Hello friends, family, and other blog followers!

I haven’t been great about updating this even though I got a working phone because- let’s face it- typing long things on a blackberry is a giant pain. However, I thought you might appreciate an overview of what I have been up to besides site visit and taking pictures of cute puppies.

Week 0 (July 1-7):
37 of us arrived in South Africa on 4 July and we went straight to Mastec College in Seshego outside of Polokwane to begin training. We started learning a little bit of Sepedi, XiTsonga, and Tshivenda and had sessions on personal safety and health. We also met with the people who are in charge of our permanent placements to discuss what type of projects we are interested in. We had sessions on culture, gender roles, diversity, and the Peace Corp’s approach to development.

Week 1 (July 8-14):
We had permagarden training for two days, received our language assignments, and moved into our homestays with host families. (My host family is AMAZING and consists of my 39 year old host mom and her younger sister who is 18). We are split up between two villages, but we all live outside of Mokopane. I live in Ga-Magongoa and some of my friends live in Mosesejane. The first night was REALLY rough. I made a list of everything I miss from home, but then made a list of everything I love about being here. The house I live in is beautiful and even has a bathtub with hot running water and an inside toilet. We started learning our assigned languages in small groups. There are four people in my group and my LCF (language teacher) is awesome. We had another session on diversity, a few on Peace Corp’s views on development, and several hours of language training. We walked around with our LCF to make a map of our community. The 13th marked the second of my brother’s birthdays in a row that I have been out of the country. We had Sunday “off”, so I went to the Catholic Church with my family then did laundry.

Week 2 (July 15-21):
Week 2 was SUPER language intensive. Monday, Tuesday, and Friday each consisted of 5.5 hours of language training. We also did another panel on diversity, began receiving our rabies vaccine series, discussed common illnesses and first aid, discussed mental health and self care, had a session on safety and security regarding transportation, celebrated Nelson Mandela Day by going to the children’s ward of Mokopane Hospital, and went on site visits, which I wrote an entire post about.

Week 3 (July 22-28):
I got my first pieces of mail!! One from my Mama and one from Joanne. I was SOO excited to get mail! We returned from site visits pretty late on Tuesday night and have had a jam packed week since. In addition to language training, we had sessions on the history of South Africa, alcohol use and abuse, sexual assault, South African curriculum requirements, technology, crossing educational boundaries, age, and gender. Last night my host mom had to go to her mother’s house in another village to help prepare for a funeral today, so my host sister (though I guess she is technically my host auntie) and I went into town so I could get some groceries then picked up a pizza, came home, and watched Bad Teacher on my computer, which I finally got back. This morning we got on a bus and went into Pretoria. We passed the US Embassy and went to the Peace Corps Headquarters to learn about our resource center and library, then went to the Voortrekker Monument (I feel certain I will write an entire post about THAT experience when I have had more time to reflect on it). We ended our visit to Pretoria with a visit to the Brooklyn mall, which I was surprised to see contained a Gap store. One of the LCFs helped me pick out a skirt, shoes, and blazer to wear and I purchased an usb internet modem that kinda sorta works before eating chicken at Nando’s then getting back on the bus. Most of the trip home was spent with people singing, dancing, or both and it was a lot of fun. It was actually probably my favorite part of the whole excursion. Tonight, I worked with my host sister to teach her how to use a computer. She is a very fast learner! Even though it is past midnight, my neighbors are outside having what sounds like a VERY fun time. Tomorrow, Alex’s host family is having a birthday party and we are all getting together to celebrate at 2PM. I am going to wake up, do laundry, and bake chocolate chip cookies for the occasion.

Whew. That’s all for now, but I will try to do at least a weekly update from now on. I love and miss you all!


Site Visit

This weekend, all of the PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) went to visit current volunteers at their sites and shadow them for a day at their schools. My group went to Tafelkop to visit an education volunteer named Colin and we had an awesome time! In addition to me laughing more this weekend than I have since I arrived in ZA, we got all sorts of valuable advice and information from our host and we got to see what being a PCV is really like.

