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 ‘façade’ 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.”