water – aqua – acqua – mati

I should really being by saying that I have many “half baked” blog posts on water. It is very difficult to convey the importance of water to those who have not had to limit or live with less. And so, I have tried many times to find a way to tackle explaining water shortages, water insecurity and what a difference access to water can have in time management of your day, all resulting in me feeling that you still would not quite grasp the severity of what I want to explain. So instead, I will use a very different scenario, being back in a metropolitan area currently undergoing a water crisis, to finally broach the subject. I am hoping that writing about the experiences in a place that does have access to running water can help you all to relate a bit better to what the usage looks like.  I can tell you now that I firmly believe water IS the single most important commodity in the world, and we all need to do our part to respect that and savor it, because folks, thinking it will always be there when you switch on the faucet is accepting to ignore some very real challenges facing us, not for your grandkids, not in 50 years, not in 10 years, but now…

The last leg of vacation with my parents was a trip to Cape Town, a first time visit for both myself and my parents. The first thing I noticed as we went trough the airport were the plethora of signs, displays and audio messaging detailing the dire water crisis Cape Town currently is in, and its plea to utilize water minimally during the water shortage. At this stage, the city has taken many measures to try and minimize water usage, and the day the city will be depleted of all its water stores is fast approaching.

One display was a ceiling piece, with 87 strings tied and attached to 87 hanging liter bottles, imploring Cape Town residents and visitors alike to keep water consumption down to 87 liters of water per day. My initial reaction was to laugh. I could not use 87 liters of water in a day in my village if I tried! In fact, once it is your responsibility to use a “wheelbarrow” to and from a tap that is a 45 min walk away from you, wait in line to fill your 20L jug and push it back along the wobbly, uneven dirt “roads” (more like a beaten path) then you know exactly how much water each activity you do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis takes. But to take a step back down off my high horse, when in a city or area with basic plumbing and infrastructure, the only real “measure” you have at any given time is the water bill that you pay for the service each month.

How much water is in a flush of a toilet?

How much water is a “quick shower” or dare I say a bath?

How much water is used brushing my teeth? What if I only turn it on to wet my toothbrush and off right after, then on again at the end?

How much water is it to was a plate? To run a dishwasher?

How much water, really, does one use, when thinking conservatively, in a city?

These are all things that I honestly don’t know. So instead I will share with you a few of my “water moments” of the trip.

To the restaurant in OBS that can no longer provide tap water to patrons because of the drought, who instead lowered its bottled water prices to be at cost, thank you for doing your part.

To the rental car agency who provided us with a smudged, dirty car for our journey because they stopped washing the cars with water, thank you for doing your part.

To every bar, restaurant and public toilet that proudly displayed the water conservation anthem of “if its yellow let it mellow,” thank you for doing your part.

For the buckets in the showers of hotels, asking patrons to collect all shower runoff into the buckets that can be used for cleaning later, thank you for doing your part.

To all of the residents and travelers who found new and creative ways to shower while keeping to the 2 minutes per person per day limit, thank you for doing your part.

To my friend I made in Cape Town, who listened intently when I discussed my concerns over water usage in SA. Who asked questions, didn’t become defensive, and could openly discuss post apartheid implications of water inequality still existing in SA as a white South African with privilege, thank you for being open to a new perspective.

To the friend who after discussing water issues wanted to find a way to set up low cost rain catching mechanisms for the building he lived in so that they too can help to minimize waste, thank you for doing your part.

To the older gentleman I met, still holding tight to his racist ideals that believes the water crisis in Cape Town is a result of water waste from the people living in informal settlements outside of the city, which mind you consist of pieces of sheet metal loosely attached together to form walls and a roof, thank you for feeling free to share your opinions with me. I hope one day you will learn, that when people there are thankful for the rains because they get clean drinking water, even though the rain also means that sewage from the public toilet will flood the bottom few inches of their home, they are the ones who are doing far more than their part for the water crisis. To all of those living in such offensive conditions, I am sorry. We all need to do better.

To all of you reading this who will finish the blog and who will start to question their own water usage, thank you for doing your part.

To all of you reading who will finish the blog and actively seek a more water conservative lifestyle, thank you for doing your part.

And finally, to Ma Letti and Ma Cynthia who had to collect and carry water for me while my knee recovered, it is such an unbelievable kindness, and I can not thank you enough for doing way above and beyond your part.

Stay well, stay hydrated, and PLEASE conserve water.

Blog? What Blog?

For those of you who have been following my story and feel abandoned, left stranded in the world of silence and the blogless abyss you would be correct. I want you to know that your feelings are valid and that I have indeed left you in the dark. Apologies to all.

