Friday, October 29, 2010

10/13: Because of my overwhelming schedule I was considering cutting out my weekly training workshops due to lack of attendance. Just as I started talking myself out of feeling guilty about this being my final workshop, every single caregiver shows up. About half of the in-home hospice workers who attended walked an hour or more both ways…in the rain…up and down hills to get there. All my suppressed guilt resurfaced in an instant when I saw how enthralled the packed house was in the lesson and how diligent their note taking was. Today’s lesson covered opportunistic infections. The main topic was TB, of which South Africa has the highest prevalence, and even more importantly the DOTS program. This internationally recognized program focuses on trained community health workers going to clients’ homes who suffer from TB and observing them taking their meds every day. There are myriad reasons why people here die from this disease, which is both entirely preventable and curable, but one of the most common is lack of drug adherence. If you take your medication appropriately you will be asymptomatic for the last four of the six month duration TB drugs are prescribed. This means many people stop taking their medication early because they think they’re cured. So here’s the exciting part: the DOTS program can save people’s lives. If someone cares enough to go to a client’s house every day for six months to watch them take their medication, even if they think witch craft will cure them faster, so that they won’t forget and they won’t quit early, that is one life saved. And there are a lot of people here infected with TB, just think of the possibilities.

Also worthy of mentioning is the topic of dehydration and diarrhea. Ready for the clincher: I facilitated a discussion on oral rehydration salts, which includes clean, boiled water, salt and sugar. This miracle concoction will help people who are severely dehydrated recover far quicker than mere water could.

I was so excited that everyone was present to hear about wound cleaning and hand washing, about when to refer clients to the doctor and when they should just rest at home. I actually could barely stand it and would just burst out, “this could save people’s lives!!” more times than I’d like to admit. Even after a crash course in public health, or perhaps because of, everyone seemed hungry for more. No rest for the weary.

10/14: So I arrived at my organization today to see the entire structure under four inches of water. All of my co-workers were in bare feet with their skirts hiked up, whisking away the water with straw brooms. I whisked with them with my long underwear rolled up and my skirt tied in a knot at the knees for four hours before the damage was under control. The most frustrating part wasn’t that the morning was lost to physical labor but why it was lost in the first place. As I mentioned earlier, our new building was built by a high school Dutch youth group. I’m not sure if they’re unaware of the necessity of a level foundation over there in that law-less nation but here in the middle of the bush everyone seems pretty well versed in the logistics of the rainy season and the cause and effect relationship rain has on the lack of a drainage system.

Another stressor has been all of the recent complications that have come out of my attempt at funding the girls’ empowerment sleep away camp. Two out of the four members of the planning team are on vacation and unable to be contacted. They assumed that since the grant application was written and the activities loosely planned that it was perfectly reasonable to visit their boyfriend and daughters, respectively. On the contrary, I’m trying to dodge the rain seeping into my hut as I struggle to pull out a miracle in respect to a low cost venue and transport. It’s now looking pretty grim.

10/15: The mother bear project has also turned into a bit of a logistical nightmare. Due to our endless lack of funding, we can’t have an event to celebrate this donation. The easiest and most sensible way to donate 150 teddy bears would be to gather all the children in one place and announce their names through someone’s karaoke machine. Unfortunately, that ostensibly flawless idea runs into the immediate roadblock of the need for food to feed all these children after they receive their bear. As I’ve learned long ago, food is a nonnegotiable. With that said, I turned to the less-than-desirable idea to hand deliver each bear to everyone in the greater-Nondweni area. I, o f course, would need to be witness to each encounter to take the photos as required by the funder and to not play favorites. So I made a make-shift schedule that basically sold my soul for the next three weeks and I’m really excited about it. No, seriously I am.

