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Old Journal Archives



You're going to have to scroll to the bottom and read the bottom-most entry first, then work your way to the top, to read these in chronological order. Enjoy!



19 December 2007 | Makhado Flat | " I Felt the Rains Down in Africa…"



For 2 weeks it has rained every single day. We don’t mind it very much because it definitely beats having intense heat from sunrise to sunset. However, it has become sooo cool, that we must wear several layers of clothing or wrap ourselves in our sub-0°F sleeping bags. It is definitely beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!


We are traveling to Indermark next week for Christmas. Frederica and her family have kindly invited us… we are eager to see how the Sepedi community celebrates this day, we suspect that it may involve being at church most of the day.


Even though the rains have brought biting weather, early this week (on the Day of Reconciliation) it was a blessing to be showered on after completing our 4 hour hike up the Hanglip Mountain. It was beautiful to see Makhado from above and locate recognizable land marks such as the Dutch church downtown and a tower near our grocery store (as you can see in the Hanglip photo album). We spotted wildlife including baboons and another short brown-haired mammal, that managed to leave our sight before we could identify it. We never managed to hike to Hanglip peak itself, the signature gray and jetting piece of rock located on the Soutpansberg Mnts, peering over Makhado. On our journey down from the mountain we craved a cool stream or pool to cool-off and relieve our aching muscles … but we ceased dreaming of such a thing when we realized that we wouldn’t be able to swim until we ventured down to Elim for our road trip. Our prayer was nevertheless answered … heavy cooling rains poured over us just as we mounted our bikes at the bottom of the mountain, to head back to our flat. We arrived drenched from head to toe, but very much delighted with what the South African skies had offered.


Yesterday we met a local artist on the street that was selling his canvas oil paintings. We purchased 2 small paintings- one black and white silhouette of 3 elephants and the other of an Ndebele African lady carrying a basket on her head and a baby on her back, painted in greens and yellows. Both beautiful paintings purchased for less than $15 in all… he was extremely grateful for our support.



19 December 2007 | Makhado Flat | More Random Stuff



Two days ago I awoke to the sounds of wailing and gnashing of teeth… Elyse alternatively shrieking or moaning at disturbingly regular intervals… punctuated finally by the sound of a broom sweeping quite firmly across the tile floors. Groggy and only half-awake, I lay in bed wondering about all the commotion, fearing the truth of a likely insect invasion. Finally rousing myself from my pre-morning stupor, I stumbled out of bed to confront the terrible reality… (see Elyse’s entry below). I started at the site of a pile of translucent wings. "I know," Elyse said, "when I saw them I stared silently for at least a minute." I too was dumbfounded, and opened the door, broom in hand, only to be confronted by the pile’s twin on our front stoop. There two were dozens of little wingless bodies, swarming with little carnivorous happy ants… and I’ll just leave the rest of that story to my lovely vrou.




And now for some more observations:

  • Long lines, or "queues" as they call them here, form daily at all the banks in town. The three times Elyse and I have had to join these things have not been enjoyable experiences for us. Crawling from the back to the front of a queue can take a good 30-45 minutes (and must only be longer at the ABSA on a particularly busy day when the queue snakes out the front door and along the sidewalk for 10 or 20 meters). It’s difficult to understand why these queues form. On the one hand, none of the banks have a drive-through window. But on the other, each is blessed with a plethora of ATMs (which also do a rousing business). It might be that people pay all their bills at the bank – as we have done ourselves: we made the mistake of paying our rent there once, and we’ve also had to make project-related payments at banks in town on two other occasions. The postal system doesn’t seem the most efficient, with door-to-door service seeming very limited (everyone has a "physical" address and a "mailing" – a box at the post office). Still though, it is very strange. People will even stay in their lines during a power outage, apparently unwilling to give up their place even with the expectation of a 3-5 hour wait for the electricity to return….
  • Women carry everything on their heads around here. They carry luggage, laundry, food (including precariously perched netted bundles of squash), and… stereo equipment. It was the only time I, slightly embarrassingly in retrospect, pointed at someone on the street: at a woman with a stereo system balanced on her head. It’s amazing to see these women walk around with all manner of heavy objects supported by what must by incredibly strong necks and spines. Their heads move independent of the rest of their body, trained apparently to always support to the weight atop. I saw a man carry something on his head once – he must be a feminist.




