Tuesday, July 12, 2011

7/3: So I’ve been trying to build a well in a remote section o

f Nondweni and today I met with Tshengie and the equivalent of the area mayor to discuss logistics. There’s this great American NGO that funds small water and sanitation projects organized by Peace Corps Volunteers but I didn’t realize how expensive it would be. There’s only one well for several hundred families which means the majority of people in that area have to walk quite far to fetch water and when I went to haul water with Tshengie, who lives in the area, and the well water was literally brown. She said that more people are using the river for water even though it was a source of an outbreak of cholera a few years ago because the well water is now so dirty and in my opinion, undrinkable.

7/4: Today I stumbled upon my seven year old host brother, Mpho, crying on the path that leads to our house. Here is our translated conversation:

Me: Mpho, what’s wrong?
Mpho: I’m SO cold!
Me: It’s really cold outside. Why don’t we run? We’re almost home and running will make us warmer and we’ll get home faster.
Mpho: I’m too cold to run.
Me: Okay honey; well are you too cold to picture the tea I’m going to make you when we reach our house?
Mpho: Tea? (He’s looking up with his puppy-dog eyes and he now has snot running all down his tattered shirt).
Me: Yes, and I have milk AND sugar to put in it.
Mpho: You have milk?!
Me: Yes and you can have as much as you want.

After I wrapped him in my fleece blanket and tucked us both under the covers with tea I turned on “Finding Nemo” on my computer which he watched in a foreign language with rapt attention.

7/7: Today I went to the large market that we have in our village once a month. There’s women selling fruit or vegetables from their garden, tables full of raw meat freshly slaughtered, colorful dresses nicely sewn or even piles of popcorn or suckers for the kids. Basically there’s something for everyone. I went to buy a grass mat but when I took Thobi on my search with me she was very flustered. She said that her aunt sells grass mats and to buy one from her. So after making the hour journey to the market I came up empty handed. But when the neighborhood kids started trickling back from the market this afternoon they begged to watch ‘fish fish’ or Finding Nemo that I watched with Mpho a few days before. So I literally had kids stacked on top of each other on my bed as we had an afternoon popcorn and a movie event.

7/9: My family is burning broken furniture they’ve scavenged from the piles of trash in our immediate vicinity to keep warm. I’m now more convinced than ever that I’m going to die here (just kidding of course).

7/10: I went to Tshengie’s for a cleansing ceremony. Her father had two wives, one of whom died last year (not Tshengie’s blood mother). When a spouse dies the surviving spouse wears black every day for a year. Women wear a black skirt, shirt, cape and head scarf and men pin a square of black cloth to their arm. The burning of these clothes after the year of mourning is signified by a cleansing ceremony. This is also the time when the deceased’s spirit leaves the compound where it’s been lingering the past year and goes up to the ancestors. A goat was sacrificed in her honor and I ate so much food I literally thought I would cry if someone fed me one more bite. At this ceremony, as in all Zulu ceremonies, people are segregated by gender and age and are always found in the same location. Young men are always outside drinking copious amounts of alcohol and cooking the sacrifice. The male elders can be found in the ancestral hut. Young women are in the kitchen and once they’ve served the men and female elders will sit on the kitchen floor and eat. The female elders are located in the same house on the compound as the kitchen but in a separate room. Though I helped the young women prepare the food I was soon shooed away to sit with the grannies. Cooking for white families is so engrained in the Black South African psyche that it was just rather flustering to have me around. So I was banished to the land of hunchbacks and wooden canes but little did I know how entertaining it would be. The women, all so haggard you couldn’t count their wrinkles, were really having a blast getting drunk off sorghum beer and traditional dancing, yes dancing! Now traditional Zulu dancing is basically a series of high kicks and though these women couldn’t quite be compared to the Rockettes, they were singing and stomping and having a grand ole time. When everyone was good and ready we filled the room that had been occupied all day by myself and the old ladies. Then Tshengie’s dad said a prayer to the ancestors saying it was time for his wife’s spirit to join them and then glasses of soda and sorghum beer were passed around. Everyone took a sip of every glass regardless of what it was. Then we went outside and a cow was chosen for another sacrifice. The ceremony ended with the male elders dancing in celebration.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

6/13: So tonight I was called into one of my host family’s huts. We all were wrapped in blankets, huddled around the fire in the center of the hut when my host mom walked in with a cake. It was my host brother, Mpho’s, seventh birthday and he was jumping all around with the biggest smile I had ever seen. She then cut a small piece for all ten members of the family with Mpho’s as the largest. We then each shared a liter of Fanta. It was so wonderful to see everyone so happy.

6/14: Today I saw my go go and Zindle at the post office in town. I was a bit weary to talk to her seeing as though she was so unpredictable in the months leading up to my host family switch but I had already stood in line for an hour and couldn’t, on principle, bring myself to leave. Luckily, she was in a good mood and I held Zindle in my arms for the next hour as I jockeyed for a position with the next available teller. I went to visit them the following week and she said that Zindle cried the whole taxi ride back to the village saying she missed her mom. That just broke my heart. Leaving Zindle six months ago in such a dire situation I know will pale in comparison to my feelings when I leave all the children I’ve grown to love here.

