Saturday, October 8, 2011

Water, water … where is the water?

Before coming to South Africa (SA), I knew that access to water would be an issue.  In many respects, I have thus far been lucky to have had relatively easy access to water, even though in none of the three homes in which I have stayed has there been consistent running water that is drinkable.  The first home did not have running water at all.  The second home had running water, but it was available (i.e., turned on) only between ~10pm and 9am, and often not at all.  The third home where we are currently staying has running water in the host family’s kitchen, but the pressure is variable, it is very salty, and everyone advises that we not drink it.  We do not have indoor water at all in our house in the back of the lot behind our host family.

In most locations, the municipality provides water around the village and this is the drinking water for most people.  Drinkable water can take on many definitions depending on to whom you are talking.  Locals, of course, drink the municipal-provided water from taps in individual yards or from public taps around the community. Some people even drink the salty water (which comes from private bore holes), although most do not.  Some drink untreated water from the river (but really shouldn’t if they paid attention to all the cows, goats, sheep, and heaven knows what else wade throughout such waters).  John and I hold out for the municipal-provided water and even then, we boil it and put it through a Britta filter.  We originally boiled it for 3 minutes as per the PC instructions, but have lessened the boiling time without any known repercussions.  Some PCVs have dropped the boiling and/or filtering activities altogether and are still around to talk about it, but we haven’t gotten desperate or brave enough to risk it.

Many of the towns throughout SA are working on providing a reliable water source to the families, but the infrastructure to do so is greatly lacking and unreliable, and the process is slow going.  The locals seem to take it in stride and don’t stress when their own water supply gets low and they have to go looking elsewhere for drinkable water.  Many families have a JoJo tank next to their house which they attempt to keep full throughout the year … well, at least the more responsible people do.  Water in the JoJo is either collected rain water or is municipal-water collected at times when the water is free-flowing.

Our current family has two JoJo tanks, one which is full of local salty water (somewhat good for bathing, laundry, etc. if you don’t mind feeling icky all the time, which is about the only option we have) and the other which is intended for drinking water but which is currently empty.  Therefore, once every week or two our buckets of drinking water supply runs low and we have to plead with the family for replenishment.  This involves the host mother or one of her sons jumping in their truck and driving around the village checking out randomly placed public water spickets to see which if any are currently turned on and then filling a supply of 3-gallon buckets.  We’d be glad to resupply our own water, but we don’t have any kind of vehicle for transport (not even a wheelbarrow), and sometimes they have to travel as much as +2 miles away to find a source of water.  Now that rainy season is upon us,  I'll consider setting out many of our own small buckets to collect some fresh rain water!

Given the local circumstances, a popular occupation around here and other villages is being a water supplier.  There are numerous industrious young men who with several barrels, a wagon, and a team of donkeys travel around the villages supplying water.  The boys seem to be constantly busy and enjoying themselves, although I can’t say the same for the little donkeys. 


The topic, generations, covers two item:

First, “Generations” is the name of a widely popular soap opera on South African TV.  In general, soaps are a pretty big deal here, and Generations is the most popular soap, as best I can determine.  It comes on at 8pm every week night and many people plan their evenings around it.  I have seen it many times and I have to admit that it is interesting (when the host family watches it every night, you kind of HAVE TO watch it).  Daily in class during training, many of the PCVs would talk about what went on during the previous night’s episode.  Generations has all the required soap opera components: love, sex, secrets, greed, back-stabbing, conspiracy, relationships, suspense, hospital scenes, dramatic music, and long, pensive expressions at the end of each scene.  The dialogue is extremely interesting as it is in a mixture of English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and Setswana (I think), all within a single sentence. What I find amazing (besides the storyline, of course) is they somehow manage to sub-title only the non-English parts of the dialogue.  Therefore, one ends up listening for the English parts and then reading the rest at the bottom of the screen.  Sounds complicated, but after a while, you don’t even know you are doing it.

The other topic related to ‘generations’ has to do with family structure in SA.  From what I have seen, a typical SA family will have several generations living within a single household.  In the first home where I stayed, there were three generations present.  In the next household, there were four generations represented on most days (it changes from day to day and as I was never really sure who was going to be around at supper time or bed time).  The elder mothers here in SA are referred to as the koko or gogo (aka, grandmother).  Our second host koko, Florence, is actually a great-grandmother, and her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter stay with her off and on throughout the week. (Note: Florence’s mother is still alive and lives in a neighboring town, so her family actually has five generations alive and doing well). This scenario appears to be very typical from what I have heard from other Volunteers discussing their home stays, with koko, daughter and grandchild being the most common persons present.  It generally seems very easy-going and supportive with no one particularly accountable or concerned with who is coming or going at any point in time.  We certainly have multi-generations represented in families in America, but not nearly so consistently under the same roof.   Below is Florence and her great-granddaughter, Kia:

I’m Baaack ... Sort of!

Sorry for the long delay in posting more entries on the blog.  A lot has been going on and I’ve been busy, but the main reason I haven’t been able to post anything is the lack of internet connectivity.  This is something I have been struggling with for about 4 weeks since we moved to site.  The computer modem we had purchased earlier and used during the training period has become all but useless at our permanent site in Limpopo.  I am able to connect to the internet with the modem, but every time I attempt to go to any website, it times out well before the web page is loaded.  So frustrating.

I have been fortunate to have a BlackBerry device which has allowed me to continue to check email and Facebook.  Unfortunately, the carrier supporting this device limits a lot of other functions, including updating my blog site.  What is so bizarre is that I can actually get to the blog site and sign-in but it won’t allow me to type anything other than a title.  Again, so frustrating.  I’m kind of getting used to the fact that everything takes longer to do here in South Africa (SA), but haven’t gotten used to the fact that I seem to hit a wall in attempting to do so many things that I could do easily back in the USA, or even elsewhere here in SA.

So, here’s my solution to updating my blog.  About once a month or so, John and I will be going to Polokwane, our designated shopping town.  I’m counting on this town having adequate internet access.  If that is, indeed, the case, I will at least be able to update the blog monthly.  Not ideal, but do-able … I hope!  I plan to write a few blogs “stories” weekly and upload everything when I’m in town.

Thanks for your patience! Mine, on the other hand, is wearing thin!