Chicken Feet and Fish Heads!


Our first full week at site has been full of new experiences…In particular, new FOOD experiences! Tuesday, the women at Abbot’s Poort Home Based Care (my NGO) served us “menatlana” (chicken feet) for lunch–bones, tendons, toe nails, and all! I couldn’t bring myself to eat the tendons and toe nails, but Ben braved every bit, later saying that it was a strange sensation having tendons stuck in his teeth. (Ewe!) I really thought I’d be okay with eating chicken feet, but when the time came, I happened to notice how hand-like they were and that was the end of it…

Friday was another first-time experience for our taste buds when the home based care served us fried “hlogo ka hlapi” (fish heads)! The empty eye-socket wasn’t very enticing, but the meat had been cooked with so much “fish spice,” it actually tasted pretty good. Greasy, like a lot of the food here, but good. Chicken feet, fish heads, what will be next, worms? (Actually, we’ve heard that people DO eat worms here, so we have something else to look forward to).



I forgot to mention in our last post that our new host family gave us African names! Ben has been dubbed, “Tiro,” (Tee-row) which literally means, “work,” and refers to the good works he will do in Abbot’s Poort over the next two years (Also the name they give to the books of Acts in the Bible.) I was given the name, “Mokgadi,” (Mo-kaw-dee, the kaw is in the back of the throat like hawking a loogie) relating to water and “bringing new life” to this community. Our host mother named us after her grandparents, so it was quite an honor!



Monday was Heritage Day, a national holiday, which made for a nice long weekend to get settled into our new house. We put maps on the walls and bordered the Washington one with a big picture collage of our family and friends. Now we can see all of your smiling faces, everyday! Monday, we also walked to a nearby dirt field to throw the Frisbee, and ended up having a little informal “day camp” as we led a number of games with the neighborhood children. It was a perfect start to the week!

Ben’s schools are between terms and were closed, this week, so he joined me at the NGO (non-governmental organization), Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. We’ve been learning a great deal about the efforts these women are putting into their community to care for OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) and terminally-ill patients (most with HIV/AIDS and TB). We also had the opportunity to spend time at the orphan drop-in center, since it’s right next to the NGO office. We sang, danced, and talked with the kids for about an hour each day, thoroughly loving every minute of it…

Kids at the drop-in center with the home based care staff.

Saturday featured a fun outing in Lephalale, our closest town, with a few nearby Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). By private vehicle, it takes 30-40 minutes to get there, but by public transport (taxi or “kombi,” similar to a 15-passenger van), it can take anywhere from 1-2 hours. It took us exactly 1-1/2 hours, this time; not too bad! We purchased a few settling-in items, enjoyed lunch with our fellow PCVs, bought groceries for the week, and made the journey home.

We managed to wash a few clothes, this week, as well; a task worth noting…

Tiro surprised Mokgadi by taking picture of the “hlatswa” (washing clothes) process. We use similar buckets for “hlapa” (washing ourselves). Ever tried bathing in just a few inches of water? It’s quite the experience; just make sure you have a mop, handy!



We dedicated Thursday to exploring Abbot’s Poort and creating a physical map of the community. There are some beautiful things to see here!

A view of the natural landscape, near the Palala River. (River? Where?)

Artistic ravine sculpted by the river. (Yes, but where is the water? Hmm…)

Mokgadi in the “river,” trying to use her African name to “bring new water” back to this dry bushveld. The river, apparently, hasn’t been full since 1992, but people hope for it, each year, during the rainy season. Speaking of which, we got our first big RAIN, Thursday night–not just a sprinkle, either; an all-out lightening storm! It was tremendously exciting, to say the least, especially listening to the rain poor down on our little tin roof house. It hasn’t rained like that since last March, and the storms are supposed to be even bigger as we get further into summer. Wahoo!

Tiro inspects a South African cactus!

Houses in Abbot’s Poort are tightly clustered; narrow walking paths throughout the village provide access to shared water taps, community resources, and main roads.

Tiro with his two school principals in front of Abbot’s Poort Primary School.


Just a couple more fun pics you might enjoy…

Neighborhood meeting in Necar (our section of Abbot’s Poort), a weekly gathering of community leaders held underneath this tree.

Tiro and Mokgadi as official Peace Corps Volunteers! (Picture taken at the U.S. Ambassador’s house in Pretoria, the location of our Swearing-In Ceremony).

Well, that about covers things up until now! We’ll try to post a new entry every week. Please let us know if you have any questions and we’ll do our best to answer them!

With much love and enormous hugs,
Susie and Benjamin (Mokgadi le Tiro)

Official Volunteers!

Dumelang borra le bomma!

(Good day, ladies and gentleman!)

Well, it’s September and we are finally getting the chance to update our blog. Yesterday, we “swore in” as official Peace Corps Volunteers! “Swearing in” consisted of a trip to Pretoria (the capital city of South Africa), leaving our training villages for the last time (unless we come back to visit), and enjoying a short celebration of Peace Corps’s 10 years in South Africa. Wednesday night, we stayed at the beautiful Farm Inn Hotel, just outside of Pretoria, and pampered ourselves with hot showers and air-conditioning (not exactly the typical Peace Corps experience, but a nice treat). Thursday morning featured a special ceremony with several of Africa’s Peace Corps Country Directors and the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, wished our new fellow volunteers, “Good luck,” and took off for our sites!

I guess we are getting ahead of ourselves, though, because a lot has happened since we last wrote! I’ll turn it over to Suz, now, for the real update…

Hey, much-loved family and friends! First of all, thank you, SO much, for all of your letters and postcards! They have been major boosts of support and encouragement, not to mention fun reminders of our beautiful Pacific Northwest. As a volunteer stated, before we even left, mail really is like “gold,” here!

Since so much has happened over the past month and a half, this blog might be pretty jam-packed. I’ll separate it by sub-headings, so you can read different parts of it at your leisure.



Our most exciting news is that we are now living at our permanent site! We arrived, last night, and have been busy settling-in and spending time with our new host family. We live in a rural village called Abbot’s Port, in the northwest corner of the Limpopo province. They are currently finishing the paved road that runs through the village, and hope to have it completed by the end of October. We have a two-room building (one bedroom, one kitchen/dining room/etc), separate from the family’s house. Only the father lives there on a regular basis, but his wife and children visit on weekends. We have electricity, but no running water, so we use an outdoor “pit toilet” (outhouse) and fill water containers from the nearby tap. Ben will be working at two primary schools, less than 3 minutes from our house, and I will be working at Abbot’s Poort home-based care, less than 5 minutes from our house. Rather than start new projects, right away, Peace Corps encourages volunteers to dedicate their first three months at site to learning about their organizations and building relationships within their communities. We do know that Ben’s supervisors are interested in him coaching the teachers in instructional techniques and assisting with their math/science curricula, and that my home-based care unit works with OVCs, health promotion in schools, and adults with life-threatening illnesses. The rest will unfold with time…

The new Barr-Wilson dwelling!

Our host family, neighbors, and a couple of Ben’s teachers, gave us a beautiful, warm welcome when we visited our site, two weeks ago, to check things out. They sang, danced, and thanked God in prayer for our arrival. What a blessing! This was definitely another favorite, “Wow, we’re really in Africa!” moment.



We now have a permanent post office box! If all goes well (knock on wood), we should be able to receive packages. Please send all future mailings to:

Benjamin and Susie Barr-Wilson, PCV
PO Box 637
Abbot’s Poort
South Africa