My name is Marie Zisa, and I am an RPCV

Peace Corps South Africa, you have been frustrating, terrifying, difficult, beautiful, incredible, rewarding, and life changing. In a few hours I will be picked up from the backpackers and on my way to the airport for my flight home. These past two weeks have been a whirlwind, and it still hasn’t hit me that I’m going home for good. This week, I’ve been in Pretoria running around the office getting final medical and admin clearance. There are other volunteers COS-ing as well and it’s been a big celebration. For my last week of school, the staff threw me not one, but TWO farewell parties. The first one on Monday was more of a surprise. I walk in to a classroom for a “meeting” and all of the teachers jump out of the closet and throw confetti all over me. It was amazing. They said such beautiful messages and gave me such wonderful gifts, including a learner track suit with messages written on the back.

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Check out that Itekeleng swag.

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The decorations the first farewell.

On Tuesday, the farewell was for learners as well as parents (including my host parents). A priest spoke as well as the chief’s spokeswoman; the former expressed his disappointment that I didn’t find a village man and the latter said that in the beginning she thought I was so small she was surprised I made it the whole two years. Thoughtful? The kids also spoke and sang and made me adorable cards that I will always treasure.

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The gardener and the 2nd grade teacher breaking it down to my GLOW girls’ song.ImageSinging and dancing.

ImageThe staff singing me a farewell song. I will miss this bunch!

ImageMy host mom accepting a certificate from my counterpart. Love these two.

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Stumbling through a thank you speech

I like to tell myself I’m good with words, but I really can’t describe how I’m feeling now that Peace Corps is over. It feels like I’m only going on a holiday but coming back after a period of time. So instead of rambling in paragraphs I’ve been making lists of what I’ll miss, not miss, what I’m looking forward to, and not looking forward to. Enjoy and see you stateside!

WILL MISS

  • My host family in Maphinik
  • My host family in Makapanstad
  • THE KIDS. Especially my GLOW girls, who made me so incredibly proud, and especially the two boys who live “next door,” who helped me herd goats, fight off a tarantula, and made me laugh nearly everyday.
  • My room being a small oasis, but my oasis nonetheless.
  • The Kuru Kuru gang, Kuru showers and Kuru karaoke
  • The Khayalethu gang, pizza nights, and Livingstone’s
  • SA24! The best, most optimistic, most fun group of people ever to enter South Africa.
  • Northern Cape sunrises
  • Northern Cape sunsets
  • Northern Cape night sky
  • Hugs from my host mom after a rough day
  • “HEY WENA!”
  • Hearing “KGALI KGAAALI” from kids and old people alike while walking in my village
  • Fresh meat. As in helping (watching) your host dad slaughter a goat then having goat for lunch the next day.
  • More anonymity
  • Goats. Not stupid sheep, not loud donkeys, not loud chickens.

NOT MISS

  • Being spoken to in Afrikaans.
  • Watching women snort tobacco in front of their children (and me)
  • Boys, girls, and men peeing everywhere. Literally, everywhere.
  • Watching men forcibly grab women on the street only for the women to laugh
  • Worrying about water
  • BAKKIE RIDES.
  • Stop and goes during painfully slow road construction.
  • “Mpha 5 rand”
  • Watching kids drink coke more than water
  • Seeing little girls in wigs and heels (I know.)
  • Gospel in the morning, gospel in the taxi, gospel at the tavern in the middle of the night.

LOOKING FORWARD TO

  • MY PUG, my family and friends
  • Decent transport- I know there are crazies lurking in the subways but here’s hoping none of them will propose or attempt to straddle me on the way to town, blackout drunk at 8 in the morning.
  • Window control in taxis and cars
  • Temperature control
  • Less nodding/pretending I know what’s going on
  • I never want to see a bat in my room again. (I’d say the same for roaches and rats, but I’d like to live in the city so I’m trying to be realistic.)
  • Salads all day every day
  • Chiptole- did I even have to include it?

NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO

  • No more favorable exchange rate.
  • Looking like a homeless bum will not longer be acceptable.

And that’s all she wrote. Kgalalelo has left the Kalahari.

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Ga Madiba a le teng, ga o matata

“If Madiba is here, there is no problem.”

