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As we tossed our black caps in the air there was a sense of relief, pride and accomplishment that we’d had made it. Well no, Peace Corps doesn’t end with the same cake, cards and cigars having made it through 12 years of our mandatory school system or 4 years of not mandatory yet highly recommended sober studies, but it does end with the same people the journey began with.  The 50 people or so I met in Washington DC a little apprehensive about what they had just signed up for.  My taxi ride alone to the airport made me question my judgment as I struggled with two not ideal for Africa rolling monster suitcases, as three future male Peace Corps Volunteers of SA24 piled in, two in safari gear, one with a beard.  At that point I had no idea what two years down the road would look like nor did I know how cool each one of those 50 people in that conference room were and how much I would love in the end.  Even the Peace Corps staff will tell you, “SA24 they were something else,” and I am so glad I got to take on this adventure with them, I’m not sure I would have made it otherwise.  As we finished our close of service signing yearbooks, playing softball, celebrating July 4th, talking about frustrations we likely won’t ever have to deal with again I knew this place and these people were always going to be a big part of me and a big part of memories I look back on every day.

So as impossible as it would be to sum up my service and make up for my lack of dedication to my blog through one post I would like to leave my closing thoughts while I work on my developing cocktail party routine performance stories revolving around, well let’s make sure everyone has a full glass and no one needs a bathroom break. Sorry Dad, it is doesn’t mean we’re not eager to hear about how big that fish really was.

When I got on the plane to South Africa as every other future PCV does I committed myself to 2 years away from my friends, family, and a word that became part of my daily conversation, culture.  I agreed to be flexible, open, forgo showers, forgo salary and learn to live outside my comfort.  I can now say I have successfully completed my service and call myself a RPCV (Returned (yet presently unreturned) Peace Corps Volunteer) and receive all the after benefits like health care I can’t afford because I spent two years in a village volunteering, but they offer us the option.  I joined Peace Corps in hopes of gaining a new perspective and allowing myself to grow as a person, becoming an RPCV and finishing my service became a later challenge, tired of growing, tired of gaining perspective and wanting to just place blame for the challenges taking place in this country.  With my departure tomorrow I can’t help, but to reflect back at where I was when I arrived to who I am leaving, proudly I can say with only one monster suitcase.  I’ve gone through a lot of up and downs, but having faced them has allowed me to come out higher.

Africa is an incredible place, I’ve jumped off the highest bridges, climbed the highest mountains, completed an ultra-marathon, learned a new language (and how to greet in about seven others), danced at music festivals, eaten the freshest of fresh meat (and some other things), learned to plant, learned to teach, learned to change the way people think, changed the way I see things, I became independent, I became aware and I became part of community I never knew I could fit into.  South Africa is just as much a surprising, beautiful, and unique small part of this continent.  So much is going on in this developing country with a myriad of challenges in part due to the diversity and disconnections between people and understandings.  I lived first world, I lived third world and the biggest thing I am taking away is the relationships I’ve built in both places in the time I’ve been here.  I’ve never felt more accomplished than I do today having finished Peace Corps, but I am ready for tomorrow.  I don’t have any regrets, but it was the most challenging experience I’ve ever had.

South Africa is rapidly growing into the global network, despite the difficulties there are a lot of good things coming out.  It is made up of inspiring people who live through this confusion each day and though I have dedicated 2 years to try to understand what goes on eager to help, it is nothing in comparison to a lifetime; tomorrow I board Flight 228, but our friends here live each day next to the colliding first and third worlds that coexist.  The people who have made my experience begins with the volunteers I came in with who were always my safe ground, we went through this journey together though we faced individual problems.  They are each so incredible, compassionate, intelligent and we spent endless nights in conversation over a beer or ice cream sometimes along the beach watching the sunset, sometimes in a rondavel with a candle when the lights went out.  In my village I was the only white person within a 20 miles radius, my co-workers, my host family, my community protected and let me in, there were many cultural challenges, but they opened me into a new way of thinking.  Outside the village I sought comfort from new friends we had made and depended on, who took care of us, some white, some black.  They were easy to relate to and understood where we came from as we came from similar lifestyles, but were hesitant toward our life in the village.  (As maybe our friends would be hesitant toward us living in many of the low income areas in the states.)  I started to see the disconnecting worlds despite close corners they lived in with one another and I was somewhere in the middle.  There was always an argument on race, but I think it probably had more to do with social class.  I was the white American aware of the history, but untouched by the complications and experience of this time that took place not long ago.  I listened to the Afrikanners, the whites, the rich, the poor, the blacks, the coloured, the upcoming youth, the elders who had fought, and the foreigners, each time I began to understand a little bit more about the difficulties and stress that existed in this developing country.  My judgment faded, my understanding grew and I began to think of the way we live back home, it wasn’t so different after all.  Our own country went through many of the same challenges and is still doing so today; many of the Indian Reservations have worse education, living standards and economic challenges than do these African villages.  However, the word suffer is constantly thrown around in Africa, but what does the word suffer really mean to begin with, there’s almost Blackberry in every poverty stricken place.  Are people using the word suffer in context to what is desired which plays a small role in real happiness, similar to the confusion between want and need (which is actually the same word in many African languages)?  I could go on for hours about endless frustrations, but what really came out of it was seeing how Africa has grown into what it is today, seeing the different worlds, and the setting straight the misconceptions Africans have of America (the dreamland) and Americans of Africa (the pride land).  That said I never appreciated my home so much having lived away from it, the government, my education, my culture.  I developed the ability to be able to talk and relate to others and to do things outside my comfort.  Regardless where people come from, opening that conversation and finding where we relate so that we can understand one another can overpower most of the disputes we face.

