Thursday, April 29, 2010

Clearly, I haven't exactly been embracing the idea of a blog just yet. It's very existence continues to slip my mind BUT the ever so brilliant sister of mine thought I should post the positive moments I have each day, of which I've already been sharing with a few people, to the world. So from now on you will get a daily post of my high for the day but here's the month's back log. I wrote some things in parentheses for clarification but all in all these were my thoughts the day of unedited.

4/5: Today I have two small things. I went for a long walk with the four year old I live with and it was really nice to get some fresh air. (I'm awaiting approval on my morning run by my supervisor who's been at a training all last week so in the meantime I have a very intimidating preschooler as my escort).

Anyway, to be honest today was kind of an emotional day for me. I tried to step back and assess exactly why that was and I couldn't really pinpoint a specific thing. I imagine it has something to do with being stripped from everything I've always known and plopped in a foreign land with little to no legitimate support system. With that said, I was walking back from buying air time (for my cell phone) from the lovely go go (grandmother in Zulu) next door who happens to be bff's with my go go and after holding back tears all day I just couldn't stop the flood gates any longer. So when I got back home I saw there was a woman in my go go's kitchen so I went inside (it hadn't yet gotten to the no breathing snot bubble kind of cry) and she was so excited to see me. She then used up an embarrassing amount of air time to let her daughter speak to a real live American. After she left, my go go decided it was far too late for me to start cooking (it was 6:45) so she insisted I eat something with her. And I just felt really loved. So I left with warm fuzzies all over the place.

4/6: I feel SO much better today which leads me to my positive moment: I really had a rough couple of days with absolutely no perspective on the bigger picture so when I woke up today feeling worlds better (who knows why) I thought, "hey, maybe I really can do this." I then had visions of Destiny's Child's Survivor music video and I thought I could definitely be the fourth (or fifth depending on the year) member of the group crawling out of the ocean in tattered army fatigues. Anyway, to top it off I saw Melinka (a Peace Corps Volunteer just finishing her 2 year service) in my shopping town and she's a wonderful cheerleader.

4/7: After some awkward miscommunication with my supervisor yesterday I had a really productive day today and asked about half of the staff members four appreciative inquiry questions in Zulu. And my supervisor is INCREDIBLY motivated and a really hard worker which got my wheels spinning in over drive, hooray! Oh and I baked an absolutely amazing chocolate cake.

So in an effort of full disclosure, my supervisor proceeded to show me all of the organization's files, most of which had a handful of monthly entries for at least three years time. Meanwhile, as she's digging around for the next barely used, incredibly dusty binder to impress me with, she's shoving stacks and stacks of paperwork back down into the drawers and doing full body slams to try to close them again. Speaking of, one of those lovely file cabinets is soon to be my obligatory wardrobe which she seemingly missed the memo on, how very innovative.

She was away at a training all last week and needless to say, when the cat's away the mice will play. We literally worked for maybe four hours a day, all of which comprised of vegetating in front of the television and drinking absurd amounts of tea. Anyway, apparently one of my co workers must have discussed my (our) lack of production last week and my concerned supervisor insisted I give her a detailed weekly work plan from now on. Outside, the rest of the employees were drinking tea and watching The Bold and the Beautiful.

So after a series of miscomunications with my supervisor yesterday, she opened up about feeling overwhelmed that not only is there (clearly) not a person she trusts to put in charge in her absence but she's pulling far more than her fair share of the work load to the point where it's hard to tell what anybody but her really does there (okay that last part is a personal opinion). She's an incredibly motivated, hard working woman that has tried to delegate time and again and when she goes to follow up, things never seem to get done.

I really enjoy the people I work with, they might be complacent bordering on apathetic, but they're good people that care, so there's definitely hope. Okay this is now getting embarrasing, I'm going to just end here with the closing thought insisting that I really do love my site, I swear.

4/8: I'm sorry I'm so exhausted and my laptop is being so painfully slow I'm ready to chuck it out the window. So my positive moment is more positive fallout from my appreciative inquiry questions. It seems that the staff at my organization are almost begging to be led, they just have no direction right now, but they want to work. They've come up with a lot of incredibily feasible ideas without any prodding from yours truly yay! Two separate employees hoped to oneday see a HIV/TB hospice center. I was thinking about that so much today I literally gave myself a headache haha. Oh and I almost forgot, a woman with her three kids stopped by and after we talked for a while she said she's HIV+ and I could tell she's really involved in the community, I think she'll be a great asset.

