Wednesday, May 5, 2010
At first I wore flip flops to overcome this SOB of a problem. The rationale behind this was that my feet are going to sink regardless so I might as well wear shoes I can easily clean afterward. I learned shortly this was not the way to go. Not only did they splash mud all over my calves and clothes every time I took a step, but in the less shallow pools my body would literally lower into the ground and I would come out barefoot upon re-emergence. The kids got a kick out of it while the grannies helped me look for my shoes.
After day after day of this nonsense, you don’t get used to it, you get sick of it, and irritated. I have contemplated calling in sick several times just because it is such a chore to leave my house. And it isn’t just me, the teachers at my schools ask why I bother coming in with the hellish road conditions when I don’t have a car. I suppose calling in annoyed is just as justified as calling in sick?
Anyway, today I was over being frustrated so I decided I was going to sing songs on the way to school to pacify myself. While doing so, I was able to enjoy the walk and I noticed things I never noticed before. Like everyone else’s suffering. I looked ahead of me and all around, and I saw kids, parents, and others sliding around the mud and sinking and slipping just like me. There were goats with mud all over their butts too.
Imagine an ice skating rink packed with first-time skaters. Now replace the ice with patches of grass, puddles of water, an occasional farm animal, and mud everywhere. Multiply the ridiculousness by your choice double digit number, and there you have it, a blessing in disguise. I realized my negative attitude was causing me to miss out on the hilarity that is my walk to school this whole time.
I was teaching at one of my schools today, when all of a sudden I heard screams coming from outside. I left the class to see what it was and saw 30+ children running out the door for their lives. I followed the sound of continuing screams into the classroom. There were three teachers inside who had discovered a nook behind one of the desks a family of kittens had overtaken. They grabbed each kitten by the legs, would scream, do a little arm flail action, and then chuck it across the room until the kitten ran out the door.
I felt really bad for the kittens but I couldn’t help but watch and laugh, at the grown adults who legitimately feared the kittens, at the terrified 5-year olds screaming and running around aimlessly in the courtyard unsupervised, and at all the airborne kittens flying in every which direction.
Monday, February 22, 2010
The Pirates is known for its 3 hills (which is a complete lie because there were several and I had false hopes every time I thought I completed the 3rd one), in which 2 are killer, making it “extremely difficult,” and in fact the “most difficult half-marathon in Gauteng” says the official website. A lady we met in the bathroom who was a seasoned veteran of the race told us, “You turn one corner and the pavement is touching your face.” Lol Clearly it was a tad bit of a hyperbolization, but it wasn’t far from the truth as I found it nearly impossible to walk up the monster hills even at the interminable pace of 0.01mph, if I was even going that. I felt like I was on a treadmill, walking but going nowhere. My legs kept moving but my surroundings stayed the same. I felt like vomiting several times throughout, the feeling in my legs would sporadically come and go, and I’m pretty sure at one point I was drooling.
About 5 weeks from now, I will be running in the Longtom half-marathon which raises funds that go toward the KLM foundation (http://www.klm-fondation.org). The KLM foundation is a wonderful organization that can change the lives of hard-working, underprivileged kids by sending them to college, an opportunity they would otherwise not be given.
Every runner must meet the minimum of US $100, but the more we raise, the more students they will be able to send to get a higher education. I know we all be po right now, so any little bit helps. It’s an amazing cause and you will really make a difference in someone’s life.
You can donate one of two ways:
Method 1: Online
1. Go to the KLM foundation website (http://www.klm-fondation.org)
2. Click on the Donate photo in the upper left corner.
3. This opens up a secure https connection for people to donate.
4. Don’t forget to put my name (first and last) in the “Longtom Marathon” field so they know the donation was made in your name.
Method 2: Check
1. Make out a check to: Kgwale Le Mollo (US)
2. Add a sticky note declaring which PCV (peace corps volunteer) the donor is sponsoring
3. Mail it to:
KLM Foundation (US)
c/o Bowen Hsu
461 So. Bonita Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91107
Thanks for all of your support, friends, South Africa loves you! And so do I!
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Scenario 1 – At one of my schools:
Lunch Lady: “Bonolo (that’s my Setswana name), come here.”
