Sunday, November 20, 2011


It’s been a while, I know, thought it was about time to update again. Things have been good this side, for the most part. The school year is winding down, just a few weeks left, and they’re just testing now. I have been working on a World AIDS Day Art project at the higher primary school though, grades 5 – 7. It’s an art exchange project where the kids create a piece of art that goes with the World AIDS Day 2011 theme “It takes a village to fight HIV!” When they’re done with their art I will trade with another Peace Corps Volunteer who did the project (it’s not mandatory), and we will display their art at our school. Then the best pieces will be chosen to be displayed at the Peace Corps Office and the US Embassy in Pretoria. It’s been a good way to teach the kids the facts about the disease as there is a lot of misinformation this side. One girl thought you could get AIDS by sharing a toothbrush, others thought it could be spread by unclean drinking water.

Some of you have expressed the desire to donate to the schools I have been working at, and I didn’t really know how to coordinate that from here, but I will be home for 2 ½ weeks over Christmas break (Dec 17th – Jan 3rd) if you are still interested. There are a few different things you can do. The lower primary school, grades K – 4, would like more sports equipment (mainly soccer balls as they get punctured pretty easily), and DVDs for the kids to watch while teachers are out (which happens a lot). The South African Department of Education donated a TV and DVD player to the school a couple months ago, but they had no DVDs to watch. My aunt got their collection started by sending about 20 movies or TV shows and the kids (and the principal) are loving them. Not only do they keep the kids occupied (and quiet), it helps them with English as well. Any kids’ movies or educational DVDs would be greatly appreciated. If anyone wants to give me a few while I’m home that would be awesome, or you can send them, but for the soccer balls and sports equipment money would be better as it’s easier for me to buy them here than carry them back or have them sent.

Also, for the past 6 months or so I had been trying to get fruit tree orchards planted at both of the schools. Both principals expressed enthusiasm for the idea as they would be able to feed the kids with the fruit the trees produce, but neither were able to come up with money for it. It would only cost between $600 – $800 USD total (both schools), depending on how many trees we plant at either school. So you can also contribute to the orchard fund if you wish.

Anyway, summer is definitely here which means ridiculously hot weather followed by thunderstorms, which are awesome. It also means tons of creepy bugs everywhere. I keep my window open all the time so the cat and her three kittens (who were born 2 months ago) can go in and out whenever they want. Unfortunately, all creatures take the open window as an invitation… I can’t wait for a break from the heat (and bugs) when I go home next month!

Ok, that’s all I got for now. Can’t wait to see most of you in December!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

