Thursday, June 24, 2010

6/15: So I am clearly a walking example of not being able to stop working even if every red flag and blaring light is flashing in my face. In my defense, I had helped plan the awareness campaign on human trafficking today and was slated to present so I couldn't just skip out though I probably didn't need to be the first one there and the last to leave... Well that aside, my positive moment would definitely be teaching over a hundred kids about one of South Africa's dirty little secrets and being able to word it in a way they understood and which was age appropriate. I also played all sorts of outdoor games with orphans as part of my organization's plan to get them off the streets during the World Cup break from school. When my go go remembered that it was my birthday tomorrow she apologized for not having the money for a gift or even a cake but the light bulb went on when she thought of something she could give me that didn't cost a thing. Before I knew it I was sitting for four hours while I got my hair braided like 'a real Zulu'. She wanted it to be perfect so she would finish then take it all out so that not a hair would be out of place.

6/16: My go go woke up at 3:00am to make me this fried dough that neither her nor Zindle like but she knew that I loved for an extra special birthday breakfast. Today is a national holiday in South Africa to honor the riots in Soweto over forced learning in Afrikaans so I was able to relax at home which was a gift in and of itself. I also got a flood of well wishes in every form which just really filled my cup up especially after feeling a bit beat down the last few days. This love fest culminated in a KFC date with one of my favorite Peace Corps Volunteers. For the record, I had never experienced that gourmet dining establishment before coming here and now as the only 'restaurant' for miles in any direction it has become quite the delicasy reserved for the most special of occassions. But my positive moment had to be my dad calling to say that him, my sisters and my aunt are coming to visit for Christmas, best birthday present ever!

6/17: Today I helped evaluate the awareness campaign that happened on Tuesday and planned for another one on Thursday. So it dawned on me today how much time I spend organizing and facilitating awareness campaigns and already how redundant they've become. With this epiphany, I went to ask the handful of people I know with strong English skills why, if the young people here know that condoms will almost certainly prevent both HIV infection and pregnancy, why then do they fail to use them? A social worker that I worked on the previous campaign with, Musa, said that so many of the young girls want the latest hairstyle or the cute clothes or frankly food on the table and a lot of them can't get that at home. So they date older guys in the village. But if a guy's giving you a place to sleep and food on the table (in exchange for sex) you lose the power to demand condom use. Women's empowerment is a bit more messy than a few condom demonstrations. Moving on, ever so eloquently, to my positive moment. So I picked Zindle up from the neighbor's and as I had her in my arms she threw up everywhere. To her credit, she tried her best to dodge the malungu (white person). Since she has basically moved in and my go go was MIA I tucked her in my bed and she was out like a light. Little did I know, my go go saw the whole episode unfold and went to the witch doctor for some muthi. This she quickly ground using rock on rock, then put it in boiling water, gave it to Zindle, a toddler, who knew exactly what to do: drink it and purge it. Fascinating.

6/18: Today I had a series of little frustrating events that all disappeared with some chocolate cake and peanut m&ms but put me in a pretty foul mood all morning. After my chocolate reprieve, my afternoon made quite a come back when I listened to the USA vs. Slovenia game on my short wave radio in my hut fist pumping and circling in Mia Hamm-esque celebration (minus the shirt ripping, my hut is currently an ice box) when the US would score. I'm also crossing my fingers (which I enjoy teaching anyone who will listen) for the US vs. Algeria game. Consider me a shameless band wagon soccer fan.

6/19: So today I immersed myself in the South African Indian culture which I hadn't been exposed to before. It was a blast. We went to a Bollywood-esque talent show, I had a hot shower, ate at a real restaurant with menus!, drank an absurd amount of Coke and befriended a woman dressed in a traditional sari who dropped more f-bombs than anyone I've ever met. I was so stunned, in fact, that I noticed my mouth had been gaping for some time. She seemed to notice it too and said, "What? I like it raw."

6/20: So even though I wasn't exactly in the Western world, it has still been difficult jumping from one world to the next. I'm honestly so thankful that I can't go to and from 'America' in minutes like some of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. In fact, I told a Yale University researcher the closest town to where I live, the other day, and he said, "Wow, you really live in the middle of nowhere." I then clarified that I'm actually an hour away from that town. He said, "You're an hour away from the middle of nowhere?!" And that's exactly how I like it.

