Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! I hope you all are healthy and enjoying the Christmas season. Jed and I are doing well. Christmastime here is a new thing for us. Compared to years past, we’re doing a lot less shopping, shoveling, and baking. To compensate, we’re doing more of other things this year, like listening to Christmas music, writing and making travel plans. We will spend Christmas at the beach with some of our Peace Corps friends. I’m excited to snorkel, and Jed is hoping to try deep sea fishing for the first time. But I’m sure our thoughts will repeatedly come back to home and snow and all of you! We’re praying for a very special Christmas for all of you, for relaxing time away from the daily grind and for God’s peace to enter your lives in a new way.

According to our moms, you all want to hear more about what we’re doing at work, so I’ll try to sum it up. I’m working with Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). Hands @ Work gets most of its money from international donors (including PEPFAR from U.S. taxes, so thanks!) and each donor requires certain reports from Hands. So, we report narratives and different statistics to each of our donors monthly and quarterly and annually. They want to know things like the numbers of orphans receiving at least three services during the year, which sounds a little less complicated than it really is, because the numbers vary quite a bit, depending on how you define an “orphan” and a “service.” They also want to know things like how many grannies receive training on caring for orphans, how many orphans receive food from the food gardens, and how many patients we care for. Just to give you an idea, in one year we’re required to report on something like 75 different indicators like these. As an umbrella organization that provides services to about 50 home-based care organizations, Hands @ Work has to collect narratives plus the statistics for each of these indicators and compile them in reports for the people who give us funding. My job is to get a handle on the reporting we’re already doing, to improve how we collect and store all the information, and help streamline the entire process. In addition, I will be working to expand M&E within our organization so we start to measure the things we care about as an organization, and not just the things are donors think are important. I’m also helping develop new software and a database to track the orphans and patients and the services we provide.

Jed is working on starting a center for Income Generating Activities (IGA) in the village. The purpose of IGA is two-fold. Donors like to focus on the importance of earning income for the organization so the organization isn’t so dependant on outside funding. For us, it’s difficult to even imagine generating enough income to replace a funder like PEPFAR. We see IGA more as an exit strategy for orphans in the village, meaning a program to educate orphans on business and entrepreneurial skills and even a trade, so that when they turn 18 and no longer receive government grants they have marketable skills to get a job or start their own business. Jed has written a business plan for the IGA center, researched building and programming costs, curriculum for entrepreneurial training, regulations for employment, and more. He is planning to travel in January to visit NGOs that have successful IGA. If all goes well, construction will start on the IGA building in the village early next year. Jed’s also helping with insurance and audits.

Together we’re helping with the Footprints program as well. Every February Hands starts a new 10-week training for “Footprinters” in Masoyi. After learning all about Hands’ activities in Masoyi, the Footprinters are sent out for about 9 months to Hands’ partners in Zambia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Mozambique and other southern African countries to build capacity in those organizations, by replicating programs that are successful in Masoyi. We’re helping with the training curriculum, since we have experience with Peace Corps training.

We’re enjoying our work very much. And we’re enjoying getting to know South Africa and South Africans better every day. We’re also learning patience in a work environment where the expectations are familiar, but the resources aren’t dependable—the Internet and fax machines are down about every other day, it’s about a billion degrees in the office, and the organizations we’re working with can’t afford to fax that report you’ve been asking for for the last month.

Thank you for your Christmas cards and emails. Have a blessed Christmas!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

• Hi everybody. We’ve been trying all day to upload a video of Jed introducing our new (temporary) home, but it’s not working. We’ll have to try again next weekend maybe. For now, let me tell you a little bit about our new situation. We're flat-sitting until mid-January, and we're enjoying it very much. We moved on Monday morning, and the first thing we did was take showers (twice for me in about 12 hours I think). Showers are wonderful things. Next time you're climbing into a nice, hot shower, just think a minute about the millions of people in the world who are shivering over there buckets trying to somehow get clean. Think about all the dirty backs in the world (because that's the hardest part to wash). We're living on campus now, so our commute is a 30 second walk across the lawn. It's a huge relief to have more space. It's also a safer situation. The village/township where we were living felt relatively safe during the day, but nobody goes out at night. Ma Flo told us we shouldn't leave our windows open at night because people will come to the window and ask for money. I'm still trying to understand that one. So, while we never ever felt personally threatened while walking around in the village, there is a lot of crime there (mostly theft). A car was hijacked a few blocks from Ma Flo's a couple of weeks ago. And there is so much fear. I mean, obviously white people are afraid of being in the village, but even within the community itself.
• I've been meaning to introduce you to our siSwati/Zulu names! Let me tell you how these names came about, too. One night a couple of weeks ago I went into Ma Flo's house to put something into the fridge after dinner, which Jed had made in our little room. Ma Flo and our 16 year-old sister Thando were chatting quietly in the kitchen. They called me over and I swear in practically a whisper (which you never hear from Ma Flo), she said "Jed made dinner tonight, didn't he?" She seemed to kind of be in awe. And I said yes, he's a very good cook...he made chicken and veggies in gravy over rice (a common meal for us because of our two-plate stove restriction). Ma Flo and Thando just about erupted. "Oh, you are so lucky! What a wonderful husband you have! Oh, how wonderful!" I agreed of course, and then Ma Flo said you will never find an African husband who would do that. The young guys living at home might have to wash clothes every once in a while, but that kind of thing always stops when he gets married. Anyway, it was just a day or two later that I was informed of my new siSwati name, Nhlanhla, which is just as hard to say as it looks, and means "lucky." Jed's name is Ndando, meaning "desired!" Oh, I love it! I wish you could just hear Ma Flo and Thando erupt in laughter. It's like an explosion. (The people in the community love to hear our siSwati names, by the way!) For short, you can call us Nhlo and Ndo. It rhymes!
• We're going to Polokwane tomorrow for one week of Peace Corps in-service training. Actually sort of sad to leave our nice little flat. Thanks for all your prayers and e-mails and letters. Jed's swimming in the pool right now with Divine, who’s 9 years old. He stays with his auntie Emily, who we work with, here on campus. I'm going to go join them. Hope all is well with you all. We'll post again soon!