10 More things I've learned in South Africa:

1. People use English words for random things. One of my favorites is when in a taxi with 15 other people all going different places a person will say “After robot” to communicate to the driver that they want to get out after the next traffic signal. The very first time I heard that I had no idea “robot” meant traffic signal, so when I heard the word robot I snapped my head up hoping to see one, or at least a person dressed as one. Unfortunately there were none to be seen.
2. Two other English phases on the taxi are “sharp right,” or “sharp left.” These are typically used while driving through the villages, as there are no “robots” to stop after. So when a person says “sharp right” that means they want the driver to stop at the next road that appears on the right side.
3. While we’re on the topic of taxis I might as well tell you what it’s like to ride one. As I’ve mentioned before, they squish as many people as possible into them, and then close all the windows. For some reason South Africans would rather be hot and forced to smell the nasty BO of their fellow passengers instead of opening a window because “it’s dusty outside.” I don’t notice dust coming in when we’re on the dirt roads when I get a window seat and crack it open just a bit, and there definitely isn’t any coming in on the tar road which we are on for the majority of the journey to town. But still, people will often demand you to close the window, or they’ll close it two seconds after I’ve opened it. Sometimes they’ll even do a sneak attack by pushing it closed from behind. It’s quite annoying because it gets HOT in those vans, or kombis as they’re called here.
4. I’m pretty sure black people think all white people look the same. In my village there was a previous volunteer, Leah, and in the beginning people asked me if I was her. We look nothing alike, and she was gone for 4 months before I got here. They would also ask if I am her sister. Negative as well, we’re not all related and/or know each other... Luckily most people have gotten the picture by now, but some people still call me Leah once in a while, especially the grade R (kindergarten) teacher at Bokgobelo. I just go with it now, Leah has become another one of my African names, along with Kamogelo (Ka-mo-hey-lo, which means “Welcome”) and Pheladi (Pee-la-di, which apparently doesn’t mean anything). Oh and every time I pass the crèche (pre school) the kids scream “Leah! Leah!” over and over again. I think they think all white people are called “Leah.” They also throw in a few “Legowas” as well, you know, just to make sure everyone is aware there’s a white person near.
5. It’s not considered rude here for someone to answer their cell phone during a meeting, in fact, it’s rare for one to go by without this happening. I’m sure this custom has something to do with the fact that it’s free for a person to answer an incoming call, while it would cost them their own money to wait until after the meeting and call the person back, but it still seems really rude to me, but I think I’m the only one.
6. South Africa is a very weird place, mostly because of the Afrikaaner and black South African dynamic. After the last post it became apparent to me that not everyone knows exactly what an Afrikaaner is, so I’ll break it down before I get to my main point. Afrikaaners are descendants from Dutch, German, and French settlers who came to South Africa back in the day (late 1600s and 1700s) and took over. The Afrikaaners ran the apartheid government which ended in 1994, which wasn’t that long ago, so there is still a lot of racism between black and white people here. (Side note to the side note, one time an Afrikaaner gave me a ride to the main road, 5 minutes away, and he asked me what I was doing here and all that, and after I told him I was living in a village he asked me if I felt safe living with “those people.”) But anyway, Afrikaaners are very similar to Americans or Europeans, and they often make the main cities feel like a mini America, while the village is Africa. There’s a new mall in Polokwane which definitely fits this. There are white people everywhere, a gnarly 3D movie theater, and tons of expensive stuff to buy. So once again, it’s crazy how there are places with everything so close to villages with almost nothing.
7. Tombstones and funeral services are a big industry here. There are store fronts for tombstones in every township and city in the rural areas, with different models on display. There are also tons of TV commercials for tombstones as well. I guess with South Africa having the highest prevalence rate of HIV/Aids in the world, and TB being a big issue as well, death is such a big part of everyone’s life that it’s normal to see tombstone stores everywhere. But when someone dies they rarely say what the cause was, which means it was probably Aids.
8. On a lighter note, people here like to say “I’m coming now now,” or “I’m coming just now.” And “now now” and “just now” mean two very different things. Now now means right now, while just now could be a while.
9. When someone asks where you’re from, they could mean two different things. Most of the time “Where are you from?” is asking where you just came from. People are nosy here, and it’s common to be asked “Are you from school?” Which means, did you just come from school. If I’m just meeting someone though and they ask where I’m from I always say America, and even then sometimes they wanted to know where I was coming from instead.
10. The most popular way to say that everything’s good, or cool, is the word “sharp,” often accompanied with a thumbs up. But with the African accent, “sharp” sounds more like the word “shop.” So if someone is asking if you need anything and you don’t, just say “I’m shop” and throw them a thumbs up, well, if you’re ever in South Africa, otherwise no one will know what you’re doing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

20 Things I’ve Learned in South Africa so far:

1. EVERYONE in the villages wants me to take them to America, get married, or tell me they love me 2 seconds after meeting.

