We are going to be in Fort Collins, Colorado on Tuesday, December 22nd. At 6:00pm at Everyday Joe's Coffee House, we'll be sharing pictures and stories from our time serving in the Peace Corps in South Africa. We hope you can come and join us.
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We've tried to compose a final post about our experience many times, and still after a year we have not succeeded. We would love to see our friends and supporters in person to answer questions and share our experiences living there and returning home.
Everyday Joe's is a non-profit coffee house supporting local community organizations. All profits from their sales are donated to local organizations. Everything there is also very tasty.
Monday, December 21, 2009
We are going to be in Fort Collins, Colorado on Tuesday, December 22nd. At 6:00pm at Everyday Joe's Coffee House, we'll be sharing pictures and stories from our time serving in the Peace Corps in South Africa. We hope you can come and join us.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
Jennie and I were recently blessed with a visit from my parents, just before the end of the semester. Mom and dad spent a couple days in Johannesburg before flying to Polokwane to spend a few weeks with us.
We met them at the airport and after navigating the hustle and bustle of Polokwane, we drove to the village. Mom and dad were kind enough to plunge into South African village culture without the prior training we received from Peace Corps so they could get an idea of what our everyday life is like. They stayed with a friend of ours who is opening a bed and breakfast in her retirement. Ms. Maloka owns a shop in town and is on a board of directors for a number of organizations, including Mohlarekoma Home Based Care, one of the organizations where Jennie works, and the Phokwane Improvement League Rural Education Trust, where we're helping to start a library and college guidance center.
Ms. Maloka has traveled outside South Africa, but like us, her culture is an insurmountable influence. My parents were given star treatment both because of how Americans are precieved, and because Ms. Maloka is such a hospitable host. They had plenty of blankets and shared tea and rusks (a delicious type of tea biscuit) with Ms. Maloka, who asked them to call her Edith.
During their time here, my parents helped prepare lunch at Mohlarekoma's drop in center for orphans and vulnerable children, visited my schools, ate a traditional lunch at Ms. Maloka's shop, and met many of the friends we've made here. My dad took a khumbi ride to the grocery store with me and did a training for area directors at youth camp.
Our host family, Mr. and Ms. Maserumule, were out of town for most of the week we were there, and we were afraid our real parents wouldn't be able to meet our African host parents. Ntate (our grandfather) had an eye operation in Pretoria, and couldn't return because the medicated eye drops he was taking had to be refrigerated; they wouldn't survive the ride back to our village. But Saturday, my dad was outside packing the car when our ntate walked through our gate.
Granddad told them the stories we expected him to: how we have the same Sepedi names of his two grandchildren, Bontle and Monare; how he had his foot operated and that the doctors had left the pin in his foot and he had to have another surgery to get it removed; and about the eye surgery he just had and the eye drops that had to be refrigerated. He addressed my dad as old man, a term of great respect here. I've thought that the two of them are very much alike, and I'm grateful they were able to meet.
Proceeding from Sabie the next morning, we arrived in Kruger National Park for a wilderness hiking program. Kruger has a number of camps far from public roads traveled by tourists where eight visitors can stay at a time. During the day you are taken on hikes by two park rangers with very large guns. We had seen a number of animals on our Christmas trip to Kruger, but it's a very different experience to see them from inside a car to seeing them while you're crouched behind a rock. And we were able to see rhino, which we hadn't viewed on our previous trip.
From Kruger we returned to the Panorama a little further north in the Blyde River Canyon. Graskop is a big tourist attraction because of it's shops and restaurants. Pancakes here, we learned, are made with more eggs, and often folded over with a filling inside - a sort of cross between pancakes and omelets. I had a spinach and cheese filled pancake, for example. A very unique experience. We did a bit of shopping and some more sight-seeing in the Panorama before driving north to the border with Botswana.
On the South African side we stayed one night in a tent camp, which is not what we had in mind when we thought about a tent. These tents had full bathrooms and a kitchen. They were like cabins, but with canvas walls and a bit colder. After spending the night at Mapungubwe National Park, we went on a tour of their archaeological site, where a village lay on major gold trade routes.