And so this brings me to the end of this story, I have gained more than I ever knew and I am grateful for the experience I’ve had and how I have grown.  Now I have a grilled cheese to finish made by the wonderful Sue Beddy, in her suburban home in Johannesburg far from the my village hut where I am spending my last night, who supported us through each moment and praised us more than we felt we deserved.   Also I plan on returning without any new tattoos, but a newly embraced preference of eating with my hands, which I used while consuming one of the most elegant meals I’ve ever been served during a dinner with African princesses, NBA stars, and Tim Shriver so allow me to argue the word savage, but please don’t challenge that by serving chocolate ice cream (let’s be reasonable).

 

Peace and Love,

newly instated RPCV

”To me, poor people are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed from the tallest tree in a tiny flowerpot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted; only the soil base that you gave it is inadequate.” – Muhammad Yunus

Before leaving for South Africa my brother introduced me Muhammad Yunus. Muhammad Yunus attended Vanderbilt University on a Fulbright scholarship to study economics, later founding Grameen Bank earning a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and publishing Creating a World Without Poverty and Building Social Business.  Though one of the most influential people of our time I only just got around to reading up on his approach to capitalism developing a sustainable economical solution to poverty. 

We are often lost in the theme and definition of sustainability, it doesn’t mean the motivation to do good will doesn’t exist, but perhaps mislead sending productivity gyrating.  Frequently we are caught up in our own world based off what is around us, as Peace Corps Volunteers in South Africa we habitually jump from first world to third world in the same day.  It is easy to forget what it feels like to give when wrapped up by the hastening pace and accustoms of the first world.  I am hoping in my eventual return to the states these constant movements between places will have taught me how to keep both, what I have gained in the village while being able to approach Western World challenges.  Whether PCVs are traveling, visiting home again or just approached by others confused by what we do and why we do it we constantly have to explain, defend and shed light on our service.  Yes, it’s our job to encourage these conversations to build a bridge and draw those connections hoping that we may understand others and they may understand us and at times they are even enlightening, but just as much repeatedly frustrating.  Maybe it is because we ourselves don’t have it figured out.  We want to be selfless, understand, give and grow, but some days we also want to forgo the morning bucket bath routine or even the ripened mango pulled from a tree and make our way into a Starbucks to order a special holiday season pumpkin spiced latte (otherwise known as coffee) and an organic granola raspberry parfait (otherwise known as yogurt). Sure we gave into another corporate breakfast sponsored by yours truly America, but it feels ok because not only do we get to pretend not to notice our co-worker’s envious eyes, but the cup is biodegradable and we donated our 82 cents from our five dollar latte change to St. Elizabeth’s Children’s Footwear in Somewhere Fund.  Part of me is glad there is no Starbucks, even I assure you in Cape Town, but it isn’t easy to give up all we have and all we know.  Fortunately PCVs gather come holiday gather to release these tensions at an equal level whether that be signing up for an ultra-marathon, jumping off a 216 meter bridge with a rope tied to your ankles, riding an ostrich or gathering for a wine-tasting of South Africa’s finest and cheapest selection (5 Liter box for about $8).   On a more serious note, I think we do it not because Christmas is now summer vacation, but because we know it could have been us. 

When we make compost you need the right ingredients to get the best out of it, green leaves, dried leaves, manure, newspaper, maybe food scraps, and only by chance does that one random watermelon seed get dropped among the rich dark soil.  When a child grows it needs the right support, education, tools and opportunities to be able solve problems, analyze issues, work in social situations and excel altogether.  It isn’t about potential because the potential of each child is immeasurable from birth, it exists within each fertilized egg, but opportunity is different.

“Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong with their seeds, but society never gave them the proper base to grow in. All it takes to get poor people out of poverty is for us to create an enabling environment for them. Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly.”

How do we enable such an environment? I am still working on it, but Muhammad Yunus’s proposal on social business has been a growing affair saving the lives of millions, stirring up our profit versus charity conventional business system.  Through a reanalysis of the word success and readjusting the management our economic system, having seen its failure, to make the resources we already have accessible to those in the poorest areas stimulating a new economy base we could live in a different world.  I would be doing an injustice to anyone by quoting Muhammad’s articulate words any further, nor am I trying to write a sophisticated book report to dishearten my former professors almost two years out of college with an English classified somewhere between American, South African, British and village.  So I will leave you here and hopefully carry some new thoughts with along with me through this unpredictable Peace Corps journey.

