Bringing it All Home

Posted in In the Village, Some things I've noticed..... on October 2, 2013 by higbysafrica

I’ve been back in the states for almost a month now so before I become totally re-assimilated I’d like to say a few final words about this crazy adventure that just went by in the blink of an eye.  To ensure that no one gets the wrong idea, let me preface with my closing sentiment about the whole thing:


More on that later.  Let’s get started with these two comparative lists.  I love lists.  And in the true spirit of Peace Corps training (which I did not love, but has certain a nostalgia), I’ve made my list of positives twice as long as my list of negatives.  You win, Peace Corps South Africa: even after two years this volunteer still remembers his training.  Also, I’m told a picture is worth a thousand words, so that puts my positive list around 2000% the size of my negative list.  Now I win.  Anyway…

12 Things I will Miss About South Africa, and the Peace Corps Experience!

(in no particular order)

  • High quality meat, fresh fruit and produce.  Available everywhere, all the time, dirt cheap.

Fruity Limpopo

  • Being “the guru” of computers and technology at school.  People have a lot of confidence in me, and I like it.


  • Freedom from daily rants about American politics.  I guess this is kind of an “anti-miss” since it’s something about America that I didn’t miss in South Africa, but whatever.  American politics = barf.  Washington, pull yourself together or I’ll run away to Africa again!
  • SA24, each and every one of you guys and gals.  What a great group!


  • The exceptional principals and staff I’ve met who care immensely about their schools and strive for improvement, in spite of everything that’s wrong with the education system.  Mr. Murwamila TJ, Mr. Raselabe PI, Mrs. Irene Mhlanga, Mr. Rashamuse TJ and Mr. Selby Tshilimandila (in order of appearance) come to mind immediately.  Many people reading this don’t know these folks, but they’re worth mentioning by name nonetheless.  There are others of course, many whom I didn’t know well enough or meet at all, and South Africa needs more individuals of this caliber.

IMG_2498IMG_1915 IMG_1854IMG_1983

  • Too many other fantastic people I’ve met here.  In the interest of brevity and not forgetting anyone I won’t try to list everyone by name.  You know who you are.  If your picture doesn’t appear, it’s because I don’t have a good one of you so be thankful I didn’t post a bad one.

James + RoyIMG_4214Group with RhinosFunduzi CrewIMG_0155

  • This……. LANDSCAPE!  Oh Venda, you’re too beautiful for words.

STB_0041Someday son, all of this will be yoursBoababs

  • Listening to people talk about me in Tshivenda, thinking I can’t understand what they’re saying, then chiming into the conversation and watching them react.

James the African thumbnail

(I can’t believe this is the only picture of a confused-looking South African I have.  I should have been less polite/discreet with the camera)

  • Cell phone banking.  So convenient.
  • The kids.  Who’da thunk it?  I really will miss ‘em though; when they’re not driving me crazy, they’re pretty cute.

Grant+Seani with PidgeonIMG_1702IMG_1833IMG_2795

  • The immense sense of satisfaction of getting something done, and done right, in spite of all the snares and obstacles that make this place so dysfunctional most of the time.

IMG_0081IMG_0019  WorldMap_Before WorldMap_AfterIMG_3229 Desks Done

Before and after.  You dig?

Special thanks to Hannah Biggie and Irene Mhlanga for organizing the desk restoration, and for taking great photos of the finished project.

  • Rhinoceros!  And all the other adorable wildlife SA has to offer.  But mostly rhinoceros!James and da RhinosJames_Civit James_Giraffe Da Pumbas Da Baby Lions Da Elefunt Da Gemsbok Da Rhino Family

And for all of you comedians/skeptics out there with quips to the effect of: “that is like sooooooooo obviously photoshopped, Higby…..”  Well I say unto thee:

So SarcasticJank

So there.

And now, dear reader, if you’ve had enough sarcasm I suggest you stop at this point because it’s time for the negative list

Six Things I will Never Miss, Ever

  • Harassment.  I do not want to give you money, or my groceries.  Nor do I do not want to marry you, or take care of your children.  And I am so done with being stared at and having to ignore people yelling “white man!” every time I walk anywhere.
  • Dismal work ethics, and just lethargy in general.  It’s 8:30 and you won’t get out of your chair because you’re tired, again?  You can’t come to work because you have personal matters that you failed to deal with at the appropriate time?  You need to cram 10 weeks of lesson plans which you never wrote or taught into your portfolio this afternoon before the school term ends?  If you answer “yes, but…” to questions like these then you are incompetent, and contributing to this country’s manifold problems.  Get serious, stop blaming the kids, and do your job PROPERLY.  And no, I don’t want to help you in your frantic, half-assed rush.  I want to fire you and work with someone dependable and responsible.
  • Taxi rides.  Ugh.  Never thought I’d say this, but fuel efficiency be damned, I do not approve of this system!  Countless hours of time wasted in extreme discomfort aside, the road hazards and violent territorial confrontations are just awful; there’s gotta be a better way.  Also, the inconsistency of minibus taxis enables people to be even more lethargic, further reducing productivity.  Fail.
  • Waiting.  Waiting for a taxi to fill up.  Waiting in a line because there’s one qualified banking clerk for the entire township.  Waiting for a phone call which will never come, because someone who can’t spare R1 airtime for work-related calls will spend R35 to call their girlfriend/boyfriend during work hours.  Waiting for someone, who’s waiting for someone else, who’s waiting for another somebody, who’s waiting for some jackass lying on a couch watching TV, bringing the whole broken system to a grinding halt without a care in the world.
  • Intentional non-communication.  South Africans and SA PCVs know what I’m talking about.  Go ahead and call me culturally insensitive, but this one really grinds my gears.  It has nothing to do with the language barrier.  When I talk to someone, I believe in relevant questions and straight answers.  Reasons, explanations and thought processes.  Rarely do I get any of these things in my conversations here and it kills me.  Sometimes it seems like people just get kicks out of being intentionally vague and withholding information for no reason, at critical times even!  So frustrating.
  • The cycle of poverty.  Orphans beget orphans.  HIV begets HIV.  Stigma begets stigma, ignorance begets ignorance.  This is a vicious cycle that’s been really painful to live in the midst of.

OK so that’s my list-style reminiscence and ranting.  Thanks for listening!

Ug I have to go now and I’m not done with this final entry.  To be continued, AGAIN.  Did I mention among the things I’ll miss about SA is a massive amount of responsibility-devoid FREE TIME which seems like a distant and inconceivable fiction now that I’m back in USA?  Well there’s that.

Can’t leave on a bad note, so….. Captioned Monkeys!

Monkey Lunch Break


Nancy Narrates my Holiday with the Family

Posted in In the Village, Travel on March 25, 2013 by higbysafrica

Higbys in South Africa!Fam at Kruger

The complete version of Mom’s travel Journal.

