Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saying Goodbye

Nthabi, always smiling! Who could resist?
Well, I finally have enough distance to write this post. Not gonna lie, adjusting to life stateside has been rough. Miss South Africa in many ways. As difficult as our service was at times, it came with some pretty sweet rewards. Our learners. My supportive and ever curious counterpart, Mr. Bobet Motha. Perry's HOD, soft-spoken and kind Mr. Stanley Simbini. Our truly wonderful and fast friends, Sarah and Guiomar. Guiomar's parents, Chris and Maria. The ebullient children who lived at our house, especially little Nokuphila and Nthabiseng. John Dougherty, our comrade-in-arms. I could easily go on. Ms. Thoko, Mr. Nyambi, Mrs. Busi, Mr. Chokwe.... So, so many people touched our lives and left an indelible impression. Suffice to say, the people -- and the relationships we forged -- were hard to say goodbye to. Tears were shed. Many tears. 

Since we've returned to the States, a lot of people have asked us about our experience. Many who ask seem to think we'll be able to condense our Peace Corps experience into a few pithy and meaningful aphorisms. To be truthful, this is pretty much how we expected RPCV friends to respond before we became volunteers ourselves. But I can't quite do it. I don't think Perry can, either. Profound parables, noble truths, we gots none.

Our host family
Serving was living, working, struggling, and learning alongside people whose culture was wholly different from and whose dreams were strikingly similar to our own. Many bits of service proved difficult, flabbergasting, confuddling, heart-wrenching, maddening, and demoralizing. Other bits were beautiful, illuminating, edifying, heartwarming, tears-of-joy inducing fulfillment. Imagine all the ways in which those high and low, here and there, and back and forth emotions can possibly interact to birth one experience and perhaps you can begin to imagine ours.

Zodwa and Ruth take photographs
Just when things seemed too difficult to bear, there was a learner's smile...or a song, or the just-when-you-needed-it-most "I love you." Along with all the hair-ripping frustrations were Sarah and Guiomar and their patient ears and generosity of spirit. Mentally exhausted at the end of the day, Nthabi and Nokuphila's childish delight drew us out of ourselves. Did we change the world? Did we change South Africa? Did we even change our tiny corner of the country, Sikhwahlane? Not in any conventional sense. Did we affect individuals? I truly think so. Did they affect us? Absolutely! We are not the same people who left the US in 2012...we're improved.

So, would we take it back? No way. Would we do it again? Probably. We're looking into opportunities with Peace Corps ResponseFor now, we feel so fortunate to be able to maintain contact with several of our learners on Facebook...and Sarah and Guiomar, too! We're already planning a 2017 return trip, to surprise our learners who will have advanced to grade 12. 

Kids at our house
All of NJ's learners assembled in the yard
My honors science section and Bobet
With some learners
Mr. Simbini and Mr Motha
Perry with Sakhile and Mvuselelo
With my officemate, Mr. Nyambi
Perry with his posse
...and Alfred, the tavern owner who made sure we always had beer!
Have a question we may or may not be able to answer? Please post it in the comments!

- Elizabeth

Monday, July 14, 2014

The American Pepperoni

Mmmm, pizza!
I'm cleaning off the camera today. :) Two posts in one day!

Every month, we spend our weekend away at Hhusha Hhusha Guesthouse, run by our now good friends, Sarah and Guiomar. We saved half of the American pepperoni that my mom brought in March for a final American style pizza party at Hhusha. 

I made three pepperoni pizzas and one mushroom/thyme pizza. We ate a LOT of pizza, drank way too much, played the hilarious game 30 Seconds, and had a blast! 

We'll really miss Sarah and Guiomar when we leave. They treated us like family and saved our sanity at times. Two of the nicest people around!

Making pizza 
Guiomar, Perry, and me
PS I totally forgot to mention -- those are peanut butter Girl Scout Cookies you see there for dessert!

- Elizabeth

Mom in South Africa Redux

Mom by our tent at Tamboti Camp
Better late than never!

We had a great time with my mom last March. We bookended her visit with stays at the Pretoria Sheraton (Club Level - ooh la la!). In between, we camped inside Kruger at the Tamboti Tented Camp and spent some time in Nelspruit relaxing at Francolin Lodge. 

My favorite was Tamboti. This picturesque tent camp is situated along the Timbavati River. Since it had been raining (a lot!) the river was running (but alas, the same rain filled the swimming pool at Orpen with mud). At night, we could heard lions roaring and calling. Very cool. We also had tent "guests" -- vervet monkeys and baboons! After we arrived, we put all of our food in our food cage and went out. When we returned, the camp host, frowning, escorted us back to our site so we could see that vervet monkeys could, in fact, reach their little hands and skinny arms through the cage bars. They ate a lot of our food! While we were cleaning up, my mom placed our bananas on the table in front of her and Bam! Gone. The sneaky devil sat in a tree and ate all those bananas right in front of us. The baboons (whom the cages were designed for) couldn't reach in, but they patrolled constantly, on alert for any lapse in attention. One actually tried to open the velcro flap on our tent and go in! We'd learned our lesson, though, and never, ever, left anything out, so the baboons mostly left us alone. It helped that we had a big stick to scare them off with. Don't mess with baboons!