Crossing the border into Botswana, we spent three nights at a second game reserve where we saw big cats. We had seen cheetah in Kruger in December, but at a distance. We saw cheetah, lion and leopard from the truck on many occasions. We even saw a leopard snatch a guinea fowl out of a tree for dinner. The animals there are much more used to vehicles and people, but it was still neat to be able to see them. The food there was awesome! Breakfast "snack" which included yogurt, granola, fruit, juice, toast, and cereal. Tea was served on the morning game drive with rusks (South African biscotti). Brunch was served after the game drive around 11 and there were eggs and meat and casseroles and fresh bread and crackers with . . . wait for it . . . bleu cheese! And salami! It was like being back in America, only there's a herd of semi-wild elephants drinking at the waterhole below the dining area. Then at 3 was something they called high tea, which I was informed meant tea with more food. Crackers and fresh bread came out again. And more bleu cheese. Drinks and popcorn served on the evening game drive and then dinner at 8, served buffet style, something I always hardily support, especially when it's good. For us, food is something we are always able to enjoy more on vacation, so it was a real treat. They did have assigned seating at dinner, which was a little weird, but we didn't push back all that hard.
We drove back to the village the following day. Along the way, my dad secretly bought us a box of wine - something it isn't culturally acceptable to purchase in our village. My parents spent one final night with us before loading up their luggage and saying goodbye. We cried for a good half-hour, but then slowly prepared for reintegration and the following week.
We were so happy to be able to spend time with my parents and so honored that they decided to spend their 25th wedding anniversary trip with us.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
It is getting cold here! The mornings and evenings I can't seem to warm up. We bought a space heater just yesterday, an appliance almost every household owns. There are ventilation ducts in the walls of the houses that let in all the cold air. Bathing is now my least favorite activity of the day.
With the coming of winter, the semester is ending at my two schools, which means students are taking exams and teachers are working very hard to keep up with all the grading they have to do. While in the United States teachers can plug all of a term's grades into a spreadsheet, the teachers here are doing grades for all their students by hand. For 50 students in each class! Then they have to transpose all those grades onto report cards, again, by hand. It's a lot of work and they are very busy.
Which means I am not very busy. Few teachers want to work on pedagogy when they have a deadline looming. So lately I've been preparing for some upcoming projects beginning next month.
The first is a lifeskills day camp for youth in grades four through seven. I've recruited 10 volunteers from the local secondary schools to staff the camp, and we're starting training on 2 July. Camp will open on 7 July and run for one week. We're going to try to keep it limited to 56 campers, 14 per grade. Each day focuses on a theme like HIV/AIDS, making friends, or goal setting. Campers rotate through four program areas: Computers, Lifeskills, Creative Problem Solving, and Sports & Games. Right now I'm working on lesson plans for each program area for each of the five days. I'm also trying to get donations for food so we can serve lunch to the kids. That may or may not happen, but either way, we can tweak with the camp times to make it work out.
Provided everything goes relatively smoothly this first time, we'll run the camp again when school is out in October, then again in December and so on. Ideally, the youth volunteers will gain experience and take everything over when Jennie and I leave so it becomes a sustainable project. Most of our program supplies are either something we already have, like the soccer balls for Saturday sports, or pieces of trash, like old egg cartons for the egg drop challenge in creative problem solving. A lot of the ideas for camp I took from AJ, who did a chess/problem solving/lifeskills camp back in December.
The other major upcoming project is co-teaching grade 7 English. This is fun for me because I get to do some lesson planning and get back in the classroom, but hopefully will also help to share some new teaching methods with my counterpart who is teaching with me. So we're both planning units and I'm going to share some different theories with him every week like Maslow's heirarchy of needs, Bloom's taxonomy, or differentiation. I'll be posting a lot about that over on my education blog, Pedagogy in Practice.
This past quarter I've continued a couple projects from earlier in the year. Jennie already mentioned that we're still doing the Phokwane Youth Sports League, and the library/college guidance center is coming along, though maybe not on the original schedule. We did help them form an interim committee to organize and open the library, and they're now meeting twice a month and holding community meetings to get everyone's opinion on various policies the library will have. We finally finished organizing all the books by their DDC call numbers and have all the subject cards written for the card catalog. Jennie found contact information for all the colleges and sent them an e-mail back in March, and we've been receiving large envelopes of admission requirements and college applications ever since. So I'm not sure if we'll open next month or next year, but we're definitely on the right track.
