from drinking bad water, from not being used to the food, from being in overly crowded public areas where the vast majority of folk don't understand the concept of "private space" and proceed to cough and hock up a lung not next to you, but on to you, or it could even come from from jumping into a pond or lake you assume is fine to swim in, only to realize afterwards that parasitic snail lavae has seeped thru your skin and you have contracted bilhazia. you can google that for an explanation. Fortunately, I personally have not gotten sick directly from any of the afforementioned experiences. Yet.

I don't know exactly why I've gotten sick. One of the kids probably just passed something on to me last week. That's the most obvious way to get sick I suppose. Someone you know (most likely a small, somewhat adorable yet awfully dirty child with no sanitary sense) passes some godforsaken bacteria your way thru breathing on you, shaking your hand, or slobbering all over you after a nice big sneeze when they've forgotten to cover their mouth. As I'm sure we're all aware, children escalate this situation when they proceed to wipe the snot that recently emerged from their nasal cavity onto the nearest cloth, which is usually your shirt. There's no way to avoid these common situations, and by the time you realize what's happening, it's too late to do anything. Life. It's a four letter word.

The majority of my week was spent finding my voice again after I had lost it for 2 days (I found it under my bed after I cleaned my room - the spiders were holding it hostage), as well as coughing, coughing, coughing, coughing, COUGHING so much and so hard that I actually developed a giant knot in my back that felt and still feels like a gremlin is trying to escape from between my spine and shoulder blade. I've taken electrolyte supplements, drank vitamin C super energy booster drinks with literally 1111% of your daily recommended vitamin C intake based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet (it says so on the packet), sucked on lozenges and cough drops, taken both ibuprofen and non-aspirin painkillers, and eaten about a dozen cappucino flavoured muffins with chocolate chips in them. ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Not really at the same time. But over the course of the week, that is how I've self-medicated. All I really wanted was some heavy duty cough syrup, some Tylenol PM to knock me out at nite, and a slingshot with pebbles to keep the cats away from my muffins.

Getting sick really messes with your psyche. This is especially true in a far off land where mom isn't there to pamper you and bring you tea and soup, tell you what pills to swallow and when, give you endless hugs, wait on you hand and foot, and bring you anything you want while you watch your favourite childhood Disney movies that are still on VHS tape. Not that my mom ever did that. (She totally did - she's the best) This week, now that I'm all grown up and still getting sick, I found that all negative thoughts were entering my head as I lay in bed, watching my Scrubs episodes and a pirated version of Pirates of the Carribean 3 (no pun intended). I was upset I couldn't match the progress we made last week with the vegetable garden project we started, and then I started thinking that we'll never get diesel for the tractor at this rate. If we don't get diesel, we can't plow the land again, if we can't plow the land again, we can't make our furrows, if we can't make our furrows, we can't start planting, if we can't start planting, nothing will start growing, if nothing starts growing, WE CAN NEVER EAT VEGETABLES FROM OUR GARDEN.

I found that when I felt ultra-bad, I was getting fleeting thoughts of "I'd rather be sick at home on my own couch"... "WTF am I actually doing out here? Do they really need me? What good am I doing here? I can't even understand what's being said half the time..." Blah Blah Blah.

I then began thinking of all the projects we have in mind here on the farm and how there's so much to do and we'll never actually get to do any of it and blah blah blah blah whine whine whine. I'm fully aware that all these sentiments are completely unfounded, and whereas normally I would think and approach these situations one step at a time, and more importantly, optimistically, I found myself having such a negative attitude towards everything. Then this morning I woke up feeing about 70% as opposed to 25% (so still not 100%) and just like that, I started thinking about how many things we will get done next week if I just keep getting a little bit better each day. My sense of optimism was back overnite and all it took was me not feeling devil claws inside my throat and chest ripping me apart every time I coughed. The three letters and package from home I received yesterday made me smile quite largely, and I credit them with speeding up my recovery as well.

Before coming over to this side of the planet, I received a very uplifting and supportive email from a friend of mine who I've never actually met (I don't even know what she looks like!), yet she has been an invaluable resource to me. Robyn has worked/volunteered around the world with various international development and outreach projects for a number of years now, so she knows a thing or two about what volunteers abroad go thru. She wrote one thing in her email that stuck with me, and I'd like to just copy and paste it here to share with you, because it has done a lot to keep my spirits up when I go thru a rough patch...

***not much i can say that you don,t already know, but would love to send my support by saying-- freaking out is normal just go awith it, when times get rough remember that home will ALWAYS be there and just as college or something goes by and life continues all of this will also go by and you will marvel at how you continue your joey life having completed peace corps, that said though_ take it one step at a time and dont let your thoughts get ahead of you, you will probably get sick after 3 weeks- it will only make you stronger, you will probably come out with more questions than answers which means you really get it, use support when you need it (write me anytime!), and know that this doesn,t have to be a phase or lifequest or something but can just be a very real career; part of your life; part of the life of others if you want OR it can just be a fantastic experience that makes you better in any field. safe journey and be well, safe, happy and inquisitive***

If there is any joy to being sick, I've found that it is realizing that you are strong enough to take on and overcome your illness, and when you do get better, you emerge stronger than before and with a more optimistic view of your own life.

That said, next week, I'm heading back to the vegetable garden.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Time. Or the lack/abundance thereof.

Hootie and the Blowfish wrote a song about time. And if you were even half conscious during the mid-90s, you have heard it before. It was an ok song. He sang something like:

TIME's a wasting
TIME's a something
TIME you ain't no friend of miiiine...

I think he was hinting that time seemed to be always running against him, or going too fast. But who really knows? Hootie was a funny guy. So cryptic in his lyrics. Anyway, point is, I don't believe Hootie (or his Blowfish) had ever been to Africa. If he had been, he would have had a very different concept and maybe even written an entirely different song about time. I don't blame Hootie for not being to Africa. But I'm here to explain why thing's might have changed so drastically had he been a visitor to the motherland.

Side note before we get started: For those of you keeping count, my mosquito kill count is currently at 132. And somehow the pests become more and more invisible as the nites go on. I'm getting very good at killing them once they've entered my ear cavity at nite, though it's not a pleasant clean up job.

It's now just before 6 am. Though you'd never know it by checking the wall clock in my house. It has been stuck at 12:47 and 46 seconds for months. I see it as a perfect symbol and a daily reminder that I am now running on Africa time. I have been up for 45 minutes, as has the sun. Now, maybe it's just me, but 5:15 seems a wee bit early for the sun to rise. It really doesn't matter. People start mulling about any time they please. Sunrise means rise and shine for kids going to school that day, 8-10 am for those with nothing better to do with their day, and some as early as 3 am to get a head start on the people they intend to steal from. Sadly, this does happen quite frequently. Poverty + Unemployment = Crime.

