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September Update

Posting 2 of 3: If you haven’t read it yet, please read Rainy Day Updates below

I started September by going to the Pre Service Training for the new education group that arrived in July. They had just returned from visiting their new homes in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and KwaZulu Natal. They were very stressed and many of them needed to be talked to about living in South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I very much felt like a veteran, even though I have only been living here for a year. They all seemed very excited about their future, but needed to have a little perspective. Many of the newbies were excited to get in a start work right away. But the culture clash between our American work ethic and the South African indirectness causes problems. Let me expand a little upon this.

US Perspective: Being from the US, we have a desire to attack problems head on. We are taught throughout school how to think critically about a problem, finding the flaws and possible solutions. We are able to criticize the work of someone and not insult that person. As a teacher, I found great value in being evaluated by a peer. I know that I am not perfect and that another perspective may help me become better. When I did projects, having someone else to talk about it and get feedback is very important. So, as PCVs enter into a school that is underachieving as the rural schools in South Africa are doing, they want to attack the problem head on. We want to walk in and ask questions and find out as much information about the situation as we can. When we feel we have an idea of what is going on, we want to give possible solutions. They can be tried or not, depending on the chance of success. But we want to try something.

South African Perspective: The South African culture is one of indirect interactions. When the PCV comes into the school and starts to ask questions and tries to find the problems, it is often seen as rude. The educators feel that they work hard and they would rather look at what is good about what they do. Looking for the flaw in a system is akin to looking for the fault in the educator. Also, many of the teachers have been teaching for a long time and were educated and taught during Apartheid. Under that government, the white minority generally put down the black majority in order to keep power in South Africa. I feel that sometimes the white American coming in and dissecting what the educators are doing bring back memories of that time.

So I talked with the new group about how to begin and specifically how not to begin in a session called “don’t do what I did.”

(South African cultural side note: Part of the culture is something called Ubuntu. The original idea of Ubuntu was “I am because you are.” It was what we call manners in the US. Here, it is sometimes taken to the extreme. People will agree with you so that you feel accepted and welcome. For example, a PCV may suggest that they have a workshop on Quantum Physics. The educators will say that they think it is a great idea. When in reality, they may not have any desire for the workshop. But to make the PCV feel good, they will say yes. The workshop will not happen because the educators will find a multitude of reasons that they cannot make it to the workshop, from professional to personal obligations. In that way, they have caused the PCV to feel unwanted.)

After the visit to the new group, Robi and I went to Pretoria for a meeting with one of the founders of the KLM foundation, Bowen Hsu. It was very nice to meet him and learn the origins of the foundation. We talked about where KLM started, how far it has come, and where we would like it to go. It was very nice that Bowen felt comfortable to let this year’s Peace Corps Longtom Marathon organizers run with the event without micro-managing us. He was very excited about the event for this year. We still don’t have a date on the 2009 Longtom. Last year it was not announced until the end of November. Let’s hope that it’s announced a little earlier.

On the 20th of September, my parents came to visit. When they arrived, I had an encounter with an insect and an urgent care visit, which I will expand upon in a later blog devoted to only that. Mom and Dad arrived into the Jo’burg airport and we stayed in Pretoria for the first night. For Sunday and Monday nights, we stayed at a local game reserve called Dikhololo. It was very nice and a great close getaway from our village, where there was no water. They got to visit the schools and participate in Robi’s girls club and she what great work she is doing. One Tuesday, we left for Motswedi and our first South African home. We stayed with Nkoko Kiki and got a chance to play with Siya and Thandi a lot. If was so nice to stay with her again (even though there was no water there, either) and to show Mom and Dad some of our favourite people in South Africa. After Motswedi we drove to Ganyesa outside of Vryburg to see the Campbells, another Peace Corps couple. We stayed in a local B&B and had a nice dinner of Springbok steaks at the Campbells’ home. A quick visit in Ganyesa, then we had to leave early for the long travel day of the trip. We drove from Ganyesa through Kuruman, Upington, and Pofadder on our way through the Northern Cape to the west coast and the town of Springbok. We stayed there for one night then went on to the Namaqua National Park and saw the beautiful wildflower that blossom every spring in the desert landscape of the Northern Cape. We arrived in Cape Town on Saturday night and collapsed from exhaustion, after Mexican food. We tried to see everything in and around Cape Town in one week, which I think is not enough time. We did a lot. Here is a list of the things that we got to do:

See the African Penguins at Boulders Beach
Visit the Cape of Good Hope and the most Southwestern tip of Africa
Whale watching along the coast on the way to Cape of Good Hope
Take a wine tour of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek with a great guide, Sally Cristini
Visit the Kirstenbosch Gardens and the Rhodes Memorial
Watch the Ravens-Steelers game at 4 in the morning (how I miss American football)
Visit the V&A Waterfront (based off of the Baltimore Inner Harbor)
Visit the District Six Museum
Have a generally enjoyable and mostly relaxing time

Unfortunately, we did not get to the top of Table Mountain or Robben Island due to bad weather, but we did eat excellent food and probably gained a ton of weight. Just what a vacation is supposed to be. To get back to Pretoria, we took a luxury train called Premier Classe (or the “Purple Train). It was a very relaxing way to end the trip and get a chance to see the country from a different perspective. See the pictures of our vacation and others from my Peace Corps life on My Web Albums.

Mom & Dad left on Monday, October 6 and Robi and I had to get to our Mid Service Training just outside of Pretoria.

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