Connie in Morocco and Beyond

These are my travel experiences beginning in 2006 with my Peace Corps service in Morocco. At the request of friends and my own desire to document, I continued blogging my journeys to other countries as well as in the U. S. I am currently serving as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in South Africa. The content of this blog is mine alone, and does not reflect any position of the U. S. government or the Peace Corps

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Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

The Big Sky country of Montana is home sweet home!

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Operation HOPE was asked to participate for a day at my landlady Kai's "Camp I Am" this past week.  Jake and I were driven to the school camp site by two of Kai's friends, where we did six 30-minute rotations on Wants, Needs, and Values.  It was a great activity, where we put up photos of various items, told the 150 learners (ages ranging from 6th-11th grades) they had R1000 to spend for the month.  They had to make choices, and that was difficult for most.  They quickly realized what a trade-off meant, and how they could, in fact, get those cool red Converse high tops if they gave up spending money on other things. Also did a little discussion on how our values can drive spending decisions.

Notice nearly all are wearing coats.  Schools have no heat, so just like my cottage and many homes, you bundle up inside in the winter and it feels good to go outside in the sun!  (Just like my Moroccan winter experience)

 A very enjoyable and rewarding day!  Jake will be going back to U. S. this week and to his studies at Notre Dame.  It was fun to have him in the office.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014


I met this morning with the church secretary at my church to discuss the possibility of conducting the adult financial education workshops there on two consecutive Saturdays, so we've set August 16 and 23 from 11:30-4:30 as the dates/times, and will use a small room that will accommodate maximum 20 people conference style.  I am excited!  We have lots of time now to market and get the attendance and pilot the curriculum.

After the visit, I also discovered a new piece of information about my church.  Every M-W-F from 8:30-11:30 they allow homeless people (mostly all men...about 50) to come and use the shower to clean themselves and their clothes...and also give them buttered bread and tea. On Friday noons they also receive a nutritious lunch.  She told me that in the winter the electricity bill gets very high as they use the shower time to just get warm, since it gets near freezing at night as they sleep in parks or wherever.

My friend Vicky left a very generous donation for the church, which I delivered for her today.  She will be pleased to know she is supporting their outreach activities, I'm sure.

Monday, July 07, 2014


So what is the difference between regular Peace Corps service and being a PC Response Volunteer, numerous people have asked.

I can only speak to my experience, but the differences are great and many!

As a regular PCV, I went to my country of service (Morocco) with 29 other people, and for three months we were together, learning the language and culture, and establishing friendships.  The next two months at my assigned site, I stayed with a family who helped me integrate into the community, and I started work at a women's association where there were numerous women that I worked with daily.  Then I moved into my own apartment which had electricity, running cold water, and squat toilet, and after about a year, I had access to Wi-fi!  But, no TV or heat.  I was only 12 miles from other volunteers, and met with yet other set of friends on a usually a monthly basis for a weekend in Marrakech or other towns.  Interaction with various social/work groups on a regular basis was part of my lifestyle.

As a PC Response Volunteer, I came by myself (flew over with another person who is situated far from me now), and after a few days orientation, moved into an apartment in a huge city where no other PCVs are normally even allowed to go.  There are only two people here in my NGO, but Tshidi, who I work with daily has gone above and beyond to be helpful.  I have electricity, hot water, flush toilet, and a TV.  I have chosen to not spend the money on heat that I'd use for about three months, and instead am making use of extra clothing to get through the winter. I have very limited built-in social groups and discovered it is challenging to find them.   I enjoy the modern conveniences, but very much miss the socialization that comes with being a regular PCV, yet I don't know that I'd want to have spent a year hauling water and going out to a pit toilet.

The two Peace Corps country offices I've reported to are also very different in how they manage their operations.   One thing both North and South Africa have in common is that where I lived, the winters are colder inside homes than outside in the sunshine!  :)

So there you have it. As is the case with most life experiences, there are the positive and negative aspects, challenges that must be met and dealt with and accomplishments to celebrate.   Bottom line, I do know that my time here is helping improve relationships between our countries, that my work is helping improve lives, and I am receiving more than I am giving.  That is so with both my Peace Corps experiences.

