This blog and all its random content is about keeping you in the know about my work and activities. Making you all jealous is a secondary although very important result of this. Read and enjoy or send me an email or two if you get the chance.
I will update this information and other information as I figure it out.
Miss you all,
I can’t help myself.
Six months ago, this was a dream. One that I couldn’t wait to start. For some reason I now find myself cheering for the end. I guess I am programmed this way, I can’t tear my eyes away from a hollywood car crash and I can’t help but countdown my time remaining.
It has been very difficult and undoubtedly worthwhile. I have had a difficult time explaining all that I am doing/have done to friends and family. I know this because they all appear to make up a story when others ask them what happened to their “skinny friend”. Later they inform me about what they have told others, and usually they are close. Likely I would have a tough time doing better in describing what I have done. However, this isn’t what I am thinking about at this stage. I mean I still worry that I won’t get all that stuff done, and that the stuff I have done is mostly fluff, and oh how I hate fluff. I am the kind of person that likes to point to things and say “Look! I have built a shoddy raft, come float in peril with me”. The problem is I am woe to point to things.
Luckily this wasn’t one of those point at accomplishments endeavours, this was a selfish growth, learning and sharing social adventure. I believe others have learned, and gained from my presence. I know I have. My eyes are more open now than before. South Africa seems to have a lot of what I needed to figure out. Unemployment, activism, politics, racism, religion. When we open our eyes we see more clearly (corrective lenses aside). I know who I am, I see the qualities in others which I myself strive for, and most of all I am beginning to understand my strengths and limitations. At this time I am thinking about what I have gained, and where I will go, and it remains a bit foggy. At least my time here has provided some markers for my path ahead.
This isn’t my last post, but it is pretty close. My countdown tells me little time remains to complete all of the tasks I have set out for myself. I am excited, and I am frightened. There is never enough time.
Today’s as good a day as any, wet, miserable, starting to feel a lot like Christmas – except for 25 degrees. Blog I shall.
I have had a busy few weeks, taking time to travel with some friends and showing them the work that I am doing here. They even joined me in demonstrating our “world’s worst builder” skills. Two doors, and a broken lock later the library was almost worse off than when we had first arrived. Okay it wasn’t that bad, and the library – the Mtambo Library at Ekwaluseni High School in Woodford, provides an asset for the community and broader area which should excite youth and learners in the area as never before. I have spoken of the library and my organizations work there before (it formed part of our volunteer work for Mandela Day), but this week was a culmination of my programs efforts and the communities dogged determination to complete this work.
The day couldn’t have been nicer, bookended by days of rain the sun shone bright and warm. Even a slight breeze from Lesotho gently kept the bugs away and some of the sweat off of the crowds backs. The typical political pleasantries were the order of the day, although sprinkled throughout were works of poetry and traditional dances of the adjoining high school. Exciting and unexpected, connecting users with funders.
There are no opportunities in my community. Jobs are what you make for yourself, and only 4% of residents in my entire community have gone on to university or college programs. When children dream about their futures, it gets kind of bleak. Children desire for the stars, but when they are only aware of police, doctors, teachers and grocery or hardware ownership as professions their vision is cut off from rest of the sky.
Personally, I love me a good book. I remember the excitement of a monthly scholastic book fair, and getting lost in a Dictionary of Dinosaurs, and an Atlas of the World. I have met some quizzical faces when detailing my youthful passion for anthropology, not the usual laughter just suspicion that I have made up a word. I endlessly hear that the Zulu people are from a tradition of oral history and story-telling. Perhaps, such traditions don’t work in a modern age of cell phones, interconnectedness and HIV/AIDS. Maybe the stories aren’t being passed on, and clearly there are more opportunities for youth than history would suggest. Youth in Woodford and the surrounding communities, now have a resource which they would otherwise not have. Hopefully this means a future with more options and brighter outlooks.
I could speak of the trials and hardships of this ‘community-led’ project, but that is not what the community spoke of, they spoke of opportunity and resiliance, strength and hope. We learn from our mistakes and record them so that others may not repeat. Thank you’s were uttered and I will do the same. Thank you Canada, taxpayers, the Coady Institute and three friends from Guelph. You did us all proud on that day. A few students were already hanging around in the weeks I worked to finish, noses dusty from a national geographic, encyclopedia or racy love novel I will never know. Reading is powerful, personal and purposeful. It isn’t for everyone, but for that one reader in every family a library is your platform for adventure and contemplation. Woodford, this one’s for you.
It had been in the planning for quite some time, none of us actually thinking it possible. Seven interns setting the lives they have been engrossed in for the previous five months aside to meet up, explore and share in what we have all accomplished. Likely the only reason it all happened was due to the draw of the location itself and the crazy few who don’t take no for an answer.
