Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My Perfect Peace Corps Day

Today I had what I would consider to be the ultimate day as a volunteer. I thought I would share what that looks like. I want my friends and family at home to know that things are well. I want people thinking of joining Peace Corps to know what it actually looks like when you have a "productive" day. I want my Peace Corps friends to not mock me for my Pollyanna post. Mostly, however, I want to document the good times, because even though most days are good days, you end up with very few of them being what you hoped for.

My perfect day started at 7:40 when my cell phone alarm went off. Note that my morning gets to start a little later. I don't have to teach until 9, so I like to sleep in a little. One of the very nice things about being a volunteer is setting your own schedule.

At school, I had a typical morning in my math class. However, I did notice how my positive reinforcement plan has really taken off and has gotten my students to be good citizens. Rock on.

During my break between classes one of the teachers came to me with questions about 2-D and 3-D objects and I went over a few things and gave him copies of worksheets I had made for a similar lesson. I helped. Success.

Then, my Life Orientation class (a mixture of health and life skills) and I were talking about rights and in a single one hour period we debated the importance of freedom of religion, shared opinions about whether corporal punishment worked and if it is right, and then discussed human trafficking. I mean, c'mon. That's amazing. I felt inspired.

Next, I went to talk to the HOD (head of department-a vice principal of sorts) about a letter she wanted help on her English with and we ended up having a great conversation about how much we appreciate each other and how excited we were for all of our upcoming projects. I left school on cloud nine.

Speaking of clouds, there wasn't a single one in the sky on my walk home. This made me think I should do my laundry now instead of tomorrow because you never know when it's going to rain. It's finally gotten a lot cooler out which is wonderful, but it's been cloudier, which makes line drying your clothes much more difficult. Did my laundry rockin' out on my i-Pod. My host mother gave me some tips for stain removal. She's the best.

After laundry, I got started on a special dinner I was making for my nearest volunteer neighbor (about 7-8 km away) who was coming for his weekly visit. He had made a request for green bean casserole and even though I could only find packaged cream of mushroom soup and no fried onions, I was going to give it my best. I ended up frying my own onions which was actually kind of fun and really tasty. It came out decent. Not my best work, but a good first attempt. He seemed quite pleased and we had a good visit.

When it was time for him to walk back I went with him a part of the ways to get a little exercise, and on my way back I had two excellent chats. One with a guy who works at the clinic and we discussed me possibly getting in there and helping. The other was a student of mine who it was just fun to talk to casually and see her at home.

At home, I had a great phone chat with my hubby, worked on my grant re-write, and then wrote this blog which I had been meaning to do for months. So yeah, it was an awesome, gettin' lots of stuff done kind of day.

I'm not saying it was all grand. I dropped my cheap cell phone into the laundry bucket and it has yet to come back to life. The funny thing is, I didn't even get upset. In a way, that makes it more the perfect Peace Corps day. Because if I've gotten anything out of this experience, it's the ability to take all life's little problems as they come and not get too stressed or wrapped up. And aren't those just the kind of lessons we join Peace Corps for? That's right. Today I won at Peace Corps.

For the friends and family (a little 2 month recap):
-Went to a Peace Corps training, did the half-marathon (thanks for the donations!), did something called kloofing which is like hiking a river, went on a hiking vacation (never again), went to a girl's camp and tried to help out, went to a different training that focused on starting camps in South Africa, and finally made it back to my village.
-Andy went back to America. He got an awesome job. Ask him about it.
-I'm sticking around here because I have stuff to do unlike what I would have in San Fran. Things are going really well for me solo. It's giving me a whole new perspective on Peace Corps and I'm really digging the time I have to think and be quiet for a change.
-I'll be headed to the States in June for a little visit. If you're going to be in the San Fran or Kansas City area come see me!
-Current projects: finishing my last quarter of teaching, a library, an HIV/AIDS camp, a girl's empowerment camp, and a women's health/family planning seminar. Also, I'm perfecting homemade salsa.


