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