“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.
Our host said the mountains remind her of home in West Virginia
When we stopped for gas, I made the acquaintance of a bird of paradise plant! The other trainees applied their time to more practical purposes, e.g. acquiring giant ginger cookies for the road
We grabbed a glimpse of one of the 2010 World Cup stadiums
The name of the closest shopping town, Thohoyandou, literally translates to “head of the elephant”
A fruit market! Avocados and guavas and bananas and cotton flourish along the roadside in South Africa
When we loaded up our luggage, neither of us factored in an afternoon of schlepping backpacks and groceries around the mall
A typical Volunteer dwelling: She resides within the family compound, claiming one of these tin-roofed structures for her own
Our host, Mary, and my traveling buddy, Emmie
With a kettle and a toaster oven topped with burners, Mary lavished sumptuous feasts on us – this macaroni and cheese brought me to the verge of tearful nostalgia
The visit immersed us in daily Volunteer life, including the familial chore of burning trash
Mary’s host brother and his friend unbarred the gates for us at Luheni Primary School
For their daily English lesson, the 7th graders grilled us on our personal lives (“Do you have a boyfriend?”) and political positions (“Who would you rather be – Mandela or Zuma?”)
After school, Mary quizzed the boys on math puzzles while Emmie and I scratched our heads over the same questions
Afternoon hike up the mountainside – the closest Volunteer’s village was just visible from the peak
Just another beautiful day in the neighborhood
Though the itinerary intimidated me at first, the trip turned out to be the refreshing mini-vacation I hadn’t known I needed!
We raced the clock on Wednesday, hopping on the first taxi out of town after 4am reveille, angling to arrive home before the sun bid a firm farewell at 6pm. It was a daunting trip, demanding three transfers from we neophyte journeymen, but the Lord placed kind and helpful companions in our midst.
The brutal wake-up paid off: We breezed from “rank” (station) to rank, waiting a maximum of twenty minutes at any given stop, and cut two hours from our expected travel time. Emmie and I alighted on familiar soil just after 1pm, victors of the Amazing Venda Race!
The moment the taxi rolled away, I could feel tension sloughing off my bones. As much as Venda had delighted us with lush, green pastures, I realized that coming back to Bhundu felt like coming home.