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.


One Wedding and Tombstone

I celebrated Miss Griggs' birthday this year at a party on this side; I'm not sure this one could have been replicated in the UK. I was cordially invited to the blessing of a tombstone, back near my first community. Having the weekend 'off' the volunteers, I relished the opportunity to try some more African culture.

Wearing my 'traditional' outfit; bright orange skirt and scarf, huge jewellery and perhaps most telling white face and blonde hair, I arrived a little after 6am as the family and friends were walking in procession towards the tombstone. I immediately found myself being pulled along in a wave of women and girls cooing over my outfit. When someone dies in South Africa the funeral is a very costly occasion; it is necessary to slaughter a cow and feed all the funeral goers (up to 1000) so at the time buying a tombstone is usually an expense too far. The family then save up for a tombstone and when they have enough there is a celebration of that persons life and the unveiling of the stone. I read a polemical article that reflected that there as a lot of money in South Africa, but most of it was in the ground. Driving through the rural communities you see tin shacks but then graveyards full of lavish stones; this one was no exception. It was a tombstone in it's own little house! It cost the equivalent of £1500 and it was pretty 'out there.' On top of that cost there is then the feeding of the people, the 'DJ' yes, DJ and the alcohol. So really, like a party all over the world..

The sermon was conducted in Sotho but the 'hilarious' pastor who couldn't fail to miss me kept throwing a few English words in, and saying he should translate to accommodate me.. ha ha. This was fine, a little awkward and more so when I noticed all the video cameras popping up, I tried to keep well back. At one point it felt like a Mafia funeral because out of no where all these expensive cars turned up and well dressed men in dark glasses stepped out to pay their respects. The celebration of the stone allowed for happy songs, speeches by family members and the Sangoma's (witch doctors) dancing around the site screeching to ward off evil spirits. Fine, I thought I was home and dry. Then, the crowd in front of me parted and my hand was clamped and I was forced to dance up to, and around the grave stone/house with these ladies with everyone clapping and wailing. Inside, inside I had spontaneously combusted...I do not think I have ever been more embarrassed in my whole life; and I have done a lot of crazy things. So imagine, you're in your rural community and you see ME dancing around a tombstone. Honestly, I'm pretty sure any evil spirit will never return. To make matters worst it has been caught on 5 video cameras and I have had threats of YouTube...

Once I got over that, and my face stopped being bright red it was 'breakfast.' A full meal at 9am, fine by me. Then it was all this dancing in circles; it looked a bit like the Macarena or Saturday Night. My link to the event were my friends whose Grandad had 5 wives in the village. So, the party was their 'cousin-brothers' and of course I met at least 30 close family members introduced as sisters, brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins. After a while I just nodded and paid appropriate compliments regarding their children, other family members. I could not help thinking that quite a lot of unintended second and third generation incest must go on; these villages really aren't that big!

Later in the day was also to be a Lebolla. When a man and woman are to marry, the family of the man go to her family and agree a 'price,' once that is settled the woman is bought to the community and that is her new home. Any children they have belong to the community, she now becomes 'one of them.' So the rest of the day everyone waits for the bride to be to arrive; they eat, drink and dance. With the influence of Western cultural norms Africans are also having 'weddings' in the Western traditional sense after the Lebolla, but I'm told the Lebolla really is the wedding. On that, after the tombstone part we all got given these chocolate eclairs (Cadburys) attached to some card that said 'Compliments from...... ' Compliment cards!!!! It was just like any party I've ever been too, and I danced until 9pm when the bride arrived and everyone goes absolutely crazy with car horns and the like. She receives gifts of food and Coca Cola (of course) and the celebrating went on to the small hours. I stayed up till 4am; a 24hour day. It made a pleasant change because I was with friends so I was no longer a novelty and I could just have a good time without worrying too much; probably why I drank so much brandy.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Flirtation and Manipulation

Dancing GoGo & Equipment Coup
It's hard to imagine before you live it that you would be missing a mattress on a floor and pigs. Whilst I'm at it I miss my host family, my rugby team and even the pap. I miss that community. As for the pap I can explain; I was getting used to it. Here, Community 4 which I will get on to, they eat it soft- it's like a savoury semolina pudding; vomit.
The rugby team and I travelled to Musina which is on the border of Zimbabwae and very hot. As my friend suggested my time of travel was a little off; being a white English girl in a taxi with lots of very black South Africans. You see with the British the number 1 enemy and half of my boys not owning SA citizen identify documents I could have languished in Zim jail for a long time for human trafficking. Luckily they were too pre occupied with the scandalous election process to bother, which is a relief I guess, but would have made one hell of a blog addition..
Ah the taxi. We were to be collected at 7am by the mini bus taxi to transport us the couple of hours North. We know that a squad of 20 and 2 extras really should be transported in, to be honest, a 22 seater taxi- but this is Africa. When the 15 seater pulled up, already full and I and 5 others had to get in with the kit, I threw a short prayer upwards. 3 of us sat on 1.5 seats and travelled along 'roads' I throw that word tentatively, because a road usually is straight and doesn't involve dropping a couple of feet down into potholes.. Thankfully the ridiculousness of the situation was not lost on the driver who arranged some bigger transport, shame we had to drive 1 hour to get it.
Messina Rugby Club was a revelation. Having trained on some waste ground behind the facility which contained a huge pole in the middle running live electricity (when it was turned on) up it, it felt like I had rocked up at Esher! Club house, changing rooms, an immaculate pitch and some wonderful coaching stuff. The team was made up of black South Africans and very talented ones, their two coaches were very knowledgeable, helpful and will be great contacts for SOS Kit Aid. They also looked like rugby players; whereas mine look more like street fighters. I asked the coach if we could spend some time at the beginning with both packs going through scrummaging for the sake of safety. We did and props to the Messina boys who taught their 'to be' opposition with patience and genuine sportsmanship, insofar as helping them during the game. We lost 43-12, but the improvement was 100%. The game flowed and my street fighters did me proud. They tackled, not body checked and they ran. Only 3 of them have shoes to play in, the rest play bare foot. When my star back got his bare foot caught under a pile of boots he swallowed back the tears and continued to play; I saw the post game bruising- he was a soldier. It was Lucky that scored the two tries. Lucky is a black version of Fred Priggs in stature and in the way he plays. He also has better chat than Fred which is funny because he can only speak about 10 English words... :)
After the game the boys were more reflective, the prayed together (can you imagine that happening at home?!) and then discussed tactics and improvements. I introduced the concept of 'man of the match' and Lucky was awarded with a huge bar of Dairy Milk, was thrilled. I think we are a way off initiations and club curries but it's in the Grand Plan... (more on that later.. Collins you will be consulted ha!.)
We trained the last week and it was only a day before my last day that most realised I was leaving. Coaching can be a universal language, understanding I was actually leaving the community was harder for them to fathom. I decided to go to the Municipality and see the Sports and Recreation Officer and see what arrangements I could put in place in terms of sustaining this. The Messina coaches had already agreed to come down I just need to find petrol money. Whilst I was there I noticed what looked like a Gilbert tackle bag... I went digging and low and behold it was. Sitting in the office was a tackle bag! Taking my opportunity when he was out the office I had a hunt around and found also 4 Gilbert body shields and a stack of cones. Deciding attack was the best form of defence I staged an equipment coup and piled it in one corner, wearing one of the vests. When he returned I gave a full demonstration of the uses of the equipment and told him, directly, but with some charm, I would not be leaving his office without these things.
The fear of course was that it would be stolen in a community; my counter argument that it was an ugly dust collector. I think I deployed the following skills and in no particular order: manipulation, coercion, charm, flirtation and maybe put some fear into the staff members as I ran up and down the hall of the Municipality demonstrating how to use a tackle bag. A painful 4 hours later I had the equipment released and drove to the community feeling extremely pleased with myself. To show people you give a shit you need to give them some responsibility and respect and this was a sign of it. Having been to the school of these boys it was not hard to see why some were so behind in their education. It was like a prison, I visited on 4 separate days and only half the teachers were ever present. One depressing hole. No teacher, you just sit in your classroom, all day, and then leave. Seriously it was not acceptable and my boys need a teacher. I got the Principal to agree to hand them out certificates in Assembly. Certificates are extremely well received and motivational in this country... I wish I could be there to see there embarrassed pride..
That night I was pretty euphoric and danced with the family to some hardcore house music that is very popular; me and the gogo (Grandma) really rocked out. Imagine I'm sure those lucky enough to know my dancing will be cringing at the thought- I went for it.
The tournament was the best so far and after the initial stresses I enjoyed the day... I was sad to leave on the Friday; it's hard to make and break so many friendships all the time. The Police came down and put off the all day drinkers.. which is nice because it saved me reverting to the trick of pinching someone's hand who won't let go of it. Drunk pests... they are a global menace. When we finally said our goodbyes to leave we realised the trailer lights did not work; there is always something. We spent over 2 hours getting that fixed. One of the volunteers had his bank card scanned ... someone went on a spree; drained his account of £5000... a vast sum in UK let alone SA. They bought stuff for a house, half a liqor shop and a lot of clothes. Money is gone, trail is cold. I'm not too worried about that considering all someone would get if they tried to overspend on my card would be a letter from my bank regarding charges and the student loan company on them. Things don't change. All the volunteers have now had their phones stolen (one of them has 3 times), so for me it's just a waiting game. Aowa.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Coach Carter

