Mafelelo (THE END)

I feel obligated to admit that the following entry is not my own in terms of its format.  A good friend of mine, Stephen, lived for a year in Senegambia.   Just before his departure from this dark continent, he wrote a blog entry about the things he’ll miss the most and the things he will NOT miss at all (check it out at http://senegalstephen.wordpress.com). Despite being in very different situations, I found myself agreeing with nearly everything on his list.  But we all know how I love to write and have my own voice heard (cue: eye roll), so I’ve gone ahead and created my own list as a wrap-up of these two years.  It’s been a real roller coaster, and while I’m happy to get off and let my stomach settle for a while, the bug is in me and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I seek the thrill again.  Get a beverage and get comfy… this one is a long one!

And now for the things I will not miss at ALL in South Africa:

1.     Sexual harassment:  Well this one is probably self-explanatory.   A few months back, I posted the link to my friend Meg’s blog which spoke to the sexist culture in which we spent the last two years.  I have been very fortunate (more so than some of my close friends can say) not to have dealt with any serious assaults, but like every PCV here, not a week has gone by when I have not had to deal with or ignore some sexual comment or gesture.  While there are some funny stories that come from harmless perpetrators (a man woefully contemplating how he could ever afford the high labola [dowry] price that I had set for myself was one of my favourites), I really can’t wait to be back in a culture where I am respected and not thought of an object that can be bought.

2.     Unsafe, unreliable public transport:  You’ve heard this complaint before: taxies, mini-busses, koombies, combies, bakkies, buses, and hitches…. they all SUCK.  The experience is truly African, and the stories that have accumulated surrounding my public transport adventures will live with me forever, but if I never have to ride in one of them again, it will still be too soon.

3.     African time:  The old American adage, “if you’re early you’re on time and if you’re on time you’re late” could be easily changed to suit the mindset of the SAfrican population:  “If you’re on time you’re early, and if you’re late, you’re on time.”  After two full years of attending African functions and meetings, I cannot think of one single example of something that started on time.  I understand why this phenomenon occurs; historically Africans didn’t have clocks and worked off the sun and various natural landmarks which constantly shift (ie-when the shadow of the Acacia tree hits the rock…).  However, it pains me to see how this lack of conformity hinders the progress of the country at large.  This is just one of the many examples of how the first and third worlds are ineffectually meeting each other in SA.

4.     The sense of entitlement: At first I had this labeled as unreliable co-workers, but when I thought about the cause of their unreliability, the word “lazy” popped into my head.  I then thought about why they’re lazy, and I realized that it’s really the larger problem of entitelment here that is what bothers me most.  It effects the masses here in SA, not just the teachers.  For 60+ years, the blacks suffered under the oppressive Apartheid government.  Now, 19 years since the “new South Africa,” the very people who felt most cheated in the past, are now the biggest impediment to a successful future of the country.  The teachers at my school show up about half of the time.  When they are here, the kids are lucky to receive half a period’s worth of instruction as the teachers usually preoccupy themselves with paper work or personal matters.  Then they complain that teachers deserve more money (the average teacher’s salary is about 8 times the national average income, fyi).  They, and so many other people in my village, have complained to me how they deserve more free government handouts, because for so long they “suffered.”  While I will never negate the horror of Aparthied, I will be so happy to return to the American work ethic, where at least in my opinion, the masses work to improve the future rather than dwell on the failures of the past.

5.     Bucket baths: I LOVE SHOWERS. PERIOD.

Things I truly will miss once I leave South Africa:

1.     Sunsets:  I remember reading a specific Peace Corps memoir in which the author tried to describe how the sky is just bigger in Africa and that you simply can’t understand it until you’re here.  Well, I’ve been here, and I’m sold.  Obviously science tells us the sky is the sky, and common sense tells us that without distruptions like buildings and trees the sky should seem bigger, but seriously…. It is bigger here. With a bigger sky comes bigger sunsets.  To some, the idea that I spent the last 600+ evenings just watching the sun set might sound boring.  To me, it is a time of the day that I have come to anticipate just as some people anticipate their favourite weekly TV show.  Clearly, some were more impressive than others, but regardless of the show, the zen-like calm that comes over me as I sit on a plastic chair watching the sky change is something I will truly miss back in the city.

