Intro

Hello everyone!  I’m Lindsay, a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa working as a Community HIV Outreach Volunteer.  To learn more, see my About Me & FAQs page and my first post. To learn more about elands and why I named my page after them, check out Elands.  For more on my Peace Corps journey, see my application timeline, and then take a look at some other PCV blogs.  This blog is my perspective on living within a Setswana village in South Africa, so it is important to note that this is not representative of the many cultures, people or places of South Africa and is filtered through my personal lens.  You can stay up-to-date with my adventures by clicking on the “Follow” button on the right-hand side of your screen!

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Meet DK

I’m excited to announce a new series on Running with Elands called Village Voices. In this series, you’ll virtually meet some of my friends, host family, and coworkers; these are the people who make my Peace Corps service so memorable.

This week you’ll meet Dikeledi, or DK (picture below). DK was one of my first friends in my village, and she is also my Setswana tutor. She has a great sense of humor, a quality we quickly bonded over (and pretty good taste in people, obviously). Additionally, DK is one of the most reliable people I know—there have been times that I’ve forgotten we had a tutoring session, but she always shows up without fail! Another time, she helped me with a session at the local high school, rushing to come over after finishing up her own project. Last week, we hung out outside of work for the first time to watch movies, eat popcorn, and be lazy on a Saturday afternoon.

I met DK through YASPO, the local youth sports organization that I help out at occasionally. She grew up in the village next to mine and lives there with her mother, sister, daughter, and nieces. Her daughter, Kanego, is a very bright seven-year-old who I had the pleasure to meet last week. DK told me she’s very proud of her daughter, who doesn’t easily succumb to peer pressure. DK has much reason to be proud of herself; after graduating secondary (high) school, she volunteered with the local youth centre for a few months and then became a coach with YASPO. As a coach, she worked with students to teach them about HIV, gender-based violence, and related topics. Recently, DK transferred over to the administration side of YASPO. Jury’s still out on whether or not she prefers admin, but she did admit to a love of spreadsheets that I definitely share!

For the future, DK wants to go to school for public management and help build YASPO. Eventually, she wants to switch to genetics, a subject she both enjoyed and excelled at in school. She’s also passionate about environmental sustainability. Her favorite part about growing up in our community is that she was not only her parents’ child, she was considered a child of the community, and she cited that unity and the high level of female participation (especially in local committees) were some of the strengths here. DK noted that it was, however, tough growing up and realizing that you were following a different path from your friends, and that the community needs to work on discrimination against people on the basis of ability, socioeconomic status, and health.

You’ll usually see DK sporting a baseball hat, shirt, and jeans. Apparently, she’s a master at cooking a local dish called samp (although I have yet to verify this claim) although she much prefers cleaning to cooking. We also share a love of music; her favorite artists include Akon, Kendrick Lamar, Jason Derulo, Drake, Sjava, Kwesta, Kenny Makweng, Lusand, and Amadodana ase Wesele. Check out her top song selections at the bottom of this post!

I enjoy having DK as a tutor. Sometimes we come in with a set lesson, other times we freestyle and I ask her every few seconds to spell out what she previously said (I’m a visual learner). I’m really lucky to have her as a tutor; she is fully fluent in both languages and has helped me countless times not only in teaching me, but also in helping me translate documents. I’m pretty sure her favorite word is “engy?” (slang for “eng,” or “what”). DK took me under her wing early on, making me feel less like an outsider at events. I’m so grateful to her for her warmth and generosity.

A typical day for DK looks like this:

  • Wake up at 5:30 AM to bathe the kids (they have a tap at the house, although it often doesn’t work—at those times, they have to buy water from local sellers)
  • Cook breakfast at 7 AM and get the kids ready for school
  • Bathe herself at 7:30 AM
  • Leave home to walk to work around 8:30, arriving around 9:30
  •  Work on copies, reporting, or other admin tasks until 5 PM or so
  •  Arrive home near 6 PM and bathe the kids again
  • Mom cooks dinner and the family eats close to 7:30 PM, then DK washes the dishes
  • She watches TV (usually Muvango, Rhythm City or Uzalo) and then bathes again, finishing around 9:30
  • Bedtime at 10:30 PM, then the next day repeats

Favorite songs:

Do you have any questions for DK? Write them below in the comments! [Please note that all comments will be shared with DK]

Archnemesis

Summer is nearly here, which means my village hovers somewhere between 35-37 C (aka 95-99 F) most days.  Though I often brag about my heat resistance, it turns out I’m less able to deal with it when I lack AC.

Of course, summer also brings great things–mangoes, festivals, the ability to stay out a bit later.  On the whole, I prefer summer without AC to winter without indoor heating.

But as the weather has become increasingly hot, it has brought with it the return of my archnemesis: the biting ant.  Though tiny, it packs a painful wallop when it bites (thankfully not nearly as bad as fire ants however).  These ants look identical to the normal, non-biting ants so until they start biting, it’s difficult to know that you are behind enemy lines.  