6/21: I continue to relentlessly and against all better judgment burn the candle at both ends which of course doesn't allow me any time to catch up. Worse is that I continue to run on fumes so things like waiting five hours outside in the middle of winter with the flu and a fever for a bus ticket I could have walked up to the counter and paid for in under five minutes (as evidenced today) is even more exhausting. And my bugs are back. Though the funny thing is that they eat my ceiling (straw) and fall once they're, I don't know...full I guess. Anyway, now that it's so cold, they fall and they're DOA. Dead on Arrival. It's hilarious. It's like a bug armageddon. In my hut. I'm cracking up just thinking about it.

6/22: So today was part two of an awareness campaign that I helped organize and facilitate. This event was held at the building where caregivers of orphans apply for their foster care grant. The social worker, Musa, has taken Bantu Time to a new level and the campaign was four hours late. The HIV/AIDS presenter spent her session discussing the likelihood of transmission when you scratch someone during sex and how your scratch and the person you scratched would invariably come in contact with each other and transmission would occur. I voiced my concern to several people over the probability of infection in that example and they all seemed quite convinced of the prevalence of his and her scratches causing transmission. After a bit of a frustrating day of carrying someone else's poorly planned campaign then watching that person hide in his office during the event and sneak out early my positive moment would be when Tshengie said this all-too-true statement "If I wasn't hardworking lady, Zamimpilo would fall over."

6/23: So I have a pretty mean cold which I undoubtedly got from having no heat in the middle of winter. This has caused me to completely abolish my self-induced 3 cups of tea limit. If that wasn't a positive moment in and of itself, the limitless tea part not the cold part, then this next discovery sure is. I feel like I'm starting to get a better grasp on the needs of my community. There's definitely a method to Peace Corps's madness. There's a reason why they insist that you observe and integrate into your community for your first three months at site before pursuing or implementing any projects. I feel confident now that I'm moving in the right direction. That direction as it stands now is focusing on extensive training for the home based carers, planning a girls empowerment sleep away camp and subsequent girls club and intensive case findings for HIV and TB infection. Test early and often!

6/24: I just woke up and had a full on Newsies moment. As soon as I realized that I no longer had snot pounding out of my temples I reinacted, complete with impromptu newspapers, the Seize the Day scene. Open the gates and seize the day! Yes! I'm back to loving life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

6/10: It was so wonderful to go back to my org and have people truly miss me while I was gone and know how much I reciprocate their sentiment. I told a handful of people that helped me spearhead the hospice project that I thought it would be best if we moved in a different direction. In a culture of no emotion, the fact that there were tears in the women's eyes was absolutely heartwrenching. The hero's welcome gave me little consolation after the dark cloud of broken promises loomed all day. My positive moment would be the little comfort it was to know for certain that I was doing the right thing and that this too shall pass.

6/11: I put the trauma of the hospice situation aside for the day to celebrate the World Cup opener. Bafana bafana (boys boys in Zulu and the nickname for the South African national team) spirit has hit fever pitch in my village. I went to a fan park to watch the game on the big screen in my shopping town with three people from my organization. I'm currently thawing out my extremities and trying to recover my lost hearing from the vuvuzelas but it was a complete blast. I can't wait for the motherland to beat our old colonial ruler.

6/12: Today I met up with three of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers to talk about organizing Camp GLOW (Girls Leading our World) which is a girls empowerment sleep away camp. Young girls here are set up for failure because of the grave disservice the educational system does them which only lessens their already few options. As does the idea that girls don't have a voice and can't make decisions about their future/bodies/identity. South Africa has the second highest prevalence of rape under the Congo with child rape being especially common due to the myth that having sex with a virgin can cure you of AIDS. Even though free condoms are everywhere the majority of men refuse to wear them which leaves an extremely high rate of teen pregnancy. But I do feel that there is reason to be hopeful. There are women who are able to find ways to put food on the table without selling their bodies and pass the high school exit exam despite the cards being stacked against them. Since this is the only life these girls know it's impossible for them to imagine their life any other way. You don't know what you don't know. I hope to give them another option. I've asked young girls here what they want to be when they grow up and they look at me like I have three heads. I'm such a dreamer; it breaks my heart that girls here have never been given the chance to dream.