  1. The word “Sorry” has many meanings, and someone will say it to you if they see you fall, if they’re trying to get your attention, or if you’re doing something wrong (like not leaving your bag at the front of the store.)
  2. The phrase “I’m coming” means I’ll be right back. I’m used to it now, but in the very beginning it seemed quite odd for a person to say “I’m coming” to me and then walk away.
  3. Soda is called “cold drink,” even if it’s warm.
  4. Africans really do love fried chicken, KFC is everywhere, and tons of other chicken chains (my favorite is Chicken Licken because of the name.)
  5. Your hands make perfectly good utensils. Why use a fork when you have fingers? Black people here traditionally eat with their hands. Forks are often scarce in village houses.
  6. When small African children see a white person they automatically SCREAM “Legowa” (white person in Sepedi, pronounced with ah “h” sound for the “g”) over and over. I’m not quite sure why they feel the need to identify me like that, It’s not like I scream “black person” everywhere I go.
  7. It’s considered rude in a village not to greet EVERY SINGLE PERSON you pass, which can get old, but whatever.
  8. If you’re white everyone will assume you speak Afrikaans, which is why the only thing Peace Corps taught us how to say in Afrikaans besides good morning was “I don’t speak Afrikaans.” Sometimes just for funsies I try to see how many times I can get away with people thinking I’m an Afrikaaner by saying “Gioe more” or just nodding and smiling. It works.
  9. There is no such thing as personal space in this country. People are constantly forced to squeeze into taxis with too many people in them, or buses, and even grocery stores, so I guess you get used to it if you’ve been squished your whole life. But it drives me crazy.
  10. On average, people here walk at a pace similar to that of a toddler. People are generally not in a hurry, especially when they’re waiting on you or bagging your groceries, which can get annoying.
  11. South Africans LOVE house music, but they also love Michael Bolton and Celine Dion.
  12. There’s no part of a cow, chicken, or goat that you can’t eat, but that doesn’t mean you should… I had to choke down cow intestines twice, it’s grey and slimy, super gross.
  13. There is musk favored gum. Seriously. And yes, I’ve tried it. It’s not as gross as you would think, but it’s definitely not good.
  14. It’s not illegal for people to sit in the bed of a truck, so there are often “bakkies” that go by with 10 people crammed in the back.
  15. Instead of using strollers, black women strap their babies to their backs with a towel.
  16. Pretty much all Afrikaaners either look like they’re from the 80’s or are white trash, or both. There are way too many mullets, scrunchies, and bad 80’s hair dos happening in this country. Oh, and Afrikaaner men like short shorts…
  17. It’s amazing how little water you can use to bathe, do laundry, wash dishes, and whatnot.
  18. South Africans LOVE cheesy soap operas. There are a bunch of South African ones (Generations, Rhythm City, 7 De Laan), but The Bold and the Beautiful is also really big here.
  19. EVERYONE in South Africa was taught that “I’m fine,” is the answer to “How are you?” A few people have figured out that other responses work as well, but 90% of people in the village will say they’re fine every time. My favorite encounter involving greetings is with an 8 year old boy in my village. Every time I pass him he yells out “Hi!” so I yell “Hi!” back. Then without waiting for me to ask “How are you?” he preemptively answers by yelling “Fine!” and then I yell “Good!” back and that’s that.

Ok, Later.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hey Everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve written, thought I should update. Hope everyone is doing well. Things in the southern hemisphere have been good. I just got back to my village from a two week break which separates term 1 and term 2. The break was really good. It started with the marathon fundraiser which took place in Sabie, Mpumalanga, about 6 hours from my village. It’s a beautiful mountainous area which provided gnarly views and even gnarlier hills for the marathon. I ran/walked the 21km (13 mile) half marathon with my friend Elise. We skipped across the finish line, arms linked, at 3 hours and 2 minutes. It was a lot of fun. There were stations every few km where people would hand out water, powerade, coke, and sometimes candy. I was quite confused as to why anyone would want coke while they were running a marathon, but I definitely took the candy every time. Crazy people who actually trained for the marathon got in around 2 hours (some were under 2), and the super slackers who walked the whole thing and stopped for beer at one of the water stations did it in over 4 hours, so I figure we were in the middle-ish. In addition to the half marathon there was also the ultra marathon which was 56 km (34 miles), and 6 or 7 super crazies from our group did it. The fastest guy from our group did it in 5 hours and 30 minutes. Dude’s crazy. All he does is run. To compare, the slowest guy from our group did it in about 8 hours. Our 60 person Peace Corps group all stayed at a hostel which was a lot of fun. It was cool meeting and hanging out with people from other PC groups.

So anyway, from Sabie I headed to Pretoria with Elise and another girl, Gabi. We hung out for 3 days then they both left for trips and that night Mike got in, and we hung out for 3 more days, then it was off to a fancy hotel for a week long training which was put on by PEPFAR, and they’re not afraid to spend money on us. One night there was a gala dinner in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. It was pretty cool.

Then I got back to the village and the pit latrine (outhouse). I’m used to it now, but it’s crazy how close these 1st world cities and 3rd world villages are to each other. Pretoria is like any big city with tons of nice restaurants, movie theaters, parks, malls, hotels. But then you leave the city and not even 30 minutes away are super poor villages with shacks, half built houses that people live in anyway, pit latrines, shoe-less kids, intermittent electricity, and goats and cows walking around. It’s pretty crazy, and apparently one of the reasons that South Africa has one of the highest drop out rates in Peace Corps. It’s disturbing how you go from a place with everything to a place with almost nothing in a couple hours. But, I must say, it’s a nice break to be able to hang out in Pretoria once in a while, see a movie, eat out, use indoor toilets. Having cities like Pretoria, Durban, and Cape Town in country means we can visit them any break and they’re not too far away. This makes Peace Corps South Africa a completely different experience from Peace Corps in the rest of Africa, as medical patients who are sent here from all over Africa like to point out. But getting back from vacation this time it was easier to readjust to the village again than the last time, so that’s good.