And now for some local news:


Jacob Zuma, the deputy president of the ANC, was just last night elected the president of the party… meaning he will likely be, barring prosecution for money-laundering or fraud, by the next president of the country (in 2009).




And finally, for an amusing project anecdote. Elyse and I were palavering with Laucky and Jacob Raedani (the extension officer for "that side", meaning Indermark-side) when I got the strange feeling that bureaucracies everywhere must share similar characteristics. Laucky had just gotten through with telling us that the government vehicle was not available for use again until January, due to the fact that it was over its kilometres. Jacob then told us his story of how he was unable to leave the office any longer due to the "Crisis of Kilometres" (capital ‘C’, capital ‘K’). No one was allowed to drive anywhere due to the Crisis of Kilometres, including Jacob, whose job apparently had to be slightly put on hold until the new year. He assured us, however, that he would be more than willing to help with Tšwelopele’s garden once the Crisis of Kilometres had ended.


And that’s all the news that’s fit for digital print….



17 December 2007 | Makhado Flat | "Don’t Worry, Be Happy!..."



This morning I awoke to a house full of insects… no news that the ants were a part of the chaotic array of wings, antenna, and pinchers, but plenty more were added to the daily morning insect-sweep drama. As I was about to cross the tiled floor from bedroom to kitchen, tip toeing over spiders, ants…….. and much to my disgust, thousands of 2-inch insect wings… no body attached, just translucent wings dancing solely upon the hard floor. I stood in absolute shock as my eyes ventured from my feet to the trail of wings that led to a two-foot wide pile of wings by the door leading outside. No, it was not an early April fools’ prank, but rather the reality that a swarm of thousands of 4-winged flying insects (name to-be-determined) chose to venture to our front door kamikaze-style, leaving behind only their wings, their bodies in a separate pile, left for the ants to devour. Sorry for the vivid imagery, but frankly it was much worse than words can explain. And frankly I even love insects, but the plethora of African insects we’ve encountered thus far at times throws me over the edge (Tony will confirm).


It continues to be overcast today… has been for over one week now. A lady at church yesterday informed us that it hasn’t been like this for 30 years. Floods are prevalent in South Africa, more so in the Western and Eastern Cape areas (our destination in 2 weeks). For those of you that do not know, we are road-tripping it down to along the Eastern coast to Cape Town, before volunteering for a few months in Elim, the Moravian handicap school and hostel. Elim is just 200km east of Cape Town and only 30km from the coast, completely surrounded by gorgeous mountains and marshlands. It is incredible that 3 months have already passed and our time here is about to expire. These two last weeks in Makhado are packed full of project activities- concluding the agricultural objectives, so that we have peace of mind before we leave that the crèche’s soil is rich in organic goodness before the little ones arrive on January 7, 2008. Our Sepedi children’s books and organic wooden toys that we ordered are now sitting in the post office waiting to be picked up. We will not be able to access the box until Retha comes down from the mountain to give us the key to open it… we hope that will happen before this week ends (however the rain may deter them from journeying down their mountain road).


Today has thrown us a little off guard because we intended to do a little manure on-line research (I’ll explain in a bit) as well as sending several emails to confirm various happenings with the crèche project… but everything, for the most part, is shut down in town! We didn’t realize it is an extended weekend due to yesterday (Dec. 16th) being the Day of Reconciliation.


Alright so back to explaining the manure research. Tony and I have found that we need to conduct most of the preparation work that the Agricultural Extension Officer is supposed to perform. This is much to our disappointment because from our understanding this governmental service is to assist South African people in their agricultural needs. After our soil results arrived at their office, Laucky asked if we would determine from our soil test results (see the Nutrition and Gardening page on wiki) how many bags of each fertilizer we were to buy for each of the garden plots. We were hesitant to comply, but realized that if we didn’t there was no way that the crèche would ever eat home-grown veggies again. After a week of preparing a fertilization and seeding plan for the garden, we presented it to Laucky. He then provided us with a ‘Productivity Plan’, filled with lots of loose math, that confused the heck out of us. We ended up calling Adam Ward, our dear gardener friend in town and retired Extension Officer, to see if he could offer any guidance or clarity on the document. That day he joyfully arrived at our flat to assist our needs. He first glanced at our soil results and was appalled to see that our N-P-K ratio was completely off the charts! The potash (potassium, K) levels were astronomical, revealing that somehow our samples were contaminated. He said it was likely that even a speck of fertilizer that was present while taking the samples could have thrown off our results (unbeknownst to us, the crèche may have sprinkled fertilizer on the soil within three months of our soil sampling). We spent the rest of the evening in great disappointment that our hopes of garden goodness may not come to fruition in our allotted project time.