6/14: My heart has also never recovered from the heartbreak of the reality of the hospice situation. Instead of processing through that loss, and it was a loss, it was a loss of expectations, of direction and of course a loss of a promise I made to my community. Instead of doing that, I pushed through for six days stuffing my days to the brim in an effort to pretend this never happened, to numb my disappointment, until I hit my breaking point today. These past few days can be summed up by a series of bad decisions, bad luck and bad behavior on my part.

I took five taxis the other day because it didn't cross my mind to ask a taxi driver if what I thought was the fastest way to get somewhere was indeed the fastest way. I then proceeded to leave my wallet on that taxi which I realized when I was in the back corner of yet another taxi and didn't have money to pay for it. I then made half the taxi, including half a dozen overstuffed bags stacked to the ceiling, get out so I could climb over the rest of the stuff/people to find my wallet. Naturally, I immediately turned into quite the spectacle as I start crying and peering into random taxis in an attempt to find my elusive wallet. The young men that were cat calling and whistling at me just minutes before quickly turned quite scared of me. Just as I was ready to give up my search, however, I found it. Unfortunately, that is just one of many such stories, other examples include leaving my precious glasses at a friend's house (who lives five taxis away) leaving my debit card at the copy place (luckily I got that back today as well) spending three hours cooking a vegetarian chilli worthy of a magazine cover only to put such an absurd amount of chilli powder in it that no amount of water, vinegar or cheese could make it edible once more. I turned down a taxi that had one seat left just calling my name, for no legitimate reason, and of course came back to a near empty taxi going to an out of the way town (the taxi I took a pass on was the only one that left that day) where I went on to wait 45 minutes for it to fill up.

The clencher, I'm ashamed to admit, came today when I waited an hour and a half at the post office to receive a package. This poor woman first told me that somebody had already picked it up and after a few comments to show my concern that that might be the case she went on a vain search to find said package. As the minutes pass with things like buying cheese to make the chilli possible to eat and trying to find my debit card looming, I started to panic when I realized how soon all of the stores would close. To preface this, I got another package slip on Friday and counted down the minutes until I could get my package on Saturday which I knew would be stuffed with all sorts of Americana only to find a Peace Corps mailing in its place. Seeing as though I expected this package almost six weeks ago and I had recently completely lost my mind, it should have been no surprise that at the hour and a half mark I started crying. Yep, I was crying in the post office, in front of line long enough to put a winding queue at Six Flags to shame. When the post office lady came back to say that after checking and re checking the package room it seems as though it has just disappeared...I went a little crazy. I'm crying, of course, which is crazy enough as it is, and I now am flailing my arms, and yelling, going on about having medicine sent from America that I need, I really need it, how can I trust the postal system in this country if packages seem to just disappear and what does she suggest I do if my health is now in jeopardy because of someone's carelessness?! I somehow had enough foresight to leave out the fact that I was referencing a multi vitamin. To make matters worse, the now frightened postal employee scuries off for one last attempt to find this hidden package which I paint as basically having State secrets, keys to many kingdoms and filled with gold...and finds it. I leave quietly with my head hung in shame. It took me making a complete and total fool out of myself for a few bags of m&ms and a People magazine...and yes life-altering multi vitamins, to realize I need a day off...or two.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

6/7: Today began what was to be a week long hospice tour across the province, reasons why it was cut short will be explained in the proceeding positive moments. So I was happy as a lark as my knees were jammed into my chest and my face nuzzled into the folds of a morbidly obese go go's breast all morning and into the afternoon on taxi after taxi. I had been anticipating these hospice visits for weeks now and felt so confident that I did my research and was ready to receive the advice my wise hospice elders would bring to me. First stop was Greytown where I was introduced by a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer to his counterpart who is about five steps ahead of me in the hospice process. They're in the process of both building the structure and securing a long term funding source but have a lot of the initial organizational questions answered and subsequent forms filled out. We were feeding off of each other's energy and I was just overflowing with enthusiasm by the end of our meeting. (Arrow here to the positive moment). I will explain my day past my positive moment to give some context to the following few days. He then suggested that I talk to his contact at the Hospice Association which is where my first of my blows occurred. She told me that there was a man who was literally just a step ahead of me in establishing a hospice. He went to the municipality then days later I would go proposing the same idea, he would go to the chief, I would go to the chief, same at the hospital and at the clinic, of course neither of us knew of our cat and mouse game. The most important punch he beat me to though was a simple form I was told to fill out just today. Unfortunately, since there can't be two hospices built within 50 km of each other for fear of duplication of services, he gets the keys to the city. So this first blow hit me pretty hard. But I wasn't ready to give up just yet so I went ahead to Tugela Ferry to keep my appointments I had lined up for the next day.

