This past Friday, 31 October 2008, ghastly ghouls, big bottomed gogos, and wicked witches roamed the dusty roads of Brooksby Village for the first time in history! That’s right; Halloween came all the way to South Africa this year for at least one small village.
For the past two to three weeks I have been teaching the kids at the elementary school about the holidays in the United States as an Arts and Culture unit. As some of the holidays are shared by both countries, such as Christmas and New Year’ Day, we chose to focus on only those that are different. Because it was the month of October and Halloween was completely unknown to all residents of Brooksby Village, I decided to teach them about All Saint’s Day!
The kids were not unlike children from the United States, finding the idea of scaring people and getting bulging bags of candy for it too good to be true. I don’t think I have ever captivated my grade 5 students’ attention so intensely before. I would have loved to see what images they were creating inside their heads! Combining their definite desire to experience the spooky holiday, their lust for sweets of all kinds, and my longing for any American cultural activity, I decided to hold the first ever village trick or treating at my house!
I told all the students in grade 4 to 7 that on Friday, 31 October, from 5:30 to 7:00pm they could come to my house and get candy, UNDER THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:
1. They must be wearing some form of costume…OR
2. Clothing that has both orange and black colors
3. Must knock on my door and yell “TRICK OR TREAT” when I open it
The stage was set, the candy was purchased, and then the rest was just waiting to see what the kids would do.
Even before the 5:30pm start time, the young kids in grade 4 and 5 started to pop over, most of them not quite understanding the rules, just expecting to get candy for showing up. Some of them knew enough to wear black and orange clothing which resulted in them getting more sweets. Then a few kids showed up with black shoe polish on their faces; this soon became a hit! Kids would run home and get the polish, smear it on their faces, and come running back hoping to score more candy. I could only wonder what parents and other villagers thought when they saw children in dark painted faces scurrying about the village.
Just before the 7:00pm cut off time, the grade 7 girls showed up in full Halloween attire! I was amazed at the lengths they had gone to prepare a definite Halloween worthy costume. For never experiencing the holiday before, their costumes were spot on! Just see the pictures!
In the end, I was well pleased with the whole affair. Well over 50 kids had stopped by my house for candy, most of them following all THREE RULES. Some of the costumes were well put together and deserving of a deep belly laugh or a frightened shiver. The candy lasted for every child to get something but with nothing left or remaining. And the best part of all was the happy smiles on their face and mine and the busting laughs we all shared together. Halloween had come to Brooksby Village for the first time in history and it can never be forgotten by those who were there. J
Presently, the third quarter school break is coming to a closure. Break began for all teachers and students of Pudulogo Primary School on Saturday, September 27, 2008. I hadn’t set aside much to do for that first week of break. Knowing full well that the village can become insanely boring when you have nothing to occupy yourself with, I chose to host a four day camp at the school for the grade 6 and 7 learners. The itinerary for the week would include science labs, computer classes and a chess tournament. Fun, right? The Thursday before schools were out, I handed the kids invitations to attend and I stood back and waited to see what would happen.
Monday morning rolled around quickly. I had prepared five lab stations pertaining to magnets and electricity. My intention was to have science class in the morning, break for lunch over the noon hour, and return for an afternoon session studying how to use computers. I arrived at school around 7:30am and was soon met by a group of kids, 30 minutes before camp was to start. I knew then and there how the camp was going to be received. By 8:00am, I had 48 kids anxiously waiting to get started. I realized just how in trouble I was. I hadn’t asked a soul to help me because I had only anticipated 20-25 children.
What was I going to do? Oh yeah, how could I forget? God.
Just when I started to think of how I could use my B.A. in Biology to clone myself three or four times, Agnes, a girl in the village who just took a course in computers, popped her head in the room.
“Can I help?” she asked.
“Well, if you really want to…YES!!” I said, so loud I even surprised myself.
(I swear I saw a halo around her head and wings on her back…an angel from heaven sent to save me from certain death by the hands of 48 village kids.)
From that point on things went smoothly. I took half of the kids in the morning for science while Agnes taught computers. In the afternoon I took the other group in science and she taught computers again.
The kids kept coming day after day. I think we climbed up to 60 kids, when I include other grades that came just to help or watch. I quickly realized why so many kids had shown such an interest in the camp. It wasn’t my awesome science lab stations. (What?) It wasn’t my novelty as a white foreigner from the USA (Yeah, that’s worn off). It WAS the 15 new computers that we got donated from DELL.
A week prior to the closing of schools, the computer tables were completed.
I quickly made arrangements for getting the wiring and within a good day’s work I had all 15 computers up and running. Instead of letting them collect dust in their first week of existence at Pudulogo Primary School, I decided to let them collect tiny little kid finger prints. The children couldn’t keep their hands off them. They were in heaven.
The days went by like this:
Day 1. Monday:
A. Science – Magnets and Electricity
B. Computers – An introduction to computers and typing
Day 2. Tuesday:
A. Science – Archimedes and Density
B. Computers – Educational games and typing
Day 3. Wednesday:
A. Science – Chemistry and Mystery Powders
B. Computers – Drawing your house and learning chess
Day 4. Thursday:
A. Science – The Five Senses
B. Computers – The Chess Tournament
On the last day of camp, I gave the learners certificates. They received certificates for good behavior, good academic performance on their lab notebooks and research, and for attending all four days of camp. I also gave the two chess champions prizes and awards.
When all was said and done, I was exhausted. The camp took a great deal of time and mental and physical energy to prepare and run. I can’t thank Agnes enough for her help…without her I couldn’t have done it. It just proved to me once and again, that as a Peace Corps Volunteer, when you try to stand on your own you’ll fall. I am very glad that I did the camp, but also very glad to be done. I feel like my school break is just starting now.
Although not one child told me thank you after the camp was over, I have a good feeling that they appreciated the camp; if not to play on computers, at the very least, to have something to do in the village during school break. The problem with rural areas, not just in South Africa, is that the youth typically suffer from boredom (although I think being a rural child in SA would be far more boring than being a bored child in rural USA). This camp gave the kids something to spend their time on that was fun, yet educational and supervised. I only wish that I would have been able to plan something that could have accommodated even more kids in the village, those younger and older.
