I am finally ready and able to update you on my Peace Corps adventure in South Africa. I have made it through the initial phases of staging, pre-service training and swearing in. I have been from Atlanta to Philadelphia to New York to Johannesburg. Since being in country I have already stayed in three places, but thankfully I am finally settled at my site in central KwaZulu Natal in a community of rural villages in the mountains where I will be serving for the next two years. I am learning to adapt to the new communication streams in South Africa. Some things are the same, most people have cell phones, and some things are different, internet is not always easy to come and can be slow. I have been using email when I can and also WhatsApp to stay connected with some of my family and friends. It uses data for messages and calls so it is an affordable option while I am living on my stipend.
As on any adventure, time has been moving sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly. My cohort of 33 has been adjusting and transitioning to our new lives. While in pre-service training we lived with host families for 10 weeks to learn more about daily living and culture while taking language lessons and listening to lectures. One trainee came up against some medical challenges and has returned to family and friends in America and is serving at risk youth. At swearing in we transitioned from trainees to volunteers. Our sites are scattered in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal, some close to another while others are long rides apart. We are settling into our villages, finding new routines and integrating into our communities. We will each find ways to serve the people and needs where we are placed. Each is on their own unique journey with its challenges and rewards.
Some of the leaps of courage I have already witnessed:
- Families taking in strangers from another country and culture, sight unseen. We were given a room, meals and share precious resources of electricity, food and water. We were welcomed into the community and referred to as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. They were volunteers like us.
- My host mother, Hellen, worked her life commuting to work by bus in Pretoria, 90 minutes each way often leaving before sunrise. She and her neighbors work hard for all that they have. They take the time to support each other through weddings and funerals and daily life in between. She found the energy to be a member of the White Horse Women’s Group, a group for ladies over 60 that stays young by performing cultural dances. Every evening she built a small fire in the backyard to warm the water for our bucket baths, as her home has no water heater or indoor plumbing.
- My host community didn’t have delivery trucks to bring water to their homes for a few weeks and there was no rainwater to collect, so people had to fill jugs and buckets at central standpipes and carry them home. I could see and feel the impact the vital resource had on the residents. The increased time and energy put into moving water; men and women, young and old working together. One resident with a troubled look on his face spoke on the impact the missed deliveries were having. “Children will miss school. Our gardens will dry up. My wife is home with our new baby and she is worried.”
- I have visited a few schools and spoken with some of the students and education volunteers who have come to South Africa to help teach English and support teachers. We even did a small workshop in our host community’s secondary (high) school. The windows may be missing or broken, the desks and books old. The students walk to school along dirt roads in their uniforms. Many depend on school lunch as their main or only meal. Despite all these challenges, they are eager to learn all they can including physics, chemistry and calculus, most without a computer or calculator, hoping they can pass their matric (graduation exams) and go to university. Of the 100 that start school, 48 make it through to matric, 36 pass, and 14 qualify for university. Daunting odds.
- I have an increased awareness of the strength and resilience of those back home. Of course life goes along just fine without me, but I have already heard a few leaps of courage from those I have temporarily left behind and I continue to feel proud and supported. Some were unintended leaps such as fighting cancer, dealing with a death, or replacing a totaled car while others were purposeful leaps such as job resignations, home purchases or remodeling. All were done with varying levels of confidence and fear, but all have landed and are moving forward. I hope we can all continue to encourage each other for leaps small and large.
That’s all for now. I will try to post more frequently and update you on the next chapters.