Friday, June 08, 2007


My host father invited all of his family members for a party to celebrate their ancestors.
In preparation, Mma and her daughters made traditional beer out of ground mealies and amarula (a type of fruit). First, you mix the ingredients and leave them to ferment for five days (left). As it ferments, the thick mixture heats up and oozes air. It also smells like the bog of eternal stench.

The resulting sludge is strained (left, with two of my host sisters). The left over mealies are bunched into balls to ensure that all of the beer is drained (in the background of next two pictures).

Finally, the beer is ready to drink! Here, Mma scoops some into a calabash (the normal cup) to tease everyone about drinking it. You can also leave the beer out for several more days before drinking, that way it gets even stronger.

Mmamere and John (grandkids) playing with bubbles my Mom sent for Easter. Mmamere has Zack (great grandkid) on her back.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

submitted application!

I finished and submitted the AMCAS (medical school) application today! That means after many months of procrastinating and throwing away drafts of my personal statement, it is completed and I cannot worry about it any longer. Here is an excerpt of the essay:

Fine, reddish brown sand covers the ground. Thorn bushes block the sun. I start exercising by myself but I am never alone. Drivers honk and wave manically, trying to attract attention. Passing pedestrians start conversations, “Eish! Letsatsi wa fisha! [Wow! It is too hot today!]” Children line the streets, clap and chant, “Le-taa-bo! Le-taa-bo!” As I approach, the children chant louder, laugh and sprint alongside me. Many things have changed. My name is not Melissa; I am Lethabo. I do not live in the United States; I live in a rural South African village, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Saturdays are reserved for funerals, at least two each week. Funerals seem to be the only reminder of HIV. It is feared, never discussed and occasionally gossiped about. Testing is seen as pointless. “Why know your status if there is no cure and face the stigma of the disease?” teachers ask me. No matter how much community members ignore HIV; it remains, casting a shadow over once-vibrant community members.

I met Margaret, my host mother's niece, as she was travelling to the hospital with her very ill mother. Her mother was completely dependent upon Margaret for moving, eating and using the toilet. My host mother and I offered assistance, but Margaret preferred independence to help, refusing any aid offered to her as if the offer was a rebuke against her abilities. Margaret was vibrant; she led the conversation and took over the household duties. Her presence could not be forgotten.

After her mother's death, Margaret repeated the journey from her village to the hospital. This time, the trip is for her and her sister who watches over her. Margaret's presence is again unforgettable, but for drastically different reasons. Her independence is gone. She is waif, constantly tired and calls me, not her sister, to help her eat, use the toilet and hug her. Margaret desires human contact as if to confirm that she is still human. Her eyes watch for hints of repulsion. Margaret, and other South Africans like her, has solidified my desire to study medicine.

I now have a few weeks until I start filling out secondary applications.
In other news, I will end my service here on September 14 and I should be at home in Wisconsin on the 15th!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

surfing safari

I just returned from Jeffrey's Bay, home of world-class winter-time waves. While there, I took a week-long surfing course with another volunteer. We started lessons on the beach with little two-foot high waves (that usually turned into white-wash by the time we tried them) and perfected standing on them. By the end of the week, we had graduated to real surf boards, big waves and paddling out. When I actually caught a wave and stood (rarely, but what can I expect from only surfing for a week?) it was amazing. So fast! I got caught underneath a few huge waves and it was almost enough for me to forget how cool surfing is. To the left is me with my 'real' board and our first instructor, Andrew.

View from our backpackers.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Host family members, teachers, South Africans in general are fascinated about who the white American is dating (if anyone) . Yesterday I went visiting with my Mma. We stopped at one of my teacher's houses and we interupted her, her husband and their preacher/grandmother's meal. The grandmother was fascinated with me and quickly declared that I was nice while she queried what kind of farm animals we have in the US. Mma started talking about how great am I, listing off how I'm always laughing and smiling, I help with dishes and with the goats, causing the teacher to laugh. The grandmother then asked if I have a boyfriend and informed me that it's good that I don't, all boyfriends have AIDS. I guess husbands don't?
Then, the husband, who's convinced that I will marry in South Africa and stay forever AND go home and teach all of America Sepedi, informed me that there are too many single, white men in town. ie, I should marry one of them.
We return to normal topics of conversation and another visitor arrives to talk to the husband. Once the visitor is done talking to the husband, he starts talking to me. His first question? 'Will you marry me?' I informed him that that is not the question to ask an American girl first off, and it's best to talk to me before (if ever) asking that. He agrees, we talk for five minutes. He asks, 'Now will you marry me? We've talked.'
Walking home, my fiesty Mma told me that I can't date anyone in the village. They're not good enough.