To help provide clarity, I wanted to share with you my process for writing, and how the story usually comes together. I typically find an incident, moment or experience that once it occurs, I find myself piecing together the words I want to use to describe that in a blog. That is my first indicator that it is time to write again.

For each post, I try to write it in one sitting. Once I break or step away, the freshness and reality of the scenario gets lost in  the sea of continuous days here in Peace Corps. Because of this, I have at any given time on my computer a dozen half written blogs, pages and pages of stories, experiences, emotions and encounters that lie waiting for my return to finish. Sadly, I rarely return back to the work, as a new blog has emerged and I skip ahead to work on that.

When I am able to finish a blog, I post right away. And as I know that I rarely return to half written blogs, the logical next questions is why not just finish each one right when I begin it? And while that is always my intention, the unfortunate reality is that life gets in the way. Some days I sit on a mat outside the door of Ole Pinkie, and can write until some of the neighbor kids come by asking to play a game. When I find myself in the city I seek out a quiet cafe with a small corner table to settle into the work, but get pulled away by the lure of volunteers I haven’t seen in months who are also in the city.

The question then becomes, what do I do to ensure I can keep my blog alive and well? Do I just post the half baked half written stories, giving you all a glimpse into the story but falling short of the conclusions? Do I practice stream of consciousness writing and provide you with every chaotic, unpolished thought that passes through my ever pivoting mind? Or do I endeavor to complete each work as they come, and tell life that it will just have to wait until I manage to get the words on the page?

I don’t yet have an answer to that questions, but I do have an update for you. My update, or rather more of a promise, is that in the past year of writing I have filled you in on many things about my life and experiences, but I have also been leaving out some of the more difficult experiences and realities of life here.

Many of my colleagues, myself included, have developed a mental barrier for ourselves, where we have had to adjust the threshold of “caring” in terms of the view we have on the world here. In order to not drive myself insane, or find myself in tears constantly, I have built metal boxes where I choose to lock away some of the heartbreaking realities that we see on a daily basis. My second group of visitors, my parents, have come and gone from South Africa, and one glaring similarity between their reaction and my sisters reaction when she came has forced me to acknowledge and seek to explain the hardships some citizens of SA experience. The ever tangible remnants of Apartheid regime, the continued economic oppression of groups of people and the blatant racism that runs free in this beautiful land is a painful thing to view and process as a traveler. It was the same for me when I first arrived. I remember feeling rage, feeling heartbroken, feeling sad and feeling inspired by the trials and triumphs of people here. And I no longer will be keeping these feelings in the box.

I am not sure what exactly will come next. I don’t know if I will go back and finish some old posts, or if I will publish them in their current state. One thing I do know, however, is that a few things are going to change. I am going to push myself to express and expose some of the issues that are going on here. I am going to talk to you openly about the horrid situations that young women in particular face. I am going to discuss “dinner table forbidden” topics that make us cringe, because to not is to do a disservice to you, to myself, and to the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of sharing my life with this past year.

Thank you for your continued reading and support, and please feel free to engage in a dialogue below if you have any questions, comments, or are looking for additional information on anything that I post.

Sisters In SA

And just like that, I am back in Pretoria, sitting in a cafe, utilizing free wifi, drinking a double espresso that I can not afford and listening to my sisters favorite band. I am so incredibly grateful for the time that I had with her, but also disappointed that it is over so quickly! Originally, we thought it may be fun to have her guest write in my blog post, with her reflections of various activities, but then were too busy enjoying her last day in country to sit down and write. So, I will go forward and try to add color to things that surprised her/her reflections as we continue.

I have said each time I communicate with people back home how difficult it is to try and effectively portray some of the social and economic complexities (that I myself and still trying to sort through) that make this country such a unique place to serve. Even though my sisters trip was short, she was able to get a first glimpse at some those different factors at work, and I encourage any of you who can to reach out to her for her impressions of her trip!

The trip kicked off with me taking the train from Pretoria to Joburg airport to pick up Sissy on Thursday. I arrived a few hours early and anxiously awaited her to deplane and make her way through customs. I tried to distract myself with my three hours of free time, so I went and sat in a cafe, drank a Castle Light and read my book. Once her flight had officially touched down, I moved and sat out in the waiting area for International Arrivals, even though I knew full well it would be another hour or so for her to actually go through customs, get her bag and exit. But, there I sat. Twitchy hands. Restless legs. Anxious eyes quickly surveying the gap between the automatic doors each time they opened. Each time, my heart sank a little as the anticipation continued to grow. For those of you who don’t know, this is at least double the longest period of time my sister and I had gone without seeing each other in my lifetime.