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Day After

Pumpkin Pie

Well, Thanksgiving was a huge success. Although the Pumpkin Pie left something to be desired. It was amazing to see everyone together and the food was great. Jean Aimee, from Texas, headed up the whole feast and I must say she did a fantastic job. The Turkey was incredible. We had everything, mashed potatoes, squash, green bean casserole, turkey, ham, rolls, stuffing (homemade because stove-top doesn't exist here), salad, and pies (apple, lemon meringue, chocolate, and pumpkin, with ice cream too)! I'm not sure what it is about stove-top stuffing. With how easy it is to make and how good it tastes I have no idea why it wouldn't sell everywhere. But, I guess if your country doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving the market gets limited. They must do half of their business for the year on that day alone. The pumpkin pie was decent, but not anywhere near anything you could get at a bakery in the states. So two items that we will have shipped from home next year for Turkey Day are stove-top and a can of pumpkin pie filling.
The spread

Ruth carving the Turkey
We stayed up late sharing stories of Thanksgiving's past and talking to our families. It was so great to hear some of your voices again. Side note to Jake and Sandy (brother and sister-in-law) if you guys are trying to get us to come home and visit before our two years are up you might have just convinced us. Congratulations! We will continue to pray for you two! Back to last night. So I mentioned it was over 100 yesterday, so last night sleeping was very uncomfortable. It must have been about 90 in the room I slept in. Then came the storm. Massive thunderstorm last night. I am thankful that I stayed up at the farm with a bunch of other people, but it was still scary. At about 4 in the morning the whole place shook with a flash of light and a crack a split second later. We woke up this morning with no power. After going outside we saw two trees that had been struck by lightning just feet from the house. Luckily neither tree fell. It could have been much worse, but needless to say I am extremely tired today. I am looking forward to Brooke coming home. She was pretty disappointed she didn't get to celebrate Thanksgiving on the farm. I did get to talk with her, and I'm pretty sure her family got through to her as well. And that is what makes Thanksgiving important, family! Although football and food are pretty high up there too j/k.
Tree One

Tree Two
Well as promised it is now time for the question of the week. Thanks to all who contributed to last week's question. I am not going to say I won't allow people to go back and still answer it, but if you go back and answer last week's question you must also answer this weeks question. We had already thought about what else we would like our blog to become, and we felt introducing you to some of the people we meet here would be a good way for you to connect with us. So we want to put together a list of interview questions to ask. So this week's question is:

What do you want to ask a South African? Do you want to know what their daily life is like? What is their favorite food? Be creative, and in the coming weeks we will introduce you to some of the amazing people we work with.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day!

Well here it is, Thanksgiving Day. Just a couple of things about Thanksgiving in South Africa. It is 100 degrees out today. Stores don't sell pumpkin pie or pumpkin pie filling. One of the American volunteers with Hands at Work went to a local bakery and asked if they could make a pumpkin pie, and they had no idea what to do. They got a recipe off the internet and made it though. We picked it up today and it was 5 times as expensive as any other pie they had. We haven't tasted it yet, but I'll let you know how that goes. It should be interesting. It looks right, but looks can be deceiving. Brooke is away today. She left yesterday and gets back on Friday. She is in Mafikeng for a conference on Monitoring and Evaluation. For those of you who don't know where Mafikeng is scroll down to the bottom and look at the map. I feel sad that we will be apart. I feel especially bad for her because there are many American volunteers with Hands at Work and we are having a Thanksgiving Dinner. I hope everyone is having a fun time eating turkey and sharing the day with friends and family. We miss you all. Thanks for the participation in the question of the week. Next week's question comes tomorrow, so get your last minute entries in for last week's question today. Remember let's try to keep up to date. Thanks.
Sorry this post is short. I'll make up for it tomorrow with pictures to boot.

