Category Archives: Everyday Life

In the Name of Your Father

Term 2 is about finished. I’m not certain, but I think these kids might actually be learning something. I’ll be traveling around different parts of South Africa for a conference and some training (and some fun) coming up over the next couple-a-few weeks, but I had some thoughts on fathers and Father’s Day to share before I go.

Too often in South Africa, children are fatherless. Or, to be more accurate, they lack people to play that part: the positive male role model. You could make an argument that this is a big problem all over Africa, or in the USA and maybe even any other country in the world, but it seems to be particularly prevalent here. I’m certainly not the first person to notice this or write about it. A simple search on Google for “Fathers in South Africa” can get you started, and then there seems to be lots of books on the topic. Here’s a good, short, unvarnished place to begin:

After reading the above article, I can’t even begin to pretend to wrap my mind around all the contributing factors to this problem here. The best I can do is observe and read … and offer whatever assistance I can within the limits of being a volunteer.

The family I stay with is good in regard to having a good number of positive male role-models, but still not ideal. There are men around. They are all employed in some capacity. They all contribute to the overall well-being of the (very large) household and they all lend a hand with all the kids. But most of them are not fathers themselves. So, how do we account for all the kids running around this place?

Given a choice, you wouldn’t expect very many people to choose single parenthood – but here, it has become completely normalized for women to just pop out some kids, no matter of their situation. It isn’t just culturally acceptable to be a single mother; it is culturally expected that as a woman you have at least one child, regardless of your relationship status. And the women in my host family are no exception.

As for fathers, actually being involved in your child’s life seems to be culturally optional. And unfortunately, too many opt out.

The good news is there are people who recognize this problem and want to do something to turn it around. This is why that same Google search returns pages like these:

I recognize how fortunate I am to have grown up in the USA – of course, it’s easy for any American to appreciate everything living in the States provides you as soon as you get a good, firsthand look at a developing nation. But the longer I stay here, the more I can appreciate how much I got out of growing up with my family (immediate and extended), and even some of my teachers and friends. By comparison, I have what seems to be an unending supply of positive male role models.

Second Sons

Second sons: Grandpa Richard flanked by my dad and me, July 2012

Depending on the situation, I often think of the people I know well who would perform the best under the given circumstances. Everyone we know is better than us at something, so it’s helpful that I feel I always have someone to ask for assistance. And if I can’t ask the person I know who knows best, I can just try to think like them.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this. The notion of “What would _________ do?” has to pass through everyone’s mind at some point, like when faced with a problem to solve or a big decision.

This especially holds true for both of my grandfathers. “What would Grandpa Richard do?” or “What would Grandpa Bud do?” are quite useful in situations where something needs fixed or requires a creative solution.

(Of course, lots of people like to fill in this blank with “Jesus.” However, turning the other cheek or turning water into wine aren’t super helpful skills when trying to correct the wiring in your house, concoct a better-than-average recipe for baked beans, or design removable screens for your old-fashioned windows. Then again, JC was a carpenter; perhaps my velcro/net window screens – oft-imitated by nearby PCVs – were divinely inspired after all.)

But when it comes to my father, I seldom think that way – and I don’t have to. In many ways I act like him without even trying. (I can already hear people joking that one of him is enough.) The older I get, the more I hear my dad’s voice coming out of my mouth.

Be it nature or nurture, we have a tendency to become our parents.

Maybe that’s the root of problem here in South Africa. Many people are being nurtured in an environment where the fathers are absent. So as they become adults, it seems the young men aren’t thinking twice about being absentee fathers themselves.

So, as we descend upon another Father’s Day, don’t look at it as only a day for honoring your dad. Look at it as a day to be thankful for all of your positive male role models – regardless of their relation to you or if they are even still alive – and be thankful that you grew up in culture that recognizes and embraces their importance. You wouldn’t be who you are without them.


An Unfortunate Example Of “TIA”

So, do you remember that half-marathon I said I was going to mostly walk in and promised to do my best to finish? Do you remember how I asked you kind folks for money for me to “run”? Well, it has been cancelled for this year. (This comes on the heels of a last minute date change, too.)

I’m disappointed, and for some reasons more than others. On the bright side, I am saved the possible embarrassment of finishing last (or not finishing at all).

I am very disappointed that I won’t get to see some of the other volunteers that I rarely have a chance to see these days. I miss my PCV friends.

But I am most disappointed that – after asking all you fine folks to donate money to the organization in my name so that I could participate – I even have to make this awkward announcement.

First, know that I am honored by your generosity. I raised nearly double the amount required for me to run, and had the race not been cancelled, I suspect even more dollars would have been raised in my name. You are great folks for doing this for me. I hope this snafu doesn’t preclude anyone from donating to anything I may be drumming up support for in the future.