That evening, we found peace with the reality that we may not be able to assist the crèche at this time with soil preparation and seeding until a new soil samples were taken and tested. After grappling with the issue, we informed Laucky of the situation that Adam brought to light. Laucky was not happy to hear our report… to say the least. We suppose it was because (1) we inquired from another agricultural professional, who happened to be 30 yrs older than he and (2) we had plans for over a week to attend the crèche the next day to apply fertilizer. However we refused to apply fertilizer based upon the recommendations from the contaminated soil samples. We suggested that some progress could be made if we still traveled to Indermark the following day to speak with Frederica and Grace at the crèche so that he could visually see the garden plots.


Honestly we woke up the next morning dreading the long 1 hour trip to Indermark with Laucky in the government vehicle, suspecting that he would be perturbed with us and our decision to forego the anticipated fertilizing and seeding day at the crèche. But we renewed our spirits by singing "Don’t Worry Be Happy" while walking to his office. Much to our surprise he was waiting at 8am ready and raring to go. Our worries were lifted and our hearts very thankful for his contentedness.


Ok, so manure, yes it did require an adequate intro. We spent the morning at the crèche speaking with Grace and Frederica about the needs of the garden and our plan to revive it (Tony and I pushing very heavily to use manure and organic compost, which will suppress weeds and improve overall soil composition and water and nutrient capacity, rather than supporting their strong desire for chemical sprays to fix their garden woes of poor nutrient levels, rapidly growing weeds, and destructive pests). Adam Ward informed us prior to this that rural areas in South Africa fear to "go back to the Dark Ages", in agricultural terms. If light-skinned Afrikaners continue to use large plows, tractors, and chemicals, they too desire the same, even if it means bypassing an entire growing season waiting for the Extension Office to come and plow their fields with a machine.


As project planners it is our job to acknowledge the wishes all stakeholders on issues addressed, but the means in which to improve the condition of the garden (in the minds of Frederica) did not settle with us well at all. For several reasons we will not support chemical applications: (1) too costly and therefore financially unsustainable for them (our funds will not last forever!), (2) unsafe for the crèche children, (3) unhealthy consumption of pesticide/herbicide residues on veggies, and (4) unfriendly to the beautiful environment in which they live.

At some point a spirit of peace and cooperation dwelt among us and we were able to agree that manure and compost was the best approach to healing the garden soils. But this task isn’t easy because now we are left to determine if chicken poop contains a suitable balance of nutrients that will not contribute to the already high pH and high potassium soils. Just as you think a problem is solved... another challenge arises- never a dull moment in project planning!



17 December 2007 | Makhado Flat | ANC National Conference in Polokwane



This week, from Sunday (yesterday) through Thursday, the ANC (African National Congress), the ruling party here in SA, is holding their national conference in Polokwane, the provincial capital of Limpopo and a bare 100km from us here in lovely hot Louis Trichardt.


At this conference they will decide, among other things, their party leadership for the next several years – including the party presidency. Because SA runs off a parliamentary model similar to the British system, the party president is the national president, so this is a big deal. It seems a very acrimonious affair, with two main contenders: the current party and national president, Thabo Mbeki, and his former deputy president Jacob Zuma. Without going into all the horrible details, Elyse and I are rather skeptical about the whole affair and don’t feel very good about either of the options. As an American, it is odd to be in a context where the president of the country will be decided two years before the next national election, and by a mere 4,075 delegates who represent the party throughout the country. So just over 4,000 people will decide the national leadership in a country of about 48 million people. A cynic might argue that people hardly choose the leadership in the US, either, but I think there’s still a substantial difference. Oh well.


Today was supposed to be productive, but apparently it’s a national holiday – Day of Reconciliation – and everything is closed in town. So… time for a hike!