2.     Village days:  I know some PCVs would list this in their “will-not-miss” column, but for me, village days were, in ways, life changing.  Despite always enjoying “me-time” as a kid, at some point in college I had actually developped a kind of weird phobia of being alone.  Of course I still had my hour-long-candle-lit baths to myself, but if a full day passed without seeing some friends, I started to worry myself into thinking that I had somehow offended my friends.  It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to tell you that is not healthy.  Well, thankfully I got the best medicine without even needing a perscription.  Village days were common.  Basically they were any day spent entirely in the village without a single thing that I needed to do.  Often I would spend them doing laundry, but most of the time, I would just take the time to read, write letters, plan complicated meals (I can’t wait to share this newly acquired skill with all you at home!), and just relish in the solitude.  Many of my PCV friends can attest that about half way into any of our multi-week trips which always involve lotssss of togetherness, I usually take a day off from the group to do my own thing.  I’ve come to love and need my alone time.  So while I will unlikely ever live in a village again, my plan now is to keep the tradition of  an occasional “village day” alive where ever I live from herein.

3.     Travel:  My best friend, Leanne, who is a PCV in Panama (who I’ll see in just a few short days!!) once sent me a witty BBM saying, “Are you ever at site!?!?! Every time we chat, you’re traveling!”  She was kidding, of course, and she knows I did spend a great deal of time at my site, but the truth is, I did travel… A LOT!  With four major holiday breaks factored into the South African school calender and very little to do in the village when school is out, the time-restraint that prohibits most working Americans from traveling was non-existant.   Money is often the second prohibiting factor for travel, and while I only earned 248USD/month (which equates to about a quarter of the average teacher’s salary in South Africa), for the first time in a long time, money was not an issue for me.  It is absolutely amazing how one can stretch a paycheck when they are in the right mindset.  Knowing that I was a PCV, for the first year, I was content to eat very shabby meals in order to save.  Then after really getting to know the grocery store, I realized that with a just an ounce of planning, I could eat well and still save!  All of my clothes have lots of holes, which I never would have put up with in the states, but again, my label as PCV (and the fact that that is normal in the village) gave me the liberty to save what I might have spent on clothes for travel as well.  It also doesn’t hurt that in the developing world hostels and public transport is SUPER cheap.  So in two years I have visted Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia and all 9 of the SAfrican provinces, all for less than most of my friends make in a single month.  It’s certainly going to be a big readjustment when I have financial responsibilities and an American work schedule again!

4.     My learners: The good-bye to my beloved Nthabeleng was probably the most difficult of all of the good-byes.  Not knowing where she will go to high school or if I will ever see her again is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of my concerns for her.  She may have been my favourite, but she’s one of many of my students who were, at many times, the only reason I made it my full two years.  While some of the kids have adopted the entitled and marginalized (thanks Hardin!) mindsets of their parents, many really want to make something of their life and are willing to work for it.  I pushed my kids beyond their comfort zones and in the end, I think it was all for the best.  I could go on, but words just won’t suffice to explain the impression these kids have left on me.

5.     My new families: As I worte in an earlier blog entry, I never really wanted to be a mother until living in SA.  The Mosweu, Molema, and Mashopa families each lent me insight into different aspects of South African culture, and I learned different lessons from my time with each of them.  I learned not only about African family structure, but through my observations of them, I learned about American family life.  I formulated my own concept of family which will last with me for life and likely shape what kind of mother I will one day be.  I will miss them all terribly, but I look forward to keeping in touch with them and seeing where life takes them all.

So there you have it folks.  A summary of my time in SA in 10 [relatively] consice points.  I know I could have got emotional with this last entry, and to my romantic friends I apologize for not, but I’ve had enough emotions in the last month- hell, the last two years- to last me a life time.  So now, I sign out of this blog, and of Africa.  It’s time to “waka waka” somewhere new… like, say… America! 🙂

The Beginning of the End of an Era

Note to the reader: this is not the last entry and thus will not be the emotional re-cap of my service that I plan to write just prior to my departure.  Instead this is just a re-cap of recent events to fill all of you in who have started to ask what’s going on “this side.”

