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.