Finally, the automatic doors opened to reveal a small old couple walking gingerly, and a blonde haired, blue, floral yoga-pant-wearing American, Longchamp bag & backpack in tote behind them, scanning the crowd. I hopped up from my seat and walked (okay, it was more like a run) over to the side of the gate to engulf her in a big hug! I didn’t realize the true extent of my excitement for my very first visitor until I felt the tears wetting my cheeks and realized that they were not only hers.

After our brief yet embarrassing reunion, we shuffled out of the way from the walkway we were rudely blocking and I jumped into my typical travel rant about what was coming up, and what was the plans are, how much time we had before we had to leave, what our options were and so on and so on. We had not even crossed the airport to the dining areas before I had her practicing the greetings of three of South Africa’s official languages. On this three hundred yard stroll I also stopped to hug her more times than I could count because the reality that my sister had just flown 25 hours to come see me had not exactly set in yet 100%.

Rather than plunge my sister right into the typical SA transportation (aka public taxi) that I normally take, I booked us each a seat on a shuttle that would take us from Johannesburg to Nelspruit, the capitol of Mpumalanga (the province I live in).  For those of you who know my sister Jacqueline well know that she has a “tiny bladder” which is not great for long trips, or trips without stops frequently. To her much needed mercy we had an unplanned stop along, or the trip could have been much worse! Thus began the first in a series of many lucky transport opportunities.

The next came quickly as we arrived in Nelspruit, much later than I had anticipated, and the long walk to the backpackers from where we were dropped off crossed through a number of areas that are best traveled only during the day. While attempting to make a plan, a friendly woman from our bus who we had not spoken to came over to offer us a lift to our place! Thank you friendly shuttle stranger 🙂

We unpacked, changed and headed out to a small Portuguese place for dinner where we met good-luck transport number three. A local who’s mother had a doctors appointment the next morning in Bushbackridge offered us a lift, which saved us two taxis, three hours and a lot of knee cramps.

And like that, we were back in Tsonga land, traveling through the places that now bring me a home-like calm, excited to show off my smily blonde American to all my new friends 🙂 Having Jackie in my village was great! Seeing my sister and Ma Cintia interact, sit together and enjoy each others company even though they don’t share a common tongue is a really wonderful thing to experience. Jackie also got a small taste of what my life is like in the village. We purposely planned her trip here to be short, as she was not eager to embrace some of the more challenging aspects of rural living (who can blame her)  but it was enough for her to see the realities of how some rural communities live.

The next morning we hopped on a 5:30am, 9 hour ride over to Durban since my sister loves the beach. However, we were greeted in Durban by what could only be described as wind storms. This was a funny flip for us. My sister loves the beach, where I prefer a city with a view of the beach. The first night, as the storms rolled in, my sister and I shared a bottle of wine on a covered patio right on the ocean, listened to the raindrops drum on the roof and hear the thunder call in the background of the evening as lightning lit up the sky for us. There we sat, each reading our book and taking in the calm that the crazy storm brought to us.

The next few days were filed with wind storm madness as well, as well traveled around Durban reading our books from place to place. My favorite day was when we went exploring some of the traditional and underground markets in the area, and had a feast of Indian food that was beyond delicious. We met some amazing travelers along the way, and had some really wonderful experiences, all of which I will continue to detail!!  Side note, from when I began writing this post and finished it now has been over a month, but I wanted to post at least part of the trip! Another blog to follow, sorry for the delays!

Scratching the surface of what you missed…

It is difficult to write a blog about my experience in Peace Corps when I do not feel like I am in Peace Corps. Today marks 37th day away from my site, and I miss my family and home here in SA more than I ever imagined I could.

Early June (sometime before my last blog post) I started having some cramps and abdominal pain, which I wrote off as every day wear and tear. Besides, in my attempt to replace my usual cardio routine with aggressive abs post knee injury, a sore stomach was in my mind a mark of my hard work paying off. After about of week of this continuous low slow pain, I had a night full of fevers. However, the next morning seemed again like business as usual, so I continued life in my typical routine. Note to reader: I am sure at this point, you are yelling at the computer GO TO THE DOCTOR CRAZY…and you would be correct. But just to help you understand my mentality here…medical issues=scary because the last thing you want is an issue that will take you away from site or possibly send you home.

