Sunday, 5 October 2008

Time flys

When I counted back how much I have been doing for the last 6 weeks, I had a fright. I have covered 6 different South African territories, taken 5 internal flights, had 4 hours sleep for 4 consecutive nights, driven nearly 10 000 k's and had 1 day off. Healthy? No. Enjoyable? I think so, when I get a moment to reflect I'll let you know.
Notable highlights?
Attending an aerobics class and being the only white person in the studio, let alone the gym.
Breaking down (running out of petrol) and being 'saved.' The man who 'saved' me, has turned out to be a great contact. Not only for touch rugby team, but for potential living space and for having a bakkie. Last week was the National Cup of Heroes competition... hence the no sleep. The Finals were arranged for Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria.. fantastic for the kids. On the Saturday we realise we have no way to transport the nets for soccer and netball. A phone call later he saves the day for Score as well. The journey with the soccer nets was most memorable. Geoff and I standing up in the back of the truck, holding the soccer posts down with all our weight, whizzing along the highway. Safety first right?!
Having my volunteers describe me as a 'tree of life.' The body of the tree they drew to represent me was the trunk with 'reliable' on, the branches had many other descriptive words that apparently summed up me. Very flattering.
Attending a Spanish Embassy function, dancing to Jazz and pretending to be the fifth wife of a South African Chief.
Leaning back and breaking a chair at said function...
Sneaking into the Union Buildings (South African Parliament) on the day the President Mbeki was asked to step down, using charm to infiltrate the first layer of security. Subsequently appearing on Sky News..
Wearing my orange outfit (thanks Dad) to a cultural evening and being asked to go and stage in it.. to receive some applause.
Running the quickest 10k I ever have, BYE BYE typhoid.
Knowing the girls will be here in a few weeks
Sleeping for 16 hours, and feeling like I had woken out of a coma.
I am surviving. I sometimes cannot believe quite how much I have learnt, about development, South Africa and myself. The scary but also intriguing part is that there is much more still to come.. Everyday seems to through a new challenge, pose a new question and require a serious amount of introspection. Being here, I realise how many of my thoughts, my morals and my norms are a result of cultural socialisation, of thinking that the way I knew, is the only way. This is not true. I do not know exactly where this adventure will lead, but I am holding on because I feel like I need to know.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The road less travelled

