During Training

We’ve moved to homestays now during training. I’m living with a family in a village here in Mpumalanga province. Everyone’s been very hospitable. They gave me the name “Jabu.” You are free to call me that if you wish. I’m spending a lot of time learning to speak isiZulu, the language I’ve been assigned. There’s lots of dust and sun. It’s actually rather chilly in the morning, but sweltering in the afternoon. There are goats and cows and chickens everywhere in my village, right next to the college where we stayed for the first week. Some houses have flush toilets and showers, others not so much. Mine does, but I’m practising taking bucket baths.

Ok, time to close up shop before I get ripped apart by the hoard of PCTs waiting for internet. Sizobonana loka (we’ll see each other later).

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Onward Ho

Landed in Atlanta for staging yesterday and I’m leaving for Johannesburg later today (a 16 hour flight – time to make some friends I guess?). Staging was pretty much the expected rounds of icebreakers and basic lectures with participatory activities, though with the twist of having had only an hour of sleep going into them thanks to an early flight and pre-trip insomnia.

In other news, I will probably be pretty disconnected from the outside world for a bit (at least a week, most likely a month or two), so this will be my last post for a while. Don’t worry, my silence will not mean that I have been eaten by a lion; that’s on my list for later in the trip.

Book Review: My Traitor’s Heart

Done with what is most likely the last book I’ll get in before leaving: My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan. (I also read Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos, but I think that I’d have an even smaller audience than usual were I to go off on how people can’t understand basic probability. For the record, though, I think that a basic class on how to understand statistics and probability should replace calculus or trig as a basic high school course. </rant>) It’s a hard read; well-written, but a book that leaves you wondering just what to do with the world.

Rian Malan is a journalist from South Africa, who traces his roots to some foundational Afrikaner figures in South African history. Hence one meaning of the title – he is a white liberal journalist who rejects his Afrikaner background. But as the book goes on, the issue becomes more and more of how deep an issue racism is and has been in South Africa, even for someone who ostensibly rejects it. Want to end apartheid? Want to heal the race divisions? Good – now what do you do? What happens when everyone has become too paranoid to lay down arms? What to do when one is called to take sides, or be tortured and killed? What can be done when even the peace-makers are assassinated – and that by the people they were trying to help? And in the midst of this, what can one do when one discovers that despite one’s own pretensions, one is still scared of and completely ignorant of this other world?

So the “traitor’s heart” is as much about Malan’s own darkness that sabotages every attempt at reconciling the races. But through reading his book, I can’t honestly say I’d do any better. And I have absolutely no idea how to do it better.

Which seems to be the best thing I got out of the book – it disabused me of notions that I can go in and fix things, or that I actually understand the racial tensions in the country.

Now on that note, I have less than 48 hours before I fly off to orientation. Time to get packing. Tomorrow.

(Here’s a link to a longer take on the book: http://galbeckerman.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/divided-soul/)

To Do List

In a week, I’ll be in South Africa. I’m pretty pumped at this point; I feel like my life’s been on hold more or less since I started applying for PC, and it’s about ready to pick up again. (Not that good stuff hasn’t been happening in the meantime; it’s always good to spend time with friends and family. But I’m itching to get on with the next stage in my life. And besides, Africa – need I say more?)

I realize that the best thing to expect from PC is absolutely nothing. That said, I would hate to waste the next couple years. So what are some things that I want to get out of it? Here’s my preliminary list:

  • Languages (of course, for anyone who knows me). My main goal is to become fluent in whatever language my site uses. I’m considering starting a translation project in order to force myself to delve deeper into the language – maybe Plato? If any opportunity exists to work on interpretation skills, I’ll take that up as a challenge as well (for reference: translation = written, interpretation = spoken). I also want to revisit my French and my Arabic while I’m there, at least to be able to read the news.
  • Visit every province in SA at least once. It’s such a beautiful and diverse country, that I’d rather spend my vacations exploring it than hopping around the rest of the world. Though I want to make a visit to at least Namibia, to see if I can pick up any textbooks on one of the Khoisan languages. And Victoria Falls isn’t too far away. Maybe a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro after service as well?
  • Get down some routines. I’ll have time to kill and will be pretty much stuck in my hut after dark. So I want to get in the habit of regular exercise (just basic push-ups and core sets; nothing fancy) and meditation.
  • Pick up some African culture. Learn how to dance, get into their music, take up a journal of proverbs that I encounter; perhaps all of the above?

Of course, there will also be the professional goals, but those will have to wait until I get to site and find out what I’m doing and what the village wants from me.

What is Africa?

In under one week, I’ll be heading out to staging, and from there to SA. I guess I’ll be spending the rest of the week packing (and before that, unpacking from my last move).

I’ve heard some concerns about my stay in Africa. People start bringing up the genocides in Rwanda, or political instability in North and West Africa (think Libya, Ivory Coast, Mali, etc.). Or I hear people talking about how hot it’s going to be and how I’m going to burn so easily in the African sun.

As it turns out, I do have to worry about burning, but that is because of the angle of the sun (the Tropic of Capricorn runs through northern SA) and my viciously anti-solar Swedish and Celtic genetics. It will actually be freezing at night when I arrive during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter. And worry about violence stemming from a viewing of Hotel Rwanda or Black Hawk Down? That’s kinda like living in Milwaukee and being anxious about Columbian drug lords.

Africa is big. Africa is diverse. South Africa alone is the size of Texas and California together, with a wide variety of climates and peoples. Here’s a chart to put it in perspective:

The True Size of Africa