The next night however, I could no longer ignore my symptoms. Around 2am local time, laying in bed in a puddle of my own sweat, shaking with the chills from my fever, I decided that first thing the next morning I was going to call PCMO (the Peace Corps Medical Officer) even if my symptoms had improved by morning, which they had not. I live in one of the few areas in SA that still has malaria, so that was the initial thought from my PCMO, and I was directed to make my way to the nearest PC approved hospital for treatment.

Thankfully, my friend who lives a taxi ride away was awake, talking with me and volunteered to accompany me to the hospital since we had not been before and were not sure how to get there. Three public taxi rides and a few hours later we had almost made it to the hospital, and my eternal gratuity was gifted to this volunteer for insisting to join me because I was very very out of it. In my sleepy/fever ridden state I was confused and convinced we were in another part of SA far from the hospital we were seeking, and a bit later thought I was back home in Italy.

Fast forward six days, and I was finally released from the hospital after fighting off that nasty little infection. Another notch in my Peace Corps medical experiences later, I was making my way to a backpackers for the night to rest and recover before returning back to site. I decided there that I needed a change in my life, and opted to cut off 13 inches of my hair in an attempt to hide from whatever bad luck medical bug was on me since I arrived. Side Note: it didn’t work…

Now, back to my Peace Corps service, as you know, the first three months in country I spent at training, then after my swearing in ceremony, I spent the next three months integrating into my community and writing a community needs assessment that will be utilized as the platform from which my counterpart and I derive projects. After I submitted my completed CNA report, integration period, also known as “lockdown” had concluded, and I am free (ish) to travel around SA and visit other volunteers, cultural events, and what what. The end of this period is also marked by a two week conference with the rest of the volunteers in my cohort that I serve with.

The highlight of this In Service Training conference was without a doubt when my counterpart, who traveled for two days to make it to the far province where the conference was hosted with me, volunteered to participate in a training activity in front of the 60+ volunteers and counterparts. She is an 18year old, who had never left home before, with a particularly shy personality, who came out of her shell so much over the 5 days she spend at this conference, it was such an awesome thing to get to see, and I am beyond beyond beyond proud of her.

Additionally, we held cohort elections for the VAC committee, which is a volunteer advisory council, aimed to work with our Country Director on policy and procedure within SA, as well as to communicate concerns & challenges between volunteers and CD. I am jazzed to be serving on that committee for the next year with one of my good friends in our group, and hope we can do a just job for our crew!

After IST concluded, I got to take a quick day on the beach in Durban with friends before returning to the capitol city of Pretoria for a checkup for my knee. The one day in Durban not only reset me after spending 14 consecutive days in a conference room, but also will probably go down in history as the day I spent more time laughing than any other day of my life. They say laugher is the best medicine, and it managed to take my mind off of a lot of stressful things that were going on at the time in my service. To my Durban PCV crew-you know who you are-a big thank you to you all. I wish that kind of day on everyone at least once.

After Durban, my PCV friend and I got on the 8:30 bus to head to Pretoria. It is extremely rare that things start, run, or end on time here in SA. When the bus rolled out of the station promptly at 8:30, the scheduled departure time, my friend turned to me and said “Ive never had a bus work out this well before,” at which point she instantly realized the juju she sent out and tried to find some wood to knock on. None could be found, and thus begins the tale of my first S&S (Safety and Security) incident of my service.

Not long into our ride, we rear end the back of another bus while in traffic on the freeway. We look at each other, bummed that our bus is now going to have to pull over, exchange info and deal with insurance, inevitably delaying our trip back to Pretoria a substantial amount. We pull forward ahead of the bus we just hit, go off the side, and accelerate away from the bus and the traffic, continuing on our journey. I’ll admit it, at this point, I was actually pretty excited we didn’t stop. In that 20/20 perspective, this should be clue one that something was not so Xap with our driver. Again, feel free to yell at the computer 🙂

Now, before I continue I want to paint you picture of this bus. It is a double decker bus, with two rows each with two seats. We are on the upper deck, and maybe 6 or so rows back, just behind the steps that lead downstairs. Around 11:00 in the morning, the women who are sitting in the very first row with the big forward windows start yelling some “haibo” and “hawa”’s, which is essentially yelling “yikes, no, ahh, eish, OMG” thing like that. My friend and I turn as commotion grows, and the Haibo’s continue and they are yelling some things around in Zulu. (I speak Xitsonga, and my friend speaks Spedi, neither helping us at this point)

When the screaming continues, I ask the man across the isle from me what is happening, and he lets me know that the driver is asleep. At this point, I am confused. What could you mean the driver is asleep? Like, was he sleeping? Is he sleeping currently? Who then is driving?

