Thursday, September 30, 2010

Africa Part 6

Last Tuesday, my whole world was shaken when I saw a pig slaughtered. The part where the entrails and organs were being removed, blood washed, and even the head cut off were incredible. I had never seen the process before, and wondered how my vegetarian friends would fare at witnessing the thing. After, I was told that there’d be another one killed. And that was horrifying. Seeing the pig dragged out of the pen, shrieking and fighting—provoked tears and me running away like a little girl.

Two days after, I spent the whole day making sausage. (Yes, out of those very pigs). The whole process is a lot like chess in some manner: success comes from anticipating the next step. We, the A Team (Sylvia and myself) made about 40 in two hours. The glass of suds (beer) after that was one of the most satisfying drinks I’d ever had. Also- I milked cows for a bit, and hadn’t realized how tough it is. You have to squeeze a lot harder than I had initially conceived of. My hands and forearms were pretty darned sore that day.

Sunday was the last day of the Magoebaskloof/Haenertsburg Spring Festival, and the four of us instead went to see THE BIGGEST BAOBAB TREE OF THE WORLD. And that was just it. Gigantic? Yes. Terribly interesting? No. Maybe I was in a foul-ish mood, and not one for sight-seeing but it was about two oohs and an ah. Only. And not even the bar inside the tree could cheer me up. But the day before at the fair, I witnessed the sausages I so painstakingly produced. And that was quite a sight to see.

You might be wondering what the heck I’ve been doing “work” wise. Aside from the farm, I have been teaching dance, and choir, as well as learning dances and songs with kids aged 4 to 19. Interestingly, they picked up merengue very quickly because the footwork is basically a dance called “nguazi” Salsa and tango are a little new, but we have fun regardless. Plus, everyone loves some good freestyle booty-shaking. But as old habits die hard, I have been trying to start up a volunteering initiative at a clinic that is located up a big old hill from one of our after school sites. Coupled with me-designed curriculum about anatomy, and physiology, my plan is for the secondary school aged students to go volunteer a few hours per week and in such a way build confidence toward a career in healthcare. Presently, there seem to be very few opportunities for some people to get this type of exposure, limited as it may seem. This way, the clinic’s staff shortage would be somewhat resolved, and these girls would be able to learn accountability, and responsibility, and lots of other –ilities. In my wildest dreams, this program would be sustainable for years, and we’d get to do quarterly field trips to hospitals in Limpopo to observe surgeries, or shadow physicians. I’d like to find funds to get them sphygmomanometers and steths to check their families’ and neighbors blood pressures.But even if that doesn’t happen, I hope that it starts a dialogue between these young women and themselves, as well as their communities about healthcare and wellness. Today we had our first lesson on the heart. We took pulses, and talked about how valves are like doors, that close tight so wind (it was blustery today!), or blood, can’t come into a room (atrium! ventricle!). Shame that I hadn’t taken the pig heart from a week ago to really have a little dissection. That would have really been full circulation! (hah!! Get it?! Circulatory system!! My nerdatory comments are charming, I’m sure.)And, I had them listen to their own hearts with the stethoscope I brought, that of which I had been given some…8(?) years ago at Westminster Free Clinic when I started volunteering there. Sentimental. Nostalgic. Cheesy.But absolutely wonderful.

Another bit on hearts: I have been (unbelievable, I know), running! I started a week ago and am trying to go 2-3 times a week. I have never really liked the activity with great passion, but Jenna goes pretty much every day and is a constant nagging reminder (with really muscular legs) to me that it’d be a good idea to be cardiovascular-ly healthy. And Im glad for such a beautiful place to run. I usually go in the afternoons before the darkness sets in like an obsidian blanket. And it truly is breathtaking, to see Venus, and the moon, and stars like I’d never before encountered.
I would give you a poem, but I struggle for words the way the setting sun fights to keep its throne between 5:45 and 6:30 PM, urgent and desperate. But I rest assured that they’ll come and find me to play, the way the afternoon rays always discover my shoulders in the warmest of ways. And I will post that up too.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Africa Part 5