you can never go home again

After being deemed healthy by the surgeon last Monday (benign and all those good words), I went back to my site. There were, of course, the normal feelings about going home. I'm not doing anything here, it's too hot, I want a shower, I don't have any friends; you get the idea. But, I received a HUGE mailing of books. Thanks to everyone at home that contributed to the book mailing, I feel rich! There was a massive wind storm while I was gone and it tore up my laundry tree. AND I have a new friend named Mina. Kittens, baby anything really, makes me happy. My host parents love and play with her too.
Above, my room with books. :D, left remains of tree with our pit toilet and neighbor's toilet in background

My old friends, the goats, with the top of the tree


My host parents' great grandson, Zach, playing with Mina

finally holiday pics

I've finally completed my post from my last trip! There's lots of text and pics and if you click on 'holiday' to the left you'll find it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Last week the Peace Corps doctor called and informed me that the main office in Washington DC approved the removal of the lump. I came down to Pretoria on Wednesday and met with a surgeon on Thursday. The surgeon did some training in Madison and was happy to hear that I'm from Wisconsin. The surgery itself was on Monday. The Peace Corps picked me up from the backpackers at 5:30 and dropped me at the Little Company of Mary (a private hospital here in Pretoria) and I filled out forms at procrastinated until the surgery at 3:30. An hour later, I woke up and in another half hour I could walk around. Just as I was falling asleep, a nurse came in to check on me and noticed a bunch of blood on my shirt; the bandage came off a little and the anastetic that was coming out leaked onto my shirt. Another bandage was added on top, and I fell into a nice, deep sleep.
The next morning the surgeon changed the bandage and discharged me and I've been staying at a guesthouse since. I have a private room, a comfy bed and if I want I can wander to the pool and smell the roses. I have been wandering around Pretoria to get food and use the internet, but I've been getting tired faster than normal and usual head back for a mid-afternoon nap.
I'm hardly in any pain and haven't been taking my pain medication. The lump was benign and there shouldn't be any scarring.
I should head back to my site on Monday or Tuesday and fall break starts Friday.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

mirth through hello

Today, I had the unique experience of causing shock through greeting.
At McDonald's this morning, the over-worked teller greeted me, "Dumela Mma. (hello Ma)" I replied, "Agee, le kae? (yes, where are you?)" "Re teng. Jo! (I am here. Jeez!) [laughter]" He was completely without malice, just a little harried and surprised that this lekgewa can greet in Setswana.
At the mall this afternoon, the bag girl said, "Dumela." I replied, "Agee, le kae?" Her eyes stretch to twice their normal size and she starts laughing. "A-ee, wena! O dira eng? (unh-unh, you! What are you doing?" I chastise. "Ke o teste! (I was testing you!) [more laughter]"

Thursday, February 22, 2007

most action I've had in. . .

On Sunday I, by chance, discovered a lump in my breast. On Monday, I spoke with medical and they made an appointment for a sonogram for today. I went, really nervous, derobed in the frigid office and laid down to get cold oil spread on my breast. The radiologist was nice and talkative, patiently explaining all of my silly questions. The lump is a fibro adenoma, a fibrous growth that is apparently very common in young women. Within the growth, are a pair of cysts and there's another cyst lurking outside of it. The growth is kinda big (about 2 cm in diameter) and just underneath the surface of the skin. The chances of it being cancerous are very low, but if it is not removed it could continue to grow and I have to get a sonogram every six to eight months to make sure it's still benign. Plus, having a lump in my breast makes me uncomfortable and kinda like a part of my body isn't really part of me any more. Other volunteers (female!) have been asking to feel the lump for their education purposes (I think) but I can't really imagine anyone touching the lump or my breast because they like me. . .I mean, it's a lump, gross. What could be less sexy? Both radiologists that looked at my scan whole-heartedly said, "Remove it!"
I came back to the office and talked to the doctor and she informed me that the Peace Corps office in Washington probably would not ok the surgery to have it removed but that she will write a letter asking them to approve it. It is considered an optional surgery and I'm 'so close' to my close of service (eight months is a long time! That's a third of my time here!). What will probably happen is I will get another sonogram right before I come home in September or October to make sure that nothing has changed and then I have to see a doctor at home and see if he/she suggests removing it. IF he/she comes to another conclusion, then the Peace Corps will not pay to have it removed. If I wanted to pay for the procedure myself to have it removed while I'm here, I could be violating the terms of my service and administratively separated. I was so excited to just get rid of the stupid thing that when I was told all this, I started to cry. To make it worse, the doctor doesn't have kleenex in her office. I've always suspected her being devoid of all sympathy. The doctor ended the meeting, and I rushed down the hall to get toilet paper from the bathroom. Two volunteers comforted me after the meeting, and pressured me into fighting the decision. I can't fight it. I'm just so tired. I just want the lump gone.