PC Fitness

It can be really tough to stay motivated on a workout regime in Peace Corps.  After being a regular exerciser for several years, I’ve fallen off the wagon pretty hard.  I’ve found some ways to make the process more fun and manageable, however.

This weekend I finally undertook two projects I’ve been meaning to do for a while: DIY heavy bag and speed bag (instructions below).  I’ve been doing Krav Maga on and off for the past four years and really enjoyed it.  My new equipment is supplemented by occasional running and strength work with a Theraband (I highly recommend bringing a Theraband to PC with you).

DIY speed bag

DIY heavy bag


Unfortunately, the heavy bag turned out to be too heavy to hang so it currently chills on a chest-height ledge.  It’s also painful to punch full force even with hand wraps, so I plan to use it for form work instead.  Still better than spending R400 and toting a heavy bag on a public taxi though.  Kicks and knees are done in the air, but it’s better than nothing.  The speed bag is more useful, and it will be great for doing speed and endurance work!

Tools

  • Shopping/duffel bag
  • Long sock or hose
  • Lots of sand/dirt
  • Trowel or shovel
  • Duct or packing tape
  • Scissors
  • Rope, chain or utility cord
  • (Optional) Zip ties

DIY Heavy Bag (~1.5 hours)

  1. Take an old shopping or duffel bag, preferably without holes.
  2. Place it where you want the bag to go eventually.  I learned the hard way that it’s better not to have to drag it across the yard when you’re done.
  3. Fill with dirt/sand, leaving a few inches at the top.  I borrowed gogo’s garden trowel, but a shovel would’ve been faster.  If there’s not enough sand where the bag will go, use a bucket.
  4. Close using rope, tape, zip ties, etc.- whatever will work.
  5. Wrap in duct tape (or packaging tape if you run out) to prevent the bag from falling apart while you punch.
  6. Hang and/or place where desired.  Chains may be preferable for hanging as these bags live up to their name.  I recommend using a tree.

Sand as far as the eye can see…


DIY Speed Bag (~30 min)

  1. Take a long sock or other similar type of item.  I cut the end off a pair of pantyhose.
  2. Fill with sand/dirt or rice, leaving a few inches at the top.  Use your hands to push the sand down into a round shape.  Again, I used gogo’s trowel.
  3. Secure the top using a zip tie or similar, ensuring that you put a little rope through first.
  4. Cover with tape.
  5. I discovered one layer of tape wasn’t enough to keep the sand in, so I tied a plastic bag over top of the bag and then taped it again.
  6. Tie securely, ensuring that the bag is mobile but doesn’t move too far.  A tree is ideal but since the speed bag is much lighter, there are more options for hanging.  Leave plenty of rope in case adjustments are needed.  I used utility cord instead, and it’s worked fine so far.

Prep for speed bag


Almost done…


How do you stay fit in Peace Corps or overseas?  Leave your tips, strategies and questions in the comments!

Also a big thank you to Aunt Patti and Kathryn Craig for their amazing care packages!  I am so lucky and grateful to have people who send me such wonderful gifts.

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The Holidays

I’ve enjoyed a very long holiday break.  My org, and most of South Africa, shut down after Dec. 17.  I spent most of that time reading and relaxing in my village. 


I celebrated Christmas with my host family here, and the day after Christmas we were finally able to celebrate a very belated Thanksgiving.  The food turned out pretty well considering this was the first Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever cooked!  We had a turkey (overcooked but no chance of food poisoning), cornbread, mac and cheese, creamed spinach, a rather gelatinous gravy (whoops), as well as ice cream which my host mom made by hand.  It was delicious and I taught them that you’re supposed to feel painfully full on Thanksgiving 😄.  


I spent the New Year in Johannesburg with a few Peace Corps friends.  We rung in 2018 on a rooftop, and it was perfect.


Now I’m itching to get back to work tomorrow after such a long break.  I’m looking forward to what 2018 has in store, and to be celebrating my cohort’s first year in country in a few weeks.  I hope that all of you readers enjoyed the holidays also, and may 2018 be full of adventures!

2017 in Books

In 2017, I completed the Popsugar Reading Challenge (although I started in October).  I exceeded my goal of reading 50 books for a total of 56!  Want to read more in 2018?  Consider doing the Popsugar challenge for 2018!

Top Books of 2017 (only includes first-time reads, in no particular order)

    • Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
    • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    • A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
    • Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
    • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
    • The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers

Least Favorite Books of 2017

  • The Dark Tower #1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
  • Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
  • No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel
  • She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

List of Books Reviewed in order

  • Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
  • Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
  • The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay
  • The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers
  • Origin by Dan Brown
  • Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
  • The Dark Tower #1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
  • True Refuge by Tara Brach
  • Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay
  • The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
  • The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami
  • No One is Here Except for All of Us by Ramona Ausubel
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You by Yumi Sakugawa
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • March Pt. 1 by John Lewis
  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
  • The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Charmed Life by Dianna Wynne Jones

Keep reading for individual book reviews, along with their Popsugar challenge prompts where applicable->

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Catching Up

The past two months have been quite hectic with several work events.  Apologies in advance for a long post!

