Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Better late than never

Up until a few weeks ago I had no intention of starting a public blog…but with a little encouragement from one of my fellow YAGM volunteers I decided to give it a shot! I ‘m thinking this will probably be the best way to keep friends and family updated on what is actually going on in my life here.  Since I’ve already been in SA for almost 3 months now it would be nearly impossible to recap all of the experiences I’ve had so far, so I’ll try my best to give a basic overview of my placement and then start fresh from there!
So here it goes…
After arriving in SA in the very end of August with 10 other amazing volunteers, we spent a week in Pietermaritzburg with our supervisors Brian and Kristin Konkol.  It was definitely an excellent way to start off the year.  During the week we met at a local university to talk about some logistical stuff, listen to some speakers, and learn more about the culture here.  We also had the chance for lots of fun and relaxation that was much needed after 2 very long days of traveling from Chicago all the way to SA.  We attended a soccer game at the new world cup stadium in Durban, visited a Zulu cultural homestead, did some hiking, and walked around a local nature preserve where we actually got to see giraffe in their natural habitat…pretty amazing!  On the last Sunday of orientation we all went to Machibisa (a local township) to attend a Lutheran church service which was like nothing I had experienced before.  There was so much energy in the room with all of the choruses that were being sung and all the dancing that was going on, one could have almost forgot you were in church.  Overall it was wonderful week that helped transition us into our year of service.
During the first week of September I finally arrived at my placement site which only happens to be located about 10 minutes outside of Pietermaritzburg. It is a place that provides foster mothers and their foster children with free and safe housing.  It is also home to three Lutheran nuns, workers and their families, a crèche (kindergarten), and four other volunteers not including me.  Overall, it is place that provides a sense of community to everyone that resides here especially the children many of whom have been fostered due to HIV/AIDS.
             On a daily basis I am working in the crèche, working in the garden, and basically just doing whatever needs to be done around the Kenosis property.  Most importantly though is the time I spend with the 27 children all of whom live here at kenosis.  We spend a lot of time with the children playing games, making crafts, and helping them with homework and studying for exams.  Although most of them are much younger than I am they have become some of my closest friends here and one of my biggest means of support.  It is impossible to ever feel lonely or homesick because there is always somebody around to spend time with, and the kids are always introducing me to new and exciting things.  They recently took me on an adventure through the sugar cane fields that surround Kenosis and showed me how to pick and peel the sugar cane simply by using my teeth which definitely isn’t as easy as it looks!  They even showed me how to make a homemade fishing rod using only bamboo and some old wires.  I also spend a lot of time with a woman named Thandekile, one of the foster mothers living here at Kenosis.  She is always inviting me to family functions, teaching me how to cook traditional meals, and always stopping by my place just to chat.
Me and some of the Kenosis girls on our way to the sugar cane fields

More recently, I started commuting to Machibisa to work in another crèche there and to assist my local supervisor Dean Myaka with some administrative work. My daily commute takes anywhere from one to one and a half hours both ways and includes riding in five or six different kombi’s (mini bus taxi’s)! Every day is different than the next and that’s what I love about it. I never know who I’m going to meet or what conversations I’ll have. I’m sure traveling three hours a day to and from work would not be enjoyable for some people but for the moment it is actually something I look forward to and something I see as a very important part of my experience.
I am currently looking forward to heading to Scottsville for our volunteer programs fall retreat.  Myself and the 10 other YAGM volunteers will all meet up to spend thanksgiving together with our supervisors Brian and Kristin Konkol and their new baby boy Khaya! We’ll then head off to a backpackers near the Drakensburg Mountains to do some hiking and even travel into Lesotho for the day.  Even though I will miss spending thanksgiving with family and friends at home I am happy that I have my new MUD family to share it with!
Well I could keep writing forever but I have to finish packing, I am hoping to be able to write again at the end of the retreat! so for now HAPPY THANKSGIVING to everyone!