PS-Please write me emails and letters. They make me feel loved.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Longtom Marathon

Or: We Are Exercising, So Please Give These Kids Money

Lauren and I will be participating in the Longtom half-marathon next month. The proceeds will go to the KLM Foundation, which is an organization that gives hard-working, underprivileged students the opportunity for a college education that they would otherwise not be given.

It's up to each runner to raise at least $100. If you have $5, and you'd like to help us out, we'd really appreciate your support. And if that's not enough emotional manipulation for you, I encourage you to think of the children; please won't someone think of the children!?

If you'd like to make a donation, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the KLM foundation website:
  2. Click on "Donate" in the upper right corner.
  3. Fill out the form. Please remember to put either my first and last name or Lauren's first and last name in the "Longtom Marathon" field.

We've been training for a few months now, and we're really excited to give this half marathon a shot. If you can help us make a difference -- even if the help is solely in the form of moral support -- we promise to repay you by having a great time.

Thanks. Much love.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I have inconveniently long femurs and other things I've learned from Peace Corps

The obvious first thing I've learned is that I'm not a blogger by nature. I've just been so busy having my life-changing experiences, you know?

Things I learned in November:
  • Transitions are hard. Okay, maybe this is more like a re-learn, but it always feels like the first time.
  • Having a bigger room can make you hate your husband less. We moved into our new bigger, nicer, permanent rooms which was a life-saver. Now if only the Department of Education would deliver our furniture...
  • Church is fun and you can sing whenever you want to.
  • Contact is actually a good movie even though it has Matthew McConaughey in it. It holds up after a decade.
  • Weddings are so much less about the people getting married and way more about communal memories. Also, they're sweet and fun no matter where you are.
  • In the same vein, Holidays are such a huge part of culture. I never realized how much until they were coming at me quick and all I wanted to do was watch the holiday episodes of shows and think about how ridiculous it was to have Christmas in summer. Luckily, Thanksgiving was unbelievable and we were treated to this wonderful meal by a local B&B lady who googled Thanksgiving recipes and even made green bean casserole! All arranged by Jonelle, one of my favorite people on this planet who said the most touching grace. She reminded me once again to be thankful for the opportunity I have to be here, the amazing friends who support me, and my family-both for supporting me and for raising me to be socially conscious and to fight the good fight.
  • Being 26 rocks, especially when you can turn a birthday into a birthweekend.
  • Naming a band is hard, but turning life into an album cover shoot is easy. Also, all you have to do to win a Garage Band competition is write a ballad with a round.
Things I learned in December:
  • Kindergarten graduations are internationally adorable.
  • I have a much higher boredom tolerance than most and can entertain myself within 10 by 12 room for longer than one would expect, but even I have my limits...
  • It gets REALLY hot in Africa, but you do find a way to make it through. Even if that way is just lying around in front of a fan wetting yourself down with a wash cloth every hour or so and sucking on giant, fancy Mr. Freezes simply called "ice juices".
  • There's a bug in the Genesis emulator Jeopardy that automatically gives the boys an advantage. Not cool. However, if you're with the right people, even village life can make for a really good time. Thanks K & T.
  • I have inconveniently large femurs that interfere with my comfort in taxis and buses. I need extra leg room.
  • Everyone should take three week vacations. In fact, many Europeans have already discovered this and I met them and they're really cool. They also taught me Americans have nasally voices. I didn't realize.
  • Surfing is really fun and quite the workout!
  • Twilight is the universal language for girls. I read all four books in 3 weeks, saw New Moon twice, and talked about all this with a girl from the U.K., an American missionary, a South African, an awesome volunteer from Peace Corps Lesotho, and the Edward to my Bella, Kim. We are unconditionally and irrevocably in love...
  • You can fit a lot of stuff in a backpacker's backpack and they are so much more convenient than luggage.
  • I don't really like talking about Peace Corps. A Brit that I met in Durban helped me come up with the best deflection, "I do work like you do work. It's long winded. It's boring." I have a feeling it will be like that when I come back to the states which I know will be frustrating for me and for the people that have to deal with me. But seriously, it's just a thing I did. It's long winded. It's boring.
  • You make the party, even if it's New Years at what could only be described as a family reunion at the VFW.
  • Though I am enthusiastic to get into a fistfight, I am not able to hold my footing.
Things I've learned so far in January
  • The South African bus system isn't-how should I put this-customer friendly.
  • Though I never would have guessed, I have a high threshold for B.S. Translation: I'm not nearly the brat I thought I was. Suck it, mom and dad!! Okay, maybe I'm still kind of a brat.
  • Vacation end blues are much bluer when life takes you back to the village, but once you get back, it's not so bad.
  • Teaching 10.5 hours a week is a lot better than full time. Plenty of time to plan and work on other projects. I'd say it's the perfect balance of stuff to do and free time.
The Serious Lessons:
  • I've entered a new phase of homesickness. I don't quite feel like I belong here yet, though I feel further down that path than ever. However, I also don't feel like I'm ready to go back to the US either. I've reached no man's land. Or no land for this woman.
  • Doing what you've always dreamed of is such a rush. It also calms the soul like nothing else I've found. I highly recommend it.
  • This experience really does change you, or maybe change is the wrong word. This experience makes you a mega version of who you were before you left. To quote a message I sent to a friend, "I have confidence now that I could have never imagined, strength coming from out of nowhere, more patience than I could have hoped for, and perspective. Oh man. Perspective."
Happy 2010! I can only imagine the lessons to come this year, not to mention this decade. Crazy to think that no matter where I am 10 years from now, in 2010, I was in Africa. You can't beat that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Don't Buy From Bookeen (Andy)

