a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Three Weeks and Counting

Ah, a lovely weekend in the Drakensberg Mountains! The locals call it the "Berg" but I prefer to use its full name. :) It's such an amazing place! So peaceful and calm, a perfect retreat for Stephen and me. We went shopping at KwaZulu Weavers and bought a beautiful wool area rug for our living room. The woman who helped us always remembers Stephen. We ate lunch at The Waffle Hut, in the same building as KwaZulu Weavers, and it was the best food and coffee I've had in three weeks! They know how to make a really good latte at the Waffle Hut. Across from KwaZulu Weavers there is a new Garden Centre at which we bought some great succulents. Stephen thought a miniature pole fence would look nice as a border for the succulent bed so we purchased one of those too. We are slowly planning our yard and today I planted our little succulent bed next to the park home. After the KwaZulu Weavers stop, we drove toward our backpackers' lodge and on the way discovered another shopping area. I love wire molded bead work and we met an artisan from Zimbabwe who had a little shop there. Really beautiful work. We bought a large rhino! Of course!

At the Inkosana Lodge, we stayed over night in a little rondavel right in the middle of the Drakensberg Mountains. It is our favorite little place that we stayed at in February of this year. From our door we can see the mountains all around. In the morning we sat in chairs outside, read, journaled, enjoying the sun and sounds of nature. Though a short getaway, it was exactly what we needed. This past week was especially trying for both of us. Maybe now we are experiencing the true W-curve and what I described before was merely jet-lag.

Last weekend we were without a car, it was supposed to be ready Friday but wasn't, so we spent the whole weekend in Tugela Ferry. We walked to the few shops in town and purchased a rake and a hoe for my garden tools. All along the sidewalks women were selling their produce: tomatoes, corn, onions, sweet potatoes. Both women and men were selling shoes and clothes. Everything was laid out on the ground: no racks or tables on which to display their wares. In the afternoon we went out to lunch at a restaurant called "Agape". The sign advertises "coffee break" but again there was no coffee. We each ordered a plate of chicken and rice and it was tasty. From Agape we walked down to the Community Gardens. This land is tribal land and the gardens are shared by the community. Different individuals or groups plant and tend to the crops in the gardens. It's all fenced to keep the goats and cows out so for Stephen and me it makes for a pleasant walk. Our friends, who told us about the gardens, walk or take a morning run there also.

On Sunday we attended a Zulu church up in the mountains. The music is call and response for the most part here and women generally lead. There were some young women leading the church music that day. The pastor is an Afrikaans man who gives his sermon in English while a teacher from the mission school translates into Zulu in between phrases or sentences. But the lay pastor, who read from the Bible before the sermon, read and spoke in Zulu, so a woman translated that into English for us. Stephen and I were introduced and asked to speak. Stephen explained that we are here working with the hospital and the care centre. I simply asked for their help in learning the Zulu language. A few from the crowd said, "Yebo." "Yes."

Both Stephen and I feel such a sense of urgency in learning enough Zulu to communicate a little. English will not get you very far in the community here. When I visited the mission school, the school children, 7th graders, spoke to each other in Zulu. And even when they spoke English with the teacher, it was quite broken. I feel my effectiveness as a teacher here, as a teacher of English in this rural area, depends heavily on my proficiency in Zulu. Stephen has hopes of building into this community, having Zulu friends, so understanding and speaking the language seems a prerequisite to that. We plan to start taking lessons soon.

Over the weekend, I told several people from the Mission school that I would be there on Wednesday to observe and work in the library again. The woman who translated for us during church is a 2nd grade teacher at the school and I asked her if I could come to her class on Wednesday. Now that the older grades are writing exams, I can only observe in the younger grades, which is where I will have the most fun anyway. One of the teachers, the one who introduced me to the rest of the staff, has suggested that I become the librarian for school: organize the library and eventually start teaching classes there. Her vision is for someone to inspire a love for books in the students, so as to improve their English, and thereby enable them to perform well on the exams, all administered in English. So my plan was to go on Wednesday and see how I felt about things after that. However, things didn't quite go to plan.

Our car was supposed to be done on Tuesday so we could pick it up and drive to PMB to do the grocery shopping we were unable to do on the weekend. But the car wasn't done until Wednesday. So Stephen and I caught a ride into Greytown with one of the research study coordinators, picked up our car and proceeded to the bank to open a savings account. The first time Stephen went to open an account they told him it couldn't be done. But other Americans have been able to open accounts in South Africa. After a little asking around, Stephen was assured it could be done, he just needed the proper documentation, letters signed by the director here explaining his work and providing proof of residence. So we sat in a long queue in Greytown with the required documentation. After about an hour, we were at the window and the woman helping us said that our file would be held in Pietermaritzburg. To which Stephen asked if we shouldn't just take it with us to PMB since that's where we were going that afternoon. It seemed like maybe a more efficient way to do things. So we left the Greytown bank, still without an open account, and drove to PMB.

