Wednesday, September 1, 2010

8/23: Today, my supervisor and I and a few other representatives from our organization asked the Inkosi (head chief) for approval of our upcoming building. I don't think Tshengie was anticipating any hesitation because this request for permission came after the plans have been submitted and discussions were had with various contractors. He did, in fact, say no. Well, not no exactly, but he thought our new building would be more accessible to the community in a different location. Again, our meeting was a bit late for suggestions. In a hierarchical culture such as this one, not only should we have moved our building plan but do it without question. This posed a difficult situation because of the sheer implausibility of that happening at this point. So for right now, Tshengie's plan is to pretend he didn't make such a suggestion. A plug-your-ears-while-lalala-ing sort of philosophy if you will. We'll see how that works out. In the meantime, more fires need to be fought on the home front. Our chairperson has been escalating her level of corruption as of late. A take-a-little-off-the-top mentality is not only accepted here but expected. Sindi, on the other hand, started in that respect and things escalated from there. This last week, she took so much meat from the daily feeding scheme for our orphans that we ran out of meat to feed them. We also only had enough fruit for one week out of the month to give them. As soon as everyone realized how this was affecting the children, it was no longer acceptable. After one meeting it was unanimously decided that she needed to step down. The treasurer came crying to Tshengie last week begging to step down as well because of how much pressure she was under to collude with the theft and corruption. Not only has she been stealing from our project since she began her tenure, she also has burned so many bridges with potential funders and partner organizations. With that said, I was absolutely floored that she was asked to step down. (Granted, she will still be a home based care volunteer, she will no longer be the one making decisions and fortunately also no longer the face of our organization). Monitoring and evaluation of staff is something that is not as valued in this culture. The members of this project have all grown up together and enjoy being around each other. It’s not about rewards and punishment. Though because of that, not only have ineffective and toxic employees been able to continue their work, outstanding ones have gone unnoticed. I created several monitoring and evaluation tools that will help gauge that…assuming their interested in knowing the results.

8/24: Operation Jumpstart, which is funding our new building, came today which was a bit stressful, but exciting. They were two and a half hours late, which undoubtedly was to make sure we were aware of how busy and important they are, point taken. Hopefully they will break ground in just a few weeks time and it’s slated for completion in December. I also had an impromptu emergency summit with my Peace Corps besties to discuss back up Christmas plans since it looks like my family isn't going to make it. After some wallowing and more than my fair share of grease was ingested, we came up with the magnificent Christmas plan b that involves us three plus a visiting boyfriend to hike the Drakensburg Mountains. I was panicking because I didn’t know anyone who didn’t already have plans for the holidays but in a wonderful twist of fate both of these lovely ladies are now available for a Christmas extravaganza. Crisis averted. To boost my spirits even higher I received two care packages with a total of no less than twelve magazines, it will take every ounce of self control I have in me to go to work this week haha. Fun fact: I’m currently wearing an American flagged dr. Suess-esque hat, best care package gift ever : )

8/25: I cannot find the little scrap of paper I wrote today’s events on, sorry.

8/26: If you haven’t heard, the entire public sector has been on strike in South Africa for two weeks now. This includes but not limited to doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers and teachers. All public clinics, hospitals and schools are closed, which means that the matric exam that is taken by all seniors has been pushed back and people on medication for HIV and TB are defaulting on their medication because there is no staff to administer it. Also of note, all departments which are responsible for funding grass roots NGOs like mine are on strike as well. Plenty of others have joined in ‘sympathy strikes,’ which is exactly what Tshengie wanted to do but for an allotted time of two months. When I told her that I imagine this will be resolved in less time (at least I hope so) she said she also wants to strike because the management committee doesn’t listen to her. Making her voice heard in both of these avenues, she explained to me, would take a full two months. I suggested that perhaps a more effective way of making her point is to voice her concerns at the next meeting in a few days time. That proposal was scratched immediately. One member of our organization has decided to go on strike himself. Clearly, this has completely crippled South Afric’s ability to function and can be, quite literally, directly correlated with thousands of deaths. In addition to all those suffering due to a 1.6% pay increase dispute, the real issue here is that I can no longer get my garden income generating activity off the ground because the Department of Agriculture is also on strike (of course they are). Why more attention hasn’t been focused on how the strike has affected American mainly white, affluent Peace Corps Volunteers, is beyond me. This blatant oversight is appalling. Moving on, because of this upsetting disruption in my plan to cure AIDS, I have changed course and have started to develop a curriculum to train the volunteers that do in-home hospice care at my organization. None of them have had any training at all and are so hungry to learn how to better help their community. Seeing as though the very high majority of people I work with are HIV-positive, this information can also directly affect how they live their lives. Tshengie thought the training would be most effective if it was set up as a series of one day workshops. The topics that will be discussed are: what it means to be in home based care, professionalism and effective reporting, HIV/AIDS and ARVs, TB and DOTS, STIs and condoms, psycho-social support and stress, gender-based violence, first aid and palliative care and lastly, forming and facilitating a support group. Because of each of our 14 Volunteers see three to five clients a day, this education has the potential to affect thousands of people.

