Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lake Jozini

Ok, this entry is actually up to date as in- I'm writing it and posting it now. Did I mention that it is hot here? No, I really mean HOT: AFRICA HOT. As the crow flies Elephants, Rhinos, and Lions aren't far and it comes as no surprise that we are amid their habitat! It has also started to rain like hell in just the last couple of days. This has turned our hill into a mud pit. We'll have to devise a strategy for dealing with that, but we haven't yet. Well, there's not too much to say for now. We're working on establishing ourselves at the schools and working out a program for how we will contribute to the community. I'll be following up on this as developments unfurl. In any case, I mentioned that we are next to Lake Jozini which is a dammed lake. Above is a shot of the dam taken from a newish resort called the Tiger Lodge. We live on the other side- the non-lake side- of the dam the opposite of the direction in which the photo shows. The lake is considerably larger in the direction that you cannot see and we hope to explore it more fully in the future.

KwaZulu Natal

Sept. 28th
We are extremely fortunate! When we were interviewed by our Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD), of whom we are quite fond, we were asked if we had any preferences for site placement. We indicated that we wanted to learn Zulu and to be in the KwaZulu Natal province. Our training group known as SA22 because we are the 22nd group to serve in South Africa, is the first to enter KZN (“K Zed N” as it is commonly referred to). The other sector in country is essentially a health sector. They are known as CHOP volunteers (the community health and outreach project. They liaison with NGO’s (non-governmental organizations that do development work) in the area to work on capacity building mostly to address the astronomical AIDS epidemic that is at its worst here in the more rural areas of KZN. This sector was already working in KZN. Our sector is known as ‘The schools and community resource project’ and as I pointed out, we are the first to enter KZN. Nearly half of our training group received assignments in this region. I don’t want to imply that the best posts are here. A number of volunteers were actually placed in or right next to the world famous Kruger Park which is vast, spans three countries, and is the place to see the ‘big five’ (elephants, lions, buffalo, leopards, and Rhinos). However many of the KZN sites are near or at the coastline that spans from Mozambique south to St. Lucia. This stretch of coastline has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. We are a bit inland, about an hour and a half from St. Lucia in a town called Jozini. The most salient environmental feature here is that there is a dam and a large lake. We are on the ‘dry’ side of the dam. It is in clear view if we walk down the road a bit. The opposing side of the lake is a biosphere reserve. Many animals surround the lake including, giraffe, antelope, and apparently elephants as well do come to drink from the lake. We won’t routinely see these animals from where we are. I don’t believe that swimming occurs in the lake. There are hippos and you don’t generally want to swim with them. The lake is a big draw for anglers on account of the endemic Tiger Fish that is found in the lake which is apparently quite an adversary and considered a bit of a triumph to catch. We are within at most two hours travel to a number of parks and reserves including Tembe Elephant Park, Ithala Game Reserve, Mkhuze Game Reserve, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Isimangaliso Wetland Park and the Phongolo Nature Reserve and Pongola Game Park on our side and the opposing side of our lake respectively.
Our house is at the very top of a hill adjacent to the primary school which is one of the schools with which we will be working. The area is very hilly- enough for there to be a damn. It has cooled a bit in the last couple of days and we got some rain- something we hadn’t experienced in Mpumalanga province. But aside from that, it has been hoooooooootttt! I made the mistake of not wearing a t-shirt under my dress shirt at the high school last week and it looked like I’d fallen in a puddle. I was mostly sitting down and had to return to the house to get something and promptly afitted myself with the t-shirt which is how it will work from here on out. It is quite serene up here. This week school is on break. So it has been very quiet. It was over the weekend about nine days ago (today is Tuesday) that we met our principals at a hotel about an hour and a half south of here. We were there for three nights. And got to feast on the buffet provided which was a treat. Any longer and I would be fat as hell though, so it is good that we are cooking for ourselves now. One bit of information that came up at the workshop was that the ‘little house’ that we were to stay in fell through so the principals found us a new house. Typically, the APCD from Peace Corps sees the volunteer’s projected accommodations when s/he opens the site. Then, the trainee sees it during site visit which, as I mentioned earlier, we did not have on account of the teacher’s strike. I should say that some time the housing really does not work out for volunteers. Either promises of work to be done aren’t realized by the time the volunteer gets to site or the family associated with the residence ends up unable to function with the volunteer or vice-versa. In PC South Africa- unlike most Peace Corps countries- the volunteer's dwelling is on a family compound. In our case, that just means that our building is one of a few that are surrounded by a big fence on the top of a hill. Our hosting family is small: one grandmother, a mother and her boy and girl. We get along fine and are not at all in each other’s affairs. There are two graves alongside our house who I’m guessing were siblings of the mother?? I don’t know. I do know that one was my age and the other Stacey’s when they were put there. I could conjecture a guess, but we really don’t and may not ever know. So the house was a big surprise. I’ll preface this by pointing out that we use a pit latrine in the back and have no running water in the house. The spigot is outside. We have dealt with no running water previously at our site in Madagascar, so we bring with us some water management skills. This time it is even easier though as the hose can now (and will eventually when I purchase an additional span) reach right into the house where it can fill our basin. We do have electricity. Now get ready for this- the house itself: three bedrooms, shower area, large living room/dining room, full kitchen, kitchenette, storage space and garage! It’s certainly more space than we’re accustomed to- and it’s nice for a change. There is a dog here that had 4 puppies just a couple of days ago and another slightly older puppy. There are also a number of goats and chickens routinely circumnavigating the house. Anyhow, we’re feeling pretty good about the whole setup and we’re currently getting the house set up the best we can; we’re still waiting on some furniture from the Dept. of Ed which will probably complete the circle. The in-town area is small, but bustling. We don’t buy our food on the street as in Madagascar- it is all at a big supermarket now where a lot of food items are available. We’ll talk more about the town in time. One point of interest, the most popular and high falutin restaurant in town is KFC. The colonial’s giant bucket sits perched triumphantly above the rest of the town. I must confess I’m developing a taste for it!!!

