Thursday, August 12, 2010

It was here. Did you feel it?

As quickly as the excitement came to my village and—what seemed to be—all over this Rainbow Nation, the World Cup has now passed. It’s memory and the stories are like the sounds of the vuvuzelas—growing more and more distant by the day. It’s sad to think that all of the enthusiasm was short-lived for only a month of international fame and spectacle. However, aren’t we all too familiar with the sensationalized and over-commercialized clout that surrounds events like the World Cup, the Olympics, and the well-known International Clogging Festival?

Well, it was here, we felt it; and now, things are practically back to normal: I’m back to getting assaulted by more aggravated mother hens, strikes are once again in season, and the power has miraculously decided to go out, time and time again (strange how it worked just fine during the World Cup, hm…)

During and after the World Cup, people here and in the States asked me, did you go to any of the games!? Sadly, no, I did not. I had no interest after my ticket attempts failed miserably. That’s OK, though. I’m not much of a soccer spectator (more of a fair-weather fan, to be completely honest) nor do I enjoy large crowds, expensive concessions, or freezing in the stands. I enjoyed the games I did see from the comfort of a warm living room in front of a TV. In this blog, I’d like to share with you how I kept my self busy while school was on break and most everyone was in hibernation in my village. I needed to stay sane and this is what I did…

(Oh, if I can interject here for a second—I want to announce that I am indeed evolving as a technologically advanced blogger: I realized that my photos were just a tad too small for those that don’t have eagle-vision or a microscope handy when reading my blog; also, the formatting is a nightmare when this blog goes from Windows Live Writer to my Blog, then to either email, RSS reader, or Facebook. So, I’m working on that one…Wow, I’m still debating whether all these forms of communication are obnoxious or impressive… Please bear with me while I work out these technical glitches.)

(Funny story—I just discovered that to say, “Please bare with me,” which I thought was right until just now, is a request for you all to take off your clothes with me. Woops, that explains that one time... Please keep your clothes on for the remainder of this blog. Thank you.)


The Computer Lab

I made some real progress with my computer lab. After opening up these computers that sat dormant for three years, I got some help and a air compressor to blow out all the dust from the machines. (I think I got the black lung after we were finished. It looked like an industrial vacuum exploded in that room.)

P1120699 (480x360)The school’s “library” houses many things other than just books: supplies, a microwave, the new computer lab, and a lot of dust. Clearly, a work in progress.

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Every day for a few weeks, I would spend my time here, putting together the computers, matching hardware, and getting them up and running. I had to reformat a few corrupted hard drives, install the identical software on all of 11 computers and get them running as smoothly as possible. In the meantime, I invited a few eager learners to come in and use the computers while I worked. It was great because it kept them from suffering from School Break Boredom (mind atrophy), I had someone to talk to, they had a chance to use the computers (which they’ve been chomping at the bit to do), and I got to find out which typing and training programs they enjoyed the most. I’ll use their feedback to help me tweak my lessons. They are now virus-free, clean, and ready for classes!


Village-wide World Cup Spirit

The week before school was let out, the Grade 5 Class Teacher organized a World Cup Party for the kids on Friday. Throughout the semester, the kids brought in as many 5-Rand-cent coins (a little less than the value of a penny) as they could. With that, the teacher set up a party with cakes, treats, and drinks for them. A few other educators and I helped him set it up that day. We all had fun—it was a great day. Here are some photos:

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In preparation for the 50 kids that were anxiously waiting and watching from the windows.

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Here, a staff member is showing me how to blow out of a vuvuzela. I got it after a while, but then my lips went numb.

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After the party, I took my camera around the village. Everyone was in full Bafana-Bafana mode, kindergarteners and high-schoolers, alike.

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After school let out for the break, the primary school looked like a ghost town.

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Over the winter break, this building got a new roof, new cement floors and a new paint job—something it was needing for quite some time.


World Cup Warmth in Winter 

I thought it would be a fun idea to have the community gather in the community hall to watch the South African team play. I tried to organize TVs and a braai (BBQ) for the first three games. However, logistics didn’t work out in our favour, but at least at the last minute, we got a small TV (thankfully with reception!) and some chicken to grill. Not a very successful event, but at least it was a gathering!

