Our group is named SA26. We are the twenty-sixth group to serve in South Africa since the Peace Corps started here in 1997. The even-numbered groups are education volunteers; the odd-numbered ones are health volunteers. We come from a range of experiences, ages, and paths in life. A handful of us are fresh out of college; I am the youngest one in the group. Some have taught and overseen schools for decades. Some have served in the Peace Corps in other countries. And some of us are entirely new to it all, and will learn as we go along.
We arrived in country on July 12th; in South African speak, 12 July. We spent our first week staying at Ndebele College of Education, and the subsequent six weeks with host families. At the beginning, we were taught the basic greetings in something like five languages: isiZulu, isiNdebele, Xitsonga, siSwati, and Afrikaans. We were specifically taught how to say "Sorry, I don't speak Afrikaans," because that's the language most people opt for when they see that we're white. A week or so after learning the basics for these five, we were assigned a target language based on the region we would be placed in and were organized into small language groups. My target language is isiZulu, as I am presently serving in KwaZulu Natal. Believe it or not, my Spanish helped me a little bit here; vowels in isiZulu sound the same as those in Spanish, so while some people were struggling with how to pronounce them, I've been doing it since seventh grade. This similarity was lucky, and proved to be the only one. IsiZulu has three clicks, found in the letters "c," "q," and "x." The "c" sound is when you put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and pull it down; I guess you can imagine the sound you'd make when thinking "tsk tsk" and shaking your head in disappointment. You make the "q" sound by putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth and clicking it down. The letter "x" is pronounced out of the side of your mouth, as if you're calling a horse. I feel like these explanations sound silly and difficult, but someday when we talk, I'll give you a play by play J Other new sounds are the "dl" and "hl" combinations. When written together, the "dl" sound is one where your tongue sort of vibrates and air comes out on either side of it. "Hl" is similar, and was best compared to the lisp of Sid the Sloth from Ice Age.
At Swearing-In on Sunday 2 September (the transition from PCT [Peace Corps Trainee] to PCV [Peace Corps Volunteer]), the numbers were calculated for how long we spent in technical sessions, language classes, washing laundry by hand on Sundays, etc. We spent something like 92 hours in language sessions over the course of six weeks, and only slightly less sitting in sessions learning how to be teachers under the South African Education System. Obviously we still have a lot to learn, but I think we can all say that we're sort of experienced in the ways of this country as far as learning goes. I'm going to talk more about the education system in my next post, so I'll cut this paragraph off right here.
Also for a later post is an elaborate description of my first South African host family. I don't know if I have ever felt so welcomed or loved by complete strangers in my whole life. The Zulu name they gave me is how I introduce myself to people here, now hundreds of kilometers away.
This post is meant to serve as more of a timeline than anything else; the following few posts will get into more detail about the events and happenings mentioned in this overview. I sound like I'm writing an essay. Again, sorry this is so late and people think I have dropped off the face of the earth. Blogging from a Blackberry is not the easiest business.