Friday, July 04, 2014


It's a TGIF day here, and since PCVs only get public holidays of their country of service and the the U. S. holidays, I worked at the office as usual, but the intern had a little eye problem and my manager was working elsewhere, but I didn't mind working there alone.  After work I went to my yoga class.  I was pretty independent.  :)

Our Independence Day today, and they just celebrated their 20 years of freedom here. Isn't that something? I think we tend to forget there are so many countries where the people still don't know freedom. A Peace Corps question posted on Facebook today was about what we PCVs have come to appreciate more about America.  There are so many things, it's hard to choose just one, but I think I'd say women's rights. So many millions of women around the world are oppressed it's difficult to get your mind around it.

This past week my work continued on the NGO management course.  I think we may offer it on two five-hour Saturday sessions in a small meeting room at my church sometime in the next few of months.  A vendor at the weekly Sunday African market expressed an interest, the church is near the market and will make the room available,  so we'll see what comes of it.

We also went out to my landlady's "Camp I Am" day camp for school kids on a three-week holiday break.  This was a session she facilitated for the Department of Basic Education on how to conduct a spelling bee. The first ever national bee will be held in October.  It was an interesting session, and included a role play by some of the learners attending the camp. Landlady Kai is the one on the far right, then Tshidi, my counterpart, then Jake with chin on hand.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


in my little corner of the world.  At work, I am making good progress on the NGO Management Basics workshop and getting ideas of who we could partner with to present to those that would benefit.

I went to Pretoria during the week for a meeting, and had a chance to visit with the interim (4 days) country director, who is the acting country director in Swaziland.  A very impressive man.  Our new CD will be arriving in about 3 weeks but there needs to be at least one American management person on the post at all times, so he came to fill in briefly. I also had a chance to lunch and visit with my friend Jonelle who I met the first week here.  Sure wished we lived closer so we could see each other more often.  It's lonely in this big city.

Sad friend Vicky is leaving a month earlier than expected due to an accident at the refinery.  She is okay and will be flying out tomorrow.  I am sad to see her go; it was fun to have her visit and travel with a bit.

Exciting news!  I will be leading a Habitat for Humanity Global Village build in Guatemala March 21-29, 2015. I will be able to interview the needed 12-16 team members by Skype on evenings/weekends.  I am tentatively planning to go two weeks early to do a Spanish immersion course, and to hike a volcano.  

For now, I am putting together a travel schedule and plans for 9 friends who are coming in October for two weeks.  Good thing I have internet in my house!

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Saturday night, we enjoyed the music of acoustical guitar in a little venue directly across the street from me, this time a trio with the main attraction being Dan Patlansky, who opened for Bruce Springsteen here a few months ago.  It was quite good~

Sunday afternoon this group was performing at the weekly African Market on the roof of Rosebank Mall.  This is a great place to buy authentic hand-made goods, as well as some foods.  It was a treat to see these kids perform and to be able to help them out.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014


One day at the bus stop the two young girls (ages 14 and 15) were not wearing their usual school uniforms. (Nearly all South African students wear uniforms.) I asked them if they liked being able to wear whatever they wanted, and the both immediately responded that no, they did not!  It was too stressful to decide what to wear to make sure they would fit in and be wearing the "right" thing.  Interesting, yes?

Many black South Africans keep the name of their home language, most (all?) have some meaning.  For example, when Linda and I did a safari three years ago, our guide's name was Peace.  Angie's mother's name is Beauty.  (I wonder if she gave her daughter an American name to be more contemporary.) The NGO director I worked with in KwaZuluNatal went by the name of Knowledge.  My colleague's name at Operation Hope is Tshidi, which is a fairly common Zulu name.  I have seen and met Khanye, but was surprised yesterday at the grocery store to hear someone call "Connie" and one of the workers had a name tag with that spelling.  Quite unusual.

Monday, June 16, 2014


June 16th is Youth Day in South Africa to commemorate the tragic deaths resulting from the 1976 uprising of youth against apartheid.

There is a lovely 15-year old girl that waits for the bus with me in the mornings. She indicated she had never been to the famous Apartheid Museum here in Johannesburg, so I thought it would be appropriate to enable her to learn more about her heritage.  I made a point to meet her mother the day before, to assure her that this public holiday outing was with good intentions.

