Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving and Whatnot

Hello everyone, I hope you all had a gnarly Thanksgiving, I definitely did. A former Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Polokwane, Joanna, hosts an American Thanksgiving every year for all the Peace Corps Volunteers in the area. She did Peace Corps about 5 years ago, decided to stay and married a South African. She’s really nice and has two super cute little boys. So there were about 25 people there, 8 from my group and a bunch of people from other PC groups. It was cool to meet some new people. Joanna and her husband take care of the turkey and everyone else was in charge of a dish. I was supposed to make mashed potatoes, but my friend Mike really wanted to do it so I let him. I peeled a bunch of vegetables instead, and did a lot of dishes. The food was great, and there were a bunch of gnarly pies. Since everyone stayed the night and we ate early, there were a couple more rounds later. I probably ate more that day than I normally do in a week in my village. I don’t eat much here, partly because it’s a hassle to go to the store and also because I have to carry it all up the hill, but it’s fine.

So the day before Thanksgiving I went to Mike’s village and visited his schools and stayed the night. It was cool to see another place. His village is way out there, surrounded by mountains. It’s really pretty. We went to the graduation for the Creche (preschool). (I love that word btw, it’s really fun to say). It was quite an extensive ceremony. The kids were wearing tiny burgundy graduation caps and gowns, it was super cute. They all got up and recited a poem or something for everyone. The only one I understood was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Then a group of women, probably the moms, did a somewhat choreographed dance for about 30 minutes, and then the teachers spoke for maybe another 30 minutes. It was quite long, but then there was awesome food after so it was cool. Then there were parties all over the village for the kids. It was kind of weird, Mike and I were at one house where there was music, food, and a bunch of people, and then all of a sudden, without an announcement that I could see, everyone gets up and leaves the yard and walks as a group down the road. We followed and after a 10 minute leisurely walk we get to another house where there’s a table with a cake and more food and music and the party continues. I’m not sure why the party had to migrate like that, instead of just taking the cake to the first house, but whatever.

So Mike also came to my village for a night, the day after Thanksgiving. It was cool showing him around. He couldn’t believe how much space I have and how nice my house is. The electricity was out that night so we cooked sausage, beans, and eggs on a paraffin stove thingy. My host brother Eugene ate with us and was quite stoked by the meal. He pretty much eats the same thing all the time, and had only eaten bread that day because of the lack of electricity.

School has been pretty slow the last week or so since final exams ended. A bunch of kids don’t show up to the last 3 weeks of school after exams, and sometimes the teachers don’t either, but that’s not new. So recently the kids have been playing outside or just hanging out for most of the day. There have also been kids walking around the village during school hours, no one really cares if they leave, it’s pretty weird. The schools are so different here than at home. There are constantly teacher-less classes, there is no such thing as a substitute teacher here. And 30% is a passing grade here and there are still tons of kids that fail. I administered a couple of exams one day, and it was disturbing how little the kids knew. For example, one true/false question for the 5th grade class was “A person can get Aids from drinking unclean water,” and an alarming percentage, at least half, put true.

So anyway, we have our second training next week which is at a super nice resort place about 300 miles from me. The other PCV’s in my area and I are traveling to Pretoria on Monday, staying there for the night and then taking a Peace Corps bus to the resort the next day. The training is a week long and my birthday is the last night, so I’m stoked. It should be fun to be with everyone. After the training I’m going to go to my friend Terri’s village for a few days and then a bunch of us are going on a trip. I don’t really know where we’re going as someone else is planning it, but we might go back to our training site to visit our first host families, which I really hope we do. But I do know that we’re going to St. Lucia for sure though, but not until a week after the training ends. A guy in my group set up a big Christmas thing there. His family is visiting from the U.S. and they’re doing a big dinner thing on the 21st, should be fun.

Alright, later dudes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thobela! (Hello!)

So I’ve been at my village a little over a month now and I really like it. I’ve been getting to know people, how to get around in taxis, where things are and whatnot. Transportation is a bit chaotic here, but I’m getting used to it. The taxis are kind of strange, way different than how they work in the US. They’re mostly big vans that drive around the villages cramming in as many people as possible before they’ll head to town or wherever you’re going. If you say you’re going to town that means Polokwane here, the main city 35K from me. You point up when you see a taxi if you want to go to town, point down if you want to go somewhere local. They also often stop to get gas with a full van.

Today I went to a nearby township called Lebowakgomo to meet Mike, a fellow PCV for shopping and lunch. I took a bus up to the main tar road, maybe 3 miles, then got off and took a taxi the rest of the way. There are some taxis that go directly to Lebowakgomo from my village, but you never know when they’re going to come around, so a woman waiting with me told me to get on the bus and showed me when to get off to get a taxi. People are really friendly and like helping me with things like this. One of my favorite things here is how everyone talks to people they don’t know everywhere they go. It’s like people are instant friends just because they live in the same area, which we all know is way different from the US.