It has been a while! Let me backtrack a little and go to before the holiday. I finished giving out all of the Mother Bears and if you want to see cute bears with even cuter kids check it out: https://picasaweb.google.com/112403922368017261477/MotherBearProjectItekelengPrimarySchool

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For the school break we all went to Pretoria for our Close of Service (COS) conference. It was so much fun being together, presumably for the last time. We’ll be planning reunions in the States, but we know it won’t be the same. There were sessions on readjusting and how to package the last two years of our lives so friends and future employers alike will be interested. There was also a panel of all Returned Peace Corps Volunteers that talked about finding jobs and they were able to offer some good advice. One guy said he paid $1000 for someone to review his resume, and it got him hired at USAID. So..that’s an option…

Outside of sessions Colin, a fellow volunteer, organized softball, assassins, and a euchre tournament. I will be including in my resume that I won assassins AND the euchre tournament with Colin as my partner. Highlights of my service for sure. We also held a talent show and Tara made a gorgeous slideshow recapping our journey. It was a nostalgic, amazing conference and a good way to go.

So now I’m back at site, and will you take a look at this garden?!

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Sustainability is a legend in Peace Corps, like finding Bigfoot, but without being too naive I really think this garden will stick around for a while. All thanks to Rre Modungwe, shout out if you’re somehow reading this.

In other news I got kicked by a lamb trying to get it’s head out of the fence. There may be a scar which hurt but it’ll make for a good story later in life.

And today, as the entire world knows, is Tata Madiba’s birthday! Mandela and I go way back, before I even came to South Africa. I was up for a scholarship the summer before freshmen year and in the interview I was asked who I would most like to have dinner with. You better believe I name dropped Mandela and you better believe I won that scholarship. Ke a leboga Madiba! To celebrate Mandela Day at school we had a lovely program full of songs and positive messages. Then the teachers split up and we visited an elderly man and a sick woman in the village to provide comfort and support. We also held a soccer game at the closed grounds- community members versus Itekeleng Primary School- and I was floored to see how many people from the community actually came. I watched the women’s round and Itekeleng won in penalty kicks! Everyone was screaming and so excited and it made me cry like a baby. Luckily the wind is fierce today so no one had any idea. If I’m already crying at a soccer game I can only imagine what these last two weeks of goodbye’s will be like. I’ll be sure to leave the mascara at home.

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Keep Calm and Bring Your Fire

I think I’ve already said this ten times, but I can’t believe Bushfire is over. We spent years and months and days thinking about it and getting our hopes up and it exceeded all expectations. Bushfire is a yearly festival in Swaziland that brings in acts from all over the world. We got to Swaziland last Thursday to adjust for our three day “marathon.”
On Friday, the festival didn’t start until 5pm, so we took a hike around our backpackers which was on a wildlife reserve. I was made fun of for wanting to see zebras, and then 3 minutes into our walk, BOOM: zebras.

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Warning: Zebras are closer than they appear.

We also saw warthogs, antelope, a monkey, and a crocodile pool (no crocs) while surrounded by a gorgeous landscape.

That night, we arrived at the festival and were all hanging out. I went wild and got a pulled pork sandwich, and then a couple of minutes later, I was speed walking to the porta-potty to throw up. There was a stomach bug going around, and I was the idiot who got it during the festival. So I went home early, not before throwing up in front of our shuttle driver, and got everything (literally, everything) out of my system. Luckily our backpackers was close to the festival so I was serenaded by good music over the sound of vomiting. (TMI?)
The next day, I was a little dehydrated but a million times better. We spent the day dancing, hanging out, and looking at the great local crafts they offered. Sunday was the exact same glorious thing, except this time I actually enjoyed some awesome food too (not pork). Seafood paella was a risk, but a delicious one.

For those of you who want to sound international and well-traveled at parties, check out my favorites from the festival:
-OY: from Switzerland, a fiesty female with fun songs and awesome synthesizers, and a drummer who wore a bag on his head the whole performance. I don’t know.
-Bomba Estereo: an awesome “electro-tropical” band from Colombia with an even fiestier female singer. We all desperately either wanted to be her, marry her, or at least be Colombian.
-Jeremy Loops: a cool dude from South Africa, folksy with some great beats. He played as the sun was setting over Swaziland’s gorgeous mountains, it was an unforgettable moment.
-The Soil: an acapella group from South Africa, another fiesty female with a kiilllller voice. They’re a three member sibling group, and they say their fourth member is God, but regardless of whether you’re a God groupie or not you have to respect their talent.

