My apologies to JJRT for the title but it just seemed so right. I did in fact make it back to my site in early October after being away for almost a month. Not all was well when I got back. Seems the “machine” (used to describe any mechanical device except a vehicle) aka municipal water pump broke down about a week after I left resulting in 3 weeks of no water at my home. Despite valiant efforts by my host family, they were not able to save everything in my garden. My beautiful tomato patch, which had perhaps as many as 150 nicely growing fruit when I left, was decimated, the onions looked pretty bad but the cabbage and the chard survived. I was able to save a small tomato patch that was in the low end of the garden and so got the benefit of the leach from the little water put on the chard and cabbage. I have since dug up and expanded the area that failed to survive worked in the bulk of the compost pile and have planted beets, peppers and basil. Unfortunately, I learned today that the “machine” has broken down again and we are using what little water is available to keep the newly seeded are from baking hard. We are hoping for rain or that the pump will be back on line within a day or two. There is certainly no guarantee of either.
As with my garden I met with distress when I got into the office. Despite all my efforts and constant beggaring of the staff that they sit down with me and learn how to do the things I have been able to do to improve the functioning of the organization (which they never would), I found that they were back doing things pretty much the way they were when I arrived a year and a half ago. It is very sad and disappointing for me. On the bright side, at least one of the staff has also recognized the difference and has now come forward willing to be taught, at least as long as it does not interfere with tea. As they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, which is an apt explanation of why South Africa, and most of Africa as a whole, remains in the “third world.” Everyone wants what the West and Asia have, but they are not really motivated to do what is done there to get it.
Someone explained it to me recently that the cultural philosophy of most of Africa is that if I survive today I am satisfied. I won’t worry about yesterday, that is past, and I will deal with tomorrow as best I can when it gets here. This is not a philosophy for nation building or economic development of any kind. I find this to be a true observation of the Black African rural culture as I have experienced it. It may help to explain why socialism and dictatorial rule are so accepted here as both can provide survival for the day as long as there are enough economic engines or resources to exploit. South Africa, of course has both a developed economy and vast resources, though both are under stress and likely to be more taxed in the near future. There is real tension here between the creators of wealth and the consumers of that wealth. It is economic inequality if you want to spin it that way, but making the rich poorer is not going to make the poor richer if the poor won’t do what is needed to generate wealth, or even sustenance, for themselves. Likewise, appropriating the mineral resources isn’t going to better the lot of the poor if you can’t get the wealth out of the ground. If you can’t keep a water pump on which several thousand people depend working how are you going to run a mine.
In addition to trying to get things at the office back on track and to integrate the 34 new carers transferred to BHCBC by the Department of Health (without prior consultation with our Board of Directors nor money to meet the additional administrative and infrastructure demands of course) I have had some involvement in some local community events. The Bakenberg Pensioners Association hosted the Limpopo Provincial Pensioners’ Association annual meeting – quite an honor. To feed the 600 odd attendants, two cows were slaughtered along with about 40 chickens. As the Pensioners Association shares the old primary school complex with us, the slaughtering was done outside my office door. As I have a sharp knife, I was asked to help in the men’s work of killing and cutting up the cows, and did. Chicken killing and plucking is generally considered women’s work and was done at the same time at another location at the old school.
“Blood and sand” perhaps best describes the process, though the hide being left on the ground as a work surface keeps the sand pretty well out of the meat. There is still plenty of hard stuff to crack a tooth on, however, as the bone cutting is done with a dull axe rather than a bone saw and leaves plenty of small shards for the diner to work around. After the carcass is dismembered, the large pieces are hung by pieces of wire in a tree. A smoky fire up wind and a splashing of vinegar served (not very well) to keep the flies in check. After tea and the butcher’s treat of pieces of tenderloin and liver cooked by throwing them in the embers of the fire after rubbing with salt, all the men stand under the tree and cut the meat into 2 to 3 inch chunks which are thrown into bins to be stored unrefrigerated overnight until they can be boiled in large black pots the next day. I prefer the ash and salt to the boiled meat, but I could do much better than either.
The whole butchering project took most of the day, and the women were up at 4:30 the next morning to start the cooking down at the tribal Authority hall where the event was held. Some of the men were there as well to set up the venue. I did not join in as we were up against a deadline for reports to be filed and had to man the computer while women from three different organizations demanded that I do 5 things at once despite my fervent pleas of “one thing at a time” (my normal working conditions). As the day wore down, the President of the local pensioners association, who is also a BHCBC board member ran into the office out of breath and asked if I had my camera. Luckily, I had stuck it in my bag the day before and still had some charge left in the battery. Seems that of 600 pensioners in attendance exactly 0 had a camera. As a result there was no one to take a picture of the newly elected board. I was given the command “let’s go now and hurry” and thankfully was driven to the hall. The reports were not done and I would have to walk back, but half a measure is better than none even if it was the downhill direction. As things happen in Africa, upon my hasty arrival I learned that the new board was still in the process of being elected, so I sat down and waited about an hour and a half to take the photos. There was some compensation in it as after the large group shot, three of the new board members asked that II take a photo of them sitting with the oldest member in attendance, a youngster of 110 years. He walked to the place I was taking pictures on his own power though guided as he is nearly blind. Quite the fellow!
I rushed back to the office to finish up the reports but the next day I learned that the local group wanted me to stick around to take a group picture or them in their matching T shirts. We arranged to do that the next Monday at their regular meeting.
While we haven’t had much rain yet we are in the stormy season which produces gorgeous sunsets and startlingly violent lightning. It is a wonderful show, though hail on a tin roof is almost more than a body can stand. I can provide the pictures but have not yet figured out how to upload the sound. (Some would argue, with great justification, that I ain’t so hot with the pictures either)
When I was last in Pretoria, just before I left, I had a meeting with the orthopedic surgeon and the general surgeon who took care of the spider bite. It was agreed that I would be fit for surgery on the knee and that has been scheduled for November 7. So it is back to Pretoria to pick up where I left off at the beginning of September. I should be there for a week or ten days for the surgery and rehab. I will be back at my site for about two weeks during which I hope to get another GET THE MESSAGE workshop done and then on December 8 it is back to Pretoria for my Close of service conference which will mark three months roughly to go. I can’t believe it has been that long. Right after that conference, I am leaving on my annual vacation with some Peace Corps friends – four countries in 3 weeks. More on that next time.