Friday, November 16, 2007

No News is Good News?

Hello Everyone,

I know it has been over a week since our last post. We are trying to post at least once a week to keep people coming back. Brooke was in Joburg all last week for a conference on M&E (Monitoring and Evaluation) and I was extremely sick. I came down with a bit of a flu. It started Tuesday night and finally subsided on Friday. It was extremely difficult, but at least it is over. I think Brooke felt disappointed she was gone when I was sick, but I also think she might have secretly been happy. I later found out she told a co-worker she was on the trip with how she was happy she wasn't there. I know it would have been sleepless nights for her as well as me if she would have been there and there really wasn't anything she could have done had she been there. This week I am suffering with a cold, and it seems as though I might have passed it on to Brooke as this morning she told me her throat is starting to hurt and she feels physically drained. We haven't done much traveling around the area for the past two weeks. I know it seems as though our blog has become more of a travel brochure than what we have been doing here. We will try to do a better job of letting people know what we are up to not just where we have gone.

Brooke has been working extremely hard on the M&E side of things. They really are lucky to have her here. She is doing some amazing work. Right now she is helping set up a program that will help document some of the 2,000 or so orphans our organization is caring for in Masoyi. I am starting to get moving on an Income Generating Activities Center (IGA) for the orphans and vulnerable children we serve. We are trying to create a vehicle for them to start their own businesses as well as looking for local business partners that would be willing to hire them. The IGA center will provide business and entrepreneurial skills as well as develop customer service skills and other training local businesses want. Hopefully this will allow the children who are getting to an age where they no longer qualify for child grants opportunities to earn an income. I am really excited about starting this task and can already see it will keep me busy over the upcoming year.

Other than the occasional illness things are starting to come together. It's hard to believe in 5 days we will have been in South Africa for four months already. The time is really flying by. We will have our IST (in-service training) coming up in early December (2-8), and we are looking forward to seeing so many of the other volunteers we haven't seen since coming to site, as well as receiving more training on what is expected of us over the next two years. We also will be moving soon. We are moving on to campus on November 26th for about two months while we apartment sit for a couple who will be in New Zealand until mid January. Their place isn't huge, but it does have indoor plumbing, shower, and kitchen. And although it isn't huge I did some measuring during my time home sick and found where we are staying now is only 100 sq. ft. Hard to believe that Brooke and I are still getting along so well. It is really amazing how much we have already grown as a couple. I really don't have much else to say except thanks for the mail we have been getting. Uncle Greg, you have been fantastic at providing me updates with newspaper clippings and all. Sometimes I wish you were sending me better news, gopher football, the T-Wolves, the Vikings, and Twins have all kind of disappointed this year. I guess there is always hope for the wild, and we'll see if Tubby can crack open the Big Ten for Gopher B-ball, good luck with that! We also want to thank all of those who are praying for us. It means a lot to know we are being supported. We miss you all.

Finally I am going to close with a question. Our blog has not been very interactive up to this point as you can see we aren't getting many comments. So I am going to start a new feature, whether it stays or not will depend on how successful it is. I am going to start, "The question of the WEEK!?" This week's question has two parts -- What do you want to see/read more about from our blog? and/or What do you want to see/read on our blog that you haven't seen yet? Take your time and think about it, but please let us know what you want. But remember you only have a week to answer, although I guess you can always respond to previous posts, but let's try to stay up to date.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Is 7:30 too early to go to bed on a Friday night?

Brooke and Jed enjoying the views

Here we are at Blyde River Canyon. Ma Flo, again, was our wonderful tour guide. We spent all day going to different viewing sites along the canyon. It was magnificent. Every time we were amazed with the view. The most amazing things we saw were Bourke's Luck Pot Holes. It is a rock formation created by the river. Here is a little clip of what it looks like. Hope you enjoy! We will try to post more videos, but posting them takes....a....long.....time. While this video was loading we: went swimming in the pool at work (very refreshing it is about 95 today), dried off, checked out a couple of other websites, got a drink from the fountain, read a book, just kidding on that last one. But it takes a while, about an hour and a half for this video. Luckily it is Sunday today and we don't have much else to do.

Blyde River Canyon

Bourke's Luck Potholes

Blyde River Canyon

Another view of Blyde River Canyon

Simply amazing...looks like the edge of the world

Three Rondevals

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tour Our Home.

Here is a quick little tour of the place we are living.

Hope you enjoyed the tour! I would like to thank Brooke for the excellent camera work!
Unfortunately, this is not where we will be staying for all of our two years. It looks like we will be moving in early December or late November.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Go Boks!

