Monday, March 21, 2011

3/6: I had an interesting series of altercations with a herd of cows today. I was the only one at the compound this afternoon so it fell to me to get the cows out. I’m not exactly sure why my host family doesn’t like the cows in our area but they do seem to enjoy eating the thatched roofing and tend to have a blanket disregard to the location of their bowels so I’m guessing those two factors might make the list. Anyway, my young host brothers have no apparent trouble getting them to leave. I tried to make the same noises the kids do then proceeded to use a broom as a threatening device. Nothing. I scrapped the bad cop routine and tried some good ole fashioned sweet talk. They didn’t even budge. It took several more tries over an entire afternoon to get them out. I’m sure they found my whole charade quite entertaining. (As did the neighbors I can imagine).

3/8-9: In planning the Camp GLOW parent meetings my counterpart tried to calm my nerves when I showed my concern in having a parent meeting in the middle of the day on a weekday. “Oh don’t worry, Lindelwa, they’ll just send a representative.” Perfect. So I was bracing for the meetings to be a circus. To be honest I was a bit disappointed at how smooth they went. Maybe I’ve adapted too much so that I don’t have as many cultural snafus. I didn’t anticipate the literacy rate being as low as it was but that was easily fixed by my counterpart and I shouting over each other as the parents/representatives dictated their pertinent information and signed with an X.

Also worth mentioning is Tshengie’s very creative excuse for not helping me with our grant proposal: her elbows hurt. Uh-huh.

3/11-13: I met a girl on a bush taxi a few months ago who invited me to be in her sister’s wedding. Not kidding. She then called me about three dozen times to remind me of the date that she watched me put in my phone on the bush taxi. So Friday morning I was at her house, overnight bag in hand, for the big day. I was put immediately to work and spent the next six hours chopping and peeling various vegetables with the bridesmaids that seemed to appear in shifts.

I was then escorted to a bedroom that I would later spend the majority of my three days. It housed a double bed and we later pulled a second thin double sized mattress from under the first bed. These two mattresses touched all four walls. On average there were about fifteen girls in this room at one time. I seemed to always be one of them. I watched the bridal party get ready and not wanting me to feel left out my hair was slathered with just as much relaxer and baby oil as the next girl. Unfortunately the end result was far less attractive. Think slick backed grease with a ring of frizz. Thankfully they didn’t dress me as so often happens when I go to these events. I almost wish they did. I felt quite out of place in my flowy skirt and Chacos next to the plastic heels and Forever 21-esque ensembles of the bridal party, all of whom are currently at university in Durban and very urbanized. I think they felt much better about ‘my look’ after the slicked back frizz coif was complete though they clearly disapproved of my far inferior clothing selection.

I had prepared to stay over for the night with Friday being the day of cooking and preparation and Saturday being the big event. Au contraire, the first of three ceremonies was Friday night hence the primping during what I thought was the prep day. I’m used to not knowing what’s going on but this weekend took the cake in the confusion department. After a day of eating nothing but biscuits and soda the first of three ceremonies began. The ‘warm-up wedding’ was more of a Southern revival with a few people in matching outfits. The groom was hanging out in his pick-up truck throughout the duration of his wedding and was dressed in jeans. The sound system was set at such a high volume that I was in physical pain from the very first Hallelujah. Four hours of fire and brimstone screaming, oftentimes with three or four people speaking in tongues into mics over the intended speaker, and it was time to eat. I was beyond lightheaded when we finally sat down to eat our first proper meal of the day at around 8:00pm. Unlike anything else that day, we were in a mad scramble. So I followed suit and ate as quickly as I could then cleaned the tent of the remains of the warm-up wedding I asked my friend Zama where we were going and she said we were going to Escourt, “not right now but now.” So African. We left six hours later at 4:30am. In the meantime I piled onto one of the two mattresses and ate more biscuits and drank more sugary pop. Thankfully, we slept from 11-1:00am.

It was so interesting to live with over thirty people in a three room house. Throw modesty and privacy out the window. This weekend is what guys envision girls’ sleepovers to be like; girls forever in various stages of undress. The wedding was in town and so we had running water. Girls bathed two at a time. We slept (for two hours) four to a bed dressed in just our underpants. (For some reason I was given the grandmother’s nightgown). Girls would come in and out unfazed by the nakedness. Out of the three full days I spent there I might have spent five minutes with a male.

After we primped and ate more biscuits and pop we loaded up into taxis in the middle of the night. I knew enough to not expect an environment conducive to sleeping in transit but what I got was another thing entirely. We ushered in the sunrise with traditional Zulu songs driving through the hills of SA. It took about four hours to get there but was one of those moments that confirm that you’re in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

The second wedding venue was beautiful, think 80s wedding. The groomsmen dressed in too-big, gold pin-striped tan polyester suits. There were white lights under the white cloth that covered the walls and gold cloth was swagged everywhere.
This is not your average Zulu wedding. It’s what Zulus call a ‘white wedding’ and is what the ‘born-again Christians’ prefer as they no longer believe in Zulu traditions like ancestors which tie into traditional Zulu weddings. The groom’s family, on the other hand, still pays lobola (bride price). Another interesting fun fact I learned about born-again Christians is that they typically prefer arranged marriages. This wedding was just that with the bride being 19 years old and the groom 35.

