Living in a rural South African village doesn’t mean you have to miss a fun holiday. Let an expert on traveling ridiculous distances for arbitrary reasons give you some tips on celebrating Cinco de Mayo, Limpopo style:
The first time a camel spider (solifugae) runs into my room, circa September 2011:
I have no idea what it is. It’s only about 4cm long, but it has visible jaws and runs like Usain Bolt. As I am a huge baby about spiders, this easily exceeds my capacity for ‘dealing with it.’ I freak out and jump on my bed as it races along the wall.
I shriek something like: ”!!!!!! Ohhh my god ohhh no what is THAT? “Nononononono. GO AWAY. Oh my god I hate this I hate this.”
I throw my shoes at it and miss. It disappears. I cry a little bit, looking over my shoulder every 2 seconds. Eventually it reappears, I poison it (and myself) with Doom, then brain it multiple times with a shoe. I describe it on facebook as an “Ant-spider-should-not-be-a-real-insect-fast-running-probing-biting-thing-i-don’t-even-know-what-but-it-has-too-many-legs-and-pincers” before adding: “Are you kidding me, Africa? Is that necessary?”
It is traumatic. I am shaky for the rest of the night. Later I try to educate myself on them, thinking they could be harmless. I discover that they’re not dangerous to humans, but their bite can pierce human skin and it is painful. Also, they can run 10mph. I have at least once mefloquine-fueled hallucinatory nightmare about them.
A camel spider runs into my room for the nth time, circa April 2013:
It runs towards my bed and pauses. I look at it.
“Oh, f#@$ you,” I hear myself say, annoyed. “I will murder you, asshole.”
It runs under my dresser. I stop my movie, pick up a shoe. When it comes out of hiding, I annihilate it. Clean up mess and resume movie.
Haha! The difference extended time in rural Africa makes.
I was taking photos for a tournament that my soccer team held at Bungeni stadium yesterday when I realized that I never blogged about one of the more ridiculous experiences I’ve had in South Africa: the first tournament we ever played. Settle in, folks, it’s a long and silly story, so I’m gonna throw in some pictures from today’s event (which went way better than the first tournament, so the pictures are much nicer too.)
Now, my team gets together several times a week to play soccer, but we’re not serious at all. So I was surprised when the team registered for a tournament around 8am one Saturday. Would I play? Sure, why not? I assumed we’d be back by 2pm. (Insert PCV laugh track.)
Saturday came. I wore my sports clothes: a casual t-shirt and sports bra, knee-length gym shorts, and old sneakers. Grabbed a water bottle and sunscreen and found a tree to wait under while my teammates arrived. Most of my teammates play in their long skirts and miceka, but I thought informality would be okay. We’d be playing soccer, not meeting with a chief. Little did I know.
One player showed up driving a minibus taxi. Where did she get it? A mystery. By 10am, we had plenty of little kids tagging along but we were short on players, so we drove to the cemetery and waited outside for some ladies who were attending a funeral. Because that’s what you do in South Africa. Everyone’s streaming around us in somber funeral clothes, we’re carrying plastic vuvuzelas.
Funeral over, team assembled, we drove off into the bushveld. I’m talking serious bushveld here: just pure wilderness in every direction. I had no idea where the hell we were going. This wouldn’t faze me, except that no one else seemed to know either. We got lost several times. I’m riding shotgun just looking around like: GUYS. WHERE ARE WE.
We eventually roll into this random field with two pavilions full of people dressed in their finest traditional Venda and Tsonga clothing. There’s a table set up for a fancy event. Gospel music is playing, and I assume we’ve stumbled upon a church service that will shortly end. Noooope. This is our destination. This is the soccer tournament.
Now, I’m pretty shy. During moments like this, I sometimes instinctively start looking for an exit. Like, is there some Deus Ex Machina that can just pluck me out of this impending clusterfuck? Because I am not prepared. I know a lot of people join Peace Corps hoping for interesting life experiences. FYI, the way this happens: you get thrown into some ridiculous situation and there’s literally nothing you can do except deal with it. My tip for replicating this in America: Go on craigslist. Request someone kidnap you and bring you to a bewildering foreign cultural event. Make sure not to bring a phone, money, or car. There you go. Life experiences!
