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.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The 'Dark Ages'

Luckily I have an amazing support network- most of us PCVs learned quickly not to rely on our counterparts or Peace Corps- but each other. I have several fellow PCV who I know I can always say something as simple as “he’s such an ass” or “just cried on public transport, again” and they will know exactly what and who I am talking about and how to make me feel better. I also know how big of a deal it is when another volunteer BBMs me royally pissed off because her markers are missing, there is a creche in her house, or someone f’d up a row of the garden. Because when you are having a bad month just stubbing a tow can spiral into a full melt down. 

And that is what I was having. A bad f’n month…which led to another…

It happens to most volunteers at least once in service, my friend recently referred to a couple months of my service as “the dark time”- I can laugh at it now because I feel like I have done a 180 and loving life. Peace Corps has this thing called the “Volunteer Life Cycle,” which I think is silly- but it tells us when we are supposed to be happy and when we are supposed to be miserable. My emotions and productivity have not really correlated to what they predict and considering I changed sites half way through my service I think my brain/cycle was extra screwed up. 

When talking to a fellow PCV who also had a long run of bad days prior to my dark time I tried figuring out what it was that caused mine, got me through it, and got me out of it. As I mentioned before, other volunteers were a key aspect. I share my shopping town with one other volunteer who I can say without hesitation has been one of the best influences I have had in South Africa and also my life. He is not only great because I get zero harassment in town when I am with him (sure, we’re married…) or because we can cuss like well traveled sailors and have a couple beers on a Tuesday afternoon before facing the taxi rank again, but he is also great because he is a friend. It is incredibly helpful for both of us to be able to talk about village life face to face- and more importantly non village life face to face… It sucked I had to move sites, and sucks that the new site is actually more problematic than the last- but the silver lining is I now have Sean as a shopping town mate, great mentor and friend. 

So where was I going with this? Oh right, dealing with crappiness and what helps. Keeping busy and not lying in bed watching a whole TV series in a weekend is one place to start and another for me is working out. Being busy with training and my kids was at times stressful but definitely helped me enjoy site. However, if I only worked out and worked I don’t think I would be feeling this great. I cannot stress enough how lucky I am to be a part of this Peace Corps community, I have made such amazing friends from different walks of life. Some of the people I consider my best friends range from a 24 year old fresh out of college male to a 70 year old woman- with a huge range in between. I love that I talk to a woman who is older than my mother (I suppose could be my grandmother) as a friend. No reservations, just real talk. 

My Peace Corps family has helped in ways that I could never actually explain. It is an unconditional love, support, and understanding that would normally come from years of close friendship. We were all thrown in this weird alternate reality where we saw each other at our worst before we saw the best. We literally all had horrible diarrhea the first full day in country, it was an ice breaker- we cried, we laughed, we freaked out- we were a little crazy...

It seems like after I would get past one challenge another one would slap me in the- so it was my friends who gave me the courage, confidence, and strength to slap back. Whether in Peace Corps with a less than perfect situation or in the states, bad days happen, bad months and sometimes years happen. I think the difference might be that in PC it is pretty much guaranteed. I am so grateful for my PC family- SA23 and my friends from the other group, this really has been the hardest but most amazing experience of my life. And I love SA23!!!!

Condoms with Gogos and a Slip N Slide

September and October were insane, I went back to the USA and had amazing family time, got back to RSA for a week long camp GLOW, then went to the city for a committee meeting where I gladly retired from being chair of the Diversity Committee to only have to take on the role two weeks later when both the new chair and secretary left early from Peace Corps to go home. Then November rolled around, I was ecstatic for the election and denying my birthday. The South African Postal System went on strike, so I was out of two of my medicines as they are sent from the Peace Corps office. I figured I could handle some of the discomfort and the ones I was out of I can live without- I thought toughing it out was the PC thing to do. When I started putting more energy into Community Health Worker trainings and I was getting back to my normal site pattern I got sick. Apparently consistent vomiting, blood where it shouldn’t be, and not being able to eat was cause for concern. 


All of a sudden I had to leave site (again), my supervisor was not at all sympathetic and I felt not only sick but incredibly guilty for leaving my GLOW girls and the community health workers (zero guilt leaving my sup he can type CV’s on his own). 