Back in February I taught the teachers how to use their computers and in April and May I helped four teachers take their classes to the computer lab. The students are so excited to get to use them - the school has had them for four years now! I walked into one class and all the kids started dancing and murmuring "Yes! Yes!," knowing it was computer time.
As we reach the one year mark, our idealism has diminished a little from what it was. Two years seems like such a long time to "make a difference," but in reality we have very little time. It's hard for me to look around and ask, "what have I accomplished thus far?" Tangibly, not very much. And it's hard to say how much of all this will be sustainable once I leave. But, I know some of the youth here will never forget playing games on sunny Saturday afternoons with a couple makgowa, and maybe that will be enough to make a small difference. I suppose I'll never know.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
I thought I would take a little bit of time to tell about some of the projects that we are currently working on. I will talk about some of the things that I am working on and Ben will share his as well.
I am currently working with two teachers at the local primary school to do a Soul Buddyz Club. Soul Buddyz is a national club that focuses on real life issues and the empowerment of children. We did not have many materials to start with so up to this point we have talked about and performed dramas related to HIV/AIDS, attended a community TB awareness day (one of the Buddyz read a poem),and completed a community mapping exercise. We have 20 learners (as they are called here) who are in either grade 6 or 7.
I am also working with two home based care organizations on a regular basis (and two others on a not so regular basis). With one organization I did a communication/assertiveness training this past Tuesday. I am also going to be doing a basic counseling skills workshop, computer training, helping to organize paperwork and continuing to teach the carers self-esteem building games for the orphans and vulnerable children who come to the center.
With the main organization that I work with, I am helping them to start a club for grade seven girls at the local primary school. This will be a club specifically geared toward gender analysis, self reflection,and goal setting/future planning. The first week all of the girls will decorate their own journals which they will use every week of the club (and hopefully beyond). The format of the club will be to start with a journal reflection which will lead to activities and discussion, followed by the teaching and completing of a craft project which the girls can take home with them. I have Rachel Johnson (SA PCV) to thank for the wonderful idea of doing a club for girls with a craft component and for all of her support as I was working to get the logistics of the club in order. Some of the topics include: Goal setting, "women can do that work", money management, peer pressure, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, physical fitness and healthy eating, puberty, etc. The club will run for about 6 months this school year and will start for the new 7th graders in January. The club will be led by three carers from the home based care organization and 2 teachers from the primary school.
With this organization, I also assist with proposal writing, finances, policy writing, workshops for carers and computer/internet assistance. We are also going to be teaching the orphans and other vulnerable children at the drop in center how to make jewelry, knit and sew. Hopefully they can use these skills to make projects that they can then sell to earn an income.
I am also helping the main organization I work with to prepare for a Youth Day celebration in our village. Youth Day is observed on June 16th in South Africa and the celebration will be on June 21st. There will be a fun run, various games and races as well as addresses from community members. Ben's parents will be here that day, so they will be in for an experience!
Some projects that Ben and I have been working on together are the community library/career center and Phokwane Youth Sports League.
Ben, another PCV and friend of ours (Katie) as well as the director of the non-profit hosting the library worked many hours to sort the books in the library. A couple of dedicated youth helped Ben and I complete notecards for the books. The library now has information and applications from several different institutions as well as information about career choices and financial assistance. I remember that at the high school I attended, there was an entire room dedicated to information about what to do after graduation. I never had a doubt that I would be able to go to college in any subject that I chose. This is simply not the reality for youth here as well as for youth in many communities around the world. I was surrounded by people who said "yes you can!" Not everyone is that lucky. The library was going to open in June, but it looks like that will be pushed back for a bit.
We wrote a post about Phokwane Youth Sports League several months back and this is an activity that we have continued with in our almost 9 months in Phokwane. We have a dedicated core group of children and youth who come every Saturday to play games and just be kids. It continues to be a wonderful way to be connected to our community. And plus, spending time with kids here is just plain fun!!