10/16: A neighbor of a family in a surrounding village asked for help from Zamimpilo a few weeks ago. A few members of my org went and reported back the dire conditions that this child-headed household was living in. Overwhelmed, they passed the buck to the superhero team of Isibindi rock stars who flew in to save the day with their shiny umbrellas and nice new coats, who has coats?! They described such a bleak situation only a malungu could help. So I came prepared with the only triage tools at my disposal: teddy bears, shoes worn as part of the school uniform, shoes donated from my church back home and a few packs of peanut m&ms that I regretfully sacrificed from one of my care packages.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned about the gravity of the situation, we even had a summit meeting on the issue with the Isibindi task force days before the big day. Maybe because I’ve been immersed in abject poverty for almost a year now that I thought I’d seen the worst or perhaps that I live through some of the worst every day. As soon as I think I’ve found the worst of the worst, the bottom drops out and you come to redefine the definition of cruel and unusual punishment and the desperate acts people succumb to when there’s no one to turn to, nowhere to go, no hope in sight.
Not only were these children, and children they were, living in filth, on one dirty mattress, smelly with ratty hair, but the oldest, Fezeka, had no more life in her. She was so ashamed of her situation that she covered her face for the entirety of my four hours with her. I saw a young woman who had sacrificed far more than anybody should ever have to surrender, her pride, her body, her soul, in a feeble attempt at survival for herself and her brothers.

Looking at these children shivering in their tattered clothes, no shoes, under the roof strewn with gaping holes, I tried to sweep up some of the physical evidence of poverty. I straightened up their shack, swept their floor, smoothed the blankets into crisp lines, threw out the bath water. I gave Fezeka the shoes, teddy bears and candy. This time I was the one covering my face in shame for clearly this was a situation that called for more than a few packets of m&ms. All life had so plainly been sucked out of her long ago that she barely acknowledged this paltry offering.
The government gives grants to child-headed households but like so often happens with the cards stacked against you at birth, this grant seems forever out of this family’s reach. Because Fezeka was born at home and doesn’t have a birth certificate or state ID and since both her parents are dead (they also didn’t have IDs) it is nearly impossible for her to receive one at this point. No ID no grant. Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of this bleak, bleak tunnel. Once hoards of hoops are jumped threw and lots of bureaucratic red tape cut, it is possible, in theory, for the 15 year old, who has an ID, to receive the grant…maybe in one or two years if everything goes according to plan. Let the mounds of paperwork begin.
10/17: Today I woke up to a slew of dead chicks on my compound. The corpses were watched over all morning by their siblings who were clearly devastated. I even tried to shoo them away from the limbs and squished heads but it was like a bad car accident. I could almost see them shamefully sneaking peeks of the destruction on their tip toes, making sure no one was looking as they scurried over to the scene of the crime. Thankfully my go go took care of the burial process because if I stared at the damage much longer I was sure I was going to throw up.

10/18: So today was my first of three weeks’ worth of home visits. I was forewarned that this trek would involve fording no less than three rivers, the prospect of which was exciting to me if for no other reason other than to reenact the Oregon Trail computer game. It took two bush taxis an hour and a half to reach our meeting point. It was then that I realized if I wanted to walk back I probably should turn back now. The home visits were a bit of a bust. There seemed to be a miscommunication with the in-home hospice worker I was accompanying. There was no real plan on the teddy bear delivery, we sort of just roamed around from house to house looking for small children, most of whom were in school. She lived so far away I could only catch taxis at specific times of day, so I had to start well before children are let off school. It worked out that children received a little token they’ll cherish for years to come but I’m not convinced they were given to the ones most in need or that this system in the best use of my time. Can’t win’em all.
10/19: Today I was stopped by Musa, the community social worker, on my way to work. He said that I needed to leave my go go’s house as soon as possible. I said that I knew the situation. I knew that I was living in the ancestral home which is typically reserved for ceremonies and the fact that I’m disturbing the spirits of generations of Hadebes is upsetting my go go. A witch doctor blamed the aforementioned statement on why my go go’s son hasn’t gotten a job. In my defense as supposed spirit meddler and bad luck bringer, she knew I was moving into the ancestral home when I came. She knew she would have to do her ceremonies and sacrifices elsewhere if she wanted to host me. She agreed to the terms. The real reason, of course, is that she wants money, a lot of money. I’ve talked so much about this that there’s no need to be redundant, just know that she thought she won the lottery by hosting me. Boy was I a disappointment.

