Learning! Yay!

Month Twenty Two: 13 April – 12 May 2010

–         How to paint the world

–         Never leave a man behind

–         Too much about the PC EAP- Thanks Gert

–         Metta Prayer

–         Tempest Car Rental stinks, occasionally

–         How much kids love teddy bears!

–         To answer some really heavy questions with grace

–         Cucumbers make for a rather awkward condom demo, and that is saying something


Month Twenty Three: 13 May- 12 June 2010

–         I have the most wonderful PCV friends EVER! I am so lucky to have them all!

–         To sew lots better

–         A new love of ironing

–         That I am pretty terrible on a first date these days

–         Lots more about futbol (that is soccer to you Americans)

–         About how to translate PC service into the next adventure

–         That I am a second-guesser by nature

Month Twenty Four: 13 June- 12 July 2010

–         More futbol and World Cup Competition rules

–         Just how much tourists stand out

–         Packing still sucks

–         Trying to remember how to live with less

–         My emotions are just a construct of my brain

–         More craft projects!

–         Just how lucky I am to have gotten to be here in this wonderful village with this wonderful family and how much I am going to miss them!


Dangerously Close

5 July 2010

I am dangerously close to being an RPCV. Today is my last day in my village and I have packed my bags, given away 80% of what I own, and scrubbed down the windows, floors and walls. It is pretty amazing that in a week’s time I will be done with this experience.

This past month we have been on school holiday, which coincided with the World Cup! World Cup fever has taken over SA and it is awesome! We watched the kick-off match between SA and Mexico deck-out in our Bafana Bafana gear at the fan park in Polokwane. I also got to go to two matches at the Polokwane Stadium; Algeria vs Slovenia and Paraguay vs NZ. It was so fun to be a part of the action. We also got out to support USA and wave our flags at a local bar! What a great energy to end my service.

 It has been hard thinking about leaving SA behind and moving on to the next adventure. I feel so lucky to have gotten to stay in this beautiful village with such a wonderful family, who has taken great care of me. And the PCV friends I made are people I will know for the rest of my life.

Coming back to life in America is intimidating; driving, looking for a job, heck- how trying to date someone! While I am looking forward to some of the comforts that the US has to offer like hot showers and Mexican food, I am also nervous about how to integrate the person I have become with fast paced, consumer culture of the States. But this is all part of the Peace Corps challenge and just like the rest of this experience it will take patience, humor and time. (In PC lingo they call this “re-entry”, its like I am an astronaut!)

I can’t wait to see you all on the flip side!

18 May 2010

Maytime Harvest Moon

Good Morning All! I hope this finds you enjoying some pleasant weather and looking forward to your favorite outdoor activity!

weather here in GaMaja is, in fact, much more pleasant as we are heading toward the winter season. It has been a long, beautiful, cool and rainy fall and despite the villagers’ complaints that it’s too cold, I am loving it!

I read somewhere once that fall and the fall harvests were celebrated as a time of fulfillment and a job well done. That is how this month is feeling. We (SA:18ers) are wrapping up projects, celebrating our successes and our failures in equal measure, and taking stock of what the harvest has brought. I think that most of are finding that for all the seeds we planted, soil we turned, sweat we spent and muscles we gained that the most prolific growth has occurred within ourselves. Sure, our villages and the people within our reach have also gained from our efforts but it is hard to measure. And on my best days I have learned to stop trying to measure the growth in others, because the most considerable thing I have learned is my own insignificance. I am not sure insignificance is the word I am grasping for, I only mean that I have learned to put aside my own ego, expectations and American sense of individuality for the greater good.

The biggest challenge all PCVs face, no matter where they are serving, is our own egos. We come into this experience with hopes and expectations of what we changes we can make, how it will look and how it will feel. But it is soon realized that these expectations are unrealistic, if only because we do not fully understand the needs of our communities. This is easily remedied by find out what it is that the community really needs or wants. But let me tell you, this is a shot to the ego. It is not easy to put aside our overeager American egos that think they know what is best.

For me it has been a constant challenge to put aside the part of me that wants to take over a slow moving project and just do it myself! But in the end, if I had just done it all myself it would have defeated the purpose of PC service. So, I gave it my best shot. I am not saying that I successfully put aside my ego all the time, or even with much grace at all but I did give it a shot. And once put aside, even for a moment, it is oddly freeing to know that others will be just fine without me.

And just for the record, no matter how much I ramble on about what I have learned or how many times you may hear me say “when I was in Peace Corps…” keep in mind that I really don’t know what I am talking about. I can speak for my experience and what I think I have learned from it. But what I have found is that the thing I think I know today, I find out tomorrow that I really don’t know!