It was really cool to walk around the village and have people ask us,”where is Colin?” It was obvious that his community and his learners really care about him and gave me something to aspire to. It was incredibly enlightening to spend a day and a half at the two schools where he serves as well because I really had no idea what the ZA education system was like until then. Getting back home became a bit of an adventure since we had to wait over 2.5 hours for our taxi to leave Marble Hall for Mokopane and a guy in Mokopane seemed fairly determined to get me to let go of my bag, but all in all the trip was a success and was exactly what I needed. It reminded me just why I decided to come here in the first place and that life is about the journey, not the destination. As a foreigner coming into a South African school, it’s important for me to remember that I can’t come in and fix what I may think is wrong. Instead, I think I have to work with what I have to make small differences in the lives of individual children. We even saw ostriches and monkeys on our way home!

I think the $8 I spent on a fake wedding ring from ebay may have been one of the best investments I have ever made. In addition to men asking Jess and I if we were married, black South African men just couldn’t believe that we live outside of Mokopane …in a village…with black families. They were surprised to hear us say that we love our host families and we love living here. It is amazing to me how quickly this has become home. I have found myself referring to my house in Magongoa with my host sister and mother as “home” and my parents’ house in Asheville as “home home.” Attached are some of the pictures from this weekend. I hope you enjoy them!


Wish List!

Hello you wonderful people! Many people have asked what I want or need in terms of care package stuff, so I will try to keep an ongoing list!

A garlic press
Dry ranch dressing packets
Mechanical Pencils
MOVIES! You can send DVDs or a flashdrive with multiple movies on it in a zip file.

Or if you are feeling REALLY generous, you could pick up some books from my parents, garage and send them to me. My mailing address is:

Catherine Cottam
c/o U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 9536
Pretoria 0001
South Africa

Please mark the contents as being worth $0, regardless of how much they are actually worth.

Love, love, LOVE to you all!


Ke a Leboga!

Thank you all for being so incredibly patient while I failed to get my blackberry working and bought a new phone. South Africa is INCREDIBLE and my host family is wonderful, welcoming, and so so helpful. I am working hard to learn Sepedi, which is a little tricky since I have never really learned another language before. Today we learned how to talk to shopkeepers when we go shopping. We are on our way to a college in Mokopane for a session on mental health and to get our rabies vaccines. We will also find out who we are going to visit this weekend! We will leave Saturday morning to visit a current volunteer in his or her village and we will return on Tuesday. I am so excited to really see what being a PCV is all about! I love and miss you all!


Leaving on a Jet Plane Part 2

This is it, y’all!  We had “Staging” (training) from about 1:45pm to 7:00pm today.  It was the first time all 37 of us met each other and we got to know a little more about each other, explored our expectations of service, and explored PCs expectations of us.  It is 1:58AM here in Philadelphia and we have to be downstairs checking out of the hotel room by 2:30AM.  We will then board a bus and enjoy an approximately four hour ride to JFK airport.  We should arrive there by 7:00AM and our flight will leave at 11:15AM.  We will fly for 15 hours and 5 minutes from New York to Johannesburg (OR Tambo airport) on UA flight 7916 operated by South African Airways.  We will arrive in Johannesburg at 8:20AM local time on July 4, 2013.

After that, it will likely be a while before you hear from me.  I’m going to text my parents when we arrive and I have asked them to post something on Facebook so everyone knows I am ok.

From Johannesburg, we will take a 4-ish hour bus ride to Mastec Education Center in Seshego, Limpopo Province outside of Polokwane, where we will stay until July 10.  On July 10, we will move into our homestays, an adventure in living with our first South African host families!  Below is the information I have received about what we will be doing over the next several days.  I know some of it may not make much sense right now, but my goal is to write a little each day then upload it when I have a chance so you can know what I’ve been up to.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the amazing people who have helped make this dream a reality with your love and support.  A special shout out to Dad, Mom, and Jac for being so wonderful.  I love you guys so much and I will miss you!


