This is not a paper I would turn into grad school that was proofread, spell checked, and cared about but never or barely read. This is a blog that people will actually read but not grade. I write like I think and talk, which is not organized or correct in many ways. I was diagnosed with chronic sarcasm as a child, its genetic.

The views expressed on this website are entirely my own and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mac & Cheese, Marula beer, & a passed out Gogo

This post was written in several different days, I tried making it a semi linear train of thought while tying together several different points but I think instead it’s just a whole lot of words not really hitting any nail of the head, but whatever I hit something.

It’s been about 13 months since leaving the states, and there is no better reminder of how far SA23 has come than meeting the new group of CHOP volunteers, SA25. I spent the second week of their training facilitating sessions, then went back for the second half of week three. It was enjoyable meeting them, as well as having the dynamic of having me, who is about half way through service, along with two other volunteers who are about to COS (close of service) mingle with the group who has only been in country a couple of weeks. The two 21’s there are two wonderful volunteers who I have met before and admire as well as consider friends. They have done great work and have great advice. After being here for over two years and having departure dates ready I can’t imagine being in their shoes- seeing everything come full circle with going back to PST and answering all of the questions that would seem a concern from years past. Hearing complaints that now just don’t matter, and the culture shocks that are now the norm. I was able to look back and realize I have come a long way from PST one year ago, but recognize I certainly don’t know it all. I enjoyed the enthusiasm of the 25’s with rose coloured sunglasses, and the attitude/advice of the 21’s making me realize I need to take advantage of the fact I still have a whole year left at a new site with potential, even if before I thought I only have a year left.

I also appreciate all of the awesome supplies I got from one of the PCVs COSing- score!

I still really can’t get my head around that it has been this long. Sometimes I wake up and I feel like it was just two days ago I was packing (well, pretending to pack) in my parents living room and working part time at a gym, and just a day ago it was PST and I was trying to figure out who would be my close friends and hating wearing long skirts. 

Other days I wake up and I feel like I have been in this country forever, and I hear someone else I care about is pregnant, getting married, divorced, sick, graduating, or living the same day to day I used to think is normal but that all just seems so foreign. My sense of time is possibly more warped than my digestive system. Not really sure how I got here, ‘here’ having more meanings than I can really put in words. 

‘Here’ is not horrible, it’s not great, it just…is. 

It is a place where a normal day might consist of locking my door and sitting in a bucket bath while watching a whole season of an American television show I would normally show little interest- I might feel completely lost and incompetent- I might have a baby on my back while drinking Marula beer with Gogo’s out of hallowed butternut- I might play Frisbee with kids- I might actually do some work at the organization- or I might just sit online and stalk friends and family and try and think what to blog about to try and impress the masses. 
This week was a weird mix of all of the above and more.  I said goodbye to my original community and hello to a new home. I cried and went through all of the ways maybe things could have been different, plenty of ‘what ifs’ and regrets. More tears were shed than my own and I wasn’t really sure how to handle that. 

Then, I arrived to Makhushane, a large village outside of Phalaborwa. The ride from Mokopane was about four plus hours and I learned that when people say Phalaborwa is hot, well, they mean it. I was received with a very warm welcome, something I never really had at my last site and my first couple days let some of that excitement I was trying to be cautious about creep up. Sometimes I wish I could put those rose coloured sunglasses back on, the ones that allow us to think service would be full of smiles and make a huge happy impact in no time with grace and confidence, but I guess it is good I recognize some immediate and potential problems and I can handle them. Is this new ‘home’ perfect, hell no- but if I thought anything would or could be, I would be delusional. It has great potential and I am excited. 

I hate and love that I am starting over. I hate being the new kid in the hood. I hate the laughs when I greet is Sepedi and the demands of greeting if I do not. I hate and love meeting all of these new people. I appreciate that I have been taken in and am being carted around to meet important figures and to a funeral, but i just wish it all happened a year ago and I was already in the groove. However, the opportunity for a second chance is something I am trying to embrace. The same stress I get that no one knows who I am, and I do not know anyone- I will try and use to my advantage and try not to completely sabotage. I guess that is the beauty of changing sites during the scheduled ‘mid service slump’. Ha.

So, today. After going to meet an Induna and two local police officers, and making an appointment to meet the chief my community ‘escort’ (sister? Friend? I dunno) finally took me back home where I climbed back into bed. I enjoyed finishing season two of glee and drinking a lot of warm (hot) water and eating a sleeve of 5 rand lemon crème biscuits and several apples. I worked up the nerve/energy to start using the frig is the main house so I finally had cold water around the time I talked myself into cooking a proper meal for the first time in a while (4 days?). 

