Traveling Again

Hey everybody my folks are coming in just a few days to spend 3 weeks with us here in South Africa! Needless to say we are excited.

This means that we will be away from computer contact for a bit but we will put up some fun posts when we return. I decided, however, that it might be fun to add a little feature on the side called ” Twitter Updates” answering the question “What are we doing right now?” This I can update through my cell phone. The updates will be less than 140 characters but may give you a taste of the BarrWilson trip with the ‘rents.

May peace and joy fill you life in this season!

Cheers Benjamin

Venda Ventures

Mashudu (Eric Steffen) a South African Peace Corps Volunteer since 2005, sent me a text maybe a month ago asking if I would be interesting in helping him with a computer project up in Venda (Northern Limpopo) where he is has been living for the past two and a half years.

I contacted Eric to see what was up. He related that he was soon to be closing his service and heading back to the United States, but a project that he had hoped to have wrapped up would need to continue on past his departure date. He needed someone to help lend assistance making sure that it came off as planned (or as close as possible considering this is Peace Corps work and nothing really ever goes “as planned”).

Eric had managed, with the help of a friend in the states, to acquire 7 second-hand computers that he is working to ship overseas to add to the 3 computers already present in the classroom and and four that would be arriving shortly (and did arrive while I was there) from South African company (again acquired with help from Eric’s family). The computers coming from the states should have arrived by late February, just before Eric had to head home, but due to complications were still in New York. Really, all Eric had to tell me was that the project involved helping educators with computers in the schools and that it would require a few trips up to Venda and I was all in. “You had me at hello…”

Eric has been in SA for over 2.5 years extending his service for 6 months past his initial close of service date. He has worked on many successful projects throughout his time and is, what I would call, fluent in the Venda language (truly impressive). The trip from Abbot’s Poort to venda took me on four different taxis leaving at 7 am and arriving near his village at 3pm. (Nice little 10 hour trip. Lets just say its really up there.)

The typical scene that I experienced in Massia Eric’s Village

Venda has a lush environment with many hills covered by greenery and wonderful vegitables and fruits. It is known for having a much more traditional culture. A traditional greeting in Venda could easily involve four full exchanges and you greet everyone. Also it would be common for a woman to greet a guest, elder, or respected individual by lowering to her knees, bending with her belly touching the floor and arms straight out in front of her with the right hand placed over the left both hands fingers pointing forwards like you are praying sideways. This is how the “aunt” (housekeeper) greeted me. Truly a unique and intriguing place.

I arrived on a Sunday March 2 and stayed until Wednesday March 5, so needless to say it was a quick trip. While there I stayed with a wonderful host family. The Mpondi family has 5 children. The eldest, a daughter, is currently living in Pretoria. Their next oldest, a son, was home on break from the University of Limpopo, I shared a room with him. Next come two more brothers in grades 12 and 11. These two hard working gents would stay up doing homework at the kitchen table until 10pm and then get up at 3am to get ready for school every day. Talk about dedicated. The youngest is a grade 4 learner and she is a darling. Mam Mpondi is an educator at the school where I will be helping with the computer project. and Mr. Mpondi works for the Department of Immigration. He worked formerly with the ANC and so has quite a knowledge of the world and current politics. I had a wonderful time talking together after dinner. It isn’t often that I get to talk with a well spoken man who wants to listen as much as give his own opinion. Later Mam Mpondi stated that it was like having talk radio on for hours, but hey I had a good time. Mr. Mpondi comes home for the weekends but typically stays at his job site two hours away throughout the duration of the week. (Petrol is expensive you know.) He must have enjoyed our conversation also for he came home the next night so that we could talk again. It is amazing to get a feel for world events through the eyes of one who is not from your home country. I wish we all could get this experience more often.

