Socks and Underwear

Socks and Underwear: September 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You Must Be Free

Uncle Naph was my host father in Marapyane during training. He was certainly one of the most interesting people I have met. I am sure he is interesting even without being from a completely different culture. I am sure he is so interesting other South Africans think to themselves, "boy that Naph is an interesting fellow".

He was less of a host father and more of a roommate. I would try to say "Dumela" to him which is the respectful greeting and he would always say back "Eita" or "Howzit", the more slang greeting. Equivalent to saying "Hello" and receiving "Yo". He didn't try to treat me like a child, which I approved of and he never became overbearing. Unfortunately many other trainees had a family of this nature. It probably helped that I was a male and that it was just me and Uncle Naph. Things were quiet and everyone got along just great.

I would just like to go over a few things enjoyed the most about my stay with Uncle Naph.

These are phrases he would repeat in certain situations, as we all do I guess. His just had more flare and he tended to say things in a way I had never quite heard said before. He speaks very emphatically and loudly and sometimes rises up in intonation at the end. This, I would assume, just comes from the way he speaks Setswana but then again other native Setswana speakers didn't really talk the way he did. He had many but my top five would be:

1. You Must Be Free
He would say this pretty much all the time.

Me: Uncle Naph can I have some tea?


Me:I will be home a little later than normal tonight Uncle Naph.

On one occasion when I had some other trainees over for a little relaxing break he must have dropped his signature line at least a dozen times, an impressive feat. It never got old though and if anything set me at ease. I was indeed free.

2. Man for Himself
He would say this every night at dinner. He would finish cooking then proclaim "MAN FOR HIM-SELF" (I am trying my best to replicate the sounds on paper but it is just not going to happen). I got a good chuckle every time. He was just meaning to say that "I will serve myself and you serve yourself", but I was accustomed to hearing the phrase "Everyman for himself" being applied to situations where a mad scramble should take place. I'll admit it is half my own views on the phrase and half his application, and half the way he would say it. I myself would say it when I would cook but it never turned out quite the same way.

3. They must not talk they must fight!
Turns out Wrestling is very, very popular here in South Africa. You know the wrestling were they don't really wrestle. Well they play that here. Since there are only 4 or so free channels and it is on one of them, most people end up watching it.
So there we were one night. Both of us eating our pap, watching wrestling. As wrestlers often do, one was threatening they other in a most dramatic fashion and at the same time, trying his best to sound genuine. This went on for some time, eventually Uncle Naph has enough and demanded "They must not talk, the must FIGHT". It all seemed so simple. I almost inhaled my pap.

4. If you eat too much you die, if you don't eat you die
Another phrase associated with our daily meals. The best part was that he would say it back to back for emphasis.

Uncle Naph: If you eat to much you die, if you don't eat you die!
Me: Yes, that is true
Uncle Naph: If you eat to much you die, if you don't eat YOU DIE!

5. First Class
This is how he would describe his day. I particularly enjoyed it. It was just so cool. If I were cooler I would say this when describing my day. How was your day Noah? First Class man, first class.

Newspaper Cigarettes
Uncle Naph smoked a lot. Enough so that his laugh was raspy and his coughs were obviously dislodging great masses of phlegm within his chest. Nevertheless smoking makes one look pretty cool. Especially if you roll your own cigarettes. And it makes you extra hard core if you use newspaper for your papers. That's right inhale all that ink, it puts hair on your chest.

For the host family farewell, he wore a beret. Most men don't were berets here. Most men don't were berets anywhere for that matter. Yet, Uncle Naph pulled it off. It made me wonder why he didn't always were a beret, then I realized it wouldn't have as much impact if he did it all the time. I felt honored.

Slingshot/Chicken Trainer Extraordinaire
He had a lot of chickens. Even cooler than that was that he somehow trained them to climb up this scaffold to a tree at night to sleep. It was amazing to watch the chickens line up and one by one climb up into the tree. This was to prevent stray dogs from eating his chickens. Occasionally though he would have to defend his property with force. I never actually saw him hit anything with his slingshot but I assume it was working. He would carry it around like a necklace with the wooden handle in the front, newspaper cigarette dangling from his mouth.

