June 1, 2009

Sabie, Swaziland and Sodwana Bay

On March 26, Jared, Becky (the other Peace Corps volunteer at our organization) and I traveled through the tiny country of Swaziland, roughly a three hour journey, and ended up in Sabie, a nice little mountain town in South Africa. We were there for a fundraiser 1/2 marathon, but had a day before the race/walk for sightseeing and visiting another volunteer, Elizabeth (E). Here a few pics of this beautiful part of South Africa.

A few years back a couple of Peace Corps volunteers started a fundraiser, via an existing ultra marathon and a 1/2 marathon, to raise money for KLM Foundation - http://www.klm-foundation.org/. This foundation allows students from rural areas that are economically disadvantaged, to attend a private school. Check out their website and donate if you can. This year's event brought roughly 70 Peace Corps volunteers together to run, run/walk, or walk (that would be us) the ultra marathon and 1/2 marathon. Jared and I did a bit o' fundraising for this and want to thank our generous friends and family:)

The Peace Corps group after the race. The guys in front (Oliver and Adam) finished the ultra marathon. . . .the rest of us struggled with the 1/2.

After the run, we ate copious amounts of meat to replenish any caloric loss.

The following day, the three of us plus another volunteer, Christy, drove through Swaziland again and only got lost about 4 times. There were round-abouts aplenty, but very few signs. It felt nice to be back in South Africa, a land of many signs. The following day, Jared, Becky and I drove up to Sodwana Bay, roughly 2 1/2 hours from where we live. Lonely Planet describes it as a isolated and serene beach. . .
Thankfully we were able to find some quiet areas and came across a lighthouse. We packed in a lot to our little adventure and came home pooped, a sign of a good vacation.

April 30, 2009

So, about a month ago...

It has been a very long time since we posted anything on this blog. Shame. Here is what’s been occupying our time:

Near the end of March, Kim and I took a long walk down one of the dirt roads that lead into the forest surrounding our township; although, “forest” is certainly too romantic of a term. It’s actually a commercial plantation, free of undergrowth and full of identical trees in efficient rows. We had heard that somewhere down this road, among the orderly gum trees, was a small graveyard. Perhaps not the most interesting way to pass an afternoon, but it would only cost us sunscreen, so why not, and we set out in search. Eventually, we came upon it.

The small graveyard was quite a bit larger than we had expected. There was a prominent brick entrance, but no actual gate, and no fence of any kind surrounding the sprawl of headstones. The grass was wild and patchy. Shade trees or stumps were left here and there. At the far end of the property, two men in bright blue work suits sat with their shovels under a white canopy next to a pile of dusty earth.

We spent about half an hour respectfully navigating the uneven plots, reading names and dates. Kim and I were both born in 1978, which, we soon realized, is earlier than or only shortly after a majority of the engraved birth dates that surrounded us. Locally, almost half of an entire generation – our generation – is testing positive for the three-letter plague. The ones that have already succumbed are buried here. Assaulted by the reality of those statistics we grew silent and decided to walk back down the dirt road, through the orderly gum trees.

Just then, we heard singing, followed by the sound of several tires slowly rolling up the dirt road. There are two things that a great many South African’s do every weekend: on Sunday, they attend church; and on Saturday, they attend a funeral. At the far end of the property, the men in the bright blue work suits stood up. It was Saturday, again.

As passengers from more than two-dozen cars and three large busses emptied into the graveyard, Kim and I quietly walked the other way. On our way out, we noticed that the headstones and memorials in this part of the graveyard were a bit larger, nicer, the plots more orderly, the birth dates a lot older, and the names no longer Zulu. Apartheid is alive in that graveyard.

Rather than go straight home, Kim and I decided to take a fork in the dirt road to extend our walk and clear our heads a bit. We had no idea what might be down this other road, as the only thing we knew was that there was a graveyard in this area and that was behind us. As we walked further we noticed that litter was steadily increasing along the sides of the road and Kim remembered that someone had once told her there was also a garbage dump somewhere around here. A skinny man in ragged clothes greeted us in Zulu as he rode past on his bicycle.

Just a little further down the road the smell of burning garbage was noticeable; just a little further, the smell of rotting food; then, a large dump began to come into view. At the edge of the dump, the man on the bicycle was parked, talking to a second skinny man in equally ragged clothes. They stared at us uncomfortably, stopping their conversation as we approached, and I greeted them both in Zulu – the man on the bike for the second time – because I didn’t know what else to do. Beyond the two men, we could see four or five women sifting through the mountains of rubbish. Two of the women stopped what they were doing and began walking towards us, which was when we noticed they were actually young girls. We kept walking. They followed behind us.