6/8: Out of the four hospices I had planned on visiting, this was the one I was looking forward to the most by far. This hospice started when the first patients of AIDS began to die. There are also researchers from Yale University who are performing intensive case findings to try to catch patients with TB and/or HIV to treat them as early as possible. Many of these doctors have been working in this village since AIDS was first discovered and have raised their children in one of the most resource-poor areas of South Africa. To say that I was in awe of their passion and sacrifice would be doing them a disservice, they are dripping in accolades, not that they would ever tell you that.

They had just returned from a national TB conference where they were showcased for their trailblazing work in TB and HIV. I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting where they were talking about research that has never been done, dots that have never been connected in the fight of these two epidemics. I have no doubt that these doctors have and will continue to make break throughs that will change the lives of people suffering of these two diseases the world over. I was fortunate enough to talk to every one of these doctors, in addition to others on the staff, about the idea presented to me by my community for a step down clinic and to ask their advice on where to begin.

I was shocked, to be quite honest, when time and again they said that almost anything you want to do at a step down clinic you can do at home with a home based carer. (So the idea of a step down clinic is a new one for me before I dove head first into the world of hospice care but I defined it on 5/25 if you need a refresher). The organization I work in now has a home based care program which is where a volunteer goes home to home and talks to the home-bound patient, bathes them, changes them, makes sure they're eating etc. These doctors said that if you hire a professional nurse (someone with a four year nursing degree) then you would be performing basically the same service for a lot less money. So if you don't build a building, fill it with medical supplies, food, liability and staff it around the clock but let the professional nurse come to them, financially the difference is astronomical. This of course is logical but I still wasn't convinced. PEPFAR alone gives South Africa $660,000,000 every year just for HIV/AIDS and there are several other funders that I believe would have been willing to support an AIDS hospice so I was hesitant but not fully deterred...until I talked with Dr. Moll.

Dr. Moll is a world renown medical doctor who started the hospice and the home based care program in Tugela Ferry and has devoted his life to that village and to the end of TB and HIV. He was my strongest supporter for my step down clinic but swayed my decision in the end when he said, "You could help 8, 10 maybe 20 patients a month with a step down clinic but you could change the lives of hundreds of people every month with a strong home based care program going home to home meeting people where they're at on the ground." And that's when my decision was made.

Do I think a step down clinic/hospice would fill a need in my village? Yes. In crunching the numbers, there are a little over 17,000 people in my township/village. If 38% of them are HIV+ then that equates to 6460 people. I would be doing 99% of those people a disservice by building something they would never use. If I want to truly change the lives of the 6460 people infected with HIV in my village I now believe I need to do it one hut at a time, cleaning one bed sore, holding one hand, feeding one person. In fact ironically, the building would be the band aid not the home care.

I would be lying to say that I wasn't heartbroken. Even though I haven't been here long, the time I've spent has almost been completely monopolized by the idea of a hospice. I feel content in knowing I'm doing the right thing in letting this dream go but it was a dream nonetheless and one that I've been mourning the past few days.

6/9: As I write the emotional rollercoaster of the past few days I'm overwhelmed and excited to get back to the drawing board. I'm relieved that I realized so soon in my research of a red flag too large to overcome. I look ahead to a future that only days before was crystal clear and now is so hazy. I pray for guidance and patience to forge ahead in the right direction and not to fall down the rabbit hole of good intentions without opening the blinders that have my own selfish needs of fulfillment first.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

5/30: Something about having this much free time today seemed so decadent.

