Tuesday, November 26, 2013

6 Things I Learned About Nkomazi, South Africa

HEY! You're here! Welcome to Africa!

Eleven weeks is a long time. Or so you'd think. Many volunteer trips--the kind that aims to change your perspective on life--are MAYBE two months. But this is almost three, and it isn't even the halfway point! So you might expect that I have gained significant insight into the world here based on this incredible adventure. However, the truth is that I have only just glimpsed things about Nkomazi. I wouldn't feel comfortable making too many generalizations. I'm just getting to deeply know the Scholars--and it's mostly through interactions with others, especially Scholars, that I can understand life here. However, I'll be brave and make some generalizations to give you a picture of my life, from my point of view:

1) Money can't buy happinness...but it can buy A/C. Of course, I expected heat. The A/C helps with this, but not entirely. When I look through the window blinds and spy our dog laying, beat, under the tree (instead of his usual "chase-the-kids-or-bark" fervor), I know why they call these the "dog days of summer." Moreover, it's not like people here are so used to it that it doesn't get mentioned. Bring up the weather, and anyone lends a sympathetic ear. Anything outside of 50-80 degrees F, and you have a topic of conversation. I have heard about schools here, and how hard it is to learn when it's high noon in a 60-student classroom with no A/C. That makes me count my lucky stars!

2)  The environment of Nkomazi could be hung on a picture frame...it's so pretty you could vomit. As an outisder, Kamhlushwa has a timeless feel to it. The adobe brick huts with cone straw roofs, the neighborhood kids kicking a soccer ball on the tan dirt roads, the sugar cane fields, and the far-away hills framing every sunset (with pink accents!) make it all so interestingly picturesque. Ironic, though, that the history of the town isn't too long, and it is a developing area, far from a "backwater." Also, it's a village, but there are multiple sides of town. I haven't really explored the more suburban-looking side, with green lawns and cars much, but it exists. There's even a pretty tall minaret.

3) There are no hustle-and-bustle city noises, but we have LOUD sounds all our own! Well, this one is specific to our address in the town. The day time isn't actually that loud. We live next door to a creche (preschool), so the mornings are often filled with children's laughter and chanting. I heard crying for the first time ever the other day; these are hardy kids. On the other side of the street, there is a church, so gospel singing is a weekly ritual.

On the other hand, the night time is an interesting mix of sounds. I always hear the gentle chirps of crickets in the background. But the other animals all want a turn too! Some nights, I'll hear a pack of barking dogs, really antsy about something. Other nights, toads from our backyard start burping like they drank too much Cola. And--not lately, but it used to be shockingly common--the very proud neighborhood roosters would cock-a-doodle-doo tirelessly through the night. Myth Busted: those guys don't care what time it is. They've got to wake you up, it's "roosters are awesome" time. I'm a deep sleeper so it was more amusing than a real issue, except that my rooster alarm (kukuklok.com) was no longer effective. Last of the animals, the party animals! Fridays and Saturdays are hot nights for the club down the road. I hear pop/dance/house music. Marvin Gaye has had a few spins this week.

4) Bring your money, and watch it multiply!!! To eat well, it's mad cheap. For restaurant food, I've found prices to often be low enough that it's tempting to live at the restaurant. For some items, the restaurant prices can be so low you wonder what they pay the staff. Also, we are living in the midst of mango, orange, banana, and lychee trees in the peak season--it's an absolute BA-NANZA! Aside from food, other household things are about the same price as in the States. Conveniently, a US dollar is worth 10 South African 'rand.' Many signs around town advertise a ten rand haircut in sketchy-looking shacks. That is literally a dollar cut. Even with (or because of?) the length of my hair, I have often stared at those signs with something more than curiosity. The quality of the cut notwithstanding!

5) It's both the same and different here. I say it's different because lives take very different courses and meanings here. Social injustice, lack of economic opportunity, disease, ignorance, and other issues ensure that does not treat you comfortably. Students have deep wounds or scars that they carry, unnoticed to me until it comes up and completely blows me away. Their wonderful demeanors blind me heavy burdens. It is a resilience that, I think in teenagers is uncommon. Their resilience is underscored by the staggering, depressing hopelessness that they confront daily. It is seen in the endless issues of rape, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, pointless fights, and teen pregnancy that sour the atmosphere of school life. It is also common to hear about both teacher absenteeism, and their corporal punishment of students. I say the same because, in terms of my everyday experience of life, I haven't really experienced a big culture shock. People speak English, I eat the things as I did at home (and things that are different are "'Ooo, new menu item!' different. I think you have to be looking for crazy foods to find it. Many of the same conveniences (such as electricity, Internet, hot water, and electronics) are available, and cultural norms in everyday interactions are pretty similar, or are Westernized. There may not be an Apple store, but I was never an Apple person. Imagine Scholars frequently have very similar ambitions for their lives as motivated students anywhere. Superficially, Kamhlushwa looks like a mash-up of old and new; and in my experience, it seems to be.

6) It IS an experience that you can't fully put in words. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I am so lucky to be experiencing all of the things that I have, and from the perspective I have. A lot of it is so personal to me that I'm afraid of sounding trite. But to be here, for me, does open up new ways of being alive. I'd love to return to this idea of self-discovery, maybe in another post though.

In the next blog, I'd like to talk about the students. The students are what make it all worthwhile, and fulfilling, and bring thoughtfulness and purpose to each action. We are less than a week from the beginning of summer break(!) I am personally less than a week from heading to Liberia, and seeing my incredible girlfriend, and her school More Than Me Girl's Academy. In January, I'll get to discover Imagine Scholar all over again. I'm looking forward to that time. Oh, how I wonder what future me will think about this list!

Until then, Hamba Kahle ("Go well")!

Hamba Kahle! Quit monkeying around -_-