Back when I first thought I was going to be joining the Peace Corps, the tech geek in me asked, "What gadgets do I absolutely need?" Top of the list: ebook reader.

I searched around a lot for one that I liked. It needed to use E-Ink (or some other very low-power display) -- that eliminated the first generation of readers. It needed to have a simple interface -- the Kindle was way too ugly. It needed to be relatively cheap -- under $350. It needed to not be Sony -- I was still (and still am) ticked off about the rootkit debacle. I landed on the Bookeen Cybook Gen3.

Fast forward to a week after my move to New York. I unpack my new toy, excited to bring it onto the subway. This will be a new era of reading my way-too-large collection of digitized books.

While I'm waiting for the train, I whip it out and see that the display is cracked. Fair enough. I'd thrown it into my mail carrier bag, which had been dropped, stomped upon and repeatedly brutalized during the move. The display is delicate -- I knew that -- and I didn't treat it with the respect it required. Andy sad.

So I paid the one hundred fifty damn dollars to have the thing shipped to France and fixed. Lesson learned. I went to my grandmother's and fashioned a case for the thing. I started taking extra good care to keep it out of explosions, collisions and stiff breezes. I took good care of my toy.

Fast forward again, if you can handle it, to our first week in the Peace Corps. We were given the opportunity to put all of our electronics into storage while we got accustomed to our new villages. They weren't saying, "You're gonna get your stuff stolen" or anything, but they thought it best not to add "could lose hundreds of dollars worth of electronics" to the list of fears plaguing new volunteers. So I put up my Cybook.

Having learned my lesson, I didn't simply hurl my Cybook into the bin of volunteers' laptops and consumer electronics. I placed it first into the soft, foam sleeve in which it had been returned to me the first time the display cracked. I then placed it into the cover my grandmother had made. Next, I placed it into a pillowcase and wrapped it very carefully to provide padding on every side. Then a comforter. I made sure it sat at the top of the bin. Guys, that's a lot of protective layers.

Imagine my dismay when I got the damn thing back and the screen was cracked again. Guys, that's a lot of disappointment.

I wrote to Bookeen.

Greetings Bookeen support staff!