Now, with all of that said, let me say that I’m not surprised. This is a good (though unfortunate) example of when one just shrugs their shoulders and says “T I A” (this is Africa).

Sometimes things go smoothly. Sometimes events happen as planned. Sometimes you’ll be a witness of some honest-to-goodness efficiency. But as long as these aren’t your expectations, you could live in Africa, too.

This may seem like a real downer of blog entry, but in actuality, it is like all important life lessons rolled into one:

  • Roll with the punches.
  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Be thankful for what you’ve got.
  • Play the hand that’s dealt ya’.

Feel free to add your own in the comments. With your combined wisdom, we can author the next “Chicken Soup for the Soul” or – better yet – get Doctor Phil taken off the air!

On the bright side, even as I type this post, I got an update that KLM (the organization PCVs are helping to raise funds for) and other PCVs are looking into jumping into a different race happening somewhere in South Africa later in the year. It may happen, it may not. I know I’ll be fortunate for the opportunity if it does, and I’ll try not to be disappointed if it does not.

In the meantime, feel free to listen to one of my songs from a few years back about how typical it is for things in life to just not work out:


Posted by on 26 February 2013 in Events, Everyday Life


By the Numbers

I’ve been in South Africa for nearly four months – and at my site for two months now – which is enough time that I ought to stop counting things here (as in, “this is the seventh time I’ve eaten at KFC since I’ve been here”). But I haven’t. The following list also includes some info I’ve been asked about (like my class sizes). Hopefully, this helps to fill in some more of the blanks.

  • PCVs teaching in schools in the same general area I am: 6
  • PCV Leader in our area: 1
  • Average number of times per week I see other PCVs: 1
  • Other Americans I’ve seen in person (excluding PCVs) since arriving at my site: 0
  • German volunteers in this area: 1
  • Approximate distance to town: 3 km
  • Average number of visits to town per week: 4
  • Average number of times per week I walk to town, just to do something on my own: 1
  • Honest-to-goodness supermarkets in town: 3
  • Shops that refer to themselves as “supermarkets”: too many to count, but nearly all of them.
  • Local chicken restaurants trying to compete with KFC: at least 4, off the top of my head – probably many more
  • Fast food burger chains: 1 (Steers – similar to Burger King, I’d say)
  • Pizza chains: 0 (There was one, but it went out of business before I got here)
  • Grades I have been teaching English: 6 and 7
  • Learners in grade 6: 42
  • Learners in grade 7: 48
  • Teachers for grades 4-7 (including me): 8
  • Classrooms per grade: 1
  • Learners per desk: 2 (This is a connected bench/desktop designed for two people, though I often find three learners have crammed themselves into a desk, while other desks sit vacant. I think it is a combination of cultural differences and the weirdness of 11-13 year old children.)
  • Oldest learner in grade 6 (that I know of): age 16
  • Oldest learner in grade 7 (that I know of): age 17
  • Minimum passing grade for most subjects: 50% or less, depending on the subject
    Note: One could actually fail more than one subject completely and still pass the grade. Thus, there are learners in grade seven who are nearly illiterate in English (let alone being able to speak it).
  • Learners I know by name: less than 12 (They’re hard names to remember … or I’m not trying hard enough.)
  • Grade 7 learners that have been to my home for help with homework or to see photos from the USA: 3 (Sfiso, Sibongile, and Khulekani)
  • Host family members: hmmm … hard telling … lots
  • Percentage of family members that speak reasonably fluent English: better than 50%
  • Number of mangos given to me by various children in the village in the past week: at least 2 dozen

  • Live snakes I’ve seen in the village: 2
  • Snakes I’ve seen in my outhouse: 1
  • Lizard fights I’ve witnessed inside my house: 3
  • Lizard fights resulting in lizards falling off the wall: 1
  • Lizard fights resulting in one lizard having a chunk of his tail bit off: 1
  • Weddings I’ve attended: 1
  • Funerals I’ve attended: 1
  • Churches I’ve attended: 3
  • Books I’ve checked out from the local library: 1

  • DVDs I’ve checked out from the local library: 3
  • DVDs from the library that were in a condition to actually play on my computer: 2
  • CDs I’ve checked out from the local library: 11
  • Number of songs added to my iTunes library: I’ll never tell
  • Haircuts I’ve had in South Africa: 4 (this includes the first one that I gave myself)
  • Cost of the haircut I got yesterday in town: R20 (this is less than $2.50 USD!)
  • Buckets I’ve purchased: 4
  • Buckets currently on loan from my host family: 2
  • Average number of times per day the electricity goes out: 1
  • Approximate number of hours the electricity has been out in the past week: 60

Interested in some more numbers on ZA? They recently released their census info …


Posted by on 3 November 2012 in Everyday Life, Teaching