Thursday, August 02, 2007


Today I officially lose my status as a Peace Corps Volunteer. In just a few hours I will be flying back to the states after not being home for two years. I have very mixed feelings about what to expect and how I feel about leaving. I'm expecting a lot of culture shock. This experience has been the most incredible of my life, and I will never be able to accurately put in words all that has happened to me here. I can't believe it's over, and I'm interested to see where my life will go from here. When I reach the states I will hopefully find a job, preferably in teaching, and go from there. Until then I expect to be a bit of a lost soul.

Thank you so much for all the interest and support in my projects here over the last two years. I feel that some of biggest accomplishments were a result of the help of the people in my life. Thanks also for the interest and for those who have been following my journey. Writing on this blog and getting feedback has definitely allowed me to examine my experience more fully and take more lessons from it.

Thanks again!!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Saying Goodbye to the Village

Saying goodbye to teachers at Matshwi Primary School.
Guess whose?
Saying goodbye to my new host family: Andrew, Salphina, Thapelo, Kholo, and Charmaine
Charmaine with her new scarf that I knitted her
Saying goodbye to took us a while to stop crying after this picture.
Saying goodbye to Khutso.
Traditional dress #1
Traditional dancing at my farewell function.
Me in traditional dress #2 saying goodbye to one of my teachers: Modjadji

The Playground


Preschool children climbing

Preschool teacher swinging
Me and Shebo

Painting the tires
Installing the equipment
Parents helping install equipment
Painting equipment
Breaking the ground for the equipment

Finally, after a multitude of obstacles to overcome, I completed my last project as a Peace Corps Volunteer: a playground. I was so happy with the results and feel that it is the best project I did during my service. It had so many side effects that I simply wasn't expecting. For one example of many, I have never seen so much parental involvement and interest in the school. My parents kept thanking me for allowing their children to finally be "treated like white children." On my last day at site the kids were allowed to play on the equipment for the first time. Their reactions were classic and wonderful. It's amazing to see them so blissfully happy. Thank you so much for all the support I received regarding this project.

Pictures from trip with Mom and Aunt Joni

Lighthouse at Cape Point
Monkey and I at Kruger National Park.
Mom and I at Table Mountain.
Mom and monkey at Kruger National Park.
My new host family. The parents are in their traditional wedding outfits.
Me at Cape Point
Mom and I at the Cycad nature reserve.
Joni and I at the Cycad Nature Reserve.

Joni and Mom at Kruger National Park.

Me with my youngest host brother.
Mom at the beach.
My two Moms.

Cape Buffalo

Friday, June 29, 2007

Painting tires for the Playground

My painting helpers and I.

Getting started

Finished Product

Thursday, June 28, 2007


I officially got approval to leave the country at the beginning of August. This means one month left of Peace Corps service left. I guess I'm a bit in shock about the whole thing. I don't know how to say goodbye. I don't know how to prepare myself for culture shock. I'm waiting for it to hit me....

Playground Update

My playground project has been fully funded!! This means that I have two weeks to finish it before I go back to California (school break until mid-July so I'm stuck until then). I'm a bit stressed about the whole thing, but I'm sure it will get completed in time. I did spend a day last week painting tires with some of the kids to border the yard where we are putting it (I'll post pictures of our work so far soon). The kids seem really excited and it will be nice to see them having somewhere to play as oppose to chasing each other with sticks.

Returning to America

Lately I have been feeling down about returning to America. This has nothing to do with the current state of things there as much as my desperation to line up a job for my return; a search that has been fruitless as no one is willing to interview me from across the ocean. At this point I'm trying to be creative in my job search: I'm thinking of applying to a one room school house that names "trailer hook up" as one of its perks. I may send in an application to Best Buy next. Yet, in the spirit of things, and to pump myself up about being unemployed and homeless, I have compiled a list of things I am looking forward to in American culture:

1. Buying things in bulk. I can't wait to get a 36 pack of Diet Dr. Pepper and a small trunk full of q-tips in one shopping trip.

2. Pedestrians having the right-of-way (actually this is just a small part of the idea of the ability to sue someone if they cause me any pain or inconvenience).