No. No. He meant that while we were coasting up the mountain, slowing to a stop as there was no longer a foot on the gas, because the driver, sitting in the driver seat, had quite literally fallen asleep.

The women, who can see this happening in the large mirrors the driver uses below them, begin stomping on the floor of the bus screaming BUTI (brother) to the drover trying to wake him up! He shakes awake, and one woman goes down the steps to talk to him, while we all try to slow our heartbeats and settle back into our seats. She comes back up the steps, settles in, and we begin to relax. Less than a minute later, the women start screaming again, as our driver continues to fall asleep on the windy mountain roads between KZN and Free state provinces. At this point, the people on the bus have escalated concern to a much heightened state, and are demanding the driver pull the bus over. He refuses.

My friend gets up to go down and insert some additional pressure on the driver to pull the bus over, as we along with all the locals on the bus, are very fearful of the dangerous situation we have found ourselves in. Side Note: typically in SA, or any time traveling, you accept a different amount of risk/normalcy than you would in the states. I try to derive my amount of concern in a situation from the amount of concern host country nationals feel from the situation. When the bus full of HCN’s are concerned, its time to knock your panic up a few notches.

I remain seated, and can hear the exchange of my friend as she begins dropping some strong diction to get this driver to see reason and pull over. Her five minute interaction went something like, “Sir, I am a United States Peace Corps Volunteer, and you need to pull this bus over immediately…..Sir, you need to pull this bus over….I would really hate to have to call the embassy and get them involved….Sir, You have two minutes to pull this bus over before this becomes kidnapping…sir, I would really hate for this to escalate to an international incident.”

This whole time, I am up on the top deck of the bus still giggling to myself because it is strange to hear things put in terms, but also trying to remain serious because she was not wrong. This was a very serious situation and the driver needed to pull the bus over and let us off. He refuses to pull over and wants to make it 30ks further where the rest stop is. As the exchange continues, the driver FALLS ASLEEP AGAIN, mid conversation!! The other patrons on the bus say that he must be drunk, a conclusion I am inclined to agree with, and I grab my S&S card peace corps provided to me and begin making phone calls to our security officers. I couldn’t help but smile when the gentlemen next to me leaned over and asked with a big smile if I was calling the embassy.

We finally arrive at the rest stop and depart the bus and ask our luggage to be removed from the back trailer. I climb up with one of the bus company employees to point out the bags, and am now a good four feet up off the ground hanging on to this trailer when the bus driver decided to start moving again. I cling on to the side as the bus employee comments “Yo, this driver is crazy” and runs up to tell him to stop. All the while, my friend runs over and tells me to jump off, but can’t with my knee as it is so I just hang on tight. When the driver stops to listen to the yelling bus employee, my friend who has been running next to the bus puts her hands out and has me jump into her arms to get down. Because after such a crazy bus experience, it would be too much for the universe to just let us get our bags out simply.

We are informed by safety and security that we will overnight in the hotel at the rest stop for the night, and Peace Corps will send a driver to come get us in the morning. So, we collect our bags and walk, a bit dazed, and giggling about the absurdity of the experience we just had up to the hotel to check in.

While sitting chatting with our new good friend in the Free State at the hotel bar, who was very excited to meet his first two Americans and asked for selfies within the first two minutes of meeting, and sharing the story of our crazy bus experience, we learn that the owner of the hotel is really good friends with the owner of the bus company we just got off. Within a few minutes, the national representative was on the phone with us, asking for a full account of the bus incident, and then sent people after the bus to remove the driver and ensure everyone was safe. It is important to remember that while my friend and I were privileged enough to be able to get off the bus, staying overnight in a hotel and loosing the price of that ticket is not a luxury that everyone has. It was very tough, when multiple people from the bus came up to us asking how we planned to get to Pretoria, wanting to find another option and to not get back on the bus, that we were unable to provide them with a new route back. Just another example and reminder of the privilege we have here as PCV’s, and a reminder that even while we live in “harsh” conditions and live without, we are only a phone call away from a complete change in circumstances while the friends, family and colleagues we meet and make here do not have that same easy out.

Now, back to the reason I was in Pretoria in the first place. A repeat MRI revealed that I essentially taught myself how to walk incorrectly while attempting to self rehab my knee at site. Now, my muscles and ligaments are working against each other, pulling my knee in different directions and causing a fair amount of pain. I was referred to an amazing biokineticist who has been working to help train my muscles in my leg to learn to walk properly again. I have been in Pretoria rehabbing my knee for about a week and a half, and will continue to do so for two more days, when my big sis arrives in SA!!!!! Then I will be taking week off of rehab to show her around this lovely land that has quickly become a new home.