Mom and I on the deck
Our tent had four very comfortable beds, a wardrobe, and a giant fan. Outside, we had a large covered deck, a table and chairs, a refrigerator and the aforementioned food cage, and a place to braai or build a fire. Every day, an attendant came and made our beds, gave us fresh towels, and cleaned the ash from our braai. Pretty deluxe camping! Nearby were a clean ablution block with flush toilets and hot showers and a cooking block with burners, sinks, and on-demand boiling water for tea and coffee. At night, you could see every single star in the sky. Just amazing.

From Tamboti, we went on both an early morning bush walk and a night drive. The bush walk was interesting and also very fragrant because every step we took in the bush was scented by the wild anisette we were walking on. Our guide said that if we smashed the seeds and rubbed the oil on, it would repel mosquitoes. We didn't see an awful lot on our night drive, but what we did see was quite dramatic. About halfway through the drive, we heard a rumbling, which turned out to be literally thousands of Cape buffalo crossing the tar road just ahead of us. Our guide turned off the truck's engine and we watched them, eyes glinting in our headlights, thundering and snorting as they hurtled across the road. Incredible.

Vultures on a kill
We also took our rental car and drove to Olifants Camp, a few hours drive. One morning, my mom and I saw a flock of vultures on a kill. It was sparring season, too, apparently, because we saw sparring impala, fighting elephants, and a dramatic hippo chase! We also sighted a group of endangered ground hornbills and saw our first Bateleur eagle. Nearer to Olifants, we saw a hyena pup. Poor little guy was clearly in some kind of trouble and alone. The wild dogs, which I so wanted to see, eluded us. Perhaps we'll see them on some future trip to South Africa. :)

In all, a great holiday with mater, and not so long before we see her again. Disneyland in October!

Ground hornbill

Ubiquitous giraffe. These look to be Masai, though, different from the giraffe we see down by Malelane.
Chameleon. Fuzzy picture, but such a cool animal!

Hyena pup - sad to see him alone.
In Nelspruit, we met up with my counterpart Bobet. We took him out to dinner…had a blast!

Lastly, here's a photo of our Club Level room at the Pretoria Sheraton. We were in the same room the Secret Service stayed in when Obama came to SA for Mandela's memorial! Through the window you can just make out the lovely Union Buildings across the street.

- Elizabeth

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Student Leader Pizza Party, Elections

Perry and I took our GRS Student Leaders out for pizza last weekend. We had a blast! Our friend and fellow volunteer, Sipho, joined us. We had three pizzas: one topped with the American pepperoni my mom brought over, one topped with steak and feta, and the last mushroom and peppadews. It turns out that this was the first time either of these kids had ever tried pizza! Sadly, we were so busy eating that we didn't get any pictures of the pizza. Afterwards, we played Uno…Philile won by a landslide!

Nice group shot by Sipho
Waiting for our pizza! 
Playing Uno


I forgot to mention the big election…mostly because nothing very exciting happened! Our village's election center was our school and the presiding official was our principal, Mrs. Busi. Everything was orderly, the ballot boxes seemed well-secured, and there were no toi-tois. Despite "appropriating" 208 or so million of taxpayer rand for "upgrades" to his presidential abode -- complete, I was told, with poultry statuary for his new chicken run -- Jacob Zuma was re-elected. 

Voter Registration
Voters sporting their ANC berets
Mrs. Busi guards the entrance to the election center
Here's a bonus photo for you, the fattest caterpillar I've ever seen! These are eaten here, although I've never seen anyone doing so.

 - Elizabeth

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Super Strikers' Graduation!

Student leader Nkosingiphile
On May 27, 2014, team Super Strikers had their Grassroot Soccer/PC Skillz graduation celebration. Fifteen learners earned a certificate of achievement by attending eight or more GRS practices. Additionally, two learners (who graduated from the program last year) became certified student leaders! Grassroot Soccer, for those who missed my previous post about it, is a soccer-themed curriculum that teaches kids about HIV/AIDS. It's also a lot of fun!

The Super Strikers put together a schedule of events for our celebration:
  1. Welcome to Super Strikers' Graduation!
  2. Mini-Practice
    a. Energizer (one coffee, two sugar)
    b. HIV Limbo
    c. Kilos (coca-cola kilo, NJ kilo, and kilo kilo)
    d. Drama (skit about gender-based violence)
  3. Awards Ceremony
  4. Celebration!

