Author Archives: Kittie

To the Haven Where We Would Be

To the Haven Where We Would Be

The road was long, but the destination was worth it.

That’s the best way to sum up our training to become Peace Corps Volunteers, and the very same phrase applies to our week in Durban.

Durban: the beach-side city where we would take our oaths to uphold the U.S. Constitution and swear in as the 38th class of South Africa’s Peace Corps Volunteers. We had been anticipating this day since we arrived in South Africa, some of my fellow volunteers for years before that–but first we had to get there.

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Conduct Us in Safety

Conduct Us in Safety

Peace Corps doesn’t stint in girding trainees for living life in the country with no corrals, no bumpers, no training wheels.

That included showering us with handbooks and booklets, packets and pamphlets: from safety and security, medical, community development, policies and procedures… Every time another stack circulated, grumbling would arise: ‘How are we going to carry all this to site?’ ‘I’m gonna have to hire a truck for my extra baggage.’

If you recall from my triumphant departure post, I had squished the sum of my possessions into two backpacks. I pride myself more than is merited on traveling with as few bags as possible–but this time, it wasn’t to be.

I cracked and bought a duffel bag. It was some consolation that a third piece of luggage would doubtless come in handy if I were to realize my visions of holiday hiking trips. Even better, the suitcase sufficed for piling in everything Pre-Serving Training had loaded us.

Everything? No, the stacks of books weighed little in comparison with the intangible gifts that came full circle in my final week at Bundu.

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All Who Are Dear to Us

All Who Are Dear to Us

With teaching practicum and our language assessment behind us, I must confess to cherishing the misapprehension that the last two weeks would be leisurely in comparison. As you might guess from the lapse since I last wrote, that was not the case.

Since my final farewell with the learners in Bundu, I have slept in three different beds.  A million moments have passed, with dozens of photos attending them, but this day deserves its own recognition: Family Appreciation Day at SS Skhosana.

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To Guide and Bless

To Guide and Bless

practicumThis past week smiled on luminous accomplishments: the graduation of my first class of South African learners, and my graduation to a new phase of the Umama School of Cooking – baking!

I had hinted to my host mother that my future family in KZN, to say nothing of myself, might recall my time in Bundu even more fondly if we had some tangible token to treasure…baked goodies, for example.

She obliged by imparting to me a coveted recipe for “amakhekhe” – the Zulu word for cake, here applied to mouthwatering tea biscuits!

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It May Bring Forth Fruit

It May Bring Forth Fruit

Though it seemed impossible when I was camped out in the airport terminal with my fellow trainees, staring down a three-month-long stretch, the bulk of Pre-Service Training (PST) is now behind us. We have sighted the finish line, and it is racing towards us instead of the other way around.

Determined not to go quietly into our impending separation as the Peace Corps deploys us throughout the KwaZulu-Natal province (KZN), we have already begun the serious business of loading our dwindling days together with celebrations and festivities.

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The Joy and Care of Children

The Joy and Care of Children

“This place is burgeoning with life,” a friend marveled last week. “Chicks, kids, children… there are babies everywhere!”

 

A couple of weekends ago, we celebrated another year of life for one of our trainees with a backyard bonfire! Safety concerns after dark mandated that we burn our sticks during daylight hours, but we made the best of it by introducing the neighborhood kids to an all-important facet of American culture: s’mores.

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The World with Beauty

The World with Beauty

Last week, a training session unassumingly entitled “Teaching Aids” jolted us into activity with a daunting challenge:

Create a visual aid in 18 minutes.

Our instructor had wowed us with photographs of hand-painted murals, board games constructed from 100% recycled materials, and the classic erupting volcano experiment adapted for South African classrooms. Now it was our turn.

The booty? King-sized candy bars. Saddled with “circulatory system” as our topic, my team sprang into action.

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Strength So To Train Them

Strength So To Train Them

What ingredients combine in the making of a Peace Corps Volunteer? This past weekend, our training stirred in a dollop of history, a splash of community, and a generous pinch of fun.