I had a great time living at Uncle Naph's house. Like I said, he respected my privacy. He also recognized that I would do things his way but some things I just am accustomed and comfortable doing my way. I think we understood each other pretty well near the end. One final story, during one of the last weekends of training we drank a whole bunch of whiskey and cokes and watched Rambo First Blood Part II. Awesome.

Monday, September 28, 2009


That last post was written a week ago so I will talk about my dealing with the schools next post. This post I would just like to talk about my increased interactions with animals.

Since I live in a small rural village, most people own animals. Even in Marapyane, a much larger and developed town there were many animals. So I have become accustomed to seeing them in everyday life. I am no longer surprised to see donkeys and horses out in the open or even to see someone riding down the road with his donkey* cart.

Roosters are incredible annoying. How is it that everyone thinks they only crow in the morning? They crow whenever they damn well please, which is all the time. Even more so, if one crows they all crow and then the first one forgets it has already crowed so it replies to the other roosters. Luckily there aren't nearly as many where I live now but they still make their presence known. I may just karate chop one in the neck to see if I can fix its voice box...for good.

Cows are here as well. Always eating, just lying around. I had a recent experience that made me think they are completely helpless creatures. During a nice afternoon chatting with my host family, it came to our attention that a cow had become trapped/stuck in a ditch and needed help to get out. When I finally saw the situation, the cow was stuck in a ditch maybe half a foot deep and a foot across. It must of been an effort to get stuch in a ditch that small. It wasn't even all the way in! It did not seem phased but I am not sure anything phases them now. So we pushed and pulled and finally got it out enough that it could get itself up again- very pathetic. I am conviced it was just seeing how much it could get away with.

My village also has many goats. Up until this moment in my life I am not sure I had ever seen a goat. No more I tell you. They are crafty little suckers. There are a few that are always waiting outside my door and when I open it they scamper away, perhaps they just like the shade. And it is true they will eat almost anything. Any scrap of food I throw out, is gone in a matter of minutes.

This morning I walked into my host family's house to get some coffee powder (all coffee is most likely instant and only about 70% coffee 30% chickoree), there was a large mass on the table with a cloth over it. My natural curiosity got the best of me and upon inspection I found a dead sheep gutted and skinned. I was not nearly as shocked as I should have been, I just slowly lowered the cloth and proceeded to get my coffee and that was that. Perhaps my days at Bloom prepared me for this.

This story brings me to the next part which is of course why everyone owns animals. Thur fer eatin. The South Africans really use every part and eat everything that can be eaten. This means cartilage and tendons, organ meat and the head. This means after finishing a chicken leg there is a little pile of bones. I have gotten better at this since being here, half because I have grown accustomed to it with baby steps and half I feel like a complete snob when I only eat the meat and the little kids around me are easily sucking out the marrow of the bones.

The other day the kids in my family slaughtered two chickens. I had never seen this process before and was interested to see it happen. My host father in Marapyane had killed several chickens for our supper but I had never seen the process. It was a lot of work. The killing was done relatively quickly, in front of the smallest children by the way who were completely fine with the whole process. Then came the dipping in scalding water to take out the feathers, followed by the butchering. They kept everthing they could, which really only excluded the gall bladder. S0 for lunch that day I had chicken feet, intestines, stomach, and liver with a side of pap. Pap is the staple food of South Africa. Recipe is as follows:

Boil Water
Add Maize Meal (Corn Flour)
Add more Maize Meal
Stir some more

You now have a heaping pile of pap. It is flavorless and contains really very little nourishment but of course fills one up. I have had quite a bit of pap since being here.

I was proud of myself, I ate almost everything. The chicken feet were a little too much, I am not sure what you are supposed to eat. The rest tasted chicken. Except the liver, I am not sure what it tasted like but it wasn't completely awful. Right now, my host family is cooking the sheep I found this morning, there is a big pot they are cooking the meat (everything) and another where they are cooking the head. I'll tell you how that goes.