We went to Kruger National Park over last weekend, and I must say, the experience was like none other. In many ways, witnessing nature so majestic and wordless but full of communication and connection was extremely close to prayer for me. Going into the park, I felt compelled to be silent, as if I were entering a church, or some beautifully sacred place. And holy was watching giraffes eat, graceful and charming, seeing zebras and kudu springing across the plain, and baby elephants drinking at the watering hole. I was stunned by how miraculous this earth is. At our campsite the first night, about 10-20 meters away, we first heard an awful horrendous sound. After getting closer, we realized that it was two hyena fighting over an impala. Saw the blood and sinews, heard the ripping of flesh, grinding and cracking of bone between jaws: I was absolutely amazed by it, and endlessly grateful for the fence.

At the farm, a school tour came through while I was helping out. Instead of paying too much attention to the cheese making process and cow lessons, I became an attraction to the 7-9 year olds. After the kids touched my skin and touched my hair, a little girl shyly told me it was “very nice”. And I bet I was the first Asian person some of them had ever seen.

It always upsets me how slow I am to offer rejoinders. And by “offer”, I mean “throw into one’s face”. I feel like my mind is fast, but my tongue isn’t as cutting sometimes as I’d like it to be. I think too much, perhaps, and don’t act enough.On Sunday at the campsite, as we were about to leave, a man asked me, “You’re from China yes?” I told him my family is, and I couldn’t quite decipher his tone when he told me that “You speak pretty good English, for a Chinaman”. I didn’t want to assume he was a racist, and instead, just gathered that he was an ignorant fool. Had I been in a sharper place, I would have told him many other things. But all I mustered was that I grew up in the states. To which he said, “I was in China once and they can’t speak English at all”.The comment was utterly absurd, unless his blinding sense of entitlement marred his common sense and tact. And what kills me is that there are so many retorts that I wanted to utter, but didn’t because he was in front of his children and mother. I regret not explaining carefully to him in private how inappropriate he was.

Yes, I might have not mentioned this before, but in the mornings before we head out to the schools, I have been working on an organic dairy farm. We start at 7 AM and go for four hours, have lunch and then go do our work at the primary and secondary after school initiatives that the Bjatladi Youth Center has done up. One of my favorite jobs was peeling horseradish, for to pickle and jar up. (This coming week is the Spring Festival in Haenertsburg, and there’s a lot to be done). There was something really quite meditative about it, and satisfying. Much like splitting wood, and taking inventory of homemade jams. Farm work is very self directed, and has a certain rhythm to it that pleases me. When one job is done, there’s another, and there’s quite a lot to show for it. Although one of my favorite jobs was peeling the horseradish, mincing the stuff was another matter. Tearful. Lachrymose. Fumes in my eyes and nose builds character, to be sure.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Africa Part 4

A few days ago, I went to my first South African birthday party. A 21st birthday party, for that matter. (Although they were able to legally drink at 18, and probably no one enforces it earlier). But I digress. Anyhow, apparently here, themed parties are really quite popular—last month there was a circus theme and this time it was Cuban. So basically, cigars, and red stars. Woe was mine, there was no salsa/rueda, but there certainly was dancing. To music that surprised me. The ever-popular-with-SouthAfrican-youth-house type music was blasting, (not surprising) but I was more than thrilled (girlishly shriekingly so) when I heard Earth Wind and Fire and some funky James Brown.

At dinner before, the jukebox was also churning out tunes so very American- though I’m not sure that anyone there could locateSweet Home Alabama on a map. Apparently (correct me if I’m mistaken), during apartheid, most of the music coming out into the country was indeed from the US I’d like to do some more reading on that!

Weather in South Africa is, erratic. In other GRE-type words: capricious, mercurial, desultory. Yesterday I did some by-hand laundry (which was pretty meditative with Otros Aires playing) it was warm enough to dry my clothes in a few hours. This morning? Pretty dismal looking. I think it’ll end up getting pretty warm though, so I’ll take the gloom.