Bouffleshoek- Call me Coach Carter...

If this is all supposed to have been a 'honeymoon' period; then I'm sure never to marry. This past 3 months (I cannot believe it is only 3 months) has been filled with more experiences, 'challenges,' and huge problems dressed up as 'challenges' than I care to recall. The Mid term which involved all volunteers and management within the organisation was certainly a lesson in conflict resolution and patience. Ah, patience. That wondrous virtue to which I have never been blessed... but I'm getting there. This is Africa; it really is not worth getting stressed.

I needed a good community, the come down from parents leaving and the thought of getting back into work after a break was not a good feeling, but there was a saviour to be found in Bouffleshoek- Community 3. The journey to the community was not as smooth as anticipated... here in South Africa we are affected badly by powercuts nearly everyday. This is not good when your colleague goes to withdraw a significant sum for petrol and payment of host families and as the machine whirls to dispense the cash; the power goes. With a combi full of volunteers and a 'visitor' from the Norwegian Olympic Committee the timing really could not have been more off. Which is why I found myself sitting in a deserted high street (think 1980's town centre) with two 'security' guards for 3.5 hours waiting for power to see if card/money would come out. Fear not, I was entertained with a minute by minute account of a film called Ospehia in London (Nigerian film; I won't ruin the plot... runs for about 2 hours judging by this man's account). As the power returned the card popped out but no money. Worth the wait?

Yes. I said the other day without thinking too much about what I was saying ' I love this community; I can run in the mornings, I can go to the toilet, they bring me hot water twice a day to wash and they feed me nice chicken.' Marte laughed and said isn't funny how you really appreciate the simple things. I love this community even more because there is a rugby team. Well, they are a team now. Half of them have never watched a game of rugby but they try. On the first day I was there at 4, by 4.45 I had 10 boys. 3 days later I had 30 boys at 4pm.... and had them taking their caps off. They are hilarious. Their English is appalling, most of them are 19 but still in Grade 9 or 10, one of them has failed Grade 9 a spectacular 4 times. We really have made progress and had their first game was today! They lost 20-0 not bad considering they can't scrum and one of them ran backwards a whole 50 metres, dropped the ball and the opposition scored. Who needs to win when you have my camera, a coach and music. 400 photos, some serious dancing, too many E numbers when we returned to the community; they were welcomed like heroes. Win or lose these boys had the privilege today to feel like a team, and I loved being part of it. We are training everyday next week before the next game; I asked if they wanted a break to rest and they said they did not believe in pain. Love it. They make me very happy; a welcome distraction from other stresses. What is also great is that no one can take it away from me; no one else knows rugby.

Yesterday I ran a workshop; so I asked my host brother to bring the bag of balls down.. I knew the boys would be there so I thought they could at least throw a ball around until I got there. I was an hour later and what I didn't expect to see was that they had set up a grid (like we practised the day before) and were running an attack/defence exercise. My chest nearly exploded with pride.

We are playing a huge team from the border (Zim) on Saturday. My boys will be dominated but I really don't think they care too much. I for one am just proud to be a part of it. My host brother who is still in Grade 9 at 19 years of age and I sat together to do his work. It dawned on me quite quickly that he can't read.. barely his own language and nothing in English. He is an amazing athlete and great with kids.. so I'm trying to find out what other opportunities he has. I gave him money for a dictionary (Sa Pedi to English) because he just needs to get to Grade 11 to get a job. Then I have to show him how to actually use a dictionary but I think it will help. But then I think maybe it won't. Maybe I bought him the dictionary to make me feel better, on his behalf. Which is a shame, because it didn't work- I don't feel better for him! I'm going to find it very hard to leave this community, the family and my friends here. Sometime you long for the safety of home, and being paid by the hour and the chance to switch off from it all. I'm such a long way from that it is quite a sobering thought...

They scored two tries... at the weekend.... WOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Coach Carter

Bouffleshoek- Call me Coach Carter...

If this is all supposed to have been a 'honeymoon' period; then I'm sure never to marry. This past 3 months (I cannot believe it is only 3 months) has been filled with more experiences, 'challenges,' and huge problems dressed up as 'challenges' than I care to recall. The Mid term which involved all volunteers and management within the organisation was certainly a lesson in conflict resolution and patience. Ah, patience. That wondrous virtue to which I have never been blessed... but I'm getting there. This is Africa; it really is not worth getting stressed.