Okay, picture time!! Sorry I have no pictures of “yours truly” but I was busy taking the pictures not posing. Besides, would you really want to see my ugly mug when you can see all these beautiful, smiling, young faces? I didn’t think so. J
I apologize for the long entry. I know you are very busy and probably don’t have time to read all this. If you want to read about just the race, skip ahead to “Chapter 2”.
CHAPTER 1: The Joys of Not Owning a Car in South Africa
Today marked the 3rd running event that I have participated in since coming to this country. Like the previous two, this one proved to be just as noteworthy. The event took place at the Faan Meintjes (don’t even try to pronounce it) Game Reserve 10 miles outside the pleasant city of Klerksdorp. My running mate from the village, Chomi, and I had earmarked this race months back and made all arrangements to attend. In the end, our decision to compete in this 19km event was quite fruitful, but not without a little bit of frustration, frustration, and oh yes, frustration.
The event was scheduled for Saturday, 4 October at 7:00am and because neither I nor Chomi own transport of our own, we embarked on our journey Friday morning. The original plan was to leave from our village with the 7:30am bus. I should have known what misfortunes lay ahead when I walked out to the bus stop only to find the bus already gone. I soon received a call from a confused, bus riding Chomi, asking me why I wasn’t on the bus too. “Don’t worry Chomi, I am right behind you.”
To my surprise I found transport just preparing to leave. They weren’t going directly to where I needed to go, but they agreed to drop me off at a spot where I would likely catch a passing bus or taxi. I threw my large luggage into the back and climbed aboard. Within a short distance I was standing along the road, pulling out more and more clothes from my bag to fight back the cold wind and slight drizzle that was chilling me to the bone. Just as the drizzle started to become rain, a car approached from the left. I crawled out from under my acacia tree shelter and gave the sign for “Pick me up! Please!” and fortunately they stopped. I threw my things in the back and jumped in. Within a matter of minutes I was on another taxi heading to Chomi. I found him standing at the bus rank; he had been only waiting an hour. Our plans had been disrupted by my procrastination in the morning, but now we were together and still not far off schedule. After a few errands in town, we were again on the road to Klerksdorp. We safely reached Klerksdorp and piled out of the taxi with our entire luggage. As we stood on the street corner, we knew are troubles were not over yet. In fact they were just beginning.
Not having the slightest idea where Faan Meintjes was, let alone how to pronounce it, we decided to ask for directions at the supermarket just behind us. The people there knew of Faan Meintjes Game Reserve and told go down the road another 2 to 3 miles. After walking at least 3 to 4 miles, I started to doubt what our supermarket navigator had told us. We decided to take a rest at the next stoplight and eat our lunch; it was after 12:30pm now.
A woman was standing on the corner waiting for a taxi. In mid-bite of a lemon cream I asked the woman if she knew how to get to Faan Meintjes Game Reserve. She said she certainly did know and that a taxi would be coming along shortly to take us there! Yipee! Thank the Lord, I thought…finally a break from this mess. She was right, before I could even finish my second lemon cream a taxi pulled up and we grabbed our bags and dashed onto taxi number ? of the day. We drove down the road about 6 miles and the woman said we needed to get out. We are here? There is no “Faan Meintjes” sign anywhere, I thought. But I didn’t contest, we had no other choice, so we got off as she suggested. We thanked her and the taxi sped off. As we turned around we saw a sign that said “Klerksdorp Dam and Campground” and another sign that said “Motorcyle Rally, Tonight!” Uh oh.
I peered over the wall and there I saw a campground full of leather jackets, mullets (men and women), cheap beer, and mustaches (men and women) and I knew we were in the wrong place. I decided to go ask one of the young chaps directed the incoming bikers. When I went to greet this spiky blonde haired punk kid I knew I was not going to find much help here. He didn’t know much English, except to tell me two things: 1. he was not from Klerksdorp, he is working for the Flamingo Rally and 2. It is 50 rand (7 dollars) a cup. I thought to myself…you can keep your flamingos and mullets, but darn that beer would be nice right now… I thanked the kid and left, he stood their confused.
I told Chomi we had run into problem number ? of the day and that we were now 6 miles outside of town in the wrong direction. Unless he liked biker chicks, we were in trouble. He didn’t like biker chicks and neither do I; we were in trouble.
After many failing attempts to catch a ride back to town, finally transport came that took us back to the same location where I had once tried to enjoy a delicious lunch of lemon creams. Once we got back to the four-way we noticed a Faan Meintjes sign that pointed us to the left. How convenient. Once again we started the walk, this time in the correct direction. After another 3 miles we arrived at a large gas station and a T-intersection. As we came stumbling into the gas station I sought out someone to help us.
Do you know Faan Meintjes? Yes.
Do you know how to get there? Yes, go down this road.
How far is it? 17 km (10 miles)
Is there any transport going there? No
Two successful yes’s and a resounding “NO” and I knew we were defeated again. We walked out to the side of the road, laid down our bags for the ? time of the day and put up a thumb. With each passing car that refused to stop, Chomi’s face sunk lower and I wondered if he was just reflecting the way I looked. I tried to cheer him up and stay positive, but I think he heard the hollowness in my enthusiasm.
After just over an hour, a truck with two Afrikaaner men pulled over and I greeted them with a “Hoe gan det? Goed, dankie. Faan Meintjes?” They said sure and we jumped in the back. After driving a distance that could never be walked by two weary travelers, we stopped at the entrance to Faan Meintjes Game Reserve. We jumped out and I asked the two men how much money for their trouble? They responded by asking me where I was from? Apparently my Afrikaans language skills are not very good. They guessed right away I was from the States. And because I was, they decided that they would do us a special favor and not charge us for the service. Some days, to be an American in South Africa, has its upsides.
Chomi and I, now with a bit more spring in our step because we had finally reached our destination walked to the entrance. We bought a campsite, walked to the camping area, selected a location, pitched tent, made bologna and bread sandwiches and were sleeping by 8:00pm. We slept like babies.