 

On the 19th of June, I left my village for the second to last time in order to travel to one of South Africa’s three capitals, Pretoria.  There I would meet the remaining 47 of the original 57 PCVs in my cohort, SA24, for our final in-country conference.  The COS (close of service) conference is designed to be a time for PCVs to re-group and reflect on all the accomplishments, struggles, and growth that they experienced over their two years of service.  It’s also meant to be a time to celebrate having made it… and celebrate, we did!  A colleague who had just returned from the States brought a softball and bat, and many innings of America’s favourite pastime brought lots of laughter.  A cohort-wide game of Assassins played with small water guns also kept the staff of the swanky hotel very amused (or maybe “annoyed” would be a better word).  Amidst the fun though, we did have an assortment of informative sessions.  A panel of RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) gave us great insight into life after Peace Corps and talked to us about opportunities to continue work in development both home and abroad.  There were necessary sessions about the paperwork we must file and procedures we must follow when leaving South Africa.  Then we had time to practice how we will answer the many questions that we’re bound to receive by all the people like you, my readers, when we arrive home.  Despite listening to lots of other people’s responses and having worked on my own original answers, please be ready for a lot of fumbling with my words when I return.  Life in Africa, especially in a village, is so complex and can never truly be related to anyone who has not experienced it, but I’m sure I’m going to want to try.  So please, be patient with me.  It could be a while till I break some of my funny African habits, but I’ve been assured that I will “normalize”… eventually (as if I was “normal” before I came here).

After the conference I had a minor medical procedure to deal with a funky virus that Africa generously gave me (it went well and I’m on the mend).  Then, for the last time,  myself and a few of my fellow PCVs piled into a tiny clown car and made it onto the left side of the road for one more tour of this fine country.  This time the destination was St. Lucia, a beach town on the Eastern coast in the KwaZulu-Natal province, close to the landlocked Kingdom of Swaziland.  One of our group had recently been relocated there and served as a great tour guide to this hippo and croc infested area.  Highlights of the trip included kayaking [perhaps too] close to these dangerous water-lovers, snorkeling in a tropical fish-populated reef, and taking a bush walk amidst loads of African wildlife.   Did I mention that a black rhino that was walking down the road peed on our car on the way to the Cape Vidal snorkeling spot?!  Yea, that happened.  TIA.

After our high-energy trip, I switched gears slightly as I made my final trip “home” to my training village to visit my first host family, the Mosweu.  As usual, my time with them was heavenly but too short.  It was such a joy to see how much my nieces and nephews have grown since I first arrived in SA.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to say good-bye to them yet, as they will come to Pretoria for a final dinner together when I am there doing my pre-departure medical appointments.  Still, my host parents got emotional as I gave them a parting gift (a Life Magazine coffee-table book called “Hidden America”) with the urge that they come to the States soon.  In Pretoria, I had to say a few good-byes to colleagues who have already now left, and let me just say, that I’m really looking forward to when all I have left to say is “hello!”

 

Now, I’m back in my village for my final week “at site.”  When I walked into school on Monday I was greeted with cries of “Miss Manning o ne o boa!”(“Miss M has returned!”).  I’ve spent the school days finishing up the final reports, and the afternoons going through all the stuff in my house deciding what will come back with me and what will be distributed to all those I’m leaving behind here.  Friday the principal of my school is arranging a Farewell Party which I’m sure will bring lots [more] tears, but will be a great way to close out my time at school.  This weekend I have two parties planned with my girls club and my church in nearby Kuruman.  Then, Monday will be spent moving my furniture back to my first host-family here and bringing my bags to town for my last night at our beloved Kuru-Kuru Guest House.  Then it’s some more heavy good-byes, and a bunch of administrative and medical appointments in Pretoria before I board a plane to Buenos Aires early on August 2nd.

So there you have it.  The end of my service as a United States Peace Corps (often pronounced “corpse” by the locals).  But before I close this entry, I have one last point to make.  Similar to parents who think their child is a mark above the rest, I’ve long said that my cohort has really been the most lekker of all the groups that have passed through this country.  At our conference, I finally got some corroboration of that idea from many of the PC staff who laid a myriad of accolades upon us.  Of our original class, 4 people were medically separated, 3 left on their own accord, and 3 were asked to leave due to some sticky circumstances.  While that might seem like a lot of people to loose, take under consideration the fact that PC-SA has long had one of the highest ET (early termination) rates and that the Education cohort that arrived a year after us has already lost 27 PCVs at their halfway mark.  To summarize, SA24 ROCKS and I’m soooo proud to be a part of this fine group of people.  Cheers to us! Can’t wait for our first reunion next May!!

