Avuxeni world. It is really hard to know where to begin. There is so much I wish to catch all of you up on, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to properly capture the information in some kind of order. So apologies ahead of time…
To begin in the middle, I have officially sworn in as a United States Peace Crops Volunteer in South Africa. The emotions that I felt on that day, and throughout the ceremony, were feelings that I hope I never forget. During the ceremony, I gave a speech to my fellow volunteers and to the guests assembled at the embassy, reflecting on our time in training and our aspirations going forward. During the week leading up to the speech, when writing along side two of my peers, I found myself doing a fair amount of soul searching and contemplation. PST (pre service training) is hard. It is a tough ten weeks where you have to give up all control, embrace discomfort and unknowns, and put an extreme amount of faith in people you have just met. What makes a person give up their home, their country, their lives and families and friends and world and move for 27 months to a strange new land? That was the questions I found myself wondering through the process.
However for me, the answer was troublingly simple. In my 5th grade yearbook, we were asked to put what we wanted to be/do when we grew up. I said that I wanted to help people. This was something that I had forgotten about (likely repressed because I ended up crying in the bathroom when other kids made fun of my answer) until an old friend I had lost touch with reminded me of my words. At the time, that was the best I could do to put on paper what career path I would take; to help people. I didn’t know if that would mean being a doctor, a social worker, a teacher or a humanitarian. But I knew, that that was my life goal. When I was in 7th grade, a horrific tsunami rocked South East Asia during Christmas, and the world awoke to find that hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in the blink of an eye. This was the first time I can remember that my world grew. No longer were the people in my family, town and city the only people I wanted to help. There was a whole new world, full of sadness and pain. A world of loss. A world of trouble. A world that needed help; and I wanted to be a part of it.
I’ve struggled over time to find my place in this world, and my role in being a “helper.” Ambition clashed with ideals. Humility took a back seat to aspirations. And though I propelled myself into project after project, degree after degree, I never felt that I was in the right place. An inescapable feeling of being untrue to myself was something that followed me everywhere. The scariest kind of truth we can choose not to tell is truth to ourselves.
When I stood along side 32 other volunteers, raised my right hand, and repeated the below words, I stood strong in my convictions that for the first time in a very long time, I knew that I was exactly where I belonged.
“I, Alyssa Angeline Lokie, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties as a Peace Corps Volunteer. So help me God.”
Word can provide no just description nor convey the way that I felt then, and still now each time I think back on that day. I am beyond humbled and thankful to be joining the league of volunteers. It is an incredible group of people I am lucky enough to serve along side of, and I know that over the next two years I will continue to be impressed and overwhelmed by their achievements to combat HIV & Aids in South Africa. And without sounding nauseatingly corny, I do wish to express again to all of you reading my most sincere thanks and gratitude. There is no way I would have made my way to this beautiful country and accepted this unique, exciting, daunting, challenging, thrilling adventure if it were not for the immense amount of love and support from all of you.
Fast forward past my goosebumps…
I am now at my permanent site which is quickly becoming my home. The people who I have met so far have shown me more kindness in a week than I could have possibly imagined possible. I live in a charming, highlighter pink colored one room home off a dirt road in my village under the (grateful to have) shade of a few large trees. For those of you who don’t know, pink is not now, nor has ever been, my color. The inside and outside walls of my home both are coated in this bright, highlighter pink that is bright enough to give anyone a headache if they look directly at it for too long. But, as life has continued to prove, everything happens for a reason. (I’m inevitably going to ramble on before making my point about the pink house, but don’t worry i’ll complete the circle eventually.)