Peace Corps brought our cohort to a rolling boil with a trip to Pretoria for a guided tour of the Voortrekker Museum. Trainees later debated whether we should invest our resources in experiencing a symbol of apartheid history and Afrikaner nationalism firsthand. Although the controversies left us divided in opinion, at the time we could all agree to revel in the fresh air, striking architecture, and startling heights.

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The Gates of Larger Life

The Gates of Larger Life

On my way home from Kwamhlanga, I pondered how to describe my weekend away.  My host mother had invited me there for a sojourn to her mother’s house.  The town wasn’t far, but we would be staying overnight.

What was the occasion, exactly?  “Church.” 

I suspected there was more involved, since she had broached the subject weeks in advance and invested the days preceding in amassing buckets of handmade amakheki (sweet biscuits or ‘fat cakes’).

“What will we be doing?” I ventured, in my elementary Zulu. 

“Praying.”

Despite the apparent logic of these replies, I couldn’t quell the sense that something more awaited me.

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That Knowledge May Be Increased

That Knowledge May Be Increased

“Venda is beautiful!” everyone swore to us.  We couldn’t name the place without hearing the refrain: “Beautiful!  Beautiful!”

I confess to doubting what they meant.  Should we be expecting more of the rugged, arid beauty we had witnessed so far since arriving in Johannesburg?  If so, then why all the fuss?

We crawled onto the bus at 6:30am last Saturday and hunkered down for an all-day drive to South Africa’s northernmost province — just shy of the border with Zimbabwe.  In exchange for seven hours of travel one way, the Peace Corps promised a taste of our future lives, courtesy of the much-anticipated “site shadowing” with a current Volunteer.

As these photos will attest, Venda made good on its reputation.

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Never-Failing Care

Never-Failing Care

 The final chapter of Proverbs graces us with a portrait of an excellent woman: “more precious than jewels,” “with willing hands,” rising “while it is yet night,” clothed in strength and dignity, teaching kindness.

My host mother gives life to these virtues.  She welcomed me into her home as another daughter–a invitation as kind as it must be familiar for her. Eva cares for four children at once most days: a daughter, a granddaughter, and two twin boys.

Her daughter is six years old, and her granddaughter is seven.  “SamKele was a surprise,” I remarked to her older brother, a twenty-five year old college student.

“I’d say that’s an understatement,” he chuckled.

Eva calls it a blessing. “More than twenty years–and God gave us a daughter!”  The name “SamKele” means “We accept.”

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All Good Things

All Good Things

Sanibonani!

Today marks the first day of my second week in Africa. Another fun statistic: I’ve now visited six continents! (When the Peace Corps invited me to serve here, I did check whether South Africa was close to the South Pole. It’s not.)

Ask any of my fellow trainees, and we will all tell you it seems impossible that only a week has gone by.

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As Long As the Sun

As Long As the Sun

Less than twenty-four hours after our staging event (first day of training), and life as a Peace Corps trainee is already an adventure.  We arose at o’dark thirty this morning for a bus departure time of 2:30am. Would you believe that it is more cost efficient to host us in Philadelphia and shuttle us to JFK than renting hotel and conference rooms in the Big Apple?

Some of us didn’t bother trying to sleep last night–and some of them shut their eyes for three hours the night before while flying to Philadelphia.  The bus ride to New York City might have been killer, but I’m thankful that staging took place close enough for my family to drive me there.

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All That We Can Desire

All That We Can Desire

In February when the Peace Corps accepted my application to teach English in South Africa, my brain started turning over the all-important question: What to pack?

“I’m hoping to go with just a backpack,” I told a friend.

She was aghast. “No!”

Maybe she has a point, I thought.  It doesn’t seem like much for two years and eleven weeks of living abroad.  What if I’m not ready?

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Riquisimo

Riquisimo

What’s it like to eat in Peru? Smile at the menu. Divide the prices by three. Round down. The exchange rate is over 3.20 dollars per sol.

Fresh squeezed fruit juice? $2.50 for a double-sized glass. Chicken avocado sandwich with coffee? Three dollars.

On top of that, the food here is all “organic”–without the label and without the markup. When you shop for fruit, you let the seller know if you’re planning to eat tomorrow instead of the same day. That way they can bring you produce a shade less ripe.

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