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Many people don’t have electricity to watch the games or even a TV, so this was surprisingly a well-attended event. Yes, that’s a 20” TV propped on a set of chairs.

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It was cold! No heat in the hall, but we still had diehard fans!

P1130276 (480x360) People found ways to warm up while helping to cook the chicken.

I spend some time visiting some friends in Vryburg who let me stay to watch some of the WC games with them. They had heat, but it still got chilly at night.

P1130279 (480x360) Even the family dog, Xena, had to come inside and bundle up for some surprisingly cold weather in Vryburg.


American Patriotism, Peace Corps-style

For the Fourth of July, I celebrated the best way I knew how! Sparklers, a buttery American meal, and the movie Drop Dead Gorgeous, which I watched with my friend, Lorraine at her house in the village.

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Lorraine and I enjoyed the magic of burning chemicals on a stick and a very patriotic, American movie. She now understands Minnesotan humor and our lovely accents thanks to Kirsten Dunst and Kirstie Alley.

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Yes, that’s fried fish, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob (“mealies”, as they call them here), and the only American flag I could find in my room. God bless America.


Normal Once Again

The World Cup came and went. I’m happy to find out that no major incidents occurred here like many had worried would happen. When school started back up again, we all exchanged a WC few stories, but mostly, our conversations went back to talking about the weather, daily life in the village, and basically anything else people casually chat about. Life’s back to normal in this post-World Cup South Africa: South Africans put away their Bafana-Bafana jerseys and life continues on, sans vuvuzelas.◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well

Monday, August 9, 2010

It’s Been a While…

Welcome back! Or rather, please welcome me back to my own blog. It indeed has been some time since I last wrote (in May, I believe). I can’t say I was caught up in the fanatics and hype of World Cup 2010. I suppose you can simply chalk it up to another bout of inconsistent blog-authoring rooted in wishful thinking that I’d unearth some  inspiring passion for new hobbies such as blogging, novel-reading, or even dabble in painting while spending my two years here. Sad to say, it’s pretty apparent it’s not working out that way! But, to make up for my literary lethargy, I offer this:

There’s been a seriously rumored teachers’ strike on the horizon (Tuesday, I believe) so I won’t be teaching, obviously, until it’s sorted out. I assume I will have a lot of time this week to put together a few blogs (with pictures!) to share with you all about life in my village for the past few months over our moderately quiet winter. (Let’s call my recent blogging sabbatical a sort of hibernation.) But don’t worry! I won’t be sending new blogs out every day—I’ll stagger them so I don’t flood your inboxes like my Facebook notifications do to me (note to self: I really need to turn those off…)

In my pocket, I’ve got blog-topics-galore: lions, kites, traditional dances, 150 year old missions, homemade gadgets, robots and much much more (now in Technicolor)! OK, I lied, no robots.


First up… GO! Overseas interview

A few weeks ago, I was asked to interview with GO! Overseas, an online travel resource that focuses toward those wanting to teach, study, and volunteer abroad. You can check out the interview by clicking the link below:


Cloud Photo Intermission!

The Egg & Swan: these photos were taken in my back yard in March, 15 minutes apart from each other.

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Email to my family

The other day, I spent some time writing an email to my family, filling them in on life here on the borders of the Kalahari and realized this was something I wanted to include on my blog, so I did a little creative editing and cut out all the juicy family gossip (not that there is much other than a request for nice pens and good, old-fashioned Target-bought white t-shirts. See? Really not that juicy).

I wanted to send you a little note this chilly spring morning. Spring here is nothing like spring that I know and love back at home. My village’s spring is merely a windy transition between winter and summer. The short cold winter killed most of the plants and dried up all the greenery. What remained is the white dusty roads and sand. The wind shifted once again from a cold southerly wind to a warmer northern wind from Botswana. This wind also kicks up that white dust and covers the bare shrubs and trees with what looks to be a light dusting of snow, but we know it's not. The vehicles that pass also churn up more white faux-snow and if you breathe it in, it leaves you coughing and your throat, slightly irritated. I remember that feeling from when I came in September. Luckily, summer is soon to follow and the white dust will soon stay dormant once again for nine months, replaced with sweltering hot, sweaty days. But that's not until the end of September. Until then, however, we are stuck with it. What's more, the sudden change in season and temperature (cold mornings, warm afternoons) brings sickness and "flu" (colds, mostly). I even felt it this morning when I woke up and as I nurse a warm cup of tea writing this email. But then again, I suppose weather transitions like this bring similar sicknesses back at home as well, so it should be nothing too surprising. The plus side—I did notice some fresh sprigs of leaves budding from some of the trees; it’s strange to think that the same trees just dropped their leaves a little over a month ago.