Hi family and friends! We're hoping you're all well. We've been so blessed to hear this week about three wonderful couples who are welcoming new members into their families. We are so sad to be missing out on their first years, but we're thrilled to hear they are all healthy and happy babies. In case you hadn't heard, Paul and Anna Marie Saarinen welcomed Elle on August 2nd; Anastin was born to Jadee and Nick Hanson on October 4th, and Billy and Jodi Garrity had Payton on October 13th. Thank you so much for the pictures. We're so thrilled for you all!

Your little miracles completely outshine even the most beautiful sights of South Africa, but I figured I'd post some pictures anyway. We went on a day trip last Saturday with Marc and Vivienne, who run Hands at Work, and a couple of other volunteers. We ate a delicious lunch at a place called Harrie's Pancakes. They like savory pancakes here, so we tried a butternut/feta pancake, which was great, but I still favored the sweet one with bananas and cinnamon and sugar. We saw three really beautiful waterfalls. (They're everywhere!) The weather was cloudy and cool and so refreshing! I'll post the pictures below. After our trip we went back to campus to watch South Africa pound England in the Rugby World Cup. Go Boks! (Jed's adopted rugby and cricket as his own, I think in an attempt to fill the void left by the lack of NFL coverage on TV here. It's hard to say that he missed the Twins this year. I think it was actually for the best that he missed out on the second half of their season. He would have been too depressed. But can I just tell you he's already full of anxiety about the Gopher Hockey season, because they are his favorite, and apparently also because there isn't great coverage on the Internet of their season because they're a college team. Thank the Lord for Wally and Uncle Greg, who do their best to fill him in!)

We had a visit from our placement officer this week from Peace Corps in Pretoria, and she brought a whole pile of mail that had arrived in Pretoria since we left our training site. (I think most of you are aware of our new "permanent" address, but if you're not, it's posted to the left of our blog.) Let me tell you, it was like Christmas in October! We literally opened them like they were Christmas presents...we took turns opening them and slowly reading them to each other. Thank you so much for your kind words. It's difficult to explain how much it means for us to be able to hold something that you've written just for us. We're blessed by each letter and picture and package. Special thanks to our parents (our most faithful correspondents), Kimmie, Uncle Greg, Ashley, Jennifer, Amber and Luciana, Billy and Jodi for their recent letters. Thank you all for your emails as well. We love to hear from you. As much as we love it here, we do struggle with being so far away from all of you. We miss you so much!

Lots of love,

Brooke, Jed, Vivienne (our supervisor), Sandy (a long-term Hands at Work volunteer from New York state), and Yvonne (Vivienne's friend from Pretoria) enjoying the sights and the cool weather (for a change)
Mac-Mac Waterfall. You can see a bit of the man-made forest behind it. It was planted by the paper companies and it really is incredible to see. You drive for miles and miles and it's all beautiful stick-straight pine trees and gum trees, and in each section all the trees are exactly the same height!

Lisbon Falls, from above.

A view of the market near one of the falls.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In memory of Timmy

After a painful few days struggling to defeat a pretty awful virus, a trip to the hospital, and at least a couple of shots, Timmy passed away last night during the night. Timmy blessed us with lots of laughs in the past few weeks, and he will be missed very much, especially by Sisi Thando, who loved him very much. (Fluffy seems to be dealing well with the loss...I suppose he has mixed feelings about the disappearance of his small companion and tormentor.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Pool at our Office

Just a quick little note. Here is a view from just outside the offices that Brooke and I work in, and if you look closely you can see the tennis courts in the background.


The Pool

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What is that noise? It's either a child screaming or a chicken.

We went to Kruger on Saturday! It was amazing. We had a little trouble with our permit to get in, but once we were in it was fantastic. We saw about 20 different species of animals. From Impala, and Kudu, to Elephants, Giraffes, and even a Rhino. The park is stunning. It has so many different habitats. One minute it looks like you are in the savanna, and the next you are right along a river with lush banks. It was raining almost all day, but apparently there is a better chance of seeing animals when it is raining. When it is sunny they tend to lay low and stay out of the heat. We spent about 5-6 hours there, but you could spend days. You have to get special permits to stay overnight, but there are many camping posts throughout the park. Hopefully during our two years here we will have at least one opportunity to stay in the park overnight.

We saw three of the big five. The big five are: Elephant, Rhino, Leopard, Lion, and Cape Buffalo. The only two we didn't see were the Lion and Leopard, but hopefully on our next visit we will finish off the big five. While speaking with one of the workers there, actually our host mothers daughter works with a program bring children throughout Africa into the park and teaching them about conservation, we found out the big five are five of the more aggressive animals in the park. This is how they got their name, not because of their size.

Out of all the animals we saw I think the most impressive was the Rhino. It was simply amazing how ginormous it was. It was kind of far off the road in some thick bush, but you could see how massive it was. In the picture it is first hard to see because of the bush, and the picture does not do justice to its massive size. Kruger has definitely been one of the most impressive things we have seen and done in Africa, and hopefully throughout our time here we will get to see it many times. And who knows if you come to visit us you might get a chance to see it as well!