I needed a good community, the come down from parents leaving and the thought of getting back into work after a break was not a good feeling, but there was a saviour to be found in Bouffleshoek- Community 3. The journey to the community was not as smooth as anticipated... here in South Africa we are affected badly by powercuts nearly everyday. This is not good when your colleague goes to withdraw a significant sum for petrol and payment of host families and as the machine whirls to dispense the cash; the power goes. With a combi full of volunteers and a 'visitor' from the Norwegian Olympic Committee the timing really could not have been more off. Which is why I found myself sitting in a deserted high street (think 1980's town centre) with two 'security' guards for 3.5 hours waiting for power to see if card/money would come out. Fear not, I was entertained with a minute by minute account of a film called Ospehia in London (Nigerian film; I won't ruin the plot... runs for about 2 hours judging by this man's account). As the power returned the card popped out but no money. Worth the wait?

Yes. I said the other day without thinking too much about what I was saying ' I love this community; I can run in the mornings, I can go to the toilet, they bring me hot water twice a day to wash and they feed me nice chicken.' Marte laughed and said isn't funny how you really appreciate the simple things. I love this community even more because there is a rugby team. Well, they are a team now. Half of them have never watched a game of rugby but they try. On the first day I was there at 4, by 4.45 I had 10 boys. 3 days later I had 30 boys at 4pm.... and had them taking their caps off. They are hilarious. Their English is appalling, most of them are 19 but still in Grade 9 or 10, one of them has failed Grade 9 a spectacular 4 times. We really have made progress and had their first game was today! They lost 20-0 not bad considering they can't scrum and one of them ran backwards a whole 50 metres, dropped the ball and the opposition scored. Who needs to win when you have my camera, a coach and music. 400 photos, some serious dancing, too many E numbers when we returned to the community; they were welcomed like heroes. Win or lose these boys had the privilege today to feel like a team, and I loved being part of it. We are training everyday next week before the next game; I asked if they wanted a break to rest and they said they did not believe in pain. Love it. They make me very happy; a welcome distraction from other stresses. What is also great is that no one can take it away from me; no one else knows rugby.

Yesterday I ran a workshop; so I asked my host brother to bring the bag of balls down.. I knew the boys would be there so I thought they could at least throw a ball around until I got there. I was an hour later and what I didn't expect to see was that they had set up a grid (like we practised the day before) and were running an attack/defence exercise. My chest nearly exploded with pride.

We are playing a huge team from the border (Zim) on Saturday. My boys will be dominated but I really don't think they care too much. I for one am just proud to be a part of it. My host brother who is still in Grade 9 at 19 years of age and I sat together to do his work. It dawned on me quite quickly that he can't read.. barely his own language and nothing in English. He is an amazing athlete and great with kids.. so I'm trying to find out what other opportunities he has. I gave him money for a dictionary (Sa Pedi to English) because he just needs to get to Grade 11 to get a job. Then I have to show him how to actually use a dictionary but I think it will help. But then I think maybe it won't. Maybe I bought him the dictionary to make me feel better, on his behalf. Which is a shame, because it didn't work- I don't feel better for him! I'm going to find it very hard to leave this community, the family and my friends here. Sometime you long for the safety of home, and being paid by the hour and the chance to switch off from it all. I'm such a long way from that it is quite a sobering thought...

They scored two tries... at the weekend.... WOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Thursday, 24 April 2008

How the other half lives

Cape Town hit, and I hit Cape Town. Well assisted by my parents I managed to make up for a lack of alcohol and vegetables.. I'm not quite sure if they cancel each other out! Cape Town truly is beautiful and naturally very magnificent, but there is something far less 'real' about it. It's cosmopolitan and European; it's Melbourne, Australia. What makes Cape Town is it's own history; one no more or less palatable than heard all over South Africa, but here, the rate of development is wholly juxtaposed against the sprawling township the Cape Flats which you cannot avoid as you are whisked from the airport. It's pretty uncomfortable viewing. The Cape Flats are inhabited by people who during the Apartheid were forcibly removed from their homes and forced to set up home in the areas away from Table Mountain and the harbour. You cannot quite comprehend how far it goes on for... and when you go from a beautiful and highly enjoyable day of wine tasting in the magnificent Stellenbosch, the alcoholic haze makes you realise in some respects how far there is to go... BUT WAIT!!! As my Western eye full of Western standards glazed over this place I made a judgement, probably like everyone else on how horrendous it was. Some of it is horrendous; the sanitation, the rats.. and this is a bit out of context but after Mum and Dad left I spent 2 nights in Thembisa Township by Joburg. As I waved by to the parents, quite devastated at the thought of being alone for the next year I arranged to meet a friend in Joburg the next day. I spent my final evening in Cape Town at a party in Camps Day (St Tropez in South Africa) at a private party for Camel cigarettes. Thrust into the limelight of South Africa's white, young, rich and very beautiful I did what I always do; drink hideous amounts of gin, dance like I was mental and talk a lot of shit. I got invited back, so I guess I did something right! I had a great time, met some lovely people but part of me felt it was all a smokescreen from what else was going on. I think a lot of the culture of fear is born out of misunderstanding. There are some horrific stories on the news; rape, murder, theft and some of the white and black South Africans I have met seem equally shrouded in fear. I am privileged to access both sides and I think a lot of problems are borne from misunderstanding. So, one day I'm drinking free gin and talking about hedge fund management (like I said, talking a lot of shit.) The next? I'm sitting on a camping chair, eating a goat's leg (shared between 4 and actually pretty good), drinking cider in the middle of a township in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

On arrival to Joburg, I spent the first 1 hour helping a Congolese man, with limited English and a broken leg to carry his hand luggage and collect his actual luggage and sit him to wait for his brother to collect him. I gave up trying to communicate in English and we just reverted to smiling and him pointing out his ENORMOUS bag on the luggage carousel. Only later is dawned on me that they speak French in the Congo, and I could have had a far more effective conversation that I actually did! Shame. When I was collected from the airport I had no real idea where I was going, other than to visit a friend from one of the communities. As we passed the airport, the office blocks and all signs that comfort me by screaming 'civilization' my heart began to beat faster. Entering a township is rather like arriving at Nottinghill Carnival. Music, laughter and people everywhere. It was pointed out to be that during the day you will not find people in their houses. The life of a township is on a street; whereas we go from house to coffee shop to gym; the streets offer everything. Being the only white face in the car, and probably in the whole area I felt more protected than if I was to be with 6 whites and a camera flashing. Still, I was petrified. You really do not hear nice things about these places. Despite frequent assurances from my friends when I arrived at the house of 'Bigboy' (yes, his actual name) my legs really did not want to move out the car. I'm glad they did. Like all communities there are sub communities and it is always the children who makes you feel most welcome. I decided I was with well known and liked locals and that as long as I was careful I would be unlikely to come into any harm. Giving my self this pep talked, and I began to relax. The atmosphere in that place was electric. Sitting drinking cider and discussing world politics with 5 locals, hearing the music and eating the goat leg will be an experience I shall never forget. No one really took any more or less notice of me; I was not a threat and I went about my business. The rats of course, are off putting, not to mention the toilet. Driving at night to a bar (in town, not the township- that was one step too far for all parties) I admit to pulling my cap town as we passed throngs of people; these places truly are 24 hours. The next day we were to attend a wedding in Soweto (South West Township) home to 6-8 million, yes million, people South West of Joburg. The biggest and most well known of all. Filling up at Thembisa gas station the car would not start. The option presented itself that I, the white, blonde, English girl would have to get out of the car and push the fucking thing. The gas station was full. As I stepped out the car there were, at least, 15 camera phones trained on me and the not so subtle sounds of belly laughs. Today, I was the entertainment and the story. Thankfully after my half arsed effort to push it, I was taken pity on and the bloody thing started. I laughed but I think inside I pretty much self combusted.

