Birth of Sphiwe

First, thank you so much to everyone for the concern, good wishes and kind words. All of your love and support means the world, especially in my early challenges here. The other volunteers I serve with here have become family, and when they check in, typically ask how someone is doing physically & emotionally/spiritually. So before I get to the fun updates below, I wanted to share with you all my “how am I” update. Physically not great. There are a lot of challenges that come not only with the leg injury in a 3rd world setting, but the harsh reality of crutching on uneven dirt roads and for long distances. Emotionally/spiritually, Yebo! I am alive and feeling good 🙂 I am a big believer that anyone can do anything for a period of time, and that is where your mental strength comes in. Today marks 5 weeks to go (hopefully) on crutches, and keeping the countdown top of mind makes this manageable. Plus, how could I not be good with the amazing support systems from both my volunteer peers & family here coupled with my family and friends back home. Now for the updates…

On Saturday, we moved to our new homes with our host families. The “ceremony” took me by surprise in the best way. We packed up our things early on Saturday and loaded into buses to head to a room at an old college to meet the families. The host families had arrived before us, and were seated on one half of the room. As soon as we started walking through, they all stood and cheered and sang, and we were all instantly overwhelmed and humbled by the excitement in the room. These are families who are volunteering to take us in, feed us, teach us, and help us grow for 10 weeks with no payment from Peace Corps or from us, which is a beautiful thing. To introduce our matches, the LCF’s would call the name of a family, they would come to the front of the room, then announce the volunteer who they would be paired with. As soon as the duo was announced, we would run (crutch in my case) to the front of the room to embrace our new family with hugs and applause.

My host mother, Mama Leti, is wonderful. We arrived back to the small village (along with four other volunteers staying in the same village) and to my new home to sit and get to know one another. This is the second time my host mom has volunteered to take in a Peace Corps Trainee so she was very excited to have a second one back. She has gone out of her way to be accommodating and help me get settled in my new life. This however is a LOT of extra work for her. We do not have running water in our home, so my host mother has to help me fill my water filter so that I have drinking water, bring in water for me to brush my teeth, and boil water and pour a bucket bathe for me (as well as then empty the water from the bucket back). Bucket bathing with a brace I can’t remove is a whole other challenge in itself!

A typical day goes something like this…

We have found a good routine for our living together, crutches and all. Around 5 I am woken up by a combination of the sun, roosters and dogs. I lay in bed hoping to fall asleep again, which usually doesn’t work because it is so hot already. She brings me a bucket of warm water in the morning around 6am so that I can take a bucket bath and brush my teeth, and then I pour the water back into a “travel bucket” so that it can be dumped outside. I then crutch out into the main room where I refill my water bottle and put it back into my backpack (the only way I can carry/transport anything) and head outside to the cook house or detached cooking room to eat breakfast, which is either porridge, pap or an apple. During this time, my host mom helps me practice my XiTsonga, and I make my PB&J to take with me for lunch. I am in language and technical classes from 7:30/8 until 5ish every day. Language classes are small, only myself and three other students with one teacher, so there is a lot of one on one attention and we all work together to try and progress. These are usually in open air on the property of one of the volunteers host families in the village, with a rotating classroom to try and find shaded areas as the sun moves around the sky. For technical sessions, we travel to a college 20 minutes away to meet up with the rest of the volunteers which is always my favorite to get to see the rest of the group 🙂

If at any point anyone has to go to the bathroom during the day at the village, we have a pit latrine on the property. My usage is particularly comical because I can not close the door since my straight brace leg sticks out too far, leaving a random foot peaking out from the door of the latrine.

After class, I head home to spend time with my host mother. Afternoons are our time to sit outside and catch up on local gossip and our days, and cut up veggies/prep food for dinner while rotating our seating to keep in the shade. We then cook dinner (mainly her cooking with me sitting near by and talking) and eat together in our same chairs outside while she complains that I don’t eat enough. Once the sun goes down, we continue our chair rotation now not seeking shade, but the places with the best breeze because it is HOT. I show my host mother home videos of my family back in the states, and she will ask me all kinds of questions about my home and life back in America. In return, she shares with me more about her life in SA and gives me a glimpse into a whole other world of thoughts and dreams so different from the ones I find my mind wandering to.

I have a new name here as well, given to me by my host mother. American names are difficult for the South Africans to remember/pronounce and you usually do much better with integration with an African name. I have to admit, when my mother gave me my new name of Sphiwe (Spee-way for pronunciation) a few days in to knowing me, I was sure it would translate to “extra work” or “difficult daughter.” When she explained to me that Sphiwe meant “given” because she views me being there as a gift, I have to admit I teared up a little. I know I will never be able to repay her for all of her kindness and help, and it has only been 5 days! I am back in Pretoria today (Thursday) for a Dr’s appointment, and this meant spending my first night away from my host mom since moving in. She called me before bed to say she misses me, hopes I am well, asking if she should come to Pretoria to help, and says that if I am unhappy or need anything she will be right here. SUCH a sweet lady, I am so lucky to have her as my host Mama.

