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.


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