Thursday, September 27, 2012

Heritage Day

Traditional Hut

Thatching a Roof with Grass
On Monday, we attended a large Heritage Day celebration event at the Mgobodi Tribal Center in Mgobodi. We caught a taxi to the event with a group of students from Madadene who were performing at the festival. We arrived very early (about 9AM) at the tribal center and weren't exactly clear about what was happening or going to happen, so we wandered around and stopped to watch a group of married women practicing a dance (I'll post a movie this weekend when we have free wifi at the Bed and Breakfast).

I (Elizabeth) admired the attire of the women and said so to a woman passing by. Next thing I knew, I was being driven to someone's house where the chief's wife and another woman dressed me in the same clothing they were wearing. They tried to dress Perry up in the men's attire, but it required him to go shirtless -- not a good idea with his pale skin and the African sun. So they draped a traditional cloth over the top of his shirt instead.

With the Chief's Wife (right) and Another Kind Woman

Afterwards, they fed us some delicious food (including a new dish for us made with peanuts and soy -- yummy) and drove us to the event venue (we both thought we were already at the venue). We paraded in with our group, singing and dancing (Well, everyone else was dancing, I was kind of shuffling and attempting to remain inconspicuous -- kind of hard because they stuck me in the front row!). We were given good seats under the tent and we were introduced to everyone by the MC, who asked us to stand up and wave. Then, representatives of different cultures were asked to stand up -- Shangaan, Zulu, Swati, and Sepedi were present, but the overwhelming majority of attendees were Swati. 

Gogo Gets Down!
At regular intervals, snacks were brought out: We were given apples, some traditional corn bread, homemade peanut butter and a traditional fermented drink made from maize meal. There were many, many groups performing. Married women's groups, groups of virgins, mixed men's and women's groups who danced to drums (and a cool drum-like instrument that was made to reverberate by pulling a cord across holes in it), men's groups, and "modern" groups who did hip-hop! We watched until almost 6PM, when our hosts saw that we were flagging and took us back to the tribal center. There, they fed us again, and after a short while, the taxi driver took us and the students back home.

Married Woman's Group

Virgin Groups
It was an incredible experience and I want to learn the married woman's dance so I can participate next year! Everyone was so impressed with our halting siSwati, too. It's encouraging and reminds me that I need to practice more!

High Kick!
Mixed Group
Adorable Small "Man" in Men's Group
Amazing Hand Carved Staffs

- Elizabeth

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Few Site Images…

Greetings readers, 

Here are some photos we've taken around site. When we arrived, we experienced about a week of rain (of biblical proportions). The rains swelled the stream down the street from us…now the water's gone and we've been hiking down and exploring the dry stream bed.

One of our neighbors has a large bougainvillea that was in full bloom when we arrived….

One morning I found this lizard in one of our bathing buckets. I love lizards, and they are frequently spotted here!

One of the family's chickens hatched chicks last week. We were able to pick them up -- baby chicks are so soft and fluffy! Njabulo took lots of photos, here's a good one:

Lastly, here's a teaser photo to introduce an upcoming blog post. Last Monday we attended the Heritage Day Celebrations at the Mgobodi Tribal Center. We were treated like royalty and we had a blast! The chief's wife decked me out in traditional married woman's attire. Njabulo donned a traditional top -- next year he'll hopefully get the full treatment with all the accoutrement.

- Elizabeth

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Mailing Address!

Anyone wishing to write to us or send us packages can now use this address:

Perry and Elizabeth Atterberry
c/o NJ Mahlangu Secondary School
PO Box 5402
Kwalugedlani 1341
South Africa

This is our school's address and should work much better than the Peace Corps address (I believe all mail sent there is processed with the "Federal Deluxe Treatment" -- ie opened, checked for anthrax, heat treated, etc.) which can take months to get to us. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Site Arrival!