On that same note, after we moved to a new area of our village (in Feb.), I was really missing some of the kids that we used to live near. Ben and I walk down a certain path to get to many of our destinations in the village and we have developed what I call a "greeting committee." Many kids greet us wherever we go, but these kids are slightly different in that they run from wherever they are to shake our hands and touch thumbs while saying "sharp" (pronounced "shop" or "sure"). Sometimes they also scream to alert the others if they are not see us coming down the path. They are so adorable!!
Be on the lookout for Ben's post about what he is currently working on.
If you have questions you would like to have addressed on the blog, don't hesitate to ask.
Also, if you are wondering, I rarely use utensils to eat anymore. :) Today I even ate beet root with my fingers!
Šalang Gabotse (pl. stay well)
Posted by Jennie Bleckley at 7:19 PM
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Sunday, June 1, 2008
After running the Longtom Marathon in April, Jennie and I joined 10 other Peace Corps volunteers on a trip to the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. The first term of school had just ended and we took two weeks of vacation to get out of the village and take advantage of some relatively nearby wonders.
We took a two hour flight north to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, just north of Zimbabwe and south of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The flight was brief and they served dinner! Zambia Airways has not scraped in-flight meals like corporate America. We ate delicious tuna salad hoggies with 100% fruit juice and a nuts in milk chocolate candy bar. Then, in addition, they served drinks, including bottled water! It was one of my highlights of the trip.
Landing in Lusaka, we spent about an hour getting through immigration. They were only accepting US dollars to buy our $150 visas. Some of us had the wise foresight to change some rand into dollars before the flight. Some of us also got to walk through immigration to change our rand into dollars near the entrance and then walk back to immigration and pay for our visas. After immigration we spent another hour trying to haggle for a fair price on a taxi to take us to the home of Fraiser, a Zambian Peace Corps volunteer, who was opening his flat to all 12 of us to stay the night. We finally found a bus (covered with Disney characters like Dumbo) that would charge us only 20,000 kwacha each and loaded up with about 15 other Zambian passengers for our ride into the city.
South African culture is at a very interesting stage. We have been welcomed warmly by the people in our village and they have always been friendly to us. However, due to apartheid, there is a sort of quiet discomfort when it comes to color in South Africa from Black, White, Indian, and Coloured. It affects how quickly trusting relationships can develop.
Zambia was different. It wouldn't be until the next day when a local told me "we Zambians are a very friendly people." I already knew it was true. On our airport Dumbo bus, we had the regular chit-chat on our ride, not unlike the conversations I sometimes have on kumbis in South Africa. But when we had some trouble finding Fraiser's flat, another passenger whipped out his cell phone and asked for the number. This is no small thing in Africa. Airtime is expensive and pre-paid. I almost always text message if I can avoid a call. Cell phone users more often send free "please call me" messages rather than buy airtime. But this man that we had met only twenty minutes ago was using two minutes of precious airtime to figure out where we needed to go at midnight in a completely unfamiliar African capital. We did figure out where we needed to go and all the passengers wished us a safe journey.
Fraiser was very laid back about everything. Jennie and I found some floor space to crash on in a spare bed room and caught about four hours of sleep before we had to get up to catch a taxi to the bus station the next morning.
The bus station was an experience. As our mini-bus taxi pulled in, we were swarmed and for a moment I was genuinely concerned about our safety. Two men threw open the door and jumped into the moving taxi and asked us where we were going. We told them and they both had a bus to offer us. We had been told that the bus ride shouldn't cost more than 20,000 kwacha. Both of these buses cost 45,000 kwacha.
We didn't want to get cheated due to our skin color so we bargained with about 50 bus drivers - all at once - for a bus at that first price. We finally found that bus, much to the disappointment of the other bus drivers, though one said to me as I walked away "Eh, that bus won't leave for 16 hours. You'll see."
The nice thing about traveling with a bunch of other people is that sometimes they're more willing to deal with stuff than you are. And so after waiting on that bus for over 4 hours, the price rising to 35,000 kwacha, and then two hours later finding the bus still has not left, we had to get off that bus and get on another that would get us to the train station two hours north of Lusaka in time. And get our 35,000 back. Fortunately, Jennie and I did not have to fight that battle. Unfortunately, we did not get our money back and then paid 45,000 kwacha for the bus afterall. Ah well - it was really a difference of eight US dollars.