Do not underestimate it.

The advice I was given, go, enjoy, but do not underestimate the place. As I returned in the small hours, cap on, hood up, face down I saw too many people laying by the side of the road and fought against my natural compulsion to stop the car and race to assistance, to call an Ambulance. I didn't, I didn't speak, my companions didn't mention it – alcohol and drugs had come into play and no one likes a 'have a go' hero. So please, these are not romantic notions of a township, there are lots of wonderful elements but a dark side that runs deeper than anything I have ever known, and ever wish to know.

I'm most definitely going back.

The wedding in Soweto was another experience. After being ushered into the church by the old ladies I was also given the biggest plate of food and the whole ceremony stopped because the pastor had to have a good old stare at the intruder. I felt like a bloody idiot of course and it did not help that I once again became the focus of attention. I kept trying to leave but these people are persistent. You may think all of this is already one step too far; I will say that one step too far arose when I was to have a photo taken with the Bride and Groom who had never seen me in their whole lives. I was friends with their distant cousin; but I'm pretty sure my photo will be taking the pride position in the album. For years to come when asked who the lehora is; they will say 'your cousin!'
After the wedding I took a lift back to Polokwane in a car with no passenger window.

Living the dream.

Girls, I have identified a driver for us in Cape Town, some excellent hostels and checked out the majority of eating and drinking establishments. I'm pretty sure South Africa will shake on your arrival and I for one, cannot wait! There is so much to see, do, eat and drink and whilst we won't be going to a township for an overnight stay I'll give you a real experience too. Pap will be involved; ask Pinda she sampled it.

Ga – WHAT? Ga - Radingwana!

The last few days in the community were geared towards the tournament. Having already accepted that it would start at least 2 hours after the 'official' start time; a small inner victory was felt when it started merely an hour late. Unlike Apel the focus was sport; netball, soccer and basketball. I will admit too that the real focus was the soccer. From this small community we had 8 dedicated men's teams with huge crowds watching the games. I cannot quite express the elation of looking around the soccer field, surrounded by nothing but mountains and emptiness to see over 200 youngsters from the community getting behind their teams. It is safe to say this was the first soccer experience I have ever actually enjoyed. We had communicated with the local clinic and arranged for a nurse to come down to deal with any minor injuries. This was something new to the community and hopefully an example of best practice that they will continue with. For me the best part was the 20 minute walk with her finding out what she experienced as a nurse. Sexually active youngsters were coming in from age of 12; and pregnancy from 14. The most common STI she dealt with was gonnaherea. Just like in the UK the SA Government pays the mother of a baby each month. Parallel to what I have heard in the UK for her this money is an incentives to the young girls to have children in order to receive the stipend. She said the money was not being spent on the baby and the Government needed to stop it. As a 23 year old in that community; statistically I should already have two children! As a young girl who drops out of education she knows she cannot just walk into a job, because there are not any. Having a child provides a regular income and a purpose; I find it hard to criticise their motivation as when you stay there you realise that outside of the family home there is nothing else. Unfortunately when the child is born, the child herself is unable to cope. This is why so many households are headed by Grandmas (gogo's) who end up looking after the baby. Most children are delivered at home; by the Grandmas. Unaware of the transmission routes of HIV they do not wear gloves or protect themselves. The nurse has reported an increase of over 50's catching HIV through delivering their children's babies. With age against them the disease is far more virulent and can progress quickly to AIDS. Just makes you think. In return, I gave the nurse an up to date understanding of sex and relationships in our society; the hardest part for her to grasp was that parents allow partners to stay over in family houses before marriage! She thought that was actually a great idea because then she could check out her son's taste and make her mark. I thought I should introduce her to Pinda to give her some top tips!

It was a long day; the volunteers staying power waned and it was only I who remained till the very end for the prize giving. When you're in a community you forget how much you stand out as a lehora (white person) and you do not see yourself as different. However, as I stood on a table in front of over 200 10-25 year olds chanting, dancing and singing for the prizes (soccer balls, pumps and whistles- a pigs bladder would have been a better football substitute than what these teams had!) a wave of insecurity hit. I guess it's like stage fright but magnified and worsened because I cannot communicate effectively with my pigeon Pedi! I survived (just) and Gift my younger brother walked me home. At only 12 years old and 4 foot tall he was not my ideal bodyguard as I weaved through the throngs of euphoric people, shielding the child's ears from the variety of unsavoury propositions from the teenage boys!
Alas, we survived. It was my last night with the family and I am grateful my meal was extended from rice and cold baked beans, to be supplemented with an egg! In the morning of departure the community put on a thank you with representatives from the community. It involved singing, prayer, crisps, cold drink and a particularly powerful thank you from an elderly man who said we gave 'the children eyes so now they could see.' Religion is a huge part of the poor communities; church providing the base of the majority of social activity; in the absence of little else. I am not getting into theological debate but you can see when you have less, religion means more. When you cannot control your livelihood or live in abject poverty you relinquish your fate to God. This comment is underscored by an 18 year old community volunteer who said he did not use condoms because his fate was in God's hands. If God wanted him to catch a disease, it was his will. This is ignorance and an unwillingness to take control of your life. (Marx: Religion an opiate of the people??) Do not be fooled into thinking that everyone in the community is like this; it is not true. There are a lot of individuals who have gone out there and grasped opportunity for themselves. They will say a lot of apathy comes down to education.. or lack of it. Not for the first time you draw parallels between out society and theirs. Anyway, I was moved to tears particularly when we said goodbye to everyone; the emotional ties to these communities and these people in these short times are improbable and incomparable.

We left the community and bombed down to Johannesburg where I managed to take a flight to Cape Town; filled with excitement at the prospect of seeing my parents the next day...Shame my luggage never made it; but you do not need clothes to enjoy your first shower and vegetable in three weeks!

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

big black worms

I was so hungry, the endurance of PAP, RICE and cold baked beans was wearing very thin. I came home to see the stove with a pot; excited I lifted the lid- how I wish I hadn't.

A small scream and a backwards stumble meant any cultural 'sensitivity' went out the window...
BIG BLACK WORMS wiggling and cooking away. My host mum found this hiliarious I actually retched. I was no longer hungry..

I don't think I can keep up the Aktins diet in this place, hahahaahahah!