Highlight of that trip? I get to take her back to my site to see my family and community after 40 days out of site…this will be the first meeting/merger of my American family and my South African family and I can not wait!

Worth the Words?

I am in South Africa by the invitation of the South African government, and under the representation of an organization that is a part of the government of the United States of American. And while that comes with an immense amount of privilege, it too comes with a variety of additional constraints.

Some of these are in place for my safety and security. As with any organization, there are certain things that the company you work for will not let you participate in or partake in because of the impact it could have on the representation of that company. Today, these things usually fall under the “morality clause” section of an organizations HR book. And you would be hard pressed to find an active employee speaking out against its company on social media or other platforms less they may not be an active employee for much longer.

My employer is the United States Government for all intensive purposes. I am a member of the United States Peace Corps, and as such am discouraged from displaying any political persuasion that could be construed as an opinion of the larger organizations that I represent rather than an opinion held of my own individual belief. And I do not disagree with this role.

The work that you do as a PCV is of a delicate nature. Currently, I am working hard to integrate into my new community, and to get a group of people to learn to trust a complete stranger and foreigner into some of the most intimate parts of their lives. I am asking for people to trust me with their health status, sexual behavior, sexual history, and other intimate details of their day to day lives and stories which is not easy to share even with people you are closest with. So naturally, I believe that this type of work demands a delicate nature.

So to continue to do the work that I so desperately want to continue to do here, I must remain apolitical. It is incumbent upon myself and other volunteers to sidestep political conversations and to continue to be representatives of America, and to promote cross cultural understanding of Americans on the part of South Africans, and of South Africans on the part of Americans.

Where this notion comes into conflict with my rational is what “Americanisms” I choose to impart on the people I work with. There are so many things that I love so much about America, but they seem to be things constantly challenged by the administration that I left behind in charge of the country I love so much.

So today, I wanted to put into words a few things about the America that I want to represent, the America that I believe in, and the America that I know, no matter what challenges or shortfalls may be faced in the coming days, weeks and months will forever endure to be, because that is another thing I find American.

My America is a place that I love with all my heart. It is a pillar of hope and opportunity for the rest of the world, where a person can change their status and their lives, and make a better world for themselves than the one they were brought into. My America’s front door is always open, and reads  “give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Thou warden of the western gate, above Manhattan Bay, The fogs of doubt that hid thy face are driven clean away: Thine eyes at last look far and clear, thou lightest high thy hand To spread the light of liberty world-wide for every land.”

The America I wish to share is a place that has a dark history full of mistakes, but a history full of people wishing to make things better. My America knows hard work, knows compassion, knows loss and knows love. My America defends the rights of its citizens, and defends those who can not defend themselves. My America believes in the power of both collectivism and individualism. My America believes in balance of powers and of power in the hands of the people. My America will promote education, critical thinking and new ideas. My America will not shy away from the challenges of the future, but will stride forward and adapt to make the world a better place. My America is a place that has both privilege and poverty, but that strives to make each life livable.

Before I climb back down off the soap box I find myself on, I want to share that it is growing up in my America that has given me the freedom to be able to form this opinion for myself. It was by coming to age in my America that I was encouraged to ask questions, seek understanding and to always feel empowered to question the status quo and that my ideas matter. That every persons ideas and options matter, and that they are entitled to those thoughts and opinions.

Some of my friends and family, when I told them I was planning on doing Peace Corps, questioned why I would choose to leave America to help abroad when we have so many challenges in the United States that need our help. One of the volunteers I am serving with sent a photo to our group that a relative of hers took when in New York, and it was an old advertisement for the Peace Corps, with a large picture of the Statue of Liberty pointing outward, and the catch line reads “Make America A Better Place. Leave the Country.”

The text below then reads that “Of all the ways America can grow, one way is by learning from others.” It proceeded to give a few examples of projects that can be done and some of the work, and concludes with “There are those who think you can’t change the world in Peace Corps. On the other hand, maybe it’s not just what you do in the Peace Corps that counts, but what you do when you get back.”

I think this ad manages to capture one of the goals that I wish to achieve in my time here. I am an American, and I will always strive to help my country and to do my part to make it a better place. But I am also a citizen of the world. I am a member of the human race. I am an inhabitant of the planet Earth. And as an American, a member of the world, a human and a resident of Earth, it is imperative that I seek to make better, to protect and to serve each piece of my identity. 