CHAPTER 2: Becoming Primordial Man in a 19km Cross Country Race
At 6:00am, after sleeping a solid 10hours on solid ground (I told you we were tired) we climbed out from our tent to the sound of terrible music blaring over loudspeakers; yes, we must be near the race start line. Just on the other side of the grove of trees from our campsite, Chomi and I found a grassy field filled with cars and runners of all shapes, sexes, and color. As we walked to the registration tent, we passed a group of old men in their short running shorts and head bands and I smiled because I knew that in time, someday I would be just like them. We passed young men decked out in full racing attire wearing faces that looked too serious for the event, and I smiled because I knew that there was a time when I had been just like them. We passed women with large poofy hair and sun visors that looked far too manicured to be running and I smiled, because…because…well, wouldn’t you? Ha! Yes, this was a fun run and surprisingly, not a lot different from what I remembered about fun runs in the United States. After 30 minutes, Chomi and I stood on the race line, registered, warmed up, stripped down, and anxious to put our training to the test.
The entire run was held in the Game Reserve on dirt/gravel roads. We had been warned to mind the animals in the park, such as rhinoceros, giraffe, impala and so on. The large amounts of runners could shock the animals and cause them to drop dead at the sight of so many runners. I wasn’t too convinced though that if I came across a rhino, his life would be the one in danger. When the list of animals to watch out for was read off and lion, cheetah, leopard, or any other animal that enjoys eating meat was not mentioned, I gave a sigh of relief.
The gun was fired and we dashed off up the hill. As expected, all runners of color, shape, sex and size ran off at a pace that was absurdly fast. I even found a group of three young girls ahead of me that had no shoes. I remind you, we were running on stones that could puncture the tires of any small sedan and these girls had no shoes. I was impressed to say the least, but not surprised anymore. Chomi and I soon began to pass all those types of runners who seemed to realize that they were running a 19km race, not a 1.9km race. As we moved up throughout the pack I noticed that Chomi was laboring on the hills; his pace was decreasing. I tried to pull him along for the first 5km with encouraging words, stopping and waiting occasionally to coax him. After a few more attempts, I realized that any coaxing I did was not going to get him to go faster. I then made the decision to go on alone…and then the race started.
I opened up my stride, and it felt good. I cut through the wind like an aero-dynamic machine and passed a slug of runners in just a few kilometers. The path opened up and I looked out over the dry, brown African grass. I could see six men in front of me, strung out at a distance of up to 500 meters. Manageable. With 13km to go, very manageable. Just then I noticed a herd of springbok and gemsbok dashing across the veld in perfect synchrony at top speed. It was at that moment that all things before me changed and time warped. I was no longer Adam from the USA in 2008, but primordial man hunting my prey. I had evolved as a masterpiece of muscle, organs and tissue designed for endurance and stealth. I was now the predator and runner 1 – 6 were my prey.
Now that I had morphed into my new element, I moved forward, my feet hardly noticing the stones beneath me or the hills that tried to tempt my body to quit. After just one kilometer in my new form, I ate my first meal. I imagined him as the small, weak sickly animal that always gets taken down first by the pack of hunters. Within no time he was defeated, never putting up a fight. Unlike most predators, I didn’t stop after my first kill, I moved forward for another. Within another kilometer I had meal number two and this one went down as easy as the first one. I thought to myself how easy it was. Those first two hadn’t even posed a threat; they didn’t even put up a fight! I hadn’t suffered a bit in overtaking them so of course I moved forward again, eyes set on number 3.
Unlike the first two, the remaining gave me a hell of a trouble. Kilometer after kilometer went passed with no meal. Up hills and into the wind aided me, but downhills aided them. Fortunately, my opportunity came just around the 15km mark. The course took us down a hill into the bush. But just as quickly as we descended into the valley we soon turned back into the hill. The course wound back and forth and I knew I had my opportunity. Number 3 could not see me approaching from behind; each glance over his shoulder was blocked by the thorny acacia bushes. The opportunity was there. I pushed.
Just as we crested the hill we were side by side, but I soon realized that this one was a fighter. I had to break him. I took my pace to high gear and sailed down the hill, always searching for the shortest route from point to point. I never allowed him to get a step on me. For 1 km we ran at a blistering pace, his breathing and thundering steps just behind me. We clocked a flat 3:00 minute kilometer (4:45 min/mile). However, in my primordial self I never felt fear; I was the alpha male. It soon proved true.
We turned up hill and into the wind again and soon I only heard my own breathing and soft light foot steps on the earth. Number 3 was gone. Three remained, but there was little distance left for me to catch them. I hadn’t closed the gap on 1 – 3 over the last 10kilometers. With one more downhill and wind at my back I again assumed my hunting pace. I dashed through the bush, just missing acacia tree and rut in the road, every footstep perfectly placed. I flew through the bush searching and searching but could see no sign of life. With just 1 kilometer to go, I came to the largest and final hill of the race and there he was, number 4. He was walking up the hill, completely exhausted, and I felt renewed strength. He was defeated. An easy kill. I flew up the hill, each step springing me forward toward my goal. At the top of the hill I overtook him in one bound and sailed down the hill to the finish line, finishing in third place, 1hour 7 minutes and 4 seconds (1:07.04). My last 5 kilometers timed in 16:45minutes. As I crossed through the finish line and into the crowd, I was no longer a self-possessed primordial hunter out for blood, but peace maker Adam again. Chomi later crossed the finish line looking and feeling strong in 1:12.00.
It wasn’t much after I had resumed my ordinary self that a verbal dispute arose, it was runner number 4. He contested that he had beaten me…the “whitey”. It was impossible that I beat him; he never saw me. Everyone else around disagreed with him saying that:
1. I had in fact been running today
2. I had been contesting in the 19km event, and
3. I had crossed the finish line before him.
He wasn’t easily convinced.