But this isn't about crime in SA. This entry is to attempt to shed some light on the issue of time in this country, if not this entire continent.

I will start out by stating that all of South Africa is on the same time zone, even though technically, the country should fall under 2 time zones. I imagine that this makes things easier on a national scale, though I'm not quite sure how, but it confused the hell out of me the first time I came out east to my site and it got dark a whole hour earlier than it was supposed to. I honestly thought my watch had been screwed up overnite, or that I had been completely delusional about what time the sun actually set every evening for the first 7 weeks of my stay. I was soon informed of the time zone situation. Hooray for not being delusional.

I am currrently writing up a proposal to the government here to further reduce the number of time zones in Soth Africa to zero. You see, people don't abide by time constraints like we're used to in the US. Times set to meet, to start something, to arrive somewhere, are all taken as guidelines rather than concrete agreements. (Just like Deltones practice, as I recall) Unless of course it's 8:00 pm. Generations (the most popular soap opera here, which is in Zulu) comes on then, and whole families and most often their American Peace Corps volunteers who stay with them, come together to watch it. But regardless. The attitude towards time here can be very convenient and sometimes relaxing when you don't feel like rushing to get something done or when you can't get to a meeting on time because you have no mode of transport, or something similar. However, as Americans, we often like to get things done or have things done now now now. When this doesn't happen as fast as we would like, we get mad mad mad. Or just irked off a bit at first. But give it some time. It grates on you after a while.

Take fast food for instance. There actually is no such thing as fast food here. If you go to a fast food place like a Chicken Licken, or a Steers, expecting to put an order in, wait 3 minutes, get your food, get in the car and go, you must be reminded that these places do not exist in America, you are in fact in South Africa, and you will wait 15 sometimes 20 minutes for a single chicken burger with nothing on it but mayo. (Mayo is put on a lot of things here I've realized) Our first restaurant experience in SA was touched on earlier in my blog. We waited almost 2 full hours to see our food. The first hour and a half was just waiting to get a waitress.

We have all learned some key terms when it comes to South Africans' concept of time. Here below are short sayings, which I translated into english for your convenience.

1- Just Now - used as in "We're going just now."
American translation = anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on who said it. Sometimes used when referring to past tense as well. "I got back just now." - also alludes to anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour ago.

2- Now Now - used as in "I'll be back now now."
American translation = about 5 minutes or sooner. "Now now" is supposed to mean immediately, or at this very second. You'll find it's misused often, or maybe confused somewhat intentionally with "just now".

3- Tomorrow - as in "I'll get back to you tomorrow."
American translation = well... there are two. 1- Never 2- Fuck off.

The first time it was really made obvious to me that there was an entire culture of not caring about time (for better or worse) was during my overnite stay in Soweto in 2005. After staying out rather late with my hosts (who were all in their mid-20s) going to various house parties and shebeens and feeling completely awkward as I was rubbed up against by every passing person who was overly sweaty, smelly and drunk and wanted to be near the strange bearded white guy, we were supposed to meet up with the rest of the group at a big church in Soweto the next morning, around 9:00 am. I woke up the next morning around 7:30, feeling very tired and strange about the events from the previous nite, but got dressed, gathered my things, and headed to the main house to meet my host brother and his gogo for breakfast. I get there, and there is no host brother and no breakfast. Just gogo, who didn't speak any English, sitting with a cup og tea, watching her TV. Fifteen minutes later, host brother enters. We then go for a walk to find breakfast. The walk takes about 35 minutes round trip. Eating breakfast slowly with gogo takes another half hour. Walking to find host brother's friends takes 20 minutes. Waking friends up takes 10. Getting one of them ready to come with us takes 25. Walking to pick up a kombi takes 10. Waiting for a kombi takes 10 (though I was assured it never takes that long to find a kombi in Soweto). Kombi ride takes 15. By the time we arrived, the church service was ending - and for those of you who don't know, church services here are very long. Usually over 2 hours.

What stuck out more than anything about this whole experience was not so much the process or amount of time it took to accomplish the simple task of going to church, and getting there on time. While on the way to the kombi, I asked my host brother and his friend if they were concerned at all about getting to where we had to be on time. His friend responded with something that shocked me a little bit. He said, "Pshh, man... as a black man it doesn't matter what time I get somewhere... As long as I'm there." That small comment opened up worlds of understanding about the mindset here.

I have to admit - on the whole, I rather enjoy this change of pace from the

"Crap, I've only got 3 hours until my paper's due and I haven't even started research yet."


"Rehearal is starting - where the hell is Colin?"

Or the ever hectic

"Today I've got class at 9 and 10:15, meeting at 11:30, I want to eat lunch sometime, class at 1, work from 2 - 5, I'm meeting this person for dinner at 5:30, then I have rehearsal 7 - 10 then I have to meet with 2 peope to study for a philosophy test tomorrow, which is actually at the same time as part testing, so after the test I have to run to the music building and hope I'll be allowed to part test later, then I have to go and pick up this person from the train, and then I have a music lesson and then I'm the lead dancer in my dance show which is actually happening OH CRAP THE SHOW STARTED 20 MINUTES AGO."

The good side of African time includes not worrying when our kombi breaks down X number or times, thus putting us massively behind schedule to get where we're supposed to be. You know that when you arrive a few hours (or days) late, you can explain - kombi broke down - or you can at least expect not to be grilled on why you've come so late.

The other day, I started my 10 minute walk to the farm after numerous unsuccessful attempts at trying to find a trail that leads to the other side of the stream here. I got about half way to the main house, until I met "Uncle Leo" and his dog Zeus (a small daschund), who were on their way to check on Leo's herb garden, which is on my side of the road. We talked for a minute or two, and then I asked to join him. He was glad for the company, and eager to show off how well his herbs were coming in. Leo walks incredibly slow, which can be frustrating when trying to rush somewhere, but in the case of that day, we didn't need to walk any faster than Leo's walking stick reccomended. We were out on our errand for a long while, and I arrived at the farm an entire hour and a half after I had originally intended to. In my excursion, I was able to talk to Leo on a more personal level than when we are at the farm, and I learned a bit more about his past, his passions, and the depth of his knowledge on various subjects from herbal gardening, to world history. It made me understand why it's not important to be rushing to a destination all the time, especially here in South Africa. It works to my advantage to just let things happen, and not be hesitant to do something that hasn't been planned ahead of time.