They told us it was lucky we brought rain and, oh boy, did we ever bring rain! As Pooh sang: "The rain, rain, rain came down, down, down…in rushing, rising riv'lets!" It rained for three days straight. Torrentially, with spectacular lightning and deep rolling thunder. I don't think our host family was expecting rain -- in fact, on day three we were told it was "unprecedented" -- and they hadn't yet fixed our leaking rondovel roof. Needless to say, we spent the first few days soaked. We couldn't manage to find four or five square feet of dry space in our bedroom rondovel and we slept quite wet! Finally, on the third day, our hosts put a giant tarp over the roof. The sun came out. We feel OK now, but we were quite depressed and demoralized the first couple of days, being damp and cold all the time stinks! Now that we're dry, we feel much better. In fact, we really like our little rondovels. One rondovel acts as our bedroom, and has a bathing room with a tub. It's fantastic to have a bathing room and a tub, however, water is very scarce here and we've only had running water one and a half of the days we've been here. Fortunately, our family has a large Jo Jo for storing water. 

Bathing Room
Our second rondovel houses our kitchen and workspace. Our hosts laid a concrete patio between them so we can cross between them easily. We can also sit outside and admire either our drying laundry or the mango trees in the yard, depending on which day we're out there.

Bedroom Rondovel
Kitchen Rondovel
Rondovels with patio
Our family's name is Mhlabane, and the patriarch is a retired school principal and a bishop in the (I think) African Zionist church. He is a very kind man and I hope we can get to know him better. We met our principal that first night, who came by our house after a long day of meetings, and she re-christened me Nomsa, which means "kind hearted." Perry retained his African name Njabulo, which the Matshika's gave him. Our second day, the principal took us to Naas to buy some of the large items we needed. We acquired a stove, a refrigerator, and some cabinets for our kitchen rondovel.  

"Thinking Nook" in our kitchen.
Ceiling (I took this by accident, then thought it was cool ;))
We've spent the last couple of days settling in, doing laundry, exploring our village, getting to know our shopkeeper (who has offered to start stocking foods we'll want to buy regularly in the village -- nice!) and birdwatching a bit by the temporary stream down the road. In the next day or two the stream'll be gone, but will hopefully return later this year. Tomorrow, we'll spend our first full day at NJ Mahlangu Secondary School, where (ideally) I will assist with science and perhaps find a way to build computer lab, and Njabulo will assist with English and building the school's library. We're hopeful our principal will take us to Malalane tomorrow to buy fans. Now that the rain has stopped we're expecting temperatures to regularly hover between 90 and 115 degrees -- winter is over, summer is here, it seems….spring is illusory. We'd also like to see where the public taxis will drop us in town and scout out grocery stores and guest houses. We'd like to spend the one weekend a month away we're allotted in a place with a hot shower, soft bed, and wifi. ;) We also need few other large items, like a 10 or 15 litre kettle for heating bath water and some floor mats. 

Kids in front of our host family's house, our rondovels are behind the photographer.
Perry's up next for blogging duty. 

PS We hope to acquire a PO Box in the next few days. This will greatly increase the likelihood of actually receiving our mail. I'm pretty sure some of our readers wrote to us while we were training, but we only ever received one of those letters (Thanks, Ellen!!), about 9 weeks after it was mailed. As always, writing "Airmail" on things increases speed of delivery (sometimes by months!). 

- Elizabeth

Friday, September 7, 2012


Since we haven't had internet for a couple months, we're kind of behind with our blog posts. To avoid an overwhelming amount of writing, I (Elizabeth) am skipping to the end of our training and starting from there. Suffice it to say, training was long and intense -- comprised of 10 hour days, 6 days a week -- and we were ready to have it over and get to our sites! Before we were set to graduate, we had a host family braai at our training college -- here's a shot of me stirring a giant pot of pap/umbraata/lipalishi.

Shortly after that event, as many of you know, Perry got sick -- just a few days before we were supposed to swear in. He spent a couple of days in the hospital recuperating and then we both spent a few more days at Khayalethu backpacker's (a guest house that Peace Corps uses a lot) waiting for his medical hold to be lifted. It was very nice, though sleeping in bunk beds took some getting used to. They served a delicious hot breakfast everyday and wood-fired pizza on Tuesday's. We also really enjoyed sitting in the courtyard and watching the weavers build their nests.

Last Tuesday, our PCMO (medical officer) cleared him for service and we swore in as Peace Corps volunteers in a private ceremony at PCHQ. Unfortunately, I don't have the photos yet. On Wednesday, bright and early, Peace Corps drove us to our site. Our actual site is in a flat farming area -- they grow a lot of sugar cane here -- but the area we're in is lovely and we are only about 30 kilometers from Kruger National Park. Below is a photo that Perry took on the drive to our site -- a little east of Nelspruit. Gorgeous.

