After more than two years of sharing our lives with you on this blog, we have come to the end. Keep up with new happenings in our lives at our new location:
Love you all! Thanks for the support you have shown us over the past two years. It has been a life-changing experience for us, and we will never forget our time in South Africa.
Brandon & Rachel
09 December 2008
After more than two years of sharing our lives with you on this blog, we have come to the end. Keep up with new happenings in our lives at our new location:
03 December 2008
As you can probably imagine, we haven't had much time lately for blog entries. I am actually sitting here writing this at 5am on the morning we are leaving the village. It's been an emotional past few days and I don't expect today to be easy. As much as possible we've tried to keep our normal routine over the past week to keep ourselves from feeling like it was the end. But now we've just slept our last night in our little home in Kgobagodimo ... it's going to be impossible to keep up normal today.
We are saying goodbye to our best friends, and not just moving to another city, we're moving around the world. When we came to South Africa with the Peace Corps it was hard saying farewell to our families, but we knew we would see them again. Now we are leaving our home with no certainty of ever coming back. Not only is that tearing us apart, but we can already see the impact on those we're leaving. When I saw my best friend Andries off at the bus stop yesterday morning on his way to Pretoria, he wouldn't even make eye contact with me. He basically ran and got on the bus to keep our last confrontation as short as possible. He had never had to say this kind of goodbye before.
It's hard to think of what our next week is going to entail. Not only are we going to be in Pretoria finishing up our last few things with the Peace Corps, but we are going to be in different places around the world. Next Sunday I will be walking out of a terminal in Chicago while Rachel starts a week-long visit with Melanie in Barcelona. Our lives are going to be so different, so overwhelming and exciting, for the next few months. But this morning here we sit facing the most emotional day of our lives. (Maybe if I just keep typing I won't have to deal with it :)
Here are some pictures of what our last few weeks have been like. I wish I had time to write in more detail, but it's just not going to happen.
We went out to Chanda and Jacobus's farm with Paul and Jessica. We gave them aprons as a gift for hosting us on several occasions.
Just before we got started with our braai on Sunday night, the rains came ... and they came hard! We got stuck in the bathroom at their camp on the farm. We stood under a leaking roof and watching the wind literally uproot trees just outside the door.
In order to get back to the house, we had to take off in the jeep while it was still raining and lightning. It was one of the most amazing storms I have ever experienced.
The damage at the house was unbelievable. A tree that has been the centerpiece of the family property for over 50 years had fallen during the storm, as well as 45+ other trees on the farm!
Every year when the rains come, we have one or two nights of these nasty flying termites. They swarm the outside lights of our house at night and then we find thousands of wings on the ground in the morning.
On our last trip into Ellisras, we took Matome with us for a special treat.
She will probably be the hardest person to leave as we say our goodbyes today.
Here she is holding Caden, our friends Stephen and Jolene's baby.
We were invited over to dinner with the Ditsela family. It was our last traditional South African meal, and a perfect farewell get-together with good friends.
Tebogo leaned over at the end of the night and whispered in my ear, "I'm going to miss you so much."
Paul and Jess came over to spend a few days with us to wrap up some things at school. They will be visiting our school every so often when we're gone.
It was also Paul's birthday yesterday (our birthdays are only 8 days apart) and we made the most amazing chocolate cake. We may as well have just taken spoonful of sugar directly from the sugar container. Not a single one of us finished our piece because it was so rich!
Hanging out with the kids in front of the house. Since it's the beginning of the December holiday, more kids are at the house now. From left to right: Matome, Nhlasi, Gaefele, Lerato, Matlatse, me and Khutso.
Just for kicks, we did a sort of documentary on the cockroach population in our pit toilets. If we had a faster connection, I would upload our video footage. Watch for it later. I know this photo is small, but just for the record, there are 18 cockroaches visible. You couldn't believe the sound that hundreds of these guys make!!
19 November 2008
The apron sale at the Embassy was a success!! Well, sort of...
Wednesday night we watched the dark blue sky towards Seleka hoping that we would eventually get some of the rain we were seeing fall to the north, south, east and west of us. It always seems to be that way here. Lightning was striking all around and the clouds were falling towards the ground in thin whisps. The sky was nearly black and it was only 4pm.
We were waiting for Jess, Paul and Joey to arrive and spend the night with us in our small house but were a bit worried that they may not make it in the down-pour that was all around. We were getting cell service sporadically and just couldn't connect with them.
Then, maybe around 5 or 6, we watched as a black wall of dust began barreling down on our village from the direction of Seleka. This was not what we had in mind when we wished for rain. Matome started yelling when she spotted it first and the rest of us came running to see what caused the panic. We all quickly got into gear then once we realized just what it was and scrambled around the houses to close windows and block any cracks in the doors and walls with towels to keep as much of the dust outside as possible. This one was going to be nasty.