These types of events are what make so many memorable life experiences. Unexpected and spontaneous detours, saying "Ah, what the hell? Why not?" and just going and letting things happen. We seem unable to do that many times in our lives in the US, because we are always expected to be somewhere, to be doing something specific, to be abiding by our planned out day schedule.

Here, we can definitely set our own schedule, and then, if we find it's not working for us, we can just change it or disregard it altogether.

Do I have a point in all this rambling? Or any type of conslusion? Probably not. I can get you one by next week though. Just be prepared to wait a month.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Infamous Bucket Bath

Did you ever go bobbing for apples? I always thought it was a rather silly concept - one is expected to unlock their jaws as much as possible to wrap his or her teeth around not a delicious piece of candy or chocolate, but rather around a spherical medium sized piece of fruit, without the use of one's hands, and on top of all this, you are supposed to be blindfolded during the process.

I'll take things that are a waste of time and hurt my jaw and frustrate me to no end and leave me hungry for 200, Alex.

Now, imagine that same small bobbing for apples bucket, fill it up only half as much as you would to bob for apples, and bathe your entire body in it. Serious. This is the method of bathing used in rural South Africa, as well as in not so rural South Africa. But before I go on to what a pain it is for us shower-addicted foreigners to get used to, I will say that the bucket bath is rather effective in it's own endearing and frustrating little way.

When I first arrived at my homestay, I was actually very surprised to see that my host family had in their bathroom a medium sized bath that I was to use for my own bodily cleansing. At first I breathed a sigh of relief, but the relief didn't last too long. My host father showed me outside where I was to fill a large metal bucket with water, and start a fire to heat up the water. The process to bring such a large quantity of water (probably about 8 gallons or so) to a boil takes considerably long - about an hour to an hour and a half, during which time you can't just leave to do other things, but have to tend to the fire and keep the flames high and the coals hot. There was a lack of dry wood in the yard, and so many times I had to burn old and dried out cowpies, which do not have a pleasant smell when burned, especially not in large quantities. The metal bucket is ashy black, and if you touch any part of it with your hands or clothes, they turn instantly black. So in actuality, no matter how dirty you are before you bathe, you get twice as dirty just preparing the water for your bath.

This boiled water is poured into the tub (don't forget to stop up the drain as I had to be reminded, or you lose all your hot water - that was dumb of me), and then you get another large bucket of cold water from the tap to give your self a warm bath. The problem with having a medium sized tub to bathe in is that even with 2 large buckets of water, in the end, you only have about 2 inches of water to actually bathe in.

It was still winter time during my first bathing experience, and because the houses are made of mostly cement here, there is no heat and no insulation, so it's COLD in the house in the mornings, evenings and nite. I shivered as I climbed into the tub and soon realized I'm about 10 inches to big to lay down in the tub flat. That's ok. I crunched up a bit and started rolling around on my back and stomach as best I could to wet my body.

I was instantly frozen.

My hands were shaking as I reached for the shampoo - everyone suggets to wash your hair first - this was something I should have done before I soaked myself from head to toe. Rinsing my hair out was ripe with difficulties - I was so glad I didn't have my long hair anymore. Many girls got sick of their long hair too, and about 4 or 5 of them have since shaved their heads.

I soaped up as best I could, and repeated the rolling process, which is extremely uncomfortable in such a small space, and is a very humiliating process, even when by yourself - having body parts flopping around, getting caught behind your back or under your body, knocking your head against the side of the tub, having your ass up in the air, and all the while shivering and freezing in the cold winter air.

I used this medium sized tub method for about 3 or 4 weeks, and then got sick of the process. I gave up bathing for about a 10 day stretch, and then found my family had a small bucket I could use to have my first official "bucket bath". I also gave up the medium sized bath after what I thought was an obvious sign: one evening I poured the water into the tub and left for 10 seconds to get undressed and I came back to find a rather large cockroach had dropped from the ceiling into my bath water, and drowned instantly. I removed the cockroach, bathed, and told myself, "I think I'll stop here."

For my first official bucket bath, there was no outside fire involved. I boiled water in the kettle, and filled the bucket about halfway with cold water fro the tap, so I now had warm water again, but now it was about 5 or 6 inches deep instead of 2. I then had to think back to our first week here when current volunteers described different methods used for the bucket bath. Some buckets are big enough to kind of sit in. Mine is not. Therefore, the following methods seem to be the most commonly used.

There is the lean method, where you kneel on the floor next to your bucket and splash your body with water, soap up, and splash to rinse off as best you could. There is the stand-up method, where you use a wash cloth to wet yourself, soap up, and then use a cup or some such device to pour the water over your body to rinse off, trying your best not to spill too much water outside the tiny bucket. Then there's the dip and dangle method which is just as much fun as it sounds. You put your feet in the bucket, squat down, dip and dangle, and wash as best you can.

I have found that a combination of the lean method and the dip and dangle method works best for me. Although with these methods, I am only able to wash the main problem spots - hair, face, feet, crotch, and armpits. After those areas, the water is pretty much filthy beyond filthy, especially if you haven't bathed in 2 or 3 days, as is often the case with myself.

As I've mentioned before, as frustrating and annoying as this whole process is, it is effective enough to get clean.

But I have already made up my mind to build a shower in my next home.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Lack of info, lack of burgers

We have all been very busy the last few weeks. Most everything for us had been leading to yesterday, when our site assignments were finally revealed to us. In short, I am very happy with my site description, and I will have the chance to explore my site starting next week. So how does one keep busy for weeks on end with no access to the information super highway or a cell phone? I found out it is possible, and many times it is preferable. Radio has been heard rather infrequently in my experience here so far. Another obvious entertainment option is he good ol' Television set.

In my home here, there are two TVs. One is in the parent's room. I don't go in there. The other is in the lounge, but the only programming it receives is all-Jesus-all-the-time type programs. Pat Roberts, faith healers, pastors in Africa yelling at the top of their lungs about this and that. My host father loves it, and when he is home, he will watch that TV for hours on end. If you know me at all, you know that is something I don't choose to surround myself with, and so as a result, I don't watch TV here. Many other trainees have settled into a nice evening routine with their families. They eat dinner in front of the TV maybe around 7:00 or so, watch the news, and then at 8:00, the South African Soap Opera comes on - "Generations" it is called. I have not seen any of it, but many people seem to be getting quite addicted to it.