Lunch Lady: “Are you wearing a wig?”
Me: “Lol. What makes you say that?”
Lunch Lady (while pointing at a teacher): “You look like her.”
Me: “Is she wearing a wig?”
Lunch Lady: “Yes.”
Scenario 2 – Escuela de fellow PCV
Scenario 3 – Hitchhiking with the popo
Me: “Thanks for picking me up.”
Popo: “No, sharp sharp. (That means “It’s all good.”) Where are you from?”
Me: “Texas, in the United States.”
Popo: “When did you get here?”
Me: “Almost 7 months ago.”
Popo: “Yes, I can tell. Your English is struggling.”
It’s good to know that something as simple as a 30-second conversation can offset my hormonal imbalance back to normal or at the very least offer some temporary placation. Who needs prescription drugs and anger management when you can have a chat?
Monday, February 1, 2010
Peace Corps always tells us to play it safe and discourages us from conversing with drunken men. I follow this pretty strictly and merely wave or acknowledge them with a hello before continuing on my way. Today I was getting lunch before going to my second school when a man at the shabeen called me over. It was 11am, I was in somewhat of a hurry, and I mistakenly thought a little small talk wouldn’t hurt anyone.
He started off with the typical “I love you” that men so love to greet the ladies with. It’s interchangeable with “Hello” or “How are you?” Well, at least the frequency of the usage makes it seem so. I of course told him he didn’t love me and started walking away. He told me I needed to give him R10 since he loved me. Again with the logic. I explained to him I didn’t come here to give money to people, so he asked why I was here and I told him to teach skills to whoever was interested. He asked what, I said particularly English and computer. He told me that I’m doing that because all of us white people think we’re better than black people.
By then I was running late but I couldn’t leave it at that and let him think what he just said was true. I asked him when I ever said I was better than him. This is the first time I’ve met this man. He looked me up and down and said, “You voted for Obama.” I told him I did and this is usually my saving grace when people point at me and say how terrible us white folk are. I asked him how he knew, and this just completely backfired.
His answer: “Obama is black, but his mother is white. You voted for him because he’s half white and has the superior race in him.” There is so much wrong with this statement, oh my God. I’m not even going to go into detail because you already know, and my explanation would consume megabites I can’t afford right now.
As the saying goes, you can’t fight with an idiot, you’ll never win. So I proceeded walking. He stopped me again and asked for money, again. I told him I couldn’t do that, but I’d give him a bite of my lunch, so he accepted. I began walking away again and he told me to give him the rest of my food. I told him it was my lunch. He pointed at me, the worst point I think I’ve ever been given, and said in the nastiest voice that that’s how all us Americans are. What we buy is ours, and ours only. It was really quite terrible.
I wanted to tell him to first off, shove it, secondly that if I had asked his drunk ass for his beer he’d say no and would therefore be a hypocrite, and thirdly, that if I knew he needed it I would’ve clearly given it to him, but seeing that he’d fail a sobriety test with flying colors, he obviously has money, and it’s not my problem he chooses not to spend it on food. I’m totally not down with this one-way, double-standard ubuntu. Uncool.
I realize these are things I should be adjusted to, but every now and then you just need some cathartic relief when there isn’t a tall margarita in sight. Luckily, right after this very unpleasant verbal attack, I saw my friend who tried to make me feel better. She said any woman in the village who rejects a drunk man is called a bitch and yelled at.
I sympathized, but as much as that sucks, I’d rather be called a bitch than a racist.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
IF YOU SENT ME A PACKAGE AND IT IS RETURNED TO YOU, PLEASE LET ME KNOW SO I CAN AT LEAST THANK YOU AND APOLOGIZE ON BEHALF OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN POST OFFICE FOR NEVER TELLING ME IT CAME. THE POST OFFICE AND I AREN’T EXACTLY ON THE FRIENDLIEST OF TERMS AND THEY REFUSE TO TELL ME WHO THE MYSTERY PERSON IS.
