Saturday, September 29, 2007

The rains over Africa: my first week at site

Pula e nele thata!

The rain came and came hard. On Wednesday, the wind picked up and clouds moved in "Maru a thibile" (literally 'clouds have blocked out the sky' but figuratively, danger is brewing). I sat on the families porch and watched the storm sweep across the savanna, over the salt pan and finally hit. The storm raged for nearly 12 hours pouring rain and hail down and creating a spectacular lightning and thunder display. It's the kind of weather that four years in tame California has made me hunger for. The next day, the sandy streets had become deep dry river beds and the salt pan had turned into a large but shallow lake. Electricity was out for two days and it took about a day to get cell reception back again.

More fun foods:

The teachers at my key school were generous enough to let me share their lunch for most of the week. The first day we had fat cakes (basically fried dough) and soup. Then yesterday, I had a plate of cow intestines, chicken feet, and chicken heads with some good old bogobe/pap. I actually found the chicken heads quite good. Lots of interesting little bits and textures.

Getting around town:

I did a lot of groundwork at the schools this week, meeting as many teachers as I could and setting up interviews for next week. I also met the clinic staff, the police, the post office, and several shop owners. I was unsuccessful at catching the chief/kgosi but will try again next week. I also missed the honey factory people. I also got to watch a local soccer game and found out one of the guys I've met is actually a coach. The field is dirt/sand but these guys play really well. The village is split into two sections. The one where I live has three of my schools and the post office. The other part has my last school, the tribal office, police, and clinic. It's roughly 6-7 km between the two so I got a lot of good walking in. As I've been getting to know people, I've also been able to get rides in pick ups and donkey carts. Hopefully, I'll get a bike soon and have more freedom of travel.

An Environmental Dilemma:

So I had been able to avoid this issue for a while but no longer. Trash collection doesn't happen in villages. Trash is just thrown onto the road or ground or burned. Lots of plastic fumes greet you in the mornings. Now that I am living in my own small house, I have my own trash and had to make the difficult decision about whether to just throw or to burn. I chose to burn feeling it was the lesser of the two evils. I know some PCVs were going to start compost piles and I may look into it for at least reducing what I have to burn. Any other ideas would be greatly appreciated.

The Setswana gauntlet:

This week has been most challenging probably because the only member of my household that speaks good English has been out of town leaving me to test my Setswana skills as best as possible. It's turned out alright but has definitely been frustrating at points. I want to learn what is being said but explaining it in words I can understand is not always possible. Some people are also much easier to understand than others. Part of it has to do with the speed at which they speak but there is also something else that I can't put my finger on. Regardless, I've learned a lot and figured out a lot of things that I need to learn.

More pictures have been added to my webalbum. Check out the previous link to find it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Before swearing in, some of us then PCTs wrote speeches to compete for the honor of speaking before the volunteers and guests at swearing in. The speech would be presented both in Setswana and in English. After presenting our speeches to our fellow trainees we all voted and I narrowly lost to my friend Adam B. However he was gracious enough to ask me to read the speech in Setswana and to work on revising it since some of the trainees had expressed support for his speech on condition that he modify some of it. We ended up shifting the focus of his speech from being soldiers of peace to the theme of marching for peace and we also included some of the good bits from my original speech. Come swearing in we presented it and it went over really well. A few people came up afterward and said they liked our speech the best of all the ones given that day. When I presented in Setswana, the principals of our schools all seemed to understand, laughing, nodding, and even singing along at parts. So without further ado, here is our speech in English and Setswana. I want to first make it clear though that the main credit for the imagery and theme go to Adam who was the primary author.

In Setswana:

Dumelang bagaetso, borra le bomma, baagi ba Afrika Borwa, le ditsala go tswa Amerika. Re a le leboga gore fa sebaka sa go bua mo boemoeng ba baithaopi.

Gompieno, dinaga tse pedi tse di keteka go nna teng ga Peace Corps mo Afrika Borwa, dingwaga di le lesome.

Leina la ka ke A.J., fela jaaka baithaopi jaaka nna, ke filwe leina la Afrika fa ke goroga mo Afrika Borwa. Leina la ka ke Kabelo, ke go fiwa ka bonsti. Maina a rona a mantle, a na le bokao, le ditsholofelo, gore re tla dira ka thata go di fitlhelela. Le ga le re file maina jaaka boKabelo le boMpho; kabelo ya nnete le mpho ya nnete ke thaletso ya go tla kgaogana bokamoso ba setshaba se.