In June of this year, I contacted you about a crack in the screen of by Cybook Gen3. After sending it back to you, you quickly repaired it and returned it to me for what I considered a high but understandable price. Thank you!

I've recently joined the United States Peace Corps, and am living in rural South Africa. During transit, it appears that the screen to my reader was again cracked. I say "it appears" because upon arrival, the reader was packed away and put into storage for two months. Only a week ago was I able to dig it out and take a look. I was surprised, because I had packed the reader in a hand-made case and placed it within the folds of a thick comforter.

It was my hope that during my stay in South Africa, I would rely heavily on my Cybook for entertainment and sanity. Unfortunately, living off a volunteer's stipend, I won't be able to afford repairs for the same price I paid last time.

Is there anything Bookeen can do to help me out?

Thank you,
Andrew Kasper

Two weeks passed without a response. I had to write to them to remind them, "Hey, dudes, customer with a legit problem here." They finally wrote back, asking for a picture of the device. I sent them the picture, and they responded:


There is no doubt from the picture that the device has suffered from an impact on the right side.

We consequently will not be able to repair the Cybook at our own charge.

Please let us know if you wish to proceed to repair. We will do our very best for the unit to be repaired in brief delays.

Best regards,
Bookeen Support Team

A perfectly reasonable but nonetheless frustrating response on their part.

Although Bookeen isn't completely in the wrong here, it just doesn't make sense for me to repair my ebook reader again. For starters, the Cybook Gen3 couldn't survive what were essentially optimal storage conditions without a damaged display; either the first repair failed, or the thing's a piece of crap. Second, any company that takes two weeks to respond to a customer service email isn't really worthy of my business.

I really appreciate how kind Bookeen's customer service representatives were to me whenever they responded to my emails. I appreciate that the company has innovated (and continues to innovate) the ebook reader. I even appreciate that the repairs are expensive, and that although Bookeen charged me a lot, it was still a fair price. Guys, that's a lot of appreciation.

But guys, I'm going to stay away from Bookeen and it's products. I recommend you do the same.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lauren Talks about "Work"…and Feelings

The bad news: it’s been a long time since I've written. The good news: nothing is really going on so I don’t have to do the big catch up.

We’ve been here in our village for about a month and a half. The structured bureaucratic government entity that is Peace Corps South Africa has given us lists of tasks to do each week in the schools and our community for “Phase 2” of training which makes up the first three months at our village. During this time we are supposed to get a good enough sense of what is going on to start proposing some projects.

Here’s what Phase 2 has looked like so far for me thus far:
Observing-I have sat and watched most of the teachers from our two schools teach a lesson or two. At the primary school (grades K-6) it was mostly what you would have seen in the US with less stuff. At the secondary school, the school itself is in pretty bad shape and there's a little more "laid back" attitude from the teachers.

Teaching-I have taught a few lessons and then had a couple days where I played a substitute teacher at the primary. I basically improvise an entire day of lessons, as there aren't really such things as substitute teachers in rural South Africa, so there's no lesson plan left nicely on a desk for one to follow. I think I did well given the circumstances. I will say the students here are so enthusiastic about learning and are so well behaved, it'd be hard to really bomb.

Meetings-Meetings make up a large part of the educational world. If it's not a staff meeting, then it's a meeting for the School Governing Board which is an elected group of parents who basically act like a school board but for each individual school. Either way, these meetings are long (at least 2 hours) and almost entirely in Setswana. Sitting in them borders on meditation for me because my mind wanders so far away from what is going on around me. I was able to get on the HIV/AIDS Policy committee which has been slightly more interesting. I'm hoping to get involved with the planning of their health awareness activities for the next school year.

Minor Problem Solving-Need something typed or researched on the internet? Want help with a specific issue in a lesson? Student looking for a bit of tutoring? I'm your woman. Sadly, these are very few and far between. However, when does come my way I jump at the opportunity to actually feel productive. Which leads me to...

