Friday, October 1, 2010


Hey Hey,

How’s everyone doing? I am doing well. I have many things to catch up on, as usual, my laziness is going to result in a monster catch-up post. As those of you who have been following my blog know, I was away for permaculture training for two weeks. I have since been back for a week, but I will start with my adventure away.

I was staying at a granny’s house located in Lawley, a township located just outside of Johannesburg. I had a roommate in my very small room, and there were also 3 fellows who were in the training who stayed out in a very luxurious garage. It kind of felt like college again going to class and going home with the same people. So where do I start…

The roommate. She was a very nice person, who was the same age as me, she was also married with a daughter. In fact, everyone I was living with was either my age or a couple years older and all of them were married with children, one was engaged. One thing I became appreciative of American culture within the first day was the expectations of quiet and dark while someone is trying to sleep at night. Unfortunately my roommate did not share these same sentiments. First she wanted to sleep with the light on all night because she said she didn’t like the dark. This was a problem because I don’t know if I can actually sleep with a light on. I told her I didn’t think that would work for me, also trying to tell her that we should try and save electricity because the granny we were staying with paid for her own electricity. Luckily, she said it was ok. Next, she would always have her phone radio on. The sound quality was terrible and often really staticy. She said she needed this to sleep. I asked if she could put headphones on. The problem was that she needed to have the phone fairly far away from her, and therefore fairly loud, to get decent reception. Headphones didn’t really work. The first week this was a problem. She would eventually turn it off when her battery was running low. Some miracle happened the second week I was there and the reception got better, which meant she was within headphone range. Next, she never had phone credit. Unfortunately for me (and many other roommates across South Africa), the phone service used by most people offers free calling between midnight and 5 am. This is when all of her calling would happen. It would last between 5 and 20 minutes each night, 1-3 times a night. I tried asking her to go outside of the room to talk, she didn’t get why she would ever do this and just said she would whisper. That didn’t really do any good because our beds were about a foot apart and my hearing was super acute because I was waking up each time she started talking. This problem was never resolved. The final thing was her morning bath. I never actually figured out why she insisted on taking a bucket bath in our room rather than doing it in the bathroom, but this is the decision she made. Each morning, at 6 am, she would be up and scrubbing down for 30 minutes in a big bucket, even though our class didn’t start until 8, and she would be ready at least an hour early each day, she just insisted on bathing at 6. This was another problem that was only resolved by me getting up at 6 everyday too. Basically, sleep was a little hard to come by for that 2 weeks. I tried napping, but she was in the room every second after school each day, making just as much noise. She would take random naps, often when she knew that I was on a walk. Cultural differences killed my sleep schedule. I know she was not even aware of what the problems were, which is why it was often so difficult to find a solution. All it resulted in was being that much happier to be back home with two Americans who sleep quietly, in the dark, each night. Good experience, but I am glad it was just a temporary setup.

The permaculture class itself was pretty good. I didn’t understand about 95% of it because it was in Setho, but I think I still got all of the information. Most of the concepts I had heard before, and the headings for each subject were in English, so I at least knew the topic they were discussing. If I needed something clarified, the teachers would translate for me. In general, it was just taking terms, concepts, and skills that I mostly knew already and organizing them in the permaculture way. It is really a pretty cool farming method. It is quite sustainable if done correctly. We learned about all of the material in class, then we would go out to their garden and practice/see what we learned.

