Thursday, October 25, 2007

Senior Citizens Parliament

Yesterday was a very good day. Last week I spent most of one day in a pre-workshop for the Limpopo Senior Citizen's Parliament and, knowing that my supervisor was scheduled to be away at a workshop, I asked if I could go along. The big day was yesterday.

I was "supposed" to get picked up at 7:30 for the 9:00 event. (My village is straight south of Lebowagkomo, where the Provincial Parliament meets and about 45 min or an hour away.) I totally knew that no one would be there for some time, but I went early because there was NO WAY I was going to miss the taxi! It eventually got me at 9:00, but some of the others had been waiting since 6:00! I just stayed out of the sun, read my book, and ROASTED in my suit jacket (the choice was between being hot and being sunburnt). We had a really nice taxi. It even had a DVD player! So, we alternated between watching a miracle preacher save some kid who hadn't walked for 15 years and the previews for a Nigerian movie (and anyone whose seen those can tell you that they're...special). We couldn't watch much of either because I don't think the driver could drive and manipulate the DVD controls at the same time. It was so amazingly bizarre.

I absolutely loved the group that went from our Municipality. I sat with one tate (lit. father) for a long time during the event. We couldn't really talk, but he was so kind and lovely. Two women from a village west of Jane Furse spoke (there were loads of observers and carefully limited speakers) and I was so, so impressed by their candor, their bravery and their insights. I mean, to get up in front of a full house in your legislature and talk about sexual abuse against old women? I thought they were amazing. And I told them so, afterwards! One of them was so excited by it all that she took me by the hand and we talked all the way to the food tent. I'm going to go and visit their pensioners club soon, hopefully.

Four topics were discussed: 1) pensions and pension pay points (many people go to a certain place on a certain day of the month to get their money in cash and sometimes have to wait for hours and hours and get harassed by vendors, funeral parlors, etc.); 2) Care and services for the elderly (Home Based Care, old age homes, etc.); 3) impact of HIV/AIDS on seniors (many of whom end up caring for dying children and the orphaned grandchildren, some become infected because their children haven't disclosed their status, they don't know about proper handling for people with HIV/AIDS, or they don't have gloves); and 4) Contributions of seniors to the quality of life (lots seemed to be about sharing culture and morals).

There were some fantastic ideas. Like: little care packages with wipes and water for the people waiting for their pensions (not to mention making toilets available) or giving away GLOVES at the government clinics, the way condoms are available. Lots of people called for more education, whether about HIV/AIDS or better ways to manage your pension income. Of course, one of the biggest rounds of applause for the day came when someone suggested more corporal punishment was the way to stop the spread of HIV. I got a lot out of it, because someone gave me a translation device! Now if only those worked in the village....

It was also an interesting cultural day. Everyone was wearing their best clothes and it was so much fun to look at the different ones: Venda, Southern Sotho, Pedi, Swati and so on. Awesome! And they even had a special table of food for people on a no salt diet...which was so me! Of course, I'd only just recovered from a very, very bad "running stomach" (yes, that means what you think it does) so I was taking it easy.

I think the part that I liked best of all came at the beginning. Someone (who I think was important, but I'm not sure who he was) spoke for a long time to open the event. And he made a point that I thought was important, but probably blindingly obvious to everyone there. He talked a lot about how these older people were the ones who have the most to tell us kids about life under apartheid, how they were the ones who lived through it the longest and fought against it. I think that my favorite people here are the old ones and I can't wait to get to know them better. (Bonus: if they worked in Joberg (which many did), they tend to speak great English!)

Oh, yeah, and I'm pretty psyched that I got to visit the Provincial Parliament (that's like the State Legislature). It was a lot like a college campus, really, with lots of government agencies in different buildings. And pretty much no ornamentation (but then, the Indiana General Assembly doesn't have to spend much on translating equipment). It was such a great day and one of the best I've had in South Africa.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Alright, have made three batches of chocolate muffins and taken in a baby chick. My radio's not getting a signal, so I don't have to listen to boasting Springboks. So, on to the match!!!