But Musa seemed insistent that I understood the urgency of the situation. I immediately relayed the message to Tshengie who somehow already knew. I swear that woman knows what I’m going to do before I do it. Anyway, after much flip flopping it seems that my go go has made her decision. The traumatic part is that she pulled an unrelated party into the mess and this person felt the need to pick sides and apparently he’s not in my corner. I also found out today that she’s been soliciting votes for a popularity contest in which the competitors are myself and her. She’s been playing dirty and in an effort to pull out the big guns she spread a rumor that I promised her rent money and now I’m refusing to pay up. I’m now getting creamed in the polls.

In all seriousness, Musa promised her that I would be out of my house tomorrow. This decision was made without my consent or informing my organization who is responsible for my housing. Since it’s Wednesday, I was in a workshop all day teaching the in-home hospice workers about STIs and condoms and had no idea what was happening outside my make-shift classroom. I was called into the reception area while I was in the middle of showing them worst-case-scenario STI pictures to scare them straight about the importance of condoms (and no I have no shame about doing such a thing, with a 40% HIV infection rate I’d run around naked if it meant people would actually wear the one thing that could save their life). Anyway, I quickly realized that I walked in on a meeting where everyone was talking about me as if I wasn’t there. They had decided that I would, in fact, move out tomorrow morning and that I would move in with Sindi, the chairperson who has stolen all our money, and who lives in the township. Again, just as was the case with Sonto, this housing arrangement breaks all three of the Peace Corps rules: 1: you can’t live with a co-worker 2: you can’t live in the bedroom of the family’s home 3: you can’t live in the township (government housing or shacks that were built one right on top of the next during apartheid when they forced all the Black people to move off the fertile farmland and onto the rocky hillside).

I explained as best I could to Tshengie that even though I have the vocabulary of a first grader, I am not a child, and it’s upsetting to me that my co-workers made such an important decision without even consulting me. It’s disappointing to see them seemingly not respect me as a fellow woman but rather has an outside entity an ‘it’ that is as fragile as a flower and has a brain the size of a pea.
Seeing this was not working I tried a different approach. I rationalized, to a different perhaps more empathetic audience, (okay the guy has begged to pay my bride price since I got here, don’t judge me I was desperate!) that Peace Corps needs to approve my housing before I move and this rule is for my safety, all of which is true. So I shamelessly pulled the damsel in distress card which bought me some more time in my current house to figure things out.

10/20: Though my go go’s disappointment in her lack of cash return on our housing deal has been a long time coming, I have to say what happened today blew me away. Tshengie and Mpostol came to talk to my go go today after work. They had a long talk in which my go go rattled off a laundry list of complaints about her foreign house guest. Though there are too many to mention here some of the most hurtful involved attacking my character. She not only told my supervisors that I neglect her grandchild but that I do so perpetually drunk and because I’m constantly sleeping around with random men in the community. She gave an exhaustive list of men I had allegedly had sex with and I was shocked at how specific her evidence was. In addition to naming names, she cited examples such as the time a few weeks ago when I came out of the pit latrine and screamed when a wild dog was bounding after me. This demonstrated, in her mind, that I was having a good time with a man in my hut. I honestly was in shock when she went on to explain to my supervisors that I also travel to the surrounding villages and nearby towns to sleep with strangers. She continued to create lies surrounding my alcohol problem and my never-ending issue of leaving Zindle and her friends to fend for themselves. After going on for over an hour, she ended by saying that even though this woman is clearly a hopeless case; I’ve somehow found it in my heart to continue to house her. It was all I could do to hold off the tears until I closed the door.

10/21: I became physically sick when I found out that these lies have been spread like a virus far past our barbed wire fence. I asked some of the Caregivers at my org and they all said that those rumors are old news. When I asked for a status update from my friends who promised to do some preliminary housing searches for me they all said that they couldn’t find anyone who was interested in hosting someone with such a glaring scarlet letter.

I am completely devastated that someone I considered a part of my family would betray me so catastrophically. There is nothing I’ve worked harder to do than to earn people’s trust as a white person in post-apartheid South Africa. With my reputation ruined, I fear that people will start looking right through me, as if they don’t see me, my newfound stigma like some contagious disease they don’t want to catch. I can already feel everyone’s eyes on me, looking for clues to see if it’s really true.