So, I’m not feeling prepared for whatever this is, but lacking any alternative I get out of the taxi and greet as many people as possible. If I greet people, they’ll like me, and they’ll give me friendly stares instead of unfriendly stares. Some ladies danced around to welcome us. Okay, cool. But no one looked dressed for soccer. I feel super underdressed, so when we all go sit on some grass mats, I strategically sit behind the bigger women in order to be slightly less conspicuous (impossible.)
After 30 minutes, a man stands up and makes a long speech in Tshivenda. I don’t speak any Tshivenda but for some stupid reason I tend to act like I can understand things that are going on even though I obviously don’t. I don’t like looking clueless even when I always am. So I’m just constantly imitating the people around me when they laugh or frown thoughtfully or whatever during public speeches. At the end the man switches to English and addresses me directly in front of everyone. He tells me that I should not be afraid because no one will hurt me. Which… okay, his concern for me was actually sweet, but it’s a little like when someone asks, “So when did you stop beating your wife?” I wanted to turn to the crowd (99% old lady) and be like: “… I didn’t think you would hurt me!”
He then passed out an agenda: 15 inscrutable items, not one of them seemed to mention soccer. There was some unhappy grumbling from my team. I made a few casual comments: “This is crazy! We should totally just leave. Haha, right? I mean, I’m kidding, but not really. Let’s go.” Unfortunately, everyone ignored my subtle hints and settled in for the long haul.
While another speech went on, some VIP-looking folks filed in. Men in Western clothing sat at the head table. Women in very fancy Tshivenda dress sat on grass mats in front of the table. Someone presented them with calabashes. I’m told these people are Venda royalty. Normally that might be really cool. In this circumstance I was increasingly thinking, “What is going on.”
Next, representatives of the local ANC show up. It becomes increasingly clear that this is some kind of ANC rally. Volunteers are strictly barred from engaging in any political activity, especially attending a political rally. Dun dun dun. I instantly stop imitating everyone around me – they’re all doing pro-ANC cheers at this point – and begin trying to psychically radiate the impression of politely interested detachment. Yes, I am in no way a part of this event that I’m currently attending! Just here on the ground, minding my own business, dunno where this political rally came from!
It was working fine, until the announcer gestured to me. “I’m told we have a visitor from America!” He said magnanimously. “Please come join us at the table!”
“Ha ha ha, hi everyone! Glad to be here! That’s really okay, you don’t need—“ I said as my teammates pushed me forward.
This is how I found myself sitting between representatives from the ANC and the Venda chieftaincy. Let’s review what everyone else is wearing: immaculate formalwear. Let’s review what I’m wearing: clothes you would paint a house in. South Africans are very particular about clothing, and I’m suddenly feeling very Lady Macbeth about all the bleach spots on my shorts. I don’t know Venda traditions very well, but at one point there was a guy standing up there with a literal scepter. And someone was speaking for him, from an unrolled scroll of paper. This was some seriously royal shit going down.
I clutched onto the only tradition I knew like a drowning woman being offered… I don’t know, some tradition that would stop her from drowning. In Venda, the most respectful greeting/gesture a woman can do involves lying down on the ground and clasping your hands like you’re miming going to sleep. I remember when our language tutors first showed us this, we were like: “What.” But now I was all about it. Since I was seated I just had to lean over and clasp my hands. Thank god I knew that and could do it with everyone else during appropriate times throughout the ceremony. I would have planked the whole time if I thought it’d help. Looking extra respectful of African tradition was the only thing working in my favor.
You see, during the ANC’s parts of the program, there were a lot of pauses during which you could jump up and cheer for them. It was like the State of the Union, that’s how many positive-reinforcement breaks there were. I clapped politely and tried to maintain my façade of impartiality, but since I was sitting at the head table, it was rather obvious that the only white person around wasn’t as enthusiastic as everyone else. Awkward.
