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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Overseas Phone Call from South Africa

Middle school students in Wisconsin speak with Peace Corps Volunteer Abby Stepaniak in South Africa

Once a year, a few U.S. classrooms get to talk with a Peace Corps Volunteer by telephone because they've been communicating throughout the year with a volunteer in the field. Today, students from Greenfield Middle School in Wisconsin speak with Abby Stepaniak in South Africa.

Ron Tschetter
Hi. I'm Ron Tschetter, director of the Peace Corps. For more than 45 years, the Peace Corps has helped communities around the world. Volunteer Voices is a collection of audio stories from just a few volunteers who have served since 1961. For more information on the Peace Corps, go to peacecorps.gov.
Teacher
When I wrote you a letter, I asked about languages. So I was just wondering if you can speak some SiSwati or whatever for us.
Abby
Sure, I can do that! So, I'll speak it, and then I'll tell you what I say. [She speaks in SiSwati] Okay, so what I said there basically was, "Hello to all of you; my name is Nombuto," which is my South African name here, which means "princess." "I speak SiSwati, and I work at Tandanani Home Base Care," which is a drop-in center.
Student
Hi. I'm just wondering how many languages are there in Africa?
Abby
In South Africa, there are 11 official languages. But then there are a few that sort of mix different languages together. So, I would say probably 13 or 15 official languages in South Africa. But Africa as a whole has so many different languages. So each country that you go to will have a ton of different languages. Even if it's a very small country, there's still different ones. And what's actually really interesting is you can be all the way down at the south, where I am in South Africa, and if you keep going up and maybe make it to the middle or the eastern part of Africa, the languages are similar, which I think is really neat. It travels all that way, and things morph and adapt, but you can still kind of understand what other people say. But they're all different, but a lot of them are similar.
Student
What kind of games do kids enjoy playing?
Abby
Well, soccer is probably the biggest and most popular sport here, so everyone plays all the time. And they don't have a lot of soccer balls, and so they take lots of plastic bags that you get at the grocery store, and wrap them all up and tie them all together until finally it's big enough for like a very small soccer ball. So, that's what they usually use. At the drop-in center, I play with the girls, and they do jump roping a lot. It's different than what we do at home, but it's still fun.
Student
What kind of clothes do they have?
Abby
When you go to a city in South Africa, people dress just the same as they do in the U.S. But when you go out to the rural villages, women usually wear very long skirts and tops that cover all their skin. Not the sleeves, but at least the chest and upper neck and stuff. It covers all of that. And a lot of women wear head wraps that match their skirt. And men usually wear long pants and a button-down shirt. And actually, clothing is really important here. It matters a lot what you look like and how you present yourself, and so a lot of people take a lot of care in what they wear.
Student
Have you ever been chased by a wild boar?
Abby
By a wild boar? No. But, by spiders and once by a giraffe, yes. But boars, no.
Student
How'd you get away from the giraffe?
Abby
We were in a car, so we went really fast.
Student
Is there anywhere special to go to create artwork?
Abby
Not a special place, no. So they don't have specific art classes or any art studios. But they create art in more, like, after-school programs like the drop-in center that I work at. When we get donations of art supplies, then we'll do it there. But in school, it's sort of like a class or a subject that you do in your normal classroom.
Student
Do you have video games there?
Abby
Do we have video games? Actually, not really. Some of the people who are Afrikaaners—which is typically the white population—some people have them. But it's not very common like it is at home. And in the townships and the villages and the smaller areas, no one has them. If you have a TV, that's a pretty big deal. So, video games are sort of over the top.
Student
Oh, so, you don't have computers either?
Abby
We do have computers. And actually, there's more computers here than I had expected. And some of the kids know how to use them. So, that's really good. But they usually use them only for school or for business, and not so much for games. But I'm sure in a couple years, it will be very popular.
Student
What kind of money system do they have there in South Africa?
Abby
Okay, the money system. They actually—it's just about the same as the U.S. Different types of banks, but the same people usually have banks and credit cards and things like that. But some of it is actually a little bit more advanced. My cell phone is hooked up to my bank account, and so when I run out of money on my cell phone, I can get it directly from my bank account, which is not something that's done in the U.S., and it's very nice. And I can do other—I can buy other things, like electricity, calling cards home, and other things like that. I can do that all through my cell phone. So the banking is just about the same, but some things are actually a little bit more advanced than they are in the U.S.
Student
Cool, thanks. What is your favorite thing about Africa?
Abby
My favorite thing about Africa? I think that the cultures here are so old. It's very different from the U.S., and there's all people from all over the world with all different cultures, and so there's not one main culture. But when you come to different places in Africa, you are sort of absorbed by it, and it's been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years, and people really respect and love their culture. So, I think that's probably my favorite part.
Student
Is it hard living in Africa?
Abby
It was hard at first because sometimes you have to take a bath in a little bucket, or sometimes you can't have clean water for a few days, or you have to try new foods. And that was hard at first, but you get you used to that, and you understand, "okay, that's fine; it's just different; I can adapt to that." But then it gets hard mentally, because it's just such a different place from home. But you have to sort of get over the fact that it's not like home, it's a different place. And then once you understand that, then you can lead a normal life just like anyone else here. But it's a big transition, and I think some of you went through a lot of that, too.
Student
In Africa, is there anybody you know, or did you make new friends?
Abby
I made new friends. I actually showed up in South Africa knowing absolutely nobody. But, there were a big group of Peace Corps Volunteers that I got to know very well that are probably my best friends here. And then there's also people in my town and in my village who I've gotten to know who are also my friends. And so, I have a good mix of friends here, but it takes time. But, yeah I knew no one when I came, but now it's okay.
Close
Thanks for listening. Are you in a classroom? Do you want stories written just for your class? Enroll in the Correspondence Match program through Coverdell World Wise Schools. We can connect your class with a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in any region of the world. For enrollment and program information, visit us online at www.peacecorps.gov/wws/correspond.

About the Author

Abby Stepaniak

Students from Greenfield Middle School in Wisconsin speak with Peace Corps Volunteer Abby Stepaniak in South Africa.