Voortrekker Museum Trip

Last weekend (when I wrote this; 2-3 weekends back now) I was able to set up the posts that I had written the night before, but unfortunately I had no time to write about what actually happened that day. We made a trip out to Pretoria, one of the capitals of SA, a city just a bit northeast of Jo’burg. We visited the PC office there and then headed out to a memorial called the Voortrekker Museum.

The Voortrekkers were a group of Afrikaners in the 19th century who, in order to escape British rule, migrated east and north. The word itself comes from “voor”, or “fore-”, and “trekker”, people taking a journey – so the people setting out in front, or pioneers.

And if that starts sounding a bit like westward expansion in the US, you’d be right. So right, in fact, that I could probably transplant much of the museum unedited into a Wild West museum in the states without anyone noticing – even the styles of clothing were well nigh identical. Just replace the noble/barbaric Africans with noble/barbaric Native Americans, throw in the religious sentiments of the Puritans and the anti-British-rule sentiments of the revolutionaries, and it’s a wrap.

Despite the inevitable bias of the trip (evidently, the Voortrekkers were more or less responsible for civilization in SA, since it all started after the trek), it was nice to see something about Afrikaner self-identity other than apartheid. And it’s a bit harder to judge them when I see such similarities between the stories they tell themselves and the ones I hear in America. I’m not saying that there’s nothing left out in these stories, no atrocities glazed over, but rather that I can step back and feel like at least our faults are held in common. Which offers some hope that if there are Americans rolling their eyes at their chauvinist stories, then there might just well be that same sort of segment of the Afrikaner population here.

Afterward, we visited our most exciting landmark yet – a mall. I’ll talk about that more in the next post.


Site Announcements

I have some other blog posts I’ve written, but I’m going to put this one up first. Most of PST (pre-service training) has been building up to one key moment: site announcements. Where will we spend the next two years? Do we or don’t we have electricity? (And despite South Africa’s reputation as a “posh corps” destination, quite a few people in our group will not have electricity at home.) Which other trainees will be around us? What will our schools be expecting of us?

So I got…. (Drumroll) … Actually, I can’t say the exact name of the village on this blog for safety reasons. But I can say that it has a fun click in the name and that I am the closest volunteer to the Drakensberg mountains, not too far from the Lesotho border. It sounds like I might be getting a lot of visitors for that fact alone, although the fact that I’m not too far from Pietermaritzburg and Durban won’t hurt either. (Though that doesn’t mean that there’s anything urban about my site – South Africa can go from 1st world to 3rd world in a heartbeat, and my village will be in a deep rural setting with very traditional Zulu culture.)

I will be the first volunteer in my village, as will be everyone in my region – which is both scary and exciting. They want first and foremost an English teacher for about any grade up until 7, and secondly a middle school math teacher. So it looks like I may get to teach both. The community wants me to work on permagardens and to coach either soccer or cricket – I kind of want to coach cricket just to say that I have. And the chief evidently is setting up a traditional welcome ceremony for me when I arrive. So all in all, I’m pretty stoked about my site.

And yes, I do have electricity, at least if they install the outlet in my room.


Africans are clean. Everything here is clean. Shoes? Better be polished, despite the massive amounts of red dust around. Evidently, people carry a dusting rag on them at all times for their shoes. My LCF (language & cultural facilitator – that is, my isiZulu instructor) gave us a tip about carrying liquid polish around. Clothes must always be pressed and ironed. Always. And I’m forever brushing the dust off of them too – I really have absolutely no idea how the dust gets everywhere, but I’m regretting bringing black pants at the moment.

Baths are also important. People might use bucket baths (even in my house, where they have a working bathtub and shower head), but they still bathe at least once a day, if not more. Evidently one of the biggest cultural clashes here with home families is that Americans just don’t bathe enough. Smelly Americans. (Yes, I do bathe regularly, even on cold mornings.)

Every spare moment people have, they’re doing laundry or cleaning the house. All. The. Time. Seriously, everything here looks immaculate. Yes, for those of you who know me, this is going to be a bit of a challenge.

Why is cleanliness so important? Some PCVs suggested that people don’t feel like they have control over most of their lives, so they want to control what little they can. From a more straightforward and practical standpoint, my LCF pointed out that we just don’t have nearly as much dust in where we are from in the US. But at any rate, it’s interesting coming to a culture that has bucket bathes and pit latrines, yet where we are considered to be the dirty ones.