Went on a community visit for 2 days; treated like royalty. After dinner (pap, chicken, juice, coffee) they bought 4, yes 4 rounds of sandwichs.. I was already close to explosion point. Was good fun, the roads can be appalling.

I'm in Pretoria for Easter weekend so will provide decent emails and updates... promise.. x

Friday, 14 March 2008



Apologies for blog delay- i'm currently sitting under an iron roof ( a veritable tin can during the day/night/24/7) there are walls, but the ceiling is missing. There is of course electricity which I appreciate is a bonus, but South Africa as a whole is suffering from serious power shortages across the board..a lesson best learnt when you buy a banana milkshake from Spar... and take a big 'refreshing' gulp.

Before leaving Apel the community held a festival and it was a grand success for many reasons: it was community ran and led, it involved over 800 people; dancing, singing, drama, netball, cricket, volleyball, chess. The Department of Health supplied the catering for 500, and bought a mobile HIV testing van. A simple pin prick on the finger and your status is revealed in a few minutes. An innovative and important move in South Africa where the statistics on HIV are as follows:
South Africa has one of the highest HIV prevalence in the world (10% population)
21% of HIV-infected women and men receive aniretrovial therapy (Only 21%- not good)
50% new infections 15-24 year olds
1 million children have lost one or more parents to HIV (Largest number of orphans from HIV/AIDS worldwide.)
90% of people living with HIV are cared for at home by care providers/care givers.
South Africa has 18.8% prevalence rate
One teacher dies every day from HIV/AIDS. It takes 3 years to train a teacher.
In South Africa the poorest 50% receive 11%income
Richest 7% receive 40% total income (2nd biggest inequality globally-after Brazil.)

Under this context you find yourself in rural SA talking to a 24 year old guy. He is standing by the HIV van, after the normal greetings he asks me if I "know my status." Unprepared for the line but knowing enough I reply 'sure negative' - you? Whisky- (he was named after his fathers favourite drink..) doesn't know, and he doesn't want to. He has a 1 year old daughter who lives with his partner in Joburg, he also has three girlfriends and a 'funtime' friend. The shock isn't the amount of women, normal all over the world; the shock is he doesn't know his status, he doesn't want to know and he only sometimes uses condoms. Just in his circle that is 6 people who the virus could be spreading through (mother-child is a possibility). According to the dept of health when two positive strands of the virus join together they become much stronger and much more dangerous. Until this point; this tournament, this conversation I wondered why I saw a lot of red ribbons but didn't hear anyone talking about HIV.. it's because people don't want to. It is still incredibably stigmatized and people don't like to admit to HIV. There were 7 funerals on the day of the tournament; 4 youngsters (under 30) ultimately their lives may have been taken by opportunistic infections attacking their weakened immune systems but none of the deaths were openly attributed to HIV. Not that this is wrong but it highlights some of the many challenges. Whisky went for a test in the end; I don't know the result.

I decided from that point I had a role to play in being as open as possible about HIV and sex when talking to peers and younger girls and boys. I went for an HIV test myself during the tournament so some of my netball team (subsequent winners of the tournament may i add!!!!!) would follow suite. Now I talk about it to most people I meet, just to gauge opininon and open dialogue. It's a small thing but it's important. The tournament was magical (even with a 3 hour delay at the start- that no one cared about!) and a success for the community. It was an exhausting 10 hour day and only when I arrived home I realised I hadn't been for a pee ALL DAY.I think they call that dehydration and the sunburn through factor 30 demonstrates the unforgiving nature of the 36 degree heat. That was the night before we left the community and it was terribly sad to spend the last night with my family. It was achingly sad to say bye to little Marseille who only understood when I took my bags from the room; she didn't cry but said (it was translated) 'sister B don't leave, everyone always leaves' BLURGH really brings a tear to the eye. 2 weeks on I really miss that kid. My host mum kept a dignified distance the following morning busying herself around the garden; goodbyes are never nice.

I took at 5 hour coach to Joburg; tired, dirty and grumpy I left the Score team and met with my fellow in country VSO volunteers for inservice training. The proper shower, the air con, the food was all too much for my stomach which had become rather accustomed to monotity. The first beer was a welcome pleasure... and I'm pretty sure the 5th was too but at that stage- it didn't matter so much :) We were an extremely multicultural bunch: Kenyans, Canadians, Indians, Dutch, Philipinos and all working on a variety of exciting projects across South Africa. We had a lot of lectures and discussions on South Africa and it's 'make-up.' We networked, showered, ate and drank and when it came to depature- I was hesistant about my next posting! We had a lecture by a a women who was positive. She was talking about positive living; a holistic approach to dealing with HIV (diet, exercise, a healthy mind) and this was interesting because it shows the part sport can have to play.) Her brief story: one boyfriend from 18, moved to Uni with him, he was a lecturer. After birth of her first child she finds out she is positive- she has only had him as a partner. She wants to tell people, he beats her so she stays with him for 2 years as she feels no one will want an HIV positive girlfriend. She self educates and realises there is plenty she can do; she leaves him, he doesn't want people to know about the status so he stabbed her, repeatedly. Her neck and face were scarred, she lives, just. He is found guilty and his punishment? 6 months in prison or pay 5000R (less than 400 quid) for attempted murder charge. How wrong is that>??! Men and women are still treated very differently by the penal system this truely is a patriarchal society; across the board. Her story was one of truimph but hard to hear regardless.

After 8 hours of travel I arrived to Ga Radingwana, about 150ks from the nearest town and not visable from above unless you know what you're looking for! It has suffered from a lack of rain so the crops it relies on have been limited. I am staying with a cattle farmer, his wife and two children (Precious, 17 and Gift 12.) There is no bathroom, food REALLY is as follows: Chips (potato fried in pan in fat), egg, brown bread, maybe chicken and pap (maize.) I am struggling- fruit and veg are hard to come by; although am making a rations trip out tomorrow so will be stocking fruit/veg/ and multi vitamins if possible! Tk the Spedi speaking co ordinator of the team left us on Friday night. His sister-in-law, brother and nephew were in a car accident, the wife was killed and the nephew isn't in a good state in hospital. He may return next Monday and in the interim a new guy is arriving with a vechicle; we are too isolated not to have access to transport in case of emergency. Marte and I are ruling the roost well! The community is surrounded by high mountains and we went for a trek; after 2hours of climbing we reached the peak- the view was magnificent. As far as the eye could see peaks and troughs and you could see clearly the lush and barren areas. One of the team has his grandparents buried in a monolithic tomb in the front garden; which he finds rather disarming on his way to the toilet at night! T

Sport is popular; in the rural areas there are problems with homebrew and dagga (pot) which costs 40pence for a matchbox full and is smoked in newspaper. My host sister was telling about her class mate who is back at school after having an abortion at the weekend. Teenage pregnancy is high, what makes this particularly distasteful is that her Grandma carried out a home abortion; she was 4 months pregnant. Another girl in her class had an abortion (at home) at eight months. This is happening here, all around and is accepted as common place if the family do not want the daughter to have a child. I spent the rest of the evening reassuring my sister that she must finish her education and get to University as she wants; before she starts worrying about boys. She is very determined so I have faith. So, it's not just HIV/AIDS risk but pregnancy and home abortions..