Because I haven't been settling down in front of the TV or Radio, I truly have no idea at all as to what on earth is happening on earth. This more than anything has been a tough thing to deal with - the complete lack of access to information and news from around the world. However, it is not something I notice all the time. It comes in spurts - maybe I'll hear a soundbyte about an American popstar and I'll think back to home when I would open the paper in the morning, and skip past that whole celebrity section in Newsday, looking for a headline and story I actually want to read. Or I'll come across a picture of my cousins currently serving in Iraq, and ask myself, "What has happened in the past month and a half since I've left?" The whole idea of being isolated and cut off from all sorts of news is completely foreign to those of us who live in the developed world. If the TV or Radio isn't turned on somewhere, then we're usually on the internet where there are updates my the minute on countless sites about all sorts of things you both want to and never want to hear about. If we skip the internet for a day, the next morning, most of us will wake up and one of the first things we will do is ge the paper and catch ourselves up on anything we may have missed.

So what's better or worse? No information coming in? Or what can be viewed by some to be a complete overload of information? In my own personal experience, I like the overload. But I can easily see how in places like rural South Africa, news is something that is not considered to be a priority, or even a necessity. Despite the fact that I have wanted to know what has been going on every now and then, it has been wonderful for my mental health to not be concerned about all the major happenings in America and around the world. I have been able to focus completely on myself, my surroundings, my short and long term goals, and most importantly, my attitude and my feelings as they develop and changed each day here. Things will only get more intense as I get to site, and start the whole adjustment process over again, and so it's great to be able to reflect appropriately on the day's events rather than getting distracted by or getting lost on the internet or TV.

As was mentioned in my last entry, the food that we've had access to here has left much to be desired. We do have some very good meals every now and then, but for the most part, it is a struggle to feel satisfied after eating. This is especially true at lunch time.

It was for this reason, that we were all very happy to have the opportunity to go out for lunch one afternoon at the only local restaurant in our town. We had seen the menu on a Thursday, and planned on dining out on the following Tuesday afternoon. On the whole, the menu looked very good, and we were all very excited to be a) not eating ANOTHER peanut butter sandwich for lunch and b) supporting the local restaurant by dining within their four walls.

I was excited because this would be the second time in three days that I would have the chance to eat a cheeseburger. The first burger was very much a let down. We had put together an American style BBQ and cooked burgers, hot dogs and sausages. Now, my burger was a let down because it tasted like a hot dog. If I had wanted to eat something that tasted like a hot dog, I would have had a hot dog. I was disappointed. So here was my chance to have a decent cheeseburger, to make up for the one that tasted like a hot dog. I was one of many who ordered a cheeseburger. After waiting about a half hour for the small restaurant to get everything out to us, we began to dive in to our cheeseburgers (some with bacon!) only to realize that every single cheeseburger was lacking the actual burger.

The roll looked very nice with the lettuce and tomatoes and cheese... but not as nice as it would have looked with a burger. Apparently the restaurant thought that everyone who ordered a cheeseburger had meant they wanted a cheese sandwich. A cheese sandwich, we all noticed, was on the menu in addition to the cheeseburger. So we didn't really know what to think. I imagine most of us were glad we didn't order the hamburger. What would they have given us? A ham sandwich? Just bread? It really is anyone's guess. They threw us all a small piece of steak to try and correct the situation - they didn't have any ground beef at the time. I watched as my friend John took his first bite into his steakcheeseburger. He clamped his jaw down on the small mass of miscellaneous items and went to bite thru and pull away...... and actually got stuck. His first bite lasted about 12 seconds, until he could finally get his teeth all the way thru the meat. I don't know how long he chewed on the wad in his mouth until he could actually swallow it, but it made for a good hoot.

That's about all for now. I really appreciate your comments. They make me smile a good bit.

I'll be back later on. Take care....

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ngilamba njalo

I have peanut butter permanently stuck to the roof of my mouth.

Now, if the above statement were accurate, I would probably be the happiest half italian/irish boy in South Africa. (see picture for visual aid) I realize that may not be saying much, but the point remains - it would make me very happy. The rough translation of the title of this entry is "I'm always hungry." I'm not quite sure the reason for this, but it certainly is true. Everyday is a new opportunity to find ways to fill my belly in satisfying ways... the variety of which I must say is not very wide. I've come to rely on some very basic food groups...

1- Peanut butter
2- Bread
3- Apples
4- Cornflakes
5- Grilled Cheese
6- Dark Chocolate (a rarity for sure, but I include it because I love it so)

That's about it. My dinner's vary slightly because most nites my host mother cooks - usually chicken or a delicious potato and baked bean type stew accompanied by the South Africa staple dish, pap. (pronounced "pop") A little info on pap... It looks like mashed potatoes, but clumps together and has the texture of extremely dense couscous. It is also very very filling, and is usually eaten in large quantities to convince the body that it is indeed getting enough food. This may or may not be the case, but it does leave one feeling full. But as I mentioned before, I am always hungry here, and the time between dinners is approximately 24 hours (1 day for those of you doing the math) and with so much time in between big meals, I am always trying to pin down my craving so as to satisfy (temporarily) my hunger.

In the beginning of my time here, my cravings have ranged from Turkey Hill's Tin Roof Sundae ice cream with chocolate syrup (lots of it), to buffalo chicken wings, to homemade meatballs and sauce. Actually, those are the only 3 things I craved. I have since managed to direct my cravings (most of the time) to the above mentioned 6 food groups. Mainly because that's all I have to work with for most of the day.

Some here consider me very fortunate because my family owns not only a grilled cheese sandwich maker, but also has in the fridge, a large block of cheddar-type cheese. I don't really know what type of cheese it is, but it is cheese. I think. It's really good when melted. At lunch time at our training, many will venture out to the closest shop and buy for 25 cents each (in rand - very cheap) "fat cakes". Fat cakes are fried dough type creations. They are about the size of a lemon, and are served plain. This doesn't work for my taste buds, so when I splurge the 25 cents to have one, I use all my mind power to imagine that is is dripping with maple syrup and powdered sugar, and I am happy.

I have come to appreciate the boneless chicken breasts that are served in the US at all the major food stores, because eating chicken is definitely a project here, and all of us foreigners (well, maybe just myself) must learn to re-enjoy the process off sucking all the meat off the bone and getting our fingers all sticky and slimy with chicken grease.

Which brings me with no appropriate transition to our first experience in a restaurant in town. After I posted my last entry, I went with a few friends to a restaurant next door called "Spur". Spur is a Native American themed South African family restaurant. Kind of like a Friendly's if Friendly's had a giant Native American statue at the entrance to the restaurant and a menu telling of the legend of the giant burger which weighed over 6000 lbs and took an entire forest burning to cook it. To make a long story short, it took over 2 hours to get our food. The first hour to even be recognized that we were in the restaurant. And the food was just ok. We saw the manager running in and out of the restaurant multiple times, always returning with a big hunk of meat under his arm, which may have added to the lengthy process.