I'll end here and start a new post describing our new home!
- Elizabeth

Monday, September 3, 2012

Our South Africa Arrival, Part 2

The Matshika family patiently taught us the ins and outs of living in South Africa - from taking bucket baths to greeting people properly. We also did a little exploring of our new hometown, Waterval, but it was such a vast township we couldn't begin to scratch the surface. 

Perry, Gogo, Sofie, Nolwazi, Elizabeth
Tholi, Samkelo

Another milestone in our training was getting assigned our languages. Most of the volunteers got Zulu, by far the most widely spoken of the Nguni languages. Others got Ndebele, and six of us, Libby and I included, were assigned siSwati. 

Warning! Nerd content ahead. Feel free to skip this section.

siSwati is a dialect of Zulu, which is a member of the Nguni family of Bantu languages. Like Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian and Turkish in Europe, siSwati is an agglutinating language, where affixes are attached to a root morpheme. This means whole sentences can be expressed in a single word. For instance, Ngiyahamba ("I am going") is made of of a subject concord (Ngi-, "I"), a progressive tense marker (-ya-), and a verb stem (Hamba, "go"). The whole system of rules governing the placement of affixes lends the language a very mathematical feeling. I briefly studied Finnish at the UW and recall thinking there was something deeply satisfying about such grammars. Yes, I am that weird. 

End of Nerd Content

Team siSwati, as we called ourselves, comprised Libby and myself, fellow Pacific Northwester Brooke, Holly from Wisconsin, Em from Chicago, and John from Cleveland. Our language facilitator was Joshua, who was fond of turning many lessons into songs.

Joshua and Perry

Our very first lesson, in fact, turned into a call and respond song where we greeted each other:

 Sikhona. Nina ninjani?
 Natsi sikhona."

We sang this so often we started singing our greetings to people we met on the street! 

Language lessons progressed at a rapid rate -- sometimes way too fast to assimilate everything -- but we all got the basics down pretty quickly. We went through dialogue after dialogue rehearsing shopping trips, negotiating fares on taxis, haggling with shopkeepers, etc., until we had a good foundation for getting around town and for getting the things we needed. Our homemade flashcard collection for learning vocabulary grew to the hundreds and we both started dreaming in siSwati - a good sign, I think!

To be continued...

- Perry

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Our South Africa Arrival, Part 1

Well, it has been a while since we've had internet access and much has happened. The beginning:

From staging, we all boarded a plane for a 16 hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg. Everyone got some sleep except me (Perry). On the bright side, I did manage to catch up on my movie watching. 

Welcoming Ceremony
We arrived and were whisked off via bus to Ndebele College in Siyabuswa, about an hour and a half from Pretoria. When we got there we were all pretty tired and smelly, but the staff greeted us with traditional welcoming songs, which buoyed our spirits a great deal. We were assigned dorm rooms and fell asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillows.

The following week was filled with introductory Peace Corps sessions, language lessons (We learned to say "Hello, how are you?" in 5 of the 11 official languages of South Africa) and finally were assigned our host families. We were somewhat apprehensive at this point (I was excited :) -- Elizabeth), going to live with strangers in a strange country. Would they like us? Would we be able to communicate? How many cultural faux pas would we commit in one day?

The day arrived and families started showing up by carloads. Many were in traditional attire, others more casually dressed. Peace Corps trainees sat on one side of the room, families on the other, each looking the other over trying to guess who would be with whom. When our names were called a lovely woman named Nolwazi came up and "adopted" us.

Nolwazi, Bayanda, and us
Well, we all hit it off immediately. As part of adopting us, our family gave us African names. Elizabeth became Siyamthanda ("We love her") and I became Njabulo ("Happy").  We met our new Gogo (grandmother), mom Sofie, brother Tholi, as well as cousin Juliette and her son Samkelo. Soon people from around the neighborhood were dropping by and introducing themselves and it became a swirl of exotic names and family connections.  We were somewhat overwhelmed by all the attention but it was a great day and we settled in to our new home. 

To be continued...