More pictures still to follow – J

 March 16, 2013 Arrived (after the 16 hour ATL to the O.R. Tambo/Johannesburg, a clean and modern airport) half an hour early!  Lots of beautiful Africans in multi-patterned colorful garb moved quickly through customs with us and James was there to greet us.  What a happy reunion after almost two years.   The African sky is vast clear blue, decorated with amazingly huge puffy white clouds.   James drove us (British rules – yoiks) in our rental car three hours north to Polokwane.   We stopped en route for a bite of supper (SA fast food was pepper steak pie in yummy buttery pastry) and got to Olivia’s Place by 10p, where Mada, the gracious proprietor, greeted us warmly.    Our rooms are comfortable and include indoor plumbing. March 17 Awoke to the call of a very foreign – sounding bird, took a lovely hot shower (our last for several  days) and stepped outside into an English-style garden,  planted sub- tropically with jacaranda, lollipop laurel topiary, roses, giant philodendrons, pomegranate trees, agapanthus, frangipani , bearded iris, rosemary, lavender,  cycads, 15’ hibiscus, asparagus ferns, bottlebrush, guara, boxwood,  zillions of unrecognizable cacti/succulents, an orchard of blooming/fruiting clivia and a pool of 15” koi.   Mada served a full English breakfast to send us on our way…to James’s village of Matidza (you can see his bungalow on Google satellite). Mada's Place SA national highways are of good quality, well-maintained but sometimes narrow and  without shoulders.   Most of our route north is on the N1, which runs the length of the continent.  The landscape is bushveld:  grasses, acacia, candelabra trees and some pink flowering shrub that co-exists with termite mounds.  A bit north of Polokwane we see, and then traverse, the spectacular red rock Soutpansberg Mountains into the Venda region of Limpopo Province, where James lives.  At a roadside market in Louis Trichardt we selected bags of avocados, plums, macadamia nuts, sweet potatoes, bunches of bananas and dried salted mopane worms (actually caterpillars), which taste like a cross between potato chips and nori.  Lunch at the “Purple Olive”, which seems to have stepped out of Southern California. We arrived at about 3p and are welcomed with smiles, hugs and nervous laughter from James’s host family.  James arranged for us to stay with the matriarch, Granny Johanna (who can offer us the extreme luxury of electricity AND indoor plumbing, hooray!!!).  Her husband (deceased) was a member of the political ruling elite when Venda was an independent state (recognized as such only by the Apartheid SA gov’t).  Granny runs a tight ship – the household includes five grown children, grandchildren, and some free roaming village children.  We meet Rudzani, Mike, Jane (Mike’s wife), Thendo and Joey (Jojo).  There are two women who help with the cooking and cleaning.  Despite the omnipresent South African security measures (e.g. guard dogs  and chain link fences topped with barbed wire – Johanna even hires security personnel to roam the compound we’re in) the village is quite safe, and James walks comfortably about day and night.  The family is prominent and entrepreneurial –  they own the village’s butchery and braai (barbeque) and many take part in the family business enterprises.  Even very young children are entrusted to run important errands.  Each evening someone brings Granny a plastic bag with the day’s take, which she keeps ever closeby. Maggs + Thendo + Joei March 18 An early morning start to get to Kokwane school with James.  Rising might have been easier but for a night of very still, warm air, laced with mosquitoes.  We’ll try to get a fan for tonight.  Breakfast – tea, bread spread with avocado, avocado on the side.  Across the road from Granny’s is a small market where we pick up a liter of bottled water into which we mix a ration of electrolytes.   The heat in Venda is extreme and we’re trying keep our salts replenished. Four Higbys set out on our short walk to James’s school.  James has considerable Tshivenda language skills, but the rest of us need more and are too little practiced with our Venda greetings: Aa (hello) ndi matsheloni (good morning).   Near the entrance James introduces us to a woman who greets him every day.  Like nearly everyone we meet she gives hugs, big smiles and expressions of gratitude for James being here.  She speaks some English and tells us James is her son and his Venda name, Tshilidzi, means grace.  They feel blessed to have him with them.   It will be easy to fall in love with these people and this land, where there is so much yet so many make their lives with so little. Beloved country. At school we meet the principal, her deputy, the clerk and the head of R (kindergarten) grade.  This last is an ebullient woman who also claims James as her son.  It’s grand to know he is well cared for here.   Before beginning the lessons we tour the grounds…..looking in on the movie room, some classrooms, the play area and the latrines (b.y.o.t.p.) – beyond which are the chicken coop and the gardens.   The school helps sustain itself by selling chickens and raising food to feed the children.  Two very capable women (= SA Dirt Divas) tend all this.  We meet the three “cafeteria ladies,” who are the same, determined, take-no-nonsense people, the world over.   Today (and every day?) they cook pap (maize/corn meal…like polenta) and beans in huge iron kettles over open fires.  We promise to return for lunch later and find it delicious and nourishing, eating with our hands as is the tradition.  There is water to wash our hands, but none to waste.  All is practical…no utensils means no need to wash them; there are no recycling bins… as everything is re-used. One by one James rounds up the three classes of his seventh graders and brings them to the computer lab for a lesson in clipboard cut and paste.  Each group has about 40 students.  The lab consists of very old equipment. When James arrived he found that, while the computer lab room itself had been outfitted with desks and wires, the somewhat ancient used equipment that had been donated to the school had never been set up because of a lack of expertise.  James fixed up as many as possible (now about 15 stations) and continues to add educational software and tweak the machines, cursing their inexplicable breakdowns as he goes.   Class must be taught in English, but language is a barrier to varying degrees for all students.  Learning is slow, slow. James Teaching At day’s end students perform dances for us.   A group of young girls (ages 8-15) dance dressed in short satin skirts and jackets, wearing white gloves and wielding large batons.  They move with fully elastic joints to the rhythm of a blasting boom box and conclude with a short fashion show!  A group of 6 to 15 year olds then perform, accompanied by three large drums, traditional Venda dances.  Our hearts are dancing. Back at Granny’s we find our laundry has been washed and ironed…another completely unexpected bit of pampering…but James is accustomed to handling his own (haul water, hand wash, line dry), which he does while we catch short naps before going to dinner with Hannah Biggie, James’s fellow PCV at the lovely home of her principal, Irene – a woman of 60 with the energy of a 25 year old.  She is Tsonga, but has been in Venda serving her students at her school since 1978.  Still, if she sees a former student (even one grown to 40 years) hanging out late on the street, she exclaims mulandu (Why?) and sends him home.  In the predominately Christian country all meals begin with a prayer.  Irene also ends with a prayer for us all to give thanks for all we have and ask ourselves every day, “Why do I, who have done so little, deserve all this? “ Irene’s children are all grown, she lives alone and has taken in a promising young girl whose family does not support her.  Irene will see her through to become a doctor and admonishes herself that she has not taken in six needy children.  The world needs more people like Irene. IMG_4025 We are in bed by ten – with a fan and bug repellent – and we sleep well. March 19 When we rise at 6:30, Granny Johanna is cooking tomatoes, onions and fry/scrambling eggs for us.  There is African rooibos (red) tea and (George Forman sandwich- pressed style) toast.  We take our daily Malarone (malaria prophylactic),  pack avocados and bread for lunch…pick up a liter of water, adding our electrolytes and James drives us (about 15 minutes) to his other school, Rabali.  Normally he must catch a “taxi”… a mini bus jammed with more bodies than is safe and often driven with little competence. At school we meet the principal, Mr. Rashamuse for whom James has deep respect.   He assembles us to introduce the staff, many of whom declare how much they enjoy and are grateful for James and his good work.   James feels the same about them.   We are greeted many times each day all day by smiling African children and adults with “Hihowareyou?”, all run together .   In most South African languages, the greeting is all one word, hence the runtogethergreeting.   The appropriate response is “Fineandyou?” .  The day is very busy, as school will close for break this week and teachers have much paperwork to finish.  James is asked to oversee a class building model cardboard chairs and must review each one (100) and grade them based on strength, configuration, and practicality.  James had no idea the teacher was planning this activity until right now, and he is perturbed by this educators lack of preparation.  The students must each present (in English) their chair to him and justify it.  Mostly chaos and lots of giggling reigns, but some students finish quickly and line up for their assessments.  Completing these assessments in this time frame is an impossible task, which has been passed off to James by teachers who should have begun this student project many days, if not weeks, ago.   James’s hair is cut very short…if I were he I’d have pulled it all out by now.  His daily challenges are equipping him with a boatload of skills. IMG_4087 This has been our hottest day.  On the way home we shop for a big jug of potable water, juice and chips.   During a conversation with the clerk, James’s Tshivenda fluency is admirably demonstrated.   At Granny’s we are served mabundu, a kefir-like drink of fermented maize and sorghum.  It’s thick and taste like liquid bread dough. We heard sad news from Rudzani.  Yesterday afternoon his half-brother was killed in a head-on collision with a truck.  The funeral will be tomorrow. Dinner is pap, grated and stewed tomatoes, dried stewed beans, worms ( not crunchy this time and a bit more challenging for us but not icky), salad and delicious chicken from the braai. Tonight is electric device re-charging evening…camera batteries and Nancy’s netbook.  Electricity here is sometimes “dirty” (erratic) and sadly, David kindle charger fried on our first night, so we engage in this endeavor with some anxiety. March 20, 2013 The overnight charging has been successful.  Whew. James has decided to return to Rabali this morning.  There is much end of term work to do and we hope to depart for our next leg of the trip by noon today.   We remain at Granny’s, where one of the ladies  dresses in traditional Venda dress on our behalf.  Granny Johanna tells us she too will dress in traditional Venda a bit later – perhaps after the funeral.  Breakfast is sweet potatoes, bread with jam and roobois tea. Johanna encourages us to go to the family braai for photo opp’s this morning.  The staff is already hard at work preparing the fire and tidying up from last night’s activities.  It’s a barbeque/bar and music scene and to our chagrin we have not managed to experience it.  This morning the household staff are grinding the maize, harvested shucked and sun dried yesterday, into meal for the pap.  The women who help Granny insist we stay for one last wonderful lunch – of fresh pap, stewed tomatoes, shaved pork, beans, salad and mabundu.  Loaded up with an armload of freshly harvested  oranges, we hug all the family and head for Louis Trichardt.  James has received a message from Queen (she was a huge help as his Community Coordinator when he first arrived) that she will be there this afternoon and can we meet up with her?  Yes!  There is a traffic jam on the mountain pass; James fumes about SA inefficiencies.  The inconvenience is annoying and costs us about 40 minutes, but we made it safely through.  Queen was waiting and we enjoyed afternoon tea with her.  She’s lovely – a bit older than James and managing 50 rural HIV/AIDS area clinics – visiting 40 regularly – gathering and compiling statistics for an assessment program funded in part by USAID. We shop for groceries and libations in preparation for spending our next two nights self-catering at the Munala Game Lodge in Alldays, 2-3 hours drive.  We enjoy views of spectacular cloud-shrouded mountain peaks on our west bound drive to Alldays, sighting giraffe, baboons, springbok, a monkey and an ostrich.  Checking in at Munala we are told there is no hot water – as the sun did not shine on the passive solar hot water system  today.  We are happy to have dinner and some beers.  This place attracts big game hunters – the season begins in April, so it’s rather quiet now.  The walls and doorways are decorated with a variety of big game (stuffed).  Hmmmm…. March 21, 2013 After a full breakfast at 7a we drive north and east to the Mapungubwe National Heritage Site Converging Countries Panoramic at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashae Rivers, where the borders of SA, Botswana and Zambia meet.  The history of this site is ancient and fascinating and the Preserve’s formation and National Heritage designation is a story of political struggle – all too long to tell here.  Our guide is Cedric.  He speaks Sotho and Tswana as he from Botswana.   He drives us in the  4×4 through the park and along the way we see ancient baobob trees , mapone trees festooned with mapone worms, some great fat (tomato hornworm-like) worms that could have stepped out of the Star Wars bar scene,  baboons partying on the road, giraffe, gemsbok, wildebeest, zebra, impala (they are everywhere – like our deer at home, but in big herds with dozens of animals), and a lone baboon picnicking high on a rock outcropping where he seemed to be surveying his kingdom.  