Published: September 15th 2012September 15th 2012
A story from July. I define “rich” as in the comparison of life at Holden Village to concentrated bouillion, with many, many different experiences.
Midway into our two months of Pre-Service Training we visited a current PCV’s site for four days. The site was not necessarily in the province we would eventually be assigned to, or speaking the same language as we were studying, but it was a reasonable distance from our training site, and the PCV was willing to crowd us in to his small two-room home. Our group of 5 plus Thembi took a 3 hr.taxi ride to Brits, the shopping town for PCV Howell Burke whose village has a name I never learned to pronounce. (An African version of Schenectady)
We asked him all sorts of questions, accompanied him to the primary and secondary schools he works at, and were going to help w/Scouts (for girls & boys) Olympics but cold wind and rain stopped that. (It actually snowed in Pretoria that day) Cooking and arranging to take bucket baths was like camping. I impressed my group by making apple crumble. Howell’s host family were very nice, his mma brought us extra blankets and a heater on the coldest night and showed us the dresses she sews in her spare time. She works at a BMW plant sewing seat covers. She and others had lost their jobs the previous year when the company let all the workers with seniority go, in order to save money. When they saw that the younger workers didn’t have the experience to do the work as well, BMW hired their older workers back. Now she is one of the managers for a section of workers. The family’s 12 yr. old son hung out with us whenever he could, teaching us card games and stargazing w/us one night with the help of Howell’s binoculars and a book on the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. We learned about life as a PCV; that the water can stop at any time and when it comes back you refill every available container to prepare for the next time-- that too many appliances plugged in will blow a fuse, so we had to choose between being warm or eating --that the lock on his door had a trick to it and we hung a knife nearby to help open it, like in the middle of the night when I had to use the outhouse!
The day we returned to our training town started at 7:30 am when we thanked Howell and his family and piled into a taxi. The taxi is full of people going to the next town or going to catch another taxi from there. We’re zipping down the road and what do you know? “The Eye of the Tiger” is blaring on the radio, just as normal as can be. Up ahead is a platinum mine which Howell had told us is the largest in the world and that it makes him think of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. While I’m enjoying the music and scenery, passengers hand up their Rand for the fare. (this differs for each, depending on where they get on and where they get off) Whoever sits towards the front of the bus volunteers to collect the fare and send change back. The young man next to me was handling the money. (He was a student at the University of SA and later on we had a discussion about politics in his country.) Somehow the driver knows exactly what the total should be and the money collected wasn’t matching up. We were short about 50 Rand, and each person in the taxi was hollering that they’d paid this, they’d got this change back...it was bedlam in a language I didn’t understand. Thembi (remember Thembi the Tiger?) was checking with each of us PCT’s about what we’d paid...After at least 30 minutes, the driver just pulled over and wasn’t going anywhere until the total was correct. Finally Thembi figured out that it was one of our group who had not paid correctly.
Then we got going again. We stayed on this taxi all the way to Pretoria where we took 2-3 hours to shop at a mall. Throughout our training we were rarely out of the sight of our LCF’s (Thembi). We met up w/another group at the mall and then Thembi accompanied Sharon and me to the nearest internet cafe. The 1st
one wasn’t on-line, and we walked a few blocks looking for another one. We asked directions at a beauty salon, and the woman there said, “Is it for that one?” pointing at Sharon and me. She said to be very careful and looked dubious...so we decided against going to the internet cafe. So back to the mall, not a lot different from those in the States. Then we’re again herded to the taxi rank to find a taxi to Siyabuzwa; a one hour drive. Almost all of the trainee groups returned by 4:00 and we had a debriefing session there.
After that we helped bag up vegetables and load the three PC vans to take us to our homes. (Every two weeks PC staff and trainees have the big job of sorting out the groceries that go to each home to feed us) The canned goods and dry goods had already been delivered, but we were to take these huge bags of fruits and vegetables (about 35 lbs) to our homes that evening. This took a while, 50 people with their luggage had to be driven about 10 miles home. As it got dark (about 6:00 pm, because it’s winter here) the last van had bags of vegetables and George and me in the back. George Nishikawa and I lived on the same street in Watervaal. The van hit a bump and the back door popped open, and we could hear the people at the corner shop (I am talking about a 3’ by 5’ corrugated tin shed) yelling at us. So we stopped, closed the door and drove back to look for any cabbages that might have rolled out. (I am talking about cabbages the size of beach balls)
I got home to Lina and Fenzi after a very full day of travel in South Africa!