Nothing-I'd say this makes up the large majority of my time. I'm going to be honest, most of it is my fault. I'm struggling with the adjustment of living here as well as the notion that they would really like me to be their on-call sub, both of which make me want to run into my room and hide. On the plus side, I've read quite a few books, started a regular journal, and had plenty of time to just think. On the fun side, I've also gotten the opportunity to hang out with other volunteers in the group and we've had a really good time together.

So let's talk about schools in Rural South Africa. They have a lot working against them, there's no doubt about it. They face the same issues that rural schools in the U.S. do like declining student population, difficulty finding qualified teachers, and lack of resources, but it's on a much larger scale.

The secondary school has entirely bare walls and the ceilings of some of the classrooms are caving in. The furniture is definitely old and falling apart. Our host sister has brought home several science assignment where the students are required to "perform" a lab, without actually doing it. Instead they are expected to draw pictures of what it might look like and create imaginary data. This really breaks my heart. How many of us fell in love with science because of the experiments we were able to do in school? I took Anatomy and Physiology in high school and we dissected, mircroscoped, and manipulatived our way through that course and I was obsessed with it. I can't imagine if all I had was one worksheet for 10 students and lecture after lecture.

At the primary school the kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classes have over 40 students (the largest class has upwards of 50) in them and I really feel for these teachers. There's no art or gym class built into their day so they can have a break. In fact, there's no support staff save a secretary and a couple ladies who make lunch for the kids. The teachers "cope" by letting the students go unsupervised for long periods of time. But honestly what are they supposed to do? This aspect has been the most shocking for the majority of volunteers. That and corporal punishment, but that's a whole other blog topic and I personally haven't witnessed it.

The curriculum itself is very modern and looks a lot like the standards movement in the U.S. Each grade has a certain number of learning areas with learning objectives and assessment standards they are expected to cover. It's all very organized and excellent in theory, but virtually impossible given the resources available.

On top of this, there's the language issue. South Africa has 11 different official languages. Grade R (kindergarten) through 3 is all taught in their home language. When they reach the 4th grade they switch completely to an English immersion curriculum with one hour every other day in their home language. And just like in the U.S. this is creating students illiterate in two languages more than anything. They are also being taught by teachers who can be far from fluent and therefore might bend the English rules a little bit. Completely understandable if the students weren't going to have to take a giant exam during their senior year called the "Matric". If they cannot pass this test which is written only in English and Afrikaans (don't even get me started about that), they do not fully graduate and cannot go onto any college-level education. And let me tell you this test is no joke. The science and math on the exam is stuff none of us had seen until our first year of college.

And now it's time to talk about feelings. I would like to find a way to put a nice sugar coating over all of this, but I'm having a hard time doing that for myself. In discussions with many of the volunteers, it seems we're struggling with the same issues. We are noticing that projects we might have been interested are either low on the list of priorities or just wouldn't be sustainable. South Africa appears to have the financial resources it needs, it's just still healing from the years, decades, centuries of inequality. And that takes time. The difference we can make here will be small. Baby steps. I believe as Peace Corps volunteers we will be successful in meeting the goals set forth by Peace Corps, but is it enough? Are the baby steps and global friendships and whatever personal gains/growths we gain worth two years of our lives? Of our friends and families? Of Bailey's? I'm not sure it was what I was expecting, but I guess so little ever is. For better and for worse.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tweets (Andy)

Every day, about 100 things happen that make me think, "Damn, I need to blog about that." But the event can, in its entirety, be summed up in one sentence... let's say under 140 characters. If I had a reliable, cheap internet connection, by God I'd be tweeting. I'd be tweeting like a self-important 20-something "in line at starbucks :-) #starbucks". Part of me would be doing it to keep friends and family updated on the weirdness that is Peace Corps life; part of me would be doing it to inform curious PCVs-to-be about life in South Africa; part of me would be doing it to irritate my wife (and everyone else who hates Twitter).