Imagine: it has been a heavy week. You have driven over 2000ks dropping volunteers to their new homes for a year. Dusty, hot Limpopo in winter. You have fought with border control to bring your Zimbabwean volunteer back, you bring your new Norwegian volunteer to their new home. The head of the sport committee has died the week before, aged only 25. Your volunteer has 10 minutes to see his new home before his first experience of a memorial service. Eyes pinching against the dust, and swallowing the tears. Subversively, the singing and mourning offered the first moment of tranquillity in weeks. The hospitality of the host family extended to being given the main bed, the mother relocating to the floor of the living space. Protests are batted away like insults; to sleep in the bed is a given. Then back to Pretoria to find somewhere to live. No time for such frivolities. A tournament to help plan for, a huge one. 8 hubs all over the country competing for the Grand PRIZE of attending Nationals. In no particular order the following happened: car exhaust fell off, car stalled so many times the electronic gate closed on it, average sleep 5 hours a night, hostel I stay in got broken into, I started exercising again (feeling better) and a great incident where I went to pick my colleague from the exhaust shop, got flustered ended up on the main toll road, took the first turning off, realised I had no money, ran out the car at the toll gate to the man behind me and through frantic hand gestures and what I perceived as charm managed to get cash to pay the toll gate. Turned the wrong way, ended up in township, got back on toll road, same stopping and borrowing money for exit and 45 minutes after I left to collect her, returned to our team breakfast meeting in Wimpy. A big tick for team Blondie.
The car trauma does not end there. Having hired a 'bakkie' a open back truck to transport prizes up to Limpopo our convoy set off 3 hours late on Friday. Arriving at night into town, I met colleagues gave prizes and was sure I could drive the hour and a half to my community. After all, I lived there for over 6 weeks and have driven the road many times. OH HOW WRONG COULD I BE? I think the combination of pitch black darkness, and the standard insecurity associated with driving around one of the most dangerous countries in the night...played havoc with my sensibilities. I got lost, frightened and was fielding calls thick and fast from concerned friends and colleagues; half reassuring them, half shouting, more at my own stupidity. So I did the only sensible thing I could, I went to the Police Station. Finding this Police station was the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack (excuse the analogy but there is none more fitting), finding me in there caused just as much shock to the staff. To cut a long story short, it is how I found myself with a four man Police escort 90ks to my community. One riding next to be in the cab, and us following 3 others in the car. Call it a drain on taxpayer money if you like, but at the moment I had no time for moral dilemmas. I was a petrified English girl, 40k's off the road she should have been on, driving through South Africa. I loved those Police and the wave of relief was incomparable. The next morning driving to the community I was just about to accelerate around what I perceived as a 'drunk,' no Sisi said my companion, it's the traffic Police. Great. Slamming on the breaks, I stopped and greeted the man with a smile. Refusing to speak in English I showcased my excellent Northern Sotho skills... not helping. As he put his head through the window (not sure why) I was struck by some inspiration. I took a SCORE lanyard off my car keys and placed it around his neck; a mini prize giving ceremony if you will. It took a split second for me to realise that actually this was the best decision I had made, he grinned, clapped and waved me on. Later at the facility the head of the local sport council came up to me laughing. He said he had seen the 'bribe' that I gave to his cousin on the way, and his cousin was thrilled but would also like my phone number. Shame. Fortunately I pretended I misunderstood the request and ran off. I also made a mental note to keep a supply of lanyards on me; for future bribery purposes. The tournament ran well, and I left at last daylight to drive the four hours back to Pretoria. I had only a number of hours of sleep before flying the next day to East London. The capital of the Eastern Cape, Xhosa speaking (that's the one with the clicks), the birthplace of Mandela, the homelands, ANC stronghold. It's politicised, it feels advancing and it is different to Limpopo. Fortunately Geoff my fellow VSO volunteer is the EC coordinator and I managed to coordinate our site visits so spent 12 days together on the road, visiting my four volunteers, collaborating work programs and revelling in the intricacies of British humour. I was fortunate enough to visit Mount Fletcher; so beautiful, so remote, no electricity and generally travelled through on to to via horseback. (ha, no fear I was offered a horse but with no saddle so I declined.) We walked up a mountain, then another, then another still no phone reception. I had one of 'those' meals that I will never forget. Fried fresh fish, fresh apricots, spices and rice. This community is on the foothills of the tremendously imposing Lesotho border. (Lesotho is bordered by all SA provinces but it is it's own country and it is generally very cold in winter and the mountains are snow capped.) I wish you could all ('you' denoting reader) experience that place. Geoff had a bash at stepping on the property market, of course something important in today's society... he would have been the first white to live in the area for 30 years. We found the house, with land and the view and the community were supportive. A steal at 2500R (less than £200) that house would have been his. As fate would have it the house was 'sold' the day before, alas, it was not to be. On reflection we felt the lasting impression would have been that one could just come in and purchase a house, when many people simply cannot afford. Of course Geoff would have given the house to someone to live in...maybe next time.
On to one of my communities, a hard community, a hard life. One poignant element I cannot get out of my mind. A young girl (15) and her little sister (3) came to the family I was staying in. They looked sad, no smiles, I could not break the silence. When they left I was told that their mother had passed a week before, the 15 year old was now 'head of house' responsible for 3 siblings. It is not unusual but it does not make it any less painful. You feel very small about what you can offer, but it is up to me to support the volunteer there, to enhance the structures for sport to function... and hope there will be some trickle down effect...
big hopes...

Sunday, 3 August 2008


So it's official... The typhoid is gone, and for the first time in months I am starting to feel like 'me' again. Back to my 24/7 week... and really it is 'in theory' 24/7 because now my work phone has to be on 24 hours a day in case of emergency. Not ideal.