Impala (we saw hundreds of these)

Mother Chacma Baboon with Baby

Jerry the Giraffe

The Kudu (They are as big as elk and their antlers are amazing)

The Rhinoceros (This picture doesn't do it justice)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Our new address

Please send mail to our new address:
Brooke and Jed Heubner
c/o Hands at Work
P.O. Box 3534
White River 1240

Are the neighbors shooting at the birds again?

Hello everyone,

It has been a while since our last update, so this could be a long one. Let's start from where we left off. After our site visit in Masoyi it was back to Gopane. We had a quick couple of days there including a going away party with the two other towns volunteers were staying at: Borakalalo and Motswedi. The party was on a Sunday and started at 10:00.

Because not many people could transport themselves to the Motswedi Community Center, Peace Corps sent around the PC koombi (15 passenger van/taxi) to pick up volunteers and their host families. Many people have church on Sunday mornings, especially in Africa, and due to some miscommunication many people did not know the program started at 10:00. Several volunteers, including us, were told the program would not start until later in the day, but people would start arriving around 10. Anyway, or host father is the deacon of his church so he could not come. Mma Senosi was out of town at a women's conference and our two host brothers did not want to come.

So we arrived around 10:30 near the end of everyone going up to the stage and introducing their host families. Since our family was not present we decided not to participate. The whole day was kind of anticlimactic. The program consisted of some songs and skits, both by volunteers and our language teachers as well as speeches by some community members. The end of the program consisted of each volunteer presenting their host family with a certificate thanking them for hosting us. Fortunately, our host father arrived just as we were getting in line to go up on stage. Unfortunately, on our certificate Brooke's name was spelled wrong (Brook). We also found that several other volunteers names were wrong on their certificates.

Next was the big brai (pronounced bry). A brai is a South African style BBQ. In the morning before we got to the ceremony a cow was slaughtered and cut up. During the ceremony several of our language teachers were busy cooking the meal. The food looked pretty good. Although because there were 90 volunteers with their host families 20 language teachers with their host families (around 600 people in all) there ended up being not enough food for everyone. Especially the volunteers. The volunteers were asked to get plates for their families then eat afterwards. By the time Brooke and I went through the line all that was left was some pap and coleslaw. It was good though not really filling. It did seem, however, that the families really enjoyed the ceremony.

Monday morning was spent going over logistics for the next couple of days activities. Tuesday PC would be coming around and picking up all of our luggage. Wednesday we were told be ready by 8:00 am to go to our pickup points so we could leave for Pretoria. Well, we were picked up at 8 and brought to our training center. Then we were told we had a group meeting where we would be filling out some surveys on our training. However, there were not enough copies for everyone so PC had to go to a town 40 minutes away to make more copies. Finally around 10:30 the copies arrived. We filled them out fairly quickly, but the buses were not there yet. Around 11:30 the buses arrived after picking up the education volunteers in Motswedi. Then they all filed off the bus for another group meeting. Needless to say as the buses rolled out of Gopane many of us were almost too upset to miss the place. Sitting at our training site for an extra 4 hours was not how we had envisioned our final day in Gopane.

Off to Pretoria. We spent Wednesday night at the Farm Inn just outside Pretoria. The place was AWESOME. Made the wait at Gopane in the morning fade away. They had lions and other animals there, a pool, and a huge dining hall with a bar. We were warmly greeted by the staff with glasses of orange juice just outside the hotel lobby where we were given the keys to our rooms. Brooke and I stayed in an enormous two room suite. With a spectacular bathroom, including a SHOWER. I don't know how may of you have done much third world international travel, but you really miss hot showers. I took one the first night and another one in the morning. It was great. Wednesday night we had a lavish buffet. The food was fantastic. People's plates were stacked up, big time! It felt like I was at a Grillo wedding or something. After dinner there was a dessert buffet. I don't even remember all that was there I just remember I couldn't button my pants, and I've lost like 15 pounds since I've been here, so you can imagine the amount of food I ate.

The rest of the night was spent just hanging out with all the volunteers we had grown so close to over the last two months. It was great getting to be with such an amazing group of people, who, because of where we would all be placed, we might not see more than one or two times over the next two years.

Thursday morning came early. Breakfast was at 8 and the food again was outstanding. I think I enjoyed the coffee the most though. Since we have been here all there is for coffee is freeze dried like Folger's crystals, but at the Farm Inn the had actual drip coffee. It was great. Then we all piled onto the buses to go the American Ambassador to South Africa's house. It was in an extremely upscale neighborhood in Pretoria. Our swearing in ceremony went very well. Three volunteers were asked to give speeches in their target language they had been learning, and it was very impressive. Some volunteers really picked up the language. Then three other volunteers were asked to read the speeches in English so the rest of us could understand it. One quick note on the language. Brooke and I both passed our language tests. No retests or language tutors for us! The final speech of the ceremony was given by the ambassador. He did an excellent job. But we were in for a surprise. The people of Gopane had sent a group of their traditional dancers to our swearing in ceremony to dance for us. It was just a gift of gratitude to us from the people of Gopane. They truly were amazing people and we do miss them.