In Kampiri Moshi, we boarded our train and moved into our 2nd class cabins that we would use for the next two nights. I have been on a train only once when I was 10 or so and it was a short two hour ride. Jennie had been on a train just last year before leaving the United States. We both had something different in mind. In our car, six people slept in a cabin. The back pad of the couch-like seat folded up to become the beds. The pads were a thick metal slab with half an inch of cushioning. We didn't figure out how to lock the middle bunks until we finished our trip to Tanzania, so they kind of bounced up and down during the night. The toilet was a hole in the floor of the train that dropped everything onto the tracks. The food was affordable but oily. The whole experience was a lot of fun.
We did finally see what Africa was really like. South Africa is two worlds - first world and second/third world. In the village we pump our own water, take bucket baths, and handwash our clothing. But in another part of our village, a fair number of people have indoor plumbing, full bathrooms, and washing machines. We all have electricity. In the city, these things are common place. There are malls bigger than those in the United States. Going to the city in South Africa is kind of like going home. Kind of.
On the train, we passed village after village with housing made completely of thatch and venders selling fruit or chapathis (like tortillas, only better tasting and worse for you). We saw more poverty than we've seen in South Africa. We bought bottled water - the only stuff we could safely drink - from some clever children at one of the stations. They had refilled old bottles found by the train tracks. At all the stops we were sometimes taken advantage of and sometimes given a more than fair price.
At the Zambian - Tanzanian border crossing, after our first night on the train, we were told that the train would no longer accept kwacha on the other side of the border. We had to exchange all our money for Tanzanian shillings. This was a lucrative business for some money changers that boarded all trains at the border. They made a 30% profit exchanging our kwacha and rand for shillings. We also got our passports stamped and bought Tanzanian visas for 100 US dollars.
The next morning we passed through a game park on the train and saw some zebras and giraffes. I might have seen hippos in the water, but it was at the very crack of dawn, so who knows. We pulled into Dar es Salaam at 11 o'clock that day.
I had thought Dar was a grand town and was a little disappointed. It was a very busy city and definitely a different and educational experience, but I had expected more Arabic archetechure or something more cultural. Our hotel was very nice and we had a big lunch to save on expenses. The next morning we boarded a ferry at 7 for Zanzibar. I expected a ferry ride like we've experienced in Seattle. But if you look at a map, Zanzibar is actually pretty far off the coast and north of Dar es Salaam.
Getting off the boat we were helped by a local to find our hotel, the Manch Lodge, and set about the town. Without help, we would have never found anything in the first few days. The streets of Stonetown are narrow alleyways, turning and curving in all directions. The first day we found place to eat and just figured out our bearings.
The two places we stayed were both very cheap and served breakfast. The Manch Lodge was 15 USD per person per night and had a great breakfast of crepes, fruit, and bread. The Flamingo Guest House was 10 USD per person per night and served fruit, toast, and an egg. The Manch Lodge had the better breakfast, but the Flamingo was cheaper - at least, during low season.
Low season is a very short window when rain is more frequent. It hardly disrupted our visit. The first day it rained all day long, and there were a couple downpours on other days, but it didn't diminish our trip at all.
Jennie and I tried to eat two meals a day. It was cheaper, and we found a fantastic resturant on one of the busy main streets of town. The Passing Show Hotel, where we were the only tourists, has a long and affordable menu featuring all sorts of basic Indian and East African dishes and freshly squeezed juice. For some travelers the first experence of bogobe (or pap) takes a little bit to get used to, but we've acquired a taste for it. We ate lunch there forthree days.
We were a little disappointed by the beach close to town. It was a quick, 300 shilling (about 30 cents) taxi ride up the coast to Mtoni Marine, but the beach was littered with trash and a pipe lead from a nearby factory into the water where a brown, foamy liquid was deposited. The beaches near Stonetown are not the same pictured on postcards.
On the island our group didn't stick together as much, but we did join them for a trip to Prison Island, site of a Portugese prison and tortise sanctuary. The main attraction for us was swimming and snorkeling. These beaches are the ones found on postcards. The water was very clear, allowing us to see starfish on the ocean floor.
We took another taxi across the island to Jozanzi forest, endemic home to the red colobus monkey. They are protected on the island and so used to humans we were brought directly below the trees where they were eating. We hiked around a little bit and also saw some black colobus monkeys. Colobus describes the number of fingers these primates have on their upper limbs: four.