So holiday was fun in the sun. We did part of the Sunshine Coast, all of the Wild Coast, and the teensiest bit of Zululand (Port Elizabeth-East London-Cintsa-Coffee Bay-Port Saint John’s-Durban) and I’ve never seen anything more spectacular in my life. It was pretty much the same scenic view for over 8 hours straight-lush, rolling hills with Xhosa villages scattered throughout, shepherds herding their sheep, and hitchhikers, lots of hitchhikers-but it felt like I was seeing it for the first time the entire way.
About a month ago I was acting very typically me and drowned my digital camera in water, so the only one I had was the dinky excuse for one I have on my phone. I thought it was blasphemous to try to capture the beauty of the drive on 3.2 megapixels so I took next to no pictures and consequently don’t remember a lot of my vacation (I guess my state of sobriety, or lack thereof, also had something to do with it.) But here are some highlights that stick out in my head:
PE: went clubbing with a mobster, danced with fettucine alfredo, bribed someone with a meatball sub
EL: had shoes stolen during Carnaval weekend, passed out in a sand dune
Cintsa: met Pushkin whose evil spirit then followed us all the way to Pretoria and even continued its journey to Kate’s village 200k outside of Vryberg
CB: spotted my first Koreans. I knew immediately. There was a family crouched in the rocks of the oceans slapping crustaceans and crabs with their shoes which they immediately consumed afterward. And granny wore a Texas-sized visor Robocop would’ve been jealous of-now if that doesn’t epitomize “Korean” then I don’t know what does, played Xhosa drums by a fire pit and jammed out
PSJ: drank sulphur in a cave, did laundry by MACHINE
Durban: was eaten alive by mosquitoes (I’m pretty sure every single mosquito in Durban took a turn biting me at least once during my stay), spent New Year’s Eve dancing at Taco Zulu with free drinks and food, and visited the TOURIST JUNCTION!!!!
If you’re ever in Durban, this is where you want to be. No one goes to the tourist junction to find out about touristy things because you won’t really, but it’s super nice-the best bathrooms in Durban fully stocked with the finest TP, nice sofas, and great company. After some trouble with our backpackers, Kate and I were left homeless and the tourist junction guy offered his place (even after he though we were making fun of Apartheid-which we weren’t-just your typical miscommunication), helped us find cheap hotels and hostels, and even told us what we needed to do if we wanted to sleep at the tourist junction which was the first option we inquired about. (This place is seriously nice and has tons of empty offices where we could’ve pitched our tent with minimal disturbance to visiting tourists. We even offered to tidy the place up and bring them morning coffee.) Unfortunately, the mayor was out of town and we could not arrange a meeting with him to ask for permission to stay in the tourist junction for the night. Man, it is the best.
Now I’m home. My body acclimatized to my spoiling it with daily showers and began producing oil again like it would on a clean person, which I am no longer. Until my body gets used to village Zita (3L of water a week on bathing), as opposed to city Zita (15min showers a day), I’m going to be stank to the max.
13-JANUARY: Mom's Bday!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Have mini photo shoot with little sis out of boredom. She’s cute so I’m going to show her off.
Look at that lush lawn. Water is free in this country and they keep a hose running until it pretty much floods. There is no regulation on how much water each household can use so it’s a free for all until it runs out every month. That’s when we use our rain water reserve.
1-OCTOBER: Internet access! However, it’s limited to my phone. Still must figure out how to connect it to my computer. Thusang!
The concept of "America" is a little different here than it is in the states. When we tell people we are American or that Obama is the president of America, they assume both North and South America, which is technically correct but really now, how does having one president for two entire continents make any sense? Maybe that’s how he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
4-OCTOBER: Watch “Serendipity.” I don’t know what’s more painful, that, or the American version of “My Sassy Girl.” I’d rather be stepped on barefoot by a fat person in stiletto heels or be chained up and tickled for 3 hours.
7-OCTOBER: Today, the scariest thing happens thus far. I use the pit toilet (I feel like my life revolves around this pit toilet), and for the first time I decide to trust the cleanliness of the seat and make direct contact. Mid usage, I feel something “down there.” I look and there’s a giant spider on the front side of my you know what. And this is no ordinary spider. It’s a spider straight out of Africa, a huge mofo. I flip out, scream, flick it off and dance around in this tiny tin cubicle whilst trying to avoid touching anything. As space permits it turns out to be more of an epileptic shimmy. Then of course my sister comes running to me and tries to open the door while my shorts and underwear are wrapped around my ankles because she left her toys in the bathroom, so I have to fight her to keep the door shut. I can safely say I will never not hover again.