The highlight of the 4×4 tour is the historic Mapungubwe Mountain.  Recently found there were 13th century remains, presumed to a king because he was buried with a small wooden rhinoceros, plated with gold. We visit the interpretive center – an amazing modern structure of indigenous inspired design and sustainable materials, constructed by locals who were trained and provided much needed, if temporary, jobs.  The videos and fact boards are informative.  The collection includes ancient pots, implements, glass beads (which validate there was trade with Arabs and/or east Asians in the 13th century). Dad Marge + Giraffe We lunched at the Confluence and on the way back to our car – totally by chance- happened upon James’s friend Rachael, who studies at the University of Venda. It’s the equinox and we are only 100k from the Tropic of Capricorn.  Perhaps the sun is setting at an 89030’ angle of incidence. David is our braai chef tonight….delicious grilled everything and beers by the fire before tucking in. Dad goin at it March 22, 2013   Hannah highly recommended we visit the nearby Limpopo Predator Park and Animal Rehabilitation Center, where we can get up close and personal with lions and Bengal tigers.  We are told to check across the street (at a taxidermy – lots of massive stuffed heads on display), where we are directed to drive 65k north to the Park.  The adult animals roam in large enclosed areas;  volunteers  (many from Norway) pay R6000 for two weeks of  working with staff to feed and care for the big cats. Food and lodging are provided to volunteers.) The tigers are not native to Africa.  The Center has bred lions and plans to breed the endangered tigers.  Our staff guide, Julie, is Norwegian.  She studied biology at university, came here as a volunteer and joined the staff in January.   She shows us some civets, which are rodents with masks like raccoons, built like a big mink or ferret.   She brings out two different age litters of baby lions (two are 5-6 months and four are 2-3 months) to play on the grass and interact with us.  One of the younger litter is a real troublemaker and very funny….the whole experience is delightful;  James is in heaven.  We picnic there before departing the Alldays area, via  Vivo, for our stay at the Venda Village of Leshiba Wilderness high in the spectacular red rock Soutpansbergs. Nice Marmut The Leshiba 9k mountain access road requires a high clearance vehicle, so we call ahead to arrange transit.    Our driver and game guide is Trymore (pronounced Trymo).  Part way up the mountain Trymore stops to let a Mozambican Spitting Black Cobra cross.  Their defense is to spit in the eyes of the threat; the range is two meters and the venom can be blinding.Mom + Dad + Lions The rondaval cottage Venda Village is magical.  A Venda artist, Noria Mabasa, worked with concrete masons to sculpt courtyards with red clay/concrete life-size figures (mainly women), benches, walls, paths.  She was 65 at the time and completed the work in five days.  Pebble patterned floors are being completed by Jenny Schneider, who is here to work during our stay.  You go girls.  We unload, unpack and are invited to afternoon tea before Trymore takes us out for the evening game drive where we see impala, Samson the gignormous bull rhino, warthogs, zebras, kudu, quail, a herd of wildebeest, a vining orange begonia which had completely overtaken a tree, a night lark (which trills all through the night), horses and riders, an aardvark hole used nightly by warthog families and/or snakes (Python, for instance, are vegetarian and will gladly share these digs with mammals), and others, on a first-come-first-served basis. Leshiba The February floods washed out the river banks ……crossing is tricky.  The grasslands are marshy and the very capable Trymore gets the 4×4 stuck so we need to bail and push.  This is a genuine safari …Trymore serves us beer and wine at dusk before driving us back to the village for 7pm dinner: vegetable spring rolls, house red wine, melt in the mouth beef with mushroom sauce, scalloped potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, chocolate creme brulee and tea. These are the only two days of our three weeks where we arranged for the luxury of “full accommodations”.  This includes one activity per day (game drive, guided walk).   Complimentary tea, coffee, fruit, a bottomless cookie jar, and tins of buttery rusks are always available to help ourselves.   We pay to enjoy a refrigerator of cool drink choices.   We are served a sumptuous brunch at 10:30 and then we nap.  We get hand and foot massages in the early afternoon.  A full English tea is served mid-afternoon.  Each roll of toilet paper is tied with a strand of raffia which has a bit of dried sage tucked into it.  The towels are plush, the bed linens are top notch.   The colonialists could not have enjoyed better. Sampson March 23, 2013 Early morning (6:30)bath in the stone tub overlooking the waterhole, and baobob shampoo in and outdoor shower, the head of which emerges from the ear of a larger than life male figurine.  All Lesiba’s power is from solar panels, and there are few electric lights but plenty of oil lanterns that add to the magic.  Water is heated in a wood fired clay “donkey boiler” (which has nothing to do with donkeys) and there is always plenty for good hot showers/tubs. Tea, rusks and fruit before jumping into the 4×4 to watch the giraffe capture.  A skilled pilot maneuvers the helicopter like a darting dragonfly to move the animals out of hiding.  Six 2-year olds will be darted from the air by a Belgian woman vet.  The animal gets woozy, folds to the ground and a dozen Africans sweep in.  They must rope and mask it before the vet (who instantly departs the helicopter) runs to inject adrenelin.  The animal’s head cannot remain down, because there is danger of a heart attack/death if the blood pools and creates high pressure in a bent neck.   If the roping and masking is not completed by the time the vet gets to it, she injects anyway and the animal goes free.  She will not risk the animal’s life.  Once the giraffe is on its feet, a dozen men or more take the ropes, attached to and around the top of all four legs and, careful to avoid the large and very dangerous flying hooves, they look like a scene resembling a land-based Nantucket sleigh ride.  The rope-handlers guide, pull, maneuver the blindfolded masked  giraffe into the convoy.  This vehicle can carry two per convoy down the mountain where they load into a big truck for transport.  If the animals are pre-sold they go directly to a game farm.  If not presold, they go to auction, where game farm owners bid for them.  Provincial law requires Leshiba to limit the number of grazing animals (according to a per hectare ratio). Leshiba’s 2600 hectares (+ 5,000 acres) can only support 40 giraffes in balance with all its other wild animals. They receive R2000 per giraffe (just under $200), which seems insignificantly small. Two weeks ago the same crew successfully captured and moved three young rhinos, and although Lashiba received slightly more then per animal, a rhino horn can fetch R250,000 on the black market – and too often does. Poaching is a major problem. One Leshiba guest reported that in the last 9 months alone, over 650 rhinos were illegally killed. In this case, since culling the herds is mandatory, we speculate that they have a price negation advantage, but we understand that the buyer pays for the capture and transport, which much cost a pretty penny. Giraffe Capture We have time for a walk before brunch and James is our guide to the amazing organic permaculture garden on the other side of the grassland waterhole area.  It’s easy to see why a garden like this is such a challenge to protect.   Northeast US gardeners’ challenge of deer and woodchucks pales in comparison to baboons and monkeys.  The entire very large garden area is securely fenced with 8” diameter posts holding heavy wire which meets a concrete base.  The perimeter and the roof plane are secure. Our time here is a bit too short.  The giraffe capture has been a once in a lifetime event and we feel fortunate to  have happened upon it.  The tradeoff has been that the animals are upset and not much in evidence.   We have not spotted a leopard (though that may be because they are very rarely seen even without the chaos of helicopter, truck and captor noises) and we did not have time for a guided walk to see the ancient cave paintings.  Our last dinner is pap pancake with creamed avocado and salsa, lamb shank, cooked long and low to perfection, roasted garden vegetables and meringue with fresh fruit and cream.  James entertains us and other guests, playing his guitar by the open fire.  We sleep soundly. March 24, 2013 With any travel there is bound to be a mix of anxiety and excitement.  We have been well warned that parts of SA are unsafe (like parts of almost anywhere).  It is a great pleasure to note that thus far we have felt secure in each place we have been.  Of course we lock the car and are careful not to leave cameras etc lying out for offering.  At Granny Johanna’s we had no door locks (but remember the compound was well secured.)  At Mulana we locked our room when we left for the day but had no concerns while we were away from our rooms at the bar and braai.  At Leshiba there were no door keys and we were very comfortable. Today we travel northeast to Tshipse – a “Forever Resort” offering a hot mineral water swimming pool and a cool one.  The grounds are kept to US golf course standards: blooming cannas, purple spiderwort, marigolds and succulents are bedded out in large masses.  Families of monkeys play in the trees and on the grass.  They make mischief lifting a piece of bread from a kid, sharing – and then not sharing- with a monkey pal and climbing in a window.  Mongooses squeak and tunnel in the ‘lawn’.  There is a restaurant, bar, wifi and – HOORAY! – a laundromat.  We are settled into a family bungalow, two bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen.   All our week long dirty clothes are now clean, and tonight we will cook our own dinner.   Tomorrow we’ll drive to Kruger for three days/nights.  We hope to see lots of birds and, if we are lucky, maybe lions and elephants. TO BE CONTINUED…. ….CONTINUED!  (did you notice the new pictures?) March 25, 2013 While we are at Tshipse with wifi connections, James loads some selected pictures and my journal (through March 24) onto his blog.  All four of us have been taking pictures – there will be some serious sorting to do!  We drive to Kruger via Thohoyandou (capital of Venda with a nightmare of traffic congestion), where we meet Linda, a fellow PVC, and former state legislator from Washington, who ably leads us as we thread our way through the streets crowded with cars, people and open markets.  She guides us to a tiny East Indian restaurant, explaining that the SA government supports Indian business startups in a way they do not support South Africans, who are considered less reliable than the Indians.  Lunch is delicious and inexpensive.  This is a genuine Third World city where many congregate to exchange goods and services and poverty is close at hand – it’s a bit overwhelming.  Maggie has wisely left her new camera tucked out of sight in the locked car.  After buying groceries, beer and whiskey (there’s no tequila to be found in this part of SA), we are approached by a small, middle aged man with a broad smile, hand outstretched to shake ours and moving in to hug each of us.  A sidekick is following him – we hold our belongings close as we smile, accept the outstretched hand and move quickly away. There is no way to fully describe the SA audio experience.  James’s village is loud; people talk all the time; car stereos are omnipresent; taxis honk; goat bells ring; cows wander along the sides of the roads; dogs bark.  The cities are James’s village on steroids.   South Africa recognizes eleven official languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Northern Sothu, Tswana, English, Southern Southo or Lesotho, Xitsonga, Swati or Swaziland, Tshivenda, and Ndebele).  This is a result of apartheid era re-settling of tribal people in designated areas, where they were encouraged (effectively forced) to use tribal dialects.  The ruling class thus hoped to keep the various tribes from communicating (and organizing) with one another. After lunch and grocery shopping we drive through the area where traditional Venda culture is practiced daily.  Structures in these unique villages are both block/brick and mortar with tin roofs – like in James’s Matidza – and stucco-covered brick rondevals with thickly thatched roofs – like our Leshiba accommodations. The brick and thatched, cone-shaped, roof is a successful (low-carbon footprint) design for this hot climate (31c today) – opening a window or two at night to let the cool air in and closing all during the day keeps the heat at bay – and sleeping in a circular floor plan structure is conducive to a fine night.  I wish we had a bit more time to explore these villages, as I’ve read about nice textiles, clay beads and pots to be had here, but Kruger’s Punda Maria Gate closes at 6pm, so we do not tarry en route. Punda Maria Camp provides simple accommodations in northern Kruger.  We have two double rooms, called bungalows (but they are side by side, motel like, four to a structure).  Each room has a shower, toilet, twin beds, refrigerator, cups, glasses and an electric kettle.  There is a communal kitchen with hot plates and a braai setup – but we are not traveling with pots and pans, knives and cutting board, so we will have our dinners in the restaurant (decent, plain food).  From our bungalows we assemble tea, fruit and rusks for breakfast and for lunch peanut butter sandwiches with a side of salted mopane.  The water is potable and we are drinking lots everywhere we go.  The camp is busy – maybe not full.  This is Easter holiday (a significant one in this mainly Christian culture).  