Time here goes so fast. ‘South African time’ doesn’t just mean late o’clock (although all credit to our national volunteers, they are very good at being on time); it also seems to mean squeezing a week into the space of a day or two, and all of a sudden we’re entering our third week here. Two and a half weeks we’ve been in SA, and the excitement at our prospective first day off is palpable. Rather than going for an elaborately planned trip out to a beautiful canyon or venturing over to see the wonders of Kruger national park, the likely forecast is shaping up to be a night in our favourite hostel, Nelspruit backpackers, with drinking spells, and heavy relaxation. I cannot wait.
This week has seen the volunteers’ arrival (at last!) from Joburg, and thankful confirmation that they are in fact alive and well, and also apparently incapable of sending a text to let us know they’d arrived…
But anyway it was really nice to meet them all again, and to be reminded that the millions of meetings, hundreds of handshakes, and sprinkling of incidences of getting lost whilst driving around Nelspruit were all for a purpose: there will be a project, with real people, and hopefully a real impact. Exciting.
So we met them in Nelspruit and waved them into a taxi, with a full week of training looming dauntingly ahead of us. New week, new challenge.
I think we pulled it off. Not once did anyone call us out for being frauds who had nothing of value to say and no authority to be delivering training to a group of people the same age as us – so I consider that a success. In all seriousness though, there’s been a hell of a lot of stuff that I’ve done since I’ve been here that I never would have imagined myself being capable of two years or even a
year ago. I’m pretty chuffed with myself, when I step outside the constantly circling list of Things We Should Probably Get Done Oops that buzzes round and round in my head.
There have been some real high points of the trip so far this week. I was given a South African name by Xolile, one of our national volunteers (Mbali Enhle, meaning beautiful flower, which I’m sure you will agree is a fitting name for such a delicate flower as myself). We were also graced once more with the presence of Tenteleni co-founder, the cuddly grandma and all-round legend that is Gladys, who happily sat outside Clara’s guesthouse with us and told us stories until we had run out of questions. Gladys is such a great storyteller, a proper fireside granny, like you can imagine her taking everyone onto her knee and telling us about the good old days in her slow, measured voice. The first time we met her, we sat on her sofas and listened to the creation story of Tenteleni, and then it came to what we felt was the end of the meeting, so we said, ‘We should probably be heading off, it’s getting dark.’ She stood up, walked to the door and glanced out, then announced ‘Oh no, it’s not dark,’ and commenced another story. What a gal.
Clara’s guesthouse has been such a great location for training week: there’s space to sit outside, a little table shaded by a tree, and she’s got this incredible garden out back with a whole recycled allotment vibe going on. As Clara says, she never throws anything away – so there are plant pots made out of old boots and bits of tire, hanging mobiles made of such varied materials as semi-precious stones, mugs (that one’s a real bugger to hit your head on, and it happens frequently), kitchen implements, and little mini watering cans. It was nice as well to have South Africa’s answer to The Sun on the table every morning to read, with stories about like a rapper who thought he was Jesus, and a false prophet getting busted for making people eat snakes and synthetic hair braids to prove their faith (Billy read a bit further and pointed out the ridiculousness of the fact that he made people do all that stuff and all they got him for was cruelty to animals).
Funnily enough, one of the hardest training week activities we had to do was actually thought up by Rachel,not imposed on us from the powers that be (aka the training team) and it involved writing down a compliment for every other volunteer. Four hours later, we still hadn’t managed it. For James, it seemed to take every ounce of his concentration to think of something for everyone. And still all he could think of for me was ‘don’t worry your driving isn’t that bad.’
The volunteers also had an observation day in their schools on Wednesday, so that was a big excitement, for the teachers and other staff in the placement as well as the volunteers. Largely they just got taken round all the classes and introduced to all the kids, and they were always nonplussed by the fact that the volunteers could stretch to saying ‘hello’ in SiSwati. Apparently April and Tabi had an interesting conversation with one of the teachers from their school: on hearing that April studies economics at university, the teacher replied knowingly, ‘Ahhh, you’ll be able to get us out of the Euro then.’ (South Africa do not and presumably never will use the Euro). Bizarre.
Don’t get me wrong, there have also been frustrations accompanying this week; particularly frustrations associated with living in the dark ages (aka living without a high speed internet connection, SUCH POVERTY). Part of our job is to make sure the project team in the UK are kept up to date with certain things, and sending over the relevant documents to achieve this aim. However, using internet cafes is clearly not our strong suit. We have managed to break not one, not two, but THREE USBs since we’ve got here, and have now boycotted using internet cafes and instead decided to get an internet dongle from town when we go. Either every computer in KaNyamazane has a virus, or we have got incredibly, incredibly unlucky. It’s also been difficult getting used to using a non-smart phone again (a dumb phone, if you will), and trying to sustain a conversation where you often don’t know what you had said to the other person because the phone doesn’t save sent messages. Neutral affirmation is the best way to handle it: ‘haha, yeah’ in reply to whatever they say. It also seems that we may have chosen THE most annoying mobile network, MTN, who genuinely send you about 15 texts every time you top up – God forbid should you want to top up with more than one ticket at a time (35 texts later and you wonder whether it was even worth it…)
But anyway, by and large it’s been another successful week. We are all being very well looked after by our wonderful hosts (I looooove Toockey’s cooking), and though perhaps we are all eating more than necessary in their generosity, that will hopefully settle down as we settle in. I’m beginning to feel that a place wouldn’t feel like home if there were no South African radio blaring constantly in the corner (with anything from gangsta rap to traditional devotional songs, I kid you not), and if there weren’t at least three TVs on at any one time. Two and a half weeks down, eight to go. South Africa, you are doing well.