My “Soul Buddies” Club who made cards for Mother’s Day
The teachers with their cards! (The male teachers were jealous.)
I apologize for the delay in blogging, but here’s the recap on my trip to Swaziland and Mozambique. It was such a good vacation- I was stressed about all the traveling but it worked out beautifully. I traveled with Asha, Colin and Chris, and we started in Swaziland so we could get our Mozambique visas for MUCH cheaper. (R200 instead of R800). We hung out at the backpackers and met some Swaziland PCV’s. Getting our actual visa was such an ordeal; we had to go back and forth from the embassy to the bank and there was a moment when we seriously thought we weren’t getting them. Since the embassy was going to be closed for the Easter holiday, if we didn’t get them that day we would’ve been out of luck. After 6pm we finally had our beautiful visas, and we met some interesting people as a bonus. Our taxi driver was quite the character, and at one point he offered Chris lessons on how to “pump a woman’s stomach with a baby.” Chris politely declined.
The next day we made it to Maputo, and at the backpackers we met one of the most insane people in the history of the world. He’s an older South African man (Asha pointed out that on this whole trip the only time we were harassed was by South Africans..) who just sold his restaurant and made a ton of money. He had one eye, and continued to roll out the fake one throughout the night. Chris pretended to be my boyfriend as a precaution, and by the end of the night this man threatened to kill Chris if 1. He broke up with me or 2. He didn’t attend a try out for a South African Rugby team that he was supposedly arranging.
We got out of Maputo the next day and made it to Tofo Beach, aka paradise.
We met some Mozambique PCV’s who can travel to the beach on the weekend anytime they please. Unbelievable. We swam in the beautiful ocean, went to the local market, and talked to the local boys on the beach who sold handmade bracelets, oysters, coconuts, anything. They carried around machetes and would literally chop the coconuts right in front of you. Terrifying. We ate delicious fish and lived the good life, with our backpackers literally on the sand. At the backpackers, we met awesome people from ALL over: Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Brazil, Israel, Holland, Lesotho, and Germany, just to name a few. The Germans gave us a ride back to Maputo so we wouldn’t have to take public transport at 4am the next day. We ended up doing an impromptu tour of Maputo, and despite a flat tire in the middle of the city, it was great to see. (Though Tofo is 40 million times better than Maputo, obviously.)
Living the dream
(Coconut milk isn’t that good, but you’re clearly paying for the experience.)
from our backpackers!
Going back to South Africa was difficult. South Africa is such a beautiful country with so much potential, but is still deeply scarred by its history. I didn’t realize how pervasive the racial tensions were until I went to a neighboring country, where they were nonexistent. We were clearly tourists, but we weren’t harassed or given hostile looks, and it was very refreshing. South Africa’s incompetence is also crippling; the border leaving Mozambique was fast and orderly; the border entering South Africa was impossibly long and frustrating. Oh well.
We found out two days after getting back to South Africa that all travel to Mozambique for Peace Corps Volunteers was forbidden, due to rebel fighting. Rebels burned a tour bus from the same company Asha and I used to get back to Pretoria, so we were startled to say the least. It’s crazy how quickly violence can erupt in a country we found so peaceful. (Travel is allowed again now, so get to Tofo ASAP.)
The 100-day landmark has come and gone. Now it’s only 95 days until America! It’s crazy; I feel like I was more productive in these 5 months than all of last year. I’m definitely more adjusted in my village than I was in 2012 and I think that has a lot to do with it. Computer lessons are still going well, and the garden is SLOWLY starting to produce something. And winter’s finally here!! Though I’m a little scared of the cold nights I’ll be grateful to not sweat anymore. That’s all for now!
I don’t even know where to begin. First, I have to thank everyone back home who sent beautiful donations and positive vibes for the camp. “Huge success” is a huge understatement.
Melissa, Ellen, Julie and I made a great team. Melissa and Ellen are phenomenal teachers back home, and we had a perfect balance of good cop/bad cop. There were problems with the toilets and showers, but that’s to be expected when the majority of 63 girls had never used them before. Two other PCV’s, Andrew and Asha, came to the camp too to help us out. Andrew was our cook, and did an AMAZING job of feeding a huge group with delicious meals.
We started the journey to Camp GLOW on Thursday, with the girls singing songs the whole bus ride. You could tell that they were shy with the girls from the other schools, at times even competing with them over what songs to sing.
We arrived at the resort and it was beautiful- two swimming pools, playgrounds, the works. We let the girls have free time and then brought them together for an “I Can’t” funeral. The girls wrote down things they thought they can’t do-sing, cook, swim- and we burnt all of their pieces of paper in a campfire. It was a beautiful moment and a good way to get started.
The next day was full of sessions about their bodies, puberty, and sex. The girls were ages 12-15, so we discussed how their body was changing and how they’re physically and mentally not prepared for sex, but since people in the village refuse to discuss it, we wanted to give them the knowledge beforehand. We did a condom demonstration on a banana, and my 60 year old South African counterpart put the banana in my mouth for an example of oral sex. I think I was giggling more than the girls were.