Her mother works as a domestic in my neighborhood.  Her grandmother lives in a township about an hour away, as does her 22-year old sister with her 5-year old daughter.  Her sister also works as a domestic, since she did not graduate from high school, according to Angie.  The grandmother chose a private school located in the heart of Jobug for Angie to attend, and her mother's employer pays the fees for her to attend. The grandmother and Angie both seem to be keenly aware of the importance of education. She likes science and wants to be a doctor.  I hope she will be able to fulfill her dream.

Angie has not been to numerous places in Joburg, such as the nearby Botanical Gardens, or the Zoo.  She had never ridden on the Gautrain, which is a high-speed train running north-south from Joburg to Pretoria, but had often seen the red tour busses when walking from the bus stop to her school.

So!  We left at 8:30 and walked the 30 minutes to  Rosebank Mall, got on the Gautrain, which was a special thing for her.  We traveled to where the Hop On Hop Off  bus departs. She was excited and insisted we sit on top in the back where it is open (and brrrr, a bit windy and chilly!).  She was able to show me her school, and acted as a guide when we went past  places she saw regularly.  She had fun seeing them from this new perspective, as well as viewing many new places along the way.

We brought our lunches and ate in a nice outside area at the Museum, then toured.  She really enjoyed reading/learning more about the history of apartheid. It ended five years before she was born, so there was much she didn't know, and was happy to be able to take her new knowledge back to her teacher and class.   As you'd expect, there was a great deal of information on Mandela.  She was aware of the famous rugby match and the movie "Invictus."  Since I have it on my computer, I invited her and her mother to come to my place sometime to watch it; she readily accepted.
We then hopped on and went to the Origins Centre at Wits University, which focused primarily on Rock Art as history of human origins. There is more in-depth information at a museum called the Cradle of Humankind about an hour from the city, which I will be visiting some other weekend.

We arrived back at Rosebank a bit later than anticipated, and it was nearly dark by the time we walked home.

I do wish these photos would show her charming smile.  It was delightful to spend a day with someone so interested and appreciative of this little adventure.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


South Africa is on the edge of a recession; the rand is weaker once again. When I arrived in January, it was very weak, but improved for a few months; now it appears to be working its way back up again.  Good for American tourists; not good for the people of this country.  One of the current major problems is a strike by the platinum miners that started about the time I came here in January...indications are that an agreement is in the near future.

The only electrical provider is in disarray, and are warning once more of brown outs and black outs this winter as usage increases.  So far, we've not had any, but they will likely be between 5-9 p.m., the peak periods. Another situation that compounds the problem year-round and has for several years is cable theft.  Eskom states that 40% of their power outages are due to cable theft.  A solution is to bury the cable deeper, but they don't have sufficient manpower to replace existing lines. Because of the value of the materials, the thieves will cut and steal cable from anywhere and everywhere...even where elderly live in low income neighborhoods.

The problems here are many and makes me once more realize and appreciate how fortunate we are by comparison. While living here and trying to help one must adopt the "how to eat an elephant"'s easy to be overwhelmed, unless you focus on just one bite at a time.

 Peace Corps Volunteers, here and worldwide, are doing just that, bless them all.

Monday, June 02, 2014


It's about time I documented the status of my Peace Corps Response project...the reason for my being here!  I have completed the draft of the Facilitator's Guide and the Participant's Notebook for the Operation HOPE South Africa adult literacy education program, and it has been sent to the U. S. office for approval.  I anticipate more editing to be done before we pilot test it, which will hopefully occur in July.

In the meantime, I am working on a Power Point Presentation to be done at a PC in-service training in July, as well as a NGO management training manual.

Luckily, we are able to stay in our current office location due to recent funding, and moved to one large office with an outside window instead of two small inner offices.  The reason this makes me happy is that I think it would have been too cold to work all day in my house.  Winter is to arrive later this week, with highs in the 60's during the day and hovering around freezing at night.  I have yet to know what this means regarding the temperature in my place...but will be sure to let you know.  Hopefully my good long underwear and fleece will see me through the next two months!