The PC officer was pretty sure I either had Schistosomiasis or ulcers, either way I had to go to the city. I self diagnosed myself with ulcers, I’ve had GERD since age 10 and with my meds screwed up it was the obvious culprit. After a couple poo and blood tests the med officer ruled out Schisto- so I was treated for ulcers. After about 10 days I could keep food down and was on my way back to site. Yay! 

At this point my countdown for holiday and for being done with Peace Corps was in the front of my mind. Time was flying and I had to make sure to make the most of everyday, even if I had little motivation or will for the org (primary project) and just wanted to work with my kids- I knew I needed to at least try AGAIN at doing something meaningful with the NGO. I continued doing CHW (community health worker) trainings that I had been doing weekly, focusing on HIV and basic health care. I started doing the trainings because they asked me to, and there was an obvious need. Randomly the project manager demanded I train them every day, at first I thought maybe this was a good sign? Was he suddenly interested in the well-being of our clients and wanted to make this a legitimate organization? Awoa!! NOPE! My silly optimism tricked me once again, he wanted to punish the CHWs because he knew they weren’t working all day and I had a sneaky suspicion he wanted to punish me because as other projects of mine grew I had less time to sit and be his secretary. After several painful conversations it was clear that I would not 1)do these trainings daily (for a lot of reasons) and 2)I would not do them by myself (although I was predicting that is exactly what would happen).

I made a schedule of what I would be able to do and explained how and when I would need help. I enjoy the CHWs and I enjoy facilitating these trainings, I was not angry I had to do them, I was angry at the lack of support from the people who are supposed to be my counterparts and the fact that I was their punishment.
It is frightening how little many of the caregivers knew about HIV and frustrating that I had to beg the managers to help me translate -to only have them walk away a quarter through my training to go back inside to watch movies on the new laptop. I was pissed at the fact this is supposed to be my primary project, but as my anger wore off I started having fun. These frustrations were not new nor were they a surprise, but still legitimate frustrations. The Gogos (old women) and I would laugh, talk about sex, laugh, talk about the weather, laugh at my attempts at Sotho, dance, laugh at me dancing, talk more about sex, abuse, alcoholism, and HIV, and laugh more. Sex talks are always educational, prevention/transmission of STIs/HIV or biology- it’s not like we are talking about sex like we’re at brunch after a walk of shame or something - just clerifying.
So there I was, punishing the CHWs because they don’t work all day (does anyone?) and trying to catch up on several trainings I canceled because I was on medical hold while also continuing with my other projects. That countdown to holiday was also ticking away and my guilt for leaving for a month was getting the best of me. I decided to do trainings 4 days per week and meet with my GLOW girls officially (structured lessons) twice a week and unofficially once per week. I was busy, but happy. 

Then I bought a large sheet of plastic I use as a Slip n Slide. SJO!!! I am lucky to have a running tap in our yard so I figure I might as well beat the heat with some fun. As the kids were running around and I was sweating like a hooker in church- I got the plastic out. I put some dish soap on it and they kids began to stare are me like the crazy lekgowa I am. I dumped some water on the plastic, took a few leaps back, ran and dove on the plastic. I flew past the kids not stopping when the 4 metres of plastic stopped….and ended up in the mud. GAME ON!!!!! Before I could rinse the soap out of my eyes Surprise and Boy Boy were in their underwear playing. Within ten minutes the yard was full of children screaming and running around. It was, hands down, the best purchase I have made at site. Better than a kettle or wet wipes- seriously!
The next couple weeks were beyond crazy- but great. I was obsessed with a workout competition amongst a group of my friends so was working out regularly, training going as well as possible, GLOW continuing strong (despite exams at school), and having a blast with the kids. Since school was pretty much done I didn’t have to harp on them about homework, we could just play in the water and make jewelry! The best!
The day before I was to leave for SA 23s Close of Service Conference I had a party for my GLOW girls- then opened it up to all the neighbor kids. It was an amazing day with tons of beads, dancing, slip n sliding, pizza, cold drink, and some small gifts. I was very happy to leave for the conference then off on holiday on such a high note. Although I did get a little choked up saying bye, which shows what a mess I am going to be when I say bye for good-but I’m not thinking about that right now! It was an amazing end of the year and now I am back at site trying to stay as busy and productive before my final departure in 6 weeks!