New site & Drakensbergs

New site & Drakensbergs
These are the mts from our village

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 13, 2012

So on December 27th we arrive back in our village after ten days of travel – fun in the sun (and rain) in the mountains and at the seashore.  We still have almost 3 weeks before school starts so plenty of time to get garden and school work done!? Right?  Things should be pretty calm in our little village after the holidays – BUT…there is a very important ceremony/party happening at our compound on January 7th.  A year earlier, our house “mother”, Sophie’s husband died.  In this African culture a widow wears only one (or two) subdued dresses/outfits until this party a year later. A year after her husband dies, a woman has a party called ”the unveiling.” I thought for the longest time it was the widow who was being “unveiled.”  Actually, it is the tombstone of the deceased that is being unveiled.

Things have been happening around here for quite some time to get ready for this big event.  The “patio” area in front of the house was paved several months ago and in the beginning of December the wall that defines the patio was redone.  And a big load of fire logs was delivered. Activity really picked up after New Years.  Sophie started a big batch of “African beer´ Sunday and the kitchen was moved from a covered shed to the space behind our house.  The people who were cooking and helping with the beer making gathered Monday & Tuesday to work on the beer, plan and bring tables, pots, bowls etc. Wednesday tables were set up, extra electricity was purchased and a small batch of live chickens was delivered.  I thought they were for the party Saturday, but this batch was to feed the cooks & family for the next two days.  Thursday, the outdoor kitchen (five fires including a 2 ft X 10 ft “oven” made of a rectangle of bricks on the ground with a big strip of corrugated tin for a top) were set up.  Sophie did a big shopping expedition and a t least 2 dozen chickens were delivered.  Several people spent the night.  Early Friday morning the serious preparations began.  Yesterday’s chickens were killed, plucked, gutted & cooked.  A cooler was brought over (the reason for the extra electricity).  Biscuits were made by the very large bowlful – 2-300? and baked in the makeshift oven.  That afternoon, I looked out by my garden and 12 cows were walking through it to the lower field. A little while later someone picked out one of the steers which was restrained and the rest were sent away.  The women had been doing all the other cooking prep but it was a group of men who killed and slaughtered the steer.  The indoor kitchen had been cleaned to the walls – all the cabinets were moved.  The serious beef cutting happened on the floor on sheets most of the evening and into the night – Richard was invited to help - he declined.  When I offered to help I was put on dish washing, biscuit making and potato peeling.  Many people stayed the night, many of them cooking & talking  - staying up all night long (including Sophie).

The day of the “unveiling” started very early (since it never really stopped!).  The tarp was put up, cooking fires were lit and then the people who had been here all night changed into “church” clothes.  More and more people arrived.  About 9:30 everyone started gathering at the gate of the compound.  Some started walking with the band. –Oh, the band.  I forgot to mention that a 6-piece band (4 horns & 2 drums) arrived on Friday and played a few times that evening.  They too had spent the night so they could lead the morning procession to the cemetery.  Some of us walked the 1+K to the cemetery while the family, the preacher and the infirm rode up in cars in a line behind us.  We gathered around the shrouded tombstone and a ceremony of remembrance was held.  Of course, I couldn’t understand more than a word or two because it was all in Sepedi, but the preacher talked, people bowed their heads, other people talked, the band played appropriate music etc.  Then the tombstone was unveiled.  It was one of the largest in the cemetery all shiny, new and black.  More people talked.  Many family members and groups of family members had their picture taken in front of the new tombstone.  Sophie wanted us in one too.  Here is a picture of us with Nelson’s two sons.

We all went back to the house where the members of Sophie’s church (ZCC – Zion Christian Church) did some traditional dancing and chanting/sinning.  They did finally get me to join in.

Another church type service was held on the patio.  The ZCC members attended while others cooked and chatted.  There were over a hundred people at the cemetery. By the time the service at the house was over and it was time to eat, there were about twice that many.  I’d guess that over 250 adults and children were there at some time that day.  For once there was not more food that could be eaten, but I think everyone who wanted to eat got a big plateful.  The home brew and much commercial, bought beer was consumed – mostly by the men but I noticed some women were drinking too.  Sophie smuggled some bottles to us in our house.  I don’t think it is cool for women to be seen drinking in “public”.  The band came and marched on the patio or in the yard and played a bit every now & then.  The party finally wound down in the wee hours of the morning.  Sophie called it a night much earlier.  It was another two days before everyone that had been helping left and the place returned to a semblance of normal.

From a ministerial point of view, it is an interesting custom.  The “Unveiling” party gives the widow something to do as the year anniversary of her husband’s death approaches. She has family and friends around to help with physical and emotional work.  She has a ceremony for herself and the community to say good-bye again to a friend, son, father or husband and move on with their own lives.  From a purely financial perspective it gives the widow (and family) a year to pay for the tombstone – which can be quite expensive.  I was a bit concerned when I first learned that the father in our host family had died less than 3 months before we moved in, but it has been alright.  3-4 months ago, Sophie told me she was glad we were here .  She’d forgotten how she was before we came.  By that I didn’t think she didn’t remember how she had been feeling then but rather that she wasn’t feeling like that anymore.