Mi Sala Kahle

XongileImage

“When you help a child climb the tree, everyone enjoys the fruit.”
I came to meet Nyiko mistakenly as I scurried around my village looking for a counterpart to take with me to the Perma-garden training offered by Peace Corps the next day. My counterpart had just dropped out, and it seemed a waste not to take someone when 50 percent of my village is unemployed. I talked to anyone, and finally my community librarian who is a saint, but that’s another story, got me in touch with the gardener at the library. In Xitsonga he told me his child would meet me on the road the following morning at 6 am. He told me his child’s name was Nyiko, and here I was thinking I was meeting a 21 year old boy on the road and getting in a cab with him to spend the next week together. Another part of me was hoping our broken Tsonga conversation led to anyone showing up. The next morning I found Nyiko standing there with her mother, and a small bag of clothes; she wasn’t a boy. She graduated high school a year ago, didn’t have money to go to school, and was hanging out in the village since.
After perma-garden training which I was happy to say Nyiko worked through, listened well, participated, and spoke English better than I could have hoped, Nyiko started volunteering at my schools. I would tell her a time, she would show up and I would give her a group or two of students to make compost with or plant seeds. Finally an opportunity came along for her called Africa’s Tomorrow. Africa’s Tomorrow offered an opportunity for women from rural areas in Africa to apply for the opportunity to attend university in America through a scholarship program. Nyiko and I spent a month filling out the application even though the chances were small. While I was in the United States I received and email saying Nyiko was one of the three chosen applicants through all of Africa accepted to the program, but the road was far from traveled. Nyiko along with an applicant from Swaziland and one from Togo were about to embark on a journey that would be anything but easy under the African sun and roads of sand. Nyiko and I now spend every day after school enclosed in a room in the library preparing for her upcoming TOEFL test in September, the closest test center being seven hours away. We don’t have any resources to work with besides my blackberry and so I google preparations and type up worksheets for her, after grilling her with oral questions, and timing her as she works through essays and reading . The biggest problem with the computer based TOEFL test, supposedly testing Nyiko’s English level, is she has never used a computer before. In completion of what will be hopefully passing the test comes along the passport application, visa, and application for Berea College in Kentucky. Then from there, a one-way plane ticket into the States for next fall, when I also return to the States. Nyiko is expected to return to Africa upon finishing her degree in Public Administration, as the program is invested in educating the “Leader’s of Africa’s Tomorrow.” The expenses for the TOEFL registration, passport, visa, and plane ticket are met 50 percent by Africa’s Tomorrow. I scheduled my GREs on the same day so she would not have to go about it alone. The travel to and from the test and accommodation is all upon ourselves to figure out. There are a lot of bumps along the road, but if we can overpass them it will be a life changing experience for her. She has been promised the scholarship if she is successful getting through the rest of the process. Nyiko is an incredible young lady, and I am hoping to support her partially with any running winnings, but we must raise at least $1600 to pass through the other barriers. It is easy for us to take for granted everything we’ve been given through our lives, but in my village in South Africa Nyiko and I both know opportunities like this are rarely heard of, let alone given. It is hard to decide what to get involved in, what to shy away from, where I invest my short lived time in South Africa, what I reach out to families and friends for, and this I can’t do alone. So if you are willing to play a part there’s a wonderful woman I would love to introduce you to her name is Nyiko Rikhotso, she is an inspiring 21 year old Tsongan woman and I hope in a years time when my running shoes are worn through the soles marking my time to return home and the end of my adventure, hers is just beginning. I hope I’m not the only getting off the plane that day and this time around it’s my turn to do what my village did for me.

Checks in support of Nyiko can be addressed under my name, Jillian Corley, and sent to

Melanie Corley
41 Shaker Road
New London, NH
03257

They will be deposited directly into my account where I will receive notice and keep everyone updated on her progress with photos and stories. This seems to be the easiest and most secure way to go about donations under my circumstances. Otherwise if you wish to find out more about Nyiko and the other women you may log onto Africa’s Tomorrow’s website where photos and video will be available. Thank you for your support

