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 weeks...it 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