Go reng mo bathong??? Gangsta Setswana speak for “what’s shakin’ people” : )
I had a wonderful time at home over Christmas. It was everything I was hoping it’d be, all the buildup in my head didn’t disappoint. I love Gainesville, I love my family, I love my friends. I love my house and driving and grocery stores and indoor plumbing and cold water that comes out of the fridge door and understanding subtle cultural cues and lots of other little and big things. I felt myself immediately sink right back into the flow of things. Visiting in April prepared me for this longer visit. I had a better idea of what to expect and much less culture shock, which meant I didn’t burst into tears when I walked into our house for the first time like in April. Instead, on the first night back I marched right into the shower with a smile on my face and washed Africa and the 36 hours of travel off me, put on my most comfortable PJs, sat down on the couch with a cup of tea and talked with my parents until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Stuff like that is all I need to be completely content. It was a whole month of comfort—straight chilling, using the fireplace at all possible moments, delicious dinners, lots of cups of tea and coffee, Laura and I posting up covered in blankets watching Downton Abbey, trying to get Ryan to drink more alcohol (kidding…), bonfires, bike rides, dancing, so many great nights with good friends. In November my parents told the four of us not to make plans December 20-24th and not to ask questions. My covert Nancy Drew skills failed me, a cruise to Mexico was a surprise up til the end. We went scuba diving right off the coast and it was SWEET. Hanging with all the awesome people I know was so good. Time and distance haven’t and won’t change a thing, an extremely comforting thought. I know that isn’t always the case which makes me appreciate my friends all the more. On the flight back I had a twelve hour layover at Heathrow so I left the airport and spent the day anonymously roaming around the National Gallery art museum in the center of London. It was interesting to experience basically the height of western civilization, surrounded by Van Goghs and Monets, knowing that in a few hours I’d be at the opposite end of that spectrum. I stopped by Buckingham Palace and put in my resume to be the royal baby’s nanny. Still waiting to hear back. Word on the street is Prince Harry is coming to SA and Lesotho at the end of February so my new goal in life is to meet him. I’m calling it “mission: seduce the prince.” Ill keep you posted on my progress.
I’m going to try to describe my current state of being without sounding like a lunatic, no promises. It is so F***ING hot. The heat is overpowering otherworldly consuming dominating me. I got back to site in the middle of January after five solid days of travel, nursing a 102 degree fever. My fever coincided with the two hottest days I’ve ever had the privilege to live through, temperatures were clocked in a nearby town in the Northern Cape at 120 degrees. I couldn’t cool down, my internal temperature was off already and my body couldn’t regulate itself. In the middle of the night I was having panicked thoughts about my organs overheating. Delirious much? I felt trapped knowing there was no escape from the heat for miles in all directions, not even in the middle of the night. My room doubles as an oven with its total lack of insulation and tin roof, so even when it starts to cool down late at night, it’s still a good five or ten degrees hotter inside. I’ve had trouble sleeping many nights of the past month (which is a technique they should consider implementing at Guantanamo) sweating through my sheets and clothes, and having even weirder dreams than usual. Once I got over being sick I was in a better mental state to man up and deal with it. I’m hoping that the worst is over now that the height of summer is behind me. I knew coming back to the village after a month of perfect comfort would be difficult, but the transition completely knocked me on my ass anyway. The only thing to do is put one foot in front of the other until the fall weather starts to set in. Until then I’ll be daydreaming about my ideal scenario: getting out of a hot shower in a cool room and climbing into crisp clean sheets for a good night’s sleep. How GOOD does that sound?!?