I asked him to show me his finishing time on his watch (1:07.22) and mine (1:07.04), but there must be some mistake! I cheated! He demanded to know where I came from (referencing “where” as to my position in the race). The announcer leaned over my shoulder and said, “He comes from America.” Ha! I gave a slight chuckle, not out of the humor of the incident, but the complete absurdity in it all. How could this man be so sure he was correct, when the world around him disagreed? I soon came up with two possible answers.
1. I had passed him so fast at the top of that last hill that in fact he hadn’t seen me. Perhaps he had felt a slight breeze off his left shoulder and a flash of red, but certainly he hadn’t actually “seen” me, the whitey pass him. Or
2. He had finished in 4th place and thus had lost out on the prize money and this displeased him greatly.
I had gone into the race not knowing that prize money was given. I had discovered this afterwards during the argument about who actually had gotten third place. I told the race officials that in fact I work for the US Peace Corps and cannot take prize money anyway, unless it is as a donation to my school. This pleased them; they said I was third place and that I would get the prize money.
When the awards were finished and all emotions had cooled down, the officials called me over. They gave me three envelopes, totaling 200 rand; 50 rand for third place and an additional 150 rand for my school. With many thanks of appreciation from my side, they wanted to thank me by inviting me to the bar. They served me up two Klipdrifts (a bottled brandy and coke) and then took me over to the braai (grill) for some steak. Have I mentioned that sometimes being an American in South Africa has its benefits? Ha! After having a wonderful time getting to know them, talking about running in South Africa, and great vacation spots to take my family, my ride gave the sign that it was time to go. Before I could go, the officials called me over again and said that I had won something in the prize drawing. There was a prize drawing? Apparently I had won a small camping light!
What a great day it turned out to be. Despite all the stress and frustration of the previous day, Saturday turned out to be flawless, better than I could have imagined. I felt strong for all 19km, had gotten in touch with my roots as a primordial man, won R200 for my school, and best of all, made many great new friends. Those friends include: Robin Stocken and his wife Janet (the race officials), Franz and Piet (the bartenders who kindly kept a bottle of Klipdrift in my hand), Jacques (who kindly gave Chomi and I a free ride back), Charlie (who showed me how much he admired anyone who does Peace Corps) and Dion (who treated me nothing less than a friend) and everyone else (who helped to make me feel a little bit closer to home today). Thanks everyone!
Ever since I have come to South Africa, I have made the 5:00pm evening run a daily ritual. In all the countless miles and hours I have run around the flat, dusty, African bush, I have rarely encountered anything worthy of remembrance. [Of course there was the one time that I got an offer from a prostitute on a donkey cart, but aside from that, I can’t say much about the others.] Well, last night’s evening run proved to be different from all else. Not everyday does a person go out for an easy 60 minute jog and return nearly 2 hours later with a baby goat slung under one arm. If you know anyone else that can say the same thing, I would like to meet them. 🙂
Throwing on my running shorts and top, lacing up the shoes, I dashed out through the front gate towards the field where I typically spend my time running. Everything seemed to be ordinary…turn the corner past the soccer field where the boys are kicking around a ball, meet the man on the donkey cart as he heads into the village, scare up a few large, noisy birds from the tall grass, and pass a horse and a cow who barely acknowledge my presence anymore…nothing unusual here. As I approached the same grove of trees that I have done hundreds of times over, I heard something new. Out in the newly plowed field to my left there came the sound of baby goats bleating uncontrollably…almost in desperation. I turned my head and stopped. There among the broken corn stalks and mounds of dirt stood three young goats, two fully white and the other white to the shoulders and brown from there up. The three made hesitating steps towards me and almost, as if begging with there small black beady eyes, asked me for help.
At the time, the sun was still hovering in the sky and I imagined that soon a shepherd or a mother goat would come to the aid of these helpless, crying babies. I decided to continue on my run, which I did for another 15 minutes. After reaching 30 minutes on the watch I turned around and headed back the same way, hoping that the three baby goats would be in a better position than when I last saw them.
As I came back to the grove of trees, I kept my eyes on the place where I had last seen the three. Then, the same bleating sound came again, but this time from the opposite place where I had left them. I turned to the sound and there stood the three again. They continued their sad, pleading sound and moved closer towards me again, this time with more eagerness. As I stopped again I started to ponder the situation…the sun now had reached the horizon line and soon darkness would fall. If anyone or thing was coming to care for these animals, that should have been done by now. However, how could I possibly manage to carry or herd these three baby goats back to my house, which was nearly 3 miles away?
As I stood there in contemplation, the deciding factor came to my ears. From among the group of three baby goats I heard them call my name. “Aaaaadaaaaaaam! Aaaaaaadaaaaaaam! Pleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaseeeeee!” When their cries reached my ears and sank deep into my heart, I knew that I could not proceed alone; the only way back to my village was with three baby goats.
I stepped from the dirt road and into the plowed field. I jogged towards the three goats who did not move from their position. I was able to come within 10 feet of them, closer than that was not accepted. I decided to swing around them and force them towards the road. From there I imagined herding them towards the direction of the village, back to my house, and safely in the kraal with the other animals. I quickly found out that there was going to be a difference between what I was imagining and reality.
There appeared to be one baby goat that was in charge. As the other two would dash into the grass or look towards the field, this one would stick to the road. The others would quickly turn and follow. However, I soon realized that much of our energy was not spent on going straight. Most of my movements were left and right, not forward. I was desperatly trying to push them forward, but they seemed to be insistent on going back to the field. I soon realized that my method of herding was not working, possibly because I had never herded livestock before and I was unaware of the methods effective on three small goats. I made a new plan.
Realizing that the one was somewhat of a leader, I chose to capture it in my arms. From there, I imagined that I could run ahead and the two would follow behind me all the way back to the village, to my house, and into the kraal safely with the other animals. I targeted the baby goat and dashed towards it. It made a move to escape, but was too slow. With my first attempt I had it clutched in my hand, easier than expected.
Now that I had the one goat I decided to implement my second plan. I ran ahead with the goat in my right hand and my left hand flailing off to the side to keep balance. After 50 yards I stopped and turned around. The other two had not moved from their position. Thankfully, after I stopped the little goat in my right hand started bleating again. With his sounds and call to the other two, they came running head long towards me. It was working! They managed to get within 10 feet of me again. Once they were there, I dashed off again…goat in right hand ,left hand flailing…for another 50 meters. I stopped and soon the other two followed.
