Monday, April 20, 2009

For real...

I almost peed my pants when I saw this sign outside of an apartment complex.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mom and Dad's visit

My parents came for a three-week visit and we had a great time.  Our itinerary consisted of a variety of activities that included lots of sight seeing, museums and the full spectrum of South African culture.  We spent time in Pretoria with family of friends living in a middle-class neighborhood,  toured the biggest township in South Africa with people living in squatter camps all the way to upper class homes, spent time at the Apartheid Museum, visited Robben Island in Cape Town and learned about the prison system during Mendela’s time, tasted wines all over the beautiful winelands, got a taste of shoestring traveling and staying at backpackers (hostels) all over the country, saw big game at Kruger National park, got to meet and visit with lots of other Peace Corps volunteers at a gathering, and lastly, they got a good taste of village life and busy month-end shopping.  I realized how much I have become part of the black culture here when I found myself preparing my parents for their time in my village and helping them to understand better the things they were seeing and experiencing all around them. 

Life is certainly not standing still while I’m gone which is always weighing on me here.  Friends and family are having babies, moving, changing careers and continuing on their own journeys.  It was a bit of a shock to see both of my parents get off the plane using walking canes.  They did well to keep up with everything I had planned for them as they hit the ground running the day they arrived. 

After twelve days of traveling on our own we arrived in my village to stay for a full week.  With only a couple major events planned during that time they really got a taste of “village life.”  Dad enjoyed in-depth conversations with many of the locals regarding politics, for the national elections are happening on April 22nd, and other issues of concern in this country.  Mom, on the other hand, was attached to her camera most of the time trying to catch anything she could that was “villagey” like women carrying babies on their backs and balancing bundles on their heads or a passing donkey cart.  My Mama (host Mom) was a gracious host and spent lots of time with us when she wasn’t busy doing her routine (cleaning) work. 

Mom and Dad were very good sports for they were the center of attention on many occasions.  They were asked to speak at the church services they attended and the celebration that Aletuke, my organization, put on to welcome them.  The locals were stopping by regularly to greet them and everyone was tickled to death to hear Mom and Dad greet them in their mother tongue.  I was really impressed with their willingness to use their new words whenever they could.  Mom, as usual, was happy to try most of the food that was prepared at mealtime but, sadly, neither of them were able to embrace the staple porridge and eating with their hands.

April 3rd marked the halfway point of my service here.  Now that Mom and Dad have returned home it’s time for me to really collect myself and set my priorities in motion.  I have so much to do and so little time to do it.  I have a big building project that I am undertaking but the logistics continue to be an uphill battle.  Corruption at the tribal authority level is slowing me down but I’m not going to let it squash my vision for Aletuke.  So I’m taking a deep breath, gathering my patience and finding success in baby steps. 

Socially, I need to make some deeper connections with some of the people I work with, not only for my success at work but for my own mental and emotional well-being.  We all know that close friends play a very important role in our lives.  I have not really established any intimate relationships with people, other than my Mama, and I know that if I want to be fully successful in this next year I need to have that in my life.

Now it’s time to get to the good stuff… pictures, pictures and more pictures.  Enjoy!  I love and miss you all and always love to hear from you.

I hope this find everyone happy and healthy and enjoying the new signs of spring that are so well earned after this winter of endless snow.  

Peace to you all,



Hit the ground running...

On the Cape of Good Hope in Cape Town baboons roam freely in search of food or anything they can get their hands on.  This guy was just hanging out on the roof of a taxi car in the parking lot.  

That's quite a congregation Dad is preaching to.  If only I could hear what he's saying.

The views from Cape Point are stunning.

We toured Robben Island and learned about the prison system during Mandela's time there.  It was really interesting and is such a poignant time in South Africa's history.  You can see Table Mountain and Cape Town in the background.  

We took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain.  The ride was awesome, the views of the city and Cape Point were unbelievable and the wind was whipping the whole time.  We enjoyed a cup of coffee at the top to warm up after walking around for a bit.

There was a maze of walkways all along the table top making all views easily accessible. 

"Im  on top of the world!"

Probably one of the more powerful parts of this trip for Mom and Dad was seeing the squatter camps.  It's hard to believe people live like this.  These camps line the sides of the highway outside of Johannesburg.  And right across the street is middle-class living.  What a contrast separated by only a few yards.

We visited the Sudwala caves, the oldest known caves in the world at 200,000 thousand years old.  Mom and Dad definitely get the good sport awards for this day... canes and all.