And so, with no particular rhyme or reason to this post, I am going to conclude by saying that it is tough to be here, so far away from America when so much seems to be changing. I am taking some time to identify the different pieces of myself and of what I represent that I believe is worth fighting for and worth voicing. What are the things in your life that you hold dear? What, to you, is worth the words?

Finding my home

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 🙂

Rapid Fire Updates, and Pivot…

Avuxeni from South Africa and welcome to the wonderful world of updates. For starters, I had another doctors appointment to check on the progress of my healing leg this week, and can happily report things are healing well! Unfortunately, I am still on crutches (it has been SEVEN WEEKS, but hey; who’s counting?) and so I left the dr feeling a bit deflated since I was originally told now was when I would get to begin walking. Turns out, he meant walking with crutches. So, I am now able to put weight on my leg and walk with my crutches, which in another week or two will drop down to a singe crutch, until an additional three weeks pass at which point I can finally walk with two feet and two feet alone. Talk about fine print.

And Pivot…

I finally know where I will be spending the next two years of my life!! I will be in eastern Mpumalanga right next to the wonderful Krueger National Park. For those of you trying to find me on a map, you can google Hazyview, gawk at the beautiful scenery there (bearing in mind my village looks….shall we say…a tad less lovely) then travel about two hours north, hugging Krueger, and you would find my new home!


I will be living there in a small village working at a combined HBC/OVC center. A HBC is a home based care operation, which has a group of caregivers who work in the community caring for its members who suffer from HIV/AIDS or TB. An OVC center is a center that cares for Orphans and Vulnerable Children within a community. In mine, there are 265 OVC’s, however since the orphanage and drop in center lost funding in 2015, they have not been able to service these children. For my first three months at site, I will not be working on any projects, but rather focusing on integration into the community and working on a Community Needs Assessment (CNA) before beginning work. Hopefully I will learn more about the work my organization has done in the past and the plans moving forward.


My new host Gogo (aka grandmother) goes by Mama Cintia. She seems to be a pretty awesome Gogo thus far! One thing I very hopeful on before my adventure to South Africa was to be able to learn the local language. I have been learning Xitsonga, which is a pretty difficult language to learn, but so far progress has been good. Spending a week in an area finally that speaks Xitsonga has been refreshing!! Mama Cintia, as it turns out, only speaks Xitsonga 🙂 so I know that in the next two years I will surely master the language as that is my only outlet to get to bond with my new family.

Pivot(and a week later since I waited too long to post…

I am walking on one crutch!! It is officially Monday morning of my last week of training, and Friday we travel back to the capital city to take our oaths and become official volunteers. I am so excited it is finally here, and have a wave of emotions at all the changes the next two weeks will have to offer. One thing I couldn’t help but laugh on during my reflection warrants a shout out to my sister Jackie…

When packing for this crazy adventure, you have two bags, and one you keep what you need for your first three months (training) and the other is your “non-essential” bag that you surrender to PC and get back in your last week of training before you go to site (we get them Wednesday).  When packing from my townhouse in VA, my sisters job was to divide meds (Tylenol, Ibuprofen, EmergenC, melatonin, ect) I wanted to bring into two baggies, one for my 3 month bag and one for my long term bag. When she brought me my three month bag, she explained that in that bag, she gave me a daily melatonin, weekly emergenC, and enough Tylenol and Ibuprofen to take me through training, including some extra for times that I may feel really sick and need to alternate taking them together in a day. I remember packing my bag feeling clever, and just enjoying that I had a medical sister to think through such things. Neither of us could have seen blowing up my knee in week 1.

However, I am happy to announce that in two days I get my non essential bag back, and I am rounding into the home stretch with the EXACT amount to get me through my last two days. Way to go Jackie your a rockstar 🙂


Spiders are still horrifying. They just are. I have grown far more accustomed to interacting with them in my every day life, but when you pull back the curtains to open a window and reveal a hand size spider lurking in the shadows that then scurries behind your headboard, its not going to be a good night. And yes, for any english sticklers out there, I understand that “scurries” is typically used to describe movements by a small animal, however when the spider could cover my hand and has some fuzz, is that not a time to switch classifications from the fun loving tiny Charlottes Web character to a small, horrifying, dream-haunting animal? Scurries it is.