Mi sala Kahle,

Xongile

http://africastomorrow.org/Home.html

http://africatomorrow.org/New_Students.html

On the fourth of July I was back in the states in the same place I had been a year before I began my adventure to South Africa, but I have come a long way since then. It was easy to step back into my old shoes, but once again it was an adjustment upon returning to the village. However, this time when I got off the plane Peace Corps wasn’t waiting with their white taxis to take me where I needed to go, I felt comfortable greeting someone in whatever language, I had rand in my pocket, a family to return to and projects that I seemed to have neglected over the three weeks of summer I had left winter for and I had forgotten how cold it was when there’s no heat or warm shower. I stepped back into Shangaan culture, and returned to school the next day.
I would like to make this blog as little about me as possible and about someone in particular, but after the interrogation of questions about what I am doing, I stumbled over “how do I explain this,” in my mind. So what do I do, or what have I done? My typical week is divided between two primary schools, where I work alongside teachers teaching mostly Grade 6 and 7 Natural Science, and English. We have little resources, our average class size is about 60 more or less, and I come upon challenges every day in the realm of corruption, classroom management, poverty, or health that I wish I could fix, but most importantly I’ve learned to take small steps and build relationships. After school depending on the day I go to my community library I am fortunate enough to have, which began under the initiative of the last volunteer, and help tutor. Twice a week from the library I teach an adult math class called Abets. I am trying to build up gardening at my schools and the OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children), by teaching the students how to make compost and garden using perma gardening techniques in consideration of the environment and the scarcity of water. To do that I am also working on a water project because my school often runs out of water even for the students to drink during the day. I work with a program called SOUNS, where I am teaching literacy to children in Grade R and 1 in their home language when I am not teaching. On Fridays, after school gets out, I have begun holding Scout meetings in desperation to get Scouts up, moving and sustainable. I have about 30 kids who show up, both boys and girls and I am trying to get parental support for the program. It is similar to Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, but there is no division between the two in South Africa which I embrace since there is so much gender inequality here to begin with. I am however planning on taking 15 girls from my village in August for a Scout Camp promoting health and women empowerment which I filed for a grant for over a long weekend with another volunteer, I had the girls write essays to apply. At a later date I would like to hold a second camp for the boys and girls.
Finally one of the biggest things I do is serve on the board of my village’s Sports Development Committee. Along with my counterpart and the winnings from my Long Tom race I used the funds to buy soccer balls and certificates for an event I helped plan for Youth Day. We spent long nights and days planning an event for Sept 26th. We set up a women’s soccer league consisting of four teams through the community, and for the first time many of them were kicking around a ball. We set up a tournament that ended on Youth Day in celebration with the community. Teams traveled in from nearby to play our village men’s, boy’s and women’s teams. To kick off the day in the morning I ran a 4 kilometer race for those not competing in soccer. Prior to the day’s events as the women’s league built up, I began a Grassroot soccer program with them, where I took each team aside to talk about HIV/AIDS through the interactive learning program, far different than classroom instruction. The Sports Development Committee also had LoveLife come to the schools during the prior months to talk about HIV/AIDS to all the students. The development of sports seems to be building in my village, though we have little funds if any. My housefather has started boxing and we are hoping to continue to keep the youth moving, learning, and motivated so that we may develop the leaders of tomorrow. Our next event is Heritage Day scheduled for September 24th, 2012 and I would like to make it even more of a success. I guess I will never stop running around, but what I really wanted to talk about was Nyiko and how I began working with her, I suppose it will have to wait until I write again.

Who Signed Me Up For This?

April 2012
Long Tom – 56 Kilometers up a Mountain, Who Signed Me Up For This?
I’m not sure I would offer up my training advice to anyone else after a week of perm-garden training, the shortest excursion into Botswana, and then a trek back to the beautiful Drakensburg Mountains once again, it was time to put on my Marist singlet once more. After a good night’s sleep and by that I mean in a tent with two other people through a downpour listening to the sounds of those not racing 34.8 miles the following morning and resisting the urge to join the dance party, we awoke at 4:30 to get to the 6 am start in Sabie. Where the start was, we would find it. So with my old cross country flats and my feet blistered feet covered in mole skin, I lined up with all the other runners who looked like they’ve done this before (or at least raced more than a 9k), along with two other Peace Corps volunteers. We didn’t really have any idea what we were getting ourselves into, so we taped our knees for the downhill and without much expectation or stress hung out until we were told to go. Most of the volunteers opted to do the half and would drive up the first half, but I was seeking an adventure.
If it was an experience I was looking for, that was what I got. The Long Tom race sponsors the KLM foundation, which helps fund the education of a few inspiring individuals. So we trekked up the mountain through the heat, wind, and clouds. Along the way we ate potatoes, bananas, gummies, chocolate, and drank plenty of water, Powerade, and cold drink (Coca Cola) of course. I ran with a group of South African men who encouraged me along the way, and I looked out at some of the most amazing views I ever ran through as we climbed up “The Staircase,” trying not to be blown over. Every noteworthy hill has a name; I learned that long ago and “The Staircase” earned it name 30 k into the race. We came through 42 kilometers (marathon point) and I noted this was 6 miles more than I’ve ever run before, but only 14 more kilometers to go! We ran the last 5 kilometers through Lydenburg with people cheering all along the way excited to see a woman pass through with the men. As I crossed the line the man who collected my number asked me if this was my first ultra-marathon, with little energy I told him it was my first marathon. I finished third women in the race in 5 hours and 12 minutes, and I quickly fell to the ground for a nap after a massage. I earned a small cash prize to use in my village on a women’s soccer league my counterpart and I initiated to encourage women empowerment, HIV/AIDS education, and get the girls off the street playing soccer for the first time! The night of the race we celebrated, I qualified for Comrades (89km race next year), and of course I couldn’t help, but be the last one dancing.
The rest of the week we spent hiking through Drakensburg. We splashed around white water rafting, rock sliding into the river at one point, our tour guide got out to play with a crocodile along the way. We explored Graskop through the guidance of a recruited taxi driver we found and negotiated with to drive us around with pit stops at God’s Window, the Pinnacle, Bourke’s Potholes, and a beautiful waterfall. We hiked through Blyde River Canyon (possibly the biggest “green canyon” in the world) and we ended our adventurous week on kloofing before heading back to our Pretoria to depart for our villages. Kloofing put hiking at a new extreme as we suited up in a wet suit and helmet and for good reason. Along the way we jumped off rocks into water, slid down trees, climbed up a waterfall, and played around in the Mac Mac Pools below one of the most incredible waterfalls I’ve ever seen in a place where it seemed like we had almost found it. Of course it was only because of our guide we made it there, but it was fun for the moment being to think so. It wasn’t nearly as big as Tugela Falls (the waterfall we hiked to during Christmas – the third biggest in the world), but we could feel the mist of it on faces as we swam around in the pool.
I was both exhausted and happy to arrive back in my village to spend Easter with my family before the school week begun once again. We shared a meal; I shared photos and pie, and I showed them my medal. Unfortunately at the state of my feet I don’t think I inspired anyone all that much to go run 56 km up a mountain, but it was a fun story to tell. Before I had left my village my house mother told me, “Just don’t fall.” It seems they know me all too well, and I am happy to say three weeks after the race I may still be recovering, but I did not fall.

