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February 14, 2007

Bulungula Village

We had the honor of visiting Xhosa villages in the Eastern Cape.

There is a new backpackers hostel located within a traditional village, five hours down a 4WD dirt road, where the Bulungula River meets the Indian Ocean. The hostel is a joint business between a white South African (Dave) and the community. Together, they invite travelers to visit many aspects of the village.

Of course, my questioning mind wonders what the effect a backpackers hostel will be on this previously "untouched" village. Dave and other villagers assured me that the village is quite happy with the arrangement, and that they had a long community process of deciding to start this. It brings a much-needed source of income to this very remote place, and little by little is bringing other improvements to people, like education and technology (like solar ovens). While it is very tempting to have a glossy Westernized view of a beautiful traditional village, the reality is that people are dirt poor and have very difficult lives... no access to health care, running water or electricity (and therefore increased health issues etc.), very limited education, and many other aspects of rural poverty. Again, my first inclination would be to say, "but Coca Cola will be the first thing to take over this village!" but again, it's a "grass is greener" naive and unfair assumption to want a group of people previously unaffected by capitalism to keep hold of traditional lifestyles. Somehow, we need to find that fine balance between modern amenities and traditional community support...

So, it was an honor to explore this village... the hostel hasn't been around very long, so it's still very exciting for the villagers to share their homes and lives with us visitors. And, many were eager to teach us Xhosa (a language with five click sounds-fun and hard!). The first place we went was the restaurant, about a 30 minute over beautiful rolling hills. There, two women made us the most delicious butternut squash pancakes I have ever had! They cooked using an efficient rocket-type stove, but unfortunatly the smoke got trapped in the closed-roof hut. No good for lungs!

Next, we visited an informal school, or maybe it was just a gathering of kids and a grandmother, crowded around a book. They were bunched by the window for light.

We visited other houses and the local bar, walking past plots of corn and houses on each hilltop. The land was extraordinarily beautiful.

The huts are made from mud bricks, plastered with mud, and then many are painted pastel colors with normal paint from the nearby town (5 hours away), with thatched rooves. I told people that my friends back home build these types of houses, too.

The hostel was a grouping of ten huts at the point where the river meets the sea, not a bad place to re-collect oneself for a few days.

Water is collected from the sky and electricity from the sun.

One of the huts is split into six composting toilet units (with superfun paintings everywhere!).

Another hut is built into three rocket showers (picture here with the bottle of parafin and the bottom of the 'rocket'... shower head is off to the right). So our experience here was a nice balance between quiet time, fun backpacker place and visiting a traditional village.

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