RPCV

8 Oct

Peace Corps loves its acronyms and as of yesterday I became a RPCV or returned peace corps volunteer (despite not having returned yet). I had to spend the last few days in Pretoria getting medical checkups (no worms, hooray!), visiting the dentist, and doing a variety of administration things to close out my service. In a way it was very strange because I’ve hardly ever been in Pretoria and did not know my way around the offices despite having been here 3+ years.

It was nice to see the few staff members I knew and being able to chat a bit about my experiences the past three years. I finally got to meet the new country director and after paying off my last transport debts to Peace Corps, a few buttons were pushed on the computer and I was officially done with being a volunteer after 3 years and 3 months.

Other than that, Pretoria was pretty boring. I was never a big fan of the city but at least now the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom coloring the streets a nice purple.

I’m in the airport now waiting for my flight out of here. It’s a very surreal feeling and it still hasn’t sunk in that I’m leaving South Africa. I am excited to be heading back home and am very satisfied with all that I’ve accomplished. I do feel like I’ve achieved what I wanted to do and more when I signed up for Peace Corps and am incredibly grateful for the experience and that I ended up in two wonderful sites. I’m not sure what exactly the next step is now which is partly scary yet also very exciting. The potential and possibilities of what’s next should be cool and I’m looking forward to the next adventure.

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Bye Bye Richards Bay

4 Oct

I recently realized that as of Friday, I’m the longest serving current Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa. The last of my cohort finished their service then. My seniority status will be very short lived as I officially finish on Wednesday!

The reason I delayed my finish for another week was because we had all the math advisors in the province come visit the science centre for a week long workshop. It was cool in that I basically ran every workshop I’ve developed the past year as well as creating some new ones. It was an incredibly busy week but also fun. The advisors really seemed to enjoy the workshop and we got lots of nice evaluations. They especially loved the tic tac toe boards leading to several asking to purchase some.

There was hardly any time for me to rest during the week and before I knew it, Friday afternoon had come and I left the science centre for the last time. Saturday my boss organized a really nice farewell party where basically the entire staff came to our town where we took a lovely boat ride down the river and then had a nice South African braii. It was nice to hang out with everyone one final time – the staff had all become close friends and really made it a joy to come in to work every day. I was also given a few gifts including a really nice scrapbook of my time here from my boss’s wife as well as a South African rugby scarf so I can support them in the world cup, and some cds of South Africa’s favorite musicians – Dolly Parton and Celine Dion. Unfortunately the time ran away too quickly, so I said my goodbyes before leaving. I spent the night at a friend’s house in Richards Bay and am now on a bus to Pretoria to finish all the administration things for Peace Corps. Only a few more days of my Peace Corps service left.

Bye Bye Velabusha

22 Sep

Last week I did my final tour of northern KZN. Over the weekend I went to Manguzi with a group from Richards Bay that does creche (daycare) trainings. My friend Erik had raised the funds for one with a counterpart, and my other friend Shawn had helped with it the past year. It was pretty cool to see how far it had come and we spent most of Saturday decorating it and giving the care givers materials and training on how to run the creche.

Sunday I returned to my old village for the last time. I visited friends and brought a big bucket of KFC for my host family. I went to school on Monday and Tuesday and saw all my kids and teachers that were there. Unfortunately the library I had gotten books for was relegated to the storage room but it seemed like they were making progress on it. Hopefully they will open it eventually. I did find a bunch of posters hidden away, so I spent Tuesday with another teacher putting them up.

I had some quality time with the kids though, playing chess and other games. I also walked home with some of my favorite kids and had a few visitors at my house again.

Wednesday I went to the old science centre which has made quite a bit of progress since I’ve left. They got some more exhibits, set up the library I had gotten books for and were busy doing outreach. A wetland I had found in my walks and brought up to the lady in charge now has scientists doing studies on it and it is in the process of becoming a protected area. The science centre even has shirts now and I got to keep one. This was especially cool because they had the logo I designed on it. I went along on the outreach trip and taught an improvised lesson to some learners.

My last night in the village was spent visiting a few final friends and giving out a ton of hugs. It was especially hard having to explain to my kids that I won’t be coming back. My host family had a braii and had a cake for me on the final night. They also got me a towel as a farewell gift. It was really sad leaving, especially because I have no idea when I’ll be able to come back.

After my farewell and final bakkie ride out of Velabusha, I went to visit another Peace Corps friend of mine up near Ingwavuma. His site is a little village right up by both the Swazi and Mozambique borders. We made a paper mache volcano and spent a lot of time just playing with the kids in his village, including building a fort out of his furniture. I also played them in chess and some of his kids have gotten incredibly good. He had come to visit me in Richards Bay and the science centre gave him one of my 3D tic tac toe boards. All the kids call it “marbles” and I was a bit of a mini celebrity for inventing “marbles”. All in all it was a really fun week, but unfortunately ended way too fast as I returned to Richards Bay for my last two weeks of Peace Corps.

Sisonke Training

8 Sep

Last week I finished up the teacher trainings in the southernmost district of KZN called Sisonke. It went very well and I got to stay in some fantastic locations. One place I stayed was the Sani Pass Hotel which was at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains. Long time readers of my blog might remember that this was actually the first vacation I took. I was itching to climb a mountain again, and my boss gave me one day off where I set out to climb some. I made it up in record time, 2 hours as compared to the 4 that was given as an estimate. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the San paintings that were advertised to be up there, but the views were stunning nonetheless. I did get extremely sunburned but it was completely worth it.