“This is great,” I jovially tried to explain to my neighbor when he told me I should get up and dance the official ANC dances. “But I work for the American government! I can’t get involved in local politics! Shame, sorry!” He couldn’t hear me because of the loud music, and gave me a confused look. Meanwhile an ANC official held a camera one foot from my face, taking pictures of the Very Important Lady Sitting at the VIP Table Who Clearly Is Not Just Here to Play Soccer.
I suppose I could have just joined into the political dances, but I’m a stubborn ass and by this point, I was just SUPER grumpy. I know everyone meant well, but this just wasn’t how I planned to spend the day. So most of my energy was spent smiling politely and trying to figure out what was going on. Look – imagine you’re tricked into attending a rally for, say, the Republican Party. Or whatever. And you don’t speak English, but they remove you from your friends who are sometimes translating for you and make you sit on stage as an honor. And then they’re like: “dance monkey dance!” Um… no, I’m good.
In an awesome surprise, after a few more hours of speeches, someone brought out soccer jerseys and another team started playing. Soccer!!! I had given up all hope! Let’s DO this! It turned out S.O.P. is to change into jerseys there, so I definitely could have worn normal clothing. Oh me.
Let’s review: my team is for older women. I’m an aberration; the next youngest woman there that day was definitely twice my age. We barely even practice. Our opposing team? Hardcore 20-somethings who clearly practiced religiously. I may have been one of two people on our team who can run, but I am not fit. So I am hustling, because I love my teammates and want us to win, but it is painful. The other team was transparently mocking us. But it was fine, it was fun. I was playing really hard.
Review again: I only brought 1l of water. The boys from Bungeni sneakily drank all of it while we were busy being bored by speeches. It was summer. During halftime, I asked if anyone else brought water. I got blank looks. No one else brought any. There was no water anywhere. I began dying. Everyone thought I was crazy for being so parched and sweaty. White people are weird.
So, I peeled my sweaty self off the field and jog over to ask the crowd. I didn’t know anyone there, and they were all supremely amused at my existence. I couldn’t think of anything else but water. “Ni kombela mati? Does anyone have water? Seriously, I really need some. Please.” Blank stares. Everyone clearly thought I was an insane person. Finally some kind soul sent some kids to grab a glass of water from a nearby house. Drinking random water in Africa is a gamble, people, but I would have drunk that water even if it were 50% amoeba.
My team all worked really hard during the game, and we lost. MISERABLY. But instead of being upset we were all just giddy and happy. Endorphins? Dehydration? We ate big plates of food and took photos and bitched about how ridiculous the matchup was. It was a bonding moment. On the way back everyone on our team was just honking away on the vuvuzelas out the window like crazy people, which made kids cry, but who cares. We were just exhausted and happy to make noise. It was a blast. We got back sometime after sunset.
There you go. This is weirdly one of my fondest memories, but it is also a cautionary tale, dear readers. I learned an important lesson from this experience. It’s always good to bring extra water? Brush up on the neighboring tribe’s language? Noooo: Always dress as if you’re going to be the guest of honor for the local tribal authority or ruling political party, even when you’re about to play a soccer match.
I’m not very good at learning lessons.
When traveling abroad, Americans often struggle to understand the metric system. Kilometers! Celsius! Even after years, one may still find oneself wondering, “How hot is 37 degrees, again?” It can be difficult to internalize.
To simplify things for my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, I have developed a more intuitive temperature scale based on something everyone without running water knows intimately: buckets. For your elucidation, I present a Celsius to Fahrenheit to Bucket Bath conversion chart:
|Celsius (°C)||Fahrenheit (°F)||Bucket Baths (°B)|
|-4 – 6°C||25 – 42°F||0°B
(Your halfhearted attempts at occasionally getting clean can only be considered “bathing” if one is extraordinarily generous.)
|7 – 15°C||44 – 59°F||0.5°B
(1 daily bucket bath, 2 or more kettles of hot water.)
|16 – 21°C||61 – 69°F||0.75°B
(1 bath, 1.5 kettles of hot water.)
|22 – 30°C||71 – 86°F||1°B
(1 bath daily with 1 kettle hot water. The golden standard.)
|31 – 38°C||86 – 100°F||2°B
(2 baths a day; 1 standard, 1 cold.)
|39 – 45°C||102 – 113°F||3°B
(3 or more baths a day. Cold water only, if you can find it.)
|46 – 50°C||114 – 122°F||∞°B
(Spend much of the day pouring cold water over your head. Can it be considered bathing if you’re covered in sweat throughout?)