4/9: I love this system especially when I can't quite remember why I left everyone I love to live with a bunch of strangers who can barely speak my language and don't understand my culture. Anyway, so my positive moment would definitely have to be seeing my go go's face when her son walked through the gate today. So he usually comes home once a year for Easter but he didn't this year because a few days before the holidays his taxi got hijacked in Johannesburg and they also stole his money and cell phone. He called a relative in my village (my go go also doesn't have a cell phone) to relay the message to my go go that he has absolutely no money and basically is depressed. She sent him her pension check (basically South Africa's version of Social Security) to come home. She said, "I'm so poor, no food, no TV, no radio, but my son has come home, I don't need money." She just warmed my heart when I saw how she was just gushing over him.

4/10: Just when I was feeling a little down (I have too much time to think) the pastor from one of the churches knocked on my door and took me to a musical practice. He speaks amazing English and we had a really great conversation on the way there (we drove in a real car!) about teenage pregnancy, the taboo of HIV, unemployment etc. It was nice to have a stimulating conversation that involved some critical thinking skills haha.

4/11: My positive moment was really how busy I was, the day went by very quickly but I was also able to take an hour or so to read which was a perfect combo

4/12: I met Leah and Angie for lunch which was impeccably timed because the bugs that took a short reprieve are back in full force and I literally thought I was going to go crazy yesterday. I did another bug bomb so that should keep them at bay until Victor (Peace Corps's Medical Doctor) sends some supposed miracle chemical in a few weeks. Another high would definitely be that I surprised my go go with a cake and taped balloons everywhere for her birthday which was on March 25th. She forgot it was her birthday which is why her party was delayed as well. She started crying (and I'm not talking one tear trickling down the cheek) saying she's going to die when I leave...the high part was her excitement over the surprise not her co-dependency issues...

4/13: So my water source is actually quite a hike away and isn't always on (more like is NEVER on when I'm completely and totally out of water) so needless to say I can't remember the last time I bathed, no I'm not kidding. My positive moment is that my go go paid her 28 year old son to get her water with me and as he's manuevering the wheelbarrow through the obstacle course back home my lone bucket falls and all but the last two inches of water splashes everywhere. And like some groveling beggar I insist on my host brother tipping the wheelbarrow, that has two other full buckets in it, for the water that is now brown with dirt with sticks floating at the top. That gave me about another two inches. My positive moment is that I used my trusty Brita to filter out the grossness and gave myself a bath, hooray! Hey, beggars can't be choosers haha. As an aside, last night as I'm washing my face I literally cut myself from a stick in my water so much that I have a lovely little scrape which matches nicely with my soon to be infected wound from broken glass on my toe haha. I actually had an incredibly productive day today, mainly I think, because I flew solo. I went to meet the ward counselor (literally for the third time) (somewhat like a mayor) then hit up the municipality and the clinic where they were also doing an immunization drive which I proceeded to invite myself to.

4/14: I came back to my organization after a community meeting that was somewhat of a bust to several people with their heads down and one who made a bed out of chairs to get extra comfy. So after an amazing start with my supervisor it seems as though we're having some pretty serious miscommunication issues as of late. I called her last night about what time the meeting was and she just said she would pick me up, when I asked if it was in the morning or afternoon she answered with, "I don't know." So of course the two men that said they were coming to install my burglar bars on three other specific occassions randomly show up ready to work and literally five minutes later my supervisor yells for me from the path saying we're late we have to go. I now have two extremely underemployed guys in their 20s alone in my room, ironically to put up burglar bars. I'm yelling back some vague concerns, little did I know my supervisor and posse have kept walking. I run to catch up to them to explain my fears, I mean I wouldn't leave if people were doing work in my home in the States, let alone in a country where it's necessary to have your home look like a jail cell. She seemed nonplussed so we went on. She then asks me why I'm carrying flip chart paper which is exactly what I was afraid of. The whole point of me introducing myself to the ward counselor yesterday for the third time, and the reason I'm going to this meeting today is to do community maps and periwise grids (for a community needs assessment I'm compiling). I remind her, she looks at me like I have three heads. I start to feel a headache forming.