Go siame distala!!!

“The can” … or in my case, “the bucket”

The loo, the throne, the pit, the shitter, the water closet, the long drop, the crapper, the privy, the latrine… so many words for one idea!

Back in my senior year of high school, I had a teacher (who will likely read this- Hi Ms. B!) who gave us the full class period every Friday to spend writing whatever we pleased. Often she would suggest writing prompts which we could chose to use or ignore. One week, she gave a unique suggestion that really sparked my interest. Six years later, I still often think about the three-page descriptive composition I wrote about that topic: A TOILET.

She had suggested that sometimes the best writing comes from extraordinary description of something commonplace. She suggested that write about every aspect of any toilet that had ever left an impression on us. I, of course, opted to write about une toilette that I had visited á Paris which was full of all the finest things and services that the French could drum up. Today, I’m going to attempt this assignment once more, but this time not only with the intent to stretch my lazy writing muscles, but also to inform all you whom read this and have wondered what the African crapper experience is really all about.

The word bathroom is seldom used in this country, at least not when it comes to needing to relieve oneself. Even in the nicer homes in town, the bathroom is often separate from the toilet (as is often the case in the homeland of this county’s colonizers). In the villages, the toilet is often separate from the house completely, and the “bathroom” is really just one’s bedroom or, in my case, my kitchen.

My fav toilet on the walk to school, strategically kept up by wires

My favorite toilet on the walk to school, strategically kept up by wires

My long drop toilet is really the Cadillac of outdoor facilities. Built by the government (one of the ANC’s many ploys to entice the poverty stricken masses to vote for them), my toilet has 3 prefabricated concrete walls, a concrete foundation and roof, and a nice sheet metal door that has a latch on both the outside and inside. Upon the delivery of this toilet, my amazingly caring host father deemed it “DINEO’S ONLY” and purchased a small combination lock that I hang on the outside to ensure my exclusive rights. This is great not only because less use equals less waste which equals less smelly- but it also allows me to leave a roll of toilet paper there, which otherwise would be gone instantly (TP is gold around here).

My beautiful toilet!

My beautiful toilet!

Once unlocked and opened up, I enter a spacious 1 by 1.5 meters cell, in the middle of which stands a plastic basin with lid that very much resembles the porcelain bowls with which most of you readers are familiar. On the left side is a plastic urinal which, when I sit on the can, is just above my right knee. Attached to the little basin is a tube that brings that liquid to the front part of the large pit that was dug underneath the building.

The nasty toilet at my school-yes that's carpeting on the seat

The nasty toilet at my school-yes that’s carpeting on the seat

Now here comes a quick little anatomy lesson that I likely never would have learned if not for my brilliantly engineered latrine: Generally, a woman’s urine flow projects forward when they are seated on a toilet. How did I learn this? Well when sitting on my plastic throne, all my urine is collected in a little plastic dish-like compartment in the front of the bowl, which has a tube that, like of the urinal, is drained to the front of my pit. Why, you ask? Well, as it turns out, fecal matter really only smells its worst when it’s moist. By separating the solids and the liquids, these crafty engineers have actually minimized the stink that latrines are so famed for!

Then above my toilet bowl, where the flushing mechanism would be on a modern toilet, there is a plastic container with a little turn spout hat I can fill with water and use to wash my hands post-pee. That liquid is caught in a little sink that also drains via a tube to the front part of my pit. Fancccccy, ne?

Now I am lucky in that my toilet stands only about 35 steps from my front door. Between my house and my throne is a clear path of the soft, deep red, sand-like dirt that covers my village (this is a huge improvement over the peril-laden path I had to take around an broken donkey cart at my former house). Regardless of it’s safe proximity though, responsible villagers often warn against going outside after dark. What’s more, in the winter, the Kalahari often dips below zero degrees at night! While plastic definitely does not get as cold as porcelain would, the draft that often blows up from the pit is reallyyyyy not enjoyable on one’s soft derriere!