After the ceremony we packed all of our stuff up in our supervisors car. I can't believe it fit. They drove a VW Polo, which is a lot like a Jetta. We had stuff stacked up on our laps and in the back window. Then we went to Vivienne's (our supervisor) sister Rene and Jacques' house just outside Pretoria. We stayed with them for most of the afternoon in their spectacular house. It was like it was out of a magazine. Friday we went into Pretoria to meet up with Rose, a PCV friend or ours who was spending the weekend in Pretoria so she could go to temple on Saturday for Yom Kippur. We met up at the Peace Corps office then went and had lunch. A very relaxing day.

Saturday Brooke and I went to the Centurion mall and just hung out for the day, went to a movie (Ratatouille) and had a great lunch at the Mugg & Bean. Friday night we were invited back to Rene and Jacques' house for a brai. The food was incredible. We had a great time.

Sunday we were invited to a party at friends of Rene and Jacques. Then we headed back to Masoyi. Monday we went shopping to buy groceries and other items we would need for our living space over the next two years. Items like a kettle to boil our water so it is drinkable, and a bucket to bathe in, and a fan. The temperature in the summer can get up to over 100 and is humid; with no AC we are really looking forward to putting that fan to use.

Our first week at work was spent diving right in. I am working on putting together an Income Generating Activities center to train and produce items to sell in local shops as well as export. I was asked to write a proposal to the Emnotweni Casino in Nelspruit who is looking for ways to start microfinancing to community members in Masoyi to start their own business. Our organization is seeking money to help fund the construction of the center. Brooke is working on monitoring and evaluation for PEPFAR (The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief). A US funding source that has many regulations to ensure money is being spent properly. We both are really enjoying our time here. This weekend we will be going to Kruger National Park. We are really looking forward to that. Sorry there are no pictures to go with this post, but we will definitely get some pics of Kruger up next week. Hope the update finds you all well. We miss all of you.



Monday, September 10, 2007

The only prescription is more COWBELL!

Hi everybody! We're in Pretoria for a couple of hours today, on our way back to our training village after almost a week at our permanent site. We had a GREAT visit! We met our supervisor Vivienne and the Hands at Work team, including volunteers from North Carolina, Florida (YWAM volunteers), and the UK. (If you haven't done so yet, check out They all live and work on campus at the African School of Missions, which is absolutely beautiful. (There is a pool and tennis courts on campus! Can you believe that?!) We stayed with Ma Flo and her 16-year-old daughter Thandoxolo (Thando for short) in Masoyi (about 10 km from the campus), where we'll be living for at least the next couple of months. Ma Flo leads Masoyi Home Based Care, which is one of the many organizations funded by Hands at Work. Ma Flo and Thando are just wonderful! They also have two dogs--Fluffy and Timmy, who are hilarious. (Dogs aren't usually treated like family around here, but Thando has a heart for animals.)

Mpumalanga is BEAUTIFUL! It's very green, even though they don't get a whole lot of rain in the winter. (Don't forget it's barely spring here.) The hills and mountains are breathtaking. We're surrounded by the largest artificial forest in the world, so there are blue gum trees and pine trees everywhere we look. And Masoyi itself is like nothing we could have imagined. It's called a "rural "village" but there are 250,000 people living there. There is one tar road that stretches north from White River (our shopping town), and there are houses along both sides of the tar road for miles and miles. It really is incredible. There are 38 schools and a smattering of tuck shops here and there, but the nearest "grocery store" is in White River, which is about 10 km away. White River is a cute city. There's a shopping center there called Casterbridge that is probably the most upscale shopping center I've ever seen. There's a Moroccan restaurant, a sushi place, a name it. Apparently there are quite a few private housing developments and gated communities in the area that they are catering to.

On Thursday we went into Masoyi with the GOLD peer educator programs and watched 3 high school kids talk to about 35 primary school kids about HIV/AIDS. One of the peer educations went in to be tested for HIV last week, and she shared her experiences with the kids, who were remarkably open with their questions. They also did some other activities, and we all played a fun game called "cat and mouse" that the kids loved. The kids were also served sandwiches before they went home.

On Friday we attended a workshop on some new monitoring and evaluation forms that are being implemented in the organization. (This is an area I'm sure I'll be enlisted to help in the next couple of years.) Hands at work was very interested in our feedback on the forms. So, they've put us to work already! :) Really, we are very much looking forward to learning more about how we can contribute to the organization. We're thrilled that it's a faith-based organization, and we felt very warmly welcomed.