On the warm days, we scavenge around for wood to burn, because usually the cold days are also wet. And wet branches suck for flames. I’ve become quite adept at starting fires a roaring, (practically a girl scout). On Sunday, in order to save up for the cold drizzlies, took an axe to and had my way with some tree. . It was cathartic, to throw your body weight into chopping and hacking the pulp out of something. I’ve got the blisters to show for it too.

This weekend, a group of us went a gallivanting around to a dam between Pietersburg, Tzaneen and Haenertsburg. On the way back, I stood in the back of the bakkie (or in American English—the bed of the truck) and bumped around up and down, whipping through the trails. It was freeing, really. We all had sundowners and thereafter, it was more freezing than freeing. But for a while, we sat and ate near a beautiful brook, and I could have stayed there for hours. It was one of those places that you wanted to file mental pictures of into a slideshow to click through in your head when days don’t feel so beautiful, as hard evidence that they absolutely are.

Oh! In other news, we got a shower! I think that if I had to, I would be able to bathe however the facilities allowed for, but I was absolutely ecstatic- that first shower session was just a few shades short of a religious experience.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Africa Part 3

Things I miss:
-Washing machines. I have been doing laundry by hand, and although it is fine for little things, (like shirts, and items smaller than that) I dread the day I have to do my bedsheets.
-Ethnic food. I hope I remember how to use chopsticks when I return! I should have brought some with me. (Eh, who am I kidding? Thanks, basal ganglia) I hear that there is a great Indian restaurant quite a few km away though. Indian folks are the most pervasive type of “Asian” there is in this country, and more along the coastal cities like Durban. I am currently reading my newest find from the library, by Farida Karodia, and my eye was caught by the term “Asian in South Africa. Turns out, she meant a south Asian family. Hm! Either way, I’m jonesin’ for some saag paneer.
-a shower that works. Our system at the house is basically taking a hose that has two ends for each spout, hot and cold, mixing them and combining them into one stream. Works pretty well until one end slips off (usually the hot) and is a pain to affix back on. TIA, I suppose.
-tango. Tango tango tango tango. I’m listening to some Alfredo De Angelis, and am missing the delicious valses, and have only memories of dream like volcadas.

Curiouser and curiouser!

Something I wanted to mention: In the airports of both Accra and Johannesburg I saw booths which provided the service of shrink-wrapping your bag. I had never seen such a thing, and wasn’t quite sure why someone would want to saran- up their luggage: it’d be a huge pain to undo. Then, after seeing more than a few signs warning about being an unwitting drug trafficker, (because people would slip cocaine into your bag when you weren’t looking, of course), I realized the reason was not to keep your luggage from getting wet. Of course it could also be to protect it from opening, or being opened, but I think my explanation is more Hollywood-movie.

Here in South Africathere ain’t no such thing as “unlimited” plans for cell phones or internet. Or at least, I sure am not privy to them. You pay for air time/texts and/or megabytes of information exchanged on the interweb. A bit of a pain, but also keeps certain people (or a certain person you might know well)from spending inordinate amounts of time blabbering away, or watching Youtube videos of Rosemary Clooney sing “Botch-a-me”. Over. And over.

South African lesson: After a haircut and getting some fringe I strapped on my takkies and walked to my buckie (bakkie?)to drive over to the forest for foofysliding.

In order: bangs, tennis shoes, truck, ziplining. Although I have to say that I find the accent quite charming.It’s something ineffably pleasant to me.

Drove the 10km home today for the first time! Stick shift, and South African style. No sweat. Actually who am I kidding. I was sweating bullets. The car didn’t stall, but I was pretty darned nervous the whole time. It’ll take a bit more practice before I can drive the crazy ass 9 seater Sesfikile to sites, but little by little!