After a long day of sessions, we let the girls swim in the pool. For many of them it was their first time in the water, and I can’t get over how brave they were. There was a huge waterslide that even I was nervous to go down, but they were sliding into the water nonstop. Supervising 60 first time swimmers was hectic to say the least, but they were all well behaved and natural-born fish.
The big bad slide
The next day, we discussed peer pressure and how to say no after we tye-dyed T-shirts!! The girls loved that activity and looked great in them when they dried.
There was one issue with one of my girls, Pabalelo, which caused a lot of stress. Girls from a different school accused her of saying they were ugly and looked like men. She vehemently denied, saying she was joking back and forth with a different girl. We’ll never know the truth, but there were a lot of upset girls afterwards. A little later on, all the girls started playing a game where they stand in a circle and choose others to dance and sing. My girls from my village were only calling other girls from my village, so Pabalelo got mad and told them to pick new people. When she was chosen, she ended up picking one of the girls from the village she supposedly insulted. I was so so proud of her. From that game, I think all four of us felt a shift within the girls, when they were coming together as a group and not divided by their villages.
After the game, we talked about conflict resolution, forgiveness, and how to say no. The most powerful moment for me was during my lesson on “how to say no” when I threw my Blackberry on the floor. All the girls audibly gasped, and I explained how I do not need to accept phones, or chocolate, or anything from men in exchange for sex. (“Sugar daddies” are a huge problem in South Africa, responsible for the massive prevalence of HIV in young girls.) You could see it click for the girls, how their body and their health were their number one priority. We made them hug themselves and scream “I love myself” over and over and it was such a powerful moment.
Playing with the projector
That night, we held a talent show, and one of Melissa’s friends was our excellent emcee. They were practicing beforehand outside when all of a sudden the power went out. The girls were unfazed, and continued to sing and dance under the stars. Such a moving experience. During the talent show, the girls KILLED IT. So much talent, performing songs and dances. All my girls performed an awesome dance while one of my favorites, Naledi, did a rap by herself. I was so proud of her and crying and screaming the whole show like a proud soccer mom.
The last day, we finished up sessions with a lesson on gender, making sure they all knew they could be anything they wanted, including president. We handed out certificates, and again, I cried like a proud mom as everyone hooted and hollered for each other. We got on the bus and were ready to leave, but clearly needed a reminder that THIS IS AFRICA so the bus didn’t start and we jumped it with a tractor. Casual.
That night, finally back in my village, was a weird feeling. I was in a GLOW bubble for so long, and in a flash it was over. While I was relaxing outside, two girls from the camp, Naledi and Baratang, came to visit. We got on the topic of deceased relatives, and before I knew it I was holding these girls explaining how Naledi’s aunt, Baratang’s mother, and my mother were all watching over us from heaven, so proud of each of us. Then, to change the topic, I gave let them start drawing. Baratang wrote a letter to her mother, saying she loved her and knew she was her angel. Naledi wrote down reasons why she was happy to be a girl. Her reasons were 1. She can lead the world and 2. She can say no to have sex. She also told me now that if she sees a man who has been charged with rape, she will remember all we taught her, including self defense. That was the perfect validation for me that these girls retained all the information we gave them. At the next girls club, the ones who attended the camp were so eager to teach the others the songs, games, and lessons. Throughout the whole experience all I’ve been saying is they are so brave, and I am so proud. This was a project I will never forget and I hope the girls won’t either.
Now I’m relaxing in Pretoria until I leave for Mozambique Wednesday. Time is flying, and I don’t mind it!
Two of the scariest words from my Peace Corps experience are “month’s end.” Really. I shutter just typing them.
At the end of every month, every single inhabitant of South Africa is paid, whether it’s grants for their children, pension, or a paycheck. Since many villages are really far from town, many people only come in at month’s end to buy everything they need until next time. (This means buying in massive bulk, but without a Costco or a car or any sort of convenience.) Thus begins the monthly descent on our shopping town. Most women are there for food, while most men are there for drinks on drinks on drinks and to harass women of all colors and ages. If you’re in town during month’s end, good luck. If you’re in town during month’s end trying to buy all your materials for a camp for 75 people, God bless your soul.
We spent last Friday-Monday (month’s end) planning, dissecting our budget, and buying all our materials and nonperishable food. We went to the more packed, more chaotic supermarket, because their prices are better than the store we usually go to. We got on line immediately, and one of us would wait with our carts (PLURAL AND FULL TO THE BRIM) while the others navigated past women and babies and carts and broken 10kg bags of flour. (If you are claustrophobic do NOT attempt.) We all stayed so positive despite the joke we were living in and got everything we needed. Have you ever spent three hours on a line at the grocery store without pulling your hair out? Mission accomplished.
All that’s left to do is finalize sessions, make the final bus deposit, and buy the perishable food, all before Thursday. Then we’re off! Wish us luck!