Last week I tried to ask her for a ballpark estimate for how many people would come to this meeting so I could bring enough supplies, 20? 6000? She had no idea. Well there was about 250-300, a little too many for a community mapping activity. I want to go back to bed but of course I'm placed on display at the head table. After several hours pass she asks if I still have to do my thing I brought, I explain that it would be nice, so she grudgingly gets up to translate. I end up puttng four sheets of flip chart paper on the walls asking, "What do you want in Nondweni (my village) that you don't already have" which I apparently butchered in Zulu but whatever. People wrote a lot of interesting things that I wouldn't have thought of but the messy part was attempting a vote. The ward counselor dismissed everyone so out of 300 about 20 stayed for my vote. After I explained that I was going to read through the list once and then you get two votes when I read through it a second time (with a translator) nobody understood. I proceeded to explain it several more times. My supervisor has since given up on translation and the ward counselor seems to be paraphrasing at best. Out of maybe 40 options the ward counselor picks four of her personal favorites for people to kinda sorta vote on. In explaining to the ward counselor what I meant in asking what the community wants that they don't have already I used the example of a hospice. In asking people at my organization two separate people said an AIDS hospice so I thought that would be a decent example. She then uses this example for the crowd, it is now, shockingly, on the list several times and has been voted #1 out of the randomly selected options (a mall is #2). It sort of goes downhill from there. When I get back home the guys are still there and they want me to test the door. Closing the door involves slamming it multiple times as hard as I can into the door frame, at this point I have this strange sensation of feeling both steam coming out of my ears and tears welling up in my eyes simultaneously. My go go then randomly says that 'we're hungry.' Apparently, none of the five people present at the moment have eaten all day. She then asks me what I've eaten. It was incredibly awkward. There was clearly a moment where it was time for me to get them food. I played dumb. I don't want to encourage this 'ask and you shall receive' environment. But I still felt horribly guilty. Very near tears at this point I call Chuck (another Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)) to iron out logistics for this weekend. And that's my positive moment. For whatever reason that half hour completely changed my mood. Mental note: daily Possin phone call.

4/15: So I thought for sure my positive moment would be having an ice cream sundae complete with chunks of artificial brownie with Leah in the sauna entitled KFC BUT immediately following that lovely moment I came home to find a goat+chicken sacrifice about to begin in the hopes that the ancestors could help my host brother 'get a better life.' It started two nights ago with a ceremony involving several family members and my go go's bff. They burnt ash in a piece of clay and my host brother was breathing it in, candles were it, prayers were said. Yesterday more people were there and both sacrifices were performed as was the prayer, ash, candle ritual. I felt awkward hovering so me and the four year old hung out in the next room but I still peered out of the corner of my eye.

4/16: After inviting myself to my clinic's immunization campaign I felt somewhat productive marking the fingers of the children getting vaccinated. Clearly taking a marker to someone's fingernail isn't rocket science, my four year old could do it with her eyes closed, but it was still fun to be there. I've also recently become interested in public health and would love to continue to get plugged into the clinic. As an aside, when I got home today I walked in when they were serving last night's sacrifice. I am 100% sure I ate goat intestines with poop still inside. We also dipped bread into the goat's blood which was in its own separate a side dish. The chicken meat still had hairs. Needless to say I'm not going to make it through the night. It's been fun.

4/17: Chuck and Michelle (PCVs) came to visit this past weekend and it was a blast. Saturday, Trudell, Leah, Angie, (more PCVs) Chuck, Michelle and I had a goodbye lunch for Milenka who's leaving tomorrow (she extended a month). It was really nice to pick her brain about Peace Corps stuff and even though she didn't say anything I hadn't heard before or could have deduced it was just nice to have a lot of things affirmed. Chuck and Michelle then came back to my place where we talked, drank and gorged ourselves till late in the night.

4/18: I of course was bummed when they left but that was short lived due to the hours I spent relaxing, listening to BBC and journaling. It was a perfect lazy Sunday afternoon.

4/19: Today was Milenka's going away party at her drop in center (for orphans and vulnerable children). There was so much singing, so many tears, my heart was full for her. It reminded me why I joined Peace Corps and it made me proud to say I was a PCV.