Many families travel now but, being so far north, the Punda Maria area is not crowded.  We share the camp with some Afrikaaners, and many black Africans.  At first we are the only non-Afrikaaner white family – later, a German group arrives. While we unpack the car, a monkey gets the better of us.  We left a car door open and in he went, snatching a tomato and dashing up a tree.   Mom’s the slow learner in the family and the next morning she’s responsible for a breakfast banana sacrificed from the terrace table, when her back is barely turned.  They’re cute, but very fast opportunists. Burglar Monkeys March 26, 2013 Our early travels in the western bushveld were fairly quiet.  Now in Kruger we hear chorus after chorus of bird and animal sounds.   Be still my heart. We’re in the Toyota by 7am, heading further north on both tar and gravel roads for a day’s self-guided game touring.  Kruger requires strict adherence to park rules.  Visitors can self-drive, but may not disembark from vehicles when outside designated areas (the fenced rest camps, picnic spots and entry gates).  This doesn’t keep James and Maggie from stretching long to lean out and get good pictures, but many of our pictures are framed by car windows.   There is much to see as we progress through broad stretches of savannah, strewn with senescing African foxgloves which nod in the breeze above the golden grasses.  The Levuvu River joins the Limpopo in Northern Kruger and, during last February’s heavy rains, both greatly exceeded their banks, forcing closure of two northern camps.  Certain areas have the look of post-Irene Vermont.  We had hoped to traverse two gravel roads near the confluence and were disappointed to find them closed to traffic until May.  Even so, In a round trip of 5-1/2 hours we covered 143 kilometers and we sighted: several kudu, an African buffalo, lots of (chipmunk-size) tree squirrels, a steenbok (or maybe it a young nyala), lots of young chamois-colored nyala and several very dark grey adult nyalas, Chacma baboons galore- they never cease to make us laugh, Vervet monkeys, a white rhinocerous (which are rare throughout SA), and a warthog, a huge and very old male elephant and later three separate elephant groups – some with babies…sooooo cute, several herds of Plains zebras – the markings are truly out of this world and one can almost understand wanting these amazing patterns on a floor at home, but no. Da Zebras   We saw giraffes four or five times, usually in small groups, always looking goofy and very photogenic. IMG_2997   Large impala herds graze everywhere.  They are handsome with warm tan coats, beautifully marked with black stripes on the hind quarters. Da Impalaas Northern Kruger is known for its large and colorful bird life.  We bought a small guide and are quite certain we’ve seen: Cape turtle dove, African mourning dove, African grey hornbill, southern yellow-billed hornbill, a little (quail-like) crested francolin, unidentifiable raptors, Egyptian Goose, brown headed parrot, common scimitarbill,  Southern carmine bee-eater, magpie shrike and perhaps a European roller.  We have no idea what or how many others we heard.  It’s as wonderful here as described in all the guidebooks. IMG_3589 We spend a quiet afternoon showering, napping, reading, lazing.  It feels a bit like car camping .   and there are many visitors who spend their Easter holiday doing  just that in their Winnebago-like vehicles.  In the Punda Maria shop there is dried jerky made from ostrich, buffalo, kudu, etc.  We have been told all is much superior to our beef jerky and we tried and enjoyed the kudu.  David opts for a packet of dried chicken soup which he cleverly mixes in the teapot.  So, maybe the morning rooibos will be chicken-flavor-enhanced.  We buy one small aluminum pot, which Maggie and James employ to hard boil eggs for our tomorrow picnic. Each rest camp is completely fenced and inside this camp’s fence is a walking trail.  Just outside the fence is a watering hole and inside is a raised, roofed observation platform (a kind of bird house for humans), where we go at 5pm, hoping to sight wildlife at evening cocktails. But, except for some large ants mining a bit of (baboon?) dung, we see no mammal activity at the hole. This adventure involves a fair amount of early rising.  We have purchased tickets for the 4am game drive.  We have yet to see: lions (in the wild – though we did see them at Predator Park), hippos, cheetah, leopard, hyena and wild dog (rare and endangered).  The predator cats and dogs all stay well hidden and move fast, so they are challenging to spot, but we hope to get lucky.   We plan an early supper and bedtime. March 27, 2013 4am – it’s pitch black.  The moon is full, but the sky is cloud-filled.  Our Sunrise Drive guide, Leonard, welcomes us to the SANS Park jeep-like vehicle, complete with blankets (it’s a damp, cool 21C) and torches (electric spotlights connected to the dash). Leonard explains that we should shine one torch to each side of the vehicle; the headlights will cover the road ahead.  When we see green eyes in the torch, it will be an animal of the antelope family – red eyes are cats and dogs.  During the first dark hour we see many bounding spring hare – a rabbit-size kangaroo-like animal with a black tipped foxtail.  Also impala, zebras, Sharpe’s Grysbok, scrub hare, and night jaws (night lark), which make dustbowl nests beside the road so lots of them flap about as we drive by.  While it’s still dark, we seem to be passing through a cloud – the mist has a coarse texture, almost chunky, but it’s not falling down like rain – just hanging in the predawn air.  It’s very, very quiet –   we feel many eyes are watching us.  As light breaks in the eastern sky, bird calls and sightings (night jaws, heron, Crested Francolin, Natal Spurfowl, hornbills, and more) begin to fill the air. Shortly after 5:30a we no longer needed the torches. We see waterbuck, tree squirrels,  giraffe,  impala herds and male kudu, which – because they are strikingly handsome of face with large curled horns –  the SA National Parks selected its image for the SANS Park logo. Da Kudu Worth the price of admission (R264 pp) is the herd of breeding elephants. We see some adults crossing the road ahead and Leonard drives toward them.  We then notice more adults, shepherding some very small babes.   We are quite close (25 meters?) and they tolerate our presence for a few minutes of binoc’ observations and photo op’s before the huge matriarch and another large female turn toward us, trunks raised in warning, and begin picking up speed in our direction.  We have divided the herd.   Whoops.  Leonard is looking the other way, so we alert him and he starts the engine and speeds ahead.  They continue the chase for a minute (or is it a lifetime?).  When they drop away, Leonard turns around, explaining there is practically nothing more dangerous than an elephant breeding herd.  When threatened, some of the adults circle the newborns and the matriarchs will lead most of the herd headlong into the threat – be it lion or homo sapiens. We are going to die When we see a nearby large herd of water buffalo with many young ones, all of the adults fix their gaze on us and watch intently as Leonard explains that – of the Big Five – they are the aggressive one, because they give no warning.  They just stampede and charge ahead.  Oh. Da Beefalos Unlike the elephants – of which we have seen solo bulls, but the breeding herd is entirely separate, and is led and protected by the matriarch and other females  – the buffalo travel with the males forming a protective ring about the families, waiting to employ their very formidable horns on any evil-intended predators. We are back at camp by 7, have a full breakfast in the dining room and spend the day quietly…taking a short hike (inside the Rest Camp fence) in the afternoon, followed by a swim in the very pretty tan pool with two small waterfalls.  James takes us on a 4pm drive around a nearby 25k loop.  At one stop we see fresh leopard tracks! – but no leopard. March 28, 2013 5:30am rise, pack, tea and rusks, load the car and begin our 6+ hr drive to Pretoria. When we are about half way there, we stop for pasta lunch at a H U G E mall in Polokwane. Getting into Pretoria’s Hatfield district reminds us of driving in the Boston area when one doesn’t know which lane to be in – traffic is fast; street layout is not 900; thoroughfares meet at odd angles with lots of one-ways, dead ends, and mucho traffic.  Once again James prevails.  We settle into the Kahyalehu Guest House Backpackers, where there are five white stucco buildings and sweet, floriferous, small, brick-paved, connecting courtyards dripping with bougainvillea in blossom.  James and Maggie join several other PCVs for happy hour at a nearby watering hole and then we all have a wood fired pizza dinner at the Guest House. March 29, 2013 Today is the sad day, when Maggie flies home.  We meet more PCVs over a delicious, cooked-to-order, breakfast and catch up with wifi before getting in the car one last time.  Maggie has made phone/text connection with a Kenyon pal, Tracy, who is in Botswana for her term abroad.  It just happens that Tracy will be at the Jo-burg airport today, en route to Kruger.  What were the chances of managing that encounter?  Serendipity is with us and we drive to the airport early, return the rental car, cross paths with Tracy and see Maggie through airport security.  Mourning Maggie’s departure, the remaining Higby contingent rides the very new, clean, safe Gautrian (city transit system, built for the 2010 World Soccer Cup crowds), making one change of trains and arriving in just under an hour back in our Hatfield neighborhood.  PCVs from various groups (there are two per year, James’s is 24) check in and out of Khayalehu – some still hanging in SA from 23, which contract is complete, all the way to early  arrivals from 27.  We get a quick supper at a small Lebanese street side restaurant.  The vegetarian falafel wraps are yummy and inexpensive.  Back to Khayalehu for a beer by the pool. March 30, 2013 We catch the Gautrain back to O.R. Tambo (Jo-burg Airport) for our Noon flight to Cape Town.  Stuck in the center seats, we can’t see the city from the air.  There is a good shuttle service (MyCity Bus) from the airport to the CBD.  It takes only about 20 minutes for R57pp and the first stop is a couple of blocks from the place we’ll live for the next six days. Along the airport to city center route (via N1 and N2) we see the northern edge of Cape Flats – a shanty shack, tin-roofed township where, during apartheid, blacks were settled after being forced from their inner homes (which then were burned).   A big cloud hangs, like a dollop of whipped cream,  on the near peaks of Table Mountain, a rocky/forested backbone that forms Table mountain National Park, stretching all the way from Signal Hill to lofty Cape Point (249m above sea level), where the Atlantic (cold Benguela current) meets the Indian Ocean ((warm Agulhus current) often in cataclysmic confrontation. We’d read and been told Cape Town can be windy, but were unprepared for the strength of the blow coming down from Table Mountain.  All of us had to lean into it and each of found ourselves knocked about, grabbing poles and seeking shelter very close to the tall buildings.  Wide street crossings are hazardous – we contend not only with the wind but also the traffic is fast and the green pedestrian go light lasts only long enough to get half way across. The apartment we’ve rented is on the eleventh floor. On the table we find a fresh bouquet of Casa Blanca lilies and a bottle of wine. From the balcony we overlook St. George’s Mall and get a narrow view toward Table Mountain’s Devils’ Peak to the east, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill to the west.  There is a small washer and dryer and a fully equipped stainless steel and granite counter topped kitchen.  First World Living. We quickly unpack and brave the wind again, finding the infamous Long and Kloof Streets (shopping and bar scenes targeting youthful tourists) and have an early dinner where James and David try Gemsbok steak and Springbok shanks.  Only two days ago we were viewing them on the hoof in Kruger. There is a (new to us) beer, Jack Black, and it’s good – nice for James who has only been able to get Hansa Pilsner and Windhoek  in his rural area Easter Sunday March 31, 2013 Rain and more wind is predicted, but the sun is shining and the wind is calm. At the Cape Town Tourism Information center a block away from our apartment we catch the double decker Hop On-Hop Off City Sightseeing busline, which will take us around Table Mountain, offering the option of getting off at 16 sites along the way.  We take this opportunity to see and stroll around the incredible and renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The Imperialist, gold and diamond magnate, Cecil Rhodes owned thousands of hectares on the back side of Table Mountain.  He bequeathed not only an endowment for Rhodes scholars, but also a significant portion of his land to the SA government, who engaged Pearson, a botanist who understood the site’s uniqueness (rainfall here is four times the amount throughout the rest of the western Cape) and envisioned the exclusively indigenous fynbos planting scheme.  He is buried here with a carved headstone reading, “If ye seek his memorial, look around”, beneath a magnificent, old, broadly spreading Blue Atlas Cedar, overlooking a Cycad forest to Table Mountain in the distance – a nice place to rest.  Sadly the day is overcast (pleasantly cool for strolling, but not the best for good photos).  Protea blooming season has mostly passed, but the variety of Pelargoniums (our geranium, which is native to the Cape exclusively) is mind-boggling and masses of Salvia, from 6” to 6’ tall, bloom in half a dozen shades of purple.  The large and varied, well-kept gardens beds (Fragrance, Water Wise, Ericas, Restios, Iris, etc genus and species specific) are laid out around gracious broad lawns – the whole place forms a kind of amphitheater, held in the embrace of the rising slopes of Table Mountain.  