What is more heartbreaking is that my go go stands to gain nothing from this smear campaign other than the knowledge or satisfaction of knowing she, alone, destroyed me. It’s so cruel and hurtful, so vindictive that even though I know there’s nothing I continue to search for clues as to why I deserve such a punishment.
I could pack up and go, move to another village, it’s within Peace Corps policy but I’ve done nothing wrong. I have faith that the truth will prevail, that people will eventually come around. I’m also not fighting this battle alone; every single person at my organization is in my corner 100%. In a lot of ways I’ve never felt so loved. Because I didn’t come here to win a popularity contest, I plan on staying, make them wonder why I’m still smiling. My conscience is clear. I have no time to waste on petty gossip; my actions will tell the story. In the meantime, I have work to do.

10/22: My go go explained to me that she went to see a witch today who proceeded to tell her that a jealous person in the community has cast a spell on her. This jealous person wants the foreigner to stay with them so the spell was cast so that I would move out of my go go’s house and into hers. Since I adore my home-stay family the only way for this to happen was for my go go to drive me away. Now that she’s aware of the curse, the witch absolved the hex and my go go now would like me to stay. I honestly don’t know what to think but she did bake me jeqe (bread) and braided my hair as apparent atonement for her sins.

10/23: Today I went to New Castle which is a few towns over to see one of my good friends. Even though my attempt at soliciting donations for Camp GLOW was a bit of a bust, it was so wonderful to be around such positive people.

10/24: Zindle does this thing where she hides in the same corner of my hut, usually when I’m in the pit latrine, then pops out ready to scare me. What’s so funny about this is that my sisters and I used to always hide in the same spot for my Grandmother when we were little; I guess some things about childhood are universal. Today she was hiding in her usual spot but she didn’t jump out when I came in, instead she sat there curled up in a little ball crying. My go go is not always as affectionate a caregiver as can be but in her defense she didn’t sign up for a second round of parenting. Regardless, I rock Zindle in my arms until she calms down then lay her down so that I can make her some hot tea. When I turn around to suggest watching an episode of Glee (we both have seen one episode and immediately fell in love) she was already asleep. I hope nobody asks me to take this child back with me to the States because it’ll be awfully hard for me to turn them down.

10/25: So today I fell in love with Tshengie all over again. Not only do I love how she talks about herself in the third person, how she’s always describing herself as ‘nice and cool’ but she’s so passionate about the work we do. She might have the attention span of a small dog, distracted by the slightest disruption but she’s really just pulled in too many directions and doesn’t know how to delegate. She uses her personal money to go to trainings and lends out even more money to her co-workers who are struggling. I really hope she’s proud of me.

10/26: I had so much nervous energy from too many cups of tea that I left work early so I could go run around the block a few times. I’m so excited that Camp GLOW is coming together I can barely stand it. And it’s perfect timing because our grant is due next week.

10/27: Today was the last of the series of workshops I wrote the curriculum for and co-facilitated. The topic for the day was how to form a support group. Even though it got a lukewarm reception at best perhaps just one trainee was inspired to start her own group. I’ll probably never know because of the silence and denial that is so ingrained in this culture concerning the AIDS epidemic but I’d like to think one of those lovely ladies might have felt empowered to mobilize a group of people going through a similar life change.

10/28: Today I found out that my grandmother passed away the night before. I can’t find anything else worth mentioning.

10/29: I love the rituals of death and dying. I take comfort in the predictability and constancy of families from near and far congregating together to devote a few days to honoring someone’s legacy. I love that the clothing you wear can be an outward display of your loss. I love how after everyone has stuffed themselves to the gills with a plethora of casserole dishes the story-telling inevitably begins. This is my favorite part. I love filling in the gaps of someone’s life story. I love learning about their quirks, their skeletons, their life before I was born. But I will miss this ceremony: the stories, the clothes, the family. I tried to have my own private service but I found myself yearning for the people that knew her best. I’m so homesick and sad that I will miss the public celebration of her life. I have typed and erased a dozen sentences to put a positive spin on the sadness and loneliness of being away during a loss. There isn’t any.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

