There is no appropriate place to begin telling the story of the Peace Corps experience. I could record a detailed account of my first 6 weeks in South Africa. I could attempt to express the variety of emotions I’ve experienced, or some of the existential issues I’ve contemplated as I fall asleep each night. None of those things would do it justice, and it’s only just begun. While I will surely fall short of aptly painting a picture of my life here so far, I will try my best to begin to share some of the pieces of this experience which are necessary and some of which are dear to my heart.
I can’t say I’ve experienced much of South Africa outside the bubble of Pre-Service Training (PST). But very soon that is all about to change. Most of my time thus far has been spent at training with the 33 other volunteers (2 have unfortunately made the difficult decision to return home) who make up “SA-25,” the 25th class of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) to serve in South Africa (SA) since the program opened in 1996. While all volunteers grumble at the idea of PST, I know that we are blessed to be the recipients of so much attention, education, and wonderful leadership that we’ve been shown by our Peace Corps Staff. I live in a village with a wonderful homestay family. The cows, goats, chickens and pigs (yes mom, adorable little pigs!) roam free here. I was trying to walk to school once and a bull started running towards me. With nowhere to go, my brother ran to my rescue. He started throwing rocks at it while another kid was hitting it with a stick until they could direct it into a gated area. Talk about a good excuse for being late! Other facts-of-village-life are the threat of spitting cobras (I watched 2 be killed at our school), ungodly sized spiders and cockroaches in the toilets, and an unfortunate newfound fear of dogs. While we are only 2 hours from the capitol of Pretoria (which happens to be the “whitest” city in all of Africa), our village rarely has access to running water. We do, however, have consistent access to electricity. It’s hard to understand how the locals must feel when they travel to Pretoria for work and see incredible wealth but return to their village at night and can’t even get water out of the tap in the backyard. We just went 2 weeks with the water shut off. All of our buckets of stored water ran out. My mama was very distraught. She knows there’s a way to get it, but she also knows the injustice inherent in the fact that the next village has water and her family does not. That night, the water came back on and she was filling buckets until midnight. (Some families have JoJo tanks which store tons of water but my family does not. Anybody want to donate one?!?) This is a terrible cycle and I may never be able to identify or understand its drivers, but I trust that people here are beginning to demand change. Here’s where I could go on and on about apartheid and internalized oppression. I won’t for now, but I do ask that if you are reading this, then you take the time to become informed on the history of apartheid in order to understand some of the attitudes and frustrations I’m sure to encounter.
I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful Gogo (grandmother) who takes excellent care of me and 3 beautiful kids in my family, one of whom runs down my road with arms wide open as soon as she sees me coming home in the distance. I wish I could bottle her constant joy and energy. I can’t begin to think about how much I will miss her when I leave this village. She not only brings joy to my arrival home each day, to my backyard workouts, and to each meal we take together, she is also my biggest ally in my plight to learn isiZulu. That’s right, folks, I’m trying to learn to speak Zulu–clicks and all. While I desire to be fluent, I’m not sure how that is going to go. That will probably depend on how much English is used at my site (where I will be from March 23rd until the end of my service). My homestay family speaks a slightly different language called Ndebele but they do their best to communicate with me in Zulu.
Our training has taken place in Mpumalanga Province. Apparently there are some really amazing sites to see here, but we’ve been contained in our homestay villages (except for a trip to Johannesburg to see the Apartheid Museum and a trip to Pretoria to see the Peace Corps offices and the Voortrekker Monument). This location has provided some interesting difficulties that I hadn’t anticipated. There are many little things I loved about Tanzanian village life that don’t exist here because of the way development has occurred here. There’s no roadside fruit vendors or women selling brightly colored cloths to sew into custom made outfits. People just buy clothes at the store in their “shopping town.” Young people here dress mostly like Americans with a twist (one twist is the fad of wearing brightly colored sandals that look like fluffy slippers) and you have to go to town for the roadside fruit stands. There’s nowhere to buy street food and no old ladies cooking chapati to sell to passerbys. It’s been difficult for me to cope with the incessant heat here. Three weeks of having to choose between waking up in a pool of my own sweat or waking up itching all the bug bites I got from sleeping with the window open was enough and I finally bought a fan. Apparently I’m a wuss and it is not that bad in Mpumalanga (Limpopo Province can reach 47 degrees celcius) so I prayed for a cooler site placement. Speaking of which, we finally found out where we will be spending our next 2 years!
dun-dhun-duuuunnnnnn-daaaaaaaaaaa (that’s my drumroll).
