Thanksgiving Festivities

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had as long of a thanksgiving celebration as I have this year in South Africa. The weekend before the actual holiday I decided to show my host family what a traditional american meal is. I bought a live chicken (no turkeys in my area) and had a friend kill and pluck it for me. Then early saturday morning I woke up and went to the store to buy some groceries. It took much longer than expected but I made it home in plenty of time. I made stuffing, roasted a whole chicken, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, and two apple pies all from scratch. A huge storm was rolling in the whole time but luckily the electricity stayed on throughout my cooking adventure.

We sat down for dinner at four and actually ate at the table. Two of my host siblings made a surprise appearance from Joburg and two children of the woman who works in my house were present along with my host parents, resident host brother and myself. The power cut out about halfway through the meal so we finished it by candlelight. They loved the meal from what I could tell, and just like at home the men went off to watch football (soccer in this case) once the food was finished.

All of Thanksgiving week I either had visitors from other villages or I was visiting other pcvs sites. On actual thanksgiving I was visiting one of my good friends and we made scrambled eggs and hashbrowns for dinner. Saturday I traveled to polokwane with three volunteers from my area to meet up with about 30 pcvs for a giant thanksgiving meal. It was so wonderful to meet so many volunteers from other groups and share such a wonderful meal. Everyone brought a dish and contributed for meat. It was a massive spread of food I wish I had taken a picture of. Delicious food, good company, and hot showers. Definitely a fantastic thanksgiving!

I will put up pictures once I’m with my computer again. Ill be away from it for most of December for doctor appointments, training, and vacations so probably none soon.

For my first Thanksgiving outside of America it was a success. I missed all of you at home and nothing beats a true American Thanksgiving but this was a good substitute.


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Eventful Week!

Ok maybe not super eventful, but there’s not a lot going on here in rural Africa. I had my site visit from peace corps on Tuesday and my furniture arrived at exactly the same time. So nice to see some familiar faces and also have furniture finally. The rest of the week was pretty low key. I was sick on Thursday so unfortunately I missed the farewell to the seventh graders at my school. I was really disappointed but after my third time sprinting to the pit latrine before 730 am, I decided it was best if I stayed home. My body is still adjusting to africa, to say the least.
Saturday I woke up early to do laundry. Did that, cleaned my room, did dishes, and burned my trash. Then I realized it wasn’t even noon yet. I spent my afternoon drawing. It was so nice to be able to relax and do something I enjoy. Drawing is definitely my way of destressing. Below is the picture I finished.

Saturday night I realized my cousins wedding was that day. All my homesickness hit me at once like a ton of bricks. I like it here and I’m happy, but last night there is no place I would have rather been than at Jackie and Mark’s wedding. I never in a million years would have thought I’d miss her wedding. Obviously part of being here is making sacrifices, and missing events like that are my sacrifices. Thankfully I was able to talk to my mom on the phone and I have some amazingly supportive friends who are going through the same things as me. I don’t know how I would do this without their support.

This morning I slept in, then went to town to buy food and a fan. Its been getting pretty hot lately and i was in desperate need of a fan. I realized Sunday is a great day to go shopping in my town since most of the stores are closed which means fewer people to harass me. I really only shop in the two grocery stores and those were both open. I bought my food and fan and headed home, sweaty but excited about possibly not melting in my room anymore. As I got off of the taxi and walked past my main school, I heard some people calling my African name (Refilwe) from the school. I saw two older women and a man sitting outside the computer lab. I didn’t recognize them but that doesn’t mean much, I don’t really recognize anyone. My immediate thought was that someone had broken into the computer lab and stolen the computers (not at all an uncommon occurance in schools here). My heart sank because that’s my main project in that school and I’ve been working on those computers for the past two months. Luckily that was not the case, which I found out after a lengthy and confusing conversation with the man who had run up to the gate and said he had come to collect me but I wasn’t home. I realized I had forgotten about a wedding I had been invited to when I first arrived in my village two months ago. I really didn’t want to go but finally decided it must have been important to the man who invited me if he sent his son in a car to pick me up. I called my host dad and had him talk to the man to verify if was ok to go with him. So the man, a little girl who was with him and I drove to my house where I dropped off my groceries and headed to the wedding. May I remind you I had just come from the store so I was wearing a peace corps tshirt, cotton skirt, flip flops, and had a bandana tied around my head. Also sweating buckets and hadn’t even washed my face yet that day. If I’ve learned anything here though, its to just go with it. We got to the wedding where I was promptly abandoned in a crowd of people I don’t know and awkwardly sat down and watched the ceremony. Once the bridal party started dancing in to the tent I was left trying to awkwardly make conversation with some gogos (grandmothers, really a term that applies to any woman over 35). Then a woman who appeared to be a few years older than me came up and asked me to sit with her. After talking for a while I learned that she and her husband are doctors at the hospital that’s about 2 km from my house. The same hospital that my host mom works in as a nurse. They have a newborn baby who I held for a while and burped. They are an extremely nice couple, and only a couple years older than me. The husband is working at the hospital for another year so they will be staying in the doctors quarters until this time next year. We exchanged numbers and I’m sure I will visit them soon. Its so nice to be making friends who are closer to my age in my village. I also met a woman this week who volunteers in the library of my main school who is my age.