One final note on the topic of food here - I have been fortunate because I have been asked to cook only twice so far for my family. Others here have had to cook much more frequently with not many food stuffs to work with. My two dinners were success stories though. The first dinner was chicken with pasta. The pasta sauce was a Tomato and Onion mix with carrots, and that's really it. It was pretty easy and very much enjoyed by the family. The second dinner was scrambled eggs with cheese, baked beans mixed with fruit chutney and mayo, plain bread, and sour pap. I made the eggs very cheesy - almost too delicious I would say, because my 9 year old sister ate about 1/3rd of the eggs while they were still in the pan waiting to be served.

Pako has been instrumental in helping me prepare dinners - showing me where things are, then hiding them on me while my back is turned, she does most of the slicing and dicing of vegetables, gets out all of the flavouring and spices whether I want to use them or not, and she is great at laughing at me and overriding all of my decisions and actions made in the kitchen. Half pound of pasta. NO. Pound and a half of pasta. Add Salt. NO. Add other curry and acha. Add veggies to boiling water. NO. Add veggies to cold water. One sandwich each for lunch. NO. Two sandwiches each. Four eggs. NO. Six eggs.

It's been a lot of fun - especially when we make grilled cheese for school the next day and we "accidentally" add too much cheese to the bread and it starts melting out the sides and cooking all over the surface and when we open the grilled cheese maker we have to scrape off and eat the cooked cheese which is ridiculously delicious and we fight over the biggest pieces and the brownest pieces.

The only thing that would make it more delicious would be if I had peanut butter permanently stuck to the roof of my mouth.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

South African Mornings - a quick note

It's only 6:14 am here - I woke up extremely early this morn. Actually, that's a lie. I'm sorry to start out my first entry in Africa with a lie. It just happened. The truth is, I wake up this early every morning, which might be more surprising if I didn't tel you that I go to bed by 8:30 every nite. The days are long days here - full of language lessons, HIV/AIIDS information, cultural sessions, and learning about how CBO's (community based organizations) and other related organizations operate in South Africa. That's the short version. The long version is longer and not nearly as interesting.

I'm able to compose this entry because I have access to my laptop at my homestay - which I haven't used much up to this point, except to show my family some pictures of back home. So now, whenever I do get to the internet, I will have written this up already, and will simply cut and paste on the computers at some internet cafe, thanks to a super idea by my brotha Dizzy, who got me a nice little flash drive which I expect will come in super handy throughout my time here.

By the way Nathan/Dizzy/Promise/SBG, your damn songs were stuck in my head for the entire first week and a half in South Africa, and for any of you reading this who hasn't heard the music, do it. - check back often for new songs, and marvel and the excellent photos of the artist. There Diz. Now you have to put up all your best songs because you now have a wider audience.

Back to South Africa. My homestay situation is great. I'm living in the Northwest Province near the Botswana border. My family is wonderful. Dineo (host mom), Titus (host dad) and their three daughters (my sisters) Pako, 9, Thato, 4, and Thumelo 9 months. Mom, Pops, and Pako all speak English, Thato and Thumelo, not so much - as should be expected by a 4 year old and 9 month old. Everyone here speaks Setswana, which is tough, because I'm not learning Setswana officially anymore. More on that in a sec. My family has the only 2 story house around, and it's a very nice house with an orchard on the property where Titus grows oranges, lemons, peaches, apples, guava, grapes and more according to the season. He grows a few different types of oranges - my favourite of which he called a minala - which is the size of a small grapefruit, extremely dense, and deliciously juicy to the point that if you bite into a slice and you're lucky, you can shoot a stream of orange juice about 4 feet away, completely unintentionally - I've done it twice already. Just ask the people I accidentally squirted. My room is on the second floor here, and one of the walls is all windows and faces east. So while I wake up in the dark, after about 15 minutes, the sun rises and paints a beautiful picture right in front of my eyes that even Bob Ross would envy.

I want to take you all back to kindergarten for a moment, and recall the times when we all read short stories about Old MacDonald and Charlotte's Web and other books about life on the farm. Books such as this usually reference a rooster cock-a-doodle-dooing just as the sun rises, giving the call for all to wake up. I'd like to take this opportunity to slander all the children's books authors who ever put that stupid idea in our heads because as anyone currently in the general presence of roosters, including all of us here can attest to, the roosters around here cock-a-doodle-doo whenever they cock-a-doodle-damn-well-please. Which means AT ALL HOURS OF THE NITE. I've become very upset with the roosters here, and so when I come across one during the day that is cock-a-doodle-dooing, I yell something like, "SHUT UP! YOU'RE 6 HOURS LATE! IT'S ALREADY DAYTIME! ARE YOU FREAKING BLIND?!? I JUST ATE YOUR COUSIN FOR DINNER LAST NITE!" or something to that effect. I think they get the point because they walk away like chickens.

The language situation is a bit tough at the moment. The reason for this is that the area we are in is a dominant Setswana speaking area. I know the basic greetings and a few side comments and questions in Setswana. But for my permanent site placement, I will be speaking Zulu, and therefore have daily lessons in the Zulu language. No one here speaks Zulu, and everyone expects me (and other volunteers here) to learn Setswana. It doesn't bother me very much, but it would make the learning process go much faster if I was living in an area where I had the chance to use the language I'm learning everyday. Such is not the case, and I am over it by now. I am very excited to be learning Zulu.

I will find out about my site placement most likely in about 4 weeks. I expect to be placed either in Mpumalanga or Kwa-Zulu Natal, which would make sense since me and a few other volunteers are learning Zulu, and Zulu is spoken predominantly in the afforementioned provinces.

I don't expect to have regular access to the information super-highway for a while yet. But when things are up and running here, I will be sure to give you a full account of happenings. That includes bath time, which is an experience that words will never do justice describing, but I will try, and I won't even include any graphic details. Trust me, it's for the best.

Don't forget to be awesome. Be back in a few weeks...

P.S. - If all my picture uploads have been successful, you will see that I was the most recent winner in the local Elvis Costello Look-A-Like Contest. In fact, I was the only entry, because no one here knows who the hell Elvis Costello is. It was an easy victory. One which I savour.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Future, Here and Now

The future exists so we can see how we have contributed to changing our world for the better.

Or at least that's the mindset we should have.