We spent our last day in Cape Town on a winelands tour.  We visited six different vineyards and tasted lots of wine.  This was our favorite, cheese platter and all.

Kruger National Park was a day well spent.  We saw lots of animals from lizards crossing the road to packs of elephants in woods.  This zebra moment just made me laugh.  Heads or tails?  

During our all-day trek back to my village ending the whirl-whin tour of South Africa we stopped to enjoy the magic of Long Tom pass.

An Aletuke Welcome

Mom and Dad were greeted with celebrity status.  Everyone was so happy to meet them.  This was a moment long awaited by the Aletuke staff, children, guardians and community.  Mom is greeted by Mma Mabusela, one of the Aletuke kitchen staff.

In this culture children with greet adults by putting their hands together and then the adult embraces their hands.  This is one of my favorite pictures from their visit.  What a special moment.

The workers and children decorated the inside of the church with a welcome sign and a head table where we sat during the celebration.

When the time came for everyone to show their appreciation they did it in the way they know best... shaking their booty.

A group of young boys showed their stuff during a traditional dance.  Sadly, this is something that is fading as the culture moves toward the first world.

These girl showed their true colors to with singing, dancing and drumming.  They were so beautiful to watch in all their beautiful dresses.

Again, me and Mama.  I just love seeing her in traditional dress.  

What a proud moment for Mary J, one of the supervisors at Aletuke, to have her picture taken with Mom.  

After the program was over and everyone had eaten the party continued outside with more singing, dancing and drumming.  Boy, can these girls shake what their Mama's gave them.

This is a great picture of Mom, Dad, Mama and Leah.  Leah is my next door neighbor, one of Mama's best friends, a good friend of mine and on the board of Aletuke.  This is also a proud moment for Mama and Leah to pose with Mokgaetji's parents.

Party South African Style

Mama was so proud to sport her new Obama shirt and Mandela apron.

Every good party needs a good cooking staff.  Mama called in the local big shots to create a wonderful spread of food for the day.  

A group of girls came to perform some traditional dancing.  They were really good.  Mom and Dad really enjoyed the entertainment.

The moment Mom had been waiting for

Mom had tried desperately all week to catch a good photo of a donkey cart.  Well, this day she got more than she had bargained for.  The ultimate upgrade.

Re-visiting Leyden

My first host family was so pleased to meet Mom and Dad.  We arrived to a wonderful traditional meal and had a great visit with them.  

A letter to Mr. Obama

Dear Mr. Obama,

Opportunity, freedom, equality, support, good health and education are things I celebrate everyday.  Most of them occur in my life simply because I’m an American and for that I am grateful.  Living in black, rural South Africa opened my eyes to this and made me truly appreciate the life I have been blessed with.   

On January 20, 2009 at 7:00pm my time, I watched you swear in as the 44th president of the United States.  A massive wave of pride swept over me that night. I felt so proud to be an American.  That is a feeling I have never had.  In the eyes of generations all over the world you are an idol.  An absolute hero.  You have the toughest job in the world right now.  Thank you for being our leader during such difficult times.  If there is one thing I have learned from my time in the Peace Corps it is that one must have patience and find success in everyday; to have faith in the flow, and patience in faith.  I hope our country, and the rest of the world, can find patience before judgement.

My father is your biggest fan.  He and my Mom visited me here in South Africa from Mt Desert Island, Maine.  They presented my host Mom with an Obama t-shirt.  The pride on her face when wearing your shirt was unmeasurable.  It went perfectly with the Mandela apron I had previously given her. 

You are a common thread of hope throughout the world.  This picture speaks volumes of the connection that people now have because of you.  As an American I now hold my head up high.  When people here find out that I'm from the United States the first thing they want to talk about is Obama.  With the South African election drawing near I am often asked if I'll be voting.  I explain that I'm not a citizen but I did my part for the world by voting for Obama.  That is all the answer they need as they shake my hand with thanks.

I read your inaugural speech as a source of inspiration and hope.  It is also a constant reminder of the magnitude of the tasks and difficult decisions that lay ahead of you and our country.  Returning to the United States after my Peace Corps service scares me as I think about the desperate economy and job market I will be re-entering at the age of 36.  However, I find peace knowing that those issues are being addressed in a way that will not make the rich richer but will feed the poor, house the homeless, treat the sick and open doors to education and greater opportunity for the disadvantaged.  Thank you, Mr. Obama, for moving us forward with values of humanity and compassion. 



Darcy Stillman

Peace Corps South Africa, 2008-2010