Hundreds of families are spending their Easter Sunday picnicking here today, yet it does not feel crowded.  We enjoy a tasty lunch at the Tea Room and catch the bus to the next stop, Constantia.  Due to the rainfall this area is greener than elsewhere and the slopes open to views of the Indian Ocean to the south – Table Mountain to the north.  The large residences are home to diplomats and Cape Town’s wealthiest; the walled gardens are lushly planted.  There are several wineries here and we de-bark to walk around at Groot Constantia.  The old Dutch colonial architecture is grand, knurled old oaks (Quercus rubur) form canopied allays along the long walkways,  the, also knurled, vines – aligned for miles in the extensive vineyards -are impressive and , even so, pictures and stories indicate the Stellenbosch area (a day trip further east) is even more gorgeous.  Without a car we may not get there.  It is nearly 4pm by the time we get back on the bus, so we opt to see the rest of the tour from the upper deck.  The loop continues into Hout Bay and around the Atlantic coast.  The scenery is gorgeous, rocky and sandy beaches –and as densely developed as any coastal area in the world (Riviera, Boca Raton, Martha’s Vineyard, Newport, etc).  We’re glad to see it, but we’d need a car to explore it and it is not high on our list to return here. The bus rounds the city, taking us back “home” via the north side waterfront, where we will go Wednesday to catch a boat tour to Robben Island.  We get back just before 6pm and walk to Long Street for dinner.  The Ethiopian place we hoped to try is closed, so we settle for a streetside cafe, where the food and beer (Peroni) is good and the scene is youthful and noisy- a bit like Bourbon Street.   We are all ready for a good night’s sleep. April 1, 2013 It rained in the night and we awake to see the huge tablecloth/cloud covering Table Mountain and much of the City Bowl. South Africans are a tea (esp rooibos) drinking culture and locating a good cup of coffee is a generally unrewarding endeavor – except in Cape Town.  We three are seriously ready for some joe, so in spite of the steady drizzle we don our slickers and begin The Quest.  We average about O for 20 – Easter Monday seems to be a recognized holiday, but by 11am we find Awestruck Bistro (the interior walls are ancient laid up sandstone (quarried from Table Mountain, who knows how many centuries ago?) in Heritage Square, where we get excellent cappuccino  and lunch/brunch to fuel us for a damp afternoon stroll through the Company’s Garden.  But first, as we are close to the Malay Quarter, we wander up streets of bright, boldly painted houses (without window bars!) and take in the Bo-Kaap Museum.  This area was originally home to African Khoikhoi-San tribes, the nomadic herders and farmers  who refused to work for the Dutch settlers, who imported (and abused) slaves from Asia. Over the years the mix of African, Asian and Dutch resulted in a diverse culture, reflected in the cuisine (which we have yet to sample as the restaurants where we might have dined tonight are closed for the holiday).  Now the neighborhood is predominantly and proudly Muslim. Walking from Bo-Kaap to the Company’s Garden we note five homeless men wrapped in blankets and asleep along the base of a building – not all is perfect in paradise. On a brighter note – the variation in (always handsome) pavers – lots of fish scale Belgian block, bricks and cut stone, pebbles and cobbles create a rich urban tapestry  underfoot.  The streetscapes are beautifully colorful and intriguingly textured.  The architecture is arresting. The Company’s Garden is a precious parcel of green and shade in the middle of this (mostly?) postcolonial city. The Garden is the remaining half of a 1650s garden, planted and tended by slaves for the Dutch East India Company.  The Garden was superimposed upon a landscape occupied by hunter gathers, modified by pastoralists who migrated seasonally for hundreds of years.  Under the direction of Jan van Reibeek and his gardener, Hendrick Boom, the ground was cultivated at the time the first Company officials arrived in 1652.  The remains of a pear tree, believed to have been planted for Reibeek, survive today as three ‘sprouts’ (each about 20’ tall) – venerable indeed.  When the Brits returned to the Cape in 1806, they began using portions of the Garden for important institution buildings (cathedral, college, library, parliament, museum).  The Garden Commissioners resigned en mass in protest in 1890 (yay, gardeners unite!!) and the “Garden” was transferred to municipal authority in 1892.  However, the masses (bless their hearts) supported the idea of a public garden and the lower part of the Garden (called the Botanical Garden which includes an herb garden with lavender as large and prolific as any in France and a rose garden to make the Queen of Hearts envious) was developed,  preserved  and is now part of a unique mix of public cultural institutions representing power and authority within the context of a changing and historic landscape.  (Disclosure: Much of the most recent previous text is lifted directly from the informative Company’s Garden Self-guided Walk brochure.) The drizzle is persistent and we decide to shop and cook dinner in the apartment.  A slight diversion on our path home takes us past the towering art-deco Mutual Heights building (one the tallest structures in Africa apart from the Pyramids – and the most expensive).  It is clad in rose and black-veined marble and  decorated with one of the longest continuous stone friezes in the world.  The nearby Grand Parade is the site where crowds gathered to watch Nelson Mandela’s first address to the nation after 27 years in jail. It’s too wet for braai on our deck, so Chef Dave sets to cooking a vegetable stew/side of chicken.  Snickers bar is dessert.   The beer stores are closed for Easter Monday, but we find two bottles of good SA red wine and James queues up whiteman’s blues from his playlist – Johnny Cash, Tom Waites, …..  We are happy American campers. April 2, 2013 Nancy, The Launderess, is defeated by the washing machine, which takes over two hours to complete the cycle and refuses to spin.  If the small wash spends the rest of the day in the dryer, we may have clothes to wear tomorrow. Chef Dave cooks a hearty breakfast and we set out to try Escape Caffe, which turns out to be okay, but the Awestruck Bistro cappuccino was better.  We part with some yankee dollars at two shops, featuring the work of local black artisans and buy a gift for Alicia at Honest Chocolate.  Alicia was cousin to our dear friend Paul Paris, whose widow, Elsie, has arranged for our invitation to lunch at Africa’s first and foremost cooking school: Silwood – in the lovely Rondebosh suburb. We are beyond well-sated and enchanted by Alicia, her husband John, their daughter (who is now running the school) and her young children -and four family dogs.  The school was started by Alicia’s mother in the 1960s, in the home where Alicia was raised.  Alicia was trained at London’s Cordon Bleu – her mother at the Cordon Bleu in France. Our expectations for the food were high, and exceeded. We call a taxi, which cannot find the school  and Alicia and John spend the next 30 minutes talking on James’s mobile phone to the driver (who speaks with an impossible accent no one can identify nor clearly understand) until he at last arrives. It’s nearly 4pm and Table Mountain is still socked in, so we postpone that excursion and find a pharmacy (to get Dramamine in anticipation our Robben Island boat trip tomorrow morning) and a package store (to stock up on beer and whiskey). At Twankey’s Bar  (near the south entrance to the Company’s Garden) we find Guinness, a tasty SA Brewers and Union Beasty Brew and a Devil’s Peak very well hopped IPA called The King’s Castle, which label depicts the stone fortress where the English imprisoned convicts forced to build the Cape Town harbor – because Lloyd’s  of London refused to insure British ships sailing to Cape Town, which had no natural safe harbor. The IPA is mighty and, having lunched like royalty, we find the four-cheese plate and popcorn are filling enough for us to call it supper.  Twankey’s washrooms rival what we might expect at the Waldorf Astoria – polished stone 12×12 tiles on the walls and floors, lacquered heavy wooden doors, lighting to flatter even Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, and the most exquisite red-veined white marble countertops. Ingeniously the men’s and women’s toilets have no separate sinks, rather the three sink area is shared by both sexes.  Why didn’t we think of that?! The central City Bowl area is patrolled day and night by uniformed (unarmed) municipal security personnel and we are as comfortable as we would be in any city walking together at night along well lit, well traveled and populated streets, sidewalks and pedestrian malls.  James walks back to the apartment with us and calls a cab to take him to meet his PCV friends for a couple of beers.  And, since he’s alone and it will be later, he’ll call a cab to bring him home.  It costs only about R10/km and the distances are short. April 3, 2013 Breakfast: tea toast Malarone and Dramamine.  We call a cab for the short trip to the V&A (so named for Victoria and her son, Albert) Waterfront, where we catch the ferry from the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The sea is calm, we probably needn’t have taken the Dramamine which makes us logy. Robben Island.  Thanks to European colonialism, no continent has a history that so clearly demonstrates the capacity for “man’s inhumanity to man” than Africa, and no one story of an African place more compellingly reveals this horrific human tendency than that of Robben Island.  By the 1960s, the island, a clearly, and conveniently, visible part of Cape Town’s harbor, had already amassed a shocking and reprehensible record as a leper colony, insane asylum, and imprisonment/torture site for members of the indigenous Africans who refused enslavement by various European imperialist regimes. The second half of the Twentieth Century, however, saw an equally horrific chapter for Robben island, when it became an incarnation site for those non-white Africans who resisted apartheid – the official policy of racial segregation and oppression imposed by South Africa’s all-white government  for 40 years beginning in the late 1940s. Starting with survivors of the Sharpeville Massacre of March 1960, black apartheid resisters were imprisoned and horribly abused at Robben Island. Today, the Robben Island tour includes a walk, led by a former prisoner, through the confinement areas. During apartheid, most of the guards at the prison were exceptionally cruel, but the monument that is today Robben Island is intended as a symbol for hope and the triumph of the struggle for freedom. Despite the injury, pain and despair that the prisoners suffered daily, they managed to find ways to redefine their horrific situation into one of opportunity.  For instance, while imprisoned, Nelson Mandela wrote The Long Walk To Freedom, and since he was permitted to garden, he hid pages of his manuscript in a vegetable bed, from where it was smuggled out for publication. The political leaders – segregated for the special threat they were seen to present, and subjected to particularly horrible treatment – were able to meet outside the guards’ view, in a cave in the rock-breaking yard, as the “first national congress,” to make governance plans in anticipation of the liberty they knew would be theirs. As a result of their courage and the strength of their vision, and with the help of international pressure, by the 1990s these political prisoners were released, and democracy was introduced to South Africa. Robben Island is today a monument to their struggle, and a testament to their commitment and their ideas. Some of these heroic individuals include: *Nelson Mandela – first democratically-elected President of the New South Africa • Govan Mbeki, father of former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki. Govan was sentenced to life in 1963 but was released from Robben Island in 1987 by PW Botha. • Walter Sisulu, former ANC Activist. • Jacob Zuma, current President of South Africa and leader of the ANC. • Mosiuoa Lekota, imprisoned in 1974, President and Leader of the Congress of the People. • Mac Maharaj, former accused at Little Rivonia Trial. • Joe Seremane, current chairperson of the Democratic Alliance. • Tokyo Sexwale, businessman and aspirant leader of the ANC. The tour is at once sobering and inspirational. We were exhausted, and after a Peruvian lunch on the Waterkant Street pedestrian mall we all took long naps.  James and Nancy went to Brewers and Union in the old St Stephens Church, Heritage Square.  David stayed home to rest a complaining tummy. April 4, 2013 Our last full day in Cape Town dawns clear and bright, so we set out for a ride up Table Mountain in the 80 year old cableway.  We are not the only ones to have this idea today and the wait is looooooooong, but worth it.  The floor rotates; the views are amazing beyond description.   Even pictures fail to capture it all, but David gets some good panorama on his droid.  We hike from the top landing to the highest point on Table Mountain (which was here long before the Himalayas rose, so for a time it may have been the highest peak on the planet).  The view is 3600.  The fynbos is very special and we see a few blooming Giant Protea, many Ericas and Restios.  (The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest geographic area in the world with the greatest diversity.)  The textures are stunning against the sandstone/granite/shale rock formations.   We get three small bars of Madagascar chocolate in the snack shop,  catch one of the last cable cars down, and taxi to a Fat Cactus, Mexican restaurant, where James has been with fellow PCVs before and the food and the tequila are both good. Tomorrow we fly back to Jo-burg.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Posted in At School, In the Village, Some things I've noticed..... on January 13, 2013 by higbysafrica