Tomorrow is the day. I realize I've been ridiculously occupied and so haven't written much in the past week, while way too much has happened. I posted a blog earlier today below this one that was supposed to go up 6 days ago. Oh well. If you're reading this then that means you get 2 for 1 this time around. Because I think you're lovely. Also, this will probably be the last blog entry for a month or two because access to the internet our first two months abroad will be just about zero. The first two months is strictly program and language training and adjusting to the culture and country. The idea is not to have any distractions such as cell phones or email.

So to start, I think I've lost my mind. I told everyone who asked "How are you feeling?" that I was fine at that point but a day before I would leave I would be a mess. Well, I'm pretty close to that at the moment. Thankfully, I got most of my packing shite together a few days ago, but I still have a decent bit to do before I depart tomorrow. Everything is a wee bit too real. I have to do things I didn't even think of a few months ago.

For example. Tomorrow morning, before I leave, I will shut off my cell phone, and leave it home, and not have it for 2 years. That's fine, but it's just something I didn't even think about. I don't even know if I'll have the same number upon my return - my guess is probably not. Also, the things in my room that are mine. They will not be exactly where they are upon my return in 2 years - unless my mother decides to dust the toy chest I guess. So maybe I should have made things look a little neater. There are books and toys and little things that have been part of my daily life for 23 years that I will temporarily leave behind, but all of which offer some degree of comfort, and sanctuary to me.

It doesn't matter. I did a lot of thinking this weekend. My good friends from college (you know, back in "the day") came up this weekend and spent the nite. We went out on the boat up in Cold Spring Harbor and got back and had delicious pizza and mom's homemade cookies, and on top of that, we helped my dad solve a major dilemma involving a 5 liter bottle of wine. The dilemma in case you haven't guessed it yet, was that he could not finish it by himself. Wine all around, a fire in the backyard, a beautiful nite to veg to - it was all wonderful. I also got to go to the beach on Sunday for a few hours. The beach wasn't too crowded - the water was cold enough so I didn't feel the urge to go in, and the sun was shining brightly. The best part for me was the constant wind blowing off the water. It was cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough to be tolerable. It filled my nostrils and lungs with the specific smell of the ocean during summertime. I was able to look as far out as I could and see little dots that were boats out in the distance. I got thinking about how physically far away South Africa is. I tried to look down the beach and picture one person flying like a bird to SA. The distance seems impossible. Yet it is anything but. It seems all that much closer not only because of airplanes but because of the ease of communication across continents.

But damn. I sure couldn't see South Africa from where I was.

As I started feeling the knots in my stomach and as I got noticeably quiet around my friends (something I try not to do, but seem not to be able to overcome it when something big is looming) I had somewhat of an epiphany. Well.... ok, maybe an epiphany. More like a grand realization. Whatever it was, it happened.

I get this anxious, nervous, freaking out feeling the day before I do any big traveling because in the back of my mind, I'm thinking only about what I'm leaving behind when I step out the door. The grand realization I had was that that was stupid.

Of course I will always be thinking about what I'm leaving behind, but the point is I have to change the way I think about it. I can't think about how much I will miss this or that or how much I wish I could take X, Y or Z with me. I have to think about how everything from home and my past will benefit me and my work in the future. I have to focus on the incredible adventure I am about to undertake. I have to get into the mindset that allows me to focus on the future - the next two years - in Africa - volunteering - meeting countless people - learning new languages - eating new foods - laying my eyes upon the beauty of the world. This is what I've been looking forward to for years now. I will miss everything here very much. But I can't dwell on the comforts of home anymore. It's not good for my morale or for my stomach. What I will take from home is the strength that everyone of my friends and family has given me, and the love that has been shown to me. I will share that with South Africa.

I've been put in a position that allows me to contribute to changing the world. Many of you have told me that I can in fact change the world. Truth is, anyone and everyone can, if they want it enough. My promise to you is to do my part, and prove you right.

I'll be back in two months.

Sala Sentle. (Setswana - Stay well)
Sala Kahle. (Zulu - Stay well)


Great Expectations - not the movie

Bottom line. I don't really know what to expect. I've already decided to just let things happen.

Now that I've come to my conclusion, I'll try to figure out how I got there.

I talked to my brother the other nite about some of what was going thru my mind. Andrew had paid me a surprise visit at home - something unexpected - I thought he was stuck out in Colorado taking classes all summer with no more than a few days off. Turns out, I was wrong. Not only was I wrong, but I was blatantly uninformed. It's amazing the length a secret can go without being divulged to the party it's designed to be kept from. Usually someone blows it all up with an absent-minded comment, or maybe they just didn't know that person A was the person who as supposed to be left in the dark, and so tells person A, said secret. Well, that didn't happen, and everyone from my cousins from upstate, to my neighbors, to friends who were living in different states at the time kept mum. It was a wonderful surprise.

But. Back to my thought process. Andrew (my brother, for those of you playing the home game) and I took a ride to Jones Beach late on Monday nite to just spit a bit about everything we hadn't really had the chance to do. He got me talking about Peace Corps after a lengthy conversation about our own thoughts on "the afterlife" or the lack thereof, depending on the party. I realize reading that back that it sounds like something fourth graders also might have a conversation about... "Do you think there's really a heaven?" "Definitely." "How do you know?" "My sister's best friend has a brother who knows a guy who goes there on vacation in the summer." "No he doesn't." "Yea, he does. I saw him there." Well, maybe not, but I found myself answering questions or at least trying to answer questions I had never tried to put into words before.

It got me thinking about religion and what role that will play during my time overseas. South Africans are a rather religious people and often people will ask you to come to their church on Sundays. I realized I may be in situations where it is expected that I share my religious beliefs, or ideas about God. I'm very comfortable in my own mind with my beliefs, but expressing them coherently to another person proved to be very difficult, as my conversation with Andrew illustrated. What those beliefs are is not necessarily the point at this time, but rather how to express them so others may understand them. It would be easy if they fit into a schematic of an established religious faith, but for myself, it's not that simple. Anyway, that's a conversation to be had with myself at another time.

All this led to expectations from the Peace Corps. Someone had been talking to my brother a few days earlier and had asked him something along the lines of, "What's Joey going to do after he gets back from the Peace Corps? Has he thought about a real job yet?"


This brought up two issues.

#1 - It seems that some people don't fully understand the scope or reach of the Peace Corps, or anything that it actually does. This is not their fault at all - but the above example illustrates the problem of unawareness. I'll be honest - I have no idea of the scope or reach of the PC myself, but I would certainly stop short of belittling it by indicating one must move on to a "real job" afterwards. It's not just a two year vacation, as some may imagine it resembles.