Abby showing off her toilet

Abby showing off the pit latrine

Solution?

PEE BUCKET.

I remember thinking that I would never cave to using the “pitsana ya boithusetso” (pot of urine) as it’s called in Setswana. I had a rather traumatic welcome to my former home when my family offered me the same bucket to bathe in which they had offered me the night before to pee in. Between that mental scarring, and my love for the African night sky, I promised myself to take the challenge and always go out to my pit. …And then weeks turned to months and seasons turned from excruciatingly hot to unbearablely cold, and my staunch resolution dissolved, and now, like most other PCVs, my pee bucket has become something of a companion in my solitary little hut. Some homes have a specific hole dug somewhere on the outskirts of their yard in which the family all comes to empty their buckets in the morning. Others dump directly into their pit toilets. Some people choose to leave their chamber pot out on display in the day, while others tuck it under a table when it’s not in use. It’s really all just a matter of personal preference here.

Chris'  toilet

Chris’ toilet

So there you have it. That’s how I relieve myself when I am “pressed” (the English term they use here when you need to go). Attached you see pictures of a few of the many toilets that I have used here (most not as luxurious as my special can), and hopefully if you take nothing else from this entry, you’ll have a little more appreciation of that porcelain potty that you will undoubtedly use, and flush, later today.

Pee ya later! … I mean see ya!

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes… times two.

One of my favorite musicals, Rent, opens with a song titled, “Seasons of Love.” Throughout the song, the characters, who have dealt with a host of seriously challenging issues, have a discussion about how one can measure a year. They suggest measuring time with quantifiable things such as daylights, sunsets, midnights, and cups of coffee, but in the same verse they suggest that perhaps life is better described in immeasurable terms such as laughter and strife.

As I come to the end of my two years in the Peace Corps, I have begun to reflect and I have found myself also trying to quantify my service. For me two years has involved the teaching of 210 middle schoolers, the fetching of countless buckets of water, the reading of 25 books, the contraction of a handful of funky bacteria and viruses, hundreds of hours in public kombis, the missing of a good friend’s wedding, travel to all corners of Southern Africa, the death of a host family member, the joy of a successful camp, two Christmases and Thanksgivings away from my family… and the list goes on.

Eventually though, the Rent characters settle on the idea that life is best marked in terms of love. And let me just say that while the last 1,051,200 minutes of my life in South Africa have been, by far, the most challenging and at times heartbreaking, I have come to agree with the Mimi, Roger and co that it is the moments of love that best describe the passage of time. I have told many friends and blogged about my increased love of the United States, but it is more than my patriotic facility that has been expanded since coming here.

When I came to South Africa, I came expecting to make strong life long connections with locals. What I didn’t fully understand was how much I would come to LOVE some of them. As I write this entry on my laptop in my library, about twenty learners who have finished writing their exams, are scattered around me engaged in various activities I have set up. While I only know about half of their names (I’ve been bad with getting to know the new grade 7s), my heart is just so full of love for them. I have watched these particular kids grow so much in just the 6 months that they’ve been here and the fact that I am, at least partly, responsible for that creates such an amazing sensation in me. With the learners whom I’ve known for the full two years, that love is only deeper.

Then there is the fact that for a while in high school and all through university, I was hell-bent against the idea ever having my own children. Now, after two years of living with little host nieces and nephews who always greet me with a running start at the gate and whom I’ve both taught and disciplined and watch mature, I can’t help but hope that one day I’ll be blessed to be a mother.

What’s more, is after two years of observing the rather superficial and distanced form of friendship amongst the Tswanas, I have become exponentially more appreciative of the deep friendships I have with all of you back home.

So in this year of 6 seasons (because of my hemisphere-jump mid year, I will live summer, winter, fall, summer, winter, fall this year!), the over-arching season of love will undoubtedly be the one with the strongest effect. It will be so difficult to say good bye to those whom I have come to love here in Africa, but it will be so exciting to rejoin those whom I have love so much back in America.