My two friends in neighboring villages and I decided that on Thursday, two days after being in our homes, we would take the local transport taxis to a shopping town to get some groceries and much needed household items. Let me translate that for you… A taxi, is a cross between a minivan and a minibus. It has four rows of seats and a sliding door on one side, and somehow manages to cram 3-4 people on each of those tiny rows. These taxis operate without any type of schedule or routine. If you are fortunate enough to live in a large enough village that has a taxi rink, you can go there and find the one heading in the direction you wish to go, and hop on. You will however, sit and wait until the taxi is full before going anywhere. Now, when I say full, I do not mean filled where each person is sitting comfortably. I mean filled, where each row has so many people and things that you feel the taxi could not possibly accommodate even a baby more, than watch in a mix of horror and amusement as an additional three people make their way onto the ride. This process takes time. Yesterday, I waited for 2 hours 18 minutes for my taxi to become full enough to depart for the 20 min ride I needed to take. I also ended up with someones chicken in a plastic bag between my legs and someone else baby on my lap. That my friends, is a taxi ride.
Now, my two friends and I all knew to expect this. We have, after all, been in SA for three months and have taken local transport in our homes where we lived before here. In addition, we are of a well traveled group who have managed to navigate public transportation in many different countries will less language skills than we have now. NONE of these answers however managed to soothe the anxieties of the people who swooped into action upon hearing our plans to travel to Hoedspruit. After two supervisors, three host families, two gogos, two friends and more telephone chain calls than I can count, the three of us managed to get everyone on an ok-ish page to allow us to take this journey ourselves. And let me tell you, it felt wonderful to gain back some of that independence lost during PST. The three of us each managed to get our taxies in our own villages and meet in Acornhoek. From there, we used our Xitsonga language skills to navigate our way to the correct taxi to take us on to Hoedspruit. On the way back, we contributed substantially to the chaos of the taxi rides with our many bags of goods and groceries.
My town does have a taxi rink which is awesome! However, I live further outside of town. When the taxis are heading to my rink, I can ask the driver to stop and pull over to let me off on the side of the road so that I can walk on to my house, instead of taking the taxi into the center of my village and walking back the 15-20 minutes to my home. The trick is, I have to recognize enough of the landscape to know where my little unnamed dirt road is among a world of unnamed dirt roads. So there I am, bags-a-plenty and anxiously peering out the window to search for the orphanage which I pass just a few hundred yards from my dirt road. Now normally, if I miss my drop off, I can walk from town and it would be no big deal. However, still walking with one crutch, and with the overly ambitious amount of bags I now had to somehow get home, there was really no way I could carry it all on my own. So there I am, looking longingly out the window hoping that I don’t miss it, when I see what I think is the building. But, when I look left, I’m not sure it is THE building. Yikes! Right, left, right, left, is it? Isn’t it? If I get off now and it isn’t then how far will I walk before I find it? It it is right and I miss it will I have to walk all the way back from town? Get off, stay on? Off? On? and while these questions rapid fire in my mind, I catch a glimpse of an obnoxiously colored, bright pink house in the distance.
“Driva, mina ni kombela yima swinene! Na Kensa engofu!” I yell, and proudly slip my way through the taxi, out the door and unload my things. That troublingly bright pink house just so happened to be extremely handy in guiding my way back home 🙂
There is much more I will continue to share! But, before I sign off let me give you a spider update. So far, ole Pinkie has has minimal spider appearances! There have been a lot of those small, thin long leg type spiders and a few other web making spiders, but nothing that has even come close to approaching the hand-sized horrors from my last home. Now, before you all cheer and exhale, keep in mind that apparently during the rainy season the big spiders make their presence know and seek shelter in your dwellings. That, added to the fact that the two rain storms I have had in my new home knocked out my power as well as revealed the eleven holes in my roof makes me not particularly thrilled for the rains to come. And yes, eleven. I kid you not. I counted all eleven at one in the morning when a massive thunder storm rolled through town. There I was, head lamp on, hopping my way around the room on my good leg, using every bucket, cup, bowl and basin I had to try and identify where the leaks were and put something under it. Three of these leaks were right above my bed, and I eventually fell asleep with a bucket between my ankles to catch the water dribbling down, and rolled up clothes to secure the other two that were next to me.
As aways, the adventure continues 🙂