9-OCTOBER: I have done a week of classroom observations and seen many an interesting thing. My favorite quotes of the week:
1. A teacher addressing her disorderly class, “You have no future because of freedom. You have freedom. No future. Education is dead.”
2. A student passes gas, and all the kids start laughing. Teacher looks at me and says while pointing at the culprit and completely calling her out, “She farted,” then turns to the student and says, “Next time you need to fart outside.”
I go to the toilet and find it covered in radioactive-sized roaches. They are everywhere. This means summer is just around the corner. I try everything, I stomp on the ground surrounding the toilet (advice that was previously given to me-doesn’t work by the way, they are fearless), and then I kick the toilet several times, but nothing. They are ruthless, like the pigeons and squirrels in Austin, but may be my new inspiration to getting skinny. Before coming here I was told a lot of the food was inedible and I got excited because that meant I would starve and lose weight. However, they were lies, and the food is very much edible and quite delicious, so I’m thinking plan B of my diet is going to have to revolve around the roaches, guardians of the shit hole. I fear roaches. Pooping forces me to encounter them. Food makes you poop. If I don’t eat, I won’t poop, and will not see the roaches therefore eliminating the root cause of my fear. I think it might work- swimsuit season here I come. If all else fails, the Off! (or Doom!-what they call it here and way more intimidating sounding) will have to accompany me. I just hope evolution doesn’t kick in full throttle and create mega roaches by the close of my two years.
12-OCTOBER: Endure scary ass storm. To sum it up it hails furiously, and I think I'm going mental. Some hail flies under the inch gap under my door and there is ice on my floor. The ceiling starts leaking in 7 different places. My bed gets wet, through my comforter, sheets, and through my mattress. I freak out a little, then a lot. I start to have crazy thoughts and prepare for the worst. I take out all my buckets and place them on my bed, on my table, on my desk, on the floor-every place water is leaking from. I unplug all my electronics, put my computer and phone away in plastic cases and store them in my closet in case the roof blows off and they get wet. I put on my pancho and headlamp, and I wait. I sleep about 6 hours later than usual because no matter how many 18-hour plane rides, marching band practices, worthwhile vacations, and good movies I sleep through, I can’t seem to sleep through this. I can only imagine this is what a dog goes through when going through a conveyer-belt carwash.
27-OCTOBER: While running today I pass up a kid pushing a wheelbarrow full of crap, literally – I think farmers pay them per kg for it or something, and he runs with me, with the wheelbarrow, up a hill, down a hill, and through a stream. All barefoot. I’m seriously impressed.
31-OCTOBER: Halloween weekend at the Cramer’s. I ate like a monster and enjoyed every minute of it. Michael Phelps and his 13 hamburger breakfast have nothing on me.
3-NOVEMBER: My mother is an avid gardener and has really been into it lately. New installments to our yard in addition to the 2 orange trees, papaya tree, and mango tree: a grape vine, several peach trees, pumpkin patch, apple tree, roses of all colors, and a guava tree! I can’t wait till they’re mature and ready to be picked.
4-NOVEMBER: Yet another ethnically-charged conversation I had today:
A random: “Where do you come from?”
A random: “You lie.”
Me: “Sometimes, but not at the moment.”
A random: “You are from China.”
Me: “I am not from China.”
(This goes on back and forth 3 or 4 times so I’ll skip ahead…and now, for the logic.)
A random: “Americans have long hair, you have short hair, and China have short hair.”
Me: “Americans have all different lengths of hair, and, I had longer hair, but I cut it off when I came here.”
A random: “You lie. You have picture?”
Me: “Yes, but I’m not showing you.”
A random: “Then you lie.”
A = C; B = C; therefore, A=C. Wait a second...
8-NOVEMBER: Throw my first baby shower. We have egg salad and cucumber sandwiches and tea, no gifts since we’re all broker than broke, play games, and end with vodka Fanta (minus the mother-to-be) and major bonding. It is a huge success and I am extremely happy.