This weekend we actually went into Nelspruit, about a 20 minute taxi ride away, and met up with a bunch of PC volunteers (and some of our trainee friends) at a backpackers. They were celebrating some of the volunteers who are leaving after their two years. We had a blast hanging out with all of them, and we're looking forward to getting to know them better.

So, all in all, this seems to be shaping into a very atypical PC experience. We were warned that the "First World/Third World" dichotomy would be a little shocking at times, so we're trying to just roll with the punches.

We'll be back in Pretoria for swearing-in on September 20th, and then we'll return to Masoyi soon after that. We'll keep you posted!

Lots of love,

Ma Flo and Thando

Masoyi from the tar road

Near Hands at Work office

Brooke and Jed on the bus

Timmy and Fluffy "playing"

Saturday, September 1, 2007

If you want to slim you must gym!

Our SiSwati language group--John, Simangele, Jed, Craig, and Abby.

Abby and Jed walking to language in the morning.

Senosi's living room

Sanibonani Nonke,

The days in South Africa have started to turn warm. 85 today and it's technically still winter. The nights used to be cold dropping to the low 40's and upper 30's, but now it only drops to the 50's. Today we received our placements. Yay! The town we will be spending our next 2 years at is Masoyi, Mpumalanga, just outside of witrivier (White River.) We will be working with a faith based NGO (FBO) called Hands at Work. It is a multinational FBO, with a website, which means it is very large and sounds like it is well funded. On Tuesday we will go there for a five day site visit to see where we will live, work and if we have time play! Meet some of the people we willbe working with and learn about what they will have us doing. So yes we do have our placement, but there really was no job description. Just continues to prove that, "Peace Corps is what you make it." Hopefully by our next post we will have more info. We are really excited for a change in scenery. Not that where we are isn't nice. We love our host family and things are going great, but it is so dry and dusty here. We asked our project director today if where we are going is similar. She said no Mpumalanga is very, "Garden of Edenish." Our language thacher is from there and she has told us how green it is and there is easy and cheap access to fruits and vegetables. Can't wait. Also they don't eat sour porridge there. For those of you that don't know, sour porridge is a milk and sourghum mush that they allow to ferment for several days, then boil to kill the bacteria. Just add more good milk sprinkle some sugar on top and enjoy? We usually have it two times a week. It is hard to complain though because our host brother is such a great cook. He has made dishes ranging from butternut squash frittata to a pasta and feta dish with spices, tomatoes, onions and peppers that we had just the other night, delicious! We will definitely miss Botlhe's cooking. As well as running water, flush toilets, and a washing machine, from the sounds of our new site. We'll update that info later. White River has the airport that services Kruger National Park, so any of you looking for a place to visit over the next 2 years you are more than welcome to come visit! To all of you that have sent mail, THANK YOU! It has been great to get letters and packages from home, family and friends. You can buy $.80 air mail stamps at any post office and our address is under our picture on the left of the screen. Check back often because our address will change once we are set up at site, but peace corps will forward our mail to us. We are also planning to buy a cell phone soon, and we will give out our cell phone number. Brooke's parents found phone cards on for around $.08/min. Also check out skype for you computer savvy people. As for now please keep praying that God will bless our time here. We love you all. Keep the mail coming.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

News from South Africa!

Sanibona, friends and family! After three long weeks, we’re hoping to have Internet access for a few hours tomorrow. It’s about 9 pm on Friday night, and I’m typing on my host family’s computer in anticipation of a very busy trip into town tomorrow morning, when I will post this message. Right now Jed’s in bed, trying to ward off a cold that’s been going around. My host brothers (16 and 19 yrs old) are watching a movie in the living room, and my host parents, Rra and Mma Senosi, are getting ready for bed, as they will leave around 5:30 tomorrow morning for a funeral (a very typical Saturday morning activity in the village).

Jed and I are in good health and in good spirits. After a few days of orientation in Philadelphia and a long week at a partly-functioning school campus outside of Pretoria, we arrived in our training village, just a few kilometers from the Botswana border. It’s wintertime, with temps in the 40s at night and 70s during the day. We didn’t see a cloud in the sky for our first 2+ weeks in Africa, but this last week it’s been cloudy and cold in the mornings, but it always seems to clear up during the afternoon, when the sun feels toasty warm. We are very comfortable here. Our family has plenty of food, running water (although the hot water heater doesn’t work), and even a machine for washing clothes (although it’s more work than the washing machines we’re used to). Rra Senosi is a retired principal who is heavily involved in the community and his church. In fact, he’s on the board of directors for a budding new NGO (non-governmental organization) that aims to care for OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) in the village. Mma Sensosi is a 3rd grade teacher. She has given me the Setswana name Tshegafatso, which means blessing, because I am her only daughter. She calls Jed “Sonny” because she says he is like a small sun, and like her son, and because she says he is “shiny shiny shiny” like the sun. (We like that name because it reminds us of Pops!) Our host brothers, Thaphelo and Bothle, are very shy. The whole family speaks English, and our host brothers speak it especially well, so that makes for some interesting discussion.