Nothing lasts forever.  I say that all the time, but since I’ve lived in South Africa for a year and a half now I can cut the modifier “forever” and just go with “nothing lasts”.  Period/Full Stop.  Let me explain: For starters, most commonplace items here are not exactly, well, durable.  Take the set of four knives I bought last September for example.  They immediately went dull, forget about sharpening (most steel doesn’t hold an edge any better than cardboard) and one sheared off at the handle when I tried to cut……cheese.  Right.  That was all before the end of October.  I wasn’t really upset, I didn’t pay that much for them anyway.  The cost of living in SA is pretty low and one can find cheap products easily.  I’d been making my purchases with the attitude that “it only has to last me two years”, but let me tell you folks, the products one finds here really take “cheapo junk” to a whole new level.  Here are some more examples of really cheap stuff I’ve wasted money on thinking it would last two years (boy was I wrong):

White Collared Shirts – R20 ($3.50) a piece on a clearance sale.  Threadbare and discolored within 6 weeks.  Hand washing definitely expedited their unraveling.

Scissors – R7 ($1.00) Dull Dull Dull….I think I opened a couple packages and cut a few dozen shapes out of a cereal box for my geometry class before getting frustrated and buying a more serious scissor for a whopping R35 (five bucks).

Stick-on Labels – R6 ($0.85) for a pack of 16: No adhesive!  What kind of a sick joke is this???

USB cable – R14 ($2.00) Damn thing shorted out after a month of use.  Of course I hacked it back together and I still use it, but it requires occasional wiggling and coaxing curse words.

Good people, please bear with me here.  I promise this post is not just a huge complaint about the unreliability of Chinese merchandise.  After all, if I wanted only to whine about the poor quality of imported products I could have stayed in the USA.

Another reason that “we can’t have nice things” here in South Africa is that many things just aren’t taken care of very well.  Let me rephrase that; many spaces aren’t taken care of very well.  You see status symbols such as cars, clothes, phones and computers are actually taken care of a bit too much.  They’re treated like the holy grail.  Take my host brother and his BMW for example: every week he pays extravagant amounts to have his car cleaned meticulously, interior and ext, even has the tires polished.  This is typical behavior for South Africans with expensive cars.  I’m like “Man, we basically live in a dustbowl.  Don’t you think this is a losing battle?”  But I digress.  Regarding spaces:  All the buildings at my schools are falling apart.  The windows are busted out, the paint is decades old, the desks are worn down to splinters.  Now I know what some of you are thinking; I thought the same thing at first.  “Of course the place is beat to hell; these poor African schools have no money to fix even the basic necessities!”  OK, deficient funding may be the culprit in some cases, I can tell you the disrepair in my workplace is not due to lack of capital.  It’s due to lack of responsibility.  Nobody is specifically allotted the job of infrastructure maintenance.  The potential is there.  The money is there.  Shoot, the materials are even there.  Both of my schools have a storeroom full of spare parts, tools, old paint and every discarded item dating back to the apartheid era.  The room is a disaster area; it looks like a bomb went off!  Again, this is because no one is responsible for it all.  The reasons are several.  One is this problematic attitude of “let’s compensate for apartheid by not doing any work which could be considered menial or lowdown.  Hooray for democracy!”  Another, related, reason is that people just don’t want to get their hands dirty.  Scuffed shoes or dirty fingernails = instant loss of respect.  Really though, when it comes to the dilapidated state of the built environment, there is one factor that stands out from all the others in my mind.  God bless the little children; they’re almost as adorable as they are destructive!  Classrooms of 30-40 students are frequently left alone and unsupervised.  Also, many of these kids are orphans or live with other kids simply because their parents work through the week in faraway towns.  In modern South Africa the distribution of jobs is grossly unbalanced, much like the distribution of wealth.   So I live in a place which has unmotivated teachers, a great number of single moms trying to support several children, and a certain pandemic which is ironically cruel because it’s spread by the same means which children are created.  The combined effects give the youth ample free time to experiment with all sorts of destructive behavior.

There’s certain tradition here that all my Peace Corps training and research about South Africa never really made clear.  The best way I can describe it is: Whenever a South African adult needs something, they send a child to fetch it.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  It’s like:  “Hey you!  Child!  Take that heavy box of chemistry glassware from the top shelf and bring it to the classroom!  Quickly now!  And don’t forget the hydrochloric acid!”  The student body is like and an ant colony: kids scurry around frantically, carrying loads which exceed their own weight without any reluctance.  If there’s some physical object that you require and it’s not within arms’ reach, that means it’s time to yell for the nearest youngster and send the little tyke scampering off to retrieve whatever it is you need.  Again, doesn’t matter what.  Could be a box of books, could be a case of beer, could be the hickory switch required to give the brat a serious whuppin’.  This is why we have rooms full of haphazardly scattered school supplies that never get distributed properly.  This is why we have children who can’t tie their own shoes buying beer and cigarettes for the unemployed drunkards who hang at the local car wash.  This is why anything which is transported around here inevitably gets dirty, broken, lost and abused.  This is why we can’t….aw, you know the rest.  I’ve been told that this tradition is to instill a sense of respect in the children, letting them know that adults are to be revered and assisted, because you know, they’re busy doing so much important work.  Personally, I think it has more to do with the physical limitations of South African adults.  Many of them carry excessive loads 24/7.  😉

Anyway, before this little quip of mine devolves into a truly tasteless stream of sarcasm, I just want to talk about one more factor contributing to the decrepit state of my current location.  You see, there’s a certain social ailment which continues to plague South African citizens regardless of race, gender, religion or social status.  I’m actually not talking about HIV this time.  What I’m talking about is the pandemic of “paranoia”, “distrust” and “transgression”, along with its’ symptoms “lock”, “key” and “hastily welded steel security bars over every aperture bigger than a human hand”.  Where’s the love, SA?  Where’s the Christian sense of community and “love thy neighbor”, or the African spirit of compassion and Ubuntu which I’ve heard so much about?  OK, I’m sorry.  That’s not fair.  In fairness, being protective of property in SA is perfectly reasonable, and in fact very smart.  There is an uncomfortably high rate of crime in this country.  I’ve heard that some motorists in Johannesburg actually install custom modifications including undercarriage rotary blades and flamethrowers to deal with hijackers.  I’d imagine this is somewhat hazardous to street vendors:  “Take that you punks!  Oh…sorry pal, but you really shouldn’t be peddling stolen goods at this intersection.  Damnit, now I have to wash my car again.”  Of course crime is generally much higher in cities than rural areas, and South Africa is no exception, but the rural attitude towards security here is no less paranoid in spite of this.  Rural areas don’t have bank robberies or hijackings, but there certainly are thieves.  Who are they, you ask?  They’re the naughty boys who couldn’t make it through school (see also: lack of parental guidance).  They’re the victims of unemployment, illiteracy, and discrimination (see also: corruption, greed, apartheid etc.)  They’re the clever but misguided citizens who realized that a stolen 40 inch plasma screen has a higher cash/labor ratio than 3-6 years of expensive schooling and a crummy job, usually by a factor of thousands (see also: glorified crime in popular culture).  Local crooks?  I know them well.  And don’t worry, as per Peace Corps policy I have my very own set of hastily welded steel burglar bars for my humble abode (see also: unsightly fire hazard).

Speaking of fire hazards and overdone security, I think it’s worth mentioning that one of the disorganized storerooms at school contains 21 fully charged fire extinguishers, doubtlessly intended for the 21 classrooms of said school.  It’s clear to everyone at school that the fire extinguishers would be mischievously discharged within a week of their placement into unsupervised classrooms, so into the storeroom they must go!  Let me explain the process of entering this storeroom.  When I need to get in there, it takes me approximately 4 minutes to track down the gatekeeper who has the keys, and another minute or two to fumble through a huge keyring and grapple with the 2 ancient mortise locks between me and the interior.  Now imagine the same scenario with the addition of cackling flames and crowds of overeager, panicky children, all pushing and shoving eachother, trying to get in the door where they’ve been told to fetch the extinguishers…..only once the door opens, they’re doomed to trip over piles of rubbish and be subsequently trampled by the masses pouring in from behind them!  I shudder to think.  That’s a theatrical, exaggerated and somewhat paranoid example, but the point is that having everything under lock and key is a serious pain in the ass!  If one forgets something in their office and needs to retrieve it, it suddenly turns into this whole process of finding the right combination of people and keys.  And there are so many damn keys.  We don’t even know what half of them go to any more, but for god’s sake don’t lose any, because they just might be needed to open something really important.  Keys do get lost though; it’s inevitable.  My neighbor had some burglar bars installed shortly before I did.  Within a month of their installation he was calling the welder to come back and grind out some bars so he could get into his own house.  That’s a true story; draw your own conclusions.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go collect the scattered pieces of a class attendance register which students somehow managed to defenestrate in spite of the obstructive security bars.  You see?  This is why we can’t have nice things.

Hmm, long time no blog

Posted in At School on April 21, 2012 by higbysafrica

I never know how to start these posts, so I’m just going to start writing down whatever comes to mind.  Bear with me.

First off: Friends.  I’m so thankful to have fellow volunteers & other awesome people in the area who are fun to hang out with and/or like giving me secondary projects to break the monotony.

Second: Work.   I can’t deny that I’m getting frustrated and sometimes doubting that I belong here; education is not my professional background and the schools here need professional help.  On the bright side, whenever my efforts seem futile I think back to when I first arrived, and it becomes clear that there is progress being made.  Even if it’s absurdly slow.  Something about watched pots and boiling water.

Third: Luxuries.  I absolutely LOVE having a fan and a refrigerator.  Irene, you’re the best.  Irene is the compassionate, hard-working and fun loving principal of Balalia Primary school, where my friend and fellow volunteer Hannah works.  They are without a doubt the perfect match; Peace Corps allocation of volunteers at it’s most successful!  Although I suspect the arrangement may be slightly coincidental….  Anyway, lending me a refrigerator is now among the long list of nice things Irene’s done for me thus far.  I totally owe some handywork.

Speaking of which, I really miss working with tools and machinery.  I’m trying to incorporate crafts and hands-on projects into my classes at school: this semester’s topic in technology was structures, so I decided to revisit the old “design and build a bridge” project which I’d enjoyed in tech class when I was in school.  Getting even the simplest of materials in bulk turned out to be difficult (who would have guessed that drinking straws are only available in bulk directly at the Coca-cola factory?), but all in all it worked out pretty well.  Once I demonstrated the method of evaluation (increasing the load until the bridge fails), the students started focusing on structural integrity over aesthetics.  The project was fun for the kids and it also required creative problem solving, which if you’re not aware, is in serious deficiency here.  Independent thought is a pretty foreign concept in the school system here, and although the reforms of the post-apartheid government are trying to rectify this it’s not going to happen overnight.