And now to what has been going on in the real world! Two weeks ago I spent some time at my friend Kelly’s village to help with a playground construction project and one more women’s health retreat.

Kelly had gotten materials donated to build a playground at the crèche (preschool) in her village, which serves about 60 kids. Like most crèche in SA, there was just several tiny tin structures that served mostly as storage space and a large open dirt patch for kids to play on. So over two days, with a lot of help from villagers and several other PCVs, we put together a shade structure, a tree house with swings and a tire obstacle course. All with only a power drill, a hand saw and very little constructional knowledge. But it worked great and the kids are loving it!

 We also ran a third women’s health retreat for secondary school learners in Kelly’s village. We had about 30 gals for several hours on a Saturday morning and we covered a lot of material. The thing that was striking to me about this retreat was the questions the women asked. We always put out a question box so that women can ask questions anonymously and there were some very tough questions this time. Many of the questions were about rape and sexual abuse, unplanned pregnancy and HIV. We always strive to give direct, useful information that these women might not be getting anywhere else, so I can only hope that we got some good information out to the women who really needed it.

This week I am heading to one more meeting at the PC office in Pretoria, then out to spend sometime with other PCVs from my group. Our Close of Service (or COS) Conference is next week. It is hard to believe that we have already reached the end of our service! It seems like we are just getting the hang of this thing!

Only 25 more days until World Cup 2010! I hope you are setting your alarms to watch some games!

More and More

Month Seventeen: 13 Nov- 12 Dec. 2009

 – All about the history of Robben Island and Bokaap

 – How to make wine

 – A better understanding of what an amazing leader and human being Nelson Mandela is.

– The absolute grace of the idea of Reconciliation.

– That jumping fences is not a good idea when they are topped in barbed wire.

– To cook turkey upside down. Genius.

– How lucky I am that my parents got to see my life here in SA.

Month Eighteen: 13 Dec. 2009- 12 Jan 2010

– Baboons like carrot cake

– To trust my judgment. It’s usually right.

– That I don’t actually like to make spontaneous life choices. A plan and some research is better for me.

– About the travesties of sex trafficking and maternal mortality. Everyone needs to read the book Half The Sky.

– How to be a sister to a grown up woman.

– Some things only happen once in a New Year’s blue moon and that is ok.

 Month Nineteen: 13 Jan- 12 Feb. 2010

– How to plan children is not common knowledge. But it should be. – Some really good ground rules for building healthy relationships. – That the misinformation being circulated throughout SA starts at the very top.

 – That one of the most cost effective and simple ways to fight HIV is to empower women to not need to rely on sugar-daddies.

– How to make baby food.

– How to write a resume and letter interest.

– That if you want South Africans to come to your workshop, you better have certificates for them.

Month Twenty: 13 Feb- 12 March 2010

– That going to Pretoria is not as fun as it used to be. Its more of a chore now.

 – Its fun to talk to the Med-Evacs. They have such different and interesting stories about PC in the other parts of Africa.

– How to talk about my own religion and what impact it has had on my service.

 – Some more life history about people I spent a lot of time with.

– How to demonstrate condoms. Get out your bananas.

 – That there are a ton of CO school districts! Where am I going to apply to? Any ideas? Month

Twenty One: 13 March – 12 April 2010

– Lots about the animals of Africa.

– All about the largest inland delta in the world.

– When driving in Africa, always fill up the gas tank at the halfway mark. You never know when you will see a petrol station again.

– The depth of racism that still exists.

– 21.1km is not far! 56km is.

– To haggle for a really good price.

 – How to smile yourself out of a speeding ticket. 🙂 – SA is still a dangerous place.

– Tent poles sometimes wonder off….

– To get clothes made at Indian Center

– That there are a lot of countries in the world. I never realized how many until I had to draw them all!

Longtom, Lois and Lions!

13 April 2010

Longtom, Lois and Lions! Oh My!

Hello All!

I am just getting back to school after a wonderful holiday. It is absolutely amazing how fast time is going lately! We just hit the 21 months in country mark! Congrats to all you SA:18ers out there! And welcome to SA:21!

The holiday break started with the annual Longtom Marathon. About 50 other PCVs and I walked or ran the 21.1km from the top of Longtom Pass down into the town of Lydenburg. We even had 4 PCVs do the 56km Ultramarathon! The Longtom Marathon is a fundraising event for an organization called KLM; started by PCVs several years ago the organization provides scholarships for some promising learners to one of the best college prep schools in SA. It was a huge success this year! Thank you so much for everyone who donated! Plus I made it in 9 minutes faster than last year.