6/11, 6/18: So I recently had three failed projects in a week’s time which has led me to question my utility here and the community’s interest in my work. Are they just humoring me? Do they really care? But after some serious soul searching I can no longer consider these events fruitless.

The first was a Camp GLOW sharing and thank you event. Because I’m crafty and have quite a bit of time on my hands, I spent a lot of it making this event really special. All sorts of fun things were created out of construction paper to make the classroom we would use as nice as possible. The GLOW girls and I invited their families and the people in the community that helped make Camp GLOW possible. The goal was to share with the village what the girls learned and to thank everyone who helped us. Well three people showed up one of whom was Tshengie, my supervisor, who I invited as a friend and who we didn’t need to thank. But the girls were all there so I passed out the programs and we had the entire event like we weren’t sitting in a room full of empty seats.

Since poetry was such a hit at camp, I asked the girls to bring poems about camp or what they learned at camp to the event if they were interested. About a third of the girls came prepared with poetry. One girl wrote this poem about me and could barely get through it she was crying so hard:

"My friend"
When she sees me
Her cheeks visit her ears
She smiles and greets me
With love.

She is always smiling.
She’s not easily influenced.
She thinks and loves
That’s my friend.

My friend
I treasure your friendship in my heart.

My second event that can now be seen as a positive after my new found attitude adjustment is Zamimpilo’s first Board of Directors meeting.

Now Tshengie and I have been talking about acquiring a Board of Directors for almost nine months now but I had dropped the issue months before when interest had seriously waned. Well, after the Treasurer of our org went to a training she came back and announced the necessity of a Board so the idea was reignited (or frankly lit for the first time). So we had three Management Committee meetings where we discussed the roles and responsibilities of a Board. Fortunately for me I have some spotty Internet access and was able to Google the topic of this series of impromptu workshops which was invaluable so I could have some semblance of credibility.
The consensus was to provide a written application to people we thought would do well as Board members. Fast forward several months and we didn’t receive any applications. Back to the drawing board with another workshop on the purpose of a Board. (After inquiring about the lack of applications, I found people were still confused about why we would need two Management Committees). After another month or so went by I suggested changing tactics. I proposed we invite potential Board members to an informational meeting. Everyone was then assigned a person to go scourging through the hills to find and ask to come to Zamimpilo in two weeks time. Only half the people asked showed up (four elderly and illiterate women) and when Tshengie reached the item on the agenda of the Board’s role at Zamimpilo she didn’t know what to say. Nothing. Not one sentence. We had spent hours and hours talking about this. I have spent twice as much time with her on this topic than anyone else and still nothing? Luckily for me, I had a cheat sheet that I was able to pass her but was still incredibly discouraged. I’m happy that this project is off the ground and our next meeting date is set and I hope to bring in someone from an NGO in town that another PCV works at who could potentially explain this better. But hey, we’re better off now with a table full of go gos then we were before.

Lastly, though one of my girls clubs is thriving the other is well…not. After discussing a meeting time, day and place the girls all agreed on Saturdays. Well this past Saturday two girls came one of whom I know walked two hours to get there. The Saturday club has always struggled with attendance but each time there’s been enough to have a good discussion. The two girls, my counterpart Zanele and I decided to overrule the group (who didn’t show up) and moved the club to Tuesdays after school. I’ll keep you posted on how that decision fared.

6/30: So I swear whenever I’m having a down day the alarm bells must sound in all of Nondweni because it doesn’t take long before I’m reminded why I love it here. Today I was immersed in the last Salander book and wasn’t too thrilled when three of my host siblings barged in looking at me expectantly for entertainment. After much persistence, I agreed to give them a computer lesson. (And yes, they were begging for lessons). It started when my host sister Thobile (nicknamed Thobi, pronounced ‘Toby’) asked if I wrote letters to my sisters in America on my computer. I said, “As a matter of fact I do,” and she asked if she could write them one as well. She wanted it to be perfect and we both worked on it for over an hour. She typed it and everything (her first time ever using a computer) and of course I helped her with the spelling and grammar.

TO: Rachel Katherine Emily
From: Thobile Mtshali

Hi everyone
I want to ask you some question
About USA
Do you sit well without your sister?
You eat well without your sister?
Do you sleep well without your sister?
You go well without your sister?
Do you sit in a table all of you without your sister? HOW
She is a nice girl
She is lovely person
It is so nice to play with her
WE love her all of us in SOUTH AFRICA
She is so kind
I am doing grade 6
If I grow up I want to be a doctor at usa
I want to be famous like LINDELWA
One day I want to see at USA IF it nice
I want to be a government of SA

She planned it so well that (in case you didn't notice) she wrote five questions, then wrote five things about me (Lindelwa) then five things about herself. Isn't she just the cutest thing?! She's one of the smartest kids in her class, I'm so proud of her. As you can see, NOBODY here including Thobi can comprehend living away from your family haha. It broke my heart when she said 'if I grow up' such a testament to life's uncertainties here.