3. Internet dating (where I can pretend that I'm not living on a couch and trick someone into going on a date with me).

4. Not being charged to use my own ATM

5. Free nights and weekend on a cell phone plan (note: procure plan, procure cell phone).

6. Personal space i.e. the woman behind me in the supermarket will not have her breasts supported by my shoulder.

7. Noise violations (God bless neighbors who call the police at 10pm if you're watching a DVD above minimum volume).

8. Book stores that sell books not written by Danielle Steele or Michael Crichton.

9. Hummers (just kidding)

9. Football and middle-aged men wearing a hat that dispenses beer.

10. Buying a drink and not having to pay for each item separately i.e. not a coke and a shot of rum.

11. Hole in the wall Mexican restaurants

12. 24 hour convenience stores

13. Celebrity gossip (kidding)

13. Actually, who am I kidding....celebrity gossip (I'm soooooooo behind on what Paris Hilton is up to)

14. Take-out coffee shops

15. Shoes in sizes I understand

16. Reclaiming names: goodbye coriander, baby marrow, brinjals, and rubbers. Welcome back cilantro, zucchini, egg plant, and erasers.

17. Videos you can rent for longer than a day.

18. Customer Service

19. Glutinous showers

20. Good pickles

21. Mall guards who don't carry around AK-47s

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Move

My life, over the last few weeks, has been absolutely insane. Things at my site finally went awry. Allow me to paint a picture:

I have had "difficulties" with my host family for a sustained period of time. In fact, it has really been one "difficulty" by the name of Oupa, but one problem often leads to two and then suddenly you find yourself in a plethora of disaster wondering how it ever got this bad and cursing everyone and everything around you.

Case in point, about three weeks ago I came home from school. I had a great day at work. I had just found out that the hall we were renovating was completed and I could now transfer my library from its limited classroom to a locale that allowed walking two steps without crashing into an object. I was happy, which is not a state I always claim in the village. So I walked home, entered my compound, went to unlock my door, looked up, and realized that my house, had in fact, almost no roof. Apparently, my host family had decided they were going to remove the tin roof and replace it with tiles. Now, I respect this decision; after all, it meant an upgrade in lifestyle for them. What I was unhappy about was the fact that no one had told me and I had in the space of five minutes, basically become homeless.

I attempted to calm myself. This is Africa. None of this is surprising. It's a different culture. I know this. Still, I was annoyed. Thus I went into my room (that still had most of it's roof) to try to calm myself. This strategy was not effective as I soon found myself stumbling through the door after being assaulted with dust and debris from the construction overhead. Thus, I left. I went to go for a walk around the dam until it got dark so that the construction would end and I could cool down. It worked. I felt much better coming home. I had found a new path and walked by the river for awhile. There was no one around. I felt peaceful and calm. In fact, I could handle anything.

Actually, I lied. I couldn't handle anything. I thought I could but was quickly confronted with a situation that is always a bad one: teenage boys. As I walked back up the path I came upon a group of five guys. I tried to ignore them and go quickly on my way but it was not to be. They started verbally harassing me and by that point I had no temper so I did the last thing I should have and flipped them off. The response was devastating. I was surrounded and stayed that way for 10 minutes while they yelled "Fuck me bitch," "Kiss my ass" and other less pleasant statements until they finally tired and left me.

By now, I was in tears. I was almost home and I was beside myself. I walked back into the compound thankful to see they had finish construction for the evening. Yet, Oupa was there and quickly yelled more obscenities at me. I lost it and spit at him (no it was not mature but I didn't spit on him so I don't feel too horribly about it). I slammed my door and called Seth and Ivy.

Luckily, I have good friends who know what is best for me even if I won't admit it. Thus, they called Peace Corps and I was called back by my organization and told that it was time that I moved. I'm not a person who takes change well but by this point I finally admitted they were right and thus I went to bed setting up a meeting with my schools the next morning to find new housing.

By the way, what was left of my roof flew off during the middle of the night.

So to end this part of the story, the next day I moved out, into the nearby township, where I was to stay indefinitely until housing could be obtained.