Nonetheless, this community is impressive for it's sport knowledge and it looks after the facility previously donated by SCORE. Here the role is more to compliment what is already happening and use the impetus of the volunteers to revive an interest in sport.

Myself, I am learning a lot from my role in terms of man management of the Norweges and am appreciating more than ever the importance of interpersonal skills with community members. Spending time getting to know the people, understanding the specific nuances of the community and working with, not against. Sure it can be frustrating things move slower but the end result is often the same. Regardless you realise your yardsticks of what makes something work or not is not the same here. Teaching management skills, leading by example and using knowledge and skill to share and capacitate is a good feeling. I met a man who is very engaged in South Africa rugby a good contact for development. I see lots of scope for Lions organisations/charities out here.

I am missing everyone, reading lots about Sport for Development and enjoying the peace. We are leaving the very religious community for the Easter weekend and I am heading to the capital, Pretoria. I have a few contacts there and of course will be enjoying some rugby action :)

Oh I saw my first snake- it was only 30 centimetres long but enough to inspire me to sprint home .. There are pythons in the hills apparently...

So excited the girls have booked for Nov- that is unbelievably good news.. I can access the internet properly in 2 weeks and can undertake some planning :)
Shap (means 'ok')

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

One big funeral and 20 potential weddings

On Saturday I attended a funeral.. the lady in question (and please bare with me as i've heard many versions) was my host Mum's sisters cousin in law... alternatively an actual auntie to my host family, a friend and the actual auntie to Lebo a most wonderful community volunteer and lead on Kicking Aids Out program in the town. Nonetheless, the lady in question, whose name I did not quite catch had her funeral was on Saturday; Ossy (one of the Norweign volunteers) and I were invited.

At 6.30am we arrived at the home of the lady; there were no fewer than 200 people sitting under a mocked up canvas on plastic chairs in the huge front yard area; the canvas was emblazoned with the funeral directors slogan (more on this later.) We were late, as were another 50-100 people and this did not seem to a) matter b) give any of the other guests cause to avert their eyes from the Minister. Unable to decipher who was family, clergy and funeral directors I decided to close my eyes and soak up the atmosphere; the service took around an hour. The spoken word was puncuated with sing/wailing from the female contingent, who with impeccable timing always seemed to start and finish singing at the right times. There was no one lead to the choir-audience and yet it seemed a different person led each time. My host families older daughter who at various junctures during my stay has offered me alcohol (just hidden in my room, let me know if you want a sweetner in your coca cola...) was providing me with a running commentary that had the potential to silence Ricky Gervais... Ossy and I aware of our status as the two 'whiteys' already ushered to the front maintained a dignified poise. Nonetheless, when the male family and clergy went up into the house to say the last prayers over the body it seemed the funeral directors took their que to hand out flyers for their services to all the audience... I felt my fascade of elegance begin to crack... When the Mercedes Van revved all the way up the garden during what I perceived to be the most emotional part of the service, with the radio on drowning out the spoken word for a moment, it took a lot of inner strength not to turn in wonderment to the audience. The van was actually the herse and with the body loaded in I was quite literally dragged from my seat and pulled towards a car. There were at least 50 cars/vans parked along the road with everyone vying for a lift. We jumped in the back of a van with the older ladies... the seating constituted little more than a wooden bench and the width of the van was no more that 1.5metres. With our bodies crammed into the tin can under a morning 29 degree heat, my full length skirt, shirt and hat (requirements of the occasion) sticking all over my body, I decided, and not for the first time, that I would rather freeze than burn to death. Morbid yes, but a quite natural reaction when you feel your energy evaporating with every breath. The heat did not seem to bother the ladies who spent the journey discussing possible suitors for my imminent marriage... I apparently am never to leave Apel and settle with one of the (many) sons. Oh how we laughed... Ahem.

The graveyard setting was spectacularly beautiful; over the river (dry semi desert river bed) and up the mountains.. the mountain range is covered in large boulders that give a very formal impression and the grave stones look tiny in comparison. I was again pulled under a tree, Ossy was directed towards the men. There seemed to be around 150 people at the grave side, men kept appearing from trees and around corners. Very quickly we had to kneel down ... I was wearing a long white skirt and I soon regretted this decision. After I had kneeled (not bothered about the dry ground or my Primark skirt) the ladies surrounding me spent, I tell no lie, the next 10 minutes patting me down, rearranging my skirt and advising me on the best washing technqiues.. with the mourners suddenly becoming more interested in me than the service. My biggest concern was that they would pull down my already too big skirt to reveal my underwear; which in hindsight was not the best choice and probably not the audience Calvin Klein had in mind.. c'est la vie. The interest subsided and the singing continued and in fact some of the singing was far better than at the home. Perhaps the most poignant part was the wailing as the coffin went down- it went on for about 10 minutes as the coffin was then covered with stone and other things but my vision was impaired. About 1 hour later we were finished. I was quickly pulled in the direction of a car with the ladies whilst the men were told to walk. I protested I would rather walk across the semi desert (than sit in a tin can under the rays of the sun) but this was not permitted. My fated skirt would be ruined... and so I was back in the van with 5 new additions. The match making continued with rapid vigour and not for the first time I wondered if anyone cried. There seemed to be no evidence and spirits were rather high.. I am not of course suggesting physical tears mean more emotion but rather there seemed to be more an acceptance of death here than I have ever experienced in a funeral at home. The biggest suprise was yet to come.. as we returned to the house there was a que of well over 200 people plate in hand. In operation was a highly effective version of the feeding of the five thousand- I have never seen so much food or so many people. When you think that the food is cooked in big pots and stoves you begin to appreciate the enormity of the task in hand. On funerals it is the neighbours all of whom rally around to provide the cutlery, chairs and donations of food. We were taken into the house past the que with Lebo who sat us down with the immediate family. Delicious food (beetroot, coleslaw, chicken, rice and some native vegs) was bought to us. At times like that you really do not question what is happening you go with it; not wanting to offend anyone can drive you mad with worry; you have to be led sometimes. After we had eaten and a full hour after the food que had finally gone down I wondered outside. It actually felt like a festival what with the disgarded plates and people sitting in groups. Some of the ladies started to collect plates and cups so, naturally, I joined in. 10 people told me it was not necessary and to sit down and of course I ignored them. Round I went picking up rubbish, plates and food. I'm not quite sure the funeral goers expected to see me a) there b) helping out and it certainly caused some food for thought. After the rubbish collection I started to wash up (200 plates at least) the water was all boiled on wood fires so it took time. At this stage I noticed my host mum courting a lot of attention from females of her age. My mistake had been made; my mistake had been to 'work hard.' Apparently there is nothing more attractive to a mother trying to get rid of her son than a woman who works hard. My tireless cleaning had earnt me the admiration of every mother in Apel with a son or two... being white merely an advantage, being good around the house? Priceless. Yes, yes those who have lived with me will enjoy the irony of this comment and I tried to protest that really I was very messy but it was too late; the gauntlet had been laid. Now I have a genuine reason never to tidy again!

