Friday, January 28, 2011

The Big Update

“Mola” from South Africa!

In case you couldn’t tell, our life is far from ordinary. Our latest adventure has been the “bush” of Gudeka, which is a tiny Xhosa village in the mountains, helping with a school and living like a native. We’ve been here since Jan. 7 and plan to stay until the last week of February. Every day is literally an adventure – there are some moments that I can’t imagine anything more rewarding and want to stay forever…and some when I am ready to walk out and head back to the comforts of America.

On the way up 2 weeks ago, we swore that we wouldn’t take another ride in a “bakkie” (def: a tiny 1975 pickup truck with absolutely no suspension whatsoever. You are crammed in the back [which has a top and no windows that can be opened, of course] and share a wooden “bench” with a million other people. On the way to Gudeka the first time, we had 23 people, 2 kids, a ton of groceries, and a live chicken) until it was to leave the mountains for good. The trucks are horrible enough but the roads are beyond awful, so you get to bump around for an hour with all your sweaty, closest friends and spend the next week nursing your butt back to life. But we were desperate for some civilization and craving ice cream, so we broke our promise and came down to the closest town, Ntabankulu.

That was an adventure in and of itself.  The day was rainy and gross, so we had a lazy morning and after lunch we packed up our backpacks, put on comfy traveling clothes (read: flip flops), and walked up to the main road to wait for the dreaded bakkie. You can see for miles and we didn’t see one coming our direction, so we decided to just start walking a little bit. Nothing came, so we just kept walking…and walking…and walking…. Eventually we met a new friend, Momosa, who said that he was walking to Ntabankulu too. David got up the nerve to ask how long the trek would take and we blamed Momosa’s answer on his poor English – 10 hours. To make a long story short(er), we left Gudeka at 1 and walked without seeing a single bakkie until 4. Finally a random family in a truck drove by and offered us a ride. It wasn’t a comfortable ride at all but we bounced in the back for a good 45 minutes and finally got to Ntabankulu in time to grab some groceries for dinner, take baths for the first time in 2 weeks and sleep in a real bed. Hallelujah!
There isn’t much in Ntabankulu (at all), but we can take a taxi into Kokstad and use the internet, go to a real grocery store, and eat fast food. This time we really won’t take another bakkie ride until we are leaving for good!
Gudeka has been awesome, though. We are living with a woman named Sharon MacDonald, who we met when we were fleeing from Jeffrey’s Bay. She is a 68-year old from Canada and has dreamed up the “Hinterland Learner’s Center.” It is still a work in progress, but it is basically a school and library with a TON of toys and books (and everything in-between). Her vision is that the whole community would use the center to learn about everything from raising cattle to sewing, from gardening to playing the violin. She is also building a “Technology Center” where she eventually hopes to have classes for adults and a solar-powered kitchen. Right now it is basically a small building with a big deck and hammock and an awesome view of the sunset every night. When we get back to the States, we want to help her design a webpage and get the word out about her goals to get some more visitors from the US and Canada up to help.

We are living in a rondeval owned by our next-door neighbor. We have our own little tent inside (to keep critters out!) with cots and there is a propane kitchen, which makes us by far the most technologically-savvy house in town. We have to boil all our water (which is rainwater collected in cisterns around town) and we have been eating a lot of non-perishable foods but there is also a “store” in town that carries the basics and a lot of the families have gardens, so we can buy some fruits and vegetables. We don’t have any electricity, so we live by flashlight and candlelight at night, and we don’t have plumbing but the government put in pretty decent outhouses and we keep chamber pots in the rondeval for nighttime emergencies J. Gudeka (and all of the cities up in the mountains) is a farming town so there are animals everywhere – goats, pigs, chickens, cattle, horses, dogs, etc. I don’t know who started the idea that roosters crow in the morning but they were wrong….they crow ALL THE TIME.

Anyways, school started last Wednesday (Jan. 19), so that has been where we have been spending most of our time lately. Before that, we organized the library (and became entirely too familiar with the Dewey Decimal System) and did some manual labor at the Technology Center painting lacquer on the deck and digging out “classrooms” underneath it. School has been really fun, the kids are adorable and it is amazing how much English they know. Xhosa is their first language, which is a “click” language and really fun to listen to.

We’ve also started to tackle the garden at the Learner’s Center. It was planted by someone who apparently knew what they were doing, but has since become a weedy mess. Many of the kids come to school with nothing to eat and are obviously hungry, and we think it would be awesome if we could actually get the garden functioning again to provide lunch, but there is a lot of work to be done. It’s so weedy and overrun that we’re still not exactly sure of everything in it, but when we walked through we saw: corn, spinach, green beans, cabbage, green peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes.

There have been so many “highlights” of the trip – the kids are great (usually), the scenery is incredible, and we are learning a lot about teaching and gardening. We’ve also been reading a TON since the library is so convenient – it has been a good excuse to read some of the classics and try some new stuff too. We’ve also attended a local church a few times, which is quite an experience. Tell 60 people to get dressed up in multiple layers, pile them into a tiny room with no air circulation or light, cook something over hot coals in the corner of the room and have them all sing random Xhosa songs and share whenever they feel led, and you’ve got the church we’ve been attending! Oh, and don’t forget to ask the two white people to share brief sermons with no preparation whatsoever.

There are some drawbacks too, though. Not having plumbing or electricity is tough sometimes, all our food pretty much comes from a can of some sort, and the woman we are living with is a little looney (but she is living alone in the mountains of Africa – she has to be kind of crazy).  It’s also hard not being able to check our email or keep up with the rest of the world and there are moments that are just plain boring. The sun comes up at about 5am but it goes down early too, and there’s only so much you can do by candlelight at night. There’s also times where we’d just love to be able to talk to people in English. Still, there’s an exciting adventure and new experience that awaits us each day and we are savoring our time here in this amazing country. We’ll have another update when we make our way back down from the mountains again in a few weeks!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

We're Alive!

Just wanted to let you know that we are safe & sound. We've been up in the "bush" for a little over 2 weeks, staying in a roundaval with a crazy 68-year-old Canadian librarian. Life is crazy, ya know? The kids are awesome though and started school this week so we have enjoyed spending time with them and getting to know a little Xhosa, which is a click language and very funny to hear spoken.

Came to Kokstad this weekend to do some interneting and use a real bed/toilet/electricity/sink - it's amazing! I think we will stay here until at least Monday or Tuesday and then go back up into the mountains for awhile. Very safe and there is so much to do there.
We will try to write a good update while we're not on internet "time" and send it out with a big update of everything we have been up to lately (and maybe even pictures!) soon.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

We're Headed for the Bush!

While in the midst of a coffee crisis at Wimpy yesterday, David and I met a woman, Sharon Macdonald, who works with an organization called the Hinterland Learners' Resource Network. The group works with native children doing early childhood education, and native families teaching life skills, community development, etc. She is from Canada and is based in a village outside of Ntabankulu, which is outside of Kokstad. 

So...we're headed for the bush! We are going to meet up with Sharon tomorrow and spend some time working with her in her village. We don't know how long we will stay there and haven't made any commitments, but we won't have access to internet (or electricity/running water - yikes!) while we are there. There are internet cafes in Ntabankulu, so we should be able to check it intermittently but just not constantly after tomorrow afternoon.

All that to say, don't worry about us if you don't hear from us for a little while. Think of us when you use your indoor plumbing or electricity, and please keep us and the people we will be working with in your thoughts and prayers!

Nicole & David

PS Pictures from the past few weeks are up on Snapfish - check them out!