Monday, November 23, 2009
At the Inkosana Lodge, we stayed over night in a little rondavel right in the middle of the Drakensberg Mountains. It is our favorite little place that we stayed at in February of this year. From our door we can see the mountains all around. In the morning we sat in chairs outside, read, journaled, enjoying the sun and sounds of nature. Though a short getaway, it was exactly what we needed. This past week was especially trying for both of us. Maybe now we are experiencing the true W-curve and what I described before was merely jet-lag.
Last weekend we were without a car, it was supposed to be ready Friday but wasn't, so we spent the whole weekend in Tugela Ferry. We walked to the few shops in town and purchased a rake and a hoe for my garden tools. All along the sidewalks women were selling their produce: tomatoes, corn, onions, sweet potatoes. Both women and men were selling shoes and clothes. Everything was laid out on the ground: no racks or tables on which to display their wares. In the afternoon we went out to lunch at a restaurant called "Agape". The sign advertises "coffee break" but again there was no coffee. We each ordered a plate of chicken and rice and it was tasty. From Agape we walked down to the Community Gardens. This land is tribal land and the gardens are shared by the community. Different individuals or groups plant and tend to the crops in the gardens. It's all fenced to keep the goats and cows out so for Stephen and me it makes for a pleasant walk. Our friends, who told us about the gardens, walk or take a morning run there also.
On Sunday we attended a Zulu church up in the mountains. The music is call and response for the most part here and women generally lead. There were some young women leading the church music that day. The pastor is an Afrikaans man who gives his sermon in English while a teacher from the mission school translates into Zulu in between phrases or sentences. But the lay pastor, who read from the Bible before the sermon, read and spoke in Zulu, so a woman translated that into English for us. Stephen and I were introduced and asked to speak. Stephen explained that we are here working with the hospital and the care centre. I simply asked for their help in learning the Zulu language. A few from the crowd said, "Yebo." "Yes."
Both Stephen and I feel such a sense of urgency in learning enough Zulu to communicate a little. English will not get you very far in the community here. When I visited the mission school, the school children, 7th graders, spoke to each other in Zulu. And even when they spoke English with the teacher, it was quite broken. I feel my effectiveness as a teacher here, as a teacher of English in this rural area, depends heavily on my proficiency in Zulu. Stephen has hopes of building into this community, having Zulu friends, so understanding and speaking the language seems a prerequisite to that. We plan to start taking lessons soon.
Over the weekend, I told several people from the Mission school that I would be there on Wednesday to observe and work in the library again. The woman who translated for us during church is a 2nd grade teacher at the school and I asked her if I could come to her class on Wednesday. Now that the older grades are writing exams, I can only observe in the younger grades, which is where I will have the most fun anyway. One of the teachers, the one who introduced me to the rest of the staff, has suggested that I become the librarian for school: organize the library and eventually start teaching classes there. Her vision is for someone to inspire a love for books in the students, so as to improve their English, and thereby enable them to perform well on the exams, all administered in English. So my plan was to go on Wednesday and see how I felt about things after that. However, things didn't quite go to plan.
Our car was supposed to be done on Tuesday so we could pick it up and drive to PMB to do the grocery shopping we were unable to do on the weekend. But the car wasn't done until Wednesday. So Stephen and I caught a ride into Greytown with one of the research study coordinators, picked up our car and proceeded to the bank to open a savings account. The first time Stephen went to open an account they told him it couldn't be done. But other Americans have been able to open accounts in South Africa. After a little asking around, Stephen was assured it could be done, he just needed the proper documentation, letters signed by the director here explaining his work and providing proof of residence. So we sat in a long queue in Greytown with the required documentation. After about an hour, we were at the window and the woman helping us said that our file would be held in Pietermaritzburg. To which Stephen asked if we shouldn't just take it with us to PMB since that's where we were going that afternoon. It seemed like maybe a more efficient way to do things. So we left the Greytown bank, still without an open account, and drove to PMB.
Incidentally, on the drive to PMB we saw a lizard, at least three feet long, slowly crossing the road! That would have been a great picture! But we were driving too fast and I didn't have my camera at the ready. Darn!
The bank in PMB is in the mall and in order to get in you first go through one glass door, it locks behind you, and then you go through the next glass door. The queue at this bank was much shorter and we were with a banker fairly quickly. However she was frowning from the start and said, "We've had problems with this before. I'll double check for you, but I'm fairly certain you cannot open an account." So she got on the phone with presumably her supervisor. From what we could gather, although we had the right documentation, it wasn't on one page. It was on three and that just wouldn't work. It all had to be on one. We sat at her desk for maybe 10 minutes while she seemed to give every excuse possible to the person she was talking to, who oddly enough seemed more inclined to let us open an account, when Stephen became exasperated and said, "It's a shame. There is a terrible TB epidemic in this country. Americans come here to do research, to try to help. It's just a shame." And we got up and walked out, our useless documentation in hand.