After the wedding I finally returned home. I spoke to my host parents for a while then went to my room. My host dad came in later and started asking about my furniture. I couldn’t figure out why until he told me my host mom wanted to give me a chair. I said ok, then realized it was a sofa chair. Some serious rearranging had to happen but everything now fits. He also gave me two metal chairs since I broke the plastic one I had before by sitting in it. Not one of my more graceful moments of the week. The leg shot off and I fell flat on my back. I love my host family so much. They are the most gracious, kind, hospitable, friendly people you could ever hope to meet. They took a total stranger in to their home for two years and are keeping me even after they realized how socially awkward and dense I can be in this new culture. They’re also saints for not kicking me out even though I’ve been here two months and they still haven’t been paid by the department of education. Oh and I’m breaking their furniture.

All in all, a pretty good week. One more week of school, then visits to and from my neighboring volunteers for thanksgiving week, then thanksgiving in polokwane with volunteers from all groups, then one more week of work followed by in service training in pretoria for a week and a half, another week hanging out at site, then vacation in eastern cape and durban for Christmas and new years! I can’t wait to see my fellow volunteers and have a break from village life.

Final thought of the week, a quote from a book called “Americans do their business abroad” which is a great collection of short stories by volunteers about their experiences in their countries of service. One story says “cross cultural experience is the polite way of saying, ‘playing the fool.'” I can’t even tell you how true that is. Bless all the people here who have had to put up with the awkward nonsense I do every day.

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During our training, a current volunteer said “in peace corps you will have your highest highs and your lowest lows”. So far that has proven to be true, but I wasn’t prepared for them to occur in the same day. It seems like a single event can spin my day 180 degrees in a moment.

Today started off a little rocky. I’m struggling with a relationship with one of the key people in my schools and its pretty stressful. The constant harassment whenever I walk down the street was also starting to get to me. Things were fine when I got to school but since there was testing there really wasn’t anything for me to do. I know one of my schools uses corporal punishment but until today I hadn’t seen it at my other school. That changed when I walked into a classroom to see a teacher hitting a kid with a stick. My approach, while not necessarily the best, is to simply walk away. I show my disapproval by refusing to witness it. While its sad and I don’t agree with using corporal punishment (especially to the degree I’ve witnessed here) its not the reason I’m here. I’m not going to stop corporal punishment in south africa and trying to would most likely mean alienating myself from the teachers and being unable to accomplish anything meaningful.

Anyway, after my morning I was feeling pretty down about being here. I had plans to meet with the woman who runs the OVC in my community (orphans and vulnerable children center) because I need a counterpart for my training in December. The woman came to meet me at the school and immediately turned my entire day around. I’ve never met this woman before but she immediately came up to me and hugged me. Her level of enthusiasm for what she does is amazing. She started this ovc from nothing and now they have a new building that’s been donated by Pick n Pay. The children were so sweet and welcoming as I spent the afternoon with them. Many of them knew me already because they attend the schools I work at. They sang and danced and we played soccer for a bit. The best part was that about two minutes into my conversation with her, the woman who runs the ovc agreed to go to the training with me and seemed very enthusiastic about the idea of me working with her on projects.