Enough talk about the weather. (Though this, I've found, is universal human nature, even here--to chat about the weather when there's nothing else to talk about as if it's a surprise every season. Go figure.)

I've been working on a few projects and have really gotten moving on some new proposals in the pipeline. It's true how they say that something unexplainable happens about a year into your PCV service: they say that things just start clicking, projects get off the ground, and that's when the real PC magic happens. It seems to be working in my favour (touch wood, aka “knock on wood”). I'm awaiting word from my principals who will meet to discuss use of the school-hosted computer lab for the community and the other schools' learners and the liability that comes with putting eager youth and expensive objects together (potentially a crisis waiting to happen). I have gotten two internet modems connected to each of the schools and working wonderfully. These modems had been sitting idle in boxes at either school for about a year. They were given to the schools by the district office but never were able to set them up. What's more, these modems were set up to work with a cell phone network that doesn't have reception here in my village (that took some time to figure out!). So, I reconfigured them to work with the one working network, Vodacom and voila! Great success! So now comes the part of getting the school to budget for internet usage (we pay per MB here) and getting the staff and educators set up to use email. Currently, if they have to do any type of correspondence, they have to either a) make an expensive phone call (an equivalent $0.50/min during business hours), b) drive 25 km to the nearest town to fax documents, or c) pay for a minibus taxi to drive 2 hrs to the district office and hand-deliver documents. Email is a blessing in disguise and I hope it works out in the schools’ favour.

Cloud Photo Intermission! (Part deux)

Living in such a flat area on the outskirts of the Kalahari, I have developed a slightly unhealthy obsession for clouds here. Even though I never grew up with mountains as a child, I have a long-standing fascination with them. And because of that, I jokingly say that the clouds are my mountains. It makes the flat not so…flat.

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(Back to the story!)

Another project I'm proposing  is a PC World Maps Project, a very successful and simple painting of a 12' x 6' world map painted on the side of a school. The learners help trace and paint the countries. We are also going to make a large South Africa map as well as the school emblem. This will be for both the primary and secondary schools. The World Maps Project was started in 1988 by a PCV in the Dominican Rep and has caught on like wildfire throughout the countries where PCVs serve. I've seen a few on the sides of nearby village schools where former PCVs have lived. Should be a fun project :)

While we're getting our hands dirty with paint, I figured we could incorporate another proposed project of building picnic tables for the school courtyards. Currently, they have no adequate, comfortable place to sit, study, eat, and socialize outside. It's nice for the learners to be outside during the winter to avoid the cold classrooms and to be outside during the summer to avoid the hot, stuffy classrooms. Plus, it can help alleviate the overcrowding of the classrooms. So, I'm working on a formal proposal hoping to get all wood and hardware donated from local hardware stores. I'd like to have all the wood pieces pre-cut so it's easier to transport and so that we don't have learners cutting their fingers off. I thought each grade could assemble the tables as part of their technology class and paint them as they chose. Then, they could take pride of something they built that other future learners will benefit from. Fingers crossed (not cut) on that one.

Trash pickup is not a common theme from what I’ve seen—many youth just throw it on the ground after they’re finished with a wrapper or plastic bag. It's scattered around the streets and fields. What isn't laying around or eaten by goats is burned in thick black smoky fires, which smell of burning plastic. I called a few recycling centers and am working on making arrangements for either us to pick up and bring recyclables into the nearest large town or, if they're willing, to have them come out and collect on-site. I think with the combined help of area schools, we can make it worth their while to come out and pick up our glass, plastic, paper, and cans. Again, fingers crossed!

Cloud Photo Intermission! (Last one, promise)


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Sunrise, sunset (ok, who’s singing Fiddler by now? I am.)