Under the apartheid government, schools were segregated and the different racially distinguished schools had their own different curricula.  The white schools were designed to produce managers and leaders, so these schools received the majority of the governments support.  The system in place at the black schools was known as Bantu education; as I understand it Bantu education focused on producing stratified workers with specific skill sets.  Subjects like philosophy, science and literature would not be found in the Bantu curriculum.  So basically white South Africans got a quality education and black South Africans got to be mindless mineworkers.  Now it’s been 18 years since the abolishing of apartheid and South Africa’s done away with all that nonsense…..kind of.  It’s all well and good to say “we’re no longer undercutting the education of black South Africans!  Let’s integrate schools and improve the curriculum!” but the fact is, deeply ingrained traditional roles die awfully hard.  “Integrate schools” you say?  OK, but given the choice of where to send one’s kids the average South African will send them to a school which has a student body racially similar to their own.  Can’t blame ’em really, I mean would you send your child to a school where you know they’d be the “token white/black kid”?  Segregation of schools doesn’t need to be government-sanctioned; decades of racial tension segregates the schools just fine on it’s own.  Oh well.  “Anyway, let’s improve the curriculum!  Now these kids need to know about ALL that stuff that was neglected by Bantu education, so let’s get crackin’!”  Result: unrealistically difficult syllabus which is still vague because it tries to cover literally everything.  I don’t think my 7th grade class, some of whom are still learning vowels, are up for an in-depth analysis of particle physics in different states of matter.  I’m not even fabricating this stuff, that’s one of the topics for this term in science.  Gezz, talk about overcompensation.  Another significant hindrance to this dream of quality education for all is the lack of prepared educators.  You see, among the reforms of 1994 was the abolishing of white-only colleges for educators.  These were the countries finest source of qualified teachers.  For reasons I still can’t fathom, these colleges were simply dismantled and not re-established in the equal opportunity education system.  Result: Majority of educators in South Africa went to school under the Bantu system more than 20 years ago.  Although the department of education is constantly making efforts to introduce new teaching techniques, it’s not going smoothly at all.  For one thing, teachers are getting frustrated because the department is frequently changing its policies.  Also, the scope of change demanded by the reforms is usually unrealistic; overcompensation in the way the curriculum is unrealistically difficult.  And of course there are some teachers who don’t feel like dealing with these fancy new things like “independent thought” and “critical thinking”.  Something about old dogs and new tricks.  Motivation is generally pretty low among the school staff.  I remember stumbling across a little saying posted by one of my teacher friends back in the states, something like: “Teachers: we’re not doing this for the income, we’re doing it for the outcome”  Now that’s a mighty heartwarming sentiment, and my appreciation of truly dedicated teachers knows no bounds.  I just wish I could apply that saying to the teachers here, because nine times out of ten I can’t.  The attitude is more like: “Teaching?  It’s a job.  We grind out the exam results and get paid.  Done.”

Well that’s my little soap box for the state of affairs in South Africa’s education system.  Now I’m going to prepare my lessons for…..oh that’s right, particle physics and conservation of energy! for 7th grade ESL students, with about a 70% literacy rate!  Sometimes I really can’t blame these teachers who don’t take their job seriously.

Tropical Holidays, part II

Posted in Travel on January 17, 2012 by higbysafrica

Well this is now two week old news and I should have finished writing my thoughts on this trip while they were still fresh in my head but anyway.  A brief recap of my first Christmas away from home:  Woke up really late, spent too much money on good food and mediocre beer, hung out with friends at the local casino even though I don’t gamble, then walked on the beach and amused myself several times with the notion that “hey, it’s Christmas Day!  Merry Christmas!”  Go ahead and call me Scrooge, but I didn’t miss all the glamour and commercialism of a typical American Christmas.  It was kind of surprising to see the nonchalance found in most South Africans at Christmastime; almost everybody’s crazy about Jesus but his birthday doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal.  I guess it’s really more of a western holiday.  I mean there were some festive decorations here and there, but all in all it was pretty low key.  New Years, on the other hand was ridiculous.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in one place.  It’s not like I had no warning though, people say Durban is the place to be on during the holidays.

Durban is a beautiful coastal city, and I certainly enjoyed a fair amount of good food and drink, but my favorite part of this trip had to have been the people I encountered.  I’m probably not supposed to use real names, and in truth I can’t remember one of them, but I’d like to talk about some of the more noteworthy characters I met on this trip.  So here goes; names have been changed to protect the innocent and amuse the guilty.  As per usual, this list is in no particular order.

Jacques Marley, the French Rasta Man:

I must’ve met this dude outside on the balcony at our backpackers.  He was staying in a room adjacent to ours and the balconies were also adjacent.  Definitely a Frenchman, very French accent, elegant gestures, smoking cigarettes, the whole nine yards.  Also very Rastafarian.  “Jacques” has some serious dreadlocks, 20 inches or so, complete with ornamentation, as well as numerous impressive piercings.  He also plays guitar; I’d brought mine along so I asked him to play it.  First time I’d heard reggae with French lyrics!  I’m sorry to report that all I’ve retained from three years of middle school French class is how to say “Hello” and ask what time it is.  Also, I really enjoyed hearing Jacques talk about the amazed reactions some of the Zulus had when they saw his dreads; it’s very unusual to see a white guy with long hair, so decked-out dreadlocks are a real surprise.  Who’s getting culture shock now, South Africa?

Dickie, Your Friendly Neighborhood Herbalist

Another individual I encountered on the balcony, but this guy was a South African.  A Zulu to be specific.  To be even more specific he was an Inyanga.  Inyanga, loosely translated means herbalist, medicine man or witch doctor, if you want to get flavorful and possibly offend someone.  Although honestly I don’t think any stereotype or nickname could phase this guy; he was extremely friendly and personable.  Goes with the line of work I guess, because this modern Inyanga also happened to be a traveling salesman.  Having briefly dabbled in sales myself, I could see that Dickie had a solid pitch: great attitude, very likable, no discernible pressure, good pace and rhythm and of course “the show”.  Every salesman carries a selection of whatever he’s peddling, so I got a full breakdown of some of the more popular Muti (magic) products of South Africa.  It wasn’t just me of course, Dickie gave a great presentation of his wares to several of the travelers who were around.  The products included:

Herbal Detox: Ingest with tea for a complete flush of your system! Feel younger, cure what ails ya, pass drug tests and whatnot!  This was the least magical, and probably most effective of his stuff.

Protective Poultice: Introduce to bloodstream (cut yourself and rub into wound) for a magical aura to protect you from harm!  Feel safe and never fear your enemies threats again!  Blunt knives!  Repel bullets!  Ingest arsenic and laugh!  Except don’t really do that because the magic only works if you’re actually under attack!  I had some obvious doubt about this one, but I can believe the extra confidence would probably help somebody win a fight, so there might be something to be said for it’s effectiveness.

Lucky Leaf: Gobble up these herbs and go hit the blackjack tables!  This one reminded me of the “Felix Felicis” potion in Harry Potter.  You can’t lose!

Rocket Rocks: Bind a small sprinkling of this rock dust to your arm and throw a supernaturally powerful punch!  Or try it on your leg and score a goal from half field!  Dickie said he had a lot of soccer players that used this one.  Technically cheating, but it’s practically undetectable.  I’m inclined to believe the placebo effect is a big part of this one’s magic as well.

Super Sex Solution: Obviously there was a fantastic pitch for this one, but I can’t do it justice and I’m trying to keep this blog somewhat PG.  Out of the whole selection, this was the most highly demanded by far; many South Africans are crazy about sex enhancers.  I’ve got to give Dickie credit for his disclaimer: he said it would not save you from contracting HIV but it’s totally condom-friendly.  Thanks for promoting responsible mind-blowing sex, Dickie.

Since I’m poor and skeptical, I didn’t try any of these magical products, but some of the others who saw the presentation were very interested.  Anyway I always enjoy a good show, and this guy was pretty hilarious.  I asked him if he could give me a Christmas special on the ever-popular ability to smite something with lightning, but he said that one was not for sale and in truth he was still learning how to do it himself.  Oh well.  I’ve got another 20 months to learn, how hard can it be?

Jekyll and Hyde, the Contrasting Caucasians

These two friends were a pair of Afrikaans fellas who, as far as I could tell, couldn’t be more different in terms of personal beliefs and demeanor.  Unfortunately Hyde, the unpleasant one, also happened to be the more vocal of the two.  Late 20s, pretty argumentative and aggressive, and I’ll give him a sliver of credit in that he made a half-assed attempt to hide his deep rooted prejudices.  He liked talking to me and the other Americans, in fact he’d even spent some years in the states.  He had nothing nice to say about South Africa; he began by attacking it’s authenticity as an African nation.  “If you want to see the real Africa, this is not it.  Go to Mozambique.  Go to Namibia.  Go to Botswana.  South Africa is not really Africa”.  Then of course racism reared it’s ugly head: “Black people are lazy, black people are corrupt, black people in power are going to be the death of this country”; he even made a pretty good case for why the country was better off under apartheid.  However, I could see this was a well-practiced and commonly recited rhetoric, plus I’ve heard it before.  The backbone of this argument is that the apartheid system, although unfair, was effective in keeping the country running smoothly because it put the power in the hands of people who have a background of economic and managerial experience.  All of these people being white, according to the argument, was simply a historical trend.  But I digress; the challenges of post-apartheid South Africa deserve their own post.  Actually, they deserve their own book.  Predictably, Hyde had nothing nice to say about America either.  He rambled into the offensive assumption that “Americans think people in South Africa just live with animals and wear loincloths.  How surprised were you when you found out we wear suits, and have TVs and drive cars?”  I’ve heard this one way too many times to take it seriously anymore.  My final thoughts on the subject are that ignorant people like to make incorrect racial assumptions, and the street goes both ways.  Hyde also seemed to think crime was much worse in the US than in SA, and started quoting some totally fabricated statistics which revealed that although he had the gift of gab, he was in fact very ignorant.  Incidentally, that’s exactly what he called me after I failed to differentiate the Illuminati secret handshake from a normal handshake.  South African’s obsessions with global conspiracy theories also deserve their own post.  I think you get the picture, so that’s enough about Mr. Hyde.  Oddly enough, his buddy Dr. Jekyll was a quiet, polite, reasonable guy.  Much more approachable, if you weren’t deterred by his loud and unpleasant counterpart.  I wish more of the volunteers had talked with Jekyll instead of Hyde because there’s definitely a fair bit of animosity towards the Afrikaners, which I really don’t think flows with the Peace Corps standard of being open minded and whatnot.  Or maybe I’m just the Devil’s advocate to the depths of my soul.  I mean, the animosity is not unfounded: I’ve met several others like Hyde, and many volunteers have met Afrikaners who are far worse.  The interesting part was the contrast between these two guys.

Hans, the German Volunteer Who’s Job I Envy

I was talking to Hans about what he’s doing in South Africa, and as luck would have it he’s also a volunteer!  His organization sounds akin to the German version of Peace Corps.  He’s been in country for almost a year now and his contract’s almost finished.  So I asked him what field he was in, and he’s actually been assigned a craft studio of sorts!  Woodworking tools, a welding bay, all the stuff I miss so so much from my time in America!  Super jealous.  I really wish Peace Corps had something like that for me.  Not that there aren’t things I enjoy at my schools, I can get down with computers and I just found some science kits in a dusty storeroom (WIN) but Hans sounds like he landed something I could really sink my teeth into.  Fortunately his site is fairly close to mine, so I’ll definitely be checking it out ASAP.