Another thing scheduled for Tuesday was the installation of a washing machine, in another park home, for me to use. This did not happen either. Nor did it happen on Wednesday. I have been washing clothes by hand for the three weeks we've been in South Africa. And to complicate things, it rained all last week. So nothing was drying. I had only so much space to hang things on our two drying racks instead of being able to use the fence outside. Wednesday morning it was grey but windy and I thought I could venture to put some clothes on the line, thinking that they would dry faster outside in the wind. But it rained in the evening and by the time we got home from PMB on Wednesday night, they were completely soaked. Even the clothes inside did not dry during the day, because of the humidity in the air, and poor Stephen had to wear damp clothes to work on Thursday.
On Thursday morning, Halleluia, my washing machine was hooked up. But still, the weather was cold and rainy. I could wash all the clothes I wanted but there was no place to dry them. :( Stephen bought us a little space heater on Wednesday in PMB, (We were freezing in the night, even with two quilts on the bed!), so I used that to speed up the drying process, slightly. Our leaking toilet was never attended to by a plumber so I spread out the puddy that was already there and that seemed to seal the leak. Stephen rewired the ceiling fan in our extra room himself so that it was functional rather than wait for the maintenance man again. We are discovering that we need to use our ingenuity here in South Africa.
Also during the week a bit of additional drama developed around the situation with the girl whom I've hired to clean for me. On that Tuesday, the first day she worked for me, she brought her "sister" along with her. The "sister" spoke fairly good English so I asked her several questions. Then I went inside leaving both of them outside. Soon this "sister" came to my door and said, "Can I come in and sit down? It's cold outside." All the while the girl I hired is outside washing my shoes. I think if it had been me, I would have felt more comfortable staying outside talking to my sister than talking to a complete stranger. There was just something about the "sister's" presumption and familiarity with me that set me on guard. I was relieved when the following Monday the girl I have given a job to came by herself. Then later in the week three women walk by the park homes and into my gate. I recognize one and when she asks me if I remember her and when tells me her name I remember: she is the "sister". She asks whether the girl had come on Monday and whether I had any problems. When I say no, she says, "This girl, she is not a good person. I will just say...she steals. So what are you going to do about her? Can you give my neighbor here (standing beside her) a job? She is poor. She is seven months pregnant and she doesn't know what she is going to do about the baby." Well! This time I do not hesitate, I know how to answer. "No, I don't have any more jobs." If anyone is a thief, I'm more inclined to believe it is this "sister" rather than the one she's trying to burn. "So you aren't her sister then?" "No, she's just a person." "And your last name isn't S----?" "No, it's T----." She leaves me her contact number just in case I have friends who might need someone to clean for them, and I write it down, to play along. I want nothing more to do with this girl. But she has put doubts in my mind. I know I cannot trust her but I don't know really any more about the girl I hired. I have only my intuition to guide me. Although it's pretty reliable, I decide that it would be a good idea to ask my friend, who speaks Zulu, to come by next Monday to ask some questions for me.
Over the weekend I begin to think that my altruistic behavior may not be the wisest thing at this point in time and maybe it would be better if I just told this girl I don't need anyone to clean for me any more. On Monday, when she arrives she tells me in broken English that her mother has died and the funeral was on Saturday. My Zulu speaking friend confirms this and that was the reason she was late in arriving for work. The funeral was in a town far from here and she was just coming back from there. She tells me she is now alone in the world, no mother, no father, no grandmother. I don't tell her I don't need anyone to clean for me and when she says, "See you Monday." I say, "See you Monday."
It was a rough week. But the Drakensberg Mountains helped a great deal and both Stephen and I feel recharged, if only part way. We are already planning next weekend. Maybe the coast, or a game park.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
So driving on the other side of the car and other side of the road wasn't too bad. The narrow windy road just out of Tugela Ferry is about a 60kph (37mph) road on average though. A couple of the curves have suggested speed of 20kph (12mph)! There were goats and cattle in the road to swerve around and people to watch out for on both sides. It's nice to have the automatic transmission, which we just lucked out in getting; most vehicles here are manual. Evidence of the huge rain and hail storm from Friday night (causing our power to go off briefly twice) was in the lake nearly covering the only road through town on Saturday morning and the numerous piles of dirt and rocks washed from the hillside into the roadway.