Xongile

02-27-12
Along the Unpaved Roads
I’ll admit I’m confused, am I eight months into my service or 19 away from returning home? Is today going to be one of those days where I itch for my board and mountain of snow under the blistering heat and everything that comes with it, or is the sweet scent of mangoes and starry nights going to pull me into Africa once more? There are many highs and lows throughout each day. Moments where I’m over 11,000 feet in the air after a trek to the highest point in Southern Africa in Lesotho, when my house mother brings me a fresh watermelon picked from the garden or an avocado that fell from the tree, when I can make a student smile because I sat down with them for a moment and we find a middle ground between our two languages that helps them comprehend whatever concept, or a 16 mile run which ends up in me sprinting away from a snake through the bush past warthogs, waterbuck, springbok, wildebeest to a dead stop five feet from a couple of giraffes. These are probably just a few of the moments I’ll look back on Africa on, but they don’t come without the more difficult challenges. Moments when I hear several cracks of a whip used in the staff room, when I walk into my classroom of close to sixty 6th grade students who speak Tsonga and not more than a chalkboard to help assist in a lesson on HIV/AIDS which seems to be the under discussed reason for the numerous funerals that take place on the weekends and possibly the underlying reason for the number of orphans in the village, lack of parental guidance, and debate on discipline.
As I begin each day I’m not really sure how it will end, but just as fast as I fall I’m picked up on my feet and the roller coaster begins again. I hope by the end of each day it’s all worth it. That we establish a presence beyond our own growth here, beyond learning a new language, one that measures into the two years we left home for. It’s not easy to find your way along these unpaved roads, choosing which battles are yours to fight, and which cultural lines you stop at, but you wouldn’t have those moments of high without those moments of low. So at the end of each day I just remember they are numbered so whether I’m struggling over the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro or through Long Tom Pass every moment and every mile counts. I’ve been here eight months and sometimes I see my presence and other times I wonder where my purpose is, but maybe it’s not about the library previously established by the last volunteer, but finding my own way. Perhaps there won’t be a gold medal at the end and I’ll have to settle with a participation ribbon, but if we measure ourselves in the number of gold medals we’ve received it’s easy to forget why we wanted them to begin with. It’s easy to forget about the ride that brought us here and remember it’s the means to the end that matters. Maybe Kant has a point and I’m bound to acquire a few more bruises before can write my name in the sandy roads of my village.

Please excuse any grammatical errors through these blogs as I realized the conversion from my computer to phone seems to distort the text.