Up ahead, amidst the piles of forgotten waste, we noticed several small shacks built of wood and tin and discarded plastic. A handful of other people, young and old, were picking through the colourful manmade mountains. One of the young girls that had been walking behind us asked us a question in Zulu. I didn’t understand what she asked, but her voice broke our trance and we stopped walking. “Niyaphi?” she said - where are you going? “Angazi,” I said, after a pause - I don’t know. Then she asked if we had any food or money.

A few meters from where we were now standing, there was a spoiled oasis of inky water and litter filled grass. An old washing machine sat half submerged in the black pool. Around the edges, wet clothing was carefully draped over the branches of the few surviving bushes. There were no clouds in the midday sky. About a dozen children, most of them naked, were waste deep in the filthy water, splashing and laughing, enjoying themselves and ignoring us.

In front of us, the road curved a bit and we couldn’t see where it led. We turned around and walked home.

Later that evening, when looking at our calendar, I noticed that it had been a South African holiday. It was Human Rights Day.

April 3, 2009

March Travel Map

March is over, so we've updated our travel map (travel stories coming soon). Light blue highlights all the new additions from the previous month. In case you missed it from the old map:

-Blue lines are places we've traveled
-Green squares are places we've spent the night
-Green squares with a red dot are places we've spent at least two weeks
-Red squares are places we lived for at least two months
-Red square with a yellow dot is where we have lived since October

Click on the image to view a larger version.

March 25, 2009

Sing it with me, "our house, is a very, very, pink house, with two dogs in the yard. . ."

There are many stories to tell, but for now it is just a post about our house. There will be more posts next week rest assured.

Here is the pepto residence in all its glory

Our house is in the backyard of our host family's house

Here are Tyson (the big guy in front) and Tigger (the skiddish sidekick), our host family's guard dogs

Our bedroom/study/dining room/living room/den/library/guest bedroom

Kitchen (in Zulu ikhishi)

Our host family's house (there will be a post about our nice family in the near future)

Jared and I are lucky to have such a nice place to live in. A lot of our Peace Corps friends in South Africa live in huts, small tin rooms or inside a family's home, so we are living posh in comparison. Maybe MTV will want to do an episode of Cribs here? I mean we do suddenly have Hollywood friends...

March 12, 2009

Sign o' the Times

Life has been a little slow here lately. My most recent trip to Pretoria was fairly uneventful. Most of what happens at these quarterly Volunteer Advisory Council (VAC) meetings is bureaucratic and uninteresting to non-Peace Corps folks, so I'll spare you the detail.

Last week, Kim and I were without water for about two days, which was no fun at all, but we've learned our "always be prepared" lesson. Next time (and we've been assured there will be a next time; and likely for longer than two days) we'll have a stash of fresh water under our sink.

But, because we've promised to post at least once a week, and because we've already failed to live up to that promise, we thought we had better put something up, and soon. So we're introducing something that will probably make repeat appearances over the next year: a post about signs. It's kind of a hobby for us to snap photos of signs that make us laugh, or seem unique or ironic, or whatever. Some of you have already seen a few of these if you received our mass emails last year. For example:

...a sign on a rubbish bin at "God's Window," a scenic overlook in the Blyde River Canyon Area. And/or you may have seen...

...the stationary store in our town that sounds a lot like a Ben Stiller movie. Kim and I have done a quick search of our photos and found a few more that make us smile. Here is what we managed to find. In the future we'll post more of these. Enjoy.

This is the name of a store at the Gateway Mall in Durban (the largest mall in the Southern Hemisphere). "Lekker Biltong" = "Delicious Jerky." Well, ok, not exactly; but more or less. You aren't likely to ever see a more quintessentially South African sign. "Lekker" is kind of an all purpose word that most literally means delicious (in Dutch and Afrikaans), but is also frequently used to mean good, fine, excellent, great, etc. For example, if a South African asks you how your weekend was, it's acceptable and common to answer "lekker," even if, strictly speaking, your weekend was not delicious.

"Biltong" is jerky, but more. It's a serious South African institution and it's far more delicious than jerky; oh, pardon me, I mean far more lekker than jerky.

Ok, this one isn't so much funny as it is interesting. South Africa has eleven official languages, so most signs (though obviously not all) appear in at least two or three different languages; usually English and/or Afrikaans and any other locally dominant language. This is the sign for the Pretoria Art Museum. It's in Afrikaans (big title) and, I think, in Zulu, which is strange since Pretoria is primarily Afrikaans and Sotho speaking. Anyway, it looks like they are slowly removing the Zulu titles on this sign. Maybe to be replaced by Sotho ones?

Peace Corps volunteers always follow the rules.

Two croc signs near our home town. The big yellow sign is actually next to a beach boardwalk. Danger, indeed. We see crocs in this area every time we visit and tend to avoid this beach.