Peace Corps Blog

This is a blog of my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, working in South Africa. My job title is a capacity builder, which means I help increase the effectiveness of a local NGO that does AIDS/HIV related work.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Christmas on the Beach

For Christmas this year, I took my first vacation in South Africa. After being at site for three months, we were allowed to begin traveling and seeing more of the country (the rule is in place to help encourage us to fully integrate into our community and not run off in the beginning). And so for my first vacation, I decided to head to Durban, a costal city on the Indian Ocean in the southeast of South Africa. A number of other volunteers were also going to head to Durban (the beach is a pretty attractive first vacation).

I ended up arriving a day earlier then the other volunteers, because of complications in travel plans, so I stayed at a hotel in downtown for the first night. It was nice to have some time to myself and to unwind before meeting up with everyone. In the afternoon I headed down to the beach, which reminded me how much I love the ocean and how I hope to spend most of my life living near it. And I enjoyed a dinner at a place that essentially does Indian tapas, so you order a number of different main courses and each is a little serving. The night was topped off by a swim in the pool on the top floor of the hotel, under the stars, with a remarkable view out at the city (best of all, I had the whole place to myself).

For the first week of the vacation, eleven of us stayed at a house in Amanzimtoti (essentially a suburb thirty minutes from the city). From the house, you could walk down a long set of stairs and in five minutes, be standing on the beach. So, that is exactly what we did for everyday of that week… sat on the beach, under a big umbrella, and got up every few hours to hop in the water. The whole while, we ate good food. A few blocks from the house was a Woolworths Food (a higher end grocery store, similar to Marks & Spencer in London – in fact, owned by Marks & Spencer), a Fruit and Veg City (delicious fresh fruit, very inexpensive) and an Indian Bunny Chow place. Bunny Chow is essentially a half loaf of bread, partially hollowed out and filled with curry and vegetables (delicious, spicy, and it only costs $1.50 for meal’s worth). So one day, we spend a whole nine hours on the beach, with a group going up to get Bunny Chow, drinks and chocolate around lunch time.

On Christmas morning, Erin (the volunteer who found and arranged for the house) surprised us with decorations, including Christmas lights, a paper tree and a Santa hats (instead of stockings) with each of our names in glitter on them. It was such a nice way to start out the day. And then she went on to cook delicious eggs benedict, while Paul cooked pancakes. Before heading to the beach, we did a gift exchange. For a Christmas away from home, you couldn’t ask for much more.

On the last night at the house, we all decided to go out to do karaoke at a local bar (primarily Afrikaner). At the beginning of the night, I felt like we were annoying most of the people, being the typical Americans. But by the end, everyone seemed to be loving it. People were dancing on the tables. One volunteer was even going up to strangers and pulling them up to dance. And when the KJ (like a DJ, but for karaoke) announced the last song, the whole bar started chanting “one more!”

Justin and I departed the house the day before New Years Eve (it was sad to leave that great group), and headed into Durban on a very sketchy train. Probably not the safest means of travel, but it was cheap. For the next few nights, we stayed at a backpackers in Morningside (a rather fancy neighborhood, with everyone dressed nice, felt almost like Los Angeles). There were lots of good restaurants, bars and we were near an apartment where four other volunteers were staying, so we spent a lot of time with them. And for New Years Eve night, we ate Thai food and headed to a huge club with lots of people and danced well into the morning.

All in all, it was an outstanding vacation - so nice to have some down time and so nice to hang out with other volunteers. Now I have been back at site for a while, I am settling back into things here and am already feeling busy.



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