As the dust storm hit our house and rattled the windows, we stood inside hoping that this time some rain would follow. The last time we had a dust storm like this one, no rain accompanied it and we ended up with a house that looked like an old abandoned beach house that had been partially buried by drifts. (okay...maybe not this bad, but we swept multiple times and produced a pile of dirt like I have never seen before.)
The rain came and shortly after it started, so did our friends. I had begun baking bread and chicken in Mma's oven...so Jess quickly helped me get some potatoes into a pot on the stove before the threat of losing electricity became too real. Luckily, the electricity lasted for dinner and only after we were finished went to low-levels which prevented us from using most of our electronics for the night.
Well, Thursday morning is really where this story should begin since I want to share about the apron project...
We all got up around 5 to get ready for the 6am bus and found that we still did not have full-power electricity. So we all got ready under the glow of a light bulb. With five of us in our small house, we quickly took our turns in the "bathroom" and packed up our bags. We arrived at the bus stop just a few minutes before the bus came and in enough time to purchase our bus tickets at a discounted rate from the neighbor lady before she ran out. Maam Tema arrived at the bus stop at the same time as us even though she lives in the school cottages on the other side of the village but Maam Ditsela was nowhere to be seen. Later, I came to find out it was because she was painting her nails. :) As we saw the bus approaching and no Maam Ditsela, Brandon took off running to her house and quickly ushered her outside carrying her suitcase so that we would all make it onto the same bus.
Once in town, we had a bit of a wait for the Pretoria taxi to fill. So we all went our separate ways. The teachers hit the bank while Jess, Paul and I went to purchase some chocolate buns at the bakery and then teas and coffees at Wimpy's. Brandon watched all of our bags at the taxi.
By half past nine, however, we were all on the taxi and on our way to the cities. The four of us Americans took the front row feeling pretty comfortable with the additional space we were granted by not having a "traditional" sized woman sitting next to us. My two PGC leaders sat near the back in their matching skirts and shirts evidently very excited about their journey.
The drive to Pretoria was a long one since there has been construction on the road lately and we had a sick woman on our taxi. However, when we finally arrived, we all got into a private taxi at Bosman and headed straight for our nightly accommodations at 1322 International Backpackers. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find that even though we had booked just dorm rooms for the night, our hostess was giving us individual cabins (that we usually sleep in) for the same price since they filled the dorms earlier. The teachers slept in one with two single beds and seemed thrilled! Their cabin was between ours and the Vig's.
We all rushed to unpack and then quickly headed up to Duncan road where we could catch a public taxi to Menlyn Mall. Maam Tema had never been there and Maam Ditsela had only been there once many years earlier. Upon arriving, we bi-passed the mall and walked straight through it to the Metro Fabric store on the other side. The teachers enjoyed seeing where we purchased fabric and were happy to buy some for themselves. They each chose fabric for making skirts and then we all agreed to make a trek on Saturday morning into the Indian shops near the taxi rank to try and find cheaper curtain fabric.
Once we were finished at the fabric store, we headed back over to the mall and all went our separate ways with a plan to meet up at 7 when the shops were closed to eat a special dinner. The teachers, I think, were a bit overwhelmed because when we met up with them later on the fourth floor, Maam Tema was the only one with a bag and they both looked exhausted.
Dinner was at Cappuccino's, an Italian restaurant. We bought a bottle of sparkling wine for the table and then each ordered a special dinner. It is funny because the teachers even get a bit overwhelmed with the menu selection and Monicca even wanted me to order for her. I was able to walk them through their choices to select something they would eat and then also encouraged them to place their own orders. The food was incredible and even though the ladies insisted that they were full, Monicca finished everything on her plate and even polished off the complimentary Cappuccino.
After waiting an hour for our private taxi to come and fetch us, we all got quickly into a bed to get a good night of rest before the next day hit.
Friday morning, Brandon and Paul left early for the Peace Corps office to collect the aprons that we had there. The week before, a few staff members had attended our farewell function/awards ceremony and graciously took back our three large bags of aprons so we did not have to struggle with them on a public taxi. Then all of us ladies called a private taxi which came to take us to the US Embassy just a few kilometers from the Peace Corps office.
We all dressed very professionally and were very excited for what this day would hold. Upon arriving at the Embassy, we were one of the first groups and lined up with the last bag of aprons that had traveled with us. Paul and Brandon got a ride from Peace Corps to the Embassy and arrived just before we were allowed to enter the compound. Unfortunately, there are no pictures for the next 5 hour span because of the tight security that is required at government buildings.
At 10am, we were allowed inside. As Jessica signed our group off on the vendor list, I locked up our cell phones. Then, one by one, we sent our bags through the security scanning machines and then walked through a metal detector. It was fun watching the teachers go through this process since it is unlike anything they have done before. I'm sure it was again, a bit overwhelming as they sacrificed their purses to a black hole in a machine not knowing what was going on.