I continued with this repetition for some time (I was not consciously aware of an exact time at this moment). I soon realized that despite my exhaustion I had gained little headway. I estimated my distance to still be around 1.5miles to go. This is when I first started to notice the darkness that was enveloping me. The sun had long shrunk below the horizon and the sky was a dark gray blue. Soon it would be black. Already the first planets and stars were making their appearance in the sky.
That is when it happened. Out of the corner of my right eye I saw him, a jackal. With his black and gray hairs, full tail held high, he made his way towards the two baby goats now about 50 meters behind me. My heart stopped for a second, then soon beat hard, pounding against my rib cage. I think the small goat in my hand sensed my anxiety because he too also stopped making a sound. I watched as the jackal approached the two unsuspecting, praying for the best. When the jackal was within 10 feet of the two baby goats, it stopped. It turned its head towards me, put its eyes into mine, and turned back from where it came. It swiftly slid back into the field and made a round sweeping circle into the broken corn stalks and crouched out of sight. I knew that it was not gone for good.
I now realized what I had to do. The darkness was creeping in all around me, just as the jackal was soon to do upon the baby goats. This method of run and follow was working but far to slow. At this pace I would never get back before night fall and besides, it seemed that the other two goats had gone their limit. They refused to follow anymore. I decided on my third plan for the day, I would go and try and capture one more goat, then surely the remaining would follow the majority back to the village, to my house, and into the kraal safely with the other animals.
I dashed towards the other two goats, still with the one in my right hand, left hand flailing to keep my balance. I targeted the smaller goat, the one with the brown from the shoulders up. I ran at him with full speed (well at least as fast as can be done with a goat in one hand). I seemed to only be able to match its pace, never able to overtake it! I stumbled through the plowed dirt and corn stalks. At one time I was so frustrated at the small creature that I managed to kick its hind leg knocking it off balance. Before I could grasp it though, it was up and running again. I stopped to catch my breath and realized that this whole time we had been running away from the targeted direction, further into the field, and directly towards the jackal! I yelled at the little goat…”you stupid thing! Don’t you know what is good for you? I am trying to save you! Your stupidity is going to put you right in that jackal’s mouth!”
In my frustration I decided that this was useless. Already the sky was being filled with speckles of star light and there was nothing else I could do. I decided that I would try to walk towards the village and hoped that the others would follow in line. They did not! Now that I had given them chase, they looked at me as if I were the jackal! They started to graze upon the cornstalks appearing to settle themselves in for a night’s sleep. It was hopeless. I realized that despite my best efforts, I could not save all three. I retreated back to the village with the one goat in my right hand, the left hand still flailing. Occasionally I glanced over my shoulder hoping to hear the bleating sound of two more goats…silence. They had decided to stay where I left them. I could only hope that they were safe.
I dashed back to the village as quickly as I could. I had to stop occassionally to walk and catch my breath. The weight of the small goat seemed to increase by the second. I estimated that I had been clutching it in my arms for over an hour. Eventually I returned back to the village under the cover of night, hoping not to be seen, for the sight of a running white man with a bleating baby goat in his arms, would certainly cause suspision and gossip. I did happen to run into the same man on the donkey cart, now leaving the village, and the group of boys leaving the soccer field. I stopped to explain the situation to all of them and wipe the confused look from their faces.
I returned home, my right arm numb, the baby goat looking exhausted and confused as the boys I met while passing the soccer field. I burst through the kitchen door to find my host mother and friend sitting at the table. They looked up and their faces transformed into the same confused look as those I had just seen. I explained the whole situation to them and they agreed that what I had done was right. Certainly the jackal would have gotten them; it would not have been the first time. This settled my fear that I had broken some cultural or civil rule that says it is unlawful to take another person’s goat without their permission under any circumstance. I felt the present situation justified my actions. Before I left the kitchen room to place the goat in the kraal with the sheep, my host mother said, “When you leave to go home, you will have to take that goat with you on the plane.” We all laughed at the thought of me sitting on the plane with a goat.
Presently, Sherman, the name of my new pet goat, is safely in the kraal among the sheep. It will take him some time before he adjusts to his new environment and before the sheep accept him as their own. It will also take some time before I become a true shepherd. I am sure, when it is all said and done, we will be family.
I still hold onto the hope that Sherman’s siblings made it through that first night and were retrieved by their rightful owner in the morning. I am sure they are both safely with thier mother and herd.
And that is the story of how one man went for a run empty handed and returned with a goat. If you ever thought it wasn’t possible, now you know the truth…anything is possible here.
When we were being trained in South Africa as new Peace Corps Volunteers, one of the things they told us about was “unspoken appreciation.” They told us that despite the hours of committment and devotion to our communities and the improvements and changes we make as volunteers, expect unspoken appreciation. Expect to leave your community with your own personal satisfaction in knowing that you did contribute something over the two years, but do not expect that you will be thanked for it. This isn’t to say that the people of South Africa are not a thanking people, this is far from the truth. Many people will be thankful for what you have done, but afraid or unsure of how to express that thanks to you.
After hearing this during training, I was prepared for it, but didn’t realize how much a sincere “thank you” here and there was needed to keep a PCVolunteer moving forward and proud. That is why I was so surpised and uplifted last Thursday, September 4, 2008.
As I mentioned in my previous blog entry (subtitle: What I do in my free time…) I have been teaching a group of adults in my village twice a week (Thursday and Friday) since June 2008. During the first months of the course I was teaching them how to start a business and to write a business plan. We also learned about managing money and budgeting. We completed the course with an exam, where everyone passed the exam successfully and received a certificate of achievement.
This past Thursday, when we started our new unit on First Aid, we were all in for a surprise. After the lesson was over for the day, one of the mothers stood up and spoke. She said that she has really appreciated all that I have done for her. By providing her with a free education and through my teaching, I have opened and rejuvinated her mind. She has been given a new sense of life, vitality, and energy to improve her situation. She is sharing the information with her family and helping them to start their own businesses. Because of these things, she felt she must tell me, in some way, how much she appreciated what I have done for her. That is when she presented me with an award.