If you hate the tweets, give up now; else, read on.
  • Remember the landing scene in Serenity? That's what it's like to ride the bus down a dirt road in rural South Africa.
  • I swear to God, a first grader who barely speaks English just used the phrase, "2D object"
  • Math class was a lesson on collecting poll data, but it just descended into a debate on which animal is best. (ans: leopard)
  • Not sure what exactly that teacher was saying in SeTswana, but he had to briefly switch into English to use the phrase, "twisted pervert."
  • Stepped outside this morning to a herd of goats silently staring at me. Very "Children of the Corn."
  • Impromptu praying
  • Just saw a lesson whose lesson was (according to the teacher), "You must not be colorblind."
  • In Tswana culture, under no circumstances do you ask someone to leave. Even if they're ruining graduation.
  • Even if they're interrupting your well-rehearsed dances.
  • Even if they're blowing a whistle in your face.
  • Yup, Mama will call you fat, right to your face.
  • Writing a blog about Twitter

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Owl and the Pussycat(s) (Andy)

Some stories about some encounters I've had with some animals of some country called South Africa.

The Owl

On my second day in South Africa, we trainees had a few hours to ourselves to explore the college campus. We'd all seen an old, concrete watertower on the edge of campus, and rumor from previous volunteers was that failure to climb this tower before the end of training would result in eternal regret.

During our free time, we made our way over to the tower, which I estimate was about 100 yards high. One by one, people climbed to the top and telled down, "You absolutely have to see this!" But I couldn't shake the image of slipping off the ladder and hitting every steel support on the way down. By the time it was my turn to climb, I was absolutely certain that I'd die, and death just didn't seem worth it.

I had a few nightmares about the water tower that night, each featuring a more gruesome bone-breaking noise than the previous. I woke up an hour before sunrise and couldn't get back to sleep. I got up to wander around the campus for a bit.

I'd decided that if by the time I got to the tower, if there were people there, I would climb it. After all, I was here for adventure, and I had to get used to overcoming fear and discomfort. To my dismay, when I arrived, there were two trainees sitting at the top.

So I started climbing. By the time I realized what I was doing, it was too late to change my mind. It was only going to be worse going back down, because I was going to have to look down and see how high off the ground I was. I focused on the rungs in front of me and made my way to the top.

At the top of the tower, inside the concrete drum, my fear was at its peak. Falling from this height, at best, would result in severe mangling. Every detail seemed to suggest that I would soon be dead. The sweat on my hands made it hard to grasp the rungs. The cool wind rushing up from below was drying out my eyes. My feet ached from stepping on the thin rungs.

At the very moment that I was most certain that I was going to die, the owl who lived in the drum decided that he didn't want me in his nest. He flew between my body and the ladder, back and forth, wailing and clawing wildly. I made a conscious effort to hang on as tightly as possible while I leaned back and gave him room to get away. He didn't want to get away. He harried me a bit longer. I was somehow going to have to fight back. Between the terror and the adrenaline, I managed to muster the willpower to take a hand off the ladder and gently brush the owl away.

When he was finally gone, I pulled myself the last twenty feet to the top of the tower and plopped myself down. I looked to see if I'd peed my pants. I hadn't!

The two trainees at the top -- Matson and Kristen R. -- were completely unaware that anything had happened. For the next half hour, I sat up there with them; they were waiting for the sun rise. The morning light was enough to watch the owl go off and catch a mouse.

About ten minutes before the sun came up, I'd caught my breath, and my heart rate was back to normal. I didn't want to watch the sunrise, so I calmly made the climb down and went back to the dorms.

I'd see that owl a number of times again during my training at the college. Every time, someone would comment on how cool it was to watch an owl hunt, or what a beautiful creature it was. If only they knew.

The Pussycats

The campus was swarming with stray cats. During lunch, the cats would make their way to the Americans who were eating outside and beg for scraps. At first, they ate whatever we gave them: carrot scraps, cookie crumbs, break crusts, whatever. After they fattened up, though, they started to get picky. They would only eat meat.