Back in Business !!!

Sept. 27th
Well, we’ve finished Pre-Service Training (PST) and we have arrived at our permanent sites. It has been about a week now and I’ll have more to say about that. First, I’ve been giving this blog a lot of thought and I wish that I had posted more entries throughout training. A couple factors have been at play. First, entries were written. However, I am/was reticent to post some of this material as it stands and I thought that if I sat on some of this stuff for a bit that perhaps I would benefit from the advantage of hindsight. I was right. Some of this material I’ll save for my memoirs. Second, there is not quite the crisp newness of the experience, although it is my first Peace Corps experience in South Africa, it is not my first Peace Corps experience. Some of the things that were so striking before are not as striking now. The fact that we are returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs) has – as you may imagine- made us a resource for other trainees regarding all manners of comparisons between Peace Corps South Africa and Peace Corps Madagascar- and mostly in regards to PST since that is what we have done so far. I considered detailing the differences and then I thought I’ll avoid that and just make a scorecard for the blog that compares different facets of the program here and in Madagascar. When I started to envision what the numbers would in my most honest estimation have to be, I decided to just scrap it. I will say one thing, there are some stark contrasts. And it has really occurred to me just how variable the Peace Corps experience must be for people, and not just relating to the country assignment, sector, and site, but also to the competency and organization of the in country administration. Furthermore, for 98% percent of Peace Corps Volunteers there only experience with Peace Corps is in the country in which they have served. There is no yardstick for them to measure by. It is what it is! In any case, there are a few backdated entries that will follow and I have also done a little back-writing to discuss some things I haven’t written about. If nothing else becomes clear, I hope that it is just how amazing and fascinating a country is South Africa! And now that we have left training behind and moved into our communities we have now become an active part of it. We're feeling good!

Officially recongnized as a Peace Coprs Volunteer

Well we had a community appreciation day for all of the families that hosted us during training. When we served in Madagascar, we did the same. Unfortunately, on that occasion some of the food was mishandled during preparation by the Peace Corps chefs (a new oxymoron?) with the result that the entire town, all the volunteers, and even the PCMO (PC Doctor) wound up with diarrhea and when they weren't busy dealing with number 2 many were going number 3!! Well I'm happy to report that this time around nobody took ill. All 50 families left happy and full with a certificate of appreciation from Peace Corps- each of which was individually signed by both the Training Manager and the Peace Corps Country Director herself.

A Meeting with ‘The King’