My team of 4 Norwegians, 1 Zimbabwean, 1 Namibian, 1 Lesotho(ian), 1 Zambian and 2 South African's are just about settled into their new host families across South Africa- their new homes for the next year of their lives. We are working through three Provinces; Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape.. and they are my responsibility; no pressure then.

Presently I am doing my best impression of finding my feet, whilst not really having opportunity or time to do so. I may have found somewhere to live although my schedule means I'll probably only be there for 7 days out of every month.

I revisited my first two host families in Apel and Ga Radingwana and their reactions were priceless, I was so excited to be back and I had this permanent smile on my face the whole time. I actually felt like it was the breakthrough I needed, and from that day I took a turn for the better.

During our specific orientation for the South African volunteers I asked the fatal 'any questions?'

My Zimbabwean volunteer; intelligent and very strong as a volunteer asked

" B, can I just ask, is it true in your culture people with blonde hair are stupid? I'm just confused because I've met you and you really are not stupid so actually now I'm confused about why they say it..."


I told her after working with me for a year she could let me know her opinion.

We'll see.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Be The Change

I'm still feeling pretty average but I wanted to share this with you all:


Some bloke called Ghandi

Sunday, 13 July 2008


The delay in posting has been due to the aforementioned 'fever.' I apologise :)

After 6 months on the (dirt) road; 5 communities, successes, stresses, sadness and learnings, Score on the Move came to an end. For me, it was rather a stilted conclusion to a crazy 6 months; I was sleeping. To be more accurate, I could not actually move out of bed. Something hit me hard, and however much I wanted to; physically I was broken. And so the story goes:
The last community Tiyani were participating in the local Cup of Heroes competition. The Cup of Heroes is one of SCORES three program areas; under which many projects (eg. Score on the Move) take place. The idea is communities hold their own local tournaments in un14 and un16 soccer and netball. The winning teams or best individuals qualify for Regional event, where the community play other communities that are nearby ('nearby' denotes a 300k radius.), the winners progress to the national tournament. A large part of it is 'Scoring for Social Change,' so the teams receive points for doing community based activity and cultural components. As the Score on the Move team were in the community it was a great opportunity to work with the community volunteers to create a day to remember. So we did. We canvassed, fund-raised and my team organised the netball competition. Should have been a great day, unfortunately I lasted 5 minutes, hitched a lift home and slept for the day, and the night. The following day, in traditional stress filled panic style our combi was still in the garage for repairs and so we had only a few hours to get to the Kruger. I was fading in and out of semi consciousness on the front seat; clearly adding no value to proceedings. Our tardiness meant I had no time to see a doctor before we motored on into the Kruger; past elephants, springbok and giraffes. Bad idea. The next morning we motored out of the Kruger; past elephants, springbok and giraffes, me still rolling around in the front seat. The doctor was good, he gave me time and attention and most importantly an injection in my bum. I'm not sure what it was for, but for a blissful hour afterwards I felt good. He also asked the important question: 'any other symptons?' I replied 'I'm not sure if it's relevant but for the past 2 weeks I've wanted to kill people.' On reflection, the injection was probably a sedative. Suffice to say, I did not see any more animals, in fact I did not get further than a guest house at the Kruger gate, where I stayed in bed for 3 days. Things should have been looking up, the group travelled to Pretoria for 'End of Service.' The illness travelled with me. Still lacking a diagnosis I was sure it would pass. How wrong could I be.
Typhoid Fever.
That's right, the 'old school' disease around for centuries; caught by contact with human poop. Nice. Actually, not at all nice. Hideous, de habilitating, exhausting, potential holiday wrecking and still in the system. I don't want to bore you all, and I know I cannot get the sympathy I crave being here, and 'you' all being elsewhere but it's highly unpleasant and I'm hoping things improve soon.
Save the 'shit' jokes, I think I've heard them all... :)

Friday, 13 June 2008

The Rat amongst the Chickens

And so it goes... I think I am quite exhausted. I say 'think' because I have lost the ability to read my body any more, but in my bones I am tired. Fifth rural community in so many months, new family, greetings, children, programs and stresses. The end of this part is also in sight; right now I cannot wait. Alas, this sombre tone cannot last; not here. If I was to end with this, I would deprive you of too many recent stories that could probably make the top 10.