So here’s some random info for you. Most people here speak enough English for me to have a conversation with them, which is nice, and there are a bunch of different English phrases that they use here which I like. One of my favorites is “that side,” or “this side,” which has a lot of different uses. Instead of saying “I’m going over there,” they say “I’m going that side.” When I asked my principal where he grew up he responded that he grew up this side. It’s quite entertaining. Another one is instead of asking where do you live, they ask where do you stay. I often reply “I stay that side” with a wave to the big hill. And instead of saying they don’t like something they say it’s not nice. And as I’m walking around people are constantly asking me “How is the morning?” It’s fun incorporating these different phrases when talking to people. They’re also very nosy and blunt here. Someone I don’t know is always asking me where I’m going, what I’m doing, and where I stay. An example of the bluntness is when speaking of the 66 year old woman in my Peace Corps group, my principals like to refer to her as the old lady. It’s not considered rude, the elderly are highly respected here.

The electricity goes out every once in a while. Last week it was out for 8 hours one day and 4 hours the next. The first day there was a lightening storm that night off in the distance. It was beautifully creepy with the lightening lighting up the sky over the pitch black village. The only lights were from cars driving over the hill on the tar road beyond the village. It was pretty gnarly. I sat outside with my “brother” Eugene watching the lightening and waiting for the power to come back on. He told me that he doesn’t like lightening because it’s associated with witchcraft here. They are very serious about witchcraft in South Africa. Eugene said he’s seen a love potion work a couple times. He says a woman will get fed up with a lazy husband, go buy a love potion, slip it into his food or drink, and he will become subdued and helpful. Eugene was trying to convince me it’s real, but I’m not so sure.

So we finally got some rain here a few days ago. It poured and there was more lightening. It is SUPER loud in my room when it rains, I liked it though. There’s a big tin water container right next to my window that makes a lot of noise in addition to the loud roof. I was glad to see that there are no leaks in my roof though. A friend in a different province said she has 6 leaks in her room when it rains, but it’s ok because she has 7 buckets.

Ok, that’s all for now. I hope everything is good that side!



Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pictures and new address!

1. Bokgobelo Lower Primary School
2. My house.
3. A view of the area.
4. Cows at the little pond down the hill from my house.
5. The "library" at Mphakanyane Higher Primary.
I'm going to fix it up.

My new address is:
Maggie McDonald
PO Box 1964
Republic of South Africa

Should be much faster than the
Peace Corps Office address, you
can send letters or packages.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fellow Human Beings,

So I finally went to my schools yesterday for the first time, and today for about 30 minutes before my Principal decided he would take me to town to show me around. But yesterday I was introduced to the teachers and learners (their word for students here). Both are small primary schools, Bokgobelo Lower Primary is grades R-4 (Grade R is what they call kindergarten here), and Mphakanyane Higher Primary is grades 5-7. Both schools have about 120 students each. The lower primary has 7 teachers and the other only has 3, one class of each grade. They’re a five minute walk away from each other, and about 5 minutes from my house, so that’s nice. The facilities are pretty run down at the lower primary, old buildings, chipped paint, cracked walls, old desks and chairs. And the “playground” consists of painted tires that are half in the ground. The kids mostly play by running around or chasing each other with sticks. But on the side of one of the buildings there is a world map that the previous Peace Corps Volunteer painted. The kids like to look at it and it adds a nice bit of color to the school. The higher primary’s facilities are a bit nicer, but not great either. They do have a computer lab though which is pretty cool.

A couple days ago my principal showed me the trail behind my house that goes up into the mountains. You can see really far and it’s beautiful with the surrounding mountains. There’s also cactus everywhere and weird trees that look like small palm trees but have weird red cactus things coming out of the top. It reminds me a little of Arizona.

So things at my house are good. Ramoraswi left for Johannesburg on Sunday, so I have down time again which is nice. She’s a fun kid though. Her sister also left to go somewhere else for school, so it’s just me and Eugene (the social worker tenant) here right now. But Pinkie (my host mom) is here during the days working in the yard and doing other stuff but still staying at her house down the hill at night. She gave me a stove a few days ago to keep in my room. It’s pretty gnarly being able to cook in here now and not having to carry everything through the yard into the kitchen.

There are two dogs and a bunch of cats (at least 3) that live here too. One is medium sized black dog, probably a mix of some sort, maybe part lab, and the other is a small white dog, probably a Chihuahua mix. Pinkie calls the dogs Blackie and Whitie, quite creative. So Amber helped me rename them Whistle and Kazoo. Whistle because she misread “Whitie” when we were typing to each other, and then Kazoo because we thought it kind of goes with Whistle… and it’s a fun word. They’re both pretty hyper, fun though.