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(And, we’re back!)

When I'm not busy working on these projects, I'm still giving assistance at the schools, showing how to make tables and worksheets on the computer or substitute teaching if an educator is sick or is at a workshop for the day. But what I really look forward to every is teaching my class every week. I am really, really enjoying my time with my Grade 5 Technology class. We're starting to make breakthroughs in communication, understanding what we can expect from each other in the classroom and speaking more English. I have more structure for them to follow on a weekly basis this quarter and in turn, they are excited to participate and not so embarrassed to speak up in class. We meet 3 days a week, 4 periods in total. Tuesdays, I give them new vocabulary words for the week related to what we're studying that week. Our unit this term is Computers. Each week we study a new part of the computer and learn how it works. We review the words and read the definition for each in preparation for Friday's vocab quiz. I also post pictures of the week's Mystery Technology. They love guessing what that mystery technology is. I have them ask educators, family, and use books to research what it is. Past weeks’ objects were a solar panel charger, a jet engine, an electrical pole transformer, and a ball from a ball-point pen. They need to tell me what it is and what it does. The first to guess correctly gets to be my assistant the following week. I can see they really get excited to win. Wednesday is a double period where I teach lessons related to the vocab words and that week's parts of the computer. After the lesson, I have them work on an in-class activity that I mark and record. Having weekly activities, I can make sure we're all together. At the end of this term, instead of a project like the last two terms, I will have them write a test, preparing them as we go. Fridays are fun days. We begin with the vocab quiz that I reminded them about earlier that week. It's short, worth 5 marks, and only takes 5 minutes for 5 fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice questions. After the quiz, they are rewarded with two activities, ranging from maths puzzles, mazes, logic puzzles, or a spelling bee. The first to complete both activities successfully wins some Pop Rocks (from America)! It's amazing how eagerly, quietly, and quickly they will work for a cool prize like Pop Rocks. I know I would!

And that, my friends & family, is my week. I know I haven't really shared too much about what I've been doing lately, so I figured it's about darn time I do so! Hope this gives you a better idea of what I'm doing and how much I'm enjoying my work here.

I'm re-reading what I've just written and if you don't mind, I'd like to tailor this email into a blog to share with others. People always ask “So how's South Africa?” “What kinds of things are you doing?” I figured this may be a good way to let people know what I'm up to other than just sharing about my adventures outside the village. But just know that these words were originally meant for you. :)

Assuming that the teachers’ strike doesn’t set us (the schools and I) back too far, I hope to get going on my projects ASAP—I’ve got the go-ahead by the schools to start looking for paint and lumber donations. So that’s a good thing.


Final Thought

Whew! I appreciate it if you made it this far in reading my words—such dedication! Or, you’re just scrolling to the bottom hoping to find some more really neat cloud photos, right!? Well, if you are a scrolling cloud-enthusiast, you’re in luck!

P1120766 (480x360)  Don’t they kind of look like mountains?

(Lastly, I just have to say that if you enjoy digital photography and take way too many photos like I do, check out FastStone Photo Resizer. It’s a great free program that is really easy to use, with a ton of settings, and does batch edits in a flash.)

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Well, that’s about all I have for today’s show. Stay tuned for our next episode, It was here. Did you feel it? coming soon to a blog near you! ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Day-To-Day Village Shenanigans

I realized the other day that I haven’t done a very good job at keeping you all in the loop about what kind of activities I’m involved with here in the village on a day-to-day basis.

This blog will be rather brief (probably not, actually, seeing as how I tend to get lost in the details once I get going) and will probably contain a few typo’s because I don’t have the energy to re-read my work this time. (I am recovering from a cold that wiped me out and kept me in a reclusive—and somewhat vegetative—state for the past few days. Aside from sleeping most of the day, I’ve been enjoying episode upon episode of the Simpsons, lots of tea, basic meals [no interest in doing too much cooking lately], and more sleep.)