10 December 2007 | Makhado Flat | So You Think You are Going to Cook…



The power’s been out for about five hours now, and this time for the whole town. If this is Eskom’s scheduled "load shedding" – i.e., rolling blackouts – then it is way over-schedule. I read in the paper that these things are meant to last for 2 hours, and someone in town today suggested 3, but 5 seems altogether too much. The busiest business hours – not to mention our busiest hours – poof, which is the sound of an imploding economy….


We are now waiting, rather poetically I think, for the fan to switch on – our sign on this hot day of a renewal of energetic services.


I am, of course, haunted by the specter that power might go up for the whole municipality but then drop for us here at little 45 Kleynhans. I could strangle Lukas (our landlord) if only I could do so nonviolently.




So the other day there we were biking, Elyse and I, around our neighborhood – as we are wont to do on a lovely cool evening – when from a yard spring four large loud dogs, barking furiously, chasing Elyse! Now, this has happened before, but on a much smaller scale: one dog. Today it was four, and I stared in amazement at Elyse peddling with all her might, head bent low and butt in the air, four mutts nipping at her heels and making the most incredible ruckus. Trying to hold back some hysterics, I peddled hard after them, thinking maybe I could protect my lovely vrou. Soon though they – Elyse and her four companions – reached the edge of their territory and allowed her to proceed unmolested. They completely ignored me, of course.


When I reached Elyse, stopped at the end of the block looking back, I wasn’t able to look at her for more than a moment before we both burst into laughter. There was still that look of horror in her eyes, but I was glad to see she could see the humor in the situation and was recovering admirably.

Haven’t been back to that street….




I must take a brief intermission to write about my negligent landlord, or "lessor" as they say here in PC-South Africa, who continues to insist that the electricity "falls" or "drops" (i.e., we lose power) due to some action either of ours or our house-neighbors in the flat adjoining our own. "You must have both stove elements on and be baking and even ironing for the power to drop like that, that, that" – he says, mimicking my complaint. Frankly, if the power is switching off six times in an evening, being on for maybe 30 seconds at a time between outages, and if I go over to the workspace area with the power box to switch it on and it immediately switches off again, I think there must be a problem with the wiring. I also can’t exactly picture our neighbor Mable gleefully ironing, stirring pap, and baking bread at the same time – while her husband lounges on the couch smoking watching television and perhaps heating up some grilled cheese on a portable hotplate like some American college student…. It’s one thing when the whole town goes dark, quite another when your landlord is a jerk….




And now for some observances:

  • Blacks primarily but also whites occasionally may be seen with one or even two shopping carts full to the top of bread. At a capacity of about 50 "breads" (aka "loaves") per cart, this leads to my observation that it is not uncommon for a citizen of Makhado to purchase 100 breads at R2.80-R3.10 per loaf in a single day.
  • Afrikaners of all ages, but primarily small ones, seem to find no impropriety in walking anywhere they please – shoeless. I saw a man in his 40s walk into a grocery store with his 20s-something son – both shoeless. Elyse and I see kids all the time walking the sidewalks of Makhado sans shoes, feet blacked but apparently not yet bloodied on the dirty glass-strewn sidewalks. I’ve seen it in black children, too, but never adults.
  • Oh, and when they’re not barefoot they’re wearing Crocs ™.
  • Black women here work all kinds of laborious jobs – from landscaper to basic laborer in the construction industry to farmworker, etc. – in skirts or dresses, often with the skirt over a pair of pants.
  • Dogs roam free here, but not wild – just leashless. (see above)
  • Wine is cheap here at R30 ($4.50) for a decent bottle, and often delicious, but rarely organic. We did find one vintner – Blackberg – that purports to produce its wines in a carbon neutral way and has at least one organic chardonnay, and these are quite passable but we’ve since come to understand that their "carbon neutrality" might be a slight embellishment.
  • The #1 favorite restaurant, nationally, is KFC, followed by MacDonald’s, followed by Spur, a steakhouse with a Mexican / Amerindian (the Shenandoah, oddly) theme.
  • It is gorgeous living under a mountain, with very changeable weather. It is now very hot, but from Saturday it was very chilly – cold enough that my fingers were to stiff to play melodies on my guitar.

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