Xoxo, Dineo

Post Script:
Many of you have asked me what my “plan” is for the next couple months. In attempts to save myself some typing on my little blackberry keypad, here is the rough outline in a week-by-week format:

10 June: Spending the week in my village tying up loose ends as my kids all write their final exams

17 June: Travel to Pretoria to help the trainers of the incoming class with language learning practices

24 June: Close of Service Conference!! At a nice hotel in Pretoria, Peace Corps will give sessions on how to be a real American again.

1-13 July: One last holiday! A few of my close friends and I will head down to the East Coast to hang at the beaches of St Lucia and the markets of Swaziland.

15 July: Go back to the village to pack up and say my good-byes there

24 July: Head toward Pretoria to visit/say good bye to my training host family and start the medical process in order to leave the country

2 August: Fly out of Johannesburg to go to Panama!

21 August: Fly from Panama to BOSTONNNNNN!

24 August: Mom’s planning a little welcome home party at her new place. Save the date friends! 🙂

Girls Leading Our World

 Camp.  When I think back upon the most influential experiences of my childhood, that four letter word is one of the first to come to mind.  Maude Eaton Girl Scout Camp, Field Hockey and Track Camp, Grotonwood and Oceanwood Christian Camps, Cape Cod Sea Camp, Vacation Bible Camp, Leadership Camp… both attending and then working at these camps (in conjunction with my parents, teachers and mentors) were hugely responsible for making me the person I am today. While I realize that I am probably a bit more camp-crazy than the average American, I think it’s fair to say that any American knows what’s involved in “a camp.”  The learners in Gasebonwe, however, had little to no clue what they were in for when they signed their permission slips for Camp G.L.O.W., but I’m happy to report that each and every one of them are now, at least partly, as camp-crazy as I.

 

Camp GLOWs have been put on by Peace Corps Volunteers around the world for many years now.  Thus we (my fellow PCV Lesedi and I who ran the camp) had some materials and ideas to work with when it came to planning our camp which was basically meant to educate young girls on everything from self-esteem to self-sex.  That said, both of us spent countless hours completing the application for a sizable grant from PEPFAR, finding a venue nearby and within our budget, creating sessions that suited the ages and needs of our girls, and attaining all the necessary supplies.  When all was said and done, the preparation and completion of this camp may make GLOW one of the most stress-inducing experiences of my life, but, at the same time, one of my biggest accomplishments in life thus far. 

 

Below I’ve attached the basic outline we created for the camp, and miraculously we managed to stick pretty close to the schedule.  From the minute the girls arrived at school with blankets and backpacks in hand on Thursday morning, to the minute we offloaded the last bag back in the village on Sunday afternoon, it was all smiles for everyone involved.  The total numbers came to 29 girls from grade 5-9, 4 Tswana ladies who cooked amazzzing meals with only 3 pots and a couple gas burners, and three Americans who led the sessions, activities, and games.  Lesedi and I brought girls and “ran” camp, while Omphile came as an extra chaperone/official “big kid” to play games with the girls when we needed to prep.  Our venue, the Boereplaas (a kind of camp/conference center in the nearby town of Vryburg- it’s name means “the farmer’s farm” in Afrikaans) turned out to be more than we ever could have hoped for.  The girls slept on foam mattresses on the floor of an sizable hall where we also set up tables for the meals and crafts and a projector screen with a horseshoe of chairs for the lessons.  The adults, THANK GOD, had private rooms adjacent to the hall with our own bathrooms and a bit of protection from the girls giggling after lights out.  Then on the other side of a the hall was an semi-enclosed area with our burners, fridges, and a small swimming pool. 

 

The closing surveys showed not only an enormous increase in knowledge about the topics discussed, but a real maturity in these girls.  Many listed the sessions as their favorite part of camp and all described the camp as life changing to me at our weekly meeting the next day.  I’d venture to guess that most “camp kids” like myself consider camp a life changing experience, but for the girls who camp to GLOW, I can only imagine what a true life-changer these four days were.  Most of my girls live in 1 or 2 room mud houses and have never used a flushing toilet, much less take a hot shower (we gave lesson on how to use both)!!  While in America, camp is usually the opportunity to “rough it,” but for these girls, for four days, they got a glimpse into life in the first world.  They finally began to understand what I mean when I say there is a BIG WORLD OUT THERE.  Several girls came to me and said that they’re going to work even harder in school so that one day she can see what else is out there.