I came home from the ovc feeling much better about my day and situation and actually started my workout routine. I’m pathetically out of shape and since I’ve signed up to run a half marathon in March, I need to start training. While my routine isn’t really conventional, I think it will help. Most of the stuff is pretty normal but I end with a ten minute dance party. Basically what that means is I dance around my room like an idiot for ten minutes. While I’m not really sure what physical benefit it has, it certainly makes me feel better.

My other big accomplishment of the day was burning my own trash for the first time. Since I live in a rural area, there’s no trash pickup. This means anything I want to throw away must be burned. Up until now my family has burned it for me, but since I have a site visit from Peace Corps tomorrow and a full bag of trash I decided to do it myself. It was actually pretty fun, although I’m sure inhaling burning plastics isn’t super great for my health. One thing about not having your trash picked up is you become very aware of how much you use and throw away. I’ve started looking at things in the store and evaluating how they’re packed because I know ill have to get rid of it somehow in the future.

On the plus side, I actually produce a very small amount of trash now. Far far less than I did in America. My water and electricity usage is also significantly lower. I walk most places and aside from burning plastics, my life is pretty earth friendly at the moment!

Well, that’s all for today. I’m trying to be better about updating so expect to hear more from me!

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pictures part two

Ok here comes round two.

Picture number one is what my laundry days look like. Every saturday (depending on the weather) I do laundry which can be anywhere from a one to three hour process, not including drying time. We do have a washing machine, but it involves dragging it outside, filling it up with the hose, and later draining it and dragging it back inside. Plus the clothes still need to be rinsed twice by hand.

Picture two is of the bedroom half of my room. You can see my lovely army green mosquito net.. Not nearly as princess-like as the pretty white ones. Plus its stiff and scratchy.

The next picture is of the kitchen side of my room. The green cabinets my host family is generously letting me borrow for two years. Beats cooking on the floor which is what I was doing before.

Next is a picture of me (with hair grown out enough to disguise the atrocious haircut I got right before swearing in). I’m wearing a necklace I bought when I went to town with two other volunteers.

Lastly is a picture from a wedding I went to. It shows the giant cooking pots used to prepare the food for the wedding. Also the woman dressed in the traditional outfit is the principal for one of my schools.

More to come soon!

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pictures part one

So I attempted to post all these at once and my phone nearly exploded, so I’m going to try again in two seperate posts. I’m determined to get these pictures on here!

Photo one is of my house. My room is the one with the white security gate. This building is seperate from the main house.

The second picture is of my bath tub. While it took some getting used to, I’m pretty good at bucket bathing now.

Photo three is of the gift that was given to me by one of the chiefs wives. The long skinny gourd is for scooping the traditional beer, the wider gourd is for drinking water and the painted ceramic bowls are mostly for decoration. It was a wonderful welcome to the village!

Lastly, my toilet. My family has a flushing toilet in the house I can use but this one is right by my room. Not bad as far as pit latrines go.

Hopefully more pictures to come in the next post!