10/2-10/6: So I have spent the better part of ten months explaining the fact that even though my skin is white in color, I only receive a small stipend and am in effect a volunteer. All progress on this tidbit of cultural exchange was lost after I took a member of my organization to a Peace Corps training this week. Since PEPFAR has far more money than they know what to do with, PC decided to hold our training at a hotel and conference center akin to that of the Four Seasons. Not only were amenities such as a pool, sauna, beach volleyball and kayaking down the adjacent river some of the many that were offered, they also provided three palatial feasts a day that involved multiple rooms and presented some of the best food I’ve ever had. And if the slightest inkling of hunger happened to creep up on you between the banquets, delicate works of art covered in sugar and fresh fruit were displayed with morning and afternoon tea. Although this decadence was a welcome reprieve from my diet of rice and boiled chicken and my bucket baths where after much internal coercion I jump in shaking like a leaf, I can’t help but think how contrary to the goals of Peace Corps such a lavish training is. It’s also upsetting to realize the likelihood my counterpart believes in my hypocrisy. After insisting for almost a year that I don’t have piles of money I can just FedEx here to solve the world’s problems, rather I have something much better to give, my skills!, I’m now afraid all that work has been lost. What message does it send to rural villagers travelling halfway across the country to see such in-your-face wealth and to know they will soon be back working for $1-$2 a day? Perhaps it’s an opportunity they might never again experience, something they will always treasure, rather than something to be resented. I hope it’s the former.

Regardless of the necessity of such extravagant amenities, the actual training was absolutely wonderful and I would honestly do it again next week if I could. An American staff member of Peace Corps Tanzania came to educate about half of my training class on a new small-scale farming technique proven to increase your yields as much as tenfold.

Nobody likes a handout. Men feel a certain pride in caring for their families, going back to the days of the hunter/gathers. If this role is taken away from them by means of government grants which instead of providing support based on income status, gives money for the amount of children you have. So in a rural village that has a 90% unemployment rate the only way of income is through childbirth. I have never seen a clearer example of a government rewarding bad behavior. So the men who were once occupied all day in the work force now have plenty of time to make bad choices that include but aren’t limited to drinking obscene amounts of alcohol and committing gender-based crime.

I believe in bringing back the honor of the breadwinner; empowering the people of my community to take control of their own lives. I think part of the answer lies in improving their small-scale farming. Though this new technique of double digging for better root growth, re-routing water for drought and flood prevention and crop formation isn’t a miracle cure, it is, though, a start in food security. And with 70% of families in South Africa being food insecure throughout the year, these are skills I could teach that could literally change people’s lives. One of my co-workers told me of a community garden that was started by elderly women in the area. I think that’s the perfect place to start.

10/11: Today I found out that my go go is no longer interested in housing me during a staff meeting in Zulu. This topic was brought up as an issue needing to be addressed as if I was not in the room. As if I hadn’t spent every day of the past eight months with people I considered my second family. The problem was seemingly resolved after a two minute discussion which ended in all three of the Peace Corps housing rules being broken: PCVs cannot stay in the same house as the family, in a township and/or with a co-worker. When this was mentioned, several members of the organization walked out on the meeting in disgust at my demands.

Even though I was well aware of the various issues my go go had with me staying on her compound, mainly that I wasn’t paying rent and that I was staying in the hut where she typically performed her ceremonies, I never actually thought I’d have to move. I’m so heartbroken. I know in my heart of hearts that I couldn’t have possibly given her or Zindle more of my time or energy and I also know that that’s not what she was looking for. I thought our bond was stronger than the lust for money and her intentions purer but after a lifetime of poverty the draw of wealth is infectious. In the end, her disappointment in my lack of delivery was palpable and I can’t help but think I’ve failed her.

In my most busy month to date, I now have to add ‘convince new host family to house me for free for a year and a half’ to my list of things to do. Wish me luck.