This is of course not the normal South African meal, it is just something that will occasionally be eaten because it is there and should not be wasted. That is to say I have been here 2 months and this is the first time I have had this meal. It is mostly meat and pap or rice, sometimes there is a side dish (common dishes include a stewed cabbage (delightful), squash, vegetable gravy). Sometimes there is no meat. Sometimes there is no meal, it all depends.

I am appreciative to know what goes into my food and how its made and it makes the meal all the more interesting. And having all the animals around is like having several enormous pets all about, except occasionally you will eat one. I could do without the roosters though.

*"Donky" in Setswana is "Tonkie", easiest word to learn or maybe just my favorite.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I am now at site. I have decided to stop my chronicling style entries because there is just too much happening to keep up with. This leads me to not write as often. Things may seem disconnected this way but at least I will post more.

Anyhow, I am sure to talk about training more as I go along but now all I can say is that it was frustrating and at times mind numbing with moments of great interest. I am glad to be done with it but will miss the people who were there with me.

I am unable to actually tell the name of my village because South African internet tsotsis may be monitoring volunteer blogs and could strike. Therefore I will say that I live in a rural community in the Northwest. Living is easy and slow. I am with a family of 6 including 1 Grandmother (Gogo) and 5 grandchildren. The parents of the grandchildren are all working or going to school in bigger cities in South African, leaving the children here for their own schooling. The are all of very different ages ranging from 2 to 16.Needless to say there is a lot of activity at my home.

I have my own little house arranged close to the main house. It is small but it suits my needs.

The weekend was nice to relax and get myself situated and orientated. I have mostly done that but will continue to tweak and move as I get/get rid of things. Tomorrow I will start with my Phase 2 aka community integration aka lockdown. I plan on interviewing some teachers so I am going to were my teacher/professional uniform and generally look like I belong there.

I am a bit nervous but I cannot show any fear. How am I to go in there and tell people who have been teaching all their lives how to teach? It will be a learning experience.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The inaugural post. I wrote this somewhere during training. This is only a short snippet of training but it is something. More will be revealed as time goes on.

Since it is now 1 month and some change into my South Africa stay and peace corps training, I now have to backtrack to start at the beginning. I will sum it up very quickly.

I was nervous about staging but it wasn't that bad. They gave us a nice allowance and I had Mexican food for my last meal in the U.S. The flight was long and exhausting. Again it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be but one cannot have too much fun sitting down without much sleep for 18 hours. The journey was interrupted with sadness when I broke my headphones. I left them plugged in, then I got up and when I sat back down I broke the plug
clean off, I SIT WITH POWER. I am over it now.

We arrived, went painlessly through customs then grouped our luggage for our 1.5 hour bus ride to Marapyane. At this time I still could have been anywhere in the world after seeing an airport and the streets of Jo-burg. The ride through the darkness did not give any clues either. I was on the verge of collpasing with exhaustion but our trainers were waiting for us to arrive and greeted us with song and dance. It was amazing, I was feeding off the energy and I was happy to be in South Africa. We then had a quick South African style buffet and were given our dorms to get some rest.

The first week was like the first year of college. We were all in dorms and spending most of the day with each other. Language was in the morning then we had technical sessions which are mostly comprised of teaching theory classes. Every now and then we would have skits or sessions on the culture of South Africa. There was a lot to adjust to adjust but I was so busy I didn't really feel stressed. We had tea time several times a day and almost everyone was asleep by 10. I had just enough of that life that I was getting comfortable when we were given our home stays in the surrounding villages of the college.

The day was a bit of a spectacle. We got all dressed in the morning to meet our host families. We all paraded into the dining hall were all the families were lined up on one side. Our chairs were on the other side. There we were facing each other with anticipation, it was a South African cotillion. Then each trainees name was read followed by the host family and they met and walked out. The man I would be staying with was at a funeral so a family representative came instead. I am still unsure of the relationship but I think it it his son-in-law's niece. In any case we all sat around waiting to be dropped off in our homes for the next 7 weeks.
This of course was more of a hassle than it would seem because we had all our luggage as well as a couple of boxes of food to take with us so only so many went on each trip. At this time there were no major problems, everyone found a house and had a family to help them. Some were farther than others, some had nicer accommodations than others but that will be a topic for next post.