I ran three more workshops the rest of the week, two of them in Ixopo. Ixopo is notable in that the main character from Alan Paton’s novel, Cry the Beloved Country, is from there and the first line mentions “a lovely road that runs from Ixopo to the hills”. Naturally my boss and I often mentioned what a lovely road we were traveling on. The teachers there were also a really nice group and one of them sincerely thanked us for a productive workshop at the end of it. And with that, I had finished running 20 workshops in about a month. It was exhausting but lots of fun. The next few weeks are also going to be extremely busy including a final visit to my old village next week which I’m not sure I’m ready for either. But being busy has been really nice, I just realized I only have four more weeks in South Africa before I’m no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. Time is really flying by.

Teacher Trainings

29 Aug

For the past few months we’ve been preparing to do workshops on Euclidean Geometry for high school teachers throughout KZN. The department of education had floated the idea to us way back in March with an initial start time of May. However there were a lot of delays where I ended up expecting us not to be able to go while I was around. Fortunately though, all the issues with the department got cleared up and we started preparing in earnest. We had some initial work done, including lots of help from my dad while he was here.

But the planning for the training consumed all my time for the past two months, and the past three weeks I’ve been busy traveling throughout KZN doing the actual training. We decided that we couldn’t cover everything in one day, so we’ve been doing two day workshops. Basically we have two teams traveling around, one following the other. We had three days at the science centre but otherwise we’ve had to travel to the different districts.

One week was spent in the Zululand district. Besides having a very exotic name, the scenery was much different of what I’ve seen so far. I also got to lead a workshop in Ulundi, which I found particularly exciting due to it being one of the cities in Civilization II. Last week was spent in the Umkhanyakude region which is where my old village and stomping ground is. I actually ran into quite a few teacher friends who were attending other workshops when I was in Manguzi.

The traveling has been quite fun although not at all what I would have expected from Peace Corps when I originally signed up. I get to stay at really nice accommodation, and some of the roads to the venues went straight through game parks so I saw zebra, elephants, and rhino en route to some workshops. Also one of our lodges we stayed at was a ten minute walk from Kosi Bay so I got to see hippos early one morning before doing a workshop in Manguzi.

The workshops themselves have also been fun albeit exhausting. I was in charge of day one, so I would travel with another member of the science centre who would do the driving and some assisting, but it was up to me to lead and conduct the trainings. Some venues were better suited than others, and almost always there was something that needed to be sorted out, be it no power or no desks. At one venue, there were no desks and nobody there spoke English so I had to lean on my rusty Zulu to sort things out.

Right now I have three weeks done, and next week is my last batch of trainings. I’m headed to the far south of KZN and will get to see parts of the Drakensberg one last time. I’m partly looking forward to finishing, but I’ve also really been enjoying myself. I’m also really happy I’ve gotten the opportunity to assist in the trainings. When I was teaching at my school, I kept thinking that the most beneficial way I could assist is in training teachers not kids because it would be have the potential to have a longer lasting impact.

Load Shedding

5 Aug

When I decided to extend one of the alluring parts was moving into a (relative) life of luxury. My boss joked that when he looked for housing for me he knew nothing could be worse than my previous accommodation. The ultimate irony is that a month after I left my old village, they hooked up my old hut with electricity. Meanwhile the South African electricity company is in deep trouble and enacts load shedding.

Load shedding means that certain hours of the day the power is turned off. So I’m often in the dark while my old village has lights. Luckily I have a gas stove and am well used to using candles so its only a minor inconvenience. Load shedding has become a major topic of conversation and the butt of many a joke as well. Its strange to think that back home in America, I feel like I lost power maybe two or three times my whole life. Now that sounds like a good week to me.

When the power does go off, it is usually in the evenings for about two hours. Part of me enjoys it. Two years of living by candlelight have made me actually enjoy it more than artificial light. An interesting thing I noticed is that the local store in this town only has really cheap, bad quality candles. In Manguzi there was a wide variety and after testing them all I had a good idea of which are the best quality. Unfortunately they only stock the worst of the worst here. But it could be a lot worse. Having intermittent electricity is after all better than not having any at all.

July Holiday

6 Jul

I had the past week off of work from the science centre but kept myself busy nonetheless. On Tuesday I went to the consulate’s Independence Day celebration in Durban. My boss managed to get me an invite which was pretty cool. I did have to wear a suit and tie which was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I suppose one shouldn’t look homeless when meeting the ambassador.

I spent Thursday and Friday in a village a bit south of Velabusha where I helped out a local ngo. I tutored grade 12 learners in Euclidean geometry. It was a lot of fun because the kids were really smart and worked hard. I spent the evenings staying with the director of the local hospital who started the ngo. There were a few volunteers from the hospital staying as well and I learned to play squash. I prefer racquetball, but it was fun to play something similar.

I spent the weekend camping at Sodwana Bay where I took advantage of my diving certification and went diving three times. It was incredible. I saw lots of huge loggerhead turtles, a shark, and a four meter long manta ray. While I’m still getting used to breathing underwater, I’m getting more comfortable with it and its really a blast.