Wednesday, October 24, 2007


First off, something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: introduce you to my wonderful African family.

Front, from left to right: Jessy from Germany, host mom Gertrude (or Nzwaki), baby Sitetile, sister Evelyn, host dad Boi (or Tetile). Back, from left to right: sister Thania, brother Sipho.

Tetile, better known as Boi, works for SA intelligence/national security, and I’ve heard him described as the James Bond of South Africa. While this is probably true in that he has access to some serious spy equipment, guns, and inside information, I’d say he’s more teddy bear than ladies’ man (albeit a teddy bear who can do an intense 180 if necessary).

Nonzwakazi, also called Gertrude, is the director of Angels and Starfish, but she’s involved in an endless list of projects, all for the sake of community development. In 2000, she founded South African Female Empowerment (SAFE), which is the umbrella organization for Angels and Starfish. She’s also the chairperson and co-founder of the Mandela Park Economic Forum (Mandela Park being the township that neighbours our home).

As for my siblings....

Evelyn is my age and we get along really well. She loves to cook and dreams of opening her own tea shop someday. Sitetile is her adorable daughter, born in March of this year.

Thania is finishing up her senior year at the American International School and will hopefully start classes at the University of Cape Town in February. She recently got a job with Projects Abroad as their “social director” – proof that she definitely knows how to have a good time (not to mention the details on virtually every club/cafe/hangout spot in Cape Town!).

Sipho, the youngest and the only boy, is a sophomore at the American International School. Despite the fact that he’s quite a few years younger than me, he still feels we should get married – after all, “Age is nothing but a number.” Somehow I doubt he’d feel this way were it not for my chocolate cupcakes!

Favorite family hangout spot: mom and dad's bed! Everyone piles in together to talk, watch TV, and even eat. Sounds weird, but it works :)

Auntie Thania and Sitetile, hanging out on St. George's Mall.

Sitetile and me, hanging out on the couch.

And now for a disappointing (and even slightly teary-eyed) goodbye. Jessy, my cohort in the crèche and at home, left for Germany early this morning, a month earlier than anticipated. I’ve been debating whether or not to share the reason behind her departure, and I’ve finally decided I should, as the whole incident is shaping up to be an integral part of my experience in South Africa.

This past Friday, Jessy and I joined fellow Projects Abroad volunteers for a weekend trip to the Robertson Wine on the River festival. Before we left, Jess said goodbye to her parents, who’d come for a visit two weeks prior and were scheduled to depart the next day. All seemed well as Jess and I headed off for a few days of wine tasting and relaxation. But when we returned Sunday evening, Jessy’s family called with some disturbing news.

After we’d left on Friday, Jessy’s parents were at the crèche with Gertrude, playing with the kids and taking some pictures. They left around eleven and walked back towards our house, just up the road. Gertrude said goodbye before leaving for a doctor’s appointment, and Jessy’s parents continued on to their guest house. They didn’t get very far, though – as they turned the corner from our house, two young men jumped out and attacked them. One of the men placed a small white pill in his mouth before stabbing Jess’s dad in the hand, creating a wound 2cm deep. The men got away with his camera bag and cell phone, and Jess’s parents filed a police report before flying home the next day. By the time Jess got word of all this on Sunday, her parents were adamant she come home straight away.

I suppose it makes sense, especially considering that this isn’t even the first incident to have occurred. About a month ago, a young man attempted to mug Jess in broad daylight, just down the street from our house. Luckily, I was able to pull her away and nothing was stolen, though she did end up with quite the scrape on her arm. We, too, filed a police report, but nothing has come of it.

I don’t want to frighten or mislead people, which is why I’ve debated sharing any of this. South Africa is a magnificently beautiful country, and so many of the people here are absolutely incredible. Still, crime obviously exists. And it makes me so angry. I hate that crime can detract from all the good in a place, that crime is the reason I’ve had to say goodbye to a friend.

While I may be angry, I’m trying not to be afraid. Fear takes away one’s freedom, restricts one’s thought and movement. And a lack of freedom in this supposedly “new” South Africa seems pretty damn ironic.

So, anyone up for a visit?

Monday, October 8, 2007

a little love story

It was bound to happen eventually. A young woman, thousands of miles from home, will inevitably peak the interest of the opposite sex. But while I’ve done my fair share of explaining that, “I already have a boyfriend,” and, “No, he’s not here right now, but that doesn’t change anything,” the attention hasn't been entirely frustrating.

Still, I suppose I never anticipated a suitor quite this....short.

Meet Musa. Musa happens to be in love with me.

The other day, his mother told my host mom that Musa kept going on and on about another child from the crèche.

“He’s always saying, ‘Oh, Emy did this, Emy said that.’ So I’m wondering, who is this Emy?”

My host mom laughed and told Musa’s mother that “Emy” was in fact Musa’s teacher, not his classmate.