Our days are jam-packed with training. On a typical day our friend and fellow PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) Abby knocks on our door around 7:40. The three of us walk about 15 minutes down the dirt road to the home of the host family with whom our trainer, Simongele, stays. Jed and Abby and Craig and John and I study SiSwati until around 10, when the van picks us up to bring us to one of the local primary schools, which has allowed us to use one of their classrooms for our training sessions. (There are about 38 NGO Peace Corps volunteers training in this village.) These sessions usually involve guest speakers or current PC volunteers who talk about community development or HIV/AIDS or palliative care or the Department of Social Development. We break for an hour for lunch, and then oftentimes have a session on some aspect of South African culture or history. At 3 or 3:30 we reconvene with our language groups for a little more SiSwati vocabulary. Usually, John and Abby and Jed and I walk about a half an hour to get home, although we could take the van if we wanted. The walk home is a nice time to decompress though and get a little exercise. By 5:30 it’s starting to get dark, and people around here don’t go out after dark. There’s really nothing to do in the village in the evening except go to the local tavern, and while alcoholism is a big problem in South Africa, it’s seriously looked down upon.

In the evening Jed and I study language, read, or play cards. We often watch the English news on TV at 7 pm and then eat dinner with our host family. Dinner is usually light on the meat and veggies and heavy on the starches (pap and bread and rice). But we can’t complain too much. Bothle is a great cook! Last weekend we had pumpkin feta frittata, and we’re getting to try lots of new dishes. Compared to most other volunteers, we’ve had quite a variety of foods!

We (and the other trainees) are already anxious to leave for our sites. Because we’re learning SiSwati (which isn’t spoken in the village we’re in now, by the way), we know we’ll be placed in eastern Mpumalanga province, near Kruger National Park, Mozambique, and Swaziland. We’re super excited about that. We’ve heard it’s a beautiful area—less dry than it is here in the Northwest province—and that there are lots of delicious fruits and vegetables grown locally and readily available. It sounds like we will be within visiting distance of a number of other volunteers, which is also welcome news. But we won’t find out for another month exactly where we’ll be placed and which NGO we’ll be working with.

We are learning day by day how fortunate we are to be here now. There is no doubt that South Africa is up against some incredible challenges, in particular fighting extreme poverty, racism, and one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world (1 in 9 are infected). But the post-apartheid spirit of reconciliation and hope in the people here is absolutely inspiring. We feel privileged and just thrilled to have the opportunity to live here and learn here.

Still, we miss you all terribly! We have a few pictures and little bit of video that we like to look at and laugh about and share with our host family and our new friends. But it's been really difficult adjusting to not hearing from you regularly and we miss your smiling faces dearly! We will probably have access to email again in 2 or 3 weeks, so we'd love to hear from you via email. Better yet, we've posted our mailing address on the left side of the blog, and we would treasure any mail from you, even just a quick note!

Lots of love,
Brooke and Jed

This is me waiting for 3 hours for our host family to come pick us up. Apparently Mma Sensosi had some cleaning to do that day and wouldn't pick us up until it was done!

This is the view of our front yard from our bedroom window.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Leaving on a jet plane

It is official. We have our flight schedule for South Africa. We leave for Philadelphia on July 17th for our pre-service orientation. Then on the 19th we fly to Frankfurt; we have a 12 hour layover there, then it is off to Johannesburg.
We recieved some information on our pre-service training (PST) as well. We will be in a village about an hour outside of Pretoria. Also, we were given some .mp3's with 23 language lessons in Setswana. They want us to have the first four lessons mastered by the time we get to SA, because we will be living in a Setswana speaking village with our host family for our training. However, this might not be the language we end up speaking while we are there. We will have our actual language training during our PST. Setswana is just one of the 14 official languages of SA; so who knows what language we will end up learning.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Big news, finally!

Hi, friends and family! We're thrilled to finally be able to let you know we've accepted an invitation to serve as volunteers in the Peace Corps! We leave on July 16th for orientation, probably in Philadelphia, and then it's off to South Africa (SA) on July 19th. After two months of training, we will be placed in a community in SA to work on a project called NGO Capacity Building/HIV-AIDS Integration. We will be working with nongovernmental organizations already in SA to integrate HIV-AIDS awareness and education into their current programming. We're thrilled! (Can you believe it's been almost two years since we first submitted our applications?!) We have a lot to do in the next 6 weeks in preparation--quit our jobs, move out of our apartment, pack, and complete lots of paper work. We'll keep you posted on what's going on. If you're interested, the Peace Corps website has some good resources for family and friends of volunteers. Just go to and click on Resources for Family and Friends. There is even a special section for kids.
With love,
Brooke and Jed