Well gezz, this post is getting obnoxiously lengthy and there’s still more to tell!  I’m going to have to wrap this one up for now.  To be continued, AGAIN, and I might have to interrupt this tale of travel to talk about some other stuff with the next post.  We’ll see what’s on my mind when the spirit moves me.

Tropical Holidays

Posted in Travel on January 11, 2012 by higbysafrica

Ok, this blog post is long overdue and a lot’s happened since I last wrote so I’ll do my best to hit all the highlights.  I spent the beginning of December in Pretoria for a continuation of Peace Corps training. The venue was definitely the nicest hotel I’ve stayed at in my life.  Of course that’s probably saying more about my previous accommodations than the hotel, but seriously it was really nice.  Our whole troop stayed there for 10 days, then went on to various holiday destinations.  I was with a large group (20 or so) who went to the coastal city of Durban, a popular getaway for tourists and nationals alike.  As you might surmise, the quality of my lodging and transportation went steadily downward as the trip progressed.  Of course I say this with a smile on my face; it’s my belief that an authentic experience includes shitty hostels, broke-down buses and poorly coordinated outings.  It’s fun in hindsight anyway.  I threw in with 3 other volunteers for a rental car to drive ~600 kilometers from Pretoria to Durban, which actually couldn’tve gone much better.  The guys who went to pick it up got horribly lost, but I had the good fortune of remaining behind while that happened.  I know I would’ve done the exact same thing if it were me trying to navigate around Pretoria for the first time.  When they did return, I decided to go for a little practice spin before departure.   So I immediately went to the right (incorrect) side of the road, punched the door several times with my right hand before getting used to the left side gearshift, and turned on the windshield wipers every time I tried to use a turn signal.  This is what practice runs are for, right?  Despite this sketchy start, we actually got to Durban without a hitch.  The highway system here is surprisingly intuitive and traffic was mercifully minimal.  The drop-off was a little stressful though: it was Christmas Eve and the attendant who was supposed to meet us left early (can’t really blame ’em) and we thought they’d charge us an extra day of rental.  It all worked out though, so all’s well that ends well.

The lodging we’d originally booked is what I would describe as a hostel, although in South Africa they’re called “backpackers”.  This word on the street (i.e. volunteer rumor mill) about this particular backpackers was that it sucked and should be avoided like the plague.  After staying there for 10 days, I can see some obvious reasons for this reputation.  Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Cockroaches.  Not surprisingly, these little bastards really grossed out a lot of the Americans.  Some of them were pretty huge.  Made me want to watch Men in Black.

2. Bedbugs.  Everybody hates tiny insects that feed on human flesh. I was lucky enough to not be gnawed on by these bloodsucking parasites.  I did get stung repeatedly by jellyfish, but that’s not the hostel’s fault.

3. Minimal security.  With 12 people to a room, it’s hard to keep track of everything.  Fortunately I didn’t suffer any major losses, but  if I find out who ate my chocolate bars they’re definitely getting their kneecaps busted.

4. Uncomfortable beds.  I couldn’t care much less, but there was definitely a lot of griping about this subject.

5. First floor of the building is a brothel.  This is a bad thing……?  Oh right, for the reputation.  Yes.  Very, um, unprofessional.

6. Sketchy neighborhood.  We’ve all been warned time and time again about how crime is a huge problem, especially in cities.  Durban is no exception, and some volunteers did have a pretty serious incident on new years, but that’s another story.  For now I’ll just say that luckily no one was hurt; all’s well that ends well.

7. Loud, destructive, unsupervised kids running around everywhere.  I almost forgot to include this one because it’s a constant everywhere I go in this country.

OK now that we’ve established why the hostel sucked, I have to play devil’s advocate here and make a list of the place’s redeeming qualities:

1. Proximity to the beach.  It was a 2 block walk.  For the equivalent of 15 bucks per night, that’s tough to beat.

2. Friendly staff!  Hooray for good people!

3. Other fun loving travelers also stayed there!  Hooray for interesting people!

4. Cheap beer.  What can I say, I’m easily satisfied.

5. Balcony.  Make that “extremely easily”

5. Shitty pool table.  The best thing about this was that the balls didn’t always eject properly so sometimes we had to take the table apart and fish them out of the rails, which was totally fine with the staff.

6. Price is right.

7. Showers.  Trust me folks, after months of hauling water home just to lamely splash it over oneself and call it a “bath”, a few meters of pipe plus a pump, furnace and faucet is a glorious luxury.

Me personally, I didn’t think the accommodation was too bad, I mean what do you want out of your Peace Corps budget lodging?  Plus I didn’t plan to spend my vacation kicking around a lounge, so upon arrival I immediately wandered off down the beach.  First time in an Ocean other than the Atlantic!  And let me tell you, the coast of Kwa Zulu Natal is much warmer than Cape Cod, by at least 30 degrees.  I also had a firsthand reiteration (learning the hard way) of those geography lessons which explain why equatorial regions are hot and polar regions are cold.  [Science lesson warning! Skip to the paragraph about surfing if you’re getting bored!]  Contrary to the usual guesses, it is not because the “fat middle” of the earth is closer to the sun; that distance is negligible.  The actual reason is that incident sun rays strike the earth at different angles according to it’s curvature.  As one approaches the equator, the angle of incidence approaches a right angle; a right angle provides the maximum solar energy per square meter, or mile or whatever unit of measurement you prefer.  Ergo the closer one gets to the equator, the more direct the sunlight, the more intense the heat.  In normal English: The sun in South Africa is a hell of a lot more powerful than in upstate New York.  By day three I was sufficiently lobster-ized; would have been comical if it weren’t so painful.

Despite being sunburned, sleep depraved and horribly out of shape I decided to try surfing.  It’s a bit harder than it looks, but it’s a great time if you get good conditions.  The experienced surfers among us thought it wasn’t ideal, but not too terrible either.  I had fun anyway.  The guy who rented us the boards was quite a character.  This guy went by the name of “Jay Jay”, he looked to be mid 50s but might have been only 30 something with a serious drug collection tearing through his system.  A high energy beach bum, he struck me as a California-style surfer dude with a South African accent and severe ADD.  He kept stressing the recent damage inflicted upon his boards by some British Army troops on holiday, and seemed reluctant to let a bunch of rookie foreigners take them out again for fear of a repeat.  So he waxed up some boards, took us down to the beach talking about proper surfing technique at several hundred words per minute and he wanted proof that we wouldn’t be breaking any boards or hurting anybody.  Seems like all the proof he required was our good word, because before we’d even gotten in the water he was ready to leave: “Awl righ’ then, ‘ave a great toyme, eh?” and with that he staggered on down the beach to do god knows what.  What a fella.  So trusting.

Ok, there’s more to tell but I’m just going to post this first part now and give people a chance to read it while giving myself a chance to assimilate my thoughts properly.  Stay tuned.  Now that I’m back in the village and have way too much free time again I’ll likely be posting more frequently.

Lost in Translation

Posted in Some things I've noticed..... on November 13, 2011 by higbysafrica

This is a bit about the local language, for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing.  The language is called TshiVenda, (pronounced “Chi-Ven-Da” meaning the language of Venda people.  Venda is a region in the Limpopo province of South Africa.  The place has high temperatures, beautiful mountains, delicious fruits and some interesting traditions which I’ll talk about later.  Venda people call themselves “VhaVenda” (plural) or “MuVenda” (Singular), and they call people like me “VhaKhuwa” or “MuKhuwa”.  So the word for English, or any other whitey language like German or Afrikaans is “TshiKhuwa”.  Tshivenda is a somewhat obscure and uncommonly known language.  There are many subtleties in pronunciation and every syllable ends with a vowel.  There are no gender nouns like with romantic languages, no gender specific pronouns even.  In fact, different pronouns confuse the living hell out of Venda students learning English, so they usually just pick one and go with it for everything.  Like “he”, for example: “James, my sister, he have got a problem with car.  He [the car] is not running because battery.  He [battery] is empty, so we must have cables.  Where is he? [the jumper cables].   This is typical, but if you’re laughing keep in mind that my Tshivenda must sound 100 times more messed up than that because I’m constantly missing subtle pronunciation syntax.  Now although the pronouns for “He” and “She” are the same in Tshivenda, men and women have different greetings.  When a man says hi, he says “Ndaa” when a woman says hi she says “Aa”.  There are also different ways of addressing someone, a respectful (formal) way which you should use when speaking to someone older than you, or the casual way which is used between friends of the same age.

Contrary to my severely analytical nature, I have stopped trying to translate Tshivenda literally in an attempt to understand it.  The reasons for this are as follows:  1) For me, it’s usually impossible.  2) The literal translation is usually ridiculous.  Take this basic conversation for example:  The Bold is Tshivenda, the Italics are the literal translation.  At the end I’ve recapped the conversation using non-literal, vernacular translation.

Ndaa, Ndou.

Hello, Elephant.

Ee Ndaa.

Yes hello.

Vho vuwa hani?

How are you waking up today?

Ndo vuwa zwavhudi.  Ndi vhudzisa ngeo?

I woke up nicely.  I am inquiring about you.

Na nne ndo vuwa.  Ndi khou humbela u vhudzisa?

And me I woke up.  I am politely asking to inquire.

Kha vha vhudzise.

You may inquire.

Madi ndi gaee?

Water is where?

Nga car wash [yes, they would actually say car wash with a slight accent]

At the car wash.

O Luga.  Ndo Livhuwa.

Divine.  I have thanked you.

Ndi zwone, tshimbila zwhavhudi.

You’re welcome, walk nicely.

Ndi zwone, re do vhonana.

Goodbye, we will see each other.

So that was really just: “Hello sir.” “Well hello.” “How’s it going?” “Pretty good, and yourself?” “Just fine.  Can I please ask you something?” “Sure, ask away” “Where can I find water?” “There’s some at the car wash” “Great.  Thank you.” “You’re welcome, go well.”  “OK bye, see you later”.

You may have noticed “Ndi Zwone” is a homonym, it means either “You’re welcome” or “Goodbye” depending on context.  It’s also interesting to note that although the literal translation sounds goofy, they were both using the polite and respectful form of addressing each other.  Make no mistake though, the informal is also goofy when translated literally.  And about that “Elephant” thing, men really do say that and it really does mean elephant.  The people of South Africa all have a different animal which designates their “clan” or something like that, and in the case of Venda it happens to be the elephant.  Even the big town in the Venda region, Thohoyandou, is literally Thoho (Head) ya (of) Ndou (Elephant).  So Thoho = head, which brings me to my next point: some words which are spelled the same have different meanings depending on pronunciation.  Thoho = head but if you give the “T” a little bit more of a plosive sound it becomes “monkey”.  Gezz!  Thoho ya mukhuwa hafta khou vhavha (This white man’s head/monkey hurts).