Let's start with the MOTHER. I capitalise because I'm not convinced this woman could be received in any other way; Ward Councillor, ANC (African National Congress- the ruling political party) pillar, and quite possibly the scariest and most formidable woman I have ever encountered. Now I happen to think I am rather intimidating; sadly I realise I have a long way to go. (I am of course taking note from her.) She does not ask me, she tells me, what to eat, where I am going and of course when I should be getting up (around 6am, for your information.) Part of me loves her, she is almost the perfect politician, she plays the game, she is respected (feared/revered) and she looks after me in her own way, but part of me cringes and dies just before I hear the cry of 'BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB- what you doing RIGHT now..' This cry is often echoed all over the community. Nonetheless we are swapping cooking ideas and I have taught her to make spaghetti bolognaise and the recipe is being passed to constituents, a big tick for cultural exchange. But please, let me share a couple of my experiences..

Day one: The family are horders; there is shit everywhere. In my room there are even two beds, 3 dressers, 2 old computers and I am too scared to look under the bed! Eating dinner on the first day we hear a noise in the cabinet.. 'oh' she says, 'it's the rat.' Correct, living in the cabinet which houses all the plates/cutlery seems to be a rat. No one moves, the rat seems to have become part of the family. I shudder, and unfortunately the rat story is not finished.

Day four: Marte and I are eating lunch at my house. The noise again. 'Oh it's the rat' I tell her, she reacts in the following, unedited manner, 'that is fucking horrible, you got me a plate out that cupboard,' 'I wiped it down' I tell her. With that she nods, this is Africa after all. We continue to eat, until suddenly we see the rat appears atop the cabinet. A big rat. For the purposes of writing I'd say it looked plague ridden but I cannot confirm or deny that. We stare, in shock, suddenly not hungry as this rat walks on top of the cabinet. Then, with little logic the rat walks towards the edge; and for reasons unbeknown to us, (or probably the rat in hindsight) it commits rat suicide. 8 foot fall was enough to take the wind out of the monster and it made some whimpering noises. I did the only brave thing I could, ran out the room and got ma GoGo. I made the 86 year old woman get up from outside (took 10 minutes for her to do this), and tried to explain to her with frantic hand gestures (she knows no english) about the rat. In the 10 minutes it had moved a few inches. We let the GoGo loose who for reasons, again unknown, started to poke around the cabinet, behind the computer, basically everywhere except near the rat. Confusion reigned until Marte and I realised she had not actually seen it. So I went over, ( well as close to the rat as I felt comfortable- read 3 feet away) and showed her. She jumped back and quick as a flash bent down, but a plastic bag on it and squeezed it to death.
I tell no lies, and the best part it's all on video camera. With me clapping in delight at the end. I will upload this cultural gem, I promise. So GoGo and the rat leave, we leave our lunch and ask again, what we are doing here.

Minutes later Marte comments that the chickens are having fun; some might say a chicken orgy. We let this thought sink in for a while; heard the one about the rat amongst the chickens? That's right folks, our chickens, as in the chickens that my family own, and we eat most day....

I have tried to avoid chicken since but when it's your own protein source what do you do? Enjoy your lunch.