Needless to say, I am craving social interaction, and believe me, Facebook just doesn’t cut it. Spending too much time on Facebook actually has made me feel like Jeff from Rear Window; once I came to that realization, I figured it was time to lay that beast to rest. Instead, I hope at least that a one-sided dialogue can help satiate my cravings for the time being. Here we go…

I wake up most mornings between 6-7am, and start my days out pretty consistently with a cup of coffee, breakfast, and emails. Yes, I have extremely consistent internet access, contrary to popular belief of life in rural South Africa (a belief held by both, Americans and urban South Africans alike). I cannot escape the grips and demands of modern technology. But despite my griping and complaining that I can’t get away from it, email has proven to be one of the most useful means of communication for practically anything I need.

After breakfast, I typically head to either the primary or secondary school. At the primary school, I am currently working on setting up a previously non-existent computer lab in their library. We have 11 working computers; the plan is to have them fitted with all the basic typing tutorial programs and MS Office applications. These are dinosaurs of computers, running Windows 2000 with 65MB of RAM on old Pentium II processors. The hard drives are about 4-6GB. But they'll do the trick. So far, I’m just at phase of installing the correct software. The plan is to set up computer classes, first, for the educators and learners; then for the community, we’ll charge a small user’s fee. I have one eager counter-part from the village that is working with me. Our hope is to eventually turn things over completely to her, and turn her voluntary position into a paid position using the fees. Furthermore, I’ve asked the educators and learners who are familiar with using computers to assist others, working with them in pairs or small groups. Thanks to the great efforts of past PCVs in South Africa, they’ve created some outstanding self-guided computer tutorials that step the new user from turning on the computer to designing presentations in PowerPoint! And, they’ve made these lessons available to all PCVs. Why reinvent the wheel, right?

I also am teaching a grade 5 Technology class for four periods a week at the primary school. Thankfully, it’s not a common occurrence that kids fall out of trees or get sent to the hospital. We have fun and are working on some great hands-on projects.

When I go to the secondary school during the other part of the day, I am busy with writing a simple computer program for the educators to use that will give the learners student ID cards. I also assist the educators with typing documents. I’ve transitioned from clerk (secretary or typist) to teaching them how to type their own documents. While the educator and I are working on the computer, we both realize that it’s a slower process for that person to type the document while I stand by and assist, but the easy solution of me finishing a document in a fraction of the time would not be serving the long-term purpose of me being here. But I appreciate their patience and determination in learning how to make tables, columns, highlighting, and copy&pasting.

Every few days during the week, I get a request to assist someone in the community. It could be doing research for a bursary (scholarship), application for a business license, information on starting their own business, or other job/education-related topics.

One thing that came as a surprise to me upon coming to my village is that as “casual” as it may seem to have so many social interactions and side conversations during my work day (what American bosses would frown upon as “personal conversations”), they are, in fact, adding to my work experience by learning about the community, the culture, and language through our “water-cooler” chats. I have learned to appreciate these conversations and include them as integral parts of my workday; these interactions help me understand the community better and allow them to understand me as well. But as nice as these chats are, they are exhausting. It takes so much more energy to choose my words carefully, clear up my diction and annunciation, and use phrases that a foreign English speaker would understand, avoiding any colloquialisms.

Before I know it, my day’s finished, I’m exhausted, and I prepare to go home, ready to do it again the next day. Thankfully, as routine as my “rounds” are at each school and in the community, I am thankful for the variety of the day: the conversations I will have, who will ask for my assistance, or which projects will take priority for the day. The routine keeps me sane and level-headed, but the variety makes time just fly by. ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Unlucky St. Patty’s Day

I found this blog sitting all alone, tucked away in the dark crevasses of my computer. Perhaps out of sheer neglect or more likely out of memory suppression, I forgot to post this blog I share with you now. Here it is, two months late; yet it’s still just as laughable at the irony of my misfortunes on a day that should be bringing good luck.


How many disastrous things can go wrong in a day, let me count the ways…

One—I woke up in pain from a reoccurring ailment that just wouldn’t leave me alone.

Two—I felt slightly nauseous from the medication meant to relieve the pain.

P1110843 (240x180) Three—I got out of bed and stepped on a small, prickly thorn that I wrote about in Animal House, back in March. So far so great. Not.





(At this point, the morning’s not going as well as one might conclude.)



image I made it to school without a piano falling on me or falling into quicksand, luckily.