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Other Updates

Yesterday I was talking with the lady who runs the tuck shop down the street from my house and she told me she has had several Americans live with her. Apparently there’s another volunteer program that sends music teachers to rural areas for 6 months at a time and they live with a host family. I’m going to try to get the names from her so I can try to connect with people who have lived in my village before. It would also be amazing if another volunteer was sent while I’m here, although I know having that easy of access to Americans isn’t what this whole thing is about.
Currently I’m about 80km from my two closest volunteers. Depending on who’s driving, it takes between 35 and 90 minutes to travel by taxi between my village and theirs. My closest real town is slightly past their village so we meet up there occasionally for lunch. It’s expensive for me to get there, usually R26 each way which is about 7 dollars roundtrip. It doesn’t sound expensive but I’m broke. To get to my shopping town (not really a town but a strip mall) it costs R9 each way which is about 2-3 dollars roundtrip. I usually go there two or three times a month to buy groceries, do banking, etc. It’s an easy combi ride from my village, but I have to walk about a mile from my house to the main road where I can catch a taxi.
Buying groceries is a strategy game of how much you can afford, carry over a mile, and fit in your lap on the combi. I have yet to master this game and usually end up with way more than I can comfortably carry and make a scene trying to get off of the taxi.
I got two care packages recently, one from my dad and one from my mom. Thanks mom and dad!!!!!! I have an amazing stock of American food now which makes me really happy. I got beef jerky, spicy thai tuna, starburst, a lifetime supply of skittles, clif bars, gum, starbucks instant coffee and some clothes and movies. I’m really bad about rationing care package stuff so I blow through it pretty quickly. Plus the kids who live behind me love skittles so I give them a couple every once in a while.
I wish it was possible to ship cheese or Chipotle burritos. I’m dying for some good Mexican food. I attempted to create my own last night from some taco seasoning my mom sent me and homemade flour tortillas. The tortillas were delicious but either my ground beef was bad or my stomach isn’t used to meat anymore because I felt pretty sick after eating it. I haven’t eaten much meat lately because it’s expensive and I’m usually too lazy to cook it. I eat a lot of eggs and bread, but my meat is usually frozen so I don’t want to take the time to thaw it.
Also my power was off more than it was on for a few days and the big bag of frozen chicken I had went bad and had to be thrown away. My limits of what’s acceptable to eat have certainly changed but I’m still not messing with bad chicken.
Anyway, sorry about all of these posts right in a row but I forgot how little I’ve shared about my experience on here. I’m at the point where things seem pretty routine and I forget how different it would seem to someone at home.

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Your Changing Body..

Life here is good. I need to learn to cook better, or just become less lazy. I eat a lot of bread and carbs simply because its cheap and easy to make. I would like to think all of my clothes are just shrinking but its far more likely that my ass is just growing. I haven’t seen a scale or mirror in a long time, but based on the daily “you’re getting so fat!” comments, I’ve gained weight. Speaking of mirrors, I lost my mirror that’s about the size of my hand for almost a week. That means I didn’t see my own reflection for nearly a week.. Needless to say, I’m not looking real hot here. I’d like to think there was a time when I didn’t look like a homeless woman, but the longer I’m here, the less possible that seems. I’d also like to believe there will be a time when I will wear fashionable clothes, not have a terrible haircut, wear makeup and nice shoes, but that feels like a lifetime from now.
Being in South Africa means I have far fewer of the health concerns that many other African volunteers experience. We don’t have nearly as many parasites to worry about, the area I live in doesn’t have malaria problems, and I don’t even really need to filter my water. Apparently it also means that instead of losing weight, like you would expect from a PCV in Africa, I’m actually gaining weight. We’ll call it the Peace Corps 15, much like the Freshman 15 only without all the fun junk food. No, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve gained weight off of good ol’ bread and butter.
To combat this, I’ve started eating less (duh) and told myself I’ll start running. I know that I will chicken out easily so I asked some of the 7th grade girls to run with me two or three times a week. For one thing this is a safer option, and secondly I know they’ll show up at my door ready to run. It’s much harder to change your mind about something when other people are going with you. We had our first run on Monday and it was really interesting.. Four girls showed up wearing either jeans or mini skirts and slippers. Not a pair of tennis shoes between the four of them. It was nice not being the most out of shape person in the group. I’ve also signed up for a half-marathon that is in March that I have a feeling may just be a nice really long walk rather than a run.
During that run, which lasted a total of ten minutes, I was invited to a birthday party and asked to help someone with homework. If you want to be really popular in a village really quickly, put on your running shorts and go jog. I think some of the villagers honestly thought these girls were chasing me. We acquired a few extra runners along the way and it ended with a homework session at my house. None of the kids I was helping with homework attend any of the schools I work at. It has since turned into a daily homework help session in my yard at 5:30 every day.
Another volunteer was supposed to come visit me for a day this weekend but something came up so she can’t now. Fortunately I was able to visit with some of my fellow volunteers in Polokwane last weekend and we had a blast. We got to meet a volunteer from SA23 (we’re SA24) and spent some time socializing and celebrating a birthday. It was so nice to get away from site for a night and decompress with people who are in the same boat as me. While I don’t plan to do this often, mostly because I’m poor, it is really nice to get together with other Americans every once in a while.

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