And finally, in case you not feeling nauseous enough I have one more. Picture this:

6am, I am outside emptying a bucket of urine (the toilet is too far outside at night, there are too many snakes and it is pitch black). The urine belongs to myself and Marte; she stayed over as we had lots of work to do... friendship reaches new boundaries. After this chore, I start the fire on which I place the urn of water I collected from the well, so we can wash. It is surprising how natural this routine has become. Out strolls MOTHER dressed up to the nines (she sleeps about the same as Thatcher and her 4 hours) 'How is the morning B?' she shouts. 'Just super' has become my standard reply. At this stage I am 10 metres from the toilet (walls, hole, ground, toilet seat). Presuming she is heading to the toilet I turn to continue with the fire. 'B' she shouts 'there is fresh bread for breakfast and eggs too.' As I turn to thank her I see her lifting her dress, adjusting her hips in some peculiar fashion and taking a piss, 1 metre away from the toilet. Why not go in the toilet?!? Was the most horrifying thing as it was totally unexpected and I was unprepared. During this show time she asks what I will want for dinner. Well, with chicken ruled out, dinner was even more that last thing on my mind!

This is the same lady who on seeing I had not made my bed told me 'B, it is very much important you are accountable,' to whom I'm not sure, but it goes without saying my bed has been made every day since.

I wouldn't dare not too..

Sorry for recent delay I do have a backlog of updates but I thought I'd leave you this humourous interlude for the timebeing. Pomp- safe flight and email as soon as you can, am thinking of you very much. We leave on Tuesday for the Kruger National Park for evaluation etc. The following Sunday we say GOODBYE to the volunteers and I have a well deserved break. I cannot wait. I hope everyone is enjoying the English summer (or wherever you are) I am enjoying an African winter in Limpopo: a balmy 26 degrees with a light breeze.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Losing the 50-50 gamble

Watching the BBC World News I was informed of the violence against foreigners in Joburg; the brain clearly affected by high altitude and stupidity took about 20 seconds to realise, oops, that's in South Africa. Currently I'm so close to the border in a place called Venda; it's a region rich with art, culture and tradition. When I was sick they offered to take me to the Sangoma (traditional healer) but I declined, citing immobility.. not fear as my excuse! Here there are a lot of Zimbabweans that have come on foot, walking over the mountains. They come with nothing, and stop in villages asking for 'piece jobs,' earn some money and move on. Crime here is not an issue like the city and people seem to coexist quite peacefully.

In this community it is more advanced than the others, and most of our work has been directed through a Foundation called Muthzendi Youth Learning and Resource Foundation. Set up by a 26 year old from the area he has seen the biggest problem to these youth is access to information. Information on bursaries for universities, job schemes, knowing how to apply for identity documents. He took over a building built for community purposes in 2000 but had been vandalised and left, as no one knew what to do with it. I realised that he was the person we should focus on, and so we ran a 3 day Active Youth workshop for youth he had identified. The thing you learn about facilitation is never underestimate your group.. Part of the workshop involved the participants doing a 3 minutes presentation on anything of their choice in English. One of them grabbed me at the start and said 'listen carefully to mine B, it's for you,' and so it went 'THE CRISIS IN ZIM.' He went on to say Mugabe was a freedom fighter and the West should butt out, then I got a wink, he bowed and that was that. We heard about HIV, pregnancy and many other issues. One of the participants requested my hand in marriage; I set the barrier quite high at 80 cattle (5-10 is average) unfortunately he was part of royal family so that, he felt, could just be arranged. In my absence however, my dear friend Marte negotiated me down to 1 goat and a couple of chickens; a bargain!
Two of the participants were young boys from Zim, they had walked together on foot and been taken in by an orphanage, they have no papers or know nothing of their families. So when you sit here and read and see the carnage taking place in the townships and settlements around Joberg (coincidently including the one I sat eating goat leg merely 6 weeks ago) I feel a real sense of despair. Buying a newspaper the cashier looked at my paper and I said 'terrible isn't is?' Yes she said, but they Zimbabweans come, they steal, rape, murder and take jobs (employment is at around 40%), something had to be done. So I asked, is brutal murder, chasing families from their homes and burning people in tires (reminiscent of how traitors were treated in Apartheid times) the right way? This country has only been free since 1994 and before then, these people were supporters of anti-Apartheid and in 14 years look where we are at? She said she hadn't thought of it like that.
I do not have any answers, it needs Government intervention and it means the volunteers around the Gauteng area (particularly the Indian, Asian and Chinese) to be even more careful. I'm in a safe haven up here, but it is something that needs to be kept an eye on; it's a bloody war.