Four—my grade 10 learners were absolutely wild and uncontrollable in Physical Science class when I arrived. They were yelling and upset that I wasn’t in class the other day, because I had to go to Vryburg for the medication last minute. I informed the staff and principal, but the word must not have gotten to them. P1120648 (180x240)So, when I didn’t show up for the planned lab experiment I promised them, they sure let me have it that morning. Then, I explained that they had a test in two days, which evidently they were not informed about either. They were not happy campers and became very obstinate and difficult to work with for the rest of the—not one, but two—periods I had with them. They also didn’t like the fact that we had to reschedule the lab experiment for Saturday because there was no other time to do it.

Five—upon leaving my class, flustered and aggravated, I was called into my principal’s office to discuss a matter of the grade 10 Physical Science class (the one I teach). It turns out that the learners have collectively requested (strongly) that they would like their original educator to return to teaching them. I was taken aback by this because I thought we were doing some great work and that many were doing very well, showing in their improved test scores, typically smiling faces, and attentiveness in class. At first, I thought it was a personal thing, that they did like me or my teaching style. But, after reading through their group letter to the principal and upon further discussion with the learners, I found out that it was simply because they have a hard time understanding me. I speak in a different accent than what they’re used to, and I don’t translate any of my lesson into Setswana, which is very tempting to do by educators to ensure they understand the lesson. I also have high expectations for them, expecting them to do homework on time and take their education seriously and become responsible for their own learning. My personal opinion is that, not only did they not understand me, but also, they just didn’t like how much I made them work for their education. But, I could see improvement in their test scores that they were learning. Overall, I do understand and sympathize with these learners—I can see how challenging it would be to have a new teacher with a new accent, with new teaching methods, and new expectations. Children are very adaptable and flexible, yet they need structure and consistency in teaching, and to have 10 years of one style be disrupted all of a sudden can be a bit of an educational culture shock for them. So, in the end, I relinquished my class and handed back the chalk to the original teacher. However, I am still going to maintain involvement in the class informally in and outside of class. This was upon the request of the educator and principal. I’m happy to know, at least, that it wasn’t due to my teaching method or that I wasn’t performing adequately. After speaking with some of the learners a few days later, I found out that the request to switch teachers came from only some of the learners (the ones that were having a difficult time understanding me). It turns out many had no problem and actually enjoyed me teaching their class, but they had to appease the rest of those that were struggling. Completely understandable. I will miss teaching them, but am glad that I had the opportunity to have them as my learners.

So far, not much good news…

Six—I gathered my things and headed to my grade 5 Technology class. We were learning about Energy Sources, so that day, we were outside discovering the joy of wind energy by flying a kite. The kite found it’s way to a tree and got tangled up on a tall branch. While I was busy with the string, some boys scurried up the tree with hopes of getting to the troublesome branch. Turns out that this particular branch is safe for no more than one boy at a time because two boys climbed out onto the branch and it was the crack and thud that caught my attention to look up. image The branch had broken from the trunk and sent two boys falling 10 feet to the ground on top of the fallen branch. They luckily were ok, judging by their laughter on the ground. A few minutes later, I was informed that a little girl went inside the classroom and was crying. Figuring it was because she didn’t get a turn to fly the kite, I went in to investigate. I found the girl sitting in a chair crying and holding her back. It was the daughter of the principal from the school from where I just come. She told me she had gotten hit by the branch when it came down. She wanted to go to the clinic across the street (we don’t have a nurse at our school), so when she got there, they called her father, the principal. Oh boy, the American just had a meeting with him about resigning from one of his classes, then his daughter gets hurt in his class an hour afterward. Geez, how bad could that look, right? Your boss’s daughter gets hurt under your supervision. Wow. To make matters worse, they can’t find anything wrong, but she’s still in pain, so they send her to the local hospital…in an ambulance, no less. image A bit extreme in hindsight, but at the time, I was just getting information bit by bit. Turns out there’s nothing wrong, thank goodness, not even any bruising, but just a shocked and frightened young girl in a scary situation.

Let’s recap so far: in pain, nauseous, thorn in foot, no pianos or quicksand, obnoxious teenagers, lost my class, learners fell out of tree, and boss’s daughter goes to the hospital. And this is all before noon.