10-31-11
The Little Engine that Could
Happy Halloween to all here and there its seems we have come upon the holiday out of ordinary circumstances, snow or for me heat. Funny enough it is usually these small unordinary things that we will recall back upon these days by no matter how unpleasant or pleasant we may find them, and that is exactly what leads me into this blog , when things dont go the way to you expect them to. First let me just start off by thanking Peace Corps for the wonderful medical kit they gave because I believe I have set the record for the most uses out of it, but I dont want to get too far ahead myself.
When I crossed the finish line last May after 12.5 laps that was supposed to be the end of it, I packed my flats along with everything else I didnt think I would need over these next 27 months and threw them in the attic. Little did I know this may just be the beginning and I would be writing home not for rainbow cookies, or maple syrup, but my pink Asics (not to discourage any rainbow cookies and maple syrup). That being said my beat up Nikes looked catalog fresh next to the ultra-marathoners shoes I stood next to. So there I stood with one of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers at what seemed to be the starting point of a 9K, if our complexion didnt stand out enough well we were also two women in reasonable running shape. So we got our numbers which seemed to be just drawn on a piece of cloth, and the race official handed us XL yellow t-shirts. We asked if we could retrieve our shirts after the race as we had nowhere to put them, since the race started and finished in different places, but it seemed we would be races in two shirts if we wanted to hold onto them. Being our first African race t-shirts and the fact that they said marathon we decided what the heck we wanted to keep them so two shirts it was like everyone else. The race was supposed to start at seven, but I figured it probably wouldnt start until well after. To my surprise everyone started walking over to the line 10 minutes to, and then it just started no whistle, no go, people just started running, and so did I. In the beginning of the race I was running more for the women in the community who seemed astonished I was able to keep up with the males, but by the end I was running to keep up with the male in front of me when I realized the course was completely unmarked and I had little desire to get lost in Africa. As I crossed the finish line, to my pleasure before I had ran 9 kilometers, the race officials asked me my time (good thing I was wearing a watch), but everyone seemed to just make up times anyway as I tried to explain I finished in 36 minutes not 6. At the end nearly everyone got medals and prizes anyway, we danced and ate and Im pretty sure the race made no money, but even though there had probably been more structure to our annual beer mile at Marist, this may have been one of my favorite races yet. That being said I returned home with my medal and was woken up at 5:50 the next morning by my house sister and brother who wanted to go running.
Perhaps it is less about the time, but about getting people moving, motivated, and healthy, but with my 56 kilometer race drawing nearer I still have that long run scheduled in each week. This week it was Sunday; Saturday I had field trip with my school to the Venda area and there was no way I could do it Monday through Friday between the dark and heat. Luckily Sunday didnt seem to be overbearingly hot and I was able to sleep in until 7:15. I got on my shoes, got out the door for 13 miles and returned 25 minutes later a bloody mess. However, I was long overdue if you can recall my epic history of running and falling, but even I knew this one was pretty bad. The boys carrying the wheelbarrow across the road stopped moving and starred, the truck that passed me turned around and came back not to ask if I needed help just to see, and the women doing laundry midway through whatever item just watched me run by as a big mess, as if running wasnt weird enough. As I ran through my village to get home as quickly as I could past all my community members whose mouths seemed to drop as they asked me if I was attacked I thought, oo this is embarrassing, and the further I ran the worse it looked. Fortunately I can say I fell, just as fluently as Im going running, in Xitsonga. I think I may have slightly scared my family, but I cleaned up, bandaged up, and waited a few moments before going out to redeem myself. I still had another 10 miles to get in and Im supposed to inspire people right? So what better way to do so then to get up and try again, this is what I learned my one of my favorite childhood books The Little Engine That Could. Well when I approached the spot I fell I told myself to be extra careful looking out for rocks, my bandages had already fallen off in the first 20 seconds of my redemption run, but I guess it was just one of those days. Same place, same thing, same people watching, additional cuts, this was definitely a run Ill remember. This time the women doing laundry stopped me and called me over to throw water on my legs soaking my shoes, but I was only a mile or so from home at that point. I ran pass the same villagers for the fourth time; second time once again a mess. Once more I opened the med kit cleaned up the same and additional cuts and retired for the day using one hand (the less cut up one) to complete the days tasks cooking, cleaning, attempting to type before I realized how much my fingers hurt to move. My housemother told me to put something on it, from what I made out a fruit juice or something, I figured I was about to be introduced to some pretty cool African healing, as she handed me a bottle with a light brown liquid. I rubbed it on and then read the bottle, which said brake fluid, keep out of contact with eyes and skin, if comes in contact with skin wash immediately. Well, either Africa needs a lesson on recycling which may be a fair question as my students were drinking water on the field trip yesterday out of a container labeled BLEACH, or I just put brake fluid on my leg. So I debated whether my leg was starting to feel numb, burning, or beginning to feel better as I walked over to get water to wash it off and decided to take my chances, when in Africa. I decided to postpone my run the following day and share my story which received a great deal of attention and many laughs. I remember when I was younger and my mom drew cuts all over me on Halloween for my dead soccer player costume, but this year I was ready for Halloween whether Africa was or not.

The African Tooth Fairy
Well you see, the kids dress up in costumes and then they go door to door asking for candy saying Trick or Treat. It never sounded ridiculous before, until I was the only one who knew what Halloween was. Then what do you do? Well then you go home and eat all the candy. Maybe Santa Clauses recognition comes from the fact that he can fly all over the world without having to deal with customs or visas, at least to the extent he is a big fat man dressed in red and white who delivers presents on Christmas Eve, but what about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and everybody else?
As I sat observing one of my fourth grade classes a boy came to the front of the room with a tooth he pulled out in the middle of class. The teacher sent him out to clean up and when he returned he took the tooth in a napkin. I suppose my principal may have thought this made me uncomfortable because she called me into her office. She said, You see, when our children are young we lie to them. I wasnt sure what she was referring to until I saw the tooth on her desk, I guess I figured anywhere a nine year old boy in any classroom would pull out his tooth after playing with it probably the whole day. However, my teacher had gone to my principal to tell her about the incident that I observed I suppose just to be cautious. She told me that when a child loses a baby tooth, they tell the children they must go to the place of ashes or where they were born, somewhere of the sort turn around and throw it in. If they fail to do so their second tooth wont grow in. She told me that is why the boy was so nervous about his tooth, because if she didnt give it back to him at the end of the day or if he lost it then he would worried about his adult tooth not growing in, which seems to justify the small distraction he made in class. I told her not to worry because we do the same thing and I started to explain the tooth fairy, which she found just as amusing as I felt explaining it. As we laughed over the stories we tell our children, I couldnt help but think who sounded more ridiculous. A tooth not growing back or a fairy that visits in the middle of the night and leaves a dollar for every tooth which is laid under the pillow you sleep on. I told her about the time my little brother lost his front tooth, but he didnt want to tell anyone because he wanted to find out if the tooth fairy was real and who can blame him, unfortunately he choose the wrong tooth to test his hypothesis.