9-NOVEMBER: I somehow become the assistant rhythmic gymnastics coach. LOL. The girls are competing at nationals in about a month and I’m here to whip them into shape. 5, 6, 7, 8…
12-NOVEMBER: I begin gardening with my mother. I’m new at this so for now I’m in charge of weed pulling duty.
15-NOVEMBER: Tidimatso has a baby girl! Congrats new mother!
After being here for a solid 4 months, I can safely say that people don’t know how to walk. For the most part. Think teen night at the Roxy without the strobe lights and house music. I take back the latter. There is always house music. From the break of dawn till the break of dawn the next day, and instead of dancing, they’re “walking.” I’ve been throwing around different ideas for my secondary project (my work outside of school hours), and I’m considering offering classes on the art of walking. Put one foot in front, then proceed with the other in a linear path to your destination. Stop if an obstruction arises, continue otherwise. Pay attention. Minimize swiveling, maximize consciousness. Keep with the flow of traffic. Don’t be retarded. It amazes me though. How they are able to transport themselves by foot the way they do, I won’t even bother calling it walking, and manage to dodge the 5 cars abruptly coming out of nowhere at any given moment going 40kmph. I think if I just do cartwheels to get around instead of walking people will have no choice but to get out of my way.
Conversation I have with the bank teller today:
Teller: “When did you get here?”
Me: “4 months ago.”
Teller: “Wow, your English is so good!”
Me: “Thanks, your Setswana’s not bad either.”
16-NOVEMBER: We are doing crunches in our gymnastics warm up when one of the girls rips a big one. We all die laughing, try to proceed, but can’t. Decide our 10 minutes of laughter will suffice for the day’s ab workout.
18-NOVEMBER: This is it. It’s the same feeling I had in Korea when I realized I was in love with the country. It’s cold today. Extremely rare for a South African summer. It feels like the holidays back at home, hot chocolate/spooning/fireplace/gingerbread cookie making weather. It’s raining and the droplets are gently tapping on my tin roof. Not at all violent and terrifying like usual. I’m sipping on my steaming cup of green tea, listening to Norah Jones with my deliciously scented candle burning delightful fumes. I’m at home.
19-NOVEMBER: Tree's Bday!
21-NOVEMBER: Locals are always curious about where non-African foreigners come from. When I tell them I’m from Texas and they have heard of the place, they usually associate it with one of five things: cattle, oil, George Dubya, cowboys, and most often, Joel Osteen (a huge percent of this country is Christian and he is their idol). Today I learned the lone star state was known for yet another hero. Here is a conversation we had on the taxi:
Local 1: Where do you come from?
Patrick: I’m from New York and she’s (me) from Texas.
Local 1: Where’s that?
Local 2: It is where you will find Chuck Norris.
27-NOVEMBER: I am thankful for Thanksgiving.
2-DECEMBER: DIET STARTS TOMORROW.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Mother cooks, as always, and makes the usual Sunday buffet. Really good stuff. She’s a teacher by weekday, caterer by weekend, and is the sole reason for my colossal weight gain.
26-AUGUST: SA Military protests against government and raids parts of downtown Pretoria upturning cars and scaling government buildings. We are told not to worry as it is merely protest season and this sort of thing is common this time of year. I am reassured, it’s only protest season.
2-SEPTEMBER: Supervisor’s Workshop where we meet our principals for the next 2 years. It is at a fabulous resort with swimming pools, a bar, a ground level trampoline, putt-putt golf, buffets, and most importantly, showers with hot, running water! They always send us someplace nice before dumping us in the bush.
3-SEPTEMBER: Visit permanent sites. My home is really nice, it just lacks basic amenities like running water. Also, my mother tells me the pit toilet is out of order. How does a pit toilet go out of order one might ask. Well, “It sank during the last storm.” My worst nightmare has come true. Well maybe not my worst. I had a top 3 of things I feared before coming to Africa. 1. Murder 2. HIV/AIDS 3. Rape. Upon discovering that people can fall into pit toilets, that immediately became my number 4, sometimes it’s 3 (it’s a tough call. I usually go back and forth with this depending on my mood or how likely I feel getting raped is.)