*Note that a “bucket bath” is a standard measurement that does not include the washing of one’s face or feet independently of the rest of one’s body.
South Africa is a beautiful country. Really beautiful. Sure, in some places you have to ignore the egregious litter everywhere, but whatever. Alan Paton still wrote a novel titled, “Ah, but your Land is Beautiful.” Good enough for me.
But if you Google “South Africa is beautiful”, do you get pictures of Namaqualand? The sunset over the lowveld? Jacarandas? The Drakensbergs? The wild coast? Bungeni village? Nope. You get pictures of the Cape. Because even in a country of beautiful places, it is just that darn pretty.
I spent about a week in Cape Town during our school holiday at the end of March. It was really, really nice. Peace Corps is such a weird existence: you live in a place that’s home and isn’t, where you fit in and don’t, where you’re comfortable and not. It’s refreshing to go somewhere and just feel like yourself again. Nothing to see here, just your typical boring 20-something childless shower-taking college-educated career girl. Look at me, speaking English! Oh la la.
So in lieu of doing a ton of tourist stuff, I spent most afternoons sharing mixed drinks and curly fries with friends on the balcony of our favorite local bar in the city bowl. We couldn’t get over the crowd. Everyone there seemed like someone we would love to talk to. Everyone there was hanging out with friends from different races, which is a welcome and yet still uncommon sight in a lot of South Africa. It was fantastic.
One great touristy thing we did was visit the winelands. South Africa has great wine, and it comes from right around Cape Town, so you’d be a fool not to check that out. We spent two nights in Stellenbosch, a posh college town full of beautiful Cape Dutch architecture. We booked a full-day tour and ended up visiting four vineyards. It was the first true wine tasting tour I’d ever done, even though I lived in France for 5 months, and I loved it. Maybe if I did that sort of thing more often, I’d know more about wine. But then I’d be ruined for no-name supermarket box wine, so. Maybe I’ll wait till after I’m making more than a Peace Corps salary.
We also saw a lot of these adorable little dudes just hanging around in the bushes near one of the vineyards:
The other reason for the trip was to attend a job interview. Well, pseudo job interview. I’m hoping to extend for a third-year in the Peace Corps, working with a non-profit organization down in the mother city. So I went to go discuss my application with said org. It went really well! There are still details to iron out, so I’ll hold off posting more here, but it looks like I may be spending a year in Cape Town. (!) I’m super excited, and I’m going to make a compelling case for all you readers to come visit me there. Here you go:
I rest my case.
Anyway, eventually it was time to head back to Bungeni. Some stuff went down in my absence.
Good news: the mall in Elim finally opened after over 2 years of construction. Never thought I’d see the day. We now have not one but two KFCs and a knock-off KFC. And I have eaten at all of them. For science. In America I never much liked malls, but I’m pretty pleased about this one. It provided a ton of jobs and I hope some local cashflow, it centralized the taxis into one spot (they used to be spread all over the place), and it makes Elim a much easier/more legitimate place for grocery shopping. When you don’t have a car, your priorities certainly change.
Bad news: my counterpart for Grassroot Soccer suddenly moved to Johannesburg for a yearlong internship. Surprise! I mean, it’s not bad news. I’m really happy for him – there’s not a great future for bright young people in the village – but at the same time, it’s depressing when your good counterparts move away. Which they do a lot; braindrain is a problem here. I still want to do another GRS intervention, but now I have to reassess and figure out how to make that work. It really sinks much of the motivation I had left.