THURSDAY, JULY 4             

 Arrival in Johannesburg

 Drive to Mastec Education Center, Polokwane.

 Get a good night’s sleep – you’ll be tired!


FRIDAY, JULY 5                   

 Welcome by Country Director and interviews.

 Peace Corps Staff Introductions

 Overview of PST Week One

 M edical & Safety and Security sessions

 Administrative M atters (e.g. ID photos, walk-around allowances, collection of passports)


SATURDAY, JULY 6            

 Greetings and personal introductions in TshiVenda.

 Greetings in Afrikaans.

 Overview of PST Week One

 One-on-one interviews with Medical & Programming Staff

 Cross Culture:Ubuntu session.


SUNDAY, JULY 7                   

 XiTsonga Greetings.

 Greetings and personal introductions in Afrikaans

 Traditional Dance and Songs

 Sport & Games.

 Movie


MONDAY, JULY 8                  

 Non-essential bag for storage

  PC Approach to Development

  SCRP Overview and Goals.

  M edical Session:Food and water Safety,Diarrhea

  Personal introductions in Afrikaans.

  Permagarden

  Greetings and personal introductions in Sepedi.


TUESDAY, JULY 9               

Greetings and personal introductions in Tshivenda

  Permagarden

 Homestay Orientation skit & bucket bath demo

 Cross Culture: Ubuntu Session

  Movie



 Transport Skit.

 Language Announcements

 Greetings in target languages.

  Move to Homestay


THURSDAY, JULY 11          

 Language: Greetings and Personal Introductions in TLs. (TLs= Target Languages)


FRIDAY, JULY 12                

 Language: Greetings and Personal Introductions in TLs.

   Personal Introductions, introducing self and others in TLs.


Leaving On A Jet Plane

It’s funny how I didn’t even think about this until tonight, but I just realized that when I leave my childhood home tomorrow, it may be for the last time. It’s way too much yard and house for just my parents and I totally support that they may move, but it’s weird to think that I may never walk through this house again. Home is where the heart is, so I know that wherever my parents move to will easily become home and in all likelihood I will be creating a home of my own when I return, but it’s insane when you think about just how many transitions are involved with me leaving for the Peace Corps.

I posted this quote on facebook the other day because it has been on my mind all week:

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart) I am never without it.”

I sincerely hope that my parents and brother realize that this whole incredible amazing terrifying crazy wonderful journey is only possible because of their love and support. They are my biggest fans and words can’t express how much I love them and appreciate them. People talk a lot about how brave I am to be going into the Peace Corps. I read once that to become a parent is to live with your heart walking around outside of your body. Even though they will miss me terribly and are (reasonably) worried, my parents are 100% supportive of my choice. I think they must be incredibly brave to be so supportive of my decision and to trust that I know I am going exactly where I am meant to be. I also listened to a podcast recently about the sibling bond and I was startled that I had never thought before about the fact that our siblings are the only people who are there for almost our entire lives. Jac and I have grown up together and watched each other learn and grow in ways that are amazing. My parents and brother are incredible, loving, supportive, amazing, hilarious, and intelligent. I couldn’t wish for more amazing people to grow up around.

I also couldn’t have done this without the love and support of my fantastic friends. So many of you believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself and you gals and guys held the hope for me throughout my entire application process.

I may be leaving tomorrow, but I am thinking of and sending love to each and every one of you. Thank you all for the parts you have played in making me the woman I am today, for laughing with me and crying with me, and for accepting me exactly as I am.

I love you all and I hope to be in touch to tell you about this AWESOME adventure soon! I will get to let my parents know when I make it to South Africa safely and I will ask them to post something on my facebook so you all know.