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Back from the Longtom Pass

Hey All,

I know that it has been a long time and a bunch has happened. Let’s see if I can give you a quick synopsis as the dog howls at the moon. So a month has gone by, and I think that the last thing that happened was the Hollie Photo Albums barrage. (There are more of them..I think 60-some in all.)

I was selected to be the Warden of a bunch of volunteers. While it sounds bad, it isn’t. Basically, I am a database of people’s travel contacts for short trips. Saves Peace Corps and the US government time and money (I hope). So Robi and I got a little holiday at the end of the first term of the school year. We ran into a whole bunch of people who were travelling all over the place. For Easter, we got 3 weeks off, which it seems is not normal. Usually the school break is only a week. Don’t know why there was a change or if it will continue.

The first term of the school year was a real letdown. I was very excited to start to work with teachers, but mostly got no interest. I’m not sure if it is fear of a new person,. of being evaluated, or simply a lack of desire to work at improvement. Maybe I am seen as more work and just plain different, which sometimes can scare people. For whatever reason, I was scheduled to give a 3 part workshop series at my two schools near the beginning of the February. By the end of March, I had given 20 minutes of the first part to one school (and basically ignored after that) and had the other school postpone the workshops to the second term. I am not optimistic about the chances of that happening.

So, I was at least able to work on a bunch of other projects in a the early planning stages. RIght now, I am working on a sports league including soccer, ultimate frisbee, and netball for area villages, beginning a soccer academy for 30 boys and 30 girls in which they will learn life skills and soccer skills over about 4 months, beginning to implement an anti-littering campaign at the youth centre and primary school, trying to found an exchange program where a local South African teacher gets to be an apprentice teacher in an independent US school, writing a computer curriculum for area principals and the youth centre volunteers, and still trying to schedule a meeting with Vodacom about internet for the Jericho schools. I am a very busy man. And to make my life more interesting, I started to write another workshop on Outcomes Based Asessment, which is the assessment used by South African schools. The fun never ends.

At the end of the term and after the Warden training in Pretoria (and meeting up with fellow volunteers), Robi and I went to Sabie, which is north of Nelspruit and just west of Kruger National Park. This is where the Longtom Ultra Marathon begins. The course runs over the Longtom Pass, a historic site of an Anglo-Boer War battle, and continues down into Lydenburg, the site where some important archeological masks were found. You’ll have to ask Robi for more details. (Unfortunately, the masks are no longer there.) Robi and I did not run the Ultra Marathon, which was 56 km. We ran the half marathon, 21.1lm, which is more than I have ever run before by about 8 miles. (The previous longest was the Celtic Solstice which was a 5 miler.) It was a nice run but it was all downhill. My knees and hips were screaming at me for almost a week afterwards. We finished in about 2 hours 40 minutes and barely were past by the winner of the 56km Ultra in the last km (they started an hour earlier).

After the race, we had a braai at the backpackers, which was a lot of fun. One of the directors and founding members of the KLM fondation was there. Alli Howard was a PCV in South Africa, SA11, so about 5 years ago. She now works for the Clinton Foundation in Zimbabwe. I got to talk with her a little bit about my teacher exchange program which was very nice. In addition, Robi and I volunteer to be organizers for next year’s Longtom Escapade for the Peace Corps and KLM foundation. It should be a lot of fun and I have a lot of great ideas. (If anyone has a connection to dry-fit running shirts, please get in touch. Some of this year’s runners ran in a brand new cotton shirt and had some pretty bad sores.)

After Sabie, we travelled up to Graskop and Pilgrim’s Rest and explored a little bit of the Blyde River Canyon. It is beautiful out in that area and Robi and I are so jealous of all the volunteers stationed in that area. Life would be a lot easier with the views of the majectic Drakensburg Escarpment. WOW! Unfortunately, we were not about to do the hike and exploration that we had wanted. The first night in Graskop backpackers (Valley View Backpackers), I spiked a high fever out of nowhere. The next few days I took Advil, but didn’t feel great and had a hugely swollen lymph node on my right hip. It was a little uncomfortable to walk. I called the PCMO and went in to the Nelspruit Mediclinic were I was diagnosed with Tick Bite Fever. It seems that I was bitten two or three time on my right ankle by something (PCMO thinks mosquito) that made it become badly infected. I got meds and it has pretty much cleared everything up, though I still have 2 more days of anti-biotics. The most annoying things was the cost of the clinic. All in, it was R2000, which really cut out SA funds greatly. Just gotta wait for the reimbursement from Peace Corps. And I want my 5 hours of waiting in the virtually empty waiting room back.

Robi and I got back from the Longtom and found out that the brother of a family friend had died. We attended the funeral last Sunday. Very sad, particularly since I have attended more funerals in 8 months in South Africa than in 33 years in the US. The rest of the week was relaxing and we were not looking forward to going back to work. MORE VACATION PLEASE!

For the last week of the vacation, we have been having electricity and water problems. The problems have really stemmed from not having them. Eskom has started their loadshedding again (since we didn’t reduce consumption by the necessary 10% by April 1 that I didn’t hear about). As for water, well, I don’t know. It hasn’t rained a lot here and I guess the village is without water for 3-5 months out of the year. They do have an agreement that they get their water for free, trucked in when we need it, which is nice. We finally mostly closed up the top of our JoJo (huge green water tank), so we hope that the next shipment of water will remain clean for drinking and cooking.

School started up again today and it was very nice to see everyone again. Unfortunately, there were no lights (SA for loadshedding) from 6am to 9am. So the students started the day cleaning up the school after the break. Then the teachers needs to work on there reports for the first term. It seems that two of the teachers are being chosen to show their teacher portfolios for the first term, which everyone is freaking out about, since not much work is put in to the portfolio until the last minute. So there was no teaching on the first day back. On a good note, this allowed me to talk with a teacher and make an appointment to work with her on Wednesday on administration stuff. At least it’s a start.

Let’s hope for the best.

Love to all and I hope it’s safe wherever you are.


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