But back to the festivities. So I quickly discovered I was the unofficial photographer which was both stressful and demanding. But the ceremony seemed to go off without a hitch. It was six hours long with many people giving long-winded speeches and our first meal again was at dinnertime. It was really warm in the hall and the maid of honor and best man kept running up to the honored couple to dab at their sweaty faces. It was also pretty humorous to see that there was no need to put on airs. Nobody feigned interest when they were getting bored and at the end there were quite a few heads on the table openly sleeping.

After the food was eaten the bridal party and other VIPS were carted off to the third ceremony. It was dark, cold and rainy when we arrived at the groom’s family’s home in a village outside Escourt. The family’s compound was built almost on the edge of a cliff. I was thanking the Nigerien cell phone gods that my phone had a built in flashlight. The entire bridal party changed into traditional clothes. Then the bride’s family gave the groom’s extended family blankets and grass mats amongst other things. We then crossed a swamp to another tent where there was more food. I licked mine clean.

We got home in the middle of the night and all the girls piled into the same room with the same minimal clothing. (I was given the grandmother’s robe). The next day we bathed and ate more biscuits and pop. I was so used to this routine that I didn’t want to leave. But I haven’t quite gone native and when I got home I relished in my aloneness for the rest of the evening. I caught up on the news from BBC World Service, swept out a fresh batch of critters and finished a good book.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

2/5-9: A few days before Peace Corps’s 50th anniversary event at the Consul General’s house in Durban the Country Director called to ask me if I would speak at the event representing the PCVs in the health sector. So I spent the majority of the few days before the event on the deck of the hostel overlooking the Indian Ocean trying to think of something profound, noteworthy or as the hours waned on just mildly interesting to say. I started to panic when I discovered that the PCV speaking on behalf of the education volunteers was given completely different guidelines. I then spent an embarrassing amount of time in an internal debate over whose guidelines I would follow. I then expanded my debate outward and started taking a poll of my fellow PCVs. Of course being surrounded by friends I rarely see was also a distraction, as was the fact that it was Super Bowl weekend and despite having no idea who was playing beforehand, I watched the game from 1:30-5:00 Sunday night/Monday morning. Somehow I found a few spare minutes to jot some things down.

The Consul General’s house was beautiful. Not only did it have a pool and tennis court but was complete with monkeys roaming the property. And don’t get me started on the food! I forgot food could be so varied and flavorful. It was wonderful. Next time I go to an Embassy related event I’m bringing a Tupperware.

2/19-26: After a week of stress and running around in my village I was back on the road to facilitate sessions at Pre-Service Training. I realized I had truly embraced this culture when, not knowing how long my first session was suppose to be and not wearing a watch caused me to be 45 minutes late for my next session. I was confused when the trainees, who’ve been in this country a few weeks, were so flustered and irritated until I remembered I had reacted the same way only a year before. Things like finding out two of my sessions were given to other facilitators the day I was scheduled to present them didn’t even faze me despite the fact that I spent hours preparing them. The fact that it was impossible to get a hold of anyone concerning transport and other logistics now seems so ordinary it’s hardly worth mentioning.

2/27-3/5: It’s hard to not be discouraged when you walk into my org. Our funding is getting cut at the end of the month so all efforts to pretend to work or care went out the window in January. Now on a typical day you will find the two go gos who cook the daily hot meal for the kids, myself and one wild card. Sometimes it’s Mpostol who, when present physically, is usually slumped over a chair somewhere sleeping off the past night’s escapades. Sometimes it’s one of a handful of women who join the two go gos in gossiping about the eminent demise of Zamimpilo while watching soap operas on TV. But I look forward to the days when the wild card is Tshengie who gets upset when I do any aspect of a project without her. “But we’re partners Lindelwa?!”

Lately I’ve been circling the village going from school to school trying to organize Camp GLOW. It has been so draining to have kids constantly yelling ‘umalungu’ while pointing and laughing, guys who won’t leave me alone and women in taxis talking about me in front of me. I think the fact that I’m burning the candle at both ends work wise makes these issues which have been present since the beginning that much more frustrating. But honestly, I thought the novelty of my nationality and skin color would have worn off a long time ago as would the feeling of being in a zoo with all the world watching my every move.

When I noticed the deafening gospel music at my host family’s house was even getting on my nerves I knew I needed to give myself a time out. There’s only so much Daria-esque behavior one person can get away with. I was lavishing in my hermit-dom when two of my host siblings knocked on my door. I dragged myself out of my room and saw all eight members of my host family camped directly under my window. I figured they were performing a ceremony to the ancestors to rid me/my home of all the evil spirits that have been inside me as of late. Thankfully I quickly noted the stack of freshly harvested corn and realized the fire was solely for cooking purposes. So with two host siblings on my lap I helped cook corn under a blanket of stars seemingly at x100 magnification. I had tears in my eyes as I listened to Zulu music while tickling my two year old host sister thinking they’re going to have to drag me out of here next year.