Be it how it will, do right now.

A Cable From Our Man in Steenbok…

In case you were wondering, it turns out that, yes, rural South Africans love pasta carbonara. And, no, that’s not code. That’s legit. Last Friday night, my family informed me that I would be cooking dinner for everyone the next evening; so, Saturday found me journeying into Naas (my shopping town, also found as Emaqhekeza depending on your map) to run errands and purchase groceries. My lofty goal of chicken salad a la Kertman, spaghetti carbonara, and salad quickly devolved into grilled chicken, salad, and a very unique form of pasta carbonara utilizing processed cheddar, Canadian bacon, and macaroni. Without delving into shameless grandstanding, let it be known that make wami (my Mom) was still talking about the meal on Monday. At school. With every one of our fellow teachers that would listen.

If all my other projects fail, I know that I’ve built at least one metaphorical bridge here in South Africa. And that bridge is made of pasta carbonara. And marinated, grilled chicken.

Right, so quick catch up: I’m with the M******* family, here in Steenbok. They just hosted the last volunteer, but apparently she didn’t cook and my siSwati is better, so I’ve got that going for me. Mom, Dad, two brothers, and a Sister. The sister lives elsewhere with her family. Two bhutis (brothers) live at home with the ‘rents, which is SOP for SA. I’m the youngest, however, of all the kids, so Mom looooooves to joke about how I’m her baby. Cute.

Momma is also a teacher at Gebhundlovu Higher Primary School (my other school is Bhambhata Primary School) and, as it happens, the younger sister to my tishelanhloko (principal, derived from teacher + head). Yes, the car rides are fun. Make’s name is Nora. Mom, Nora told me to thank you for sending her a son that can cook, wash dishes, and iron his own clothes. Be proud. 😉

Dad is unemployed, but essentially too old to be hired anywhere, so he spends his days at home, sleeping, watching TMC, and apparently shooting things with his slingshot. I’m not making this up. Babe’s name is Jabulani (happiness).

My oldest bhuti, Ronny, is a kombie (taxi) driver and works some mean hours. If he’s lucky, he works an 8-hour day and stays local. If he’s not, he goes to JoBurg and back in a day (it’s 5 hours one way, without accounting for stops, gas, and turnaround time). He’s 35, has two kids that live with their Moms elsewhere, and is a chill, nice guy.

My other brother is Godfrey, he’s 32, and a contract construction worker specializing in piping. I’m pretty sure we share some archaic genetic trait, as so far we’ve clicked on just about everything we’ve talked about. And my, how we’ve khuluma’d (kukhuluma=to speak; real past tense is kulumile). Mom has called him in from my house twice this past week. Awesome, awesome guy.

In fact, my whole family is great. They’re funny, caring people who have a genuine interest in expanding their cultural experience and also sharing theirs with me. And because they just hosted the previous PCV, I’m in a pretty nice position in that they’ve already crossed many of those adjustment bridges (i.e. Americans like to have private time and this doesn’t mean that they’re sick or sleeping). I’d been somewhat concerned about inaccurate and unfair comparisons – and to an extent I am dealing with that at my two primary schools – but so far everyone’s enjoying the new dynamic and I’m confident I can maintain the goodwill post-honeymoon phase.

• I don’t have my mailing address yet, but will open my PO Box in Naas this weekend; so it’s forthcoming.

To avoid inadvertently penning a novella here, I’d like to wrap up by bullet-pointing some amusing, insightful, or otherwise telling tidbits from the last 8 days. I know some have been trying to leave comments on here and I apologize I have no idea why it’s not working. If it didn’t take me 47 seconds to send a plain text email, I’d investigate further; for now, please feel free to shoot me an email
(mkertman@gmail.com) with your thoughts. I cherish them.

• Yesterday, a teacher from Gebhundlovu took me to Malelane to get a haircut from “his guy.” Malelane is over an hour away by car. Pretty sure he had never cut an umlungu’s hair before, despite which he did a great job.
• My first night, with the assistance of DOOM bug spray [great name, right?], I eradicated two, hard-shelled beetles doing it on my curtain. Nothing else has ventured in since so, knock on wood, I’m pretty sure I set the right precedent with the insect world here. • I’ve decided I’m going to construct a home-made shower in my room, using the sun-shower Ben got me just before leaving. Mom’s totally fine with it (“Nhlanhla, be free. This is your home.”) and Godfrey’s agreed to assist.
• The deputy principal at Bhambhata is originally from Ghana and – guess what – was taught by PCVs in the 60s while he was in high school. How phenomenal is that? My first day there last week, we had lunch together and talked politics and the importance of a healthy, independent media. Word.
• Everywhere I go, whenever I meet someone new, two things always happen: the first is that I am complimented on my ability to speak siSwati. At first, I thought this was just tactful politesse; then people started trying to have full-on conversations with me, to which I had to explain that I’m still learning. The other, more amusing phenomenon is that I’m being pimped out. I’m currently betrothed to roughly 23 different women and I’m pretty sure the only reason I’m not already married is that I don’t have the heads of cattle required for the dowry. It’s hilarious to watch as virtually every introduction involving a single woman inevitably takes a sharp right away from professionalism into “no, he’s single.” I’m attempting to reign in my principal, but it’s a laborious process.
• My first day with above-mentioned principal, he took me to the border of Mozambique (Komatiport) and bought me a hamburger and coffee milkshake at a fancy border restaurant. Oh my god, I never thought I could miss Jack In The Box so much.
• Steenbok is extremely dry right now, but the neighboring areas are exceedingly green, as sugarcane is grown and processed there. The sugar plant just so happens to control access to the river, so the sugarcane is watered… but not the people.
• Last Friday, I took a 7-hour bus ride through Limpopo province to Petersburg with Gebhundlovu P.S. to watch a plane take off at the airport there. It was a school trip. We then went to a reptile zoo. And drove 7 hours back to Steenbok. Woke up at 2am Friday morning, went to bed at 4am Saturday morning. Awesome. While there, however, I met a man in the airport lounge who had worked with PCVs in Limpopo during the late 90s as part of the HIV/AIDS program. That was pretty cool.
• On Sunday, went to church with Momma and introduced myself in siSwati to a congregation of roughly 200 Steenbokians. The pastor welcomed me into the community and then we all sang songs.
• Today, my Gebhundlovu principal took me to a memorial in the nearby town of Mbuzini where Samora Machel (famous resistance leader and president of Mozambique) and his entourage died after their plane crashed in October of ’86. Many suspect the apartheid SA government of orchestrating the crash to deter similar uprisings in their own country at the time. Really interesting stuff and it was thrilling to stand at the intersection of three countries (Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland).
• I wake up at 5:30 every morning to be at school by quarter of seven. This is rough, but I’m adjusting.

And on that note, it’s 11:30pm, so I need to crash. Please call whenever, I would love to hear from you. Thanks for everyone’s warm wishes via email – I am slowly answering them via my frustratingly slow internet connection. If I haven’t replied yet, it’s not intentional, so please understand. Oh, and photos are forthcoming.

Peace,
Matt

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