Alright, catch you later.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Marathon and Donations

Hey Everyone,

What up? I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Years! Several of you, my devoted readers, have expressed interest in making donations of some sort to my schools and whatnot, which we still definitely need, but here is an opportunity for you to help fund a scholarship for a worthy student to attend an excellent independent high school in Mpumalanga Province called Uplands College. The KLM Foundation is an organization that was founded by two PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) who served here in South Africa a few years ago. They use an annual marathon as a fundraiser for the scholarship and the child they choose is very carefully selected, having gone through a four-tier application process. So far seven children have been chosen and are doing very well at the school and beyond. If you want to know more about the organization their website is

I will be participating in the marathon which is on March 27th in Sabie, Mpumalanga, not too far from Kruger National Park. You can either do a half or an ultra marathon, and I will be participating in the half, which is 21.1KM (13 miles). Many Peace Corps volunteers will be taking part, probably over 70 of us, so it should be a lot of fun to meet people from other groups and run in this beautiful part of the country, which I haven't been to yet.

In addition to having a good time though, the main reason for taking part is to support the KLM foundation. There may be other projects I encounter along my way here, but this is very worthy indeed, and one for which I am asking your support in the form of a donation. Please give what you can; any amount is appreciated. Even if you can only give $10 or $20, it is much needed. (Of course, we would love larger donations!) And it is tax-deductible. So please go to the KLM website to make a donation, just click on the 'donate' photo. Make sure to put my name in the white box where it asks for the Longtom runner you want to sponsor (Longtom is the name of the marathon).

The online donation is preferable, but you can also mail in a check. Please make it payable to "Kgwale Le Mollo (US)" and send it to:

KLM Foundation (US)
c/o Bowen Hsu
461 So. Bonita Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91107

Please make sure to include a note that your donation is on my behalf.

Thanks so much for your support, and especially for supporting the child who is chosen to attend Uplands College next year. I'll let you know how the weekend goes, and how many funds we, Peace Corps volunteers, collected.



Sunday, January 9, 2011

Training and Vacation

Dudes, what up? I’m going to warn you in advance, this is a long post, you might want to grab a sandwich or something before you start it. So I just got back from a month away from my village. The first week was for our in-service training which was located at a nice Lodge in Piet Retief, about 8 hours east of my village, in Mpumalanga Province. At the training the main thing we learned was how to write and apply for grants for small projects that we want to do in our schools or villages. The rest of the sessions were pretty much pointless, but required. It was fun to be with the whole group again and see how everyone is doing at their schools and villages and whatnot. From some of the stories told I realized that I’ve got a pretty sweet setup compared to some other PCV’s. Some people are having problems with their host families, or their schools are huge and unruly, or not all their furniture has been delivered yet. Some still haven’t gotten their wardrobes that the Department of Education is supposed to deliver, so they’ve been living out of their bags this whole time. I was lucky to replace a volunteer so all the furniture was already here, my family and the principals of my schools know what the Peace Corps is and how it works, and the village got used to seeing a random white person walking around all the time. Lots of people are having trouble with these things.

My birthday fell on the last day of training. Everyone was saying happy birthday to me all day, it was kind of weird because people who had already said it to me said it again and again the next times they saw me. I guess the South African custom of saying hi and asking how a person is every time you see them, even if the two occasions are 10 minutes apart, has rubbed off on people. So the next day we left and my friends Terri, Danny, Mike, and I headed to Pretoria to start our vacation. We got a ride (6 hours) in a big Peace Corps van because they had to go back to the office anyway, so that was nice. We stayed in Pretoria at a hostel near the office for four days just hanging out mostly and getting to know our way around Pretoria. We went to the mall, Mike and I got tattoos, and we went to a cricket match. I got a red and black star on my shoulder blade, I like it a lot. The guy who did the tattoos was an American. He moved to South Africa three months earlier from Detroit. It cost 500 rand, which is about $70, and I used my Peace Corps living allowance money, so basically, the American government paid for my tattoo. The cricket match was South Africa against India, a big match up as they’re apparently the two best teams in the world, and I had no idea what was going on. It was a fun atmosphere though, and when they took a break (I have no idea if it was a half time or what because they play all day) people were allowed onto the field. The dirt area where the bowler throws was roped off, but the grass area was open. Kids darted down there to kick around soccer balls or hit cricket balls. We went down and walked around just because we could. Oh, another exciting thing we did in Pretoria was make burritos for dinner one night. Because it’s a big city they had tortillas and salsa, the only problem was the beans, no black or refried here. We ended up mixing a can of chili beans and a can of kidney and mashing them up, which turned out ok. But over all the burritos were awesome and everyone liked them.