8/27: I’ve been spending a lot of my free time with my go go lately. Today she tried to convince me that if I stay forever not only will she build me another house but that house will have tiles on the floor. If you never see me again it’s because the prospect of tiling became too tempting. I also finished Fast Food Nation today, which I began out of a need for some Americana and yes I’m aware of the irony. I’m just thankful that KFC, one of my few indulges here, only makes a couple appearances. I couldn’t have my addiction to their avalanche sundae be hampered by things like fair wages, price fixing, maltreatment of animals or the validity that anything they sell is legitimately food at all. Good thing all of that negatively is only associated with McDonalds, phew, my conscience is clear.

8/28: Today, in some sort of symbolic gesture to force me to conform to the ways of the developing world my watch decided to break. I should feel this renewed sense of freedom but really my left wrist feels naked and I’m a bit grouchy about my newfound loss of control. My frown soon turned upside down when I received word on a grant proposal I wrote a few days ago. I heard from a fellow PCV that the Mother Bear Project will send packs of hand-knitted teddy bears to your organization to give to the orphans and vulnerable children in the community. In sharing this great resource, Gail, my PCV friend, brought a few bears to our Peace Corps training a few weeks ago to show off. They even have little tags sewn on that say: made by Mother Bear: ______ and they sign their name. They are so wonderful and they have little outfits and hats and are made in bright cheery colors. I absolutely can’t wait to give them to the children; they’ve probably never seen a teddy bear before. Every child deserves something to snuggle up to; I know they’re going to love them.

8/29: Today my arms felt like jello washing my clothes after I finished scrubbing my impossibly thick, polyester blanket that soaks up water like it’s dying in the desert. At the end of this charade, I was drenched in water the color of mud, I had four buckets in some sort of attempt at a wash/rinse system, created a spectacle as I flung my entire body weight into throwing the blanket over the clothes line, which of course meant it was now covered in dirt and chicken poop and after all that I feel fairly certain that I didn’t even make a dent in its overall cleanliness and might have actually done more damage.

8/30: I’m sure I left work today with more than a few grey hairs. Tshengie wrote two grant proposals for new buildings, assuming she’d only get one. Well she got them both, and this good fortune has turned out to almost be more trouble than it’s worth. My org, Zamimpilo, is technically an umbrella organization for Isibindi, which works out of the same building. This partnership has caused much tension and strife as one of Zamimpilo’s founding members was promoted to Project Manager of Isibindi. Isibindi is funded by PEPFAR so it has a seemingly unlimited budget and is showered with thorough trainings at their hearts desire, proper follow ups by supervisors and an array of t-shirts in a variety of colors. But Zamimpilo has the building and the food and makes sure that no matter how effective the Isibindi machine may be, there are a few things Zamimpilo has that Isibindi doesn’t. The beautiful captains of the football team and cheerleader entourage that compose the unstoppable and enviable Isibindi might have their one last hold out to perfection fall in their favor. They’re vying for the second building that has yet to be built. (The first building is the second half of the church built by the Dutch youth group). Of course, this new building is bigger and better and on a large piece of land that is fit for expansion. The few rooms in the church building, though wonderful and complete with flush toilets, leave much to be desired when compared with Eden a few blocks away. Naturally, I have much loyalty to the rag-tag bunch of scrubby, semi-literate, quasi-productive bunch I work with. I was anticipating a David and Goliath epic sparring, complete with ‘Eye of the Tiger’ playing in the background. I was prepping Tshengie while I punched a pretend speed bag and she seemed a bit, dare I say apathetic, to the building war. I was unfazed. I already rationalized that after decades of internalized oppression, it was engrained in Tshengie to not stand up for herself. Well, lucky for her I’m here to save the day. I mean I was throwing practice punches; I had this one in the bag. So I made my impassioned speech with Tshengie by my side when I burst into English tangents. I was received by cold indifference. Tshengie changed her mind to match the latest person she talked to on the issue. This, of course, drove me crazy because really she should just be listening to me. Because I’m right. Zamimpilo deserved Eden. Final answer. The decision at the end of the day was that both Isibindi and Zamimpilo will move into the church building for three months while the new building is being built.

8/31: I’m not quite sure if the logic behind this temporary three month move involved the church building perhaps feeling lonely on days that weren’t Sunday or if there was a new found need for tangible effort to be made and this was the first thing that popped into their heads. Regardless of the rationale, we did in fact move today. I carried chairs, printers and pots on my head, luckily no longer treated like a fragile flower. You trip and fall; get up the fridge is waiting for you.

9/1: I can’t believe it’s really September. I’ve been here for over seven months and it feels like seven weeks. Today has been incredibly productive. I think the fact that our new building has six rooms as compared to our old one with one, has allowed me to escape into one of the empty rooms and get several uninterrupted hours of work completed before tea must be drunk again. Love it.

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