Apparently, Musa also asked Jessy if I had a boyfriend. (She wisely suggested he talk to me himself.)

Of course, I have had my own hints here and there.

It began two weeks ago. Everyone was working on a project and, as usual, vying for attention. Generally this involves shouting, “EMY! EMY! EMY!” until I say something like, “BEAUTIFUL!” or “Perfect job!” and smile approvingly. Should the yelling approach fail, there’s always jabbing me repeatedly in the side until I respond.

Musa was doing a bit of both that day. Finally, after enough jabbing to form a proper bruise, I looked down and said, “WHAT, Musa?”

He just gazed back up at me and said, “Emy? I love you.”

Naturally, the impatient wench I’d been the moment before disappeared completely. “Oh, well, thank you Musa. I love you, too. Now get back to work.”

Later that day, he kissed me on the cheek after I tied his shoe. And last week, he kept making me hearts out of playdough.

It seems Andy better watch himself, eh? :)

Really, though, certain males out there would do well to take a few cues from Musa. Frequent affection, open devotion, and presents? He’s definitely onto something!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

health, heritage, and the great in-between

Where to begin?

I’d begin at the beginning, except there isn’t one. And as far as I can see, there’s also no end. Life really is about being between the trapezes, isn’t it?

In my last post, I said there’d be more to follow on Kirstenbosch, but so much has happened since that I can hardly bear to go back and tell the whole “Story of Our Field Trip.” So I won’t. However, I do want to mention a few things. Namely, that in addition to leaving the park without any broken bones or major injuries, a second miracle occurred: I didn’t pull my hair out. Not even after Sinothando threw her chip bag in a pond and laughed as she watched it float towards a family of ducks, while Sihle ran to the other side of the pond and began dumping her juice into the water. To have all my hair after that and to have stayed calm? Miraculous. (Well, anyway, I stayed calm-ish....)

And then of course there were the flowers, which were absolutely gorgeous. The kids counted the petals and named the colors as we went along. But forget flowers – it was actually the automatic hand dryers in the bathroom that took center stage. My group must’ve spent thirty minutes by the toilets, washing their hands multiple times, just so they could dry them. We have been working on hand-washing at school, so it was still educational. (Well, anyway, it was educational-ish. And as far as I’m concerned, “ish” is enough.)

Anyway, since Kirstenbosch, we’ve done LOTS. The week following, we made flower projects connecting the theme “What I Saw at Kirstenbosch” to our new focus: “We Are Growing!” The projects turned out very sweet and highly original. There were paper circles the children were supposed to glue in the center of the petals on their flowers, but many of circles ended up at the bottom of the stems – as bulbs! I guess you stick to what you know, eh? (And bulbous plants happen to be one of the four major groups of flora and fauna here in SA.) I’ll post pics of the projects once I’ve got them properly displayed.

Later in the week, we also made a class growth chart. This was partly in preparation for a visit from Shelli Marx, a local woman studying to be a dietician. As part of her internship at a nearby clinic, she asked to weigh and measure all the kids to assure they are growing properly. I’m pleased to report that, for the most part, our children are growing well – and I'd think the meals provided by Angels and Starfish each day certainly help. Ms. Marx will be back next week to do some de-worming. (Gross, maybe, but as the township lacks any proper sewage/sanitation system, worms are a big problem in children, adults, and dogs.)

Shelli Marx measures Rowundi.

Besides keeping an eye on health these past few weeks, we also took advantage of Heritage Day (which fell on September 24th). I developed a semi-simple South African flag craft, then gave Voiswa (the head teacher) the materials and "how-to" so she could instruct the kids. The flags turned out beautifully. Jessy and I laminated them, then strung them into a banner. I must say, I’m always amazed that the “same project” turns out so differently for every child. It’s remarkable to see the reflection of the creator in his or her work. Awesome, really.

The completed banner, hanging in our classroom.

There was a bit of confusion about the red and blue :)

Last week, Jessy and I also tackled the not-so-fun task of sorting and washing all the toys from the crèche. And there were some pretty nasty ones, let me tell you. There were broken bits of plastic and metal, and a few toys with mold growing (obviously we threw these away.) The white fabric torsos of the dolls had become black with grime, and many stuffed animals were losing their insides. Jess and I salvaged everything we could, then set to work scrubbing away with sponges and toothbrushes. We put the dolls in the bathtub to soak (which looked incredibly creepy, what with many of them missing eyes and such), but even overnight in a tub of bleach didn’t get them visibly clean. At least we can assume the germs were killed, I guess. So while the toy situation may still be far from perfect, it’s certainly better than it was before. Far less dangerous, too.

Of course, it hasn’t been ALL work around here. We’ve been going out, taking trips, even building houses. Well, ok, building houses is kind of a lot of work. In any case, I definitely have more to share – next time. Cheers!