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.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Six Months

Just this week I realized that I have now been living in Africa for six months. It is amazing how quickly the time is going by here. First off, I figured it is a good excuse to post some long overdue photos:

There are photos from when I walked to a hill that overlooks my village and a few showing my room, which I recently reorganized in an attempt to make it more personal and homey. That meant better organizing my stuff (so that everything wasn't sitting in piles on the floor) and getting a map and tablecloth.

The other day I was reminded of a fun story, which I had forgotten about. On the way to our first in-service training, back in December, I stopped by the site of another volunteer for a day. His site happens to be walking distance from a small-scale game reserve, so he and I headed over to the fence in hopes of seeing giraffes. Walking along the fence, we found a semblance of a gate (more like a place where you could crawl under the fence). My friend has been told by locals in the village that you could enter the game reserve there, so headed in. Maybe not the safest idea, in case there was some huge predators, but we walked along the dirt road and ended up seeing a huge family of ostriches (a male and a female, and about eight or nine little babies). So we sat a safe distance away and just watched as the meandered along, taking no notice of us, and picking through the grass for food. There was something very special about getting to sit and watch that.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Powerful People and a Request

For once, I am actually going to manage two posts to my blog within one week. This is just to tell a little story about my day today and to ask a small favor of friends and family at home.

Today, one of my organizations chief sponsors was going to visit. The sponsor is Anglo Platinum, the world’s primary provider of platinum. The company runs one of its many mines just near my town. Back in December, they asked us to prepare for a big visit from some of the people very high up in the company, who wanted to see some of the results of the corporate giving. We all prepared, setting up a nice room to show off some of the creations of the organization and the normal operation of the organization was halted for a whole day. In the end, they never showed up, frustrating me a good deal (it seemed so counter-productive).

Now this visit started out the same way. They said they would be here at nine this morning, so we prepared brochures and setup a nice meeting room with snacks, water and decorations (it amazes me how quickly the volunteers here can transform a room). The caregivers were not going out to visit patients, and instead prepared a song about “Anglo Platinum”, which they were going to sing to welcome our guests. By noon, there was still no sign of them and I had essentially given up on the visit.

But then we got a call saying they would be here in five minutes. Two vans full of people pulled up escorted by three police cars. The visiting group consisted of the chief executives and board members from both Anglo Platinum and Anglo-American plc, coming from all over the world (Washington DC, London, etc). Doing some research later, I found out that Anglo-American is the primary shareholder of Anglo Platinum, and is a large owner of De Beers and a number of other mining companies (essentially, they are a big deal; $38 billion in revenue). They flew in this morning to the local mine by helicopter for the annual board meeting.

The whole visit was rather surreal. They did not spend more than thirty minutes at our organization, ten of which involved Agnes talking to them. The rest was a brief tour of the bakery and some other facilities. Then they got back in their vans, having not touched the drinks or snacks prepared.

But they were all clearly very bright people and had many questions for me. The experience was interesting though for two reasons. One, the group consists of probably the most influential people that I have talked with in a while (ironic that I would meet them in rural South Africa). Second, it just highlights how strange corporate philanthropy is. So much of it is based on the appearances of success and it is often handled so poorly (too much control or too much burden is placed on the organization by the corporation), yet it is one of the main thing that keeps Fanang Diatla open, so clearly it works as well.

Now, I want to ask a favor of people reading this at home. At the end of March, about seventy other volunteers and I will be walking the half marathon in Sabie, Mpumalanga Province (near Kruger Park). This is partly just a good opportunity to see some more of South Africa and meet up with other volunteers, but it is also a fundraiser for an organization started by earlier volunteers. It supports the KLM foundation, which funds a worthy, needy child to attend an excellent secondary school in the area (called Uplands College). This is done with the hopes of potentially educating a future leader.

Part of the deal is to get different people to fund my participation. Although I don’t normally like to ask people to give money to an organization, I figured I should make an exception. If you can, it would be great if you could make a donation. You can do it online, securely through the website. Make sure to put my name in the white box where it asks for the Longtom person you want to sponsor. Or if you would prefer to do it by check, please make it payable to “Kgwale le Mollo (US)” and send it to:

KLM Foundation (US)
c/o Bowen Hsu
461 So. Bonita Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91107

And make sure to include a note that your donation is in my behalf. Thanks for your support. I will post on my blog about how the weekend is!

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.