The thing is, I really like life here. Since I’ve been back I’ve attended a wedding, hung out a lot with Vutomi and my host family, caught up with my favorite teachers, tried some new recipes, enjoyed beautiful weather, and played a ton of soccer with my women’s team. Life is good. But my motivation for work is flagging.
I have a few good work-related things to look forward to: more work on the library and mural, a 12th-grader I just started tutoring, the school garden. Hopefully I’ll get to help train the new class of volunteers. But really, by now the things I’m going to accomplish in Bungeni have mostly been accomplished. I’m content with how some of my projects turned out, less so with others, but either way everything is quickly winding down and I feel like I’m treading water a bit.
Maybe it’s just a phase. It’s always hard to return after being away. You know Catholic guilt? I have the Peace Corps equivalent: a voice that says, “If only you ___________, you’d be a better volunteer!” Usually that blank says “traveled less.” I can’t help but worry that traveling frequently negatively impacts my relationship with the community. But I also don’t regret taking the opportunity to see more of the world, even if the readjustment is rough. I guess everything has its trade-offs.
Either way, to mitigate this guilt, I stayed in Bungeni during the first week of vacation. Can’t say I feel significantly more integrated for having done so. Though I did get to see my host family brew up a giant barrel of umquombothi, aka traditional beer. Behold in all its pre-fermented glory:
Cape Wine, it ain’t. ;)
Really, though, South Africa is a dangerous place to have wanderlust. Do you see those pictures of Cape Town? My gosh. Travel’s super cheap and relatively simple, if one has the time. The whole country’s beautiful, and there are other awesome countries a day’s drive away. Every three months the schools close for one to four weeks. (Again, making the case for you to come visit me, dear reader.) I feel like I really lucked out getting sent here, even if it can be hard to focus sometimes.
Honestly, South Africa’s basically an enabler for people who enjoy travel. Ah, but your land is sneaky.
Back in July 2011, I posted a list of everything I was bringing to Peace Corps South Africa. Let’s look back for a second and note that I prominently packed a lunch box and mega-set of colored pencils. Clearly I prepared for the Peace Corps as if I were going away to my first day of kindergarden.
Recently, I was contacted by a few volunteers from the cohort that will be arriving in July. “I came across your original packing list,” one wrote, “and I was wondering if you ever made another one once you discovered exactly what you need?”
This is a good but difficult question. What have I discovered that I need? Well, my most beloved possessions are probably my blender, my bathrobe, and a particularly nice bucket that I bought at the general store. I also have acquired a lot of comfy pillows. Not helpful. Volunteers of the future, allow me to get back into the early-days, survival-mode, “shopping at REI for iodine tablets” mindset. Okay.
First of all, don’t worry too much about buying specific “Peace Corps” clothing. Here is how people (kids) dress in South Africa during mid-Autumn:
Pretty much like in the USA, right? Yeah, basically. So I’ll post my clothing suggestions to give you an idea of what is useful to bring, but it’s just like the States in that everyone has their own style. Some women wear traditional Tsonga dress. Some 20-somethings wear jeggings and spagetti-straps. Respected women in the community usually wear long skirts and cover their hair. The nearest white farmers may be barefoot and wearing jorts. (I kid because I love, Afrikaners!) Peace Corps will expect business casual during training. Whatever, you’ll find a balance that makes you feel comfortable.
Also note that you can find anything here. Don’t worry about packing for “2 years” – if you can do without something for 4-6 weeks, don’t stress about bringing it.