Here’s a hint about my placement: If you plan on visiting me, you will need to pack lots of sunscreen, a swimsuit, and a beach towel :) I won’t name my village here, but I’ll be very near to Mtubatuba, which happens to be very near to a resort beach village called St. Lucia in the province of KwaZulu Natal (locally referred to as K-Zed-N). The sad thing about telling you all is that you will instantly be able to know more about where I’ll be living than I will for a while. So here’s my request. If you google it, please send me one awesome or interesting thing that you find out about anything near my new home. I likely won’t secure good enough internet access to do broad searches for a while (or ever, probably) and I’d love to find out what you guys think is worth knowing about anything in or around Mtubatuba! I will be able to read emails and comments left on this blog soon. Here’s the only facts I know about my beach town: Over 90% of SA’s natural crocodile population lives here; there is “extraordinary” deep sea fishing; rhinos roam the streets. My main shopping town will be Richard’s Bay and I am only 2 hours away from the major destination of Durban!
More importantly, though, is the work I hope to be able to accomplish. I’ve been told that the organization I’ve been paired with for my primary project is running on passion and that the workers are hungry for knowledge. I could not ask for anything more! It’s a Home-Based Care (HBC) organization which means that there are “carers” who work for little or no money to provide very basic healthcare to community members. They may be caring for people with hypertension or diabetes, those living with HIV/AIDS or TB, or bedridden patients who need to be bathed and fed. These organizations usually have a drop-in center for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) to come to after school for food and a safe place to play. My org. is next to a clinic and near two schools. My job does not come with a description; I will find out as I go where my service will be most useful. I imagine I will set up a caregiver training program but only God knows, quite literally. I will visit my site this week for 5 days and then return to my homestay for a final week of safety sessions, language review, and my final language examination. Then I will go from being a Peace Corps Trainee to a sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteer on March 22nd!
To my mom, dad, Holli, and the Requets, I thank you so much for sending me mail! It takes a while to get here because until I get my own PO Box, it must go through the US Embassy. But when it does get here, I can’t tell you how much it brightens my day! I’m about to enter “Cultural Integration Period,” better known by PCVs as “Lock Down.” For 3 months after swearing in, we are not allowed to leave our villages except for a couple weekends away within our respective provinces. This will surely be a lonely and frustrating adjustment period so please, please send me notes, quotes, or love letters :) Whatever suits your fancy will surely suit mine. It costs $1.05 to send a letter. But your encouragement is PRICELESS.
I’m contactable now via my blackberry. My phone number is (country code 27) 0793776180. Omit the zero when using the country code. I’m on BBM so if you have a blackberry, we can text for free. If you have another type of smart phone, if you download “What’s App” we can text for free, though I haven’t been able to figure that one out yet. BBM pin: 292A17EE. I do have the internet so I can check emails and facebook periodically. However, it is extremely slow and unreliable so don’t be offended if you see a comment from me somewhere, but not a response to your comment.
Don’t forget to leave comments about my new home. And hug someone you love today! (and thank God for a stable supply of water).
(I wrote the above post about a week ago. Currently I am finishing up my site visit. I am thrilled beyond belief by the wonderfully passionate and lovely people at my organization. They mostly deal with orphans and vulnerable children, but I hope to help them expand and improve their home-based care sector. They have treated me like royalty and I have a lot of pressure to live up to their hopes for my time here. My homestay family consists of 3 women in their 30′s, 2 14yo girls and a 4 week old baby boy. They have provided me with a beautiful living space and I feel quite guilty about the arrangements they have made for me. But I must trust that I am supposed to be here with them for some reason and push the guilt aside so that I can begin my new life here. People are making sacrifices for me when they don’t have much to sacrifice and it’s very humbly. I will see the beach town of St. Lucia in about an hour with all of the other PCVs in the area. I believe there are currently 4 working here plus or minus myself and my friend from training.)
Thanks again for all your comments and encouragements. I thrive on them as this is the most trying thing I could imagine throwing myself into.
Much love to you.