So from Pretoria Danny, Terri, and I took a bus to Siyabuswa, our training site to visit our old host families. That bus ride was one of the most ridiculous experiences I’ve ever had. We left mid afternoon after the cricket match and the bus station was filled with people leaving Pretoria for all the nearby villages. Siyabuswa is about an hour and a half from Pretoria when the Peace Corps drives us, but the bus probably took closer to two and a half hours, maybe even three. First of all, getting on the bus is a chaotic affair. People are pushing, yelling, and trying to sneak by you to get on. So we had to fight our way through the crowd to get on the bus, and there were bags everywhere that you had to climb over. There weren’t enough seats either so Danny ended up sitting on our bags in the aisle, and Terri switched back and forth from sitting on my lap to his. It was super ridiculous. Oh, but getting off was by far the worst. I somehow was in the front of our group getting off, and it was still pretty crowded. So I tried to make my way through with my bags and no one was moving to make it easier so I didn’t make it to the front before the bus driver decided to keep going, so then the people behind me wanting to get off started yelling for him to stop, and then pretty much everyone was yelling like crazy so he stopped. And then someone finally grabbed my bag and passed it forward and with the help of people pushing me from behind, I finally made it to the front and got off. We all vowed to never take one of those buses again. Next time we are definitely taking a taxi even if it is more expensive.

So anyway, the visit with my first host family was awesome. It was really nice to see them all again, especially the kids. They were so excited when they saw me pull up, they ran out from the yard, jumped on me then grabbed my bags to take them in, it was cute. So after the quick two day visit we left hoping to get all the way to the east coast to St. Lucia which didn’t happen. The main problem was that we were traveling on a Sunday which is a slow travel day here, so we ended up waiting 6 hours for the taxi to fill up in Siyabuswa before we started on the first leg of the 8 hour journey. We only made it to Piet Retief because of the late start and the four of us headed back to the lodge we stayed at the week before because it was close to the taxi rank and was cheap enough, especially because we crammed 4 people into a 2 person room. It worked and we all only had to pay 80 rand each, which is about $11. So we got up early the next day and didn’t have to wait too long for the taxi to fill up then traveled the rest of the way to St. Lucia. So it took us 6 taxis over 2 days to travel what we could have driven in one day if we had a car… But St. Lucia was pretty cool once we got there. It’s a touristy beach town which reminded me a lot of home. It was fun; there were a lot of Peace Corps people there because of the family dinner Mark, a fellow PCV, invited us all to. The dinner was at a nice restaurant which was advertised as being Mozambican, Angolan, Portuguese, and Brazilian, yes, all of them. It was mostly chicken, sausages, and shrimp. Mark’s family was really nice and they even paid for the whole meal, which after doing the calculations I discovered had to be around 2000 to 2500 rand, which is only like $300 to $350, but in rand it sounds like a ton. Super nice of them though. The beach was really nice (warm water though, which was weird) and one day I took a hike with two older Peace Corps volunteers to the estuary and we saw hippos and crocodiles which was pretty gnarly.

So from St. Lucia our group split up and I joined up with another one and headed down to Durban which is the third largest city in South Africa. It’s on the Indian Ocean like St. Lucia and has the largest population of Indian people outside of India. Mike, who is Indian, said it felt really weird to be around so many Indians, but I think he liked it too. I liked Durban a lot. It was nice to be back in a big city. Our hostel was located right next to a main street of restaurants and bars which was fun. Also, I got a few things in Durban, which included a haircut, a bad sunburn, and cellulitis on my ankles, which led to me getting pain medication and an anti inflammatory as the ankles were badly swollen. Apparently sunburns crack the skin, so bacteria must have gotten in through the sunburn on my feet and legs. The anti inflammatory didn’t work so for about 5 days I was limping around in sandals getting blisters because my feet wouldn’t fit into my shoes anymore. But whatever, it wasn’t too terrible, I lived. From Durban a group of us took a night bus back to Pretoria and I went to the Peace Corps doctor. She gave me different medication including an antibiotic which worked within a few days and now my feet are back to normal.

So that’s about it, school starts up again tomorrow, I’ll be helping in 4th and 7th grade English classes, possibly some math classes, teaching teachers how to use computers better, and working on sports stuff. I’ll let you know how it goes.