 

As a result of careful planning and constant supervisions (both non-existant ideas in the village) and generally great girls, we had none of the expected bickering and complaining we had mentally prepared for with a bunch of pubescent girls.  Each adult pulled her fair share of the work and barring an unexpected jump in the pool (fully closed WITH my clogs on) to scoop out a girl who lost her footing on the bottom stair of the small pool, we had NO issues.  It truly was a beautiful event that ended with yet another mind-blow for the girls when they saw the first ever glow sticks and danced the night away while truly glowing.

 

So for all of you who helped either financially or prayerfully, THANK YOU.  GLOW will always remain one of my fondest African memories and I have many of you to thank.

 

Keep well and keep reading as I prepare to wrap up my service and head back to the Americas in less than 3 short months!!!!

 

 

 

Day 1:

9:00             Driver loads at my village

9:30            Arrive/load at Lesedi’s village

12:00             Arrive to Boereplaas

make/eat lunch

get settled, make cleaning teams

2:00             Make name tags

Name game and “Gettoknowyou” Bingo

Pre-camp survey

5:00             Dinner

6:30             Session 1: Self esteem/Career building

7:30             Human Web Game

8:00            Campfire, “doubt burning” activity, songs, s’mores!

9:00             Bed

 

Day 2:

7:30             Breakfast

8:30             Session 2:  Problem solving/saying NO

9:45             Game: Blindfolded Trust Tag

10:30             Session 3Nutrition

11:30             Lunch

12:30             Bead-construction/Tie dye

2:30             Session 4: Sex ed

3:30             Rest: “oh captain, my captain” game

5:30             Dinner

6:30             Session 5: Periods/menstruation cycle

7:30             Charades

8:30            Journal time

9:00             Movie:  The Princess and the Frog

 

Day 3

7:30             Breakfast

8:30             Session 6:  STIs/HIV

9:30             Tie dye/Bead-construction

10:30             Session 7: Relationship Abuse/Rape

11:30             Lunch

12:30             Jewelry Construction

2:30             Session 8: Contraception

3:30             Rest:

            Hang/Wash Shirts

            “Animal Kingdom” game

5:30             Dinner

6:30             “Freedom and Friendship” American Girl Doll Play

7:30             Dance with GLOW STICKS!

 

Day 4

7:30             Breakfast

8:30             Closing survey

9:00             Awards ceremony

9:30             Wrap Up/Clean up

10:00            Get on the bus and GO!

 

 

 

 

How being an ex-patriot has made me more patriotic

When I do my quarterly Volunteer Report Files, which require me to list and describe all the work I do here in the village, it becomes apparent that I have, in fact, contributed greatly to the community in which I live.   However, in general I feel that I have gained much more from being here than I have helped those whom I came to serve.  I could go on for days about the ways I have grown from my experiences here, but in light of recent events, I write today specifically about patriotism.

Patriotism is defined as “love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it.”  Well, as a kid I definitely had love of my country- I decorated my bike with flags every 4th of July and sang loudly about the “red wood forests and the gulf stream waters” at our Thanksgiving day concert.   Even in college, packed into a bedroom at the Boston Hyatt with friends watching as President Obama took the stage with his beautiful family with a tear in my eye, I thought “yup, I’m proud to be an American.”  But what had I ever sacrificed for the country I claimed to love?  What even was I willing to sacrifice if the opportunity arose?

Well, about 30 months ago I finally made the leap- applying to give two years of my life to spread the American dream and ideals internationally.  That surely is sacrifice, right?  Yes, my decision to join Peace Corps was partially because of my hope to live in francofone Africa and my love of studying culture, but the fact that I would be serving my country was on my radar somewhere.

… and then I arrive in the Northern Cape.  I met families who live 8 people in one room, with the nearest water tap half a kilometer away.  I’ve seen people dead on the side of the road and others nearly killed just a couple meters away from me.  I lived with people who steal the government issued grants from their own family members.  I’ve talked with parents who don’t want their kids to go to school so they can stay home and clean.  I’ve met with girls who would rather get impregnated to get social grant money than apply for a job.