I am crashing the pad of the PCV who has been here the past two years and will be leaving in about a month. She is at SA25’S PST so I have full range of her kitchen. By kitchen I mean the corner of the room, so I went wild. I raided her food and used some Kraft mac & cheese powder. Holy moly, wonderful. I made myself some mac & cheese with green beans in it, with a side of canned baked beans. Talk about an American meal and a digestive disaster. I indulged in an amount my former health conscience self would have not approved of and drank my nalgene of cold water in no time. As I sat down to continue this blog of word vomit some of the kids came to get me. Apparently knocking (ie saying ‘gogo' before entering) doesn’t happen and they almost kicked over my chamber pot, sorry for not sorry kids. Well, it was time for me to go drink Marula beer with the old folks, and I am not one to argue against that. I walked across the street and joined the circle of family members, conveniently right next to a super drunk Gogo who wanted to test my Afrikaans. As I got the first ladle (hallowed butternut) of Marula beer I smiled and drank it in one chug, as that is what is expected. By number three I was wishing I didn’t finish that Nalgene of water right before, and by number five I was regretting that wonderful mac & cheese. An hour and a half later, one Gogo passed out on the ground, 6 ladles of Marula, and one baby pee stain on my leg I went back to my room with a bowl of weird fruit and a watermelon.  My walk back led to a sprint to the latrine, which I am getting rather good at these days. Then I got a call from a caregiver from my old site, just seeing how I was and to tell me that they miss me, making me miss Mokopane- also making me blink and get the reoccurring feelings of ‘is this real life’ and the time loss come back.

**Side Note Marula is a fruit which the locals make a traditional beer when it is in season. Fun Fact: all the the Marula that makes Amarula (the crème liquor) in SA is exported from the area where I live! Yowzers! They do something with it here in northern Limpopo then it goes to Cape town, then I dunno really know what happens, and all of that might be BS but I believe it. There is a lot of Marula here **

As much as I was enjoying bouncing back and forth from wallowing in my own self pitty to huge joy and excitement of getting to start over and a new site I have to realize I need to try and accept what this crazy boring confusing exciting life is. Hold on and let go, try and work hard and just chill. And when in doubt, just dance it out.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Soooo long, Mokopane. Stay dirty.

Well Hello Blogity blog blog. 

Waste of a year or lesson learned? Well, I am an optimist (and would never admit PC being a waste) so I guess I will vote for the latter. Lesson learned. But what lesson did I learn? Life isn’t fair? Some people suck? Shit happens? I hope that wasn’t the point. 

So what had happened waaaas… but I think this tale will be like a movie ‘based’ on a true story, no I won’t have someone much more attractive play me and make it more dramatic with a spin to make me look good… but the PC version will only tell you what well, is PC.

It is no secret the organization I was assigned to as my primary project was not rainbows and butterflies. It was a very low functioning org (most PCV orgs are) with little work ethic and little interest in improving. So, why would they apply for a PCV? We are supposed to make the org function better and train people, in turn, making people have to actually do their jobs. Ah, there is the rub, the part where they are supposed to work. Well, my ‘counterparts’ were not shy at telling me they did not want to work. Oh great, this will be fun.
We all come to Peace Corps with expectations, PC warned us to ‘not have expectations’ but I think that is stupid. We have to have expectations, of ourselves, of others, of work, living situations, we are human- we just do. After getting in country I began to understand why they want us to have no expectations, because we would have to lower them. Well, I did, and I did it with a smile and set realistic goals when I arrived at my site at the end of March, 2011. 

So, what happened? Why am I no longer working with the org? Why did I have to leave the community, even though I had established work with the schools and clinic?

Well, I was threatening. 

Around October/November the Risk Management of South Africa along with Dept of health, and Dept of social development began an investigation looking into allegations of fraud and embezzlement. Around this time was a noticeable change in attitude with the managers, now not only did they not want to work but they were, well, mean. The project manager suspended a caregiver who she thought might have called the department, management was purposefully hiding things from me and the best part this all coincided with a campaign I just started. Sweet. 

I had been in regular contact with my APCD (pretty much my PC supervisor) for months, she knew about the problems with the org and the general attitude of my counterparts. After every meeting or discussion I had with her it usually ended with me saying “but it’s ok, ill be fine.” It would be far too much to go into what exactly happened at the org and what people said, but my APCD and I decided it would be best if I started working at the clinic. I established a relationship with them, and it was agreed I would work there a couple days a week doing health education and plan campaigns (yay, what I actually want to do!). After pulling teeth at the org I had three small projects to do there, it would take maybe 2-3 days a week there to complete them in a ‘sustainable’ manor. 