On the drive to PMB, we stopped at a "Tea Room" just a few kilometers on the other side of Greytown because it sounded so inviting. But the only coffee was instant with "fresh milk" and I don't think there was any tea at all. Just one example of how terms do not have the same meaning here as they do in the states (or even Europe for that matter)! :)
We actually did back to back trips to PMB (too many hours in the car!) and Sunday was the first time we've driven into Tugela Ferry in the light of day! And it's quite a view. We climb down a fair bit to this village where we live.
That evening, I was looking out my kitchen window when I heard some goats bleating (is that the sound goats make?) and as I watched them, a black one was repeatedly butting a brown & white one. It seemed like the black one was trying to get the brown & white one up off the ground but something was preventing that from happening. I wondered if the brown & white one was sick or hurt so I told Stephen we should go take a look. When we walked out there we saw that the brown & white goat was caught by her horns in the wire fence. She must have tried to get through but when only her head fit she pulled back catching her horns on the wire. Stephen and I stretched the wire fence over her horns and freed her. We saved a goat! And she had quite a big belly too so we saved more than one!
Well, we didn't find the right compost bin over the weekend but I needed to do something about the bowlful of kitchen "refuse" (garbage) under my sink! My new "Gardening in South Africa Throughout the Year" book recommends putting rough organic material right in the soil for "clayey" soil which is definitely what we have. So that's what I did Monday morning. And this morning I planted tomato seeds into trays. So I've already begun working on my vegetable garden! Thrilling! And good exercise too. Great for "the core"! And no gym or personal trainer needed! Ha.
Today is also the day I told the young woman (who asked me for a job cleaning last week) to come back. Stephen and I talked about it and we both asked our new friends here what they thought, but I still hadn't totally decided what I was going to do. Since I asked her to return, we decided I should pay her something, even if only for transport (who knows how long of a walk it was for her) but I also had a task ready: mud-caked shoes to scrub. I thought I could at least have her do that, pay her a full day's wage, and it would be just a one time thing. But when she arrived, intuition told me that giving her a regular job cleaning for me would be a good thing to do. She brought her sister along, who spoke English well, I imagine to translate for her. So I'm going to have this girl come by once a week to clean the floors and the bathroom. Maybe we will be able to practice our language skills on each other; I'll work on Zulu and she can work on English.
Tomorrow I am going to visit the private school here. One of the teachers, whom I spoke with last night at a birthday party/dinner with Stephen's colleagues, is coming to "fetch" me in the morning. She will introduce me to the principal and hopefully I will observe in some of the classrooms. The school year is almost over; next week the high school students start "writing their exams" for the end of the year, and the following week grades 3-8 start their exams. December 10th is the last day of school and then they go on "holiday", summer break, until 20 January 2010 (that's how they write the date here).
Today Stephen went into Greytown for the TB clinic. Yesterday patients came to the hospital here in Tugela Ferry to have tests run. And today those patients and the research team all went to Greytown for clinic. Stephen mostly observed this time and looked on as many patients consulted with the four doctors. Most of the patients were young men and women and about 90% of them are infected with HIV/AIDS on top of the multi-resistant (MDR) TB. So they have a life-long disease (HIV/AIDS) for which they must take multiple drugs that cause multiple side effects. Then in addition to that they have a difficult-to-cure type of tuberculosis, more drugs and more side effects. One of the common side effects is hearing loss. Stephen saw a chest x-ray where the TB had eaten holes out of the lungs. With treatment the holes will close and become healthy again. He also saw lymph node scars on a patient's neck. The lymph nodes become infected and cause sores that ooze. Treatment helps those sores to heal but the scars remain. Stephen said he didn't see the doctors take a break all day from 10am to 4:30pm. Some of the patients are part of the research study but many are not. The doctors and research staff provide care to them all. After clinic was over for the day, the nurses of the hospital in Greytown provided tea, quiche, and cake for the Tugela Ferry staff. English teatime, a tradition left over from colonial rule.
We are living a different life here already. Saving goats from wire fences, driving 3 1/2 hours (round trip) for groceries, hiring someone to clean our house more to provide a job for that person than because we need the service, witnessing profound disease.