The award was beautiful from the moment it appeared. Encased in a shining blue and gold frame and a proud blue star in the center, the award was shocking. She said that she had composed a letter for me, all of it coming from her own heart. She read it for us and I stood there in amazement. I couldn’t believe if it was true and if the compliments I was receiving were deserved.
Afterwards, I hugged her and thanked her repeatedly but nothing seemed enough to describe how much it all meant to me. It was a verbal and physical thankyou. Something I could cherish and show for the rest of my life. It was a boost of encouragement and strength that has uplifted me. I walked away that day standing tall because I knew that my work was not just benefiting me, but others as well.
We ended the class with the most delicious tea and cakes (the same mother also surprised us with home-made cakes). We all agreed that September 4, 2008 would be a day to remember.
Below, the award and the written description.
BEST TEACHER OF A LIFETIME
MR. ADAM BOHACH
“Thank you so much for everything that you have done for me. Your courage, strength, and effort are highly appreciated. I thank God for sending you to South Africa all the way from the United States of America. You have been the greatest teacher of them all. You really really deserve an award of the best teacher of them all.
And I promise you that the information you have given me, I will treasure it as the most important gift of them all. I am saying this from the bottom of my heart. Thank you so much!
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND KEEP YOU SAFE!
From: Kefilwe Morutingaya “
“NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS!”
Some of you may be wondering what could be keeping me so quiet. It is true that I haven’t given any updates for quite a good stretch of time. I apologize for that and any worries you may have had. To calm your fears, you should know that, as the saying goes…“no news is good news”…I only have good news to share!
I would like to get you caught up on some of the more important things that I have been actively participating in this past month, which have hindered my updates.
Thursday, July 24:
A large white truck pulled up to the school. A man stepped out and handed a clipboard over to the principal and said, “please sign here.” On that delivery form was listed, 15 CPUs and 15 flat screen monitors! As you may recall, one of my early goals upon arriving at my South African school, was to receive computer donations from various foundations, such as DELL and Vodacom. Well, that persistence paid off. After one years time, the results of our efforts are being realized. We now have 15 brand new, beautiful flat screen computers, along with another 20 en route. Thanks to the kind donations from DELL and Vodacom, our school will be possessing 35 computers within one month’s time.
Since that memorable Thursday afternoon, our school has begun preparing the “hall”, soon to be “new computer lab”. Extra burglar bars were put on the windows and doors in early August. Presently, we are constructing the computer tables out of metal frames from old school desks, an idea I had to help save school money. My role presently is preparing the computer skills curriculum for teaching the up and coming IT course for students, teachers, and the community. Every week someone asks, “When will we start to learn computers?” or “Can I join your computer classes even though I am not from a different village?” My answers to those people are, “Hopefully soon” and “You bet you can!” (of course not in English). J
During the first full week of August I had the pleasure to meet with the new Peace Corps Education Trainees, soon to be volunteers. The group consisted of just over 40 individuals, all varying in age, goals, visions, and personalities, but yet strikingly similar to the group I arrived with just one year ago. It was a strange feeling to be on the other side of the room sharing my advice and experiences to a group of new Americans, when not so long ago I was doing the listening and learning. I sincerely enjoyed the pleasure of meeting all those new folks and offering encouraging but realistic words of advice. I went with the trainees on their school visits, assisting them with teaching and offering explanations for various “non-American” behaviors in the schools. I also led a few sessions with Paul and Brandon, two other PCVs. Most of the week’s productivity, however, was found in the informal discussions with the trainees, simply sharing my experiences as a 1 year veteran and offering suggestions and advice for their future as a PCV in South Africa.
Saturday, August 9:
After a week with the trainees, I traveled back to Pretoria (the central capital of South Africa, home of the Peace Corps head offices, and a common hang out spot for volunteers like myself). I spent two days enjoying the city life with friends. The best day was Saturday, which I spent with my girlfriend Stacy. It was Women’s Day in South Africa so we took the day to celebrate. We attended a Women’s Day event just outside the Parliament Buildings along with thousands of others, listening to the assortment of guest speakers and sharing in the good food and atmosphere. We then made our first trip to the Pretoria zoological gardens. There we saw nearly all the animals, from big to small and from feather to fur. The zoo was a well afternoon spent, that is, if you can handle going to a zoo to see African animals when you are located in Africa. Somehow we also managed to see the new batman movie, The Dark Knight, which was two thumbs up if you haven’t seen it!
Sunday, 17 August:
This day I began another side project of mine. Ever since I have been in South Africa, people have been very keen on using me as a photographer. I quickly learned the demands and stresses of the business, and so, I was more than pleased when Morapedi “Prince” Molema (a good friend of mine from the village) came up to me and asked if I could help him start a photography business? My answer was a resounding, YES! This Sunday happened to be our first assignment. We had been invited to a church gathering to take photos and video for a DVD. Despite taking the whole day (9:30am to 5:30pm…African church is not an in and out ordeal), the event was very enjoyable. The pastors (baruti) were loud energetic and boisterous and the music was full of the Holy Spirit. It was a nice Sunday to remember and a great first gig for Bonolo Photography (the name of his new business). Since that first assignment we have already done two more. Already the business has helped Morapedi to pay off all the start up costs. We are excited about the prospects of the business, but also very tired. It takes a lot of time to wrestle with computers and software to get the DVD just right to sell. We have already had a few past-midnight working sessions. Even last night we attended a Grade 12 function similar to prom…we arrived at home just passed 4:00am. My eyes are half shut as we speak. Either way I am sure that by the time I leave South Africa, Bonolo Photography will be thriving will be a full-time photographer rather than farmer!