Incidentally, on the drive to PMB we saw a lizard, at least three feet long, slowly crossing the road! That would have been a great picture! But we were driving too fast and I didn't have my camera at the ready. Darn!

The bank in PMB is in the mall and in order to get in you first go through one glass door, it locks behind you, and then you go through the next glass door. The queue at this bank was much shorter and we were with a banker fairly quickly. However she was frowning from the start and said, "We've had problems with this before. I'll double check for you, but I'm fairly certain you cannot open an account." So she got on the phone with presumably her supervisor. From what we could gather, although we had the right documentation, it wasn't on one page. It was on three and that just wouldn't work. It all had to be on one. We sat at her desk for maybe 10 minutes while she seemed to give every excuse possible to the person she was talking to, who oddly enough seemed more inclined to let us open an account, when Stephen became exasperated and said, "It's a shame. There is a terrible TB epidemic in this country. Americans come here to do research, to try to help. It's just a shame." And we got up and walked out, our useless documentation in hand.

Another thing scheduled for Tuesday was the installation of a washing machine, in another park home, for me to use. This did not happen either. Nor did it happen on Wednesday. I have been washing clothes by hand for the three weeks we've been in South Africa. And to complicate things, it rained all last week. So nothing was drying. I had only so much space to hang things on our two drying racks instead of being able to use the fence outside. Wednesday morning it was grey but windy and I thought I could venture to put some clothes on the line, thinking that they would dry faster outside in the wind. But it rained in the evening and by the time we got home from PMB on Wednesday night, they were completely soaked. Even the clothes inside did not dry during the day, because of the humidity in the air, and poor Stephen had to wear damp clothes to work on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, Halleluia, my washing machine was hooked up. But still, the weather was cold and rainy. I could wash all the clothes I wanted but there was no place to dry them. :( Stephen bought us a little space heater on Wednesday in PMB, (We were freezing in the night, even with two quilts on the bed!), so I used that to speed up the drying process, slightly. Our leaking toilet was never attended to by a plumber so I spread out the puddy that was already there and that seemed to seal the leak. Stephen rewired the ceiling fan in our extra room himself so that it was functional rather than wait for the maintenance man again. We are discovering that we need to use our ingenuity here in South Africa.

Also during the week a bit of additional drama developed around the situation with the girl whom I've hired to clean for me. On that Tuesday, the first day she worked for me, she brought her "sister" along with her. The "sister" spoke fairly good English so I asked her several questions. Then I went inside leaving both of them outside. Soon this "sister" came to my door and said, "Can I come in and sit down? It's cold outside." All the while the girl I hired is outside washing my shoes. I think if it had been me, I would have felt more comfortable staying outside talking to my sister than talking to a complete stranger. There was just something about the "sister's" presumption and familiarity with me that set me on guard. I was relieved when the following Monday the girl I have given a job to came by herself. Then later in the week three women walk by the park homes and into my gate. I recognize one and when she asks me if I remember her and when tells me her name I remember: she is the "sister". She asks whether the girl had come on Monday and whether I had any problems. When I say no, she says, "This girl, she is not a good person. I will just say...she steals. So what are you going to do about her? Can you give my neighbor here (standing beside her) a job? She is poor. She is seven months pregnant and she doesn't know what she is going to do about the baby." Well! This time I do not hesitate, I know how to answer. "No, I don't have any more jobs." If anyone is a thief, I'm more inclined to believe it is this "sister" rather than the one she's trying to burn. "So you aren't her sister then?" "No, she's just a person." "And your last name isn't S----?" "No, it's T----." She leaves me her contact number just in case I have friends who might need someone to clean for them, and I write it down, to play along. I want nothing more to do with this girl. But she has put doubts in my mind. I know I cannot trust her but I don't know really any more about the girl I hired. I have only my intuition to guide me. Although it's pretty reliable, I decide that it would be a good idea to ask my friend, who speaks Zulu, to come by next Monday to ask some questions for me.

Over the weekend I begin to think that my altruistic behavior may not be the wisest thing at this point in time and maybe it would be better if I just told this girl I don't need anyone to clean for me any more. On Monday, when she arrives she tells me in broken English that her mother has died and the funeral was on Saturday. My Zulu speaking friend confirms this and that was the reason she was late in arriving for work. The funeral was in a town far from here and she was just coming back from there. She tells me she is now alone in the world, no mother, no father, no grandmother. I don't tell her I don't need anyone to clean for me and when she says, "See you Monday." I say, "See you Monday."

It was a rough week. But the Drakensberg Mountains helped a great deal and both Stephen and I feel recharged, if only part way. We are already planning next weekend. Maybe the coast, or a game park.


  1. Horay for a laundry machine! I agree with Stephen's frustration about people wanting to help but having an uphill battle to be able to do anything.

  2. how fun!! I love reading about your adventures! Sounds like you guys are having such a great experience and it's so neat to hear these stories to remind ourselves of the things we take for granted everyday. I love you....be safe and continue to blog I enjoy reading:)