Friday, October 19, 2007

Hello blog world

I know, I know, it’s been awhile (as usual) since I updated you on my Peace Corps (hereafter PC) adventure. I suppose that’s mostly because of the old adage: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And you are all probably internet savvy enough to know that maintaining a blog involves a good deal of self-censorship. There are things that could be written here that could easily be misinterpreted or just involve airing things far more publicly than they should be. But for anyone who thinks that PC volunteers have it easy: guess again. This ‘work’ is filled with frustration and a lot of wondering as to whether you made the right choices along the way. It makes you wonder if your being here makes any difference and if external events will ever allow you to be effective.

But, I’m going to try to keep the rest of this light.

I’ve been gradually increasing my cooking repertoire, which has been a lot of fun. My work’s got internet and I have COPIOUS amounts of time to surf it, so I’ve been able to do a fair amount of recipe hunting. So far, I’ve managed a lovely aloo gobi (even tasted the way I meant it to, amazingly enough!) and two kinds of muffins (banana and chocolate/oatmeal/raisin). Two nights ago I used the soya mince that they sell in the stores to make a nice sauce by grating in four tomatoes. It strikes me as odd that this vegetarian meat product should be so readily available in SA, but I think it’s supposed to be used when you can’t afford to buy any meat. I’m not a vegetarian, never fear, but I don’t really enjoy or practice the cooking of meat. Call me lazy. Also lacking a refrigerator. Oh, and I bought 2% milk yesterday (I’ve only ever seen whole milk before) and it was such a treat!

I was having a chat with my host siblings last weekend, as we sat and I read my new Sepedi book (for 1st graders). (On a side note: the kids are all in either grade 1 or 2 and none of them could read it. They either pretended or simply repeated what I read out loud to them.) Jumpo (the girl) was peering around me (I was sitting on the stoop) and asked where my baby was. She was utterly shocked when I told her that I didn’t have one. I suspect it was because of a combination of my age and gender. I’m not knocking anyone who chooses to have children at an early age (and that’s certainly the norm here), but I was really sad that she simply expected all young women to have a baby and couldn’t seem to fathom someone NOT having a child. Young unmarried women with children are a very high risk group for AIDS, if only by virtue of the fact that they’re obviously practicing unsafe sex. I don’t want my little sister to assume that there aren’t alternatives.

And we had a TORRENTIAL downpour earlier in the week. I’ve got some photos that I can upload at some point, but it was insane! The usually dry river beds were absolutely full and moving SO fast. Anything that could be a channel for the water was and there was blueberry sized hail. My taxi had to turn around in Mamone and take the tar road to Marishane because the road had been washed out. I now completely understand the idea of flash floods. And one think that I enjoy is that there are always rainbows afterwards, because the sun is out as soon as the clouds clear away. Many nights I can see the lighting in the distance, enveloped in clouds, and that’s also beautiful.

And finally, we’re having an at-site party at another volunteer’s house tomorrow night for the rugby match. I don’t know how many of the others are coming, but I’m looking forward to hanging out and not watching it by myself! The Boy has been nervous from yesterday and I’m worried about the state of his stomach. Oh, and Mandela recorded a very nice message to the Springboks that they replayed on the radio. But, I'm still not cheering for them.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A comment on Genocide

This blog will take a rare break from talking about me to make a comment on the kerfuffle surrounding Congress’ proposed condemnation of the Armenian Genocide. This isn’t a new story, by any means, and now it is looking increasingly unlikely that the full House will actually vote on the matter. BUT, I have LOVED watching Turkey get in a snit and the diplomatic delicacy that the executive branch has been using to try and avert a disaster that could have serious consequences for the supplying of the war in Iraq.

I’m not particularly bothered if the House doesn’t vote (although, Congresswoman Carson: vote for it). I know that it would mean a great deal to the few remaining, now extremely elderly, survivors. Judgement has already been rendered and I can’t believe that anyone would think that an up or down vote on a non-binding resolution would suddenly make those events real (or, conversely, that its failure would mean that the Genocide never happened). I think that the discussion the resolution has sparked is a victory for those people around the world who believe that genocide should never be swept under the carpet.

And, most importantly, I think it illustrates what we sometimes forget in the human rights community, when our discipline is under constant attack. No matter how bad they are at respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights, no one wants to be called out on it (even if the incidents in question happened almost 100 years ago)! We see it in the Human Rights Council now, with the difficulty it took to set up a process for the Universal Periodic Review, and with the other review mechanisms set up by the principle human rights treaties. And, haven’t we all observed states getting upset by unfavourable reviews from the big NGOs, i.e. the US’ perpetual reaction to the assessments by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch? This language is powerful, even if the US and others usually want to pretend that it is not.