A rare photo of these quick and devious predators


They particularly love to spend time in gardens and dirt paths where people need to walk.  The best defense is to cover your feet and lower legs.  I’ve now gone into full blown defensive procedure when watering our family’s garden: hiking boots, socks, and ankle-length pants.  I also march in place to reduce their opportunities to outflank me, and sometimes I even manage to stomp a few out.  However, this will be a long war until they return to hibernation in the winter.

One is(n’t) the Loneliest Number

This past weekend, I travelled to the other side of Mpumalanga to visit some PCV friends, celebrate Halloween, and enjoy the beauty of Nelspruit.  I got to indulge in many of my favorite activities, but the best part was going for a solo hike at a local nature reserve.

The reserve had two small trails, and as it turned out, I was the only person there.  In fact, there were no other people within a 1km radius of me.  Once I got over my initial pangs of fear if I slipped and fell, I was able to appreciate what a gift that hour alone truly was.


I haven’t really been alone in 9 months.  In my village, my host family is next door (and even when they’re away, my neighbors).  Most days, I love how connected I feel.  But some days what I want more than anything is to be completely alone.  I love to simply be alone sometimes.  During my hike, I was able to turbo-charge my introvert batteries as well as appreciate the serene beauty around me.


How do you find alone time, especially as a PCV?  Tell us in the comments below!

It’s All a Bunch of Hocus Pocus

Halloween evokes wonderful memories for me.  My mom always helped me to make some spectacular costumes, ranging from a TY beanie baby to an undead Spongebob Squarepants.  After my friends and I would go trick-or-treating, we would gorge on our candy and enjoy my grandma’s delicious sloppy joes, watching Halloween classics such as Hocus Pocus.  I carried this love for Halloween with me as I aged and tried to outdo myself each year with my homemade costumes; last year, my friend Reina and I went as a piñata and a stick, and when she bumped into me, I released candy from the drawstring bag hidden under my shirt.

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When I decided to do Peace Corps, I assumed that despite my love for the holiday, I would have to put the Halloween celebrations on hold.  As the date drew nearer, however, I began to wonder if I could introduce Halloween to the kids in our afterschool program.  I was approved to do so, and for the last two weeks we watched Casper, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Hocus Pocus.  This past Thursday, we ate candy, colored Halloween images, and made our own Halloween masks!  The kids were pretty confused about the holiday, but I think they managed to enjoy themselves anyway.  I also showed my host family It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and made us some homemade apple cider.

Then I trekked to eastern Mpumalanga to celebrate Halloween with a few PCV friends.  We went to a small Halloween party, watched some of the classics, and dressed up (I was Marlin being stung by a jellyfish a la Finding Nemo).  It was certainly a nontraditional Halloween, but it was so rewarding to be able to share a holiday that I love with my family and friends!

Have you celebrated Halloween as a PCV or in a country that doesn’t have Halloween?  What was your experience?  Tell us about in the comments!

Needs Workshop

This past week really brought me back to one of the main reasons I wanted to do Peace Corps: to connect the people I work with to the resources that I have access to.  I worked with the local NPO forum to convene the NPOs and creches (semi-equivalent to a daycare/preschool hybrid) for a discussion and prioritization of needs. 

I was pretty nervous leading up to the workshop– what if no one shows up? what if the exercises don’t make sense?– but in the end, it went very well!  17 people showed up representing 8 different NPOs and creches.  The exercise of determining the top three needs and reframing some of them as issues the forum could actually help with (e.g. needing a new/renovated building being changed to grant-writing training) was challenging but rewarding.  In the end, the groups decided on grant writing training, project management training, and first aid training & kits as the top three challenges for the forum to address.  Now, the forum and I are working hard to transform the workshop results into a grant application by the end of this week.

The workshop was especially rewarding because it gave our NPOs and creches the chance to not only voice their struggles, but to recognize that many of them share similar challenges.  The forum demonstrated powerfully on our joint Mandela Day event that by working together, we can achieve so much more than working alone.  I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to use this spirit of ubuntu to work with the NPO forum in helping our NPOs and creches.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the workshop yet, but I hope to have some for next week!

Shekhinah

My latest SA musical obsession is Shekhinah, an extraordinarily talented 23-year-old R&B singer-songwriter from Durban.  She premiered on two seasons of SA Idols while still in high school and has continued her career in Joburg, releasing her first album Rose Gold this year and collaborating with internationally famous SA EDM DJs like Black Coffee and Sketchy Bongo.  I first fell in love with her luscious, sultry voice when I heard “Let You Know,” and my love and admiration has only grown since then.  Her music videos are also great works of art, featuring great street art and moments of daily life in SA cities.  Below are a few of my current favorite songs/videos!