And for the quote of the week for those studying education, teaching, or just observing math class and wondering what happen to apples
If you have five wives and I take three, how many do you have left?
All answers can be mailed directly to
ADDRESS
M.B. Shualy
Care of Jillian Corley
PO BOX 752
Masingita, 0832
South Africa

For next week we will work on probability which will consider the probability of your letter making it to South Africa, and the probability or your letter making it to South Africa without being opened.
Salani Kahle! Na mi rhandza.

10-11-11
What is this party for?
When you arrive at a party often you bring a gift of some bearing whether it is wine, dessert, or a card depending on the occasion, assuming you know what that occasion is. We bought a beautiful mink blanket, so what was the occasion? It was just a party, one that the whole village seemed to be at as well as many distant travelers. They were all dressed up in their traditional wear, the Tsongas, the Sothos, the Zulus, and there was plenty of booze and dancing. Even the children were running around with beer bottles, which I would like to were just recycled and refilled with soda; this was quite the affair. And in the middle of it all in the yard there was a stage, with a bed. A bed in the middle of a party? So my house father took one end of the blanket and I took the second and we danced onto the stage and laid the blanket on top of the person lying motionless on the bed. Now I knew that South Africans celebrated the death of a person passing, but this was just ridiculous and as we descended the stage the women continued to dance in a circle around the bed. Funerals seem to occur nearly every weekend my family had just gotten back form one the smorning. Instead of mourning the person for an extensive time they celebrate their life, so I suppose I just missed the service and previous days events, but you think someone would have mentioned it.
As more people arrived they all seemed to bring a blanket, they are gifts I was told. They would lay the blanket on top of other blankets and everyone would dance and cheer, then a few men would remove the blankets and carry them inside. As I made my way around with greetings my housefather introduced me to a woman I have never met, Jillian this is my wife the older one. All I had to say is its great to meet you in my few Xitsonga words which they get all excited about. I sat with them and watched as more and more blankets arrived. I was growing more tired by the minute I even swore I saw the person on the bed move. I kept thinking I dont know what they are are going to do with all the blankets though they must have at least fifty by now and theyre all pretty much the same. By blanket number 40 I asked and they just replied they are gifts, maybe theyll use them for guests (40 guests), but everyone starting laughing and cheering so loudly as someone brought a second bed and as they switched the beds I wondered what happen to the person? Maybe the old woman was alive! So this woman laid on a bed bundled up for her entire party in the middle of her entire party completely still while as each guest arrived they presented her with a new blanket, in this heat? So I tried to find out more information from my sister and I came to find out that everybody has this party, it occurs once in their lifetime, and she will also have this party. Well that was what I assumed was as far as I would get so I enjoyed the rest of my night learning to dance like a South African, and having the older women protect me from marriage proposals.
When we left I confessed to my other sister I thought the person lying on the bed wasnt alive she laughed and said yes she must remain very still she has come back from a week away. And so I found the missing puzzle piece. It wasnt an old woman, but a girl, and this was a menstruating party. When a girl starts menstruating in America it generally stays in hushed tones, in South Africa you tell your whole village invite everyone, supply booze and food and throw a party. Though this also brings along another challenge I was hoping not to face I will refrain from drawing my own conclusions right away (as a pronounced a young girl deceased a few moments ago), I have a lot to learn. I know I can only play a certain role in the community, but I couldnt help but feel a little disheartened by what that week entailed and the occasion I was so eager to know. So as we arrived back home exhausted and hungry since wed hadnt gotten the chance to eat in the seven or so hours we spent there my next question was What are they going to do with those 50 new blankets? And I am still wondering.