The one good thing of the day: I finally get my wish—computers that were stored in the secondary school finally get transported to the primary school where I can begin to set up the primary school’s computer lab. As much as I should count my blessings, I couldn’t quite get it to brighten my day. Any other day, I’d be overjoyed and it’d make my day. But not today, unfortunately. I’m just thinking that this bit of good news helped to not make me completely lose it.

But I was close, so I decided to just go home before anything else happened. On my way home, I decided to stop by a friend’s house to share my day, vent, then hopefully laugh about it.

Seven—on the way home from her house, along the path which I had walked many, many times before, I passed by a house with two decent-sized dogs (*dogs pictured not actual dogs, but just as terrifying). imageDogs here usually bark and defend their territory up to the fenced-in yard. That’s about it. These dogs saw me, started barking, then came running toward toward the fence. I figured they’d stop at the fence like most dogs do. However, by the time I had realized they had more in mind than just verbally harassing me, they had already jumped through the fence and one latched on to my ankle. And not in any playful manner either.   imageThat bite sent me running—running faster than I had ever run before. There were two of them, so I didn’t think it was a good idea to turn around and defend myself. I probably ran close to half a soccer field in length through beach-like sand and in sandals, staying just inches ahead of them, with them literally nipping at my ankles. They eventually stopped, and I gave myself a few extra meters of safe distance before I slowed down. I got home to view the damage on my ankles. Only a few scrapes but they drew enough blood to make me worry about rabies. It could have been worse I suppose.

The owner saw me get chased through the window of her house and came to see how I was. She apologized and I asked her if she knew if the dogs were sick. She said she didn’t know, and they lived on the edge of the village, near the forest, so I didn’t make any assumptions that they were rabies-free.

image To someone else, I’m sure it looked hilarious to see the American booking it down the path with a look of pure terror plastered on his face. And in hindsight, it was a funny story to tell since I wasn’t mauled by dogs.





Luckily, that’s the end of my not-so-lucky St. Patty’s Day. As my Peace Corps supervisor mentioned to me after telling her the story, let’s hope this was the worst day of my service, and that it can only get better from here. Fingers crossed. ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Story of Longtom, the Dragon

Before I begin, I want to give you a final tally of the funds many of you helped me raise for our event: $1355.00!!!

Ok, on with the post…

Amongst the chaos and rehabilitation of getting back into the swing of things for the second quarter—fall term—after such a great and eventful few days away in Mpumalanga, I finally have some time to follow up from my previous blog—this time, with lots of pictures!

I have to forewarn those who may be reading this feed on Facebook or other non-image friendly site: this won’t make much sense if you don’t have the pretty pictures to follow along with. It’s like a children’s book, so grab a knee to sit on and enjoy the story!

Once upon a time, a young man named Matson ventured out from his quiet village in South Africa to join others in a quest to conquer the legendary evil dragon the locals call Longtom, which rests nestled far in the mystic hills and valleys of the fabled Land of Sabie, Mpumalanga.

…Alright, I think we’ve had enough of that… but actually, in the rest of this story, there is fire, enchanted forests, an Old Man of the Mountain, tree spirits, magic waterfalls, a fountain of youth, and a rainbow. So, use your imagination and this could make for an entertaining story after all. (And who knows, you may even be able to spot an elf if you’re lucky.)

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Here is a photo of my friendly and exhausted PCV friends, Ryan, Dave, and Haley, sitting in a minibus taxi in Nelspruit, waiting to complete the last leg of our respective journeys from each of our villages to Sabie, Mpumalanga. My particular trip (one way) cost me a 1/4 of my monthly stipend (about $75), 12 hours in a minibus taxi (like the one pictured, or in worse condition) and an overnight in Pretoria. Ryan had it even worse. That’s what we get for choosing to live so far away. (Oh, wait, we didn’t choose. That’s right.) But no matter what, it was really nice to get out and see more of the country, no matter what the cost.

P1120072 (240x180)At the Sabie Backpackers the night before the big race, we had a wonderful BYOSpaghetti and attempted to have a Pasta Sauce Cook-off. Pasta sauce, we did make; however, the cook-off was more in a state of “off.” Nevertheless, we had a great time socializing as you can see in these pictures.