So this list is obviously aimed at women. My tip for guys: bring much nicer clothes than you’re expecting. Sorry dudes. Without further ado:
|Category||What I Would Pack||Commentary|
|Luggage||One large wheeling suitcase. One backpacking bag. A smaller backpack/shoulder bag of some kind.||A backpacking bag (like the kind you hike with) is extremely useful. It’s best if it can more-or-less fit in your lap. You’ll also want something for daily use.|
|Tops||A few casual t-shirts. 5 simple cotton tops/blouses. 1 – 2 cardigans. 1 – 2 nice shirts for hanging out/vacation/going out.||I would bring clothes you already own. You’ll probably buy some new stuff here either way, so you may want to save your money.Weather-wise, layering is the name of the game. Temperatures can vary a lot within a single day. Granted, I live in the hottest part of the country. I don’t wear many sweaters or long-sleeved shirts, but some people do.|
|Bottoms||3 skirts. 1 pair of light capris (good for playing sports in the village – a little unusual dress but no one seriously minds). Jeans. Gym shorts. Sweatpants. 1 – 2 pairs of slacks for work.||I wear a lot of skirts here. Most hit below the knee; those that fall at/above the knee are considered immature/girlish. My normal outfit is a skirt and cotton t-shirt. Plenty of female PCVs wear more capris/pants.|
|Outerwear||A light fleece, a windbreaker.||Could also throw in a hoodie if that’s your thing. I live in my fleeces during the winter.|
|Underwear||2 pairs leggings, some socks, a pair fuzzy socks for winter, a tanktop, 2 weeks worth of underwear/bras/sports bras.||I brought some long underwear but haven’t worn it since my pre-service training, when I would sleep in it because it was so cold at night. Your call.|
|Other||A dress. A swimsuit.||For swearing in and vacations! Think ahead, people!|
|Shoes||Chacos, flip-flops, sneakers, nice-looking flats of some kind, boots (or other durable close-toed nice-looking shoe)||Your shoes will take a beating. Bring some that are DURABLE. I wear my chacos everywhere even though they’re ugly, because they don’t fall apart. Many PCVs have mary-jane style crocs.When packing canvas shoes, remember that the dirt here is red. Red dust + black shoes = uggo.
Shoes that you can shine are awesome. Shiny shoes will make you popular.
|Med kit||Throw together a few mini samples of painkillers, tums, toilet paper, moist wipes, and Band-Aids. Pack hand sanitizer and a nail kit. Bring a pumice stone or something similar: your feet will get messed up.||Good for those first days before you get your government-assigned medkit. Also: pack everything in zip-locks. You can’t have too many zip-locks bags.|
|Toiletries||A 1-2 month supply of toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, soap, soap holder, shampoo, hair junk, deodorant, face wash, razors, a brush, hair cutting scissors (depending)||Unless you need a specific brand, you can easily find stuff in SA. Don’t go overboard here. Throw in a few of those fillable travel bottles too.|
|Makeup||Bring it.||I know you’re joining the Peace Corps, and it may sound improbable but you’ll want to look pretty sometimes. I would also recommend including things to make you feel nice, like small bottles of nice lotions, nail polish, whatever.|
|Accessories||Hair things (bobby pins, bandanas, headbands), 1 belt, 2 scarves, 2 pairs glasses, sunglasses, money belt, jewelry, wallet, knit winter hat, mittens, a small umbrella, passport cover.||Women are often expected to cover their head/hair when visiting the chief or at certain religious ceremonies – thus the scarves are important.I don’t use a money belt that often, but when I do I’m glad it exists.
It’s really easy to find all of this here, honestly.