I was rather humbled at the funeral by Lebo. My wonderfully efficient immune system that will like clockwork provide me with an illness one every 4-6 weeks (without fail) kicked in a few days before. I totally lost my voice and spent a very cold night (difficult in 30 degrees) shaking off a fever. At the funeral Lebo said to me ' I am so happy you are here I prayed most of the night your voice would improve and you would come.' This was both unexpected and actually not very comfortable to hear because it was genuine. I am happy to have formed such a bond with someone in a short time but you always feel you will fall below expectation! Nonetheless, my voice had improved and there was no way I was to miss the funeral.
I spent the afternoon and Sunday in bed sleeping off my bug... at that stage the overwhelming desire for a fan or air conditioning became too much. We have one more week left in Apel before a small break where I have VSO training in Joburg (very excited for a shower!) Then we move to Ga Radingwana which is a community not visable from the road if you do not know what you are looking for. I am stocking up on energy bars and english tea!

I hope all my fellow VSO people are safe and enjoying their placements and thank you to all those feeding me rugby life lines-- although let's all hope Wales do not win the Grand Slam! B x

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Community One-Apel

hello all- my post ive been keeping it on my laptop so this covers the last two weeks.. next installment coming. miss everyone. i have a 4 day break in joburg in 2 will most def involve steak and red! big love x

Community One- Apel

Those corporates amongst you; ARE YOU BORED OF MEETINGS? FANCY A CHANGE? Then I have the answer... and it came to me in one of those epiphanic moments where clarity hits you in the face, and actually it stings a little. We arrived in Apel our first village to be greeted by a welcome party of Local Sports Council (LSC) members and many others whose names and roles elude me as much now (2 weeks on) as they did then... but I digress. We were treated to prayers, singing and introductions and a typed agenda. The Mark Thompson's of the world would probably struggle with the divergence from agenda, and perhaps the blatent disregard for a swift and efficient meeting (miss you Thompy) (along with direction) but actually I enjoyed it. After the meeting we were invited to enjoy coke, sprite and plates of biscuits and bright orange crisps layed neatly on the pristine white table cloth, adorned with plastic flowers. I will say that my enthusiasm for such meetings waned after the fifth introduction but in all I enjoyed the sense of ceremony. The importance of these meetings cannot be overlooked as they are organised by community members and stakeholders; slowly I am trying to go with the flow. So please when you go to work tomorrow think about a prayer, a dance or perhaps a continuous rub of your stomach while only answering to 'Mr Programme Director,' let me guarantee an assertive audience!

My parents have long felt the delight/burden of my many friends from home and abroad who have come to stay and enjoy what can only be described as exemplary Barrell hospitality. I occasionally have felt the poke of bad karma but in this instance I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to my parents and assure them this kindness has been returned to their daughter. I am staying with a fantastic family. The mother is a strong, intelligent, elegant woman who reminds me of my Nan and Pinda combined... she is the Principal of a local primary school as well as looking after her 5 year old grandchild and 2 other girls. My new playmate sister is a character; today she covered herself in white talc to be a 'lehora' - a whitey like Sasay (sister) B. I have made it clear idolising me will only end in disapointment and she should look elsewhere; but the language barrier between myself and the 5 year is old is a little iffy. Instead we reverted to our favourite game of 'tickles,' a much easier form of communication! The food is so good- we have variety and a lot of fruit and veg. Females do not drink so I am having an enforced detox; unfortunately I am simultaneously detoxing of: all alcohol, decent coffee, any sweet thing/bread/pastry (except my stash of energy bars) ; so basically all the things I used to 'reward' myself with! It's hard enough giving up one..let alone all! I did some hand washing and came home to find my mum, her sister and the aunty standing looking at the line laughing... "you tried" they sang in chorous. They actually nearly cried with laughter during inspection of my 'white color'... well i've never claimed to be a domestic Godness, Nigella has that crown. Anyway, my washing was done for me and the whites were dazzling.. then I came out of my room to find my mum ironing (take note Pinda) my clothes. I said "please don't iron it;s only sport kit" she said "in Africa we always iron our clothes we like to be smart"

So this explains why for the first time in my life I put on an ironed pair of socks and knickers! Then she said "tell me, why are your clothes so cheap?!"

So here I am in the middle of rural Africa being questioned on the cheapness of my clothes (Evans you would stand no chance!).. how could you not love a place like this?! I scanned my admittedly Primark/uni stash (supre for the aussies reading) pile of clothes and saw her point. My counter was that I preferred to travel, she enjoyed this philosophy but has insisted on ironing everyuthing from now on. Please, honestly, trust me, I tried to resist... I resisted.. but she gave me a knowing look - a look that would turn every man who tells me he loves me ( 3 per day) to stone. I have since practiced the look and believe me it works. As one of my Norweign colleagues said
" you have such an assertive air about you, a 'don't even think about it' air that with you the men are too scared to come up to you, they just shout across a road. I'm pretty sure a beggar would not dare ask you for money."
I think I will live off this compliment for a long time. Chat.

here's one for the ladies.. " In South Africa a man is beautiful if he has a job, not because of what he looks like."
So once again, stripped bare; the shallow undetone of a society I know and love was quashed in one unassuming statement. You only have to be here to see the want and need for jobs for so many. Initially i thought it annoying men coming up to windows and selling you things but now I realise at least they are trying to earn money. These men and women go to work everyday not knowing if they will sell one thing... it is this sort of unsustainability that characterises so much of the rural and city life for South Africa's poor. These unstainable livelihoods are all many have to survive on. Life really is hard. Hard work. My mum gets up at 3am everyday; washes; learns and leaves for school at 7.30. She returns at 3pm, she cleans, she cooks, she looks after 3 girls. She smiles though. A lot of people smile and the smiles are addictive and heartfelt. In my 30 minute walk to school I say the same thing, and I exagerate not, 50 times. They shout 'hello B' from every side of the street and they wave. The community care, they look out for me. I took a local mini taxi (not safe in city but safe here) the man wouldn't accept payment. I took another one; I spoke in Sotho to the congregation; when I got out; young and old clapped me, you have to let this place take you. You have to go with the flow (particularly hard for me) but slowly (very slowly) I am giving myself up to the way of life.. it's survival. Although I still power walk along even in 30 plus degree heat, wherever I am in the world I have no time for dawdling.. ! Please don't worry for my health; sometimes I treat myself to two blood pressure tablets just to be sure !

The program you ask>? How is Score on the Move? Well it's moving... The volunteers have busy mornings in the 5 local primary schools. The SA Government has abolished specific PE lessons. There is a session called Life Orientation which can be used for PE. As such the onus is on the volunteers to work with the local community volunteers and establish programs and work plans long after we have left. We should revive and motivate the schools for PE and then the local volunteers should provide the sustainability. Too early to say whether it will continue to work, but there are a lot of good signs. Development is not about pushing or coercing people to do things (although trust me, it is tempting sometimes- particularly during 3 hour meetinsg discussing one agenda item!) it has to happen from within, and it is. We are so used to meetings to establishing a quick answer and moving on it is actually quite refreshing to see the community working towards there own agenda and time.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

You called be called Karabo...