I am so proud of the House for taking up this issue and for fighting for it. I am proud of the media for devoting so much attention to this story. It’s one of those very, very, very rare moments when I can actually believe that my home country is a force for good in the world. At the same time, I understand the realities of international relations and understand why the Bush Administration would oppose the resolution (even if I don’t approve of their actions…what else is new?).

Whatever happens, the point has been made. The Ottoman Empire did commit genocide against the Armenians. Turkey has been reprehensible in not only failing to acknowledge or apologise for the events, but in continuing to be hostile towards survivors who want their story to be told (one representative called it ‘genocide denial’). And thanks to the actions taken by members of the House of Representatives, the Armenians have finally won.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A PC question

Here's an argument that my girl in Niger and I were having yesterday:
Which is better (Peace Corps amenities-wise): internet at home or running water? We've each got one and both envy the other.

I finally got to meet many of the councilors today when they came in to get some information after their meeting. I have to say, they seemed really impressive and I can't wait to be formally introduced!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

New photos!

Well, I was wrong. France won. And apparently it was an even better match than the England-Australia one! If anyone sees fit to put it on a CD for me, I'd probably not mind seeing it.... South Africa did win today (*groan*), but I thought Fiji put in an amazing effort and even looked capable of taking the match for awhile.

I mostly just wanted to let you know that I've uploaded a few more photos on Flickr. Unfortunately, yesterday's photo session means that my little host brothers won't stop asking "Cata?", which is apparently the verb for "take photo." My Sepedi is fuzzy, but I DO know the word for "no" and it isn't working! (Aowa, for the record.) And for some reason, one of them keeps asking for my glasses and asking how much they cost. I think he thinks that they're a fashion accessory, despite both my and his grandmother's explanations. Frankly, they're kind of annoying. Boys! Ack.

So, here's the family, minus Mma:
Gogo & the kids

Saturday, October 06, 2007


England wins! England wins! England wins!

AAAAAAAHHHH, that match was NOT good for my blood pressure, but it was fantastic! I got nervous every time Australia had the ball, but England's defense held up and were able to put the Aussies on the back foot. If Jonny Wilkinson had gotten all of his penalties, I might even have promised to stop making fun of his pre-kick constipation pose. But, as he only managed 4 of the 7, I reserve the right to do so. Still, this match involved an awful lot of me waving my hands at the television. I can't believe they did it.

For those of you wondering what on earth I'm talking was the England-Australia semi-final of the Rugby World Cup. Basically, Australia=awesome, England...well, they lost 36-0 against South Africa. Does that explain? Everyone thought this was a 'one horse race' (and one commentator even said so) and were predicting at least a 10-15 point margin for the Aussies. But, ENGLAND held them and WON!!! On to the All Blacks (New Zealand, for the uninitiated), she said with a sigh (unless France pulls an upset tonight). I thought I was going to cry with relief.

Otherwise, the week's been frustrating. I'm not going to air everything in such a public forum (especially now that we've had to submit our URLs to the Country Director), but I'm trying to cope with some work-culture shock at the moment. Government efficiency in the US/UK and in South Africa are two VERY different things, let's say. I've been really frustrated and wondering what on earth I'm doing here. Don't worry, this is normal for Peace Corps volunteers, and I just have to keep telling myself that things will get better. After all, it's only the end of week 2.

I've used a little of my spare time to get in touch with UNA-SA (sorry, that the United Nations Association here in South Africa) and Education Africa, who run provincial and a national MUN. I can't imagine not having MUN in my life and would love to spend some time on a secondary project. If anything, I have to cut the people I work with some slack, because they didn't grow up practicing government the way we did. Even student council, I now realise, was practice for when we grew up and I think that it would be really great to help students here practice the same thing. Of course, because it's me, I want to do MUN.

I was going to insert some anecdote from the week here, but I can't remember any. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that my area may be a bit on the god-forsaken side, but it's actually amazingly beautiful. I love the rocks and the color that the purple trees give it. And my gogo (grandmother) continues to bring up God and his creator-ness in every conversation we've had after I told her that I didn't go to church and believed in evolution. She's amazingly lovable and lively, so I don't mind. And the littlest one and I tell each other "Shop!" a lot and touch thumbs. He makes me smile and laugh so much.