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A 4am wake up the morning of the race. We gathered at the racer’s registration spot, then all the half-marathoners boarded a bus to transport us to our starting spot. There were more people running this marathon than I anticipated—about 1500 finishers.

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Below are the two female 56K runners—intense runners.

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Near the starting line for the half-marathon, in the Drakensburg mountains, it was very cloudy early in the morning.

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As we were ascending, the clouds were spectacular as we’d rise above them with the sun coming out in the horizon. Unfortunately, I had no clear shot of the view, so here’s a photo-dramatization using stand-in (photos). (Please note: the names of all clouds, mountains, trees, and locations were changed to protect the identity of those involved. Thank you for your consideration.)

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So, back to the race… as the misty rain let up and we attempted to get used to the bone-chilling cold, we all gathered at the starting line. It was quite the scene at the front where a familiar tune of “Shosholoza,” a traditional South African folk song, was the warm-up song, accompanied by some impromptu traditional dances by the runners.

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We know this guy. #252 of 754 in the 21.1k. I’m proud to say that at 2:00:22, it’s a record for me. Granted, I’ve never run this far in my life before. But regardless, I’m happy to have finished standing up!

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Below are the other two PCVs that ran the 56k. Again, intense.

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The two lady 56k-ers after the race; and a group of the PCV Longtom-ers.

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That night, we enjoyed some fire juggling. How else to enjoy a successful day of running than by playing with fire! And look at them go!

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After the Longtom Marathon and festivities, for the next couple of days, some of us partook in a hike through the Drakensburg mountains near Sabie. We hiked the Fanie Botha trails—a truly spectacular hike (that is, once we could follow the sorry excuse for trail signs).

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We hiked 40km total for two days, and had some incredible views to take in.P1120126 Stitch (480x201)

P1120130 (240x180)On the early leg of our trip, we were quickly redirected by the caretaker of the hut we stayed in the first night. He was a God-send for running down the hill after us to tell us we were going the wrong way (no thanks to the signs).

Below is a small sliver of the artificial forest (a timber plantation for paper—supposedly the largest artificial forest in the world). All the trees are in neat, orderly rows with the lower branches all trimmed off.

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Below is a common formation we saw in the hills. The shallow valleys between hillsides would roll along and all of a sudden drop off into this deep depression filled with large trees growing from it’s base in the canyon. It seems as though water or some pocket beneath just gave way and it all sunk in. It was strange to see a large tree growing out of a crevasse in an otherwise tree-less plain.

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The landscape and climate changed dramatically within just a few hours of hiking. We walked into pine forests, out into plains, then into fields, then back into a forest, which was this time, a very dense and wet forest. And this happened over and over again, changing temperatures from cold to hot to cold so quickly.

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Some very beautiful and unique looking flowers along the way. (Does anyone recognize these and can tell me the names?)

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Here’s those rows in the timber plantation. Nice and orderly, but oddly disturbing to find hiking in “nature.”

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At the arrival of the Mac Mac Hut (hiding behind the trees), our second night’s stay. P1120210 Stitch (480x192) A distant view of the Mac Mac Hut. Absolutely breathtaking views from here.

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P1120224 (240x180)These were the trail markers we were supposed to follow. Evidently, these white “footprints” marked the direction, yet the feet didn’t always point in the right direction. Many times it led us up very steep hills with no indication of where to pick the trail back up.

A view from the Mac Mac Hut at dawn.

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We were convinced that the figure just off to the left of center was the Man on the Mountain. He watched over us and we made sure he didn’t move by the next morning. He didn’t, thankfully. That would have been scary.

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The start of hiking, day two of two…

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And a train crossing sign? In the middle of the woods?

As aware as I am of where paper and 2x4s come from, I still can’t help but feel sad when I see the effects of logging. Maybe it was from watching FernGully as a child.

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Here’s another one of those canyons in the middle of a hill. This one is due to a waterfall—Mac Mac Falls.

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This was a magnificent waterfall, totally taking me by surprise by it’s covert location.

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Mac Mac Pools, a little fountain of youth. Well, quite literally—there were a lot of youth swimming in it. A great little oasis with crisp cool water and spectacular views.

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P1120387 (180x240) And finally, a great way to be greeted back in my village when I returned.

And they all lived happily ever after. ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well