Going back to my typical day, once it becomes dark outside we head indoors. There is no going to the pit latrine at night because of wildlife that could be there, so in the middle of the night if you have to go pee, you go in a bucket. (Yes yes, the glamorous life of a Peace Corps Volunteer revealed) In my case, I wouldn’t be able to empty my bucket myself because I can’t hold it and crutch. So around 5pm every day, I stop drinking any water to make sure I don’t have to go in the middle of the night. (I am giggling even as I type this) Even though the other volunteers in my village have assured me they would not mind coming in the am to empty my bucket, it is one little piece of independence I can not let go of.

Around 8:30 I head into my room because I am pretty exhausted. I lay on top of all of my sheets and lay face up (the only way I can sleep with my brace) as the sweat starts to bead on my face because it is SO HOT in that room. I glance around to take survey of the number of spiders on my walls and shoot a quick text to my family in the USA to tell them I love them. And with that, a typical day in my life concludes.

I have many more updates to share which I will post again soon, and again, thank you all for the love!

Languages, Injuries and Homestays, Oh My!

So much has happened in the past week in Africa it is hard to know where to begin, so I will just attempt it chronologically 🙂

Wednesday was language announcement day!! Our group is divided into three languages, and then further into language learning groups(3 or 4 students), each assigned an LCF (language and cultural facilitator) who will teach us our assigned language, and help us to navigate the culture of our homes for the next 3 months. And my language will be…XiTsonga! This means that I will most likely be in either Limpopo Province or in Mpumalanga. I am super excited about this because I have a great group of people learning the same language, even though it is a tough one to learn.

Following language announcements, we had a staff vs trainee soccer match. A few minutes into the game, I am playing defense when I take weird step and my knee took a bad twist, and I essentially sat down in place and scooted off the sidelines. On of the other volunteers went to track down ice (a difficult task in SA) and after 30 minutes of icing and convincing myself it isn’t that bad, I lift up the ice pack to reveal a VERY swollen knee, that I am unable to put pressure on, let alone walk on. I give the Peace Corps medical team a call to fill them in, and let them know I will update them in the morning to see if this is serious and I need to see a dr.

The next morning, the day that officially marks one week in South Africa, I can not stand, and the swelling is just as bad (not to mention the pain that is intensifying at this point) My amazing Cohort (group of volunteers) took care of me in every way! From helping me dress, getting me breakfast, and literally standing in as human crutches to help drag me around. I left session around 10 that morning to travel to Pretoria to see a Dr. Ill fast forward for you 9 hours, two doctors, one MRI and one very concerned receptionist to the revelation…MY FIRST WEEK IN SOUTH AFRICA AND I MANAGE TO TEAR MY ACL AND FRACTURE MY TIBIA.

Now, the ACL tear is a partial, and the prognosis is 6 weeks on crutches plus rehab if the bone fragments heal normally, otherwise surgery to put screws in place to help the bones. So for the next 3 weeks I am to be 100% off my left leg, on crutches (the kind that only go to your mid arm not American styled crutches) In the USA, this is a super crappy inconvenience. In Peace Crops, this could easily be your ticket home. So after a stressful day of doctors I crutch out of the hospital and head to the guest house PC has me staying in for the night until I can go to the office in the AM and discuss next steps with the Peace Crops Medical Staff. I was able to get he OK to return to my Cohort, which is all I wanted in the moment and I was beyond happy to be back with my people. The whole time they texted me worlds of love and good thoughts and it was so uplifting for my (at the time extremely negative) spirits.

So Friday I was returned to my volunteer group, and we closed out our last night together before we found our new host families in the morning. I have so much to share with you all about my host family, the adventures of bucket bathing with a cast on, and the many other moments of my life that can only be summed up by the feeling that you are either going to laugh or cry and have zero control over which it is, but regardless, you must keep on.

Side note – my sister gave me a letter that says to open when I really need a smile or laugh. I have stared at that letter countless times over the past few days just telling myself “No Alyssa, you are only a WEEK in this, it is not your time to cash in the laugh letter from your sister” even though I do feel that navigating my new life completely immobilized is a far greater challenge than I had prepared for.

What are the sayings? Always dark before the dawn? Need rain showers to see a rainbow? Stuff like that…? Yes. All of those 365 day calendar of inspirational quotes is mentally paying off with each passing day. And I will update everyone soon on the new life. To give you a hint, there are currently two palm sized spiders on the wall of my room, and four other visible smaller spiders, and NONE of them are on my list of cares at this point. Laughs & Love to all those back home I am missing 🙂