|Household Things||1 set flat sheets and a pillowcase||Some people bring two, but mine always dry so quickly on the line that I don’t actually see the need to have multiple sets.|
|Tools||Some duct tape, multi-tool, batteries, sewing kit, glasses kit, paracord, sticky wall hooks, a carabiner or two||Useful.|
|Adventurey Stuff||Headlamp/flashlight, quick dry towel, 2 waterbottles, luggage locks, earplugs|
|Food stuff||You might want to pack some nuts/jerky/energy bars as a snack. Or some water flavoring packets. Or some American candy to pull out when you want to make friends during training :) Or some taco seasoning or other seasoning packets. May want to include a travel mug, if that’s your thing.||You can bring a French press, but they’re super easy to buy here so I wouldn’t bother. You can also find ground coffee at most grocery stores.Don’t go overboard on this stuff. It’s easy for people to mail you anyway.|
|Camping||Sleeping bag and liner||I use my sleeping bag a lot, but they are bulky – so if you’re low on space, you can leave it out.I bought a tent here that I used pretty often. You could bring one, but they are easy to buy here.|
|Office supplies||A small pencil case with a few pencils, a sharpener, pens, scotch tape, note cards, a highlighter, and maybe some colored pencils. One notebook. A folder. Can bring stickers for your future classes.||A planner and address book are also useful but not totally necessary.|
|Electronics||A laptop and headphones. At least one external hard drive. 2 small USB flash drives. A digital camera. A kindle. An iPod (if you use it a lot.) An unlocked smart phone (IF you have one; many PCVs buy them here.)||Many volunteers who didn’t have a kindle ended up bringing one – it’s nice to have so much reading material on hand. The harddrive is great for backing stuff up AND getting lots of media from friends. Speaking of which: portable headphones are great at parties.|
|Fun||Playing cards. A photo album. Postcards from your hometown. A journal. A novel. Whatever supplies you need for your favorite hobby. Things to do with kids: UNO, embroidery floss, Frisbee, temporary tattoos, whatever.||Toys for kids are great, but I had hours of fun with my host family kids just drawing on a blank piece of paper with some pencils.|
|Gift for host family||–||When you get here, just take pictures with your family, get them printed, stick them in a frame. This makes an awesome gift.|
We graduated our first group of 27 Skillz learners on Monday! The programme they completed was designed by a non-profit called Grassroot Soccer to educate young people about HIV/AIDS in an accessible way. This video explains what the programme is like:
We only had a week to plan the graduation, so I originally envisioned an informal little ceremony. But everyone at the school wanted a big traditional event, and was willing to help. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Peace Corps, it’s that you should never look into your pit latrine at night with a flashlight when people are enthusiastic about something, run with it.
It ended up being a very successful group effort! We invited parents, and the kids and educators pooled money so we could afford a big lunch. Some educators bought the food and cooked. Others arranged the room. One DJ’ed the event, another took photos while I was handing out certificates. One gave a speech. One organized her afterschool dance team to perform some kwaito and xibelani. None of these people had previously been very involved in the lessons, so it was nice to see them take such an interest. Meanwhile, Miehleketo coached the kids who prepared a skit, and prepped the two learners we had chosen to speak and help run the event. We made one hundred little AIDS awareness pins. It was great.
Peace Corps volunteers are happiest when we become obsolete, and someone else is carrying on the work we care about.
Maybe this graduation seems like it was a little unnecessarily elaborate. RATIONALE:
(a) The learners were good about attendance – sometimes staying after-school three or four days a week – and we wanted to reward them and give them a chance to show off what they had learned.
(b) We wanted to make a space for conversation between parents and children about HIV/AIDS, and raise awareness at the school in general.
(c) Miehleketo and I are doing a second Skillz intervention next term and we’re hoping that, having seen the reward they’ll get for attending enough practices, the new group will be even more motivated to participate.
(d) People here love these kinds of events so throwing one turned out to be a great way to get the educators emotionally involved in the programme.
(e) It was an excuse to have a big delicious lunch. This is actually the most important reason.
Overall I was really happy with it. There were hiccups, but it was great just being part of a group effort.
It’s funny: in the past, I was never very good about working in groups. Especially during college, I just tended to do all the work myself. I was totally that kid. Partly because I didn’t know how to delegate, partly because I didn’t understand why this was an important skill to develop, perhaps partly because I thought there was some virtue in completing something alone, and partly because asking for help is difficult. Something I’ve learned here is how to mentally entertain myself during a four-hour long church service in another language the importance of teamwork. I know this was something everyone else learned back in elementary school. Don’t judge, wena. We’re all still learners in some way.
In the meantime, schools have closed for what-I-can’t-stop-calling-spring-break-even-though-it’s-autumn-here. I’m working on another map mural for the first week of break, then heading to Cape Town (!) with friends for the second. So hopefully next term I’ll have an update on Grassroot Soccer: Take 2, World Map: Take 2, and Cape Town: Take 2. Will I learn anything new? Will I just repeat my past experiences like some kind of especially dim lab rat? Stay tuned.