Thanks for letting me get that out of my system. I always try to put my experience into context whenever I’m going through a hard time. I’ve become an expert at thinking myself out of whatever is weighing me down, which isn’t too difficult when everyone else’s problems are so apparent. I spend a lot of my time in my room, it’s a tiny oasis of American real estate in the Kalahari desert. Mere feet away from me someone is hungry or sick, someone is getting hit or abused, children are pregnant with children, and a whole bunch of other things I try not to imagine. Because of my close proximity to these things I’ve learned to compartmentalize, and when I’m in my room I block out everything outside of those four walls a lot of the time. It’s a defense mechanism, if I let myself internalize all of it all the time I’d go insane. But living here inevitably offers some perspective. My biggest problem is the heat?? Shoo, my host parents have lived through seventy-five summers. The kids I teach will most likely spend their entire lives in this village, all their days dictated by the rain, wind and sun. I’m not trying to assert that being hungry or poor are the only legitimate problems out there, definitely not. I get caught up in my own head everyday all the time (see previous paragraph), just that it helps to put things into perspective when I’m having a rough time. These two years can feel like a lifetime, but they’ll be a distant memory for much much longer. I will probably live on this continent again but Africa isn’t my fate. I get to leave in a couple months, to go back to the States, to my high standards of hygiene and living, to go to graduate school, to get a job, to travel, to have a family, to live in peace and comfort. Why I am lucky enough to expect these things, because of where and to whom I was born, makes no sense to me.
Transport is a big part of my experience in PC but I don’t think I’ve really touched on it that much. There used to be a bus (like a school bus type vehicle) that left my village at 6:30 AM everyday. It was consistent for the most part and the bus driver was a nice and reliable man. When the strike started in June last year, it stopped running because other buses had been burned in the area. There were also lots of threats by bakkie drivers. Bakkies are smaller pick-up truck like vehicles with a flat bed in the back and usually a cover. They’re ancient and a few short miles away from breaking down. The one I usually catch a ride with needs to touch wires together by the steering wheel to get the engine to start. I thought when the strike was over the bus would come back, but the bakkie drivers demanded 4,000 rand from the bus company to compensate for the money they’d lose. So the bus said nope, not dealing with you guys. Since last June I’ve had to either hitch at the edge of the village or call one of the bakkie drivers I know. It’s against PC rules to hitch or ride in bakkies, but I talked about my situation with the admin staff, reiterating how much I didn’t want to have to change sites, and they were cool with it. Every other week I do this to buy my food with upwards of eighteen people squeezed in with me, sardines have nothing on that. To give you an idea: the driver is driving so fast on a terrible “road”, men are drinking beer and spilling it everywhere, old women are snorting tobacco (this is a particularly unique visual), babies are crying and wetting themselves, tiny toddlers are drinking copious amounts of coca cola, everyone smells bad, food packages are breaking and spilling all over my stuff, everyone is yelling over one another, and refusing to open a window because they think fresh air will give them tuberculosis, I am contorted in a cramped weird position, just waiting for a tire to blow, for the driver to lose control, for us to break down. There are moments when I wish I could take a picture because it’s too ridiculous to believe. The whole thing from start to finish takes about 10 hours, waiting around is a huge part of it. The uncertainty of who will pick me up, how long it will take, and the general unsafety stresses me out every time I’m gearing myself up for a ride. Butttt TIA, it is what it is. I know that if (when) I live to tell the tale, I’ll have some crazy stories and an insane appreciation for efficient public transportation and driving myself whenever and wherever I want to go.
The new school year began January 16th. I got to go up a grade with my students which I was reallllyyy happy about, so I’m teaching the same kids I was last year. It’s a good deal because they’re used to my teaching style and we’re all used to each other, so the beginning of the term started off fine. I set up a school-wide picture day last week which turned out great! Like I mentioned before, no one has pictures of themselves and everyone wants them, so this seemed like a solid and simple project to tackle. The cost of printing a photo in town is five rand (about 75 cents) which is what I charged for each picture. Eighty students brought five rand, I was shocked it was so many. The day I took the photos every kid was soo excited and rowdy. Their emotional reactions were the equivalent of taking a trip to Disney World. I’m planning to do it again before I leave because the response was so good. Camp GLOW planning is taking up lots of time too. Thank you to all the wonderful and generous people who donated on the Fundrazr site!!! I am immensely grateful. Our grants were approved which was a great feeling, but it’s going to cost more than we were given to pull it off. If you’re interested in donating here’s the site: Camp GLOW I will be sure to take a ton of pictures and explain how things go in depth so everyone will know what their money was used for. We are still finalizing the specific sessions and layout of each day and in a couple weeks we’ll go to town and buy a boatload of supplies and food. I’ve never planned anything like this before, it’s awesome but also overwhelming to think that this many girls will depend on us to be fed, taught, taken care of, and entertained.