During my stay the schools threw Eric a fair well celebration (he headed home two days after I departed). Eric worked until the end. After the celebration we swung by his house, picked up some paint, and headed for the soccer field. On the way we acquired a myriad of little ones traipsing along with us. At the field we helped the youth paint both soccer goals (I got the high parts) and then we headed across the village (which is quite large, more like a collection of villages really) to a secondary school to paint the Netball poles. By the time we finished it was getting dark so Eric and a friend walked me back to my host families place, we ate dinner together on the patio and then I sent Eric off for his home across to the other side of the village.

Eric standing by the new paint job as the boys crash on the grass waiting for the soccer practice to begin.

The next morning I rose early headed down to the main road. (I had no idea where I was the entire time I was in the village and had to ask, “So, where is the main road?” The answer was, “This is it.” I must say main takes on a whole new meaning in rural South Africa.

The main road.

The experience overall was truly beautiful. I will have the opportunity to come go back one more time to ensure the computers are installed properly and to help the educators with implementation issues with the new computer curriculum (written by Eric himself.) There is so much to explore here in South Africa what a treat to be traveling these beautiful lands while helping others along the way.

Peace – Benjamin

Hunting by Taxi

Susie and I along with a host of other current volunteers had the honor of helping out with a portion of the training for the next group of Peace Corps volunteers to set foot on South African soil and on a taxi ride back from Mokopane to our village we experienced a new form of sport. Brandon and Rachael wrote it up in their blog so well that I will quote here.

By ten we were at the taxi rank and seated on our kumbi home. Ben and Susie, who are the volunteers in Abbotspoort, were also riding the taxi with us because they were also presenters at PST and the taxi we catch home services an entire area of villages nearly 50km wide. They sat just a few rows in front of us and Brandon and I sat in window seats just behind the side door. (Hard to explain, but trivial information) For the most part, this was another quiet trip home. Brandon and I were both tired and didn’t even have the energy to watch for wildlife on the sides of the road (We just HAD to miss the giraffe that everyone else on the taxi saw!).

It wasn’t until about 1/3 of the way through our journey that we realized what an adventure we were in for. It almost seems in slow motion when I replay the events in my mind. The driver begins to apply his brakes which draws everyone’s attention to the road in front of us. There in the road is a big warthog running with a little one behind it to the safety of the long grass on the other side of the road. (Now, everyone here knows that when you see warthogs, they come in a family pack, there are never just one or two.) Somehow this information slipped our driver’s mind and he picked his speed back up just as a second larger warthog ran in front of our taxi. The driver just barely had time to try and slam on his brakes while swerving in the direction the pig was running. Do you think we were going to miss it? Not a chance. We felt the initial thud and then the rolling and rumbling of the warthog as it was dragged underneath us. Now, most people, when something like this happens, would pull over immediately and check the condition of their vehicle, but that is not how it works here.

It seems that there is only one option when something like this happens. Hurry back to the roadkill and collect it before someone else gets to it first and has a weeks supply or longer of food. We did a hasty U-turn and were back to the pig in no time. There was no need to kill it either because the taxi had done a sufficient job of that, so the driver and another man pulled open the back doors of the kumbi (thank goodness we were carrying a lot of luggage in the front, otherwise we’re pretty sure that the pig would have ended up at our feet!) and hoisted the pig onto the floor below the back seats to the chorus of everyone inside exclaiming about how large the animal was!

With this accomplished, and still no look at the body of the kumbi to see its condition, we were on our way again! I’ll admit, this was humorous and we knew that it happened…this was just the first time it’s happened to us. We really didn’t mind until the end of the trip when the animal began to give off a stench that was not going to be eliminated anytime soon. One thing I will never understand about this culture is why they won’t even open the windows when it is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the taxi and there’s an obvious odor. Unfortunately, our window seat still did not offer us the luxury of an open window either because it was not a window that would open.

Mmm good eats. We weren’t the last one off the taxi so I’m not sure who got to keep the kill in the end but I’m guessing it was the driver, he was the hunter after all.