If you talk to any person in Southern Africa, they will wax poetically of their time spent (if so fortunate) in the “Mother City”. The location from which european influence spread across this fair land. Dutch, English, Malaysian and African cultures influenced this city although other nations can be viewed on every street corner. A Malawian, and Zimbabwean taxi driver, ethiopian, american, mexican, irish, peruvian foods and tourists from all corners of the globe fill the streets. What would 7 Canadians get up to?
Walking, running, exhaustive Table Mountain hiking, but hey the views were well worth it.
Top of Table Mountain, second time up, the joints felt like they didn’t belong to me anymore. Thankfully I was able to meet up with some of the crew and marvel in the sites while swapping horror stories of the climb up…
…and getting lost in the curving paths of Echo Valley. Distant voices told me I was still on earth, and if my body hadn’t been so beaten up, perhaps the serenade of frogs, birds and running water might have made me stay for longer….
…or perhaps I had stayed just long enough. Started to set up camp in the Fynbos forests, and rock outcrops, reminded me a great deal of Killarney Ontario and some other more distant travels. The air was cool due to a steady wind, but the ground was warm, and water which was everywhere around me let off heat as you travelled over it. I had brought my towel to go for a swim in a reservoir on top, time didn’t allow but the towel came in handy to maximize my relaxation ergonomics.
Random new friends, unexpected wine tours and sunset brews on the beach.
The white sand beach, at the top of Table Mountain? A destination, which never really worked out. I had stumbled upon it with no time, and perhaps another day will allow for a refreshing dip.
Harbourfront at sunset, returning from Robben Island the maximum security prison, where lepers to treasonous leaders where imprisoned. You might have heard of some of them, Robert Sobukwe, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma? Thats two presidents and the thirds father since 1994.
Oh and heres the crew all smiles, after a short communal nap on the hot and steamy ferry. A 7km journey with a window view of a storage box. At least the educational video was informative and the multiple playings reinforced the message. I decided to spend time outside on the way back and struck up conversations with a deck hand about income sharing with his family and a graduate student from Amsterdam looking into the Indian Culture of Cape Town.
SHARK BAIT: Great White Cage Viewing. Epic. Tuna heads and chum as my companions and 5 Canadian cage mates to ensure my sphincter remained in control as a 3.7m Great White rubbed on by.
I think it was agreed, that Cape Town was an out of the ordinary, wonderful time for all of us Coady interns. Something we had all looked forward to, and while living large in the moment. It was something I will never regret and look back fondly upon, however it is difficult to switch off thoughts of poverty and exclusion which exist all around. As the great Ivan, our winery tour driver kindly pointed out, Cape Town is no different from the rest of South Africa. There exists clear separation of incomes, typically along race lines. Life remains a struggle, but there are opportunities. Ivan rides his bike to work every day, rain nor wind will stop his 60km trip. He takes care of 19 family members living in his house, and while in his early 60’s has no regrets, loves his wife of 35 years and is taking it easy on fatty foods. Sounds a little like my dad – minus the diet restrictions.
I would like to read a few excerpts from journal of last week, nothing emotional, just some of the experiences I was fortunate to partake in thanks to the suggestions of a canadian professor and some coworkers looking for a practical joke. For four days, I was able to live and share stories with a wonderful man, a Mkulo, a grandfather, 16 children, 4 wives (one at a time), and the owner of a little piece of heaven in the hills. While he kept telling me he was 73 years old, I found it difficult to keep up with his wiry frame as he strolled ahead, dusty blue croc sandals, faded brown umbrella and old “Tangy” plastic water bottle. Hopefully he is fortunate to live an 73 years, because with the all the plans he has for the place (swimming pool, fish ponds, horse stables, dining hall), he is going to need them.
Tuesday Oct. 8 – 2:30pm
I crossed a log bridge after hopping out of the bakkie, and this was just to get to Nonku’s (coworker) house. After some quick hellos and a drop off of requested food (cornflakes), we continued on toward the mountain Musa had said I could name after myself – ya the one way off in the horizon. We walked up steep cattle paths, following the footsteps of the beasts and their shepherds who each day search out for pasture and lost friends. At the top of a small rise, after crossing a haphazard barbed wire fence my home was before me. A tin shack, and a low rondeval. Soon enough Mkulo came sauntering out of the field, he had been talking to the shepherd boys and chasing those damned goats who have a taste for his sprouting sugar beans ( you can see the gleam in their eyes even at the mention of it).
