The Halfway Point

Today marks the halfway point for pre-service training (PST)! In 1 week, I will find out where I’ll be working for the next 2 years. In 5 weeks, I will swear in as a volunteer. The last 6 weeks of staging & PST feel simultaneously like a lifetime and like no time at all.

My host gogo & brother!

The main focus lately had been on our practicum. During PST, we have an opportunity to practice our facilitation skills over the course of 5 days (1 hour each) with a group of secondary (high school) students. The practicum has been a welcome relief from day-long sessions on technical, language, health and safety! The first day we focused on building relationships with the students, and the second day we voted on the health topics we wanted to talk about. We also came up with a game to talk about life in the US vs. South Africa, which was fun.

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Pedi Pals, my language group!

Speaking of language, I took my midterm language test and did better than I expected! It’s amazing how much we’ve learned in such a short period of time. I had an opportunity to practice even more last weekend when we went to a local dance festival! It was amazing. The young girls pictured below moved so quickly I could hardly follow their feet. There was also a group of young men and women in what looked like military garb that did an interesting march/dance. I tried on a skirt from the Tsonga culture, but it was quickly clear that I have no dancing skills :). I had just gotten a pixie cut the day before, and I was grateful for the extra coolness!

Crazy talented dancers

Some of our cohort at the dance festival

Me attempting to move my hips in a traditional Tsonga skirt

We also went to Johannesburg (Joburg) last weekend. We visited the apartheid museum first. I’d previously gone in 2009, but the impact was even more profound now that I’m actually living in the after effects of apartheid. I’m still processing many of my thoughts around the museum. It begins with the rock paintings of the native Bushmen in Southern Africa, talks a bit about the next 2,000 years, then jumps into the 1800s and the circumstances surrounding the rise of apartheid. Some of the architects of apartheid studied under Hitler’s Third Reich and other forms of institutionalized racism, like the
treatment of Native Americans and African-Americans in the U.S. The giant casspir, or armored truck, forcibly reminded me of the Wars on Poverty and Drugs. There was a room of ropes hung from the ceiling to represent those who had been hanged, a common occurrence under apartheid, that really gave me pause. Another room was dedicated to the photojournalism of Ernest Cole, who exposed the realities of life for blacks under apartheid, including the government sponsorship of alcoholism. It was also difficult to see how long it took the U.S. to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime. I didn’t end up finishing in time to see the Mandela exhibit, but I was grateful to have the opportunity to visit the museum again.

One of many moving photos by Ernest Cole of a Hector Pieterson, a young student killed by police who used live ammo during a student protest against the apartheid-era Bantu education system that sentenced black students to an inferior education (Soweto, June 16, 1976)

Additionally, we had the opportunity to speak with a panel of people living with HIV in South Africa. It was an incredible privilege to have these strangers come in and share these raw, emotional life stories with us. Many spoke of being ostracized by family, friends, significant others, and community members. One woman contracted HIV after being sexually assaulted; another lost her first child, which was born with HIV. There is a stigma often associated with HIV that you sleep around a lot, as well as how you can contract HIV (you can ONLY get HIV through semen/vaginal fluid, blood, breastmilk or pre-cum). However, that stigma does vary by area and individual; South Africa has conducted a lot of awareness-raising. Medication has also improved to help counter side effects and to reduce to 1 pill, instead of 4 or 5 pills. It was encouraging to speak to those who had lived with HIV for over 10 years.

Additionally, I just finished Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime.” I highly recommend it. The book is funny, but it sheds light on a lot of the tragedies of life here as well.

I’ll end this rather long entry with another, very useful Sepedi phrase: “Go a fiša kudu” (pronounced “ro ah feesh-ah koodoo”)= it’s very hot!

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