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
Filed under: General Adventures, School | 2 Comments »