While all this was occurring I was also moving my belongings and putting them into "storage" until a house could be found. We packed my stuff up and drove it to a neighboring village where someone had offered to keep my stuff until I had a room. We drove up to a house, exceptionally nice by village standards, and were directed to a small outside building to leave my things. As I wandered around the compound I realized how nice it was and jokingly asked my principal why I couldn't stay there. She said she thought it was too far and hadn't even thought about the possibility. We discussed it and finally decided that it would work, and that a teacher could always pick me up on the way to work to avoid transportation problems. Thus, in the typical African way, my principal and this family I had just met had the following conversation:

"How are you?"
"I'm fine and how are you?"
"I'm fine"
"Thank you for letting us store Makobo's things here."
"It is fine."
"By the way, we wondering if she could stay in the outside house also."

After some more detailed discussion and a quick consultation with his wife I was given a new home: one twice as big as my previous one in addition to having amenities I haven't seen in years such as a pit toilet without maggots. Thus, I now live with Andrew, his wife Salphina, their son Thapelo (grade 6), their daughter Charmaine (3 years old), and their 9 month old son, Kolo. In addition, I'm happy; really happy. I haven't felt this way in my village for over a year and the only question I keep asking myself is: why didn't I do this sooner? How could I have allowed myself to be so miserable for so long?

Sunday, May 13, 2007


So finally, after about 33 weeks, my grant has been posted for the request for money to build a playground at one of my schools. The following is the information for the project:

If you're interested in donating go to:

Volunteer Coordinator(s)C. Burkholder of CA
Funds Needed$957.00
Original Request$957.00
Project Number674-032
Community Contribution$220.00 (19%)

Letseku Primary School is located in Rasewana (population 921) in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Currently it caters to 520 children ranging from preschool aged to grade 7. One of the biggest problems the school faces is lack of classrooms which means that the preschool takes place in a wooden shack and the kindergarten class occurs in a small brick building. The children’s chairs all touch each other and the students have no desks. There is no room for these small children to move, play, or discover in their inadequate classrooms. Thus the students do not receive a beneficial education as they are often restless from lack of movement.

The Department of Education has promised that in the next few years the school will receive new classrooms yet they will never give a firm date and thus the children continue to suffer. The school has decided that one solution that would help alleviate this problem would be the construction of a playground. Given a playground the children will be able to practice and develop their gross motor skills as well as have a place to exert excess energy. In addition, it would help prevent children from fighting one and another as they would now have a place to entertain themselves during break and before and after school.

One final concern regarding the need for the playground is the potential for disaster without one. Letseku Primary School is located next to a dam that the children, who can not swim, often play by for lack of better options. In addition, it is located next to a tavern where many children play video games during break, an activity which should not be encouraged at school. Thus, a playground would provide wholesome activities for children who otherwise have no acceptable entertainment.

In preparation for this project the school has been involved in some fundraising events and has raised 140 rand towards the goal. One of the teachers has found tires to be donated for use in construction and there has been a call to parents to assist with labor on the project. Letseku Primary School now requests Partner Assistance to construct the playground.


This week I had 400 rand stolen from me (the equivalent of a bit more than 50 dollars) and half of what I had left to cover me this month. I did not realize for several days as I had not checked my wallet. I had left it untended in my bag in the school office which is when I'm guessing it was taken. It was a blow because I have always felt so comfortable in my village and at schools, and I hate that it makes me hesitant and resentful. Not something that adds to my experience....

The Quest

As my service begins to come to a close I am trying, in a variety of ways, to prepare for my departure. Hence, I stated my quest to replace myself with another volunteer. Recently I st down with my principals for a discussion regarding whether or not they were interested in having someone continue the work I've been doing. They enthusiastically agreed which gave me a positive feeling that I must be doing something right.

My own reasons for having someone else come in may be more selfish. In the scheme of things, I don't want the work I have done here to quietly slip away. I want constancy and follow-up, and for lack of a better description, someone here to continue beating positive education practices into my teachers' heads. In addition, my schools have good management and a handful of people who do really care. In that sense, it puts them leagues further in terms of development than many other rural schools. This makes me hopeful for them, and I want this to continue; something I think another volunteer could assist in perpetuating. Plus, I've had a good experience with my schools, and I want someone else to be able to have that experience also.

On this note, I talked to Peace Corps about the steps I would have to take in order to get someone else place out here. Unfortunately, I was informed that Peace Corps is not currently placing volunteers in this province until a year from now with the exception a few married couples. In regards to these couples, one would be working in education and one with a non-governmental organization. The verdict: if I want a volunteer I need to find a viable NGO for their spouse to work at.