Salute Your (Soccer) Shorts ⚽️

This past week, I went with YASPO to a nearby village, and Gwen (another PCV) and I supported them in implementing a Grassroot Soccer (GRS) camp—think less Camp Anawanna and more HIV-focused day camp. We worked with about 60 high school students from Monday to Friday, teaching them about HIV kinesthetically and incorporating several lessons on contraceptives, substance abuse, and STIs from the Zazi and Brothers for Life curricula. I really enjoyed being able to have frank discussions with the students, who were much more engaged than I expected!

I was really grateful to have a team of trained YASPO coaches leading the sessions. YASPO has been conducting GRS, Zazi and Brothers for Life groups and camps for several years now, and their expertise really shows in the success of the camp. I relied on them to lead, and my role was to jump in when different questions arose or to talk about how these issues compare in America. For example, the learners were surprised to hear that gender-based violence is a serious problem in America also.

The best part of the camp by far was the graduation on Friday, when the learners performed different speeches, dramas, and raps to demonstrate what they had learned. One youth rapped to Ludacris’s “Runaway Love,” highlighting the parallel themes (teen pregnancy, unprotected sex, etc.) in the song and what we had learned. Another group did a drama that reinforced respecting that “no means no,” something we were very adamant about with our learners. It filled me with hope and joy to see our students taking what they had learned and running with it. I’m so grateful that I got to be part of this incredible camp and learn from YASPO! I’m also very grateful to Gwen for sharing her couch, food, company, and wisdom for the week, and for Jonas, who helped out the last two days.
(Photos credit Gwen)


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On a side note of gratitude, a big thanks to Joni, who sent me this incredible care package to share with my kids! (other than the Twizzlers, which I ate in one sitting 😀 )

Sports Sports Sports!

For the past month, I’ve been supporting the local youth sports organization, YASPO, and their annual YASPO Cup. This event brings primary and secondary schools together to compete in soccer (football), netball, and volleyball.  Netball is similar to basketball, but the ball doesn’t touch the ground.  Once a player has the ball, she can only take one step and can only hold on to the ball for 3 seconds.  (Learn more here)

The YASPO Cup is important because there are few recreational outlets for youth outside of school. This past Thursday was the final competition for each category. It was an exciting day for staff and learners! 
My role was photographer, despite my utter lack of photography skills and the fact that my camera is a decade old. I definitely think my action shots improved over the course of the events though, and I was glad to support YASPO!  I’ve included some of the top photos from this year’s Cup below:

Staying Engaged While Overseas

I’m going to let my public adminstration side show here for a moment to talk about an important topic: staying engaged and making our voices heard while overseas. I know many PCVs who have expressed opinions on legislation such as the Graham-Cassidy bill, but who are unable to call their senators and representatives because of time zone differences and prohibitive phone costs.

It is still important for us to stay engaged, and you can through different apps: Countable allows you to keep up-to-date on new legislation and electronically “vote” on your opinion, which is sent to your representatives, and Stance enables you to leave voicemails for your representatives over the internet. I have used both of them to voice my opinion on critical legislation, and they are free and easy to use. These apps are the ones that I know about, but there are many more. 

So please use these and other means to share your thoughts with your representatives.  It’s really, really important (and thanks to these apps, fast and easy)!  But if you’re a PCV, please remember not to represent yourself as a PCV or on behalf of the Peace Corps.  Big thanks to Monday Bazaar for sharing this very important information and for an excellent post on how to call your representatives!

Do you have any other ways to stay involved or tips? Share them in the comments!

Honoring Heritage

Happy Heritage Day! This South African public holiday celebrates the many diverse cultures, traditions and beliefs in the country. The secondary school in my village hosted a celebration and invited me to give a presentation on HIV as part of the event.
Totally panicked, I asked for help from some of my coworkers at my organization (LCCS) and the youth sports organization (YASPO). I wanted to be sure the learners understood us, so my counterparts led the session in Setswana. It was a lot of pressure to put on them, but thankfully they rose to the occasion. I was really excited to see how they stepped up to the challenge!

Counterparts from LCCS & YASPO leading the HIV session

We used a modified version of the Fact or Nonsense game from Grassroot Soccer. Learners (students) would listen to a statement about HIV, such as “You can only get HIV from blood-to-blood contact,” then put their hands on their head if they agreed and their hands on their hips if they disagreed. It was a bit challenging in the large hall, but generally we managed to pull it off. We wrapped up with me talking for a few minutes on the importance of exercises and leading everyone in some basic stretches. 

Learners taking a stand on statements about HIV

Then we were treated to some really incredible performances. Two students did spoken word performances, including a very moving piece on domestic violence. Other learners performed traditional songs and dances. There was even a 30 minute play about HIV that was so good, it felt like I was watching a South African soapie. The learners were really excited when their teachers performed an amazing choreographed routine. It was an amazing celebration of pride and love for the Setwana culture and South Africa, and it was an incredible first Heritage Day for me.

A very talented learner doing a powerful spoken word performance on domestic abuse

Amazing traditional dancing by learners!


Another learner reciting an original poem on pride in her culture and nation


Do you have different stories about experiences of Heritage Day or other holidays celebrating culture? Share them in the comments!