#2 - I have no freaking clue what I'm going to do after Peace Corps, and to be honest, it's more or less the last thing on my mind right now. I have to get started before I think about wrapping everything up and moving on. It's like walking into a restaurant and having the obviously attractive hostess ask you if you've thought about dessert yet, or what your breakfast plans are for tomorrow. You don't have an answer yet, and you shouldn't be expected to. Although, a little word of advice - if an attractive hostess ever asks you what your breakfast plans are for the next morning, especially if she does it before seating you, you had better think of a witty answer rather quickly, and pray that you have a pen on you to get her number.

After Peace Corps... Already? Well, I've always had the idea that Peace Corps would be the key that would unlock countless doors, leading down many paths for the future. Peace Corps will highlight what I'm good at, where my strengths and weaknesses are, will hopefully help me realize where my passions are, and allow me to network with countless individuals - most likely all with similar goals and life plans as my own. At this point, I don't plan on staying around in South Africa for too much longer than my service allows. I expect to come back to the US, maybe go to grad school for XXXXXXXX. That's not meant to indicate my entry into adult entertainment, but rather just something to be filled in at a later date. I expect that my experiences will be something I can bring back with me to an academic environment, and continue learning from them, and share stories with others in school. Sustainable development, global health issues, international development and relations, poverty issues - all are possibilities for a grad school focus, but the list is by no means exclusive.

I guess I'll head back to Long Island for a while when I return to get my bearings straight. I'm sure I'll be in the mindset to get my own place - but I don't think I will be able to jump right into it, being that the readjustment allowance the PC gives to returning volunteers is currently under $7G. Maybe by that point some of my friends will have become rather well off, and will let me stay in their pool house, so long as I don't hog the courvoisier (does anyone actually drink that stuff?), or set the place on fire with an overabundance of Tiki torches that I set up for ambience, or scare the neighbors with my affinity for magic.

I'll need a job. Maybe a job doing research for a development organization, or working with HIV/AIDS issues domestically. Maybe bartending or painting houses for a few months. I'd be a great babysitter because I adore kids - even if I think they look funny. But I don't think many people would hire a 25 year-old long haired, bearded, Setswana speaking babysitter. At least, no one that I've come across. Ah - I guess that means I expect my beard and hair to grow long... That is, if I have much hair left by the time I get back. Yea, the hair gene in my family is not so strong, so I expect to lose a good bit of it. I've always been rather vain about my hair in my younger days, and I guess I still kind of am, but I promise, no hair pieces. Only combovers and spraypainted hair.

What about immediate expectations? Expectations of my service? To understand somewhat what it is I expect, you must understand that my whole life I've had a rather optimistic view of the world and the challenges it faces. I do express my fair share of disappointment and go thru periods where I think everything has gone to shite, but overall, it is my mindset that any problem can be addressed and dealt with as long as there is the dedication to solve it. Not just a "We should do something about this because it's the right thing to do." But rather, "We can do this because there's no reason we can't. You say there is a reason we can't? Well, we'll start there."

I'm not sure how informative this entry was overall about my expectations, but I'm sure I'll be posting more in the future here and there about what it is I will expect. For now, it's difficult. As I said at the beginning of this entry:

Bottom line, I don't really know what to expect. I've decided to just let things happen.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Events That Have Led Me Here

It's amazing I'm less than two weeks away from departing for South Africa with the Peace Corps. I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I'd end up here at some point. I just didn't know when. Because I've been waiting so long, and all of a sudden it's here, it kinda feels at random times like I'm being punched in the face.

I'm going to take some time to reflect back on how I came to this point, and then maybe talk a bit about where I may end up. Maybe mull over some possible goals for myself. I have them in my head, though nothing concrete yet. Anyway. Let's go back to the beginning.

Sophomore Year. It's March or April of 2004, and some friends of mine had just returned from South Africa, where they spent a month doing service work at the Mohau AIDS orphange. An hour of story telling and pictures flowing by on a projector screen had mesmerized me. My friends were up there speaking to a couple fellow students, a handful of faculty, and maybe one or two higher ups in the ranks of the University of Delaware system about the specific jobs they had done, ranging from administering medicine to young children, changing dipers, assisting with record keeping in the offices, or pushing kids on the swingset outside. The goal was to convince the University to establish a service trip as the main proponent of future study abroad trips to South Africa. I don't know who else they sold on the idea that day, but I knew I was in.

There have been times in my young life where I had determined "I will do X" and in fact I do X. Up to that point in my life, "X" may have been anything from eating a cookie, to finishing that paper that is actually due in four hours, to commiting myself to exercise for longer than a half hour. "X" as you may have inferred, almost always referred to small goals of mine.

So imagine my surprise when I heard myself telling my friends "I am doing this trip next year, no matter what it takes." It could have just been bullshit coming out of a very emotionally charged Joey, and I can see why some people would think that. Hell, I thought it at first. But then as I repeated the statement over and over again to different friends of mine, I felt the strangest thing... I knew deep down that I was fully committed to what I was saying. No matter what it would cost, no matter what I had to do, I knew I was going to do this.

At this point I would like to thank my mom and dad outright for supporting me and actually paying for my trip. They certainly made the process a billion times easier.

South Africa captivated me from the moment I stepped out of the mini-bus taxi that had taken us to our home base the day we arrived. As I stepped out of the car, I breathed in slightly and my lungs were instantly saturated with a richness they had never felt before. There was something about the air quality in Waterkloof Ridge that snagged me at the first possible instant. My experience only got better from that point on.

The month of January 2005 was spent traveling around the Gauteng province and just beyond, volunteering in one of three places. The Mohau AIDS Orphange in Atteridgeville, Motheong Primary School also in Atteridgeville, and the Tumelong Project, which for us was a day care center and primary school in one for children in the Wintervedt region of South Africa. We also spent a good amount of time visiting local sites such as the Apartheid Museum, Lesedi Cultural Village, a Cheetah Reserve, and the Madikwe Game Reserve on the Botswana border, which also happens to be the place where a handful of us had a VERY close encounter with a bull elephant while on safari. It was a very exciting and fulfilling month.

Despite everything we were involved with, very few instances stand out in my mind as life changing, and I think that's a good thing. It's good to recognize stand out moments when you are overwhelmed with new experiences, because the stand out moments put everything else in perspective. For example, while at Mohau, I had interacted with every single one of the children who were healthy enough to be with. I felt I had made somewhat of a connection with a few of them, and of the few, some stronger than the others. I felt needed by many children in the respect that they needed me to push them on the swings, or they needed me to reach a toy they weren't supposed to have that was on a high shelf somewhere, or they needed me to turn on the tv that was up too high for them. They were using me for my size and strength!!!! Well, who wouldn't?