4/20: So today was a difficult day. I woke up to find out my next door neighbor died of TB the night before. His mother is my go go's best friend and my go go was literally in hysterics when we went to the house this morning. I walked in to the family wailing unabashedly in this empty hut with tea and bread. My initial reaction was that of uncomfort because clearly I was invading their privacy. I then realized the idea that mourning, especially heartwrenching sobs, should be done alone is very much a Western value.

I then went to work to discover my organization wants to do an awareness campaign, their first in years, for a week from today and they want it to cover drugs, teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. I was able to narrow the scope to one topic but they held firm on next week because of the holiday and the need to spend the money before the fiscal year is over. They came to me with a very, emphasis on very, rough idea of what they wanted to do and we were able to get a lot of the dots connected which was nice.

I then went on my first home visits and these were focused on OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) with special needs. I've worked in a group home with adults with special needs and I've also worked one on one doing respite care for kids with special needs so this topic is close to my heart. I was so frustrated to hear that there is only one school for children with special needs and the waiting list has hundreds of children on it and that the high high high majority never go to school. The member of the team that has seen it also said it's a poor excuse for a school.

So my positive moment today is that I felt very needed.

4/22: So my orgaization told me Tuesday that they wanted to have an awareness campaign for teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and drugs all in a week's time. They came to me with a proposal for a donation in poorly written English that was let's say a little vague in the planning department SO I got to work. I was able to get them to focus on one topic, teen pregnancy, which I'm pretty sure hovers at about 100% (okay that might not be entirely accurate but I would have to search to find a 19 year old without a child here). But they wouldn't budge on the week deadline which was frustrating because this week I had/will have a community meeting, two sets of donors to impress, one of which is flying from the Netherlands, more work at the clinic on their immunization campaign and endless requests from people for this or that. This might not seem too overwhelming but the community meeting today, for example, took an hour climbing lush rolling hills each way to introduce myself to 25 people in the middle of a field. The walk was actually really relaxing and very Sound of Music-esque haha but needless to say everything takes a lot longer here.

With that said, my positive moment today was the realization of how happy I am here. I just started re-reading Eat Pray Love this afternoon and was so relaxed even though I was so physically exhausted. Don't get me wrong I was perfectly content at home but I just love it here. And it's kind of exciting to know that Peace Corps volunteers always talk about this being the most difficult time in their service. If it can only go up from here, I can't really imagine what the next two years will be like. I know it's not going to be all sunshine and rainbows but I know this is where I should be and today I really felt that. Sorry that was kind of a vage positive moment but my runner up moment would definitely be introducing myself to the preschool literally in the middle of nowhere and feeling like a superstar. I later realized they've just never seen a white person up close but it was still fun to see the looks on their faces.

4/23: So my positive moment was finding out the funding came through for our awareness campaign. Yes it's in four days and I was definitely starting to panic. Monday and Tuesday are both holidays here so today was literally the last day.

My first few weeks here I was getting pretty frustrated at what I perceived as a sort of abismal work ethic but then I look closer and realize people like Busi are always the first to get there and the last to go and not only does she walk an hour and a half each way through the hills to get there but she's a volunteer! And that's just one example. Of course there are still the people that sit there and watch soap operas all day but I now choose to consciously ignore that and focus on people like Busi.

4/24: So I went to fetch water this morning through the obstacle course of prairie grass, crawling under people's make shift fencing and don't even get me started on the random divets that always send my poor buckets flying (I'm such a spectacle when I get water kids stand outside to watch) and I hear a group of girls calling my name. Meanwhile, me, my two buckets, my wheelbarrow and my four year old shadow have all made it successfully to the water pump so I hesitate because there's no turning back now and if/when my motivation wanes it's going to make trekking back with approx. 192387 lbs of water that much less enjoyable BUT I just couldn't pass it up. So it was early in the morning, pretty foggy and definitely cold and there was a group of girls almost all of whom I knew, just hanging out in the middle of a clearing with blankets wrapped around them. The older ones, around my age, were sitting and singing while the younger ones were dancing. So I hung out and they taught me some moves but I realized I was going to be late meeting up with Angie, Trudell and Leah in town but then I just knew that this moment was more important than that so I stayed a while.