5/31: Today was a huge victory in the life of my first born, the AIDS hospice. I was able to talk to several people at the municipality all of whom seemed incredibly encouraging and helpful. Naturally, I didn't even discuss my original intention for being there (the potential for a plot of land) and the chief was MIA from his refrigerator repair shack (which is apparently where he spends most of his time that's not spent doing his chiefly duties) and the doctor in charge of the AIDS ward at the hospital was nowhere to be found but any small step forward is a success in my book. I also hope to snag those elusive men later in the week, little do they know how persistent (obnoxious) of a phone stalker I can be.

6/1: So the chocolate cake I hyped up all week drew attention like that akin to Julia Child. The 'sweets' they sell in the little shop in my village are really Halls cough drops. I tried to explain this to someone and they said, "No, it says right here, it has menthol." On a food related note, one of my many admirers gave me smoked beef flavored chips in honor of my presence at a meeting he was two hours late to. I'm so sad that today was the last English Reading class I'll teach until their winter (yes it's winter here) break is over which I even expressed to them with the vocabulary word 'frustrated' in a sentence. (I am frustrated that school is ending early because of World Cup). Anyway, my positive moment is that I met a totally hip English teacher who I have a date with for next weekend for a girls night in one of the bigger towns, hooray!

6/2: Today I went to the new clinic in my village. (I'm a familiar face at the other one). I waited at dawn for the lone morning taxi and wasn't informed until after I had already gotten there, realized the nurse I wanted to see concerning the hospice is on sick leave for a month, that there wouldn't be another taxi until late afternoon. I then proceeded to climb up and down hills for about an hour with my co worker (who does this every day) with at least a good hour to hour and a half to go to get back to our organization when we were picked up by some friendly man with several mattresses on top of his car with a crumbling interior: definitely my positive moment especially since I could see my co worker starting to have trouble climbing the hills.

6/3: After several confidence boosting conversations in Zulu with my co workers I was discouraged when I noticed in reality they were just spoon feeding me my own paltry vocabulary. On a positive note, I had a wonderful bonding session with one of my co workers in English/Zulu that I deemed successful not only because of the new vocab I was able to use in context but more importantly because I got filled in on her juicy love life haha. I also visited one of my co workers at home who fell and dislocated his knee cap yesterday. He was taken to the clinic where they popped it back into place and gave him some pain meds. Thankfully it was the one day a month where we have a car at the org. He was still clearly in a lot of pain when I came and I didn't want to bother him so I didn't stay long but he just texted me, 'Thanks to come at home you make me strong God bless you.' Never underestimate the power of your presence.

6/4: So I was dragged out of my village kicking in screaming today by two of my best friends in Peace Corps, Leah and Angie. It was so nice to hike around Angie's village, have a few glasses of wine and just relax, not to mention talking in complete sentences in English.

6/5: So I couldn't take the guilt and Tshengie's puppy dog eyes after she begged, literally begged me to come to her dad's birthday party (see positive moment for 5/28). So I backed out on the girls empowerment sleep away camp planning session I was suppose to have with three of my fellow PCVs. Much to the relief of my supervisor who I can now see feels everything is now once again right in the world. Her dad is a pastor in the Zion church which is a traditional Zulu Christian faith where they combine drums and song and dance in worship that lasts all day on Sundays. Ritual and sacrifice are prominent and they have special dress they wear during any ceremony including church but not limited to birthday parties. The party comprised of his family and friends standing up and telling God why they were thankful for him with a good dollop of hymns in between. At the head table were Tshengie's six brothers, lots of bowls of cheetos, her dad and her two moms (polygamy is commonplace here, just look at the President), and Tshengie and I sat on the women's side near the front. I went with two friends from my organization and even though it took us two hours to get there I knew how much it meant to Tshengie to see us make the epic journey. And to top it off since we didn't get lost it only took us an hour and a half to get back!

6/6: After two really long fun days I vegetated all day today mainly carb detoxing. After a steady stream of visitors, I had one teacher who came to ask if I could summarize my talk I gave to her school a few weeks ago over child trafficking so she could review the points with her class. Seeing as though I was warned about that hour long lecture as I was walking up to the stage (under the assumption I was just to introduce myself) it was nice that she at least thought it was somewhat coherent, nice enough in fact to make it as my positive moment.