Since finding this out, I’ve been curious and ask everyone about it every chance I get. It’s instantly become one of my favorite conversation starters. “So how does one fall into a pit toilet?” “And more importantly, how does one get out?” I like hearing out different answers. Some kids are naughty (“naughty” is the all-encompassing term for bad, curious, silly, your worst nightmare, ADHD, impatient, naughty, funny, misbehaved, disobedient-surprisingly it has nothing to do with being a “bad, bad girl”) and jump into the toilet. Sometimes the hole is too big (they’ve addressed this problem at primary schools by making the holes smaller). And sometimes they break or sink, like in my case. Before visiting my permanent site, my brother told me not to go when it was raining because the toilet might fall in. The ground is softer you see.
Now for question 2, what do you do after you’ve fallen in. Usually you scream for help in the hopes that someone will hear you and come to your rescue. Then they can do 1 of 2 things. They can throw a ladder down the hole, or a rope and pull you out. If the hole is too small for a ladder, they have to break open the toilet then throw the ladder down. And you should never put your phone in your back pockets, or anything for that matter. Pit toilets are notorious for having Nokias and loose change for breakfast. So anyway, my pit toilet is out of order so I’m using the family’s toilet in their home.
I know I said we had no running water. We don’t. The toilet is flushed once a day at max by pouring water into the tank. Our junk just sits there and marinates. I get really, REALLY sad when the water splashes on my bum. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, each occurrence is usually followed by a cringe, a shudder, and then my gag reflex usually kicks in. The cringe is comparable to that of when you hear nails scratching against a chalkboard, the shudder to walking into a spider web, and the gag reflex to your first Tequila shot of the night when your virgin taste buds have not yet acclimated to the 80 proof liquor.
9-SEPTEMBER: Sick, again. For the third time. I’m drinking rain water and I don’t think I boiled it long enough, but I’m having fun testing out different items and pills from my med kit. The tweezers suck, the gauze is way fun, I can’t wait till I get to use the iodine tablets, the cough drops are all gone, and the cold and flu medicine work great.
11-SEPTEMBER: Take final oral language exam.
Get my bangs cut afterward. I’ve been thinking about shaving my head for some time now. There are a few haircuts I’ve always wanted but were too scared to try out, so what better time to sport them than before I cut it all off. I’ve got nothing to lose, but my hair.
Step 1: The bangs
12-SEPTEMBER: Walk to the grocery store with brothers and cousins to pick up some food. Have a guac and garlic bread party. They finally enjoy my cooking. I tried making potatoes and omelets in the past. They were too polite to throw it out so the poor things covered their meals in every powder, sauce, and spice they could find in the house and told me it was delicious.
14-SEPTEMBER: Receive language test results. I test at the Intermediate Medium level in Setswana which is passing so I’m thrilled. And lucky. I don’t have a clue as to how I scored that and am convinced my tester wasn’t listening. Whatever the reason, I don’t have to take it again!
16-SEPTEMBER: Go to swearing in venue. An awesome casino resort with a pool bar and again, endless amounts of food and hot showers.
Get drunk and shave head. Before going all the way I execute steps 2, 3, and 4 of the plan. One was the bangs, 2. Is what I like to call the perma-part. Some people, like myself, have coarse, stubborn hair and it’s hard to find or create a part that will stay in place. I (and by I, I mean James and Kristen) therefore shaved a strip of hair where my part would originally be so that I’d never have to encounter that problem again, 3. A mohawk, 4. Fauxhawk, and 5. Is the final shaving, but actually turned out to be more of a buzz cut. I wasn’t plastered enough to go completely sans guard. And Kelsey, my partner in crime, joined me. Afterwards we rubbed our heads together and made a wish. We tried to recruit others in joining us but were unsuccessful.
Here’s how it played out:
Mentally preparing myself
James mentally preparing himself
Step 2: Perma-part
Step 3: Mohawk
Step 4: Fauxhawk
Step 5: Finito!
17-SEPTEMBER: Swear in and become official PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers)! Move to permanent site. Goodbye Americans, casino, hair.