Side Blog

I’m going to focus in the blog mainly on what is going on in my life as a PCV or in the Rainbow Nation here (as peeps are wont to call it). However, I also want to examine what it’s been like to study a language radically different from English, in a two-month intensive setting. I’ll put articles up here: Experiments in Language.



I’ve been at site for a little more than a week now. People who have been following my FB pics will know how beautiful this place is – the view right outside my window is like a painting. Such a nice change from the barren, flat desert of northwest Mpumalanga.

Also striking is the contrast between the developed and developing worlds here. I’m in a mountain village, without running water or even wells. I’m a distance from the tar road. Most people here don’t speak much English. The nearest shop to buy anything at all from is probably a 45 minute walk, at the opposite end of the village, up and down mountain roads. Students have to walk as much as 10 km every day to get to a school with very limited resources.

But most people seem to have cell phones – land lines skipped over places like this. There is electricity. Teachers come from big cities – the principal even has a house in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of KZN. I’m only 30-45 minutes (depending on who is driving) from a town with coffee shops and a grocery store that would fit into a well-to-do American suburb. And a KFC as well, though that is hardly uncommon here.

South Africa really can’t decide what sort of country to be. It’s an interesting blend of just about anything you can think of.

At Site – Kulezo ntaba

Moved into my site yesterday where I’ll be staying for the next couple of years. It was a bit of a drive down here, moving from the dry, flat desert on the border of Limpopo to the chilly and foggy mountains of the Drakensberg region. It’s beautiful here. A lot of the area feels like Wisconsin or Michigan placed into mountains, so I feel right at home. My family and school were extremely welcoming – the school staff waited to greet me when I arrived. The school so far looks very well-put together. I have a two room building to myself in my family’s yard (painted neon-green on the inside). Life is good.

Swearing In

Today is our official swearing in ceremony. No, I’m not actually at a computer, I just typed this up a few days ago since I have absolutely no idea when I’m going to have internet access again – and WordPress doesn’t seem to work well on a Blackberry.

This is the next big moment in PST, although after site announcements it’s kind of felt like we’re just waiting to get out into the field. Before, we’ve only been PCTs – Peace Corps Trainees. Now, though, we can call ourselves volunteers for real. We have our ceremony and take our oath, perhaps in front of important people like the ambassador. We’ve prepared a speech. One that has also been translated into isiZulu. One that yours truly will have to present in front of such a prestigious audience. Meep. At this point, I will have probably been rehearsing it like crazy and doing my best to actually get the tones of isiZulu right. I’ll have to jot down here how it all went – though if you don’t see anything on the news about some crazy American resurrecting the Zulu Empire, I probably didn’t mess up the speech too badly.

Now, tomorrow we’re off to our sites. Time to see the Sisonke region for the first time in my life – home for the next two years. I’ll probably feel compelled to write the next blog post in Zulu. Feel free to picture me wearing traditional skins and waving a spear and shield. Hambani kahle, y’all.


What was this mall like? The bookstore stank, so I can’t really give it a 5-star rating, but it was good to go and get tasty food. It was also a fun economic lesson. When I entered, I noticed that the food courts were almost entirely sit-down restaurants instead of fast food joints. Is Pretoria just that upper class? Not quite. Let’s compare prices. My book (Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, which I’ve already finished by now)? 149 rand, or almost $20 (appr. 8 rand to 1 dollar). A single fast food pita at Nando’s? 39 rand, almost $5 (btw, Peri-Peri sauce is delicious). Lunch special at a sit-down Italian Cafe, together with tip, tax, and even a shot of rather good grappa? 60 rand, or $7.50.

This seems to fit with a lot of what I see in SA. Goods like books are basically the same price as anywhere else. Economists call this the Law of One Price – basically, if goods were cheaper in one place than anywhere else, everyone would buy their supplies there and sell them elsewhere for a profit. Sellers would capitalize and charge more, and long story short, goods everywhere will be the same price – at least when transport costs and time are irrelevant. Fast food is a bit more iffy. They have ready transportation available, work across countries with multiple hubs, probably use some cheaper ingredients, and so on. But they still deal in food. So while a $20 book here might if anything be cheaper elsewhere, I actually save a bit of money on my $5 pita (probably $6-$7 in the states). And my Italian lunch? Dirt cheap – easily half the price of an equivalent in the US. Draw the inferences you want. (For further reference, I can – and very often do – get avocados here for 2 rand an avocado, or $.25.)

SA also has crazy customs taxes. I walked into a liquor store to buy of bottle of something to keep on hand. I started to look for whiskey, my poison of choice. However, even a bottle of Jack Daniel’s costs upwards of 200 rand. A brand of SA brandy, though, cost 70 rand – and despite costing less than $10, tasted much better than must $20 liquors I could find in the states. So in general, imports here are ridiculously priced, but some SA goods are cheap and of good quality.

Also concerning customs taxes – it applies to mail as well. Please, please, please, do not send me valuables in the mail. They can be stolen, yes, but it’s expensive for me. One person in our group already had to pay over $100 (yes, US dollars) to accept a package which only contained an old blazer of his. When marking down the value of things, say that something is used and so only worth a buck or so. Or, you know, if you have a hankering to send me less taxed “educational” or “religious” materials, I’ll understand.