Beke tse pedi tse di fetileng, ke eme mo seraleng ko sekolong sa ko Gopane, ko thapelong. Ke utlweletse mantswe a bana ka mowa ole mongwe o montle. Ga ba fetsa, barutwana ba ya ko diphaposing tsa bona. Ba opela ka boitumelo,

“Re tsamaya, re tsamaya, re tsamaya leseding la morena.”

Monyebo wa thlagelela mo sefathlegong sa ka fa ke bona ngwananyana gata a gatoga ka uniform jaaka lesole. Ka ipotsa, “Masolenyana a tsamaela eng?” Ke lemoga ka pele gore ka ditsela tse dintsi gore le rona jaaka baithaopi ba Peace Corps le badiramogo, re a tsamaya. Ke nagana gore modingwageng tse lesome tse re ipotsa gape gore, “Re tsamaela eng? Re ya kae?”

“Re tsamaya. Re tsamaya.”

Botlhe, ma Afrika Borwa le ma Amerika, re a tsamaya, fela ga re ke masole a tsamayang ka bongwe ka ditunya mo magetleng a bona. Re tsamaya ka bongwe, menagano ya rona mo magetleng e e agaeng e seng go senya. Ga re apare diveste tsa tshipi go fitlha dipelo tsa rona mo go gobaleng. Re butse dipelo tsa rona go amogela bothlhoko, leso, le tshokolo go di fetola go nna boitumelo, bophelo, le thabo go botlhe.

“Re tsamaya. Re tsamaya. Re tsamaya leseding la ENG?”

Ga gona ope wa rona yo a tsamayang ole nosi. Lesedi le re tsamayong ka lona, ke lona le re fang maatla le boitshoko. Ba bangwe ba itlhopela go tsamaya le modimo wa bona. Ba bangwe ba itlhopela go tsamaya le setshaba sa bona. Gape ba bangwe ba itlhopela go tsamaya le pitso ya bona go thusa ba bangwe. Nnete ke gore, ga re itsamaile, re tsamaela bokamoso ba bana ko diphaposing tsa rona; bokamoso ba lwetse ba HIV le AIDS; bokamoso ba rona botlhe.

Re tswa mo ditshabeng tse difarologaneng. Re itlhopetse go tsamaela mabaka a mafarologaneng. Le ga re satshwane, dinaga tse pedi tse di dumalane dingwaga tse di lesome tse di fetileng go tsamaya mmogo ka bongwe mo strateng, mo gae, mo depelong tsa ma Afrika Borwa le ma Amerika. Lona, batho ba Afrika Borwa, le setse lefenste leeto la lona le letelele go ya kgololosegong. Rona, jaaka ma Amerika, re lesego go nna fa, go kgaogana diphatogo tsa bona bangwe ba rona ba tla dira mo makeishene ko peo ya diphatogo e jetsweng teng. Ba bangwe tla bereka mo metseng e e sokotseng ka nako ya Apartheid. Go sa kgathalatsege gore re dira kae, re tla tsamaya mmogo ko bokamosong bo bobotoka. Bokamoso bo bosenang kgathologo; bokamoso bo bosenang malwetse; bokamoso bo botletseng tsholofelo. A re tsamayeng mmogo, ka thotloetso le lerato, re opela ka boitumelo, “Re tsamaya, re tsamaya, re tsamaya leseding la kagiso!”

In English:

Distinguished guests, citizens of South Africa, and friends from the United States of America, we thank you for allowing us the opportunity to speak on behalf of our fellow trainees and current volunteers of the United States Peace Corps in South Africa.

Today, both of our proud nations have chosen to collectively celebrate this joyous, once in-a-lifetime occasion, the 10 year anniversary of Peace Corps in South Africa.

My name is Adam, but like my fellow trainees, I was given an African name soon after arriving here. Mine is Thabo, which means “happiness”. All of our new names are full of both appreciation and expectation that we will have to work hard to live up to. Even though you have given us names like Kabelo, which means offering, and Mpho, which means gift, the real offering, the real gift was your invitation to us to come share in this country’s great future.

Just two weeks past I was standing in the courtyard of a primary school in Gopane, attending the morning assembly. I was listening intently to the harmonious mixture of the young school learners’ voices. At the completion of the assembly, the students strode off to their respective classrooms, proudly singing,

“We are marching, we are marching, we are marching in the light of God.”

A smile crept across my face at the sight of a small boy, no more than 6 years old and three feet tall, stomping away in his uniform like a little soldier. I asked myself, “What are these tiny soldiers marching for?” I quickly realized that in many ways we, as Peace Corps Volunteers and our South African partners, are also marching. I think on this 10 year reunion it is fitting to ask ourselves again, “What are we marching for and where are we marching?”

