Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Straddling the Line

Last week I spent my first few days in Pretoria. It was a strange experience to be in a modern city after four months of village life. Towering buildings, lights, sounds, people everywhere and seemingly limitless choices--where to eat, what to eat, what store to shop at, what taxi service to use...

Pretoria has nothing that would distinguish it from most other modern cities with the exception of the high walls, razor wire and electric fencing that surround every home and many businesses. Unfortunately this level of security is necessary due to the high level of crime in the city. Walking in pairs during the day is highly recommended, and at night don't walk anywhere without a group of at least five--even in the nicer areas.

I stayed at one of the local backpackers that caters to Peace Corps volunteers. I found it to be a nice little haven in the midst of the busy city around me. In addition to the few volunteers, there was also a group of students from the UK, a traveling musician from Spain, a couple form Australia and another American who was in Pretoria doing free-lance writing for ESPN (the FIFA Confederation Cup began last week). Each had equally fascinating stories for how they ended up in South Africa, and I enjoyed conversing with the diverse group of travelers.

On Friday evening, our new free-lance journalist friend invited us to go with him to the Italy national team practice. When we arrived, the practice turned out to be a scrimmage against a team of South African All-Stars. So we found ourselves in the press box with free buffet and open bar watching the reigning World Cup Champions soundly thrash the competition. Two nights before I was in my village listening to the drumming of the rain on the tin roof and praying for the electricity to come back on. The juxtaposition was almost too much for me.

After a few interviews with the players, we jumped back into the rental car and headed back to the other side of Pretoria. Here I was in the city that my host brother commutes to on a daily basis for school. The city where probably about 90% of the employed in my village commute to work--what can be a three to four hour taxi ride despite its proximity to our village. And here I was living the high life. It was a lesson in opportunity--a lesson that I'm still trying to choke down. How do you move gracefully and easily from a "developing world" setting to a "developed world" setting? And how do you fit comfortably into either when you live above the standard of the first and below the standard of the second? I'm afraid there is no answer to these questions.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Top Ten

Top 10 items that I packed in my suitcase:
  1. Photos from home
  2. Duct tape (I have not found it here, and it really is the most useful item I brought. Yes, it really does rank higher than my laptop.)
  3. Laptop
  4. Books/movies (lots of downtime)
  5. Reusable grocery bags (I use them on a daily basis)
  6. French press (unfortunately broken but has since been replaced)
  7. Sewing kit (I've hemmed curtains and sewed all sorts of useful items for my house)
  8. iPod (Is it possible to live without music?)
  9. Running shoes
  10. Sleeping bag
Top 10 items I have purchased for settling into my new home:
  1. Cell phone (Not sure it really fits the list, but that means calls from the States and Internet access)
  2. Solar shower (I don't know how I lived four months without it)
  3. French press (Well, I consider good coffee an essential)
  4. Water barrel (Keeps me from having to haul water from the tap every day)
  5. Buckets (Handy for hauling water when I need to refill the bucket)
  6. Rope (Hanging things from the rafters saves storage space)
  7. Wall hooks (Another space saver)
  8. Electric kettle (boils water super-fast)
  9. Tupperware (The obvious food storage use but also came in handy before I purchased dishes)
  10. Refrigerator (Well, I like food to stay fresh.)
Top 10 items I've received in a care package (and lots of thanks to everyone who has sent one):
  1. Pictures from home
  2. Thomas the Train Valentine's Day Cards from my nephew
  3. Starbucks coffee
  4. TLC granola bars
  5. A copy of TIME
  6. Stickers (I've mostly given them away to kids, but they still make me really happy to see them in the package.)
  7. Lotion from Bath and Body Works
  8. Duct tape (It hasn't arrived yet, but I was told it was coming. I've already used the roll that I brought with me.)
  9. Clothes that wouldn't fit in the suitcase and still have it meet the 80lbs. limit
  10. Relevant Magazine (Coming directly from Relevant--way to go to them for sending it to my the post office in my little village.)
Top 10 items that I just couldn't do without:
  1. Pictures from home
  2. Peanut butter (readily available and regularly purchased)
  3. Cell phone
  4. Books
  5. Britae filter (Peace Corps gave it to us. The water from our tap is really sandy. I've never seen a filter get so nasty so quickly.)
  6. Toilet paper (It almost makes going to the pit latrine seem normal.)
  7. Pee Bucket (Because my pit latrine is at least a hundred yards from the house, and I just don't want to traverse that at night.)
  8. Duct tape
  9. Buckets
  10. The big, fuzzy blanket from Peace Corps (It keeps me warm at night when the temperature gets down to 40°F and the tin roof and concrete walls let in the cold.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Meeting Makau

Legoa (Le-ho-a) is a word that I have become all too familiar with. In
Setswana it means "white person." It doesn't necessarily have a negative
connotation, but in certain circumstances and uses it is not exactly a

Most often I hear it from children as they eagerly wave and yell for my
attention, "Legoa! Legoa!" This encounter is usually followed by an
explanation in Setswana that my name is not Legoa but Amanda or Makau
(my Setswana name). Now when I pass by the primary school on my way to
and from work, I hear shouts of "Amanda! Amanda!" along with the eager

This encounter was magnified last week when we went to visit two of the
local primary schools and one of the middle schools as a part of Child
Protection Week. Upon my arrival at the first primary school, all of the
children crowded around the doorways shouting legoa and giggling to see
a white person at their school. Later during the presentation led by
members of the police force and one of our own volunteers at the victim
empowerment center, I was introduced properly.

Schools in the villages do not have auditoriums, gymnasiums or
cafeterias for assemblies. Most consist of three to five buildings
surrounding a large courtyard area. Each building usually houses three
to four small classrooms. For assemblies, the students carry out chairs
into the courtyard and arrange them in rows. At the middle school, the
students where required to stand in rows. Rainy days, hot days and cold
days make assemblies rather miserable.

The middle school we visited is the same school where my host mother
teaches. The entire faculty consists of eleven people including the
principal, and there are over 300 students. Class sizes range from 40-60
kids crammed into a classroom, sharing desks and/or chairs. Not exactly
a conducive work environment, but both teachers and students work with
what is available.

Although somewhat thrown together at the last minute, our presentations
went rather well. We had the opportunity to share valuable information
with students on how to protect themselves and how to report abuse and
crime. I was really glad that I had the opportunity to tag along and
that I got to know a few of the officers at the police station a little
better. It was a really great experience, and I'm glad to be Makau in
the minds of so many more children.