It might be the case that I get to sing in a benefit concert for the Bjatladi Youth Center here in Haenertsburg! I haven’t sung in a capacity where people paid to hear it in years, but I’d be thrilled to. More of that later.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Africa Part 2

The house we live in is charming, a two bedroom flat in the middle of nowhere. In the morning, as it was when we were kids and had sleepovers, I am usually the first one awake. There is a sweet little loft, bare, and so still that you are forced to sit with your thoughts being the only company present.

Of course, what you care about is what I’ve been eating: a delicious, stick to your ribs type carbohydrate food called “mealy meal”. It is reminiscent of grits, (which already means it’s a hit with me!) but thicker, and with the fluffy quality of mashed potatoes. Heart chicken stew, butternut squash mashed up—it’s almost like a Thanksgiving meal. Other meals are generally pretty Westernized: basic staples are quite inexpensive. The conversion is I believe 7.2 Rand to 1 USD. Pretty favorable, so long as I don’t try to purchase electronics, and what not.

BUT. Yesterday at a Sundowner, I had BILTONG! First, I should explain that a Sundowner is basically drinking and snacking and enjoying the sun going down. Easy enough. Wonderful enough, is more like it! Happy hour! And ours was spent with the boys of a family whose farm we had toured earlier that day, and played some soccer while there was still light, as the cows looked on. Biltong is a cured, salted meat, usually beef, or venison, though I believe the process can be done to ostrich too. (Which I’m very curious about). It was tasty beyond measure, and I think I quite prefer it to beef jerky. I suppose that in the analogy form which I am so fond of:

Beef Jerky:Well Done::Biltong: Medium Rare/Rare. Makes sense? You’ll just have to try it.

I had mentioned a farm, and didn’t want to forget to tell how delicious the cheese made there is. Even more impressive is that they do it without any electricity. Stunning. I wish you could taste it. Complete with a veritable ark of farm animals, acres of gorgeous greens, and a monkey rope (“swing”), it seemed like something straight out of a storybook, or a dream of what you wish your childhood had been like. When a baby lamb came up to me, I began to feel extremely guilty of the lamb kabob joint that I had made a point to visit at least once a month in LA.

Actually I realize what you really care about is what I’ve been drinking. And I’ll tell you. The tap water comes from Ebenezer Dam and Letaba. Other than that one place in China, this is the most delicious water I’ve tasted. As for the other more alcoholic beverages, I was able to taste some at my birthday party held at the local bar/restaurant. The “Pot and Plow” had me enjoying some Windhoek lager (which mixed with Sprite is actually quite tasty too, a “shandy”), Black Label—a beer that is darker, and more reminiscent of a pale-ish ale, and Amarula. Amarula is the South African, creamier version of Bailey’s. With that, and a few rounds of pool at the Pot n Plow (neighborhood bar) I celebrated turning 23!

As for Haenertsberg itself? The place is gorgeous, like Ojai and the bluffs of the Santa Monica mountains, a tiny 5 block town tucked sweetly inside. Secretly, even. But this is a stark contrast to where we’ll be working. The office for the Bjatladi Youth Center, where I will very likely be spending a lot of my time is located there. At a welcome dinner, a few nights prior, I had met the directors and think that I really could be teaching dance there! I will also be learning dance there, I’m sure. I tried my hand at the marimba too, that day, and had a blast. What a thrilling instrument!

Oh, and Thobela! (Which means “hello” in Sepedi). I have been trying to pick up bits and pieces of the language which may be helpful to me as most of the people in our centers speak it.

Internet is available, but not every day. I think that there is a certain joy in solitude, and being away from the wide world. Another certain joy? Learning to drive stick shift. Not just any old manual transmission, but on the right side of the car, on the left side of the street. It is: unbelievably fun. I think that my entire perception of driving has now changed. Brilliant.

Hopefully by next post, I will tell you about some of the words we use, and words the South Africans use. But for now, Shalang Habutsi! (Which, in Sepedi, means, “stay well”, or “goodbye”)