    Bobet, my counterpart, helps explain GRS
"One coffee!"
First, we described to our guests (we had a great turnout, including a few parents and several educators!) what Grassroot Soccer is all about, then we held our mini-practice. 

We start every practice with an energizer, and for graduation we demonstrated the “one coffee, two sugar” energizer. It begins by stepping out in best Sumo-style while shouting “Mmmmmmm-uh!” Then we call and respond “One coffee, two sugar!” The rest of the lines are “Water, water. Forget about the tea! Forget about the tea! Bring me milk.” When crying “Forget about the tea,” you use a falsetto voice and do a prancing little dance. It's pretty hilarious. I do have a video from last year, maybe someday I'll get around to editing and posting it.

"Bring me milk!"

Philile concentrates on the pole's height
After the energizer, we did the HIV Limbo. The limbo pole (we used a rope) represents HIV. When a learner touches the pole, it represents contracting HIV. We played two rounds, and we modified the actual practice to fit the time allowed. 

In the first round, we pretended that every player was abstinent and labeled the limbo pole “Abstinence.” Our student leaders held the pole up high, and it was quite easy for the learners to limbo underneath. Afterwards, we asked our audience whether they thought abstinence was a good strategy for avoiding HIV. They all said “Yebo!” 

In the second round, we labeled the limbo pole “Unprotected Sex.”  This time, our student leaders held the pole at waist level. Now it was very difficult for learners to pass under it! Our audience all agreed that unprotected sex is not a good strategy for avoiding HIV! The actual GRS practice uses additional limbo pole heights, representing factors such as same age partners, older partners, and much older partners.

Pretty easy to clear the "abstinence" level
Not even gonna try the "unprotected sex" height!
The old college try!

Philile leads the kilo kilo
Kilos were next. Kilos are how we celebrate and praise individuals or the group in Grassroot Soccer. We also give snaps. Other Grassroot Soccer traditions are the “Yebo!”, which is how players say yes, and the call and response, used to get participant's attention. One call and response is "Siisonke! Simunye! Simunye! Sisonke!" Kilos are always high on the list of players' favourite things about Grassroot Soccer! Kilos begin with two sets of three quick claps, followed by an action. For graduation, we demonstrated the coca-cola kilo, the NJ kilo, and the kilo kilo. The coca-cola kilo action is a deep, whole-body shiver with a loud “Brrrrrrr!”

The end of NJ kilo...
…and Bobet really threw himself into this one!

Violent boyfriend 
The finale of our mini-practice was a drama about gender-based violence. This drama was from the GRS practice “Red Card!” The goal of this practice was to help kids learn ways to deal with high risk situations and to use a “red card” to call out risky behaviours. The learners' skit opened with a boyfriend and girlfriend hanging out, listening to music. Elsewhere, a friend of theirs is being confronted by her boyfriend, who gets so angry that he beats her. The friend, in distress, goes to the home of the boyfriend & girlfriend, but initially denies being beaten by her partner. The couple comfort her, and eventually she admits what really happened. The couple go to the boyfriend and confront him, ultimately “red carding” him for gender-based violence. This skit was a little different every time the learners practiced it, so I wasn't sure what to expect on graduation day (their vicissitude reminded Perry of the little kids' nativity play in The Bells of St Mary's, if anyone remembers that movie). However, the performers' delivery at graduation was awesome and they did a great job!

Our battered victim gets support from her friends
Our capable narrator is in the background
Confronting the abusive boyfriend
A little hard to see, but the victim's friends are "drawing" their red cards, they're about to "red card" the abusive boyfriend for gender-based violence.

Congratulating a graduate
We held our awards ceremony after the practice. I'm not sure how I forgot, but I totally forgot to stage a group photo! Doh! So, I'll just post a few individual photos here. Of the fifteen learners who graduated, four had perfect attendance. I surprised them with chocolate bars. Then I presented our two student leaders with certificates. I am so proud of these two learners, Philile and Nkosingiphile. Every week, outside of class, they came to help plan our practices. Both helped conduct our practices, too. They also administered the pre- and post-tests and have been helping me enter our data into the computer. They did great! I hope they can help my counterpart, Bobet, do a Grassroot Soccer intervention next year after Perry and I are gone.

So excited!

So proud of student leaders Philile...
When everyone had their certificate in hand, we celebrated with cake and music! My husband was the cake server, so no photos, sorry. :( By popular request, we rocked to Michael Jackson. These kids have some pretty slick moves!

…and Nkosingiphile!
Once again, I can't recommend Grassroot Soccer highly enough to other PCVs. I'm a little verklempt that this will be my last intervention. It's been so much fun. It really helps you build relationships and a sense of community with your learners -- and teaches them some important life skills. If you're a PCV/RPCV who's done this program, please leave us a  comment about it! Leave a comment even if you're not Peace Corps!

- Elizabeth