Ok, that’s it for now.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'Ello People of America

I got to my permanent village last Thursday, almost a week ago. I like it so far. The village is really hilly, surrounded by beautiful mountains. When my supervisor was showing me around it seemed more like a hike than just walking through a village, but it’s cool. He told me they requested someone young because of all the hills. My house is on top of a hill near the back of the village, so I have a nice bird’s eye view of the area. To give you an idea of how steep it is, my supervisor’s car couldn’t make it all the way up the hill to get to my house, so we had to carry all of my stuff up, but it wasn’t too bad.

So I have my own three room house, it’s two bedrooms and a sitting room. I pretty much only use one of the rooms, but there are two extra beds in the other room for friends to use if they come visit, so that’s nice. There is no running water but there’s a spigot just outside the gate so I don’t have to go far for water. There are three other buildings on the grounds, one is a garage which is right next to my house, then there’s a building with two rooms where a tenant stays, Eugene. He’s a social worker, nice guy. Then there’s the main house where the kitchen is and a few more bedrooms. My host mom only stays here sometimes, mainly if everyone is gone for the night she’ll stay here so I won’t be alone. Her husband owns this house and a house down the hill which is where she stays most of the time. Right now her sister and niece are here for the week of school holidays. The niece, Ramoraswi, 6, seems to think I’m her new personal constant playmate, which is getting a little tiring, but she doesn’t live here all the time so it’ll be fine. She’s fun though.

There was a previous Peace Corps volunteer who lived here before me, same family, same house. Her name’s Leah and her two years ended in June. She left me a bunch of stuff in the room, like pots and pans, books, and school stuff which is pretty gnarly. It’s nice being the second one because the principals and the family have done it all before so they know what to expect. I get compared to her with pretty much everything I do, but I don’t mind. It’s funny, walking through the village people ask me where Leah is, or if I’m her sister. I guess they assume I know her or am related to her because we’re both white.

The weather so far is pretty nice. It’s been sunny mostly, but there’s always a nice breeze. One day it was cloudy and really windy, lovedddddddd it, felt like San Francisco… almost. But that night it was really loud in my room from the wind because the windows don’t close completely, but once I fell asleep I was fine of course, I can sleep through anything. A lot of PCV’s in my group complained a lot about roosters waking them up super early every morning; they’re everywhere and super loud, but they never woke me up.

So I’m pretty much just been hanging out this week, checking out the village, introducing myself to people, getting used to everything. I got here just as the schools went on their week break between quarters, so I haven’t been to my schools yet, but that’s ok. I like being able to just hang out for a while, although 6 year old Ramoraswi keeps me pretty busy if I let her, and she’s pretty persistent even when I try to go to my room for a while, it’s almost like babysitting all day for no money… But her mom makes me dinner sometimes so it’s ok.

Alright, that’s it for now, probably have some pictures for you soon.


Monday, September 20, 2010

What up??

So these past few weeks of training have been pretty crazy, lots of stuff going on, then nothing going on and we had a week to do some fun stuff before swearing in and leaving for permanent sites. We went to a wildlife reserve where we got to go on a safari. I saw some giraffes, zebras, kudu (which I didn’t know was an animal until then), impalas (didn't know that one either), warthogs, and a bunch of others. It was ga-narly. There was also a pool and a bar. It was nice to be able to hang out and have a day off like this.

So training is finally over, and I am now an official Peace Corps Volunteer! The Swearing In Ceremony was on Thursday, the 16th, then half the group left for their sites in Kwa Zulu Natal immediately after. My group got to hang out for a few extra days which was nice.

My family put on a little farewell lunch on Saturday for me and my language group. They gave me a bunch of presents which I wasn’t expecting. They gave me a South African broom, a mat for sitting outside, two small pots of brewing traditional beer, a plate from the kitchen, and fake Armani sunglasses. It was pretty gnarly. As a thank you for being awesome I gave my family some pictures from the two months that I printed out in Pretoria. I also blew one up of everyone and put it in a frame. They were stoked. Apparently I didn’t print out enough though because they have requested I send them more pictures when I get a chance. I gave the kids a ball, an activity book, crayons, and two puzzles. They were super stoked. I wish I could have gotten them more, they barely have any toys. Maybe I’ll send them something for Christmas or something. I just wanted to make sure I got them a nice ball though, because they only had a flat soccer ball which they would still play with. Karabo would sometimes use lemons to play with. We would throw or kick a lemon until it burst open. It was fun, but sticky.

It was sad saying bye to my family yesterday, Tshepang was crying, but I will definitely visit them as much as possible. Some people are talking about going back to their host families for Christmas, so I might do that.