Among the swarm was a mother/son pair. Our first week at the college, the mother was very nurturing to her son. When she got a scrap, she'd get it away from the other cats and share it with her kitten. As the weeks went on, however, Mama clearly grew annoyed. At first, she would only share non-meat scraps. Then she stopped sharing altogether.

But Baby didn't realize what he was supposed to do. Instead of going to the Americans and begging for food, he started to attack his mother every time she got food. She was a lot tougher than he was, though, so he never got to eat much.

I thought the mother's message was clear: baby kitty had to grow up and learn to take care of himself. Mama wasn't going to be around forever, and even if she were, she didn't have to energy to take care of him.

Finally, after a few agonizing weeks of watching the little cat fail to learn to beg, he had a breakthrough. He figured it out. He was hungry enough to eat the scraps that the other cats didn't want. And once he got his energy up, he was even bold enough to fight for meat scraps. He won some too.

One day during lunch, Baby and Mama made their way around the corner to where I was sitting. They were walking together and seemed to be getting along fine. How nice, I thought, that after all the savage beatings, Baby and Mama still get along.

And is if they'd heard my thoughts, they both turned to look at me. Mama sat down and Baby made his way over to me to beg for some food. He'd learned! How exciting! I picked a little piece of sausage off my spathlo and tossed it to him.

Mama instantly caught Baby with a full-on body tackle. There was hissing. There was clawing. There was much kicking up of dust. Finally, Baby ran away and Mama wolfed down the chunk of meat.

Gray the Dog

In SA, animals are treated much differently than they would be in the States. As you can imagine, people aren't as willing to fork over hundreds of dollars to cure their dog's case of worms, for instance.

In fact, the most common treatment of a pet dog that we've seen is that the dog gets chained up outside all day. He gets some food, gets some water, and generally is neither miserable nor thrilled with life. The people here aren't cruel to animals; they just don't treat them the same way Americans do: like their own offspring.

During our first visit to our site, I found cowering in the back yard a dark gray dog. She looked emaciated, and was apparently terrified of everything. When I went over to pet the dog, someone from the house yelled at me not to touch her, no one knows where she's been.

Every time we saw the dog, it would run up to me, as excited as I've ever seen a dog. It would cheer me on as I walked to the pit toilet or fed the chickens our vegetable scraps. And although she was happy, she was also clearly terrified that I would boot her in the head.

If I was with someone when I saw the dog, they would give me a reason not to touch or feed her. She had killed a goat (although there was apparently no missing goat or a corpse to substantiate the claim). She had rabies. She belonged to a witch.

I thought about it for a long time. Would it be worth it to watch out for this dog? If I taught her that people weren't trouble, I'd be doing her a dis-service. No one in the community seemed to want her around, and if any of the things people had said about her were true, her best bet would be just to run off into the desert and learn to live there.

So for a week, I ignored the dog or chased her away every time I saw her.

But I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was hardly an ethical dilemma: she was just a dog, and many dogs in SA have it a lot worse. I had no obligation to this dog, and encouraging her to take care of herself (in the style of the Mama cat) was probably the best thing I could do for her.

But one day, when she made her way up to me, she wasn't going very fast. She looked sick and even thinner than usual. I just didn't have it in me to turn her down.

So I grabbed a Weet-Bix, put some peanut butter onto it and tossed it to her. Two bites, gone.

I went inside and felt guilty for a few minutes. Lauren came in and said, "I know I probably shouldn't have, but I snuck that gray dog some food this morning." Before this moment, Lauren and I had never talked about feeding that dog. I was pleasantly surprised to see that someone else had taken notice, even if it was an American.

The next day, when I went to the backyard where Gray usually relaxed, I saw a bowl with some bogobe and meat scraps. Our host father had put it there.

My theory about no one caring about the dog had been blown away.

Now, she gets all our scraps, and a Weet-Bix on special occasions.