Our PST (Pre-Service Training) was unusual because there was a teacher’s strike that messed up the original schedule. We were supposed to do some work in local schools, but were unable to. Two results: we did not have our site visit wherein everybody takes a week in the middle of training to visit the site where they will spend the next two years and then comes back to training. Site visit is useful because it enables you to know what your area is like, what you might want to purchase in Johannesburg and it also affords you the opportunity to share with other trainees and staff alike concerns, questions and insights gathered. The strike ended and we swore in on the intended day, but it also freed up time in our schedule. In an attempt to fill this time, a couple events were planned. One was a trip to a small game reserve where we enjoyed a Braai (a South African BBQ) and a swimming pool as well as the opportunity to see some animals- giraffes, zebras, and antelope (none of the big five). Another outing was to meet the traditional leader of the Ndebele community in which we were staying throughout PST. He is known as the Indula, but was referred to as ‘the king’ on more than one occasion. This guy is not a ‘king’ in the Henry VIII fashion, he lives in a modern house and dresses like everyone else has no political power receives no foreign dignitaries yada yada. The meeting seems to have been arranged at the very last minute. We received a text the evening before that said that dress for the following day would need to be more formal. The men all wore button down dress shirts and formal slacks as we do for formal occasions. Women wore their dresses. The preponderance of us men wore a tie. Some of us did not wear a sports coat. Many trainees informed their host family whom they would be meeting and got confirmation that they were indeed dressed appropriately for the occasion. We all met at the college and were quickly whisked away to see ‘the king’. As we exited the bus, the training manager gathered us into a group outside of the king’s complex and proceeded to give us a full dressing down about our attire. He informed us that everyone should have had sports coats and that it was the king who would decide when he saw us based on our attire how much money he would deem appropriate to extract from Peace Corps for this ‘rare’ opportunity. Oddly enough, although the training manager and staff seemed to all have forgotten their ties, they did have jackets of sorts, e.g. a leather jacket, or a Jordan Marsh spring jacket- nothing any of us would have really met anyone important in. The training technical coordinator- as always- was dressed in jeans and the language teachers were dressed as they are always dressed- casually! Some of us couldn’t help but feel a little insulted by this. At any rate, we met ‘the kings’ envoy who showed up looking very comfortable in sandals, an old baseball cap. In any case, after all this when it came time to meet ‘the king’, he was AWOL! Apparently, the king did not show up for our meeting. So I’m still waiting to meet ‘the king’. It may not be this king and maybe it will be Elvis if he has not just left the building!

Fertility ritual
On a positive note, we were afforded the opportunity to attend a rite of passage ceremony for young women in our village. I wish I could be more specific about exactly what was going on, but I didn’t get all the details. There were a number of women at the age of young adulthood. A cow was slaughtered in the early morning which we witnessed. The knife slid in from behind the head and into the brain and then the neck was cut. I would have assumed that as most of the blood drained from the animal and it became still that it was mostly dead or in a largely unconscious state. The nervous system seems to exert some control beyond this point. It sure seemed to come alive when they gelded/castrated it and prominently propped the fruits of the labor on a nearby tree branch. The slaughter was the men's job. The parts were brought to the woman who put them in the cauldrons to prepare for the feast. Unfortunately, we had to leave and miss a good part of the middle of this ceremony- which is likely why I did not fully come to understand some of the essentials of the ceremony- in order to attend and important Peace Corps session on ‘American diversity’. We returned late afternoon when all the men and women were seated separately. There was dancing and feasting. The woman received gifts. We felt welcome at this event and everyone was extraordinarily gracious and hospitable. We were fortunate to have been invited.
One other interesting feature of our homestay is that we live two houses down from the ‘traditional healer’. As I mentioned we reside in neither a rondaval nor a mud hut. The city is rather modern. This does not mean that older traditions do not continue to exert a strong influence on life here. For some time, we were trying to figure out to what we should attribute all the drumming and hollering that was clockwork at 4am on random days of the week. Turns out it wasn’t an errant group of teens, but the ‘traditional healer’! I finally asked our host ‘uncle’ what was up and he took us down the street early one evening when the drumming began. Apparently, the healer works (heals?) whenever there is need. During the day there are about eight drums displayed proudly outside of this shack evidently expertly constructed with goatskin tightly secured across the drum frames. These drums pack a hell-of-a punch as the sleeping spirits need to hear them clearly. In fact, I have come to realize that I am closer to the spirit world than I had previously imagined. Just as it commands my attention at 4am, it seems that this is the best time to get the spirits attention as well so we have this in common. It does happen during the day too and I have witnessed some of the summoning then. The woman-it’s mostly this one woman- dances and gyrates and occasionally runs to the fence and rolls around for a spell. This healing is not without cost however, and evidently business is booming. Apparently, a different traditional healer informed another volunteer that for a significant amount of Rand (the currency here) he could be made to be black and for yet even additional Rand- the power of flight would be his! The volunteer has opted to hold onto his Rand, but if I reach an impasse with something, I’m not ruling anything out.