So today my group of 7 left for Limpopo. We’re staying at a ridiculously awesome game reserve outside of Polokwane. It’s pretty gnarly, and apparently pretty close to my village, could be an awesome place for people visiting me to stay, if you’re not a PA. We met our supervisors today and had dinner with them. They are the principals of our schools. It was cool to talk to them and hear a little about my village and where I’ll be staying. Tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday we are doing a supervisor’s workshop, then we go to our sites on Thursday. It’s pretty exciting, can’t wait to get there!


Friday, September 10, 2010


What up?? Here are a few pictures from these past 7 weeks:

1. Me with Tshepang (10), Karabo (6) and Paballo (4).

2. Family picture, also includes my language teacher Kgabo (blue jacket on the left), and Mike and Dale from my language group. My "mom" has the red head wrap on (she doesn't live here full time, visits on some weekends though), the four women in the middle are my sisters, Boledi, Bunang, Lerato, and Mathage. The three older ones live here full time. Lerato, goes to college in Pretoria. My brother Elias in the yellow on the right. He doesn't live here either. And the rest are all their kids, Kgaugelo, Thabang, Tshepang, Karabo, and Paballo.

3. The house, it's pretty gnarly. There's a separate building with two rooms behind the main house where the two older boys stay, Thabang (18) and Kgaugelo (22).

Ok, that's all for now.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hey Everyone!

I finally have more than 10 minutes on the internet to update! So South Africa is amazing so far! I'm having a great time. Right now I'm living with my first host family in the village of Maganagobushwa in Mpumalanga province, it's right by Siyabushwa which you can apparently find on google maps. My family is awesome. There are 3 little kids (4, 6, and 10), 2 older boys (18 and 22), and 3 older women who live at the house all the time, and the grandma and other daughter are there on the weekends. So it's a lot of people, always something going on. I play with the 3 little kids the most, their names are Paballo, Karabo, and Tshepang (Te-pang). My family gave me an African name, which is Kamogelo (Ka-mo-hey-lo). It means "Welcome" in Sepedi, and it's all they call me.

I just found out that my permanent site will be the village of Ga-Maja (Ha Ma-ja) in Limpopo Province. I was originally supposed to be there this week for a visit, then back to the training site for 2 more weeks, then back to my permanent site for good. But there is a big nationwide strike in South Africa right now of all service positions, which includes teachers. It has something to do with the big teacher's union, the ANC, as well. It's confusing. So the Peace Corps decided that it is not safe for us to be in schools until it is over because violence often breaks out in a strike like this, and we don't want to appear to be on the government's side by being in the schools, which would make us targets. So our training schedule has to be completely changed. We're hoping the strike will end soon, but we barely get any news, so who knows.

As for my site, apparently I will be in a furnished 3 room house of my own next to my host family's house. It is on top of a hill and the village is very hilly, so that should be fun. I'm pretty sure I will have electricity but no running water, which is how my house is now. I have to take bucket baths and my hands are barely clean, but I'm over it. Also over germs, it's not possible to be a germ freak here, oh well. I use a lot of hand sanitizer though. So I will be working in two primary schools, one is a higher primary and the other is a lower primary school. It sounds very rural, and apparently not much English is spoken there, so that should be fun, woo, Sepedi! My village is near Polokwane, which will be my main shopping town and the biggest city near me. Three other Peace Corps volunteers from my group will be near me as well, so that's gnarly.

Gotta go, but hopefully I'll get on the internet again soon!


Monday, July 12, 2010

Peacing Out!

Hello All,

I can't believe it's finally here! I am about to peace out of the U.S. on my way to South Africa! I am all packed and heading to Philadelphia in a few hours. My luggage all fit into one big black duffel bag, one medium sized sports bag, and a backpack. It does not look like enough stuff for two years, but I'll make it work. Staging starts tomorrow in Philadelphia where I will get vaccinations, my passport, an introduction to the Peace Corps, and whatever else. Then we leave Wednesday morning to depart to Johannesburg! I'm quite excited, a bit nervous and anxious as well. Thanks to everyone who came to my going away party, it was great to see you! I'll update again as soon as I can!


P.S. Here's my Peace Corps address for sending me letters or packages in South Africa:

Maggie McDonald, PCV
Peace Corps
PO Box 9536
Pretoria 0001
South Africa

Keep in mind that it will usually take about a month to get to me, so perishables might not be a good idea, and sending things early for special occasions might be. And they advise that you label the green customs forms with "school supplies," "religious materials," "food," "personal health supplies," etc. DO NOT write down anything valuable like batteries, solar radio, etc, even if they are in the box. You can use generic terms like "electronics."


Monday, May 17, 2010

Peace Corps!

Hello everyone,

This blog will be for anyone who's interested in knowing what I'm up to in South Africa with the Peace Corps. I will be leaving July 12, 2010, it's coming up! As of right now I do not know exactly what town I will be in, so I don't know what the conditions of where I will be living are yet, like internet access and computer charging abilities. I will try to update the blog as much as I can, at least once a month hopefully.

Ok, that's all for now.