Friday, November 6, 2009
When I was earning my Master in Teaching, I decided to spend “Jan-term” (one course for the whole month of January) on a study tour in Thailand. In preparation for the trip, our professor took us through some cultural immersion training. There were two pieces from that training that have stayed with me. The first was that there are skills to negotiating a new culture and two crucial skills on the list are “to understand your own culture” and “to know your own limitations”. The second piece I remember from this training was a pattern that people go through whenever they experience a new culture, whether it be as obvious as Zulu language and traditions or the structure and practices (i.e. culture) of a new job. Our professor named this pattern the “W-curve”. The “W-curve” begins when you first enter a new culture. You are excited and energized. The language you don’t understand, the strange sights, sounds, and smells all seem interesting and just part of the adventure you set out to experience. But soon things start to feel less adventurous and more annoying, strange, even uncomfortable. You are no longer amused by the sound of the language but frustrated that you can’t understand it. The different smells just stink. And you long for something familiar like your favorite music and a good cup of coffee! This is the first slope of the W. And it is the danger zone. Some people never start the upslope and become so miserable they simple can’t stand it any longer, “fall off the W-curve”, and go home. But if you survive the first slope and stay in the country, slowly your frustrations become less and aspects of the new culture start feeling more normal. You start to understand some of the language and can communicate with the locals. The layout of the grocery store starts to make sense. The uniqueness of the new culture is interesting to you once again. This stage is the up slope of the W. And that is where you stay, more or less, until you return home. The second half of the W is what you experience upon reentering your own culture. The new culture is now the familiar one and you go through a similar process to adjust back to your old culture again.
Before my trip to Thailand and my first trip to Africa, I was worried I might fall off the W-curve. Thailand was difficult at first but I worked hard and ended up loving it. Tanzania was easier but I did feel myself going through the W-curve. I didn’t even think about the W-Curve this trip (move!) to South Africa. At least not until I started feeling myself sliding down the W! A little Maria Callas and a strong whole milk latte please! :)
We are meeting lots of people this week. And I’m feeling my limitations as an introvert. Trees are being planted around our home (all by hand, mind you, with shovels and pickaxes) so there are men working in our yard nearly all day. Monday we toured the Philanjalo Care Centre and Church of Scotland Hospital grounds meeting people everywhere we went. Too many names to remember even if they were familiar. But they are not, they are Zulu or Afrikaans. There is very little schema in my brain to attach these new names to. Not like a John or Donna or Joe or Audra or Stephen or Sabrina. All names to which I have memories and stories attached. We met a Mseni and a Sma, an Elzeth and a Philelani. Stephen wrote the names down, asking for the spellings. And there has been lots of hand shaking. Zulus shake your hand three times: first is like how any business professional would shake hands in America, the second is a twist of the fingers up, pivoting at the thumb not quite closing the fingers, and then the third is back to the first way again. I shook so many hands this way that when I met an American, I nearly shook her hand that way too.
Monday night we ate dinner with two other couples. Tuesday afternoon the founder of the Philanjalo Care Centre and his wife visited us in our new home. Tuesday night we attended a small group. Thursday we were invited to another dinner at which there would have been a mix of new acquaintances and more strangers to meet (the dinner has been postponed for next week - Phew!).
I was feeling overwhelmed by this flurry of interpersonal activity. But thanks to my professor and his cultural training, I know that I need to acknowledge my introverted nature and give myself some time alone to recharge. Which is exactly what I’ve done the past two days. Stephen set up my digital piano the other night, (Yes, we brought it on the plane with us in a hard music case!) and I played for hours that night and the following morning. And today I feel more balanced. The morning is absolutely beautiful. It’s spring time in South Africa and the air carries the smell of warm soil on it. I can stand in front of my kitchen window and feel the cool breeze as I look across the Care Centre rooftops to the Acacia tree covered rocky hill. Mornings in Tugela Ferry are definitely worth getting up for! By 5:00am it’s perfectly light.
Stephen has been in meetings this week. It’s a dynamic time in Tugela Ferry and he is excited to be part of the improvements in clinical care and research. This morning he left early to observe the capture of a sputum sample from a pediatric patient. As his position was newly created for him, the list of his roles and responsibilities are quite general, with the details to be worked out over time. Like most people here, he will be enlisted for any number of tasks outside his job description. But so far he understands his job to be one of organization, gap minding, quality assurance, personnel management. Nearly all of the staff he will manage are Zulu, some have degrees, some do not. But all have the opportunity for on-the-job training and advancement. In this sense Stephen will contribute to “Capacity Building” in Tugela Ferry and even the country of South Africa as many employees are from other areas. They live here during the week and travel home on some weekends.
So one week in Tugela Ferry, South Africa. While we certainly have many comforts - hot showers (now) and plenty of water in general, air conditioners, stove/oven, refrigerator/freezer (with the smart design of the freezer on the bottom), internet and cell phones...we have also experienced “African time”. The leaking toilet has yet to be fixed though the plumber looked at it on Monday. Both the front and back cement steps were scheduled to be broken down and rebuilt as they were too high, preventing the doors from opening properly; one was done the other has not been touched. But my biggest frustration is the internet, or more accurately lack of internet. I mentioned this to an Afrikaans woman the other night as she drove me home from small group. She’s been here for 21 years and her response to me was, “When I first came here we would go for a whole week without either water or electricity and sometimes both.”