Next I had a quick visit from Grandma Lois (Nicholas) and her friend Mary Jane. They had been on a wonderful tour of Southern Africa including Botswana, Cape Town and Kruger Park. They extended their stay an extra couple of days to come up and visit my village. I think they were impressed with the infrastructure that SA has compared to surrounding countries and I hope the cows and roosters didn’t wake them up too early! It is always so wonderful to have visitors to the village. It is hard to describe what life is really like here, so the more people who can experience it- the better!

I then spent the last week of holiday break in Botswana with a few other PCVs. We started off driving way north to Maun for access to the Okavango Delta (the largest inland delta in the world). Our only mistake was not to fill up our gas tank when it was halfway empty. We ended up running out of gas in a cute little village called Motopi, 80km from the nearest gas station. Luckily the people were very nice and helped us find a guy who would sell us some petrol. It only cost us twice the price for 10L and a couple of cokes but we were back on the road!

The next day we took traditional mokoro boats poled by local Tswana guys out for an overnight in the delta. The mokoro boats are much like dug out canoes and are driven like gondolas (using a long pole to push off the river bed.) They sit low in the water, so we couldn’t see much but the tall reeds and plentiful lily pads. It was one of the most relaxing ways I have ever spent a couple of days. The Tswana guys also lead us on a couple of long (~25km total) overland hikes tracking animals. We came up upon a large herd of Cape Buffalo and lots of birds. But we also saw lots of spoors, tracks and dung from elephants, hyena and lions. And one evening we found hippos taking it easy in one of the deep pools of the delta. On our return trip to Maun we stopped by the village of our polers, and new friends. What a contrast to SA villages! There is a lot less money, and therefore infrastructure, in Botswana but it is made up for in the kindness and openness of the Tswana people.

Next we skirted around the saltpans, and more potholes than I have ever seen, to get to Kasane and Chobe National Park. As we arrive on the edge of town we spotted a large elephant herd on the road! There were nearly 30 elephants and about half of them were young babies. It was amazing to watch them eat and interact with one another. Elephants are incredibly social and intelligent creatures and these seemed to be pretty relaxed about a carload of cameras checking them out.

The following morning we got up before the sun, carefully checked for hippos in the campsite, and jumped into a safari truck to go see Chobe National Park. Chobe is known for the large population of elephants, as well as being home to 4 of the Big 5 (no rhinos.) Almost immediately upon entering the park our guide spotted a pack of 4 Wild Dogs! Wild Dogs are pretty rare and very hard to spot, so we were lucky that we got to see them. Besides the Wild Dogs we also saw lots more elephants, kudu, fish eagles, tons of baboon, giraffe and storks. We also saw a few of the national bird of Botswana the Lilac Breasted Roller, it has all the colors of the Botswana flag. On our way out of the park our guide took a little detour, the day before a leopard had made a kill near town and he wanted to see if it was still there. Sure enough, just off the side of the road to town, the leopard lazed under the brush digesting its meal. Another very rare sight!

That afternoon we took a boat ride down the Chobe River back into the National Park. The river is severely swollen; this is the most rain they have had in 30 years! It was amazing to see the animals as they came down to the river for a drink in the fading afternoon sun. We saw lots more hippos, elephant, fish eagles and even a very large croc. The highlight though was spotting a couple of female lions near the river. Can you believe I saw 4 of the Big 5 in one day!! (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Cape Buffalo- Check; Rhino- still missing)

The long trip back was fairly uneventful. We got back through the potholes all without running out of gas again! We did change a flat tire at sunset but other than that it was smooth sailing. Oh! Except for my smooth talking us out a speeding ticket. I won’t go into details but instead of paying $100USD or going to jail for the night, I got the police officer to “forgive” us! That’s right smiling does pay off!

I am back at home now and getting moving on lots of projects! I am going to finish painting my world map mural this month as well as doing one more women’s health retreat and transition my classes to other educators!

We are in the last stretch of the count down to World Cup! If any Mexico fans have an extra t-shirt I would love one to wear when they play in Polokwane!

Stay well.

Workshop Week

10 February 2010

Workshop Week

This past week, with the help of some great PCVs and local community members, we have had not one- but two wonderful workshops!