One of my "Whoa" moments came about a week into my volunteer service. A young girl, Rafilwe, had been sick the last few days and was just now starting to reintegrate with the rest of the kids, but she was still not well. She cried all the time and would stop only when she came to me, and grabbed my shirt or beard as she sat down on my lap. For some reason, she didn't want to go to anyone else but me, and for a few hours, I was the only one who could comfort her. I felt needed, but in a whole different respect. I was only needed temporarily, yes, and she eventually would have been fine even if I wasn't there at all, but that's not the point. I realized that my presence could comfort a lonely child halfway across the world, despite having nothing in common, not even a language.

The other child who changed my life immeasurably is Gontse. Gontse was three years old when I met him for the first time. He spoke very little English, and for the first few days, we communicated via his best friend, Given, who seemed to be the head honcho and communicator amongst the younger children. My relationship with Gontse began innocently on the swingset, we moved on to the point where he was able to climb up my legs and into my arms, and eventually developed to the point where he seemed to be my own personal sidekick, my right hand man - thought mostly he wanted to be carried everywhere. From the moment I walked in at 8 am, until the moment I left at 4 pm, he was with me. His favourite thing to do was put his arms up (indicating "pick me up") and once he was in my arms, he would bend over backwards, wanting to be hung upside down and walked around the yard, viewing the world from a completely inverted perspective. I only grew tired of this after the 117th time in a row, but even then I couldn't help but keep doing it.

I'm not sure how this will sound, but it doesn't matter. I felt like a father figure to Gontse for the entire time I was there. It made me realize on a limited level, the feelings one must have from starting a family, and having children of one's own. What destroyed me inside was the knowledge that I would only be part of Gontse's life for three weeks, after which I would return to the States, and he would have a whole host of other volunteers who he could hang off of and have push him on the swings. He was only three years old, I had known him only three weeks, but he changed my life forever. I now had to deal with the feelings I had of him most likely not remembering who I was, despite my never in a million years forgetting him.

A third major "Whoa" event happened unexpectedly on our day off. To understand the scope of this day, I must first do my best to explain the company I kept while in South Africa. My four main amigos at the time consisted of:

1- Jordan Leitner - 21 year old singer-songwriter with an open mind and vicious appetite for new experiences and learning about the unknown. Immerses himself in a situation to get the most out of it as humanly possible.

2- Jeremy Whiteman - 19 year old with a passion for social justice, equality, an open mind and ever-ready sense of humor. Also has ice blue eyes and a huge smile.

3- Kwasi Agbottah - 23 year old transfer student originally from Texas. Actively involved in educational pursuits and examining how race and culture affects his everyday life.

4- Eugene Matusov - Our "professor". Actually is a professor of Education, also has a degree in Physics. (Eugene will have to correct me if I am mistaken) Emigrated from Russia in the 1980s after numerous run-ins with the KGB over such incidents as holding rock concerts in household basements and helping a drunk German man get back on his feet after he somehow crossed the border by train from China. Usually is seen wearing a fanny pack or holding a cup of iced coffee from local coffee shops. Also is the most brilliant man I have met in my life, as well as one of the most innovative and inquisitive. His thirst for knowledge is only outdone by his ability to think up new ways to approach this task.

Our unexpected journey ocurred after Eugene made contact with a friend of his (Lebo - notice Delaware shirt) from Soweto - a collection of black townships near Jo'burg. The plan was to spend the day in Soweto helping Lebo beautify and clean up the park area near his home. The park had had major work done to it after Lebo enlisted the help of community members who turned it into a soccer field for kids to play on when they came home from school. "If the kids don't keep busy, they get in trouble - either with gangs or fooling around with girls." In other words, a simple thing like a soccer field could keep kids busy enough not to get involved with violent activities and keep them away from the temptations sexual activity has to offer your average 12 - 18 year old.

We arrived with a bag of 10 new soccer balls which had been given to us by the folks at Mohau who had no need for them. We spent the first part of the day buying painting materials to whitewash a stone wall on the border of the park. The goal was to paint the wall white to make the park look more appealing, and to give local artists a canvas to exhibit their artwork. Throughout the day, local people would stop by to talk to us - ask us where we were from, why we were here, what were we doing etc. More often than not, after talking for a short while, the passerby would pick up a spare roller and help us paint while we conversed. I'm sure the sight of this many white people in the heart of Soweto is not a common one, and we invited more attention than I ever previously thought we would. It turned out to be an amazing day. People would talk to us simply to practice their English speaking skills, the kids would tear us away from painting to play soccer with them, and more and more people came to help out with painting than we ever expected. By the end of daylight, a six foot square portrait of a young Nelson Mandela had been painted on the wall, we were all covered in white paint, sweat, grass stains, apple pieces, and probably more bugs than we cared to admit. We were beyond happy.

The day didn't end when the sun went down. Lebo and his friends brought over about six or seven different djembes and other shakers and percussion instruments, and within minutes the sounds of a giant drum circle filled the air, complete with whistles and yells and Lebo and kids dancing - swinging their legs over their heads, stomping the ground, clapping their hands. Their was an energy in the air that was so invigorating you literally felt like your feet might leave the ground at any moment.

As the drum circle dwindled, a BBQ feast was being prepared. Sausages, chickens and the staple food - pap, was available to us, the guests, after being cooked over a wood burning grill. This was followed by a generous handing out of giant pineapple slices - so potent and delicious they felt like they burned my tongue as I bit into each piece. This was no small matter. Poverty is an issue in Soweto like many parts of South Africa. So for Lebo and friends to pool together and put together a meal for myself and my friends was an incredible gift. All of us konked out on the ride home - a testament to the energy spent and the fullness of the day.

It was one of the most incredible days of my life - one which will never leave my memory. What we accomplished that day pales in comparison to the friendships we made, and the level of communication we were able to achieve with our new friends. The most important experience of that Friday in Soweto was that of the connection made between strangers, brothers, friends, all ultimately human.

I needed to go back to South Africa. Not solely to see Gontse and Rafilwe and try to replicate the relationships we had, or to try and recreate the atmosphere of that day in Soweto, but to see if the entire experience in South Africa was a wonderful one-time deal, or if the emotions and feelings the country elicited in me could progress even further, and to see if I could make a lasting contribution to the country and the people that had helped shape my life.

Next up will be future predictions and goals. For tonite, I'm spent.

Robala sentle. (Good nite)