Zanzibar is famous for it's spices, and we took a slightly expensive (25 USD per person) but tremendous tour with Eco-Culture Tours of a spice farm just outside Stonetown. They also threw in a 10 minute tour of a Persian bath the Sultan built for his second wife . . . We saw the plants nutmeg, cinnimon, pepper, vanilla bean, iodine, cardimon, tumeric, and others. Vanilla was particularly interesting - if you've ever bought pure vanilla instead of immitation, there is a significant price difference. A large factor is that vanilla has no natural pollinators. In order to produce the beans used to make the extract, people have to pollinate the flowers by hand. Iodine, the orange staining antiseptic, is harvested from the stem of a woody, tall but slender plant.
Joining us on the spice tour was a couple on their honeymoon. Athena and Josh are working for for Tulane University in Rwanda and had done Peace Corps separately about 7 years ago in Guinea and Ivory Coast. It was neat to meet some people on the other side of the experience. They were nice enough to ask us out for drinks that evening and then we decided to have dinner together too! They're doing malaria prevention and will be returning to the states around the same time we will be.
Some of Jennie's thoughts on Zanzibar:
Zanibar was so different than I expected. I was thinking that this would be a vacation divided by lying on the beach reading and swimming in the beautiful water. I was thinking that there would be more white sandy beaches. What I found turned out to be magical in a very different way. Beautiful, curious people allowing us to witness a part of their everyday lives. What an experience to walk down the winding, narrow streets that are not familiar but to feel a sense of peace and hope. The giggles of children running down the cobblestone passageways always brought a smile to my face. While I came to Zanzibar expecting to lay on a beach oblivious to the world around me, I was blessed to become tangled into the web of Zanzibari life.
All in all, we had a wonderful trip and it was an experience that we will never forget.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I have tried to keep a lot of the negative experiences of South Africa for the most part out of our blog. I have tried to keep my posts pretty upbeat for the most part to give readers a positive view of our lives here. But not today.
I am so tired of being made fun of, stared at, laughed at, talked about, sexually harassed, being told I am fat, that I need to sweep the floor, that I am a lazy wife, etc. I am tired of being sick. I am so tired of people (at some organizations) treating each other like dirt. Yelling at each other, not listening to what the other is saying. I am tired of doing a job which I have very little training or experience in. I am tired of blatant corruption, discrimination, poverty, racism, sexism. I do realize that these things happen all over the world and that I am lucky enough to be able to see and live in another culture, but today...I am just plain tired.
I feel like I am such a different person here. More frazzled,brittle, more unsure of myself. Somedays it takes all of my willpower to leave the house. I know I am growing and learning so much, I just hope that it does not leave me bitter and broken.
Today I meditated for the first time in my life and it was wonderful. I have been doing yoga for a few years but have always been intimidated by meditation. I have a hard time stopping my thoughts in a regular setting, but while meditating it has seemed impossible. Today was a good experience, and meditating is a powerful tool that I will continue to use.
I am working on one of the most important lessons that I will encounter in social work-learning how to set emotional boundaries. I am so affected by the pain that I see here that sometimes I am less able to function. It simply makes me so sad. I am learning how to be effective in the lives of the people around me without making their pain my own. If I carry everyones pain around all of the time, I will lose myself and ability to empathize with others. As my friend Ronda says "this is boot camp." The aspects of life that I thought would be difficult (not having running water, etc.) really bear little weight in my thoughts and days. The aspects that are the most difficult for me by far is to see so much pain and not even know where to begin.
There are still many wonderful aspects of being in South Africa. I have been given such an amazing opportunity to live and work in another world and I have met people who will stay in my heart forever.
Lots of love.
Posted by Jennie Bleckley at 5:47 PM
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Hello Friends and Family!
If anyone is interested in sending a book to us at our site, we would be very grateful. If you have an old book lying around the house that you think that we might enjoy, we would be very excited to receive it. We will also pass the books along to others in our village as well as to other volunteers.
Jennie and Ben Bleckley
PO Box 870
Thank you for your support!
Posted by Jennie Bleckley at 10:53 AM