I had an awesome time with friends in town on my birthday weekend. At the end I felt much more rejuvenated and ready to take on the week. I brought back solo cups from the States so we had an extensive beer pong tournament which made us feel collegiate and American and happy. The owner of the guesthouse I always stay at in town (who I loveeee) took us to this amazing sinkhole/canyon place not so far from Kuruman. I had no idea it existed. It was on a game reserve so we saw lots of animals, the Northern Cape was exceptionally beautiful that day. We had a BBQ and the water to ourselves. The medical staff has told us one million times not to swim in any water of any kind so we dont get schisto and other friendly parasites, but we’re at the point in our service where that stuff doesn’t scare us as much as it used to. Sometimes, like the parent of a child, you gotta just let your immune system go out into the world and try new and potentially dangerous things. We were joking how worse comes to worst we get a paid for extended trip to Pretoria out of it to see the doctor. Haha, so far everything seems all good. It was so worth it, the water was cold and refreshing and it’s a memory I’ve been reverting back to a lot. Speaking of birthdays, I asked the kids in my class the date of theirs a while back so I could record them in my calendar and make them feel a little special on their day. Maybe a quarter of my kids didn’t know the date, which made me sad. I told them to pick a random date and we’d celebrate then. One of my girls’ actual birthday was February 7th so I brought her some chocolate and wished her happy birthday. When I handed it to her, her face changed and I realized she hadn’t remembered it was her birthday until that moment late in the day. I know Tswana culture doesn’t place much emphasis on the individual, but come onnnn, a kid can have a birthday.
I heard back from two grad school programs in December--accepted to Tufts and the University of Denver! I wasn’t expecting early answers but it’s nice to know I have a plan no matter what. I’m most interested in hearing back from other schools so by April I’ll know the real deal. Tufts and Denver have been sending me emails from deans and alums trying to get me to commit, my favorite of which was an email inviting me to an alumni dinner in Cape Town in a couple days… OH YEAH let me get in my car and drive to Cape Town for the night. Syke. I find it prettyyy funny that they think I’m a person worthy of their attention, if they could only see me in my sorry state of sweat and grime they might reconsider. Another pcv friend had a phone interview with UNC recently and she was like “I’m nervous! I just took a bucket bath and put on nicer clothes, I feel like they can tell how dirty I am through the phone.” Haha. I’ve been applying to scholarships so hopefully that comes to something. I want to do my best to make a smart decision factoring in lots of things, but money has to be a priority. It’s almost too easy to say I’ll be 90,000 dollars in debt and just figure it out, but that won’t be so easy when I’m paying it back every month for the rest of my existence. Money is dangerously abstract when you have none. Whatever happens, I’m pumped. It’ll be so nice to stay up late reading and hang out in libraries and meet new people and explore a new place.
Other little things: I booked my flight to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro at the end of March!!! awwyeahh, an adventure awaits. I brought Starbucks instant coffee and Trader Joe’s chai tea latte mix back with me, best purchases ever. I’m rationing them but when I enjoy a cup I can practically feel the caffeine rush through my veins and it never fails to put me in a good mood. When the occasional coveted afternoon rain comes, I’m as happy as Tom Hanks in Castaway when he finally makes a fire. I’ve read some good books lately, the book count is getting higher. On the day of the inauguration my parents called me unexpectedly and put the phone up to the speakers so I could hear Obama take the oath and give his speech in real time. It was special to be part of that moment. South Africa just finished hosting the African Cup of Nations which has been going on the past month, like the African “EuroCup” equivalent. Nigeria pulled it out in the end but Burkina Faso’s cinderella-like rise to the final was fun to watch. Peace Corps announced recently that UF has the most undergrad and grad volunteers of any university in the country. GO Gators!!! My host parents are finally being given back their land 100 kilometers away that was forcibly taken from them in 1977 during Apartheid. They were forced to relocate as part of a government mandated land redistribution program which took land with better soil and lucrative resources from the blacks and gave it to white farmers without any warning or compensation. Only took the government 36 years to get its act together. The meeting where the community members got to choose between monetary compensation or having their actual land back took place in our yard last week. I watched it happen, talk about history.
Here’s to an awesome 2013! I have a feeling it’s gonna be a good one.