Hence, we return to my quest. I brought this up to the principal of one of my schools. She was a bit baffled as she, like most of my teachers, doesn't live in the village thus wasn't aware of any organizations out here. Together we did some homework and through conversations with locals found out that there was an NGO and 10km away. Thus, we set out to find out what they were all about.

The drive there produced some doubts for me. I live in a very populated village next to a paved road, but go about 5km "that side" the road turns to dirt and housing begins to spread out. After turning down a dirt road, getting lost 3 times, and maneuvering down several treacherous ravines, we ended up smack dab in the middle of nowhere which also happened to be the location of the NGO in question. There happened to be no one there so we asked some men who were busy tending to their chickens if they had any information.

We ended up with a phone number and called a man who was partially responsible for this enterprise. Michael told us to drive out to the road a gain, he was currently at the church.

I quickly found myself in a Catholic Church, an anomaly in the village where the majority of the inhabitants ascribe to the Zion Christian Church. I have to admit that I felt comforted in this church where I immediately was able to identify everything and recognize the practices unlike many of my experiences in the village.

Turns out that the NGO stems from the Catholic Church. As I talked to the man in charge, Michael, an older man missing most of his front teeth which was evident from his frequent open mouthed grins, and read their mission statement, I began to regain the idea that perhaps this NGO could work for a volunteer. Their main premise was working with HIV/AIDS and TB thus they did home-based care for people living with these illnesses as well as providing care for children left as orphans as a result.

We talked, I gathered information, and additionally arranged a meeting for next week with the project manager who lives in a nearby town. I left the experience inspired by their mission and holding a tinge of regret that this hadn't been my experience here. All in all I hope everything pans out and both this organization as well as my schools will receive future assistance.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Recently I finished reading Dian Fossey's novel, Gorillas in the Mist. The whole book got me thinking about what it means to really generate change in the world, and I've come to the conclusion that it takes a level of dedication and passion towards a specific cause that most humans simply don't possess.

It seems that people who have caused the most metamorphosis have in fact given their lives to the ideals to which they prescribe. It is this passion which I find so fantastic. For example, Fossey spent 13 years in the jungles of Rwanda dedicated to tracking, observing, and increasing the ability of the gorillas there to exist. She lived without luxuries, alone, and tagged with a nickname that translated means "the woman who has no man." She constantly ran into obstacles: poachers, bureaucracy, etc; yet she still stayed emphatic toward her research and cause. In the end, she was murdered due to this dedication.

Her story also reminded me of another man I admire, Dr. Paul Farmer. Farmer is a man who has dedicated his life to providing medical care to impoverished people. In the Pulitzer prize winning book Mountains Beyond Mountains, the author, Tracy Kidder, describes all the years and effort Farmer has put in improving care in Haiti. In a time when so much of foreign aid fails, Farmer has succeeded through his immense passion to his cause. He is now working on replicating part of his programs here in Africa.

Perhaps what I find so incredible about these two individuals, and disheartening in myself, is the personal power they exude. I know I'm not a person who could dedicate my entirety to my village here. While I sit count the days until I can return to hot showers and the other comforts of America, these two actually game up all of themselves and as a result succeeded in making a difference.

Perhaps my real fear for developing nations is that the programs that actually make a huge difference, more often than not, cannot be replicated because the people who run them cannot be replicated. There are too few in the world willing to be a Fossey or a Farmer. My question is: What is it that can give a person that much heart, and what can I personally do to obtain it?


Yesterday, as I lay in my room reading, I was greeted with childish shouts: "Makobo, Makobooooooooo," emitted from my open door. After an allotted time period in which I attempted to ignore the calls I gave in and investigated my fan club.

Outside was Mothopi and two of her friends waiting for me to appear for their entertainment purposes. The three of them, being typical preschoolers began exploring me: the texture of my hair, my nose piercing, my painted toe nails. As they pointed at my bright pink toes I decided to join them in their festivities and grabbed a bottle of purple nail polish from my room. I then proceeded to paint thirty dirt encrusted nails the shade of an iris while three sets of tiny teeth grinned and giggled at the physical change taking place before their eyes.

It is amazing the simple things which can make us all happy.