I tried to go over my schedule with the management, and well, they flipped their shit. All of a sudden I was on the defense and tried my best to explain why I do not need to spend every day there. First of all, I am a community volunteer, so, I work for the community. I also had almost nothing to do at the org, and after a year of trying to find things to do with little results it was obvious I needed to branch out more. 

Cut to a couple days later and Kori comes to my site. She met with the management, and I was glad she came. I was optimistic about the meeting and thought we would get some things clear and maybe set a schedule and work plan. I of course I felt like I could do this with the org by myself, but it was past that point. I knew my org wasn’t thrilled with my plans of working so closely with the clinic, but I really didn’t think anything was seriously wrong. After sitting outside of the office where Kori was meeting with the managers for an hour a half I began to worry. What were they talking about? What possible could they have to talk about?

Well, they were explaining to Kori how I am horrible and  they want me to leave.

Pretty much the deal is, they think I was involved in reporting them to the department, and now they were getting in trouble and wanted me to leave. It was of course not said that plainly, they first wanted to paint a horrible picture of me. They told Kori some pretty horrible lies about me, which I later had to sit through accusations and try and defend myself. Luckily for me, Kori knows me and some of the accusations were so ridiculous it was easy to see they were lying. The two best parts were 1) the reason they think I was involved in reporting them is because a letter was written to the department in English, so it was obviously me (REALLY?) and 2) they would say these things to me, and asked Kori to not tell me certain things they said (mainly the part about me turning them in) but after it was clear I was not going back to the org she spilled the beans.

This led to me fearing my PC future and questioning, well, everything. The first thoughts that went through my head were leaving the clinic, girls club, and host family. Then I immediately thought about projects I had planned with a volunteer near me- then of course the horrible worry about what PC staff will now think of me.

Just like any situation I have been reflecting on what was said, and everything I have done the last year. Was I too pushy with them? Am I mean? Intimidating? Culturally insensitive? What if I had done something different? Did I fail?

Well, I had to answer all of those questions to head PC staff, which was tons of fun. It is no secret I sometimes care a little toooooo much about what others (especially authority) think of me, but how do I prove I am not a bad person? Shouldn’t they have to prove the accusation? Innocent until proven guilty? Well, I recognize the PC staff has a job to do, and they need to make sure I am not a horrible person and even though at one point I felt as though I was not being supported by PC- I am still here- so I guess overall it is understood that the org had a claim that was false which led to many other false claims.

Oh yea, and NO I did NOT write the letter or ever talk to department.

So I headed to Pretoria, then I went off to facilitate some lessons to SA25 PST (the new group who is training now), and two weeks later it is today and I am back at site. I should be packing right now, but that does not at all sound appealing. The GREAT news is, I ALREADY have a new site!!! This must be one of the fastest turn overs for PCSA, two PCVs just left Pretoria after two months of living at the backpackers because they needed a site change! I am very lucky that this crappy situation happened when it did and VERY thankful to a couple PCVs who pretty much pushed for me to get this site. 

I am taking over a site outside of Phalaborwa in Limpopo, this area is described as “the surface of the sun” by a fellow PCV who lives near there, but I don’t care. I am STOKED! It is currently the site of a PCV who is finishing up her two years there, and although she is not done she thought I would be a great fit so she did me a favour and talked to Peace Corps. There are still a lot of logistics to work out, but I think I will be moving later this week and we will be there together for a little while (couple weeks? Days? I don’t know) then she will move. I am sad to leave certain things, not only the things I listed previously but also the three PCVs near me and our Saturday castle dates and the friend, Leah, who is a missionary who works around here. But bottom line, this site is crap and I need to get out. I don’t know too much about my new site but from what I have heard it sounds wonderful, as in, there is a functioning board of directors.

I am also very grateful of all of my friends and family, I have a wonderful support network that I am able to cry/yell/laugh with them. It is also really amazing how much I rely on my fellow PCVs, although we have not been together that long I have found such amazing people and would have probably freaked out (even more) if I didn’t have friends telling me I am not a horrible person and I will get another site. We have a lot of time in our heads here in Peace Corps and it is a great to learn and grow, but sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. I am still reflecting on what happened and trying to figure out why and making sure I make the best of it. 

I haven’t told anyone is the community, but I am sure the past two weeks the project manager has said something, and I am sure I was not talked about it the best light. Tomorrow I will go into the org and clinic, pack up my stuff and say my goodbyes. Really not sure what I am going to say, should I give my side of the story to the caregivers I work with or just let it go? Should I tell management exactly what I think of them or just bite my tongue? And I am REALLY not looking forward to talking to my host family, that won’t be fun. And I can’t help but think how unfair it is I get to leave and go to a new site, but the caregivers at the org have to stay and all the of the plans for the kids for the next year are just, not going to happen. 

So again, I wonder what this past year really was all about. Oh the emotions.