Saturday, July 16, 2011

Just Checkin In

I’ve been at site for over 3 months now and in South Africa for almost 6.  I can’t believe how fast time is moving.  At the end of our first three months at site, everyone in my training class came to Pretoria for what’s known as IST (in-service training).  It was a little strange at first to go from super rural life in the village to a week at a fancy hotel in Pretoria, with catered meals and tea time twice a day, but we got used to it really fast.   It was sooooo great to see everyone, and we ended the training with a formal gala event.  This was not planned, so we used the term formal loosely, but it was an incredible success.  Forty two of forty five Peace Corps Volunteers were in attendance, we had decorations, finger foods, speeches, and a silent auction.  Some popular items were a free breakfast buffet at the hotel, a subscription to the monthly newsletter, and the opportunity to catch ringworm from one of our volunteers.  Amazing.

IST just so happened to end on July 3, so most people stayed in Pretoria for an extra couple of days to celebrate the 4th of July.  It’s winter here, so it was really cold.  We couldn’t go swimming and we didn’t barbeque, but we did sing a LOT of America songs (Star Spangled Banner, God Bless the USA, Party in the USA……) and we managed to track down some sparklers.  So overall it was a success.  After all that, it was actually pretty tough to go back to site.  It felt so normal to be around Americans, understand every word that was spoken to me and have people understand what I’m saying, and basically feel like a normal person. 

But now I’m definitely happy to be back.  I missed my host family and my coworkers, and I just can’t get over how beautiful my site is.  Now that I’m through the initial settling in period, I’m ready to do some real work.  We have big plans for the youth group I’m working with, and I’m working on compiling a bunch of resources for them.  

We just trained our first savings groups yesterday and the day before, so that project is up and running, too.  It didn’t go exactly as planned.  Ideally, all the group members would have attended the training, and the second day would have been an actual savings meeting.  But only 8 of 10 attended the first day and 5 of 10 the second, so we had to walk through the meeting instead.  I really wish it went a little more to plan, but that’s life I guess.  

Doing those trainings definitely reminded me of why I’m here, though.  We were working with a group of teachers at a primary school in my village, and to get to the school I had to take a bus from my house to a fork in the road.  The first day we were able to catch a car to the primary school, and we stayed late enough to take a bus back.  But the second day we walked from the fork to the school, which took about an hour and a half to two hours.  We worked for maybe two more hours, then walked back to the fork via the hilly and rocky dirt road, stopping to look at one of the group member’s family chicken project.  It’s frustrating to think that a two hour meeting should in my own village should take up the whole day for everyone who came, but there’s really nothing I can do about that.  Savings groups are one way for people to start to control the things they can in their life.  A little patience and flexibility will go a long way for me.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I don't have a lot to do on Saturdays.

Well, I finally had some outlets installed in my hut!  The first thing I did after they were installed?  Blow a fuse.  But one of my host brothers fixed it and now I'm all set.  I'm not gauranteeing it, but its possible I'll post more blog entries now that my computer battery won't die every few hours.  However, just having outlets won't solve the problem of slow internet connection and expensive internet based on data usage, so I can't promise more pictures.  Next time I'm in a town with an internet cafe, though.....

I'm still having a lot of fun living it up in Zululand.  I'm taking it pretty easy at work, under the ruse that I need to have an initial observation period, but I recently talked to one of my supervisors about what they need from me, and I'll actually have quite a bit to do with my organizaiton.  I'll focus a lot on staff development - computer trainings, writing letters, taking minutes, things like that - but also work on developing a youth program/group, which my organization has been trying to do for a  while, but has had some issues due to external factors.  Also, I'm working with a couple other staff members on starting savings groups to strengthen our already-existing networks.  We're using a program designed by a group called Save Act, which basically creates small banking initiatives, where group members save together and use their savings to make low-interest, low-risk loans to eachother. 

I've been really lucky with my whole assignment so far.  My organization is great and in a really good position to host a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I get to work on diverse assignments that just so happen to be in areas that I'm really interested in - youth development and microfinance. I was concerned at first that having such a big host family (Chief, 10 wives, 20 someting kids, can't count all the grandkids) would be too much, but I actually really really like it.  It makes me feel like I know a lot of people, and they're pretty traditional so I get a lot of "cultural experiences".  Love my village, love my house, so far so good.