When life gives you lemons…

9-29-11
Big girls, you are beautiful
Every day begins right around 5:45 when my alarm goes off and I push snooze, a minute later my phone alarm go off from across the room. Thats the point I get on my Nikes and get out the door, where I can actually enjoy the cool morning. It effort to adapt to what is later to come I even put my bag of chips in the fridge. This is just the beginning of what is starting to feel like bikini season and the rest of the world would probably say South Africa isnt ready, but Im pretty sure they would disagree. It can be a little bit confusing some seem to care about staying fit, healthy, but packing on the pounds is totally embraced. If you call someone fat its a compliment! It means they are well feed; they know how to cook, probably would make a good wife, and looking good. So after unsuccessfully explaining the idea wasnt to gain weight, and I am eating plenty I just blame it on the running. My tanana from my first home stay use to tell me too skinny I like them like fatty boom boom, then he would point to his wife. What brought me to this blog was the group of teachers Im working with in one of my primary schools. After sending the students home the teachers are required to stay until 2:20 and so they gather in the staff room for the remainder of the day, though Im not sure why the students were released at 12:30. Upon gathering one of them grabs a dusty scale from on top of a cabinet. One by one all the teachers jumped on it and announced their weight just playing around and as people walked in the door they jumped right in. It was funny to me because in America we are so shy when it comes to stepping on the scale especially if youre the heaviest one, but here regardless of how big or small you are from across the room someone would yell, What does it say? In America no one would ever really ask me my weight, but they just say without a second thought Xongile get on the scale. So though I plan on advocating health and fitness I cant say I dont like the idea of just embracing who you are and your body without any shame.

When life gives you lemons
Its pretty simple actually and quite ingenious, one cup of sugar, one cup of water, heat until dissolved. Next add a cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice, and 4 cups or so of cold water, cool or freeze! As everything is just beginning to ripen up the lemon tree has been ripe for months, and with plenty of fruit on it. They arent the picture perfect smooth lemons I grew up with, but theyre better, and they are right in my backyard. So I decided to make my first go at it and with the finished product I offered it to my family, surely theyve had lemonade before, they have a lemon tree. So just sugar, water, and lemons, thats it! We didnt know you could make juice out of it, try this swa ndzahia (its delicious)! After that batch was finished, two days later my housefather offered me some of his batch that he brewed up. I took a sip and it was the sourest lemonade Ive ever had, but I drank it anyway and I was heartened to see that he tried to make it, so I promised to show them this weekend. Sometimes its the simple things, and without even trying our two cultures were building a bridge. So when life gives you lemons, teach someone to make lemonade.
Salani kahle!
Peace and Love

9-21-11

As we pulled up to my new home for the next two years principal said to me, Youre not in New York anymore. If I hadnt realized it yet among the constant distraction of other volunteers I definitely came to my senses when I stepped into my rondavel, still without a bed. And here it goes again; though this time I was on my own with a little bit more training and officially the only white person in my village and the villages nearby. I had two new primary schools, a new family, a new key, and no idea what I was getting myself into. I had a million ideas before arriving, but as they introduced me around the community as the developer and each person asked me what I was going to do, what I was going to build I stumbled upon words. I have to first learn a language, then teach English, then work my way through 18 community problems while trying to adjust to these news arising temperatures all in Celsius. Not to mention reintroducing the concept of running which I now have to make sure I get in since I signed up for 56 kilometer race in March just for kicks.
It was time to slow down to basics. Buy a fridge to reduce chances or melting, buy a bucket to bathe in, a stove to cook with, Doom to get rid of ants, a mirror because I havent seen what I look like in the last week, and a tea kettle to boil water. Completely lost in translation, routine, and a crowd of people after a church revival service (which I was seated up front for next to the pastors) my little five year old sister found me and grabbed my hand to walk home and for the first time I thought Im going to be ok here. My yard is full of beautiful tropical fruit trees including mangoes, lemons, papayas, and avocados. In one blackberry tree I even saw a lizard! And just when I felt like I had no idea how in the world I was going to make any kind of impact everything started opening up. I spoke to every teacher at both my schools and saw the struggles each was facing. The overcrowded classes having as many as 60 students and nowhere to move, the absence of comprehension of material (35 percent being passing on the state test) due to language barriers, the transition away from corporal punishment, lack of resources, high HIV/AIDS concerns, curriculum changes and the poverty all began to add up. The poverty, not only the reason behind students not eating before coming to school or getting sick, but also the reason many stay home from school. Some of the children who can barely read or write in seventh, sixth grade are forced to take on adult responsibilities and roles due to lack of parental supervision if any. Whether this means taking care of younger siblings, or just having no one to tell them to go to school its a struggle that the schools have a hard time dealing with. The more I have the chance to observe everything going on the more I figure where my place is. Whether that is taking the 18 computers I found in a storage room not being used, and the books in the food storage room and converting the desks and table storage room into a computer lab and library, or jumping in a game of net ball with the students I am just beginning to learn my way.
This past weekend I was lucky enough to be introduced to Heritage Day, a South African holiday. My community put on a big celebration with lots of incredible Tsonga dancing, music and beautiful traditional wear. Along with the soccer games played on the dirt field, boxing matches were set up in a random boxing ring brought out, and net ball. It was so nice to be part of this community and village and see them so proud of their heritage both women, men, children old and young. I find Tsonga such a wonderful culture to be part of because it is small, but rich. So even though I may not be able to speak Tsonga anywhere else in the world, for the same reason that is why it is so unique and exciting to speak because automatically I feel connected. Bombarded and overwhelmed by people and children yelling Xongile (my African name), and throwing names back at me that I cant even pronounce let alone remember, I know this is just the beginning and I couldnt have picked a better placement for myself.
Salani kahle!
Peace and Love

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