Now, I don’t mean to say that I haven’t also experienced moments of great joy here; I’ve seen places that leave you breathless and I’ve met people whom I will forever admire.  This country has beauty abundant.  However, my appreciation of the ethics that make up the essence of American culture- our optimism, our emphasis on work and education, our unity despite difference- has become exponentially greater.  I’m proud to say that I now strive to share our culture with the fervor of someone truly willing to sacrifice.

It has not only been the comparison of experiences here to those at home, though, that have increased my sense of American pride.  The unique experience of viewing the USA from a removed setting has also leant me great insight into the greatness of our home.  It took some effort to find a TV in town last November that had CNN.  My fellow PCVs had to stay up until 6am in order to hear Romney finally concede and watch the peaceful acceptance of a second term for our president.  Then, in December, that unhinged boy decided to go and kill those innocent children, and my stomach turned and my eyes filled.  But as the days passed and my newsfeed continuously filled with stories of donations, vigils and help, my heart began to warm.

Then again on Monday night, my world stopped as a friend who I had been live chatting with at the race said she heard explosions from the finish line.  I was confused.  I was horrified knowing several people close to me were at the line.  I couldn’t believe that someone would do such a horrific think to such a pure event.  I couldn’t believe something like that would happen in MY city.  I couldn’t believe I wasn’t there.  But within minutes I was receiving messages of comfort and reassurance from my fellow Americans.  Reports of civilians helping the injured came.  Doctors were flooding in to the hospitals.  President Obama was swearing full support of the FBI.  And I realized, yet again, that whether you agree with the “melting pot” concept or are more of a “garden salad” believer, the American people are ONE people.  While there may be a few deranged and violent people, they are a negligible percentage of the whole.  From the outside looking in, it’s not the few that define the country but the masses, and the masses are something I’m willing to sacrifice for.

So, “thank you” to all you Americans reading; thank you for making America something to be proud of.  Famous American author Thomas Paine once wrote “these are the times that try men’s souls.  The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in the crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” So keep standing America.  Stand with Boston.  Stand with each other.  Stand proud of what you are and what you represent, because here, on the otherside of the globe, I’m certainly doing the same.

Updates from the Southern Hemisphere

Shoooooo! It’s been awhile my friends and I’m sorry for that! Thankfully, as of late, my silence can be equated to a lack of time, as opposed to a lack of anything positive to share. So for those of you still curious, here’s a brief recap on the last month.

Two weeks prior to the fall/Easter holidays, I began the giant library renovation project that I’ve been fundraising for. It was no easy task, but after two weekends, the help of 21 learners, 4 other PCVs and one HCN (host country national), the old rotting shelves were taken out, the new sleak shelves were put up, the table tops were finished and attached to old desk frames which all received a face lift with some paint, and old desk/benches were cut up and made into functional benches for the tables. Below I will try to add a few pictures of the messy, albeit fun, project. School just re-opened yesterday, which meant the re-opening of the library. I’m proud to say that the kids came in wide-eyed and excited, and in just two days, over 50 books have been taken out. To all of you who help financially- THANK YOU, and be on the lookout for a little something from South Africa in your mailbox sometime in the next month!

For the holidays, I was so blessed as to have more American visitors- this time, my aunt and cousin. We started our trip in Cape Town, where for the time I felt like I had a clue. It was fun to chauffeur and play tour guide to all the hot spots. Of course my favorite stop was the winelands, but climbing Table Mountain (as opposed to taking the Cable Car) was also a huge highlight. We also made it down the Cape of Good Hope where we were able to play with some penguins. We then traveled up and in to the country where we were able to feed and walk with elephants, ride ostriches and learn about monkeys. No trip to Africa is complete without at least a few glitches and a completely blown tire which was difficult to replace over the holiday weekend and a backpackers a bit below our anticipated standards filled that necessity, but as they’ll attest, the trip was fantastic- while perhaps a bit to short. ☺

And now, before a few pictures and my sign out, I’d like to share a little good news: A few months ago, I worked diligently with a co-PCV to write a PEPFAR grant in order to fund a girls empowerment/HIV prevention camp. Just last week R11,000 was desposited into my account. Here we go Kuruman Camp G.L.O.W (Girls Leading Our World)!!! Yayy!!

Okay- just fought with wordpress/SA internet and lost- no pictures: sorry!

xo

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