My coworkers soon left me to this mountain man and from the get go he set about showing me how much he loved this land, the place he has grown up in and made his own. Birds in the valley forests tell of when farmers should plant, a mountain flower whose root can get your clothing bleach white, and a tale of a serpent with a rabbit’s head who takes hold of idle walkers on the mountain slopes. We spent the afternoon discussing his trees, irrigation works, and plans for the future. And then I was alone, hiding out in my little rondeval with candle light to read by and a sledge hammer as my door stop and potential last line of defence from prowling baboons after my nuts. Oh forgot to mention, I had only brought nut and bean products as my source of nutrients, ya admittedly not the smartest planner when it comes to menus – Sugar beans, chickpeas, pecans, peanut butter. Needless to say I was a bit woozy by the last day, and that wasn’t just the water.
Wednesday Oct 9
Awoke to light bursting through the frame of my tiny door, only a sledgehammer to hold it back. After a delicious breakfast of peanut butter on already stale bread I head for the water to freshen up for my host. A small river cuts around the property creating a steep cliff face to the one boundary side. Waterfalls, cascades, and pools are steps along this river and I hop from one rock to the next aware that under the very next one likely awaits a rabbit headed snake. Sadly I only come across herons, tadpoles, freshwater crabs and two lizards. I spend the morning waiting with Mkulo for the inevitable goat assualt. Alas, they are playing mind games with us and do not show. However, over this time we water most of his one hectare garden, and transplant 10 metres of beets into neat rows. This man has over the past three years turned over all of this land by hand, breaking sod that for millennia has been growing thick deep roots to survive the dry seasons. Everything I touched and saw on his land, he had hauled on his head the 45 minutes up the mountain. At 2 pm we set off to go explore the “large cave” and see a part of his backyard.
No walk is simple with this man, although there may be a straight path there is little reason to travel it when there is a world to explore between point A and B. The cave and hike along the slopes of mountains was impressive, following routes I couldn’t imagine cattle entertaining, only to be proven wrong at the next point when one looks up while chewing some undoubtedly delicious spring cud. The cave.. er more of a great overhang could hold shepherds and their flocks comfortably, should a rainstorm make need for such services, however on this occasion we found it empty and silent. Jagged rocks which clearly shed from the wall above made us hesitant to stay long. Our route home none the straighter, my body already ached for the cool comfort of my grass mat and sleeping bag. Mkulo however, has other plans and consistently suggested we go look at some other point, and only when we arrived at the river for a quick dip of our tongues and foreheads at the cattle crossing did I sense he was human after all.
Thursday Oct 10
Head for the familiar water hole upstream from the Mkulo ranch, attempt to get the smell of out of shape foreigner off of me with some delightful Irish Spring soap, hope the people down river don’t mind some extra suds in their morning tea. Mkulo arrives late, getting me a little worried he is sick and tired of dragging me around. However, after a quick chase of the relentless goats we leave someone to watch his precious young beans and begin a hike to the top of a nearby summit. From its vantage point all of Busingatha and neighbouring communities can be seen. On a clear day, hundreds of kilometres stretch out before you. Fate prevailed and the smoke clouds set in. While this may have dampened the spirits of any normal man, luckily I was hanging out with an aviator toting, umbrella slinging, recycled jug swiging cowboy by the name of… well that’s the funny thing, I spent 4 days with the guy and called him grandpa the whole time… sheesh, maybe we didn’t connect as I had thought.
At any rate, the day proved quite amazing, walking through proper caves, taking in the expanse of the Drakensberg Mountains, walking in the footsteps and under the art of 600 year old bushmen, having baboons hurl insults (and luckily not anything else) at us, and smiling – consistently smiling to have the opportunity to share some days with such a wonderful man. If everyone had ideas, patience and the work ethic of this man, the world would be a different place, and everyone would truly see each other as the equals we really all.
I had a wonderful time and look forward to next weeks adventure in Capetown. See you all soon, Logan.
Just an update about yesterday:
A bit of a rush, dealing with some library builders in the morning and attending a community meeting for most of the afternoon. Water resources were discussed and after some fighting about use it seems like everyone is now on the same page, having raised 2,250 Rand ($250) toward a goal of piped water in town. While this may seem strange that a “town” of a thousand people do not have access to water, except for a stream running close to “town”, this is a fairly common occurrence and although changing is still much the same as it was before 1994 and much further back in history. Government is expected of, and rarely delivers, however I hear that the South African government is much better than many other countries. Couldn’t help thinking that in the event of the world collapsing, these people wouldn’t know or care, simply continuing on with their daily lives, apart from the absence of KFC in their diets.