There are so many languages around. I’ll sometimes sit through the first 15 minutes of a soap opera here in South Africa called Generations. (I can’t manage much longer than that. Everyone tells me that all the PCVs eventually get addicted, largely because absolutely everyone in SA watches the show, which has been on since the late 80s. I’m not holding my breath.) They switch languages in the middle of almost every sentence. No, that is not an exaggeration. They start in isiZulu, or sePedi, then finish the sentence in English or Afrikaans. I asked my host family whether people actually speak like that, and they answered that this actually is fairly common.

IsiZulu borrows a lot from English. It is not at all uncommon for people to say “ngi-right” in response to how they are doing – “I am alright.” We encounter many words like “icooldrinki” for soft drink, “ikati” for cat, “uthisha” for teacher, “icomputer,” and so on. If you don’t know the isiZulu word for something, just stick an i- in front of an English word. Or there is a phrase we heard our first night here is SA that sounded something like “shop” or “shap.” People say it all the time – it’s pretty much the equivalent of American English “cool,” with maybe a dash of “ok” and “alright” mixed in. We thought that it must be some isiZulu word or something. Nope, it’s just “sharp” with the British accent evicting the r.

I see a the number of languages even here in my village. When I greet somebody, I usually use the isiZulu “Sawubona.” Often people will respond in English – they don’t necessarily know much English, but they can say “Hi” and “How are you.” I think that as people start recognizing us odd white people in the village, they more often respond with the “Yebo” I’m expecting (the response for isiZulu, which I am learning; for isiNdebele, the main language of the region; and for siSwati, another language being learned by trainees and the main language of Swaziland). Occasionally, though, I’ll get a “Dumela” or “Egee” (or however it’s written) – that means that I’m speaking to a sePedi or a seSotho speaker. And I’ve had to tell a number of people (usually the gogos, that is, the grandmothers) “Ek praat nie Afrikaans nie” – I don’t speak Afrikaans.

On top of that, I’m kind of hoping to maybe pick up some materials on xiTsonga while I’m here. It’s supposed to be very soft and romantic, and I’m all about being able to chat up people in a sexy language. (I didn’t say I was any good at doing so.)


Food here in SA has actually been rather tasty. There’s lots of vegetables – it’s easy being a vegetarian in SA. I eat cabbage regularly, with occasional helpings of butternut squash, beetroot, and potatoes. All of it fried in oil – they go through oil like crazy here. And there’s this stuff called pap. It’s basically a helping of pure starch, formed from corn meal. I go back and forth on whether I like it or not. By itself, it is quite bland and tasteless, but it goes well with many of the side dishes.

And speaking of side dishes, they even have a word for “food served alongside pap.” Every single meal here is served with either pap, or some carby substitute like bread or rice. With the exception of rice, the carb portion serves an important role – it’s the silverware. People take a piece of bread or scoop up some scorching hot pap with their hand and use it to eat the rest of the meal. (My host family has a PC trainee stay with them before, so they usually give me a fork so that the nerve endings in my weak American fingers don’t burn out.) Even when they eat chips (er, french fries), they will scoop them up with bread instead of picking up the chips directly. My first meal at my host family’s house was in fact this sort of chip sandwich.

I didn’t drink a whole lot of soda in the states, but I’ve been getting addicted to Stoney Ginger Beer here. It’s a little sweeter than I would like, but it is very gingery – quite a bit more so than Canada Dry or Vernor’s. I was recently introduced to Iron Brew as well, which is a little like Dr. Pepper. Hopefully I can also explore the SA wine industry a bit once I get settled in.


It’s been a while since I last posted. Internet access is pretty low, and when I can get to it, so can the long line of other PCTs behind me. So now I finally have a bit of time to go into more detail than a few cryptic FB status updates.

Music and dance have been one of the most significant shared experiences I’ve had here. My one host brother keeps telling me how he loves “my music,” which seems to mostly mean Phil Collins. When Thriller came up on my playlist, he excitedly ran to his room and showed me a remix he had on his computer. I’ve held dance parties with both of my host brothers, one 22 and the other 11, and have given impromptu lessons on how to moonwalk. I’ve also been schooled by a fellow I ran into in Limpopo, who started teaching me the basics of hip hop dance. (To do once I get into my site: find a dance tutor.)

I’ve started some transcriptions and translations here, to help practice my isiZulu and to help my host brother with his English. He was thrilled when he heard that I knew Toto’s Africa (I may have had it constantly playing before coming over here to SA). So I wrote down the lyrics for him to practise his English. I also started my own home-brew isiZulu version of “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

My flute seems to be a hit here as well. My other, younger host brother got excited when I brought out my flute and started playing Irish tunes. I let him try to play it – he hummed the song which I had been playing into the mouthpiece. He then proceeded to get out his little electric keyboard to play for me.

I have a ton more to say, but instead of creating one huge post, I’m going to break it up into a few topics and schedule my blog to post something every few days.