Last week was pretty eventful - the cheif's daughter was married and the wedding was pretty much a three day blowout.  The day before, tons of stuff was happening at the house (killed a cow, lots of people I didn't know around, lots of stuff I didn't understand going on, etc.) and I was a little overwhelmed.  We left at about 3am and took a bus to another village where the wedding would be held.  The traditional wedding was first, and it was actually really cool.  I was a full participant in the traditional dance (also a little overwhelming, but fun at the end of the day), as per I'm the chief's daughter, and then everybody stayed the night for the white wedding the next day.  Now, here are the things that my night entailed:  1.) several marriage proposals (actually that happened all weekend, not just at night.) .2.) really good food that I didn't have to cook 3.) more traditional dancing 4.) sleeping on the floor of a rondavel with 50 other women 5.) waking up at 4:30am to go to a different house for tea and breakfast with the younger girls before the white wedding the next day (I'm still not really sure why that happened).
The next day was spent pretty much just hanging out.  Two more cows were slaughtered, which by the way I'm a little obsessed with. I shouldn't enjoy watching it so much, buuuuuuut I do.  There was some more gift-giving and dancing and stuff, and then the wedding.  Overall, it turned out to be a really fun weekend, and a good way to get to know a lot of people and have people get to know me. 

I'm really sorry for the lack of pictures - I personally skip the blogs with no pictures, particularly if they are from Peace Corps Volunteers.  But it can't be helped - I tried and failed to load some for this post.  But I promise someday you will see them, so don't lose hope!

Friday, April 22, 2011


Soooo I'm bad at blogging. Sorry.  But I'm now safe and sound in Zululand, living with the traditional leader and his family in a pretty rural area and working for an organization called Justice and Women.  I'm actually surprised at how much I like it - I expected to be really bored all the time and unsure of what to do with myself, but I'm usually pretty entertained.  My host family is really big, so there are a ton of kids for me to play with and I spend a lot of time sitting around with the fam while everyone speaks Zulu and I don't know what's going on.  But it's kind of fun and I think a lot of things are funny that probably aren't really. So I basically entertain myself. 

The area I'm living in is basically ideal.  I'm about an hour or two from the coast, Durban, a little ways away from the Drakensberg mountains, and really close to one of the largest game reserves in South Africa called Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, which I was lucky enough to go to last weekend.

Ok well I would write more, but I'm still working on getting some electrical outlets in my room and my laptop battery is almost dead.  And the real point of blogging today was supposed to be to load some pics.  So I'm sorry if it doesn't work, but know that I tried.  Miss you all!  Send me news when stuff happens at home!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stayin' Alive

Aaaaaand well. Just a quick update for everyone - this is the first time I've made it to an internet cafe, and I of course forgot my camera cord so I can't post the interesting stuff.

But we all made it to SA safe and sound.  We spent the first week at a pretty luxurious college campus - dorm rooms, running water and flush toilets, catered meals, and tea time twice a day.  Then we moved into three different villages near Mokopane.  Some people have great set ups there with satellite tv, running water, etc.  My house is super comfortable and I absolutely LOVE my host family, but no running water.  On the bright side, I actually really like doing dishes outside and I'm getting really fast at bucket bathing.

On Friday we finally found out our permanent site placements, and we'll be visiting them all this week.  Then we come back for a couple weeks, and then, we'll finally be sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers and head to our sites for good.

I'll be working an hour or two inland from Richard's Bay in KwaZulu Natal (near the beach, woot woot!).  I cannot WAIT to see my site and find out about my living arrangements.  I"ve been told I'll be in the chief's compound, with his several wives and their children and some of thier children's spouses, etc.  So I'm hoping for a pretty good sister wife situation.

Ok, well I think that's all for now - I'll share some more interesting things later, but I'm doing great, lovin life, excited to start work.

Feel free to email me, or comment or anything else with questions and hellos!

