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
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!
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.)
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)
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.