4/25: So it's 8:00pm and I'm exhausted so this is going to be short...I think I've been in carb coma all day and my body is just begging to be put out of its misery. Anyway, today I went to the funeral of my next door neighbor who died from TB which was literally an all day affair. My positive moment was that since he was a part of a traditional dance troupe I got to watch song and dance after beautiful song and dance around his coffin all the while hearing his friends and fellow dancers yell out with anguish in their eyes, fists raised, 'we love you!' with such humble longing and heartache I couldn't help but look away. I realize once again (I've forgotten since Tuesday) that the idea of feigning strength in public, mourning in private is solely a Western ideal. To refocus on being positive, I hope the novelty of this culture's singing and dancing never wears off for me.

4/26: So my positive moment today is literally the moment I started feeling a little down (more like a little less than on cloud 9...I've been almost obnoxiously happy these days) nine kids walked into my hut ready to play cards so they kept me occupied enough to fill the void which I filled with carbs once they left, problem solved! : )

4/27: So today's big positive moment was the awareness campaign. It was so funny, when we were ironing out the agenda I was suggesting fun ice breakers or games to break up the education sessions like musical chairs or the human knot etc. instead we had traditional dancers, songs and prayers...clearly I still sometimes forget I'm not in America anymore haha. For one week's worth of planning, almost 200 teens learned about the myths of condoms (of which there are plenty in South Africa) how to put one on, goals for the future, we had a q & a and some positive role models told their stories. Of course it wasn't perfect, we had about 1/10th the amount of food we needed and we had to turn away way too many hungry kids after not serving lunch till 4:00 but I really think they learned a lot and it was so much fun and the dancing was beautiful.

4/28: After running around like a crazy person yesterday from dawn till dusk I woke up this morning feeling surprisingly refreshed. I think my positive moment would be leaving work early and playing around with Zindle the four year old orphan I live with, I call her my shadow, she's adorable.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

So after five months of training in two separate countries I was officially installed as a Volunteer with the United States Peace Corps on March 25!!! So a 4x4 drove through waist high prairie to drop me and my 187 bags at my hut's door step in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal...and then it drove away. After the customary Peace Corps Volunteer moment of panic passed I felt a new wave hit as I realized my hut was completely infested with bugs. I'm talking two separate species of mystery bug coming from the cracks in the walls and the potholes in the floors respectively. For whatever reason I tried to will them out for about a week until I called Peace Corps's Safety and Security Advisor, no I'm not kidding. We discussed the issue at length and devised a plan of action, phase 1 and 2 of which are already completed. Okay, so I feel it necessary to delve a little deeper into my bug hell. They were EVERYWHERE, it was definitely one of those 'I can't remember my life before my house was infested with bugs, all of my possessions will be black with bugs forever and ever the end.' But today I'm tentatively optimistic that my bug genocide is complete. I'll keep you posted.

The other day I attempted to wash my comforter in a bucket about 10x too small and put 10x more soap than necessary which made my poor grandmother use up far too much of her stored water to de-suds the thing, after about an hour, with both of us soaked and neither of us left with any water to bathe with we both looked at each other and laughed until we cried.

Last Sunday I came late and left church early and was there for four and a half hours. Since the church service is held in a hut 'across the street' meaning walking aways through the prairie, weaving amongst the cows, I could hear them finishing up around the six and a half hour mark. I don't know how a person can sing and dance for that long. I mean they went right through lunch and were approaching dinner when I left! One of the women beat a drum and everyone sang and danced and one of the two ministers would pray then someone would start another song and the cycle would continue. It was absolutely wonderful. There was a shrine made of ash in the form of a rectangle with two candles in the middle and some braided string which at one point was cut and tied to two women's various body parts. These two women, individually, knelt in the middle of the hut at one point while the two ministers and a few of the women shuffled at what looked like a pace as fast as they could. They also have a very specific dress with the women wearing a jungle green dress with a large white collar and perhaps a white overcoat with a white or jungle green head covering and a royal blue dress for funerals, one of which, as an aside, I went to today which was a six hour ceremony as well. The men wear what in my opinion resembles a dress, complete with cuffs and empire waist with pants underneath some of whom carry a thin walking stick which doesn't seem to correlate with their age so I'm not sure the symbolism behind that just yet. Regardless, it was humbling for me to be welcomed so warmly to such an intimate gathering of people worshipping a God so vulnerably and without reservation.