The first was a Women’s Health Workshop held at the local home-based care center. We had nearly thirty women between the ages of 19 and 36 come for two days to learn all about ways women can take care of themselves, their children and their communities. The highlight presenter was a woman named Naledi who works as a gender coordinator for the district; she gave a great lesson about healthy relationships. Her demeanor, honesty and enthusiasm had us all laughing, reflecting and feeling hopefully and empowered. Her message was to be always be truthful and to be responsible for your own happiness. It is not everyday that the women of rural SA are encouraged to take control and responsibility; I really believe that they will all think of Naledi and her wisdom from now on. Another thing Naledi said that stuck with me was that she defined responsibility as “the ability to respond.” And that is exactly what it is! We all have the ability to respond to situations to the best of our abilities with love in hearts. Thanks Naledi!
In addition to Healthy Relationships, we also had sessions on Nutrition and Exercise, Children’s Health, Interview Skills and CV writing, HIV/AIDS and Sexual Health. At the end of each day we asked the women something they had learned and it was very surprising for us Americans to hear what things they learned from our lessons. One of the most shocking for us was that someone said they learned they could plan children, she had never thought that children could be a choice you made when the time was right, not just something that happened to you. They also practiced putting condoms on bananas, as well as practiced saying no to sex or asking a partner to wear a condom. The women also really enjoyed the session on interview skills and how to write a CV; with unemployment at about 50% in our village everything we can do to help them get jobs is a huge help.
Overall the workshop went really well and the women are excited to get back together to talk about how they have applied what they learned and to plan another workshop for other women! A big thanks to Naledi, Joanna Davies, Kelly Wedin, Molly Murphy and Lady Maja for all your hard work!

The second workshop we did this week was a Permaculture and gardening workshop. Recently PC funded a training session for several PCVs to learn about a certain system of gardening which is meant to improve a garden’s yield by using water more wisely and using a technique called double digging. My friend Kelly stayed an extra couple of days in my village to help facilitate this workshop with me. We had about 15 people at the workshop and we covered water management, double digging and hexagonal planting. We dug a practice garden so that the participants could see all of the theories in practice. It was a short and sweet workshop but I think that the participants will really be able to put the techniques to great use in their own gardens, hopefully increasing their yield!

It has been a very fun and busy week, and now I ready for nap!

The last thing I wanted to mention is that I am participating the Long Tom Half Marathon again this year. It is a fundraiser to benefit a project that was started by PCVs several years ago. The project creates scholarships and provides support for several promising rural learners to attend one of the best college-prep secondary schools in the country. It is a wonderful organization and one the longest running projects in SA. The marathon will be held the last weekend in March, and I will be walking the 13+ miles from the top of Long Tom Pass down into Lydenburg. If you are interested in donating, it would be very much appreciated!
To Donate: go to http://www.klm-foundation.org and place your donation under my name! Thank you all so much!

My name is Leah, I will be your tour guide.

28 January 2010 Hello All! Happy New Year! It has been a while since my last post, I will try to be more diligent from here on out. To start let me get you up to date: To begin my parents were here over Thanksgiving and we had a wonderful trip! Highlights included: – Thanksgiving with lots of PCVs – Tour of my village and a little time with my host family – Sunset Game Drive – Tour of Bo Kaap neighborhood by local Cape-Malay woman – Visit to Robbin Island- wonderful former political prisoners as tour guides – Winelands! – Whales near De Kelders – Lunch at The Whaling Station And just because I am so very lucky, my sister Joanna came just after Christmas. We also had a great time in the village and Cape Town area. Highlights included: – Hike to Signal Hill – New Years on Long Street – Champagne Sail – Staying in a barn in wine country – Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope – Baboon Approved Carrot Cake I feel so lucky to have gotten to share some of my life in SA with my family. I think it really helped them to understand my struggles and joys, and I think it will make my transition home much easier. We have started back at school for another year, and things are busy! I am still teaching literacy and computer, but the educators have take over a lot of the responsibility for the classes, which is wonderful. I am in the mist of planning a couple of workshops for the upcoming month. First, a couple of other PCVs and I will be hosting a Women’s Health Workshop in my village next week. We will be talking about issues such as HIV/AIDS, Sexual Health, Healthy Relationships and Nutrition. The second workshop will be a permaculture and gardening workshop, focusing on higher yields from gardens, composting and water management. I am really excited for both workshops! I am also still working with educators on improving their teaching and classroom management practices; as well as helping both my schools get organized. It looks like it will be a very busy and fun few months leading up the World Cup. The whole country is gearing up to host the first World Cup in Africa. Many of the stadiums are nearly completed and it sounds like many accommodations are already completely booked! It seems like the World Cup is the only thing people can talk about. Practically ever advertisement is focused on World Cup, and there are count down clocks in every major city. Something like 137 days or something like that, in case you were counting! This is a great opportunity for South Africa to impress the world; I just hope that everything goes smoothly! South Africa has made huge strides in the past decades, and now it is time for the whole country to step up and show the world how wonderful this country can be! Well I hope this finds you all happy, healthy and enjoying this brand new year!