Food was another interesting obstacle during the 2 weeks. They have a food here called pap (pronounced “pop”). I have had this food before in Tanzania and it is basically maize flour that is made into a solid porridge-like substance (some of you may know this as ugali). I knew how my stomach deals with this food, which is not well. Unfortunately this was the main course of choice by the chefs in the area, either pap or white rice, which are basically the same thing: condensed simple carbs. People can also eat this stuff in ENORMOUS quantities. It is really quite impressive. The bad part is that I cannot even come close to eating that much, and because it is just simple carbs, I am hungry in about 2 hours again. Others say that pap will keep you full all day, which doesn’t actually make a lot of sense, but then when I saw how much of this stuff they could eat, I understood how they stayed full for so long. Also, for breakfast the granny really liked serving sour porridge (the name explains it all, if you can imagine what that might taste like). I can eat just about anything once, but she served it 3 days in a row. The only way I could get it down was to douse it with sugar. Of course this made me feel like crap all day. After about day 4, my stomach had had enough. It was sugar overload and I was feeling the consequences. I had to go to the store to get food to supplement my diet. First thing on the list was fruit, something I hadn’t seen the entire week. I just started taking significantly less of everything that was cooked for me and just filled in the space with bananas and pears. A nutritionist came in the last day we were there. He had all kinds of yummy things for us. He had a constant supply of nuts, raisins, tea, and cooked two entrees for us in class. I was the only one who truly liked either of the dishes, which was unfortunate because the point was to move people more in the direction of eating healthy. The nutritionist’s secret goal is the rid South Africa of pap because it is causing a lot of health problems, especially diabetes. I think it is a really good goal, but it is also basically impossible because people love it so much and it is so cheap. The best weapon he had was telling people that maize was not native to Africa, and people really didn’t like one of their staple foods being from somewhere else. They probably got over that little fact in about a day, though, so I don’t know how to fix this problem, but nutrition here is really unhealthy and does need some fixing.

One more funny thing that happened on the trip was that on the first day about 3 little boys were standing against a fence looking very suspicious. Three other people and I were walking past them. They quickly put their hands behind their back. I looked back after we passed to see what they were hiding and they totally had condoms filled with water that they were using as water balloons against unsuspecting passersbys! It was super funny, good thing they didn’t through them at us, though.

Now I am back in Kroonstad. Last week was pretty uneventful, mostly just catching up on various office tasks. This week my garden-partner, Frans, and I started making our garden. We had 2 picks, 2 square shovels, and a hoe. The first time I hit the ground with a pick it stopped dead in its tracks because the ground is basically a rock right now. That was a little discouraging. Lucky for me Frans is amazing at digging. I made some calculations and he is 6-8 times better at our work than me. I feel bad that I can’t really hold up my end of the work, but he doesn’t seem to mind so much. Katie and Sarah helped dig a little bit each day. I was not at all in shape to work as much as I did. The first night I got home and could not actually move, my muscles were so sore. The second day was not much better. I started moving again Wednesday, although not much. I tried to finish this blog post on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I could not move my fingers individually well enough and hitting the spacebar was just altogether not going to happen. I am pleased to report that my fingers are moving again. My back is still killing me and I feel like I am about 110, but I am getting younger each passing day. We finished digging yesterday, today and tomorrow are about making the garden look like a garden. This involves reinforcing the edges with brick, mixing the clay soil with a tiny amount of top soil (I greatly underestimated how much top soil was needed to supplement our soil…oops), and adding much on top of that. It may not be able to support plant life, but it really does look good. We are going to add water tomorrow. I am just hoping that our whole garden doesn’t just melt when we do this, which is definitely possible. I will put up pictures soon.

Ok, I think that pretty well covers the highlights from the past month. We are hesitantly planning a trip to Lesotho for sometime in the next couple of weeks. It seems silly to live in South Africa for a year and not go to Lesotho, it is right there. Our permaculture students start on Monday. There are 24 of them, that is a lot, compared to my usual 9. Frans will be a big help, I am glad I am not teaching this class alone, that would be pretty difficult, if not altogether impossible. The class will be 2 weeks long, everyday for 4 hours. It is a good schedule and the class is really diverse, as far as age and gender are concerned. I’m excited, it should be fun. Well that is all from my end.

More later,


1 comment:

  1. Hi Kelly,

    It was interesting to read about how you are learning about gardening. We had our garden this summer, and now we are enjoying the produce from it. We had some good winter squash that has been delicious, as well as potatoes, some summer squash, and we also have carrots that are very good both raw and cooked. Patrick put some plastic covers on the carrots now, outside, to keep the snow off of them. I can relate to the digging, as I did that every once in a while here, but we have good soil, as opposed to solid stuff that you discribed. Also, I can stop when I feel like it.

    Today is Ann's birthday. She is 24 on the 24th, so it's her golden birthday.

    That was interesting about your roomate wanting the light on in her room, and also music on. That is how Catherine is. She has found a thing that has a soft light, and she has the music down quite low, so it doesn't disturb us. I can see, though, how things like that can be disturbing when you are in a small room.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Take care.


    Jeanne and Patrick Litersky