In terms of life accomplishments, Tara and I got a picture with Jeremy Loops AND we were on the jumbo-tron for our smooth moves during The Muffinz’ performance. Since the quality of the pictures from my camera is similar to what you’d see on an Etch A Sketch, I’ll add photos when my dear friends upload more of them.

Bushfire is awesome because they work to empower the local community, especially the youth, and also advocated protecting yourself against HIV with some awesome gear.


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Our hats keep us cozy and tell others to condomise at the same time!!

Bushfire made me excited for concerts and festivals back in the States, and it was amazing how I could feel so at home among tens of thousands of strangers thousands of miles away. Don’t be fooled, hippies are everywhere.

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Busy Week

As the title suggests, this week was pretty busy. I missed Monday since a bunch of us all went to a volunteer’s site for the weekend. We ate great food and had a ton of laughs; it was a great time. I’m seeing more volunteers’ sites and more are seeing mine this year than all of last year. Better late than never.

On Tuesday the administrative clerk at my school told me my Mother Bear packaged arrived! The Mother Bear project (http://www.motherbearproject.org/) collects knitted bears from people in America and sends them to vulnerable children in developing countries. I received bears for the two creches (pre-schools) nearby and for the Grade R (Kindergarten) to Grade 3. I have to take a picture of every child with their new bear (about 200) and I can’t wait to see their faces!

IMG00317-20130521-1703Just a preview.

On Wednesday, after a full day of computer lessons (which are already winding down!) I ran around town like a madwoman to buy prizes and food for the Talent Show for Thursday. The one last November went so well the principal and teachers were eager to do another one. This time, instead of having prize money, we bought hats, gloves, scarves, and socks for the winners. I have never seen so much excitement for a gift of socks. Once again, the kids were incredibly brave and incredibly talented. It was a great morale booster before they start their mid-year exams.

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Grade R breaking it down.

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Grade 5 boys performing a “Gumboots” dance. They wear rain-boots and slap them to a pretty catchy beat.

In between the town trips and the computer lessons my Girls Club and I managed to find some time to make some bead bracelets:

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On Friday we had a celebration for Africa Day (I told you my school loves celebrations) and the kids were all dressed up in traditional African clothes. I wanted to post a video of some of the Grade 5 kids singing a beautiful African song, but alas, I’m in Africa. Trust me, they were wonderful. I played a game where they had to match the African country with the flag, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well they did. Overall it was a precious day.

And this happened a couple of weeks ago, but the World Map is DONE! My friend Ellen came to help me finish and with a partner it went a lot faster than we expected. We may have played fast and loose with the country lines but all’s well that ends well. My principal asked me to paint the South African flag in the corner, so I’ll do that while the learners are testing. Thank God it doesn’t have 50 stars.

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Pabalelo playing teacher.

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Full view. I labeled the continents later and added “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” on the side. You may say cliche, I say classic.

This Wednesday I’ll be heading to Swaziland for the Bushfire festival for a week and then it’s only two more weeks left of the term! From today it’s 74 days until I’m home, unless Columbia Law decides to take a chance on little ol’ me. I might not hear anything until late June, which is beyond frustrating and stressful. I’m applying to jobs in the meantime, but I’m ready for a set plan post-Peace Corps. Here’s hoping they don’t operate on Africa time and I hear back from them fairly soon.

Before I go, here are some of the kids who love to come to my house (on the daily) to write and draw.

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They’ll keep me busy.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

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My “Soul Buddies” Club who made cards for Mother’s Day

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The teachers with their cards! (The male teachers were jealous.)

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Siyabonga Obrigada

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.

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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.)

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Living the dream

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(Coconut milk isn’t that good, but you’re clearly paying for the experience.)

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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.

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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!

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Some girls were meant to shine, but you were meant to GLOW

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.

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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.

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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.

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The big bad slide

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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.

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Chair Sit

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.

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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.

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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.
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Now I’m relaxing in Pretoria until I leave for Mozambique Wednesday. Time is flying, and I don’t mind it!

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