It was quite an event!!!  I’m glad I was able to experience it firsthand. (Although I was glad when everyone had gone and the compound was back to its state of relative calm.)

This week, Richard is in Pretoria having a cataract operation.  I’ll be glad when he gets back (probably Sunday).  He can send this out school.

It’s Friday now so school starts in 3 days for the educators (teachers) and 5 days for the learners (students).  Maybe I’d better go make those plans I was going to do over the Holiday break.
(It took an extra week to get this posted – Richard had to stay in Pretoria and then we had internet problems in the village – I hope it can go out Jan 23rd)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Title: More Vacation Pics
January 11, 2012
After three days at Amphitheatre Backpackers we traveled further south to Sani Pass Lodge.  Sani Pass is the mountain pass into the highest part of Lesotho.  The road through Sani Pass is incredibly steep and windy.  Unfortunately the picture I got (below) doesn’t show the steepest windiest part very well.
The first day of this part of our trip we went back to Lesotho, again with a guide.  This time we climbed to the left side of the “Giant’s Tea Cup.
The area we were in is used for summer sheep pasture because it is so high.  Young boys (12-18 yrs) stay in little huts called “motebo”s.
They have a plant that was flowering while we were there.  I loved the name!  It’s called a “red hot poker flower”! Can you see why?
During this trip into Lesotho we saw more people in traditional dress and more mountains.
The scenery was incredible!  The mountains looked like velvet!
The next day the other three in our PCV group decided to hike to see some more rock art. We opted to walk a nature trail and climb a small peak behind the backpacker
The last stop on our trip was the seacoast city of Durban.  I got to swim in the Indian Ocean!
Then it was a two day trip by buss and African taxi (thnk van packed with people) back to Botchabelo.
A week after we got back there was a huge celebration/ceremony for the unveiling of the tombstone of the father of our host family who had died in January 2011 before we arrived in March.  More about that next time

Monday, January 9, 2012

Lots of Vacation Pictures

HAPPY 2012!  At the end of this month we will have been in South Africa a whole year!  We will know more of what to expect of the weather (and bug population cycle).  Reflecting back on our experiences so far, Peace Corps is not what I expected - mostly because South Africa is very different than the “Africa” I had I my head (the National Geographic Africa of the 60’s).  I don’t think it exists anywhere in Africa any more but certainly not in South Africa, where everyone (except some of the “gogo”s (grandmothers)) wears western dress and you can get just about anything you want at the Pick N Pay grocery store or Games department store in town – in fact Games was just bought by Walmart!.  The problems and issues are not the ones I expected either.  It is harder to understand how apartheid and the history of race relations in this country have affected the current conditions (especially in education) than I thought it would be and adjusting to no running water in the house was easy – although it has made me appreciate hot showers more.  
In two weeks we start a new school year.  I’ll be teaching Gr 4 Math with help from the teacher who would have had that class if I hadn’t offered to teach it.  I wanted to teach it because I miss teaching math/science and there will be less of a language issue with math than science.  Also the class will include the 3rd graders from last year that I got to know and love.  I will still be doing most of the English teaching for 1st, 2nd & 3rd grades.  There is a new national curriculum CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements) that is to implemented next year at the lower grade levels but the teachers had not received the material for it before we broke for the holidays.  It is hard to plan lessons without the guidelines!  Maybe we will get them when the teachers meet for 2 days before the students return?! We had a wonderful vacation in the mountains and the sea shore with three other PCVs! 
We spent the first three days at Amphitheatre Backpackers at the edge of the Drakensburg Mountains where we were treated to a beautiful sunset the first night.

The next day we drove into Lesotho and spent some time in a small village – probably very much like the one we would have gone to if we had been posted to Lesotho. 

Lesotho has the highest low point of any country (about a mile high – like Denver) and goes up to 14,000+ feet.  We climbed to a rock overhang for a box lunch and a view of some rock art painted by the San people, who have been gone for 200 years).  I took some pictures but you can’t see the paintings well.  We also had a chance to sample the local home brewed beer and visit a traditional healer.

 The next day we drove to a car park near Tegula Falls, the world’s 4th highest waterfall and hiked for 2½ hours to the top.  We hiked around the back of the taller peak on the right and up to the flat top on the left.

 It was quite a hike!  We had to scramble up a steep rock filled gorge for one part.
 We had lunch and walked across the flat top to the waterfall.  One disappointment was that you couldn’t see much of the falls from the top.  

Then we had to get back down again.   
We took a different route back.  The chain ladders were a little scary – just don’t look down!!
 The last day in this part of the Drakensburgs we went to Royal Natal National Park.  Some folks took a 4+ hour hike to the bottom of the falls but Richard and I decided to take it easier and we found a little brook with a nice cool pool where we could hide away, skinny dip and just relax.

Thant’s enough for one entry.  I’ll send another one soon (no really) with more pictures from our trip.