Last Valentine’s, when I didn’t have a blog yet (OOPS) the school had a great celebration and I got some pretty adorable Valetines. (I think many of them were intended for the children’s family members, but back then they were still infatuated with the American girl at their school.) On the walk home that day I was with a 4th grader, Kokeletso, and we passed a sheep giving birth. I reacted much more strongly than she did, because it was both gross and awesome and because I was still adjusting to the village life. Then, all on her own, she suggested we name the baby sheep “Valentino.” She made him Italian without any help from me. You go girl.
This year was just as cute, and I got a candle from a 7th grade girl, a coffee mug from a 6th grade girl, and Valentine’s Day themed shot glasses from an educator. (Clearly not intended for their American college purpose).
In other news, last week, when we called to make the deposit for our accommodation for the Girls Camp, the lodge owner told us she gave our booking to another group who was staying longer. Are you kidding? You don’t even have the decency to give us a call and let us know you’ve totally screwed us over? The dust has settled, so I’m not as furious now as I was, and we’ve all been searching frantically for a new place. We think we’ve found a good one, so keep your fingers crossed. There’s no way we’re disappointing these girls OR those who donated, so never fear.
Meanwhile, my mind’s been all over the place trying to pick a law school, pick a job, pick a life post-Peace Corps. I know I’ll figure it out soon, I just don’t like being so uncertain. And if anyone knows of any job openings involving Hillary Clinton in any way, shape, or form, LET THIS GIRL KNOW.
After a slow start, Term 1 has finally picked up the pace. My main project now is computer lessons for people in the community. Parents have been consistently coming since last week to learn typing and Microsoft Office. We charge a small fee, and it has already helped us raise a ton of money for the school. My only concern is sustaining it after I leave, so I intend to trap some educators and staff into lessons very soon.
My typing minions
Speaking of computers, I taught lessons to the out-going Grade 7s when I first arrived in 2011. I tried teaching the basic ASDF but was also trying to survive my first few months at site so wasn’t too concerned with their form. One of the former Grade 7s, Kutlo, just received a laptop from her mom for Christmas. I am SO incredibly happy for her, and I know it was a huge financial burden on the family, but it was so heartwarming to see them support her. She came over for some help with her modem, and when she began to type, she lined up her fingers on the keyboard just like I taught her over a year ago. I was so impressed, maybe she’ll take over lessons when I leave!
PLANTING HAS BEGUN. Every single blog post has been “maybe next week” and “maybe next term” but it finally started. We’ve got a schedule of when the learners can go in and water the seeds and clear more ground for more plots, and they’re very eager to get their hands dirty. We’ve been getting some rain too, so the wetter the better.
Look at all those green thumbs.
The girls club and camp are coming along well too. We’ve made a plan to buy the materials in March, so now we’re making final arrangements for transport and choosing girls (which is far too stressful for my liking). We’ve made a Fundrazr page for people in America to donate to this GREAT cause: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/aQCJ2
It’ll help us pay for accommodation, transport, food, and supplies (bracelets, t-shirts and tye-dye) that our grant didn’t cover. Every Peace Corps Volunteer we’ve spoken to has said that Camp GLOW is inspiring for both for the girls and the volunteer. We’re hoping to build up these girls’ self-esteem and prepare them for high school and beyond. Please donate and pass it on!
Some of the sillies going to the Camp.
I also traced the map onto my blue rectangle, but it’s hard to see in a picture because it’s in pencil. I’ve been so busy with the community computer lessons that I haven’t had time to start painting, but that is OKAY. I have no problem with being busy.
And now, some weather shots.
Not the ugliest view I’ve ever had.
Less than six months until I’m home. WILD. Hopefully these projects keep going so I’m not twiddling my thumbs until August. Wish me luck!
It’s rare, so I’m really lucky to have a few amazing volunteers who share the same shopping town as me. We get together every couple of weeks, and this weekend we all spent the night in town for Julie’s birthday. I planned to stay only Friday, but was quickly convinced to stay Saturday too. The attraction was a sink hole that the owners of the guesthouse offered to take us to. (A sink hole? I know, we had no idea what to expect either, but we went with it.)
We hopped in their truck and took a beautiful ride about 40k outside Kuruman. We ended up at a game park, and saw galloping elon, wildebeest, and impala. (Not making these words up. They are majestic creatures.) We finally pull up to a hole, filled with these huge rocks, with a lake way down at the bottom. We climbed down and checked out the water. (More of a work out than I anticipated, but SO worth it) It was covered with green sprouts, so it may look gross in pictures, but you only had to move them away with your hand to see clear beautiful water. I’ll be dreaming of that cold refreshing water whenever I’m drenched in sweat at site.
Stranded, don’t send help
We were all so grateful for that day trip and we’re definitely blessed to have such great friends at the bed and breakfast to take us along for the ride. I doubt any of us will be forgetting that weekend for a while.
On the way back, the ride was pretty windy. Our friend Jerry’s eyeglasses literally blew off his face. We turned around to go search for them but they were gone. Only a few minutes later, my Ray Ban’s blew off my face, but fortunately they were lying in the middle of the road. These glasses are fighters.