Tuesday, 26 August:
This was a big day for our village. On that day, we held the first ever Registration Campaign in Brooksby Village. The purpose of the day was to bring many government departments and services to the people, rather than expecting the people to go to them. This day was the culmination of a lot of hard work by many people. It all began months back in June when I first visited a community development organization, called MiET, which aids rural communities in South Africa. I asked them if they could help Brooksby Village and they said yes. After many meetings, phone conversations, and follow ups, the job was completed. The day was a success! Two tents were hired along with tables, chairs, and catering. All of the government departments that were invited came (except for the Health Department…boo!). Those departments brought services for the people to get birth, death, and marriage certificates, identification documents, proof of residency, child grants, and to register for election, etc. Thanks to the privately hired transport, people from 4-5 other villages were able to come. The total number of people in attendance was not certain, but some estimated 400 to 500. After many interviews it was clear that the everyone, both people from the villages and the departments, were very happy with the days results. The village people were glad that they didn’t have to pay the high costs of transport to travel to the city to get help; it was done right at their home. The department people were happy because many people came and their services met the needs of many. I too was extremely happy with the days results, tired, but happy. I also finished that great day with a great ending. Three of my close friends came over and we cooked and ate dinner together. Another good day to remember.
And what I do in my free time…
As you can see there have been many ‘especially’ rewarding days (everyday has a reward someplace right?) to remember over the last month and a half. Of course, I am still working at the schools. Teaching has been getting better everyday. I have finally found a system for teaching that works for my busy schedule. Also, the most encouraging thing about teaching is seeing the students’ improvement in using the English language. Others have even commented on the increased usage of the English language in the village, especially among the youth, since my arrival. But I am not going to let it stop there, I just got 60 children’s books loaned from the library, bless their heart, and will soon be working with the librarian to start a reading campaign in school. We have also completed the first two subjects of the Adult Educational Program that I started teaching in the village back in June. I had 7 wonderful students just complet their final exam on Entrepreneurship and Banking. All of them passed! I even used the American passing standard (60%) and not the South African standard (40%)! The highest test score goes to Kefilwe with a 100%! This week begins a new course in First Aid.
Last words for the day…
As you can see, one thing leads to the next in my life, but I wouldn’t change a thing about my life right now. I am happier than I have ever been, but also equally exhausted. It is true what they say about the Peace Corps, “’IT IS THE HARDEST JOB YOU COULD EVER HAVE, BUT ALSO THE MOST FULFILLING”…I am finally understanding what that truly means. Well, so long for now everyone. I may be back in a week, a month or two, I don’t know, but I do know that the sun is shining here on us. Thank you all for your support and please don’t stop!
-Adam “Thabo/Joy” Bohach
I can recall when I was just new at this Peace Corps thing and had a discussion with some of the veteran volunteers about “integration”. The question was, “how long does it take before you feel like you are fully integrated into your community?” Some of the answers ranged from 6 to 9 to 12 months. At the time, it sure seemed awfully long, but now that I look back on that moment I can’t believe that already one year separates the then and now. As those old veteran volunteers start packing their bags, I am stepping into the light as a veteran volunteer myself and finally feeling integrated in my little Brooksby Village.
You just don’t wake up one morning though and find integration knocking on your door. It is something that happens over time. Slowly you begin to feel that you are being accepted by your community. Usually this comes about through small events. Some of those small events for me were invitations to church and birthday celebrations, offerings of tea and dishes full of freshly baked biscuits and cookies, getting to hold a new born baby and having her fall asleep in your arms, being told I am not “white”, or getting handed a plate full of pap and eating the whole thing like a champ. I experienced all of these things over the past six months but never knew if they could be considered as a sign of complete integration. Well, after today I know that I am about as integrated as a white boy from the U.S.A. can get in a rural South African village.
The day had started out pretty normal. I was trying to enjoy the warmth from under my blankets for as long as I could but the commotion outside my door at 7:00am was too much for me to resume dreaming. I laid in bed for about 30 minutes just watching my breath of air mix with the possibly near zero temperatures in my room. It is winter here and yes, it does get cold in Africa. After a while, I finally talked myself into facing the cold cement floor, stepped out of bed and suddenly felt the urge to urinate. As quickly as I could put on three layers of clothes, shoes, and stocking hat I ran out the door to the bathroom. Made it! Whew!
I decided to take advantage of the morning and went for a run. I came back as quickly as I could to the wood burning stove in the kitchen. I placed myself next to the stove enjoying the heat on my pant legs. I would keep my leg next to the stove as long as I could until the heat passed through my pant legs and I had to pull back for fear of my pant leg catching on fire. I sat there next to the stove for a while reading my 3rd book of the week when my host brother asked me to cook some lunch for the family. He and my host mother were too busy washing clothes so I was the only one left for the job.
After I finished the chapter I was on, I got to work making a nice warm stew to go with, what else, but pap (a stiff porridge made of white corn flour and boiled water). I have realized that to be a true South Africa you always have to keep a warm pot of pap on the stove at all times. You just don’t know when you might need it to feed a hungry visitor or dish up a quick meal for hungry mouths. In two hours time the food was ready and within 5 minutes it was all eaten up. Ugh…I hate that part of cooking.
With a belly full of pap and stew I settled myself in the sun on a chair, leaned back and put my nose back into the book and pursued the next chapter. I had no plan for the day, so when my host mother said to me, “Ba tlhabile kgomo (They slaughtered the cow) I decided to check it out for myself. I had never been able to fully attend a cow slaughter from beginning to end. Usually I just caught the end when the men are cutting up the meat and bones into chunks at a rapid pace and flinging the meat into the big iron pot.
Just down the road a family was preparing for the next day’s tombstone unveiling. [Side note: a tombstone unveiling is like a second funeral. When a family cannot afford the tombstone immediately for the funeral they will have a second semi-funeral event to show the new tombstone when it is bought.] As I came around the trees I could see that the men had a brown cow down on the ground and another group of men had a black and white wool sheep down just to the side of the cow. I entered the fence onto the open field just behind the house. I greeted the women near the house who were washing dishes, cooking something in pots over a fire, and making the traditional beer. I walked over to the men to check on their progress.