We were in and ready to set up within minutes though and had what seemed to be a prime location. There were only 25 vendors present but everyone having a wide variety of items to sell. We were situated immediately outside of the front entrance into the lawn, still under the awning and in the shade.
Our biggest task in setting up was re-tagging all of our aprons. Brandon had re-designed a tag for the aprons that included a description of the project and we had just received them in the post a couple days earlier. Since we had already sent our aprons to Pretoria to await our arrival, we could not tag them prior to the Embassy Craft Fair.
We accomplished this task in record time though and Jessica made a very nice display with our aprons spread across two fold-out tables. It was amazing seeing them all spread out and seeing just how much hard work the ladies had put into this project.
The craft fair was not open to outsiders, so we knew that everyone shopping would be an employee of the Embassy. Soon, they started to trickle down into the market we had set up and everyone could tell when the lunch hour arrived when the largest number of shoppers appeared. We had some great interactions with people but we quickly learned that we had to be quite aggressive to pull them close to our table. We had forgotten to make a sign before coming...so most people who saw our table thought we were selling mini bags and not realizing that there were aprons inside. Despite the fact that we were each wearing a different apron and had a few aprons pulled out of the bags to display on the table, we still found ourselves pitching our items by first stating they were 'aprons in a bag.' Once people realized though and word began to travel, our table became popular and we soon became experts at describing our product and its support of the Palala Clubs.
We saw some familiar faces among the Embassy employees and were even pleasantly surprised when the Ambassador came and bought an apron from us. The women had fun watching their aprons sell and even got into the sales pitch a time or two.
Overall, at the end of the four hours, we had not sold many, but we felt that for the quantities of people who came down to visit the tables, we did fairly well. We only sold 50 aprons at the Embassy compared to the 20 we had just sold at the Peace Corps office the week earlier. We were not disappointed though. It was a wonderful experience, and we all learned from it for the next time. The Peace Corps office actually kept half of the left-over aprons because of a large meeting that was taking place at their office this week. They felt they could sell quite a few more in the process of bragging about this PCV led project. So we'll see how that went later. In addition, another staff member called and placed an order of 50 which doubles our sales from this event.
With the Embassy sale behind us, we all went back to Menlyn for a celebration! Each of us went our own separate ways for a bit to get a few errands complete but by 5 we were all back at the mall meeting up to do a bit more shopping. By 8pm, we gathered for dinner at Baobab restaurant and treated ourselves to anther fabulous meal and even included three different desserts to share at the end.
Despite our exhaustion from this event, Saturday morning we all arose early to try and catch the first taxi home. The two guys again split off and took ALL of the bags and headed straight for the rank. Us women headed in nearly the same direction by private taxi to hunt out the Indian owned fabric stores we had been hearing so much about. Situated near the Belle Ombre taxi rank, we felt it would be easy enough to find, but this proved false. We spent nearly 45 minutes walking around trying to find someone trust-worthy enough to ask and then another 15 minutes walking to the shops that were a bit of a hike from where we had gotten dropped by the taxi.
Jess and I, accompanied by our two leaders, found ourselves in a maze of shops in an area of town that definitely did not see white people on a frequent basis. This was proven by the many comments I continued to hear about the "Makgowa" (white people). The area we were in is called by an Afrikaans name that means "dirty" which is the perfect description. We first walked through a bus depot which was littered with trash and then found our way down busy streets with street vendors on every corner. What fascinated me the most were the traditional healing vendors who sold an array of roots, barks and oils.
As we found the shops, it was still before 9 and many of the shops were not open. We spent much of our time just wandering about and were finally able to enter the first shop around half past 8. We only made it into the second shop when the guys called to let us know that the taxi was nearly full. As we all stood just inside a shop to decide what to do, it was agreed that the women would stay and do the curtain shopping they had been waiting all week for and Jess and I would brave the streets and run back to the rank in hopes of still making the first round of transport.
As Jess and I started out of the shop, we both realized that we had gotten a bit turned around during the half hour we spend wandering among the closed shops and found someone quickly to ask directions out of the shopping centers. she directed us towards an exit and once outside we had the next tricky feat of figuring out which direction we were facing and where the rank was. Luckily, the Indian shops were situated on a bit of a hill and we could see the large depot roofs and took off at a fast walk in that direction. Within 10 minutes we were in view of the taxi rank and soon seated on the taxi ready for departure.
It was a very exciting weekend and a great time to spend with my PGC leaders and Jess and Paul. We all joked that it was our own private farewell function, but it was very true. Upon reaching our own shopping town of Lephalale a few hours later, Monicca confirmed that she had also made it home safely (she lives in a town closer to Pretoria, Mokopane) and had found the fabric curtain she wanted shortly after we split ways. Maam Ditsela showed up just an hour after us here in the village laden with bags proving that she also had a successful day of shopping.