“We are marching, we are marching…”

All of us today, South African and American, are marching. But we are not soldiers who march in synchrony with guns on our shoulders; we march in synchrony with our minds on our shoulders, which we use to build, not to destroy. We do not wear a metal vest to conceal our heart from harm; we open up our hearts to receive pain, death, and suffering and transform them into joy, life, and happiness for all.

“We are marching, we are marching…” Marching in the light of what?

None of us is marching alone. What gives each of us the strength to persevere is the light we choose to march with. Some choose to march with their God; others choose to march with their nation; still others choose to march with their own personal calling to serve others. In truth, we are not just marching for ourselves. Rather, we are marching for the future of the little learners in our classrooms, for the future of those people affected by HIV/AIDS, for the future of us all.

We come from separate nations and we all choose to march for different reasons and causes. Despite our diversity, our two countries agreed 10 years ago to march together in unity through the streets, homes, and hearts of South Africans and Americans. You, the South African people, have already emerged victorious from the long march to freedom and we, as Americans, are fortunate to be here to share in the waves of change. Some of us will be serving in townships, where the seeds of change were sown. Others will be working in the villages that were most neglected under the old regime. No matter where we serve, together, we will march toward a brighter future: A future free of ignorance; a future free of disease; a future full of hope. Together let us march forward with courage and compassion, proudly singing, “We are marching, we are marching, we are marching in the light of peace!”

(I dunno why the text sizes got messed up in the speeches when I posted...still getting used to this blog)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pics posted on my webalbum:

AJ in South Africa

The long awaited post

First real blog update…I’ll hopefully get better at this. I am now an official PCV after swearing in on September 20th. At the ceremony, Adam (runner Adam as we call him) and I, gave a speech. It was mostly Adam’s speech with some of my original speech and a lot of editing. In the end it came out really well. I presented it in Setswana and Adam did it in English. The crowd really responded well. They were audibly responding and laughing and at times even singing along. Once I type up corrections in spelling, I’ll post the speech and the English translation. So let me try to capture the past two months in a nutshell:

Animal count: Saw zebras the first day in South Africa at Mankwe. When we left a week later I saw some wildebeests from the bus too. Apart from sheep, goats, cows, and chickens that was it for a while. Then a month ago I saw some monkeys at Motswedi High School. On the drive returning from site visit to training, I saw a kgopane (crazy big lizard), some geckos, a lot of different birds, some giraffes, and an ostrich. After another lull, we went to the Farm Inn in Pretoria for swearing in where they had lots of fenced in animals including lions outside my room and deer that followed us around and licked our pockets looking for food. Kinda strange and I don’t count that for real animals. Today at site, I saw a ferret like thing with a long tale scurry into the cave. Not bad for the first two months without even going to a game reserve.

One of the coolest sites ever: I live next to a huge salt flat, a big cave, natural springs, and have hills in the distance. I’ll be working with four schools: 1 combined school (grades 7-12) and 3 primary schools (grades 1-6) so I should have my hands full. My host family is wonderful and takes good care of me. I’ll hopefully be getting a bike soon so I’ll have a bit more within travelling distance and be able to explore more. It’s pretty rural but not bad. I have electricity and there is water from a tap in the street. I use a pit latrine and take baths in a little basin.

Ke leka go bua Setswana: Setswana training went well and I got one of the best scores on our test at the end of training. Basically it means I can communicate with some 5 year olds and survive if I’m lost or taking public transport. It’s a beautiful language and I’m happy to learn a non Indo-European language. The structure is very different and in some ways seems to make a lot more sense. Rather than conjugate based on subjects, verbs revolve around a stem that changes suffixes and prefixes to indicate objects, reflexiveness, passive or active, and tense. Nouns are grouped into classes that determine how to make them plural and they have pronouns and prepositions that are alliterative, so easy to remember. There is a lot more but that’s most of what I’ve seen so far.

The kids: Are awesome. Despite the language barrier, I’ve realized that the quickest way to integrate into the community is through kids. I picked up a game of Memory in the Frankfurt airport on the way over and it has been a hit here. They also are great at helping us to learn the language.

The music: House is the biggest thing here. From the taverns you can hear Bob Marley and remixes of Toto’s Africa all the time. Guys also seem to be into divas like Celine Dion (sp?). We listened to her greatest hits 4 times on the all day drive from Pretoria to Kuruman. Fun times.

Pictures coming soon...