Miss you all!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Shape up or Ship out

Almost there!  And I must say I'm a little bit proud of myself for having posted not one, but TWO entries on my South Africa blog before I've even made it to the airport.  Maybe this blogging thing *is* my jam.

My loving, supportive family dropped me off at the airport at 4:45 am, the busiest time of day at Pasco International.  They boarded two flights at the same time out of the same gate when I left, so thank goodness I made it onto the plane on the left that went to Denver, and didn't get on the plane to the right that was heading to San Francisco.  I hope that kind of thing doesn't happen in New York tomorrow when we try to board a flight for Johannesburg.

Philadelphia has been great, and much less intense than I was expecting.  We only got one shot this morning, but I think we have a few more coming in South Africa.  We did end up doing a couple icebreakers, but no name games.  Hopefully we can do some more in South Africa, but, if not, I'll just have to find some people to do some trust falls and human knots with me.

Other than that, we talked a little about our expectations and went through some general things about health and safety and the volunteer experience, but nothing specific to South Africa.  We'll just have to wait a little longer for that information, I guess.

I'll try to take some good pictures when I get there.  I know pictures of Johnny with my luggage at the Pasco Airport will entice some of my 5 to 10 readers, but maybe I'll pull in a few more with some sub-Saharan scenery shots. If not, I'll just post royalty free pictures of elephants and lions that I find online and claim them as my own.  Either way, stay tuned to my blog - you're in for a treat :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Please Send Me Things

Hello, and welcome to my blog!  In one week, I'll be leaving for South Africa.  Needless to say, I am no where near ready, but I figure I'm checking at least one thing off my list by starting a blog!

Peace Corps isn't exactly known for overwhelming applicants with information (some might say they're a little stingy in that area), but I know everyone has questions about where I'll be and what I'll be doing.  So here are the basics of what I know now.

Assignment:  Community HIV Outreach Program

After an initial two months of training, I'll receive an assignment with an existing NGO that focuses on HIV outreach to help build their capacity and improve their effectiveness.  I won't know much about my job until I actually get my assignment.  From what I've heard, there are a variety of partner organizations - some are new, some are old, some are well established while others are struggling to get by.  Also, some have had a volunteer before, while others are new to the Peace Corps Program.  I'll get back to you with more details when I know.


On Sunday I'll be leaving Pasco at 6:15 am to fly to Philadelphia for a day of what we in the volunteer biz call Staging.  I'll be joining the other South Africa volunteers at the Holiday Inn for a clinic appointment (shots), some introductory information, some paperwork, more information on getting to South Africa, and of course some Icebreakers (I capitalize "Icebreakers" to stress how much I love them.)

The next day we check out of the hotel at 2am, drive to New York JFK, and hop on a direct flight to Johannesburg.  From there, we get on another bus and drive about three hours to a spot near Polokwane to start training.

We'll be in a dorm for the first week, and then move into homestays.  Training includes lots of technical training, cultural training, as well as language.  But South Africa has 11 official languages, plus several unofficial ones, so part f the plan for the first week includes determining which volunteers will learn which language.


Everyone please memorize this address - it's very important because this is where you will need to send me letters and care packages (subtle hint).

Catherine Sampson
Peace Corps
PO Box 9536
Pretoria 0001
South Africa

My email is the same -, and Skype is catherine.sampson03. 

I won't have a phone, and I will have very limited access to email and the internet for the first two months of training.  So please don't be worried or offended if I don't respond to an email, I'll be in good hands.

I think that's most of what I know, so hopefully this is helpful for everyone else.  

And now, since I usually pick blogs to read that have lots of picutres, I leave you with some photos from my trip to Spain and in and around the Seattle area.


 Rome :)
 Cathedral in Granada
 Travel buddies!!!!!  They live in Madrid, and are awesome.
 Tomb of Christopher Columbus inside the Cathedral in Granada
 Alhambra in Sevilla.
 Old one, but still good - Shannon E. Blackburn at the LaRoche-Galuska wedding
 Seattle from the Spaceneedle (don't worry, I got a souvenir penny)
 I. love. Christmas Lights!
 First sunset of 2011!
 Lots of clammers at the coast
 Clamming on New Years Day

We also caught a shrimp or two on accident.