After all of that, in which I was for the most part oblivious (as I still don’t understand Zulu) headed for a mkulos (grandfathers) house to teach some sweet pepper farmers about preserving. These older gentlemen produce a few tons of “Pepperdews” each year and sell them to a processor in town. However, they typically bring all of the product to the processor and are upset when any undesirable peppers are sorted out and they are unpaid for these imperfect fruit.
For some reason I am an “expert” on preserving, and we ran a short clinic on the process, sterilizing old mayonnaise jars and making a vinegar brine. After a quick tasting of a finished product example, these Mkulo’s should be ready to give the process a try and make some added revenue off of their undesirable peppers. Many peppers are sold at tourism shops, and the market appears to be somewhat saturated, however perhaps these hard working grandfathers can find a demand for their work. They already lead the irrigation and water supply project in their community, farm 6 hectares of peppers, raise chi ckens, cattle and sell other vegetables. Remind me a great deal of my grandfather, wearing similar hats and moving with the same calm purpose.
I guess I need to blow the dust off this whole blogging thing, haven’t really been active as you may have noticed, perhaps this will rectify your sadness at the absence of my laughable words and thoughts.
September just went, and October and November promise a similar result. When you end up spending a week away doing something completely unrelated to why I originally came, the month seems to get really short.
Just spend the last week of September visiting the City of Port Elizabeth, a 12 hour drive around Lesotho, one of last vestiges of the Indian Ocean before the Atlantic mixes in. I went because a car ride had been offered (for FREE) and I figured I could meet up with the other Canadian intern who was sent to South Africa. After a 12 hour overnight drive through sandstorms, and major road construction (of which I remember little as I slept like a baby in the back seat) we arrived to a rainy windy city – South Africa’s version of Chicago or Winnipeg. The week had its charms, beautiful beaches, good food, a wonderful air mattress, and some time seeing what Blake does. However, I was glad to get back to work yesterday. I felt guilty and restless at “wasting” time in another part of country away from the beautiful dusty streets I call home.Wiener delivery, as part of “a day with Blake”, spent time with a hundred of the top minds from the township schools around PE, organizing university applications and loans. I mostly was the guy who printed stuff… and handed out wieners with tomato sauce.
Excitement in the car on the way back. This time we drove during the day so I actually know what South Africa looks like – flat, dusty, and a few hills. Mango suckers made up for the 11 drive and a stop off in Bloemfontain allowed for some extra fun – think bunkbed, next to a shower overtop of a sleeping family.
So back at it! Except it is always so hard to come back from even the shortest time away. As I have said before, coworkers seem to check out from relationships when reaffirmed that the “volunteer” is only there temporarily, and really isn’t worth getting to know.
I am not saying they are mean spirited, heck I got a few unexpected hugs and a weird picture taken upon return, lots of questions and smiles, but for some reason either personally or in actuality work feels like it is slipping away. I have a to do list and tasks and I work on them, planning for the few months ahead and more so the months beyond when I won’t be around.
Which is the root of what I am going through at the moment, prioritizing my goals of this project, what do I want to get out, have I been following through with my daily objectives I set for myself, and fitting the relationships which are very different and pull me in opposite directions and activities into the remaining time available.
I want to be home, but more than that I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity I have before me. Two months is very little time, I hope at the end of it I can board a plan content with what I have accomplished/experienced. I feel like I am at the end of all of this, and in reality this is true. With so little time to go I am planning the remaining moments here and beginning to work through in my mind, steps which will need to be undertaken to ensure that what I have done, is/was/continues to be valuable after I am gone, and I realize the full potential of this experience.
I want to apologize for the future, it appears that I will be less available than even before in updating home on what is shaking this side of the pond. Two months will go quick, and I am here now, the best I can promise is an update over a drink come December.
This is what shall be referred to as a light recap of events:
- My “professor” from Coady visited, hectic, saw a lot, ate a lot and learned why she is making the big bucks, I went from thinking I was helping to knowing that I can do so much more.
- Received a few letters, thanks to those who wrote, emailed, commented on my blog, warmed my cockles and made me feel like flying home… in 3 months.
- Find I am spending a great deal of time engrossed with my landlords (don’t know what else to call them, “friends that I pay”, was also an option.
- Attended a real Bergville event on Friday night. After stopping in at the ministers house to return some tools, a few words turned into 3 beers and then a formal invite to the Bergville Primary Skool Talent Show (Yes, that is how school is spelt in Afrikaans). The minister played a central role and his wife is the principle, so how could I say no? Forked over 10 rand, and was treated a fun time, my left foot even started tapping for a little bit as my anglican friend brought the house down.
- Plans for the week to come – who knows, have fun, work on some exciting Community Action Plans for a community developing an irrigation/household water scheme and drive a blind man around.