Most of our interaction with people here so far has been through the organizations Stephen is working with. But we each have had brief interactions with residents of Tugela Ferry, total strangers.
At the post office the other day, Stephen stepped into the line where he could register our car (the post office handles many more duties than just sending and receiving mail here) and an apparently drunk man looked at Stephen and looked at the "queue" of old women, one in a wheelchair, waiting in another queue where they could receive their pension checks and proceeded to yell, “Whites only line!?” It might seem as if there was a special line and Stephen (though half Japanese) does nevertheless look white. Though a misunderstanding in this case, with Apartheid ending in 1994, unfair treatment of black people is all too recent.
My own interaction was far more pleasant. This afternoon I was sitting on our back steps scrubbing caked on mud off of Stephen’s shoes, when a young woman walked up to me and said something that I couldn’t understand. I think she was talking in a mix of Zulu and English because I caught the words “job” and “cleaning”. She pointed to my scrub brush, having noticed me scrubbing, so I think she was hoping she could get a job cleaning for me. I really did not know what to do or say. I don’t need to hire anyone to clean for me (if I can’t keep 400sqft clean I’m in trouble!) but maybe it would be a good thing for me to employ her. I don’t know. So I bought myself some time and asked her to come back Tuesday next week. By then I can talk with Stephen and our new friends through the hospital and Care Centre to get some input on what they think is best. Those who have lived here for a few years will know common practice at least: whether I should give her a job, what I should pay her.
This weekend we are driving the 1hr 45 minutes to Pietermaritzburg and to do more shopping. Rugs for the floors – we have some carpeting but it’s harder than the laminate, a wash tub – I’ve been promised a washing machine but it has not yet been installed so I’ll need to wash some clothes by hand, a variety of cleaning supplies and tools – with no screens on the windows and plenty of loose soil, cleaning is a full-time job! And a compost bin – for my garden. I’ll be driving, my first time driving on the "wrong" side of the road and the "wrong" side of the car!
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Once in Johannesburg we bought new South African cell phones in the airport and then picked up our rental car. Loaded full with luggage, we drove the rented SUV to a nearby hotel and checked in. Then bright and early Thursday morning (we lost half a day) we drove to Tugela Ferry. South Africa’s freeways are quite nice with “Engen” stops (a combination of “petrol”, “Wimpy Burgers”, convenience store, and restrooms) at . South African maps and signage are not as clear as I would have liked, though, and we took several wrong turns, eating up daylight hours. By 6:30 we were driving in the dark, the dense fog turned dusk into dark night a little earlier than normal. Tugela Ferry is at the bottom of a fairly steep mountain, but knowing we were behind schedule, Stephen careened down the narrow road that was sporadically lined with guard rail. Only after we had arrived at the Tugela Ferry bridge and reread the directions did we notice “take this road slowly looking out for cattle, goats and donkeys”!
We’ve been told that Tugela Ferry is hot and dry, but our first night here we walked through mud to get to our mobile home and needed more blankets on our bed. It was a nice welcome to the country.
Friday morning was another day of travel. The drive to Pietermaritzburg was stunning. Wide expansive rolling hills, farmland and timber land. And Jacaranda trees, with their brilliant purple blooms, line the road. In Pietermaritzburg we returned the rental car and met the owner of the car we bought (while still in Seattle). As luck would have it this American friend of ours and his wife are taking a furlough back in the states so we were able to purchase their car. We drove him back to his town, dropped him off and headed to a coastal guest house for the evening. A mini-vacation already! We had a beautiful view of the Indian Ocean and spouting whales from our room. A walk along the beach was the beginning of our day the following morning. South Africa is a paradise!
This morning we are back in our new home in Tugela Ferry, our 400sqft mobile home! Despite how small that sounds, we really are quite comfortable. We have everything we need, if just in miniature. A bonus we didn’t expect was that we have three air-conditioners and two ceiling fans. In this small area, it will be quite easy to stay cool. Halleluiah! Everything is brand new. But even so, we had no hot water the first night and I had to don my “pioneer woman” spirit and boil water for a sort of substitute bath in place of a shower. And just to make sure we knew we were in Africa, there was a calf bawling just outside our fence and goats wandering about. Driving out of Tugela Ferry that first morning, we saw all the cattle and goats we were warned about in the driving directions!
Stephen’s first day at work is Monday. My job for the next little bit will be to set up our house and plan the yard into vegetable and flower gardens. Not a bad life!