Friday, October 1, 2010

9/21: Busi asked me how many new Zulu words I learned last week in her absence as she prepared for a funeral and I answered honestly, 15. “15?! You are lazy! Why are you so lazy?! You must study more!” I almost started crying as I tried to justify my priorities in immersing myself in the workshops for the caregivers. She was unimpressed. “You must try harder.” I continued in vain to try to articulate that, in fact, this organization and this community is all I ever think about, then I go to bed and dream about it but she had already walked away.

9/22: I had my second real contact with an Afrikaaner today and it was hilarious. She came to our new building which was funded by a Dutch church because the other half of our new building is a church as well. She would talk in English and the caregivers would just stare blankly back at her nodding and repeating, "Yes, yes." She then would insert a slow and condescending 'yebo' (yes) every once in a while for cultural integration purposes. I think I laughed for an hour straight watching everyone take turns imitating her afterwards. I then made sure to remind everyone that contrary to appearances, I’m not actually a White person and do not wish to be associated with that mess of a White lady but in fact am Zulu like them. Everyone agreed.

So I was about to slide into bed at my usual 9:00pm deadline when I completely forgot to document the true joy that happened today: my HIV/AIDS and ARVs workshop!! Not only did several more ladies come but Mpostol was just as dynamic of a facilitator as ever. He, once again, was a no-show for our train the trainer day yesterday but I also realized recently that he’s not really on strike in solidarity with the public sector but the Chairperson at my organization stole his monthly stipend…on accident if you can believe it and he can’t afford the bush taxi commute with no money coming in. The theft is a whole other story but the Cliff notes version is that she meant to steal the money for the food parcels we give out monthly to starving families but she didn’t realize that since the public sector was on strike we didn’t get that money and only Mpostol’s stipend was in the bank account, which for some reason is given in six month lump sums. At any rate, he made it today and early enough for me to go over everything I wanted to articulate to him yesterday. Everyone was participating and taking diligent notes…and learning!!! I was a part of the learning process; it was wonderful. My cheeks hurt I was smiling so much in the corner of the room. It was also reassuring to know that since the high majority of these women are HIV positive themselves, they can now better understand what’s happening and what will happen with their bodies in a very non-threatening environment.

9/23: After walking for over an hour uphill to the ‘local’ junior high I realized that the bag of eggs I purchased from a lady three days ago was still in my bag. How did this dawn on me well into my epic journey, you might ask. Well, one of them broke and quickly covered the entire bottom of my bag and started dripping down my leg as I continued to trek up the dirt path. See, I still had a half hour to go and another school to visit after that so I had no time to do a quick bag switcheroo let alone a head to toe Salmonella sanitation. I talked to the principals of both the junior high and high school about Camp GLOW and they were both really excited about it, which of course made me excited as well. Though I have to admit it was difficult to keep a straight face when talking to the principal of the high school, which of course was located on seemingly the opposite side of the earth from the junior high.

Heritage Day is tomorrow and it’s a public holiday where everyone dresses in traditional clothing and celebrates their culture. Well, since schools are closed tomorrow the high school celebrated today. The principal wore a sleeveless skin tight leopard print shirt, huge bedazzled earrings that rested on his shoulders, a rainbow scarf draped gracefully around his neck and pants with colorful patches of fringe going every which way. Next to me was a student wearing a lacy, transparent bra and lots of beads, including a beaded square that was conveniently placed below her waist, and nothing else. This wouldn’t have fazed me in the slightest if it wasn’t for the formality of the school setting. It was quite the contradiction though we proceeded to talk about the importance of girls’ empowerment for almost an hour. Other young girls in nothing but beads and lacy bras also came in and out to give their two cents, definitely a successful meeting.

Post script: Yes, I’m well aware of how thoroughly I’ve documented my absent-mindedness and yes, I’m also looking into investing in a more competent shadow than Zindle, to make sure that when, not if, I forget my own name, they’ll be there to remind me.

