South Africa is unique with respect to PCV living accommodations. Everyone is required to live with a family. It definitely has its pros and cons but overall I am enjoying the experience. Here is a brief look at what my host family is like. I haven't put their names in to protect the innocent (maybe later, also pictures!).
The matriarch, the head of the of the clan. Technically not really, but as far as I am concerned she is. During my site visit I went over a family tree with her and her granddaughter and it was most impressive. Impressive in the sense that she could do it all from memory and that so many were close by (next door neighbors). The real matriarch is her late husband’s mother (her mother-in-law) but she doesn't figure much into my picture so far. She lives next-door in a rondaval, a traditional African home, it is circular with a grass roof. Apparently they keep quite cool, I hope to find out for myself some day.
Anyhow she is the top dog. I don't know exactly what her income is to support the children of the household. If I had to guess I would say it is a combination of money sent by her children, possible a pension, and money left by her husband.
Interesting Note: She grew up in Pretoria and Afrikaans is her first language. She learned Setswana when she came up to this region. I'm thinking she will help a great deal my language learning. It also seems like she is a bit of a "fixer" in the community, if anyone has problems she is usually on the shortlist to help. She also occasionally bakes some seriously tasty bread. I have been enjoying "fat cakes" quite a bit. They are not as sweet as you might expect from the name but very tasty nonetheless.
The eldest male in the house- except for me HAHAHHAHAHHAHAHHA. No, he is the one responsible for everything really, well him and his cousin (the next eldest grandchild). I am basically the youngest because I can't talk to anyone and whenever I try to do something for myself everyone thinks I am doing it totally wrong...and sometimes I wet myself. I am not completely helpless, I don't think, it's just I don't do everything the same way they do. For instance they insist I actually scrub the clothes when I wash but I would much rather let them soak for a good hour and then rinse and dry with some slight agitation mixed in. The work to clean ratio is just right. I really just want the clothes to smell clean, actually being clean is not important.
Anyhow he is in High School therefore I can carry on the most conversation with him. The language of instruction in the schools switches to English in grade 3. So everyone who makes it to and through High School can manage in English. His English is still limited so I don't think he exactly likes talking with me but he does occasionally.
Interesting Note: He likes to sing, but not in the modern sense. He likes to sing with a deep opera voice. He's good too. It's the funniest thing to wake up to him belting out some song operatic style while he is off to school or herding the goats. Speaking of going off to school, he has to walk to the next nearest town to go, which is 7 km away.
The eldest female grandchild. She is in middle school and my reading is that she is right were a typical middle school-er would be. Very concerned with looking cool and generally disinterested with school/important matters. If I have offended any middle school girls with that sweeping generalization, deal with it.
She is a little harsh to her younger cousins (basically her siblings) but I've also seen her take care of them with great empathy. All attempts to speak with her have proven unsuccessful. She will either nod yes, no, or will just nor reply. Will be a tough nut to crack but time is on my side.
Interesting Note: South Africa is a religious country and that religion is Christian. Only the Grandmother in my host family goes to church so I don't really know about the kids. Her grandmother was off to church one particular Sunday and requested K to grab a bible from a neighbor and bring it back to the house. Upon returning she jumped up on to the porch stoop, and shouted with her deepest Tswana conviction some verse. At the time I didn't know it was the bible but the act was unmistakable, she was channeling the spirit. I am unsure if she meant it to be mocking but that's how I took it.
Youngest male in the home. He is in one of the primary schools I am working with so I guess that is good for me but bad for him. I am going to be all over him to get his homework done plus extra special bonus work! I have had the least interaction with him so far. Maybe shy, maybe he just doesn't like the way I look. Conversation is also difficult, instead of yes or no however, he will most likely always say "yes".
Me: Do you want to play a game?
S: Yes (walks away)
He gets picked on by his older siblings but that is just the plight of the younger brother, I can sympathize. It will just make him stronger.
Interesting Note: Marbles are a big thing amongst the little boys around these parts. I am not sure if it is the same game played in America 40 years ago or not but it looks interesting. I once saw him line up a shot from 4 feet and ricochet off two marbles like it was nothing. He also always carries them around all the time. You can tell when he is near from the clacking of marbles in his pockets.
She is a little firecracker this one. Her voice is way to scratchy and deep for a 3-4 year old, but it gives her character. She is probably the only one that came up to me on her own accord. I'd like to think I just looked too much fun not to play with but I think she just wanted the attention. Very mischievous, since she is always with her little cousin, she is most likely the source of the little one crying. I don't think she is naturally cruel, I think she just gets bored and will just taunt or tease her. Probably my greatest ally here, if I can learn to speak well enough to speak with her I will be in the family.
Interesting Note: I tried to teach her the different cards in a deck of playing cards. She would guess randomly until she got one right and then stay on that number for the next 10 cards. Eight, No, Eight, No, Eight, No, Eight, No. It was interesting to say the least. Something to work on.
The baby of a family. Not just because of birth order, she is actually still a baby. Maybe toddler is more appropriate. I think maybe 2. She can stand but has not been potty trained so there is that.
"How smart can they be? They still poop their pants!" my friend Eric once said to me after seeing the cover for Baby Geniuses. This is the struggle I have with this baby girl. She is very clever and very stupid at the same time. For the first couple of days she would cry her face off at me until she got what she wanted, after which time she would completely shut it off as if she were totally even keeled. Played me for a chump. She has also been caught eating toothpaste, dirt, and plastic. I am pretty sure she would have died by now if not for supervision. At the same time, if you can't read and nobody has told you, why not eat toothpaste? It is like liquid mint candy! And if you don't know any better, dirt could totally make you super strong if you eat it by the handful. Totally adorable though. When she is not crying or completely filthy she is a delight.
Interesting Note: She is amused by the most mundane which I find fascinating. Why haven't I been hanging out with more babies. I can do my same tricks for hours and they are still entertained. Surprisingly, trying to decipher her Setswana is the most difficult . You would think it would be super simple and basic. I guess it is but it is also mixed with baby rambling and with nonsense words. Not to mention the poor grammar and pronunciation! During one
particular attempt to crack the code, I broke down and asked the Grandmother what she was saying, it sounded really profound and coherent and with such conviction. "She is saying 'Uncle Itumeleng over and over". Itumeleng is my Setswana name here, so I really should have nailed that one.