Lefiswane Community Visit. Hot, long drive, mules in the road, holes in the road, children in the road, mad drivers, no air con, dusty, hot.

We arrived for a site visit to give the Norwegiens a chance to experience working with the schools and coaching; and us to assess their skills. With 50% of Africa's population under 18.. in one small rural community there were 2000 children. These 2000 children all wanted to play... us 7 volunteers, the 40 g\dgree heat, the pot holes facility found this a challenge-- but we succeeded. My finest moment was teaching 'head, shoulders, knees and toes' to a group of 100 3-5 years old. We visited 2 schools- and a footy practice (where clearly I had no input than to watch and nod!)

When you think about development you always wonder if it really works- and who you are helping. Well, you only have to go to a village like that to see that those inhabitants- they benefit directly. From your time, your skill sharing and your willingness to learn too. We were the first whites some of the children had seen, and in a post Apartheid country (only 94) we have a broad mantle to carry in respect to levelling some equality.

We had a tradition meal; pap (maize), potato, meat, beans- it was good. There is no running water but the house was immaculate.. 4 generations of female lived there- the men are conspicious by their absences- they are lots of reasons for this.

I was called Karabo- which means 'the answer' the answer to SCORE and Sport said one. Before I allowed myself to get flattered, the others laughed and said she is also the baby snatcher from our favourite soap opera (ha, they had me sussed pretty quick!)

I head to Apel tomorrow, I have mobile contact but not sure of internet. I am really missing everyone at the moment; so keep showering the love.

I'm off for a coffee... and a hand picked mango :)

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Unfortunately you cannot touch his snake...

Woo, it's hot today. Which I won't lie is rather delightful considering on Tuesday gone.. it hailed. I asked for a refund on the whole 'South AFrica' deal, but it was rejected. Talking of rejection I am struggling to open a bank account... which is a big ballache for all. I keep perserving and with my small knowledge of South African lingo I'm improving. Unfortunately in very square foot of SA there is another language and dialect; so just when I think I'm getting good- they laugh. In fact they laugh at me a lot- when I'm with Tinkyio one of my colleagues; they laugh. White girl and black man still a novelty in more rural places. When I sit on a 'chair' which turns out to be a 'game' from Limpopo and I break it (clean break); they laugh. In fact, some poor man was privy to the Clare Barrell 'death stare' when he called me a 'silly English tart' it was rude, out of line and unneccesary. You'll all be pleased to know I told him this and he apologised.. he runs the place we are staying (would NOT recommend it) and yet he still apologises. So he should.

SO, where I am?! i am near Pretoria with the team (6 Norweigns and 2 Score members), we are having our training pre departure on Sunday to the first community.. Apel. It is 500k North, perhaps uncomfortably close to the Zimbawean border. I am staying with a host family ( we will all be spread out across the community) and I will have... TWO YOUNGER SISTERS.!! This thought has always made me quiver so we'll see how that goes!! I have been running every morning with one of the volunteers- feels good (note my slightly pious face). I have been training the volunteers which is fine- and most of the time I know what I am talking about!

I am excited to hit the village; less excited about (in no particular order) the lizard in my bed the other night, the pit toilets, no shower for 3 weeks, eating lambs brain and intestines, running a work shop for 100 people.. with no venue. ALl these things are sent to test us.. and I laugh in the face of danger.. (except with the lizard; i nearly cried then spent all night imaging it went up my nose so couldn't sleep- oops.!)

As for the title: apparently a community leader was sorry he could not join us, it was a ritual for us all to 'touch his big snake..'

lost in translation?? I certainly hope so...

Sunday, 3 February 2008

I'm working in African Time..

Sorry for the delay. You will however enjoy this update so much that I am sure all will be forgiven. Those that know and love me well won't be suprised to hear that in the first guest house I stayed (colonial chic- easing me in gently) I left my passport, IPOD and book in the safe. I realised this minor fact when I had been taken to the VSO office, nice one Clare.

I stayed in Melville-it reminded me of Melbourne and I had a strong sense of deja vu. Later compounded when I realised I'd been here with REACH on a night out. VSO confidence bashing courses (note: tongue in cheek) and just about everyone telling me Joburg is the most dangerous city on earth someone stilted my progress to go for a walk. My constipated shuffle/whilst trying to look confident was met with odd stares. A group of men commented on my hair: lesson one: throw preconceived notions out the window- they are all a load of bollocks. They were white men, sitting enjoying lunch. Not black rural villagers as I imagined. I thanked them and continued my shuffle. I need not have worried- dichotomous nature of the place meant I passed designer art galleries, kooky coffee and book shops not gangs ready to inflict violence on me.

I began to relax; so much so I went to a Mugg & Bean- a familiar haunt from Reach. I was so relaxed I spoke to people and that is how I came to have lunch with Ahmed the Lebanese -recently divored-hairdresser, and Craig. Not sure what he did, aside from drink Smirnoff Ice for breakfast. This winner combination resulted in a free flowing conversation covering abortion, divorce, infedelity, drugs, sex and race. All before 12 miday and merely 4 hours since I stepped off the plane. Yes, I have definately arrived. Perhaps I shouldn't admit to getting a lift to the local supermarket to buy a sim card; but I did, it was fine and I'm still alive. Gut instinct told me it would be ok, and it was!

for those texters of you my new number is: 0833440929. let me know you have it.

I have to go- waiting to meet my NGO rep. Finger crossed

Love to all

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Packing away

Definately getting excited now, even though my VISA is still not through so I am pretty much on standby.

Said most of my goodbyes and now am working out how to fit everything in my bag; asking whether the gold top is appropriate?!

I have collected as many coaching tools as I can which I am hoping will be of some use... toilet paper at last resort.

For more information about the NGO I am working for see the SCORE South AFrica website.

I need to continue packing...

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Should I start to worry?

I have not packed, or more to the point purchased a bag to pack into.
I have not had any Rabies injections ( minor oversight.) I'm either leaving on Saturday 12th Jan or Monday 14th Jan- date still pending... VISA still pending...

Anyway, things have a habit of working out so who is worrying?

I'm off to South Africa and I can assure you I am leaving behind any notions of martyrdom or 'save the world;' although all compliments are gladly received at anytime.

The idea is to heal, empower and inspire through sport- not such a difficult task then. Ahem. Details to follow.

Although I have learnt that to try and be 'less assuming' in the rural areas I should wear a baseball cap. At nearly 6ft tool, a huge mouth and blonde hair I fear, alas, this may be a little unachievable. Anyhow I do not want to be unassuming, I want to integrate myself and my team fully into the community. All in a day's work.

So please let South Africa know I'm coming; for their protection not my own!