Final Pivot…

As I said, the next two weeks will be beyond crazy, and I am excited to give you all updates when I come up for air on the other side. Thank you again for all the love and support! On a side note – I am looking to expand my ebook library, and am taking recommendations on good titles! I am open to anything, but my favorites would be titles that in some way inspired you in your life 🙂

A Human Moment

I will post in a day or two with many updates, but first I experienced a pretty cool human moment the other day that I want to share. I was sitting out with one of my fellow volunteers whose SA name is Nospio. Earlier that day, her family had hosted a large party, inviting friends and family from across the village to come and celebrate and to give thanks. When we arrived, the landscape was very different from any “party” I had ever been to. The men and women sit on separate sides of the yard. All of the grandfather aged men sitting together under a tree, the younger men sitting outside of the trees shade together. Across the yard, there were all the Gogos (grandmothers) sitting under the shade of a tree, then all the middle aged women, and behind those groups all of the children. The night before the party, I went over to the house along with a few other volunteers to help them get the food ready. We would spend hours sitting at tables outside the house with gogos peeling carrots, butternut squash and prepping veggies to make enough food to serve a few hundred people the next day. It is never a concern about how the work will get done. There is never a concern of whether or not you will have big enough pots to cook everything in. Ubuntu (an explanation for another time) ensures that everything gets done. Alas, I digress…

So there I was, sitting at the close of a long day with my friend when we had two community elders come up and introduce themselves. It is extremely important in most South African cultures that you always greet someone before introducing yourself, asking a questions, or really even just walking by on the street. So, we exchanged out polite greetings and the two introduced themselves to us, as Steven and Robert. We greeted them back, introduced ourselves as Spiwe and Nosipo, and had a brief yet pleasant conversation before they headed out. At the time, I smiled at the irony of our names. There the four of us were, two strangers to two strangers, and yet each person introduced themselves with a name foreign to them, in hopes of making it easier for the other to remember and to feel comfortable. I think there is a special kind of beauty in a moment so simple as that, in a gesture so small, yet powerful. For while we are strangers in their home, and strangers to their culture, they sought to be so kind as to give us a name we could know.

Challenge to anyone reading, wherever you are. If you see someone who is a stranger to your land, try to find some small, simple gesture you can do to offer up warmth or bring a smile to their day. You never know the difference it can mean.

My second feel good story also serves to provide updates. For the past two weeks we were working in a local school teaching a five session seminar in the life orientations class about sexual health & HIV. Sex, safe sex, and sexual health can be tough topics to discuss, so we hoped the students would come armed with giggles and an open mind to help break through the shy/awkward stages. I was thrilled with the engagement we got from the class, and all in all thought it was a successful first practice at working wth youth and learning more about how to broach sensitive subjects across cultures moving forward.

One of the students lives in my village, and stopped by in the evening after our last day. She was one of our more talkative and engaging students, which was helpful to encourage the more shy students to speak up as well. When we were sitting out, sharing cold drink and I asked her about her thoughts on the class, I was stunned by her answer. She told me that normally in school, she never raises her hand. She will never volunteer an answer. She is last to join discussion. She does not speak up. But, when a group of strangers came into her classroom, tried in broken Xitsonga to introduce themselves, she saw a new kind of confidence she wanted to achieve, and for that, she decided that she wanted to try.

In honor of her, and International Women’s Day, I wanted to share with you this story, not just because of the difference I saw in her, but because of the difference I saw in the class. There were many other young men and women in the class who spoke up and chose to participate after she would raise her hand and be the first one to bravely venture an answer. Her courage in the classroom inspired others to participate, when interactive discussion is not always a part of school in SA as it is in the US. It has been said before when you educate a woman, you educate a family;  a community; a nation. There are numerous statistics with indicators that show the power of education girls and women, from increased health to higher earning in labor force and economy. And even when you dial down down down in the statistics to a small classroom in rural Mpumalanga, when you educate a young woman, and encourage her to find her voice, she inspires others in ways the educator can not.

Challenge again to anyone reading, encourage the young women and men around you to find their own voice. I was lucky in my life to be surrounded by family, friends and teachers that pushed me to find my own voice, and to never tell myself nor accept from anyone else that there is something I could not do. So take the time to tell the young people in your life, to find their voice, and in it their passion and strengths.

Speaking of that voice of mine, update on the Spider Saga is as follows…

How do you kill a spider with a shoe if the spider is bigger than the shoe?

A few days ago, the spider that was on the porch of my host mothers house was the largest I have seen yet. Now, for those who haven’t kept track of my spider acceptability chart, anything palm size or smaller gets a free pass and can remain on my wall, wardrobe or window so long as they do not come near my bed. Any spider, no matter the size, is killed sans judge & jury if it crawls in/on my bed. For spiders that are larger than palm size, I will usually decide