I had arrived just after they had killed the two animals. Thank goodness! That is my least favorite part to watch. What am I saying? I don’t think I can find a favorite part about the whole process at all, but my curiosity outweighed my desire to go watch the women cut up the carrots instead, so I settled into the huddle of men and watched as a cow and a sheep were fully butchered before me in just one hour.
If you are curious about how a cow and a sheep are butchered, read on. If not, skip to the next paragraph. The process for butchering the sheep and the cow were basically the same, except everything being on a grander scale for the cow. The first step, after slitting the animal’s throat is to take off the skin. Cutting across the belly the men worked with a various assortment of dull knifes until they had the skin mostly peeled off. The carcass remained laying on the pelt of skin. Then the portion of the leg below the knee was taken off, the belly opened and the bowels removed, and lastly the head de-attached. The sheep carcass was laid across a barb wire fence, of course, and the cow, being much too large, was cut up into 6 pieces…four legs and two rib cages. But don’t think that the rest of the animal went to waste. Come to think of it…I didn’t see a darn thing from the animals get thrown away! The only thing that was discarded was the digestive material that was still in the animal’s stomach and digestive tract. A three foot hole was dug and the inner contents were dumped in. I was much impressed by the massive amounts of semi digested grass that came out of the cow…it nearly filled up the whole hole! I have to say I was a bit disgusted watching them clean out the stomach and the intestines, mostly because I knew that I was going to be eating those organs for dinner. The best meat of the cow and sheep was going to be saved for the next day to be eaten after the church service. The night before is always pap, of course, and “mala mogodu” the stomach and intestine of the cow or sheep. I had eaten it before and never really minded it as long as I didn’t look at it too long or smell it, but after watching the whole preparation process from the beginning and seeing what it looked like after phase one…I was having second thoughts about asking for seconds.
After the men had finished cleaning up the two animals and had separated the meat from the not so desirable parts, like the head, I decided that the job, besides cooking, was pretty much wrapped up for the day. I decided to go and properly great the group of women and see what they were doing.
I made my way across the yard and talked with a group of four old women and had a few good laughs together. They then pointed into the almost sealed up tent behind me and told me that the other women were inside peeling vegetables. I ducked my head into the tent and greeted the women warmly. I looked at the massive amounts of carrots, cabbage, potatoes, pumpkin, green beans, and onions that layered the table and floor. I asked if anyone needed a hand and if there was an extra knife so I could help. One of the ladies kindly offered her knife to me and I got to work on peeling the potatoes. After busting through a bag of potatoes together, a woman and I put down our knives on the table and took a breather. At that time, I handed my knife over to another woman so she could take over the next project: green beans.
As I sat their on my chair I started to reflect on the day. I realized how wonderful the whole event was. A large portion of the community had come together this week to help the family putting on the event. This day just demonstrated how much of a community event it was. Every old man, old woman, young man, and young woman was putting their effort into the project. Even the children played around on the outside of the yard, tackling one another and playing chase.
After spending time in the tent, I mingled around the various groups of men and women, spending most of my time next to the fire that was cooking the big pots of pap and “mala mogodu” just to keep myself warm. The sun was going down now (it was almost 5:00pm) and it was getting a bit nippy. Around 6:15 there was a huddle of 20-30 men sitting and standing close to the warmth of the fire, mostly waiting for the food to finish. It wasn’t much longer and then the signal was given as two young men pulled the pots off the fire and started to dish up. This was the moment that had been lingering in the back of my head. What was going to be dished up and was I going to be able to eat it respectively? As the plates started to circle around I was inspecting each one…no doubt about it, that was the stomach I had just seen taken out of a cow 4 hours ago.
I got my plate and thanked them warmly for it, of course. This was the traditional Setswana dish and there was no way I could show any sign of reservation in eating it. I started in on the pap and gravy and found it to be quite palatable actually. The next hardest part was getting into that stomach. I took a bite and ripped off a piece with my front teeth. I started to chew, and boy you had to chew, but all in all it wasn’t too bad. I just had to try and forget about what it looked like before and what came out of it. The next part on the plate was not identifiable. I assumed it was part of an intestine. It looked like two giant elbow macaroni noodles that tasted nothing like macaroni. The texture of the substance made me think that this is what it must feel like to chew on rubber tubing. Huh. Just then, an old man leaned over next to me and told me that if I didn’t clean my plate I would have to pay 20 rand. I knew I could get the pap and stomach part down but the mystery pieces were not possible. I eyed the few dogs roaming the area around the fire and thought about quietly flinging the meat to them, but didn’t want to take the chance of getting caught tossing pieces of precious “meat” to the dogs. I left the two macaroni intestine pieces on my plate and noticed that others hadn’t eaten theirs either so I didn’t feel so bad.
After that “feast” I sat around the fire for another hour with a group of men. For the most part I just sat leaned back in my chair staring into the mesmerizing fire, tossing a few branches in and watching the leaves burst into flames and then feel the heat on my face. Occasionally some of the men would give me a hard time, as they do most people, and I fended there attacks well and laughed along with them at their jokes and questions about American women and my sister, which I told them was already taken. Ha!
After sleep started to creep across me I decided to join a few others as they departed for the way home. Before we left though, I helped carry two large plastic garbage bins full of traditional beer into the little tin shack where two men were busy cutting up the rest of the cow. So that is how the night ended, me putting enough traditional beer to get an elephant drunk into a room with two men wielding dull knifes. I hoped for the best and exited the yard while waving goodbye to the women still there cleaning up for the next day.
So I guess that at some point throughout the 5 hours I decided that I was officially integrated into my village. Maybe it was the warm hugs and handshakes I received when I came to join in the festivities. Maybe it was not getting squeamish as I watched a cow and sheep get dissected before my eyes. Maybe it was peeling dozens of potatoes and chatting jovially with the women in the tent. Maybe it was eating and almost enjoying eating stomach and intestine around a fire with men. Or maybe it was the fact that I had spent 5 enjoyable hours at the event without anything feeling strange. After today’s events, I would tell knew volunteers that they will know when they are integrated when they can participate in a series of different cultural experiences, but never feel like you are out of place. Gosh, it sure feels good to feel at home away from home. J