We leave this community on Saturday, I'm watching the boys play rugby (they lost last week, I was sick couldn't make it but received the following sms from the best english speaker:) OH.B.BIG.STRING.BOYS.SO.HARD.THE.BEAT.US.GOOD.LUCKY.IS.BROKE.
In short, they got hammered and my star player damaged his wrist- it does not bode well. I'm also now driving the SCORE combi, a frightful thought for my father and you may fear even more after the following story.. We were invited to a camp in the mountains for one night after the workshop to unwind. Excited at the prospect of braai (BBQ) and a couple of cold ones I agreed I would take the volunteers. Caught up in the moment I forgot the fact that African's in general have absolutely no concept of time or distance and believed it really was a 45minute drive; no problem! Nothing is ever easy with this group and first I had to pick a volunteer who had taken a lift to a soccer game, then realised his driver had had 8 beers. We made the dirt path, good I thought, we'll be there in 20 minutes. 1.30 hours of driving on petrifying paths, clinging to cliffs with huge pot holes; I have never driven anywhere like it, we arrived at the camp. The tension in my shoulders and stress in my face was not helped by the fact that my petrol had dropped from half full to just before RED. There was no phone reception, electricity and the prospect of the 2 hour drive home in the morning- cross mountain range. I did the only responsible thing I could; drink some beers, eat some food and try and not think about it until the morning. Morning came, the volunteers were late and we started on our 'journey.' Things started ok, I put my IPOD on, didn't mention the petrol crisis and went for it. Flying around the mountain, coasting down hills (although there were not many) I tried to save the petrol. The 'light' went on and we were still, according to our African guide, 10k away from the tar road.. 10k would have been ok, 30k, not so. At one point we conked out up a hill, covered in mist, I made them push. We coasted the last 10k down to the tar road and drove to a gas station. The gas station did not have any unleaded. Suffice to say if you were travelling through Rabali, Limpopo on the 18th May you would have seen the unusual sight of 5 white Europeans pushing a VW Van 2kilometres up a busy road towards a gas station. Sitting in the driving seat was a blonde, English girl 'steering.' We filled up, I breathed and thanked God we did not break down atop a mountain. I also decided I would never listen to an African distance measurement ever again; there is a reason I hate driving! It's a shame because the camp was phenomenal with a natural waterfall creating slides and pools, we really were as remote as you could be with the animals. I would love to take my visiting guests there, but not until they make a road.

The fun does not end there. Marte and I went to buy sports equipment for the Foundation (we decided to do an informal sports day there and leave equipment that can be used by the community.) We arranged with TK to pick us up from the town, he agreed. As such, we enjoyed a meal and some wine and waited for him. He called to say he was outside, but he was not. It was now dusk. Again, some English-African communication barriers were breached and he was not in town, but in the local complex. So, Marte and I find ourselves in the taxi rank at night carrying quite a lot of brand new sports equipment. Not ideal ahead of a 40 minute drive, not ideal being in a taxi rank, or indeed a taxi at night; not safe. So we tried to amuse ourselves on the journey; plotting various escape routes and being pretty pissed we got ourselves into this situation. Just as we made it near our house, we called 'short left' the sign to stop. The driver said no. 5 seconds of panic was replaced by a wave of relief when he said 'you're staying with Magoma aren't you, we will take you to the nearest point, send him my regards.' If only the taxi driver had thought to make us aware of this fact at the beginning of the journey it would have saved a lot of panic and adrenaline. You see, you hear so many terrible things, you forget it is only a small percent of the people. I guess it is a good thing my senses stay heightened but I really miss feeling safe! It gets dark and you just do not go out unaccompanied, if at all. Next time you walk back from the pub or whatever, really enjoy that freedom. As is shown by recent events, this country has a long, long way to go before freedom in that sense is experienced.