In late November, I continued with LCCS’s organizational capacity building with two participatory workshops to rewrite our mission and vision statements.  I am so grateful to my coworkers for being such avid participants in both workshops; we did some tough but necessary work!

 

Two weeks later, I went to the SA36s in-service training (IST) to announce the newest members of the Resource Committee.  I also facilitated the committee’s first training on utilizing resources on the flash drives that we distribute.  There’s a lot to work on, but the training went well overall.  I enjoyed meeting the 36s, who are a very cool and talented bunch.  I’m especially excited to work with our newest committee members!

December was the month of HIV/AIDS awareness activities.  December 1 is World AIDS Day (fondly known as WAD, at least among the PCV community), although there are many activities leading up to and following WAD yearly.  WAD is dedicated to raising awareness about the fight against HIV, supporting people living with HIV, and commemorating those who have lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses (worldaidsday.org/about).  It’s also an important time to extend support and acknowledge the many people who have been affected by HIV and AIDS in our communities.  As of 2016, over 7 million people were living with HIV in South Africa, with the largest affected group being adolescent girls and young women.  19% of people living with HIV worldwide live in South Africa.  In addition, the epidemic has led to over 2 million orphans and vulnerable children.  However, South Africa has worked hard to counter this and has achieved a 49% decrease in new infections and a 29% reduction in AIDS-related deaths since 2010 (UNAIDS South Africa Fact Sheet, 2016).

In late November, I went to a nearby village to help a fellow PCV and her org host a WAD, which was incredible.  We played HIV trivia, raised awareness about the sugar content in different cool drinks (soda), and passed out WAD bucket hats to people who tested for HIV.  I spoke to countless people about the benefits of using lube with condoms, which isn’t widely utilized in rural areas.  I was able to get some ideas, pamphlets, and lube from Kasey that helped me with my org’s WAD.  On December 5, LCCS hosted their very own WAD.  We had several speakers, some local entertainment, poems read by learners who attend LCCS, and really delicious cakes that celebrated children’s rights.  Despite terrible thunderstorms, we had a decent turnout, and we plan to throw an even better WAD in 2018.

 

For the rest of the week, I went to our local secondary school to help YASPO with their Grassroot Soccer camp.  On Thursday, we held a mock debate to prep the learners for YASPO’s WAD (called Conquers Cup) on Saturday.  At first, we gave them some easy questions about HIV and teenage pregnancy prevention, and they gave good answers but weren’t very engaged.  However, when one of the YASPO coaches asked the kids about their opinion on whether the child support grant from the government should be reduced, the learners really became active.  Although I only understood bits and pieces of the debate, I was so impressed by the engagement and intelligence demonstrated by the learners.

On Saturday, YASPO held their annual Conquers Cup.  Big thanks to fellow PCV Jonas, who came by to help with setup!  Prior to the competition, there were several speakers, one of whom talked about an exciting new technology in development to help reduce the spread of HIV among young women—a ring inserted vaginally which would release PrEP (an antiretroviral drug that can prevent HIV) for 28 days called DREAM.  I’m excited to keep tabs on DREAM’s development (learn more at ipmglobal.org)!  This was followed by the debate, at which our learners performed smashingly.  I was so proud of them, and I hope we have the opportunity to do more debates in the future.  Three local teams competed in the event, and I was one of the three judges.  Teams performed a parade/team spirit that included HIV awareness, did a presentation on a partner country (Saudi Arabia or Senegal this year), and also did a traditional dance.  The teams were incredibly talented.  (Photo cred YASPO)

 

I slept for most of Sunday to recuperate, and thankfully we had a slow week at work.  I taught my colleagues how to make paper snowflakes while we watched a few Christmas classics.  On Friday, I got two care packages from Aunt Patti and Aunt Karen & Uncle Tom, which were bursting with Christmas joy.  It was a delight to share candy canes with my coworkers and host family and to decorate my room.  I’ve been battling a lot of homesickness; this will be my first Christmas away from my family.  But I’m also grateful to have such an incredibly loving host family to share the holidays with this year!

 

On a side note, I did a deep clean of my room today in the hopes of finally eradicating the fleas/bed bugs/whatever awful critters have been biting me for the past month.  I would appreciate any prayers and good thoughts that I have FINALLY eradicated them and will be itch-free!

The Largest Buddhist Temple in Africa

Last weekend, I celebrated Thanksgiving with some of my fellow PCVs in Bronkhorstspruit, South Africa.  We cooked some delicious food, relaxed, enjoyed showers and AC, and visited the largest Buddhist temple in Africa.

Capture

The Nan Hua temple is gorgeous and, as its title indicates, huge.  I’ve never been to a Buddhist temple previously, so I feel this is a bit of an unfair precedent for any future temples I may visit.  We enjoyed a vegetarian lunch and then were treated to a tour of the grounds.  The temple offers a series of meditation retreats, and I was able to indulge in some incredible white oolong tea!  I was impressed by the mixture of cultures present at the temple, representing China, South Africa, and many other nations.  The temple has several shrines, a museum, gift shop, and tea room.  We were also treated to a demonstration of the gongs that call people to prayer.  It’s a great place to visit if you are ever in the Bronkhorstspruit area.

 

Thanks to Katie for the photos!  Check out her blog here.

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!