Pre-Service Training Mid-August
Well, we’re here! In fact, we’ve been here for about five weeks now and it is truly invigorating to be on the African continent poised to play our part in what is affectionately referred to as the rainbow nation. We met our training group in Philadelphia for staging this time and we are twice as large as the Madagascar group. The dynamic is somewhat different and we have the unusual distinction of being a group in which males predominate! The norm is quite the opposite. Moreover, we have some older volunteers in our group. By comparison I shared this distinction with one other volunteer in Madagascar by whom I was just barely edged out. Three volunteers in their mid to late 60’s! I like the age spread and I feel that it contributes something in addition to 30+ years of teaching experience in some of the cases. This time around we are doing a homestay with a host family, but we were not taken from the plane to their doorstep as in Madagascar. Instead we barracked together for a week and a half at an erstwhile and now defunct teachers college by the name of Ndeblele where the Peace Corps has heretofore taken up residency as a base for training. The homestays are in various satellite villages surrounding the college. The flight was lengthy as before. We left Philly at 2am bound for New York’s JFK. In addition, we had the three hour time change from California on our backs, so we were quite ready for a good night’s rest when we arrived at the college. I must confess that the Zulu lesson they threw at us before permitting this much needed rest was a tad draconian and seemed of limited use between the time we slept and the following day! Zulu is only one of the languages in which our group is receiving instruction. There are five total and ones language group is based upon our eventual site placement. On this note, I am elated that our language is in fact Zulu. It is probably the most widely spoken indigenous language here and is of particular interest to my on the basis that it is a Bantu language and one that is widely studied by linguists. It functions quite differently than the western languages many of us are accustomed to and without getting to technical here, I’ll just say that the nouns hold pride of place in the language. As an English language teaching professional, I could point to some shortcomings in the instruction as it stands, but we have just completed our mid-term orals and we both achieved the ranking of intermediate-low which is the ranking we are expected to have achieved by the end of pre-service training so I guess we are on the right track. Our host family is nice enough consisting of a woman named Mavis, her brother and her daughter. She requested a couple because she works a lot- owns a tavern in fact, for which there is no shortage of clientele here. This is good because we have been afforded a greater deal of personal autonomy than other volunteers. We are able to cook and take care of ourselves as would befit a married couple our age. At the opposite end of this continuum can exist true nightmare scenarios of extreme ‘parenting’ which predictably-if you know us- would not be as suitable. Compared to our last homestay, which was more austere and an experience we value highly, this homestay is virtually Posh Corps. We have running water- not hot- but running water, a stove, microwave, fridge bathtub and our own nice room. There is even a washing machine- not exactly like what we use in the states, but quite adequate for cleaning clothes save the better part of a day’s investment in the operation. I suspect that our permanent site will be more Spartan and rural, but for now this affords us a modicum of comfort as we persevere through PST.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Coda Redux

I mentioned that we served previously as PCVs in Madagascar. We also kept a blog that at some point trailed off into oblivion owing to the fact that our computer died as well as to the tediously sloooowwwww nature of internet connections there. It was entitled, "Vazaha Vazaha" pronounced "Va-Za" which kinda sounds like some scaly-skinned alien space entity that ambulates sideways in a bad sci fi flick. And why? Because this is the term for a white person in Madagascar- it doesn't matter where you are from or who you are just that you are white. It is gleefully yelled at you tirelessly and interminably as you exist in or move throughout Madagascar- particularly by children, but it seems a joyful activity for adults alike. In any case, I have posted one recent and final entry to this blog concerning the events that brought about the end of our stay there as well as some info on the interim 16 months that have brought us to this day. Check it out!

Peace Corps 2.0

And so it begins again: Our second term of service as PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). In case you don't know us, I am Tony and I'm serving with my wife Stacey. We served as TEFL (Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) volunteers in Madagascar from from 2007-2009. We are elated to have the opportunity to serve now as community resource specialists in South Africa. Presently, we are in Philadelphia at staging. The day after tomorrow we will deploy for South Africa. Here's what we know. We will stay at a teacher training college about two hours north of Johannesburg for one week before doing a home stay with a host family for seven weeks. Thereafter, we will swear in as PCVs and then move to our permanent sites around mid-September. We don't know exactly what language we will study yet, but it will be either Zulu, Setswana, or Sepedi. We will be placed in one of three provinces: Kwazulu-Natal, Mpulamanga, or Limpopo. Please see the map on the side for reference. This position will focus more on community development than our last. Our job will be to assist in under-served communities as a resource to teachers. We will likely be teaching some as well. In addition, promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and education will be a pivotal component of our service. HIV infection rates are as high as 30% in parts of South Africa and I believe that this focus may be the most important of all our duties. That's it in a nutshell. If you're hungry for more information please refer to the links on this page. We will likely have limited access to cell/internet throughout our 8 weeks of PST (Pre-Service Training). You can contact us via snail mail at the following address:

Tony and/or
Stacey Frallicciardi, PCV
Peace Corps
P.O. Box 9536
Pretoria 0001
South Africa

I (Tony) do most of the writing here and I encourage your comments and questions on these postings. I've been pondering exactly what it is I will write about since the Peace Corps experience is not totally new to us. I'll explore these musings in an upcoming post.
Tony & Stacey