9/24: So as mentioned earlier, today is Heritage Day. As the reliable friend that it is, my radio explained to me in detail all the wonderful activities to be had during this special holiday in Durban the lovely beach town and provincial capital. I was convinced. As if I needed another reason to go other than my radio told me to, one of my fellow Peace Corps friends was celebrating his 31st birthday there and invited everyone to join in on the festivities. Angie and I decided to be travel buddies and planned to meet in our shopping town so we could catch the same bush taxi to Durban. Well I got there rather early, due to my false sense of security and wayward decision making facilitating my hitch hiking with random strangers. In my defense, they were clean cut and spoke impeccable English. (Criminals never have good fashion sense let alone are fluent in other languages). Anyway, I held down the fort for us, clearly blocking two spaces in the taxi while I read, “Prodigal Summer” by: Barbara Kingsolver, which is an amazing book by the way. Two hours later, Angie was still MIA and the taxi was almost full. I started obsessively calling her but I couldn’t communicate because I somehow put a hands-free setting on my phone that I was unable to alter. Thus began my shameless stall tactics. First was a mosey to the ATM, followed by a bathroom stop at the swamp of stagnant sewage that is designated for defecation. The taxi driver was not amused and waved me over from 100 yards away. I hurriedly explained my dilemma, far from sympathetic, he quickly had two more passengers filling our spots. I then repeated my routine in the next taxi, marking my territory and Angie’s as I watched the first taxi leave. I tried not to think about how long this new taxi would take to fill up in mid-morning but it eventually did and Angie eventually came. This is Africa after all, everything eventually works out, just maybe a little later than expected. Because of the plague that is large-group indecision, we never got around to the Heritage Day activities but we did go to a delightful Italian restaurant at 8:30pm (my bedtime!) This was followed by an absolutely packed, posh night club where I felt a bit out of place with my ratty hair, head scarf and ankle-length skirt. I tried to act normal, which is not so easy with hairy arm pits and forgotten social skills. The flashing lights made me dizzy and I wished I never agreed to be reminded of how the other half lives.

9/25: My friends and I stayed at a hostel in the high-end district of Durban and chanced upon a charming market with amazing little booths, many of which sold food that looked like art. It was dreary and rainy all day though I kept my bathing suit on just in case. (This subtle hint to the gods went unnoticed). As soon as it became clear that the weather wasn’t going to get better and the market was closing up shop we continued our shopping extravaganza at a different location. Though I didn’t do many of the things I set out to do this weekend in Durban (celebrate Heritage Day, vegetate on the beach) I did get one thing crossed off: have gigantic, gluttonous meal in honor of fellow PCV’s birth. With that said, I’m leaving Durban quite satisfied.

9/26: I left Durban’s sunny, cloudless sky to spend the day baking in a cramped bush taxi with no air circulation. The funny part is there are windows on these bush taxis but as soon as the engine’s turned on, you can hear the click, click, click of them all closing at once. I’m at a loss to the rationale behind this unnecessary suffering but at about hour five I begged someone to open a window just a crack as we wound up and down hills at lightning speed. I eventually stumbled out of the taxi in a mess of heat exhaustion and dehydration and quite literally peeled off my clothes, rang out the sweat, and went to bed.

9/27: Today I woke up with a head cold not helped by the plunge in temperature. I put on my standard three layers on top and bottom to work at my unheated, un-insulated wind tunnel of an organization. It took me quite awhile to question why I dragged my half-dead body to work on a freezing Monday only to vegetate with a mound of tissues and a pounding headache. Was I saving up my sick days to go to an afternoon Cubs game? The light bulb went on so I left so as to not further infect a population with an already weak immune system, not to mention my general sanity. Also of note, I made a genuine search for possible Nyquil purchase anywhere in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal to be shipped to the hut sending distress calls via smoke signal. I would currently give both pinky toes for one dose of that wonderful drug. What function do pinky toes present anyway; what asset or assistance do they provide? It seems like more than a fair trade for anyone interested in a few extra toes. Will keep you posted on my findings.

