Monday, August 23, 2010

I made the twelve hour journey back to Pretoria this past week to participate in the Volunteer Support Network (VSN) training. VSN matches a mentor from the previous training class with 7-8 mentees who just arrived in country. Peer mentorship has been proven to be an efffective, untintimidating way to bridge the gap between the Peace Corps main office and volunteers new to country. After spending a day training on Tuesday, the new mentors went to meet the new trainees who arrived here a few weeks ago. Because there are so many trainees (52), they are split into three groups, which meant we needed to do our presentation three times. This worked out just swimmingly because I was able to spend eons of time with a very small group of people. One of my critiques of VSN was how unlikely it would be that someone would confide in someone they barely know or met for five minutes. Last week, I was able to spend a solid hour and a half with two or three people each to start building that rapport. It was encouraging to hear about their drive to serve and exciting to hear about some of their fresh ideas. The following day, we had a VSN meeting for all members where we discussed a myriad of topics from alcohol abuse amongst volunteers to the effectiveness of our medical staff to success stories with mentees. All in all, it was a very productive meeting. It, of course, was also wonderful to slip back (so easily) into Western life for another week. I'm happy to report that my transition back to my beautiful village was not only free of wallowing but highly anticipated.

Naturally, I cannot have a week free of a little drama so here ya go. I travelled back to site on Friday after a handful of hours of sleep due to an extensive stay on the dance floor of a bar called Drop Zone in honor of a fellow PCV's birthday. I then spent thirteen hours in a combination of taxis and buses with the common denominator being sheer miscalculation of the breadth of the average Zulu. After catching the last taxi to my village as it was pulling out of the rank I started to prematurely consider my last travel day for awhile a victory. Well, in my exhaustion, I leave my wallet on the taxi (again). And just like before, I start crying, dropping f bombs right and left, flailing my arms, really just creating a scene worthy of any reputable American reality show (of which there are many). It's 7:30pm when I get home so everyone I know is already deep in REM sleep and unable to be contacted. Early the next morning I share my lapse in judgment with my go go and Tshengie. I, of course, had to have my American credit card, a considerable amount of cash and a copy of my passport inside so they immediately sprung into action. I marched right on over to my village's taxi rank in the hopes they would know who drove the last taxi back the night before so I could at least attempt to get some of the contents of my wallet back. They were all huddled over a notebook that seemed to have some documentation on it, none of which apparently was about clocking in or out or time in general really. Then Tshengie called to tell me that one of her friends somehow knew the license plate of the last taxi. This made things much easier for the men huddled around the notebook. After I passed my phone to the chief/taxi manager, he promptly told me that not only does Thulani have my wallet but he has my ID, cards and money as well. Not only that, in fact, he will call me when he's passing my house so I can run out to get it. (This last part was especially wonderful seeing as though I had absolutely no cash to get to my shopping town and my go go also had none to spare). Needless to say I did a victory dance complete with fist pumps, hip swivels and cheers. And yes, this was quite the spectacle for these male twenty somethings. So when Thulani called, I ran out to see what I thought was too good to be true. He said he'd wait while I check to make sure everything was there. On the phone he asked me how much money I had in my wallet. I said I wasn't sure but probably around R300 ($40), he said I had R350. Then when I counted it I had R380. So if I counted my money and I had R300 I would have thought that everything was there. I then give him R50 ($7) as a thank you and he looked at me like I was crazy. I insisted that he take it and he did but he clearly wasn't expecting anything from his altruism. I realize that I wasn't here during apartheid and that there was a lot of crime on both sides and still is but it's appalling how many people, both black and white have warned me about my lack of safety in my village, specifically referring to petty theft. I wonder how many of those people have spent any amount of time in a rural village. I've never felt more a part of a communtiy.

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