9/28: I had one of the most delightful conversations with my sister today, I just couldn’t stop smiling for hours after, it was quite awkward really.
9/29: I’ve talked to several people recently who don’t seem to have the foggiest idea what I’m doing over here in the boondocks. Buzz words like ‘capacity building’ and ‘investing in human capitol’ don’t clarify things? Assuming that’s clear as mud I’ll go ahead and elaborate. So today was my third workshop in a seemingly endless series of workshops to train the in-home hospice care workers at my organization. I developed the curriculum and have attempted to train the know-it-all facilitator to well, facilitate them. Today’s topic was psycho-social support: asking open-ended questions, reflecting feelings, paraphrasing and how to overcome the awkwardness of talking to a terminally-ill client complete with role plays. Also on the docket in this two-fur was memory boxes. I heard about this wonderful idea through our partner organization, Isibindi, but since these two organizations, though housed in the same facility, don’t speak, I added that in. Memory boxes are usually used as a tool for dying parents to continue their legacy to their children. Typical items include letters to their children, photos and important documents that the soon-to-be orphans will not misplace like a birth/death certificate. Unfortunately, the attendance to my lovely workshops has been abhorrent, which is ironic seeing as though all the Caregivers begged me for this. But I continue on, dragging the facilitator in the room by the elbow while explaining, “We could teach someone, something that could completely change their life. What if someone sat here today and took her newfound active listening skills to a client who has no one? Who’s ostracized because of her status and the one person not scared to catch HIV from her is one of these amazing women huddled in the corner scared to go near the over-enthusiastic white girl who’s had three cups of tea before 10:00? It’s possible, right?” Right?

9/30: So today I went into town and I had four large packages waiting for me at the infamous Post Office. One was from my family but the remaining three were filled to the gills with hand-knit teddy bears from the Mother Bear Project. After I eventually got them all to the taxi rank I was using one of them as a seat as someone approached me. This woman, Thembe, came to Zamimpilo half a dozen times asking me for help with a project she was doing for a one year training program to be a nurse or social worker’s assistant. I saw her at the rank and her hands were shaking. I asked her what was wrong and she said that her mother just died that morning. She said that she’s the oldest and that she has so many siblings and they’re all orphans now. It seemed as though things just started to sink in as she sat on one of my make-shift chairs. She didn’t know how they were going to make it. I was shocked to see her crying in public. This went so much against the Zulu culture it almost made me feel uncomfortable, a pseudo-Zulu. I felt so sad for her then. Here she was, one of the few women who make it into one of these programs and was on her way to bigger and better things when the matriarch of her family dies and by cultural obligation she needs to take over. She was so close. Rarely can people even taste the freedom she must have tasted in knowing she might soon get out of poverty. I tried to lift her spirits but she was devastated both for the loss of her mother and for the life she could have lived.

When I got home I was so excited to present my first teddy bear to Zindle, I thought it was only fair, she is an AIDS orphan after all. I could tell she was excited but she didn’t show the amount of emotion I expected. I was a bit disappointed to be honest, it was somewhat anti-climactic. Then I watched for the rest of the afternoon as she dragged that teddy bear everywhere and when she wanted both her hands free she tied it to her back as the women here do with their children. I even caught her nodding her head saying, “Uh-huh, yebo (yes)” on my front stoop while she was having a conversation with her new found friend.

10/1: If I realized I would be hit from all sides with one frustrating thing after another I would have stayed in bed. The list is too long and depressing to mention. Many items on the list stem from the life-long persecution of Black South Africans and subsequent inability to live comfortable lives. This leads many to beg, borrow and steal. Because they grew up with white men and women constantly putting them down, they are very critical of me, perhaps as a sort of sub-conscious revenge. I accept this as a form of collateral damage of their suffering. I trust that I’m doing the best I can and I have faith that they will see that one day too. I think it’s just hard for them to fathom a malungu that doesn’t own a Porshe, they all do in the movies after all. And they assume that I could (and should) channel some of my billions to their need for a car, new house, shoes, cute t-shirt, stipends for the in-home hospice workers etc, etc. Many, most especially my home-stay family, are growing impatient with my ‘fa├žade’ as a Volunteer and are ready to be bankrolled into the next millennia. Little do they know they’ll be waiting awhile; I’m counting my pennies just as much as they are haha.

I have to say that even on days like today where I feel so worn down, there are so many things that I love about this place that I never want to leave. I would just maybe request the ant colony to stop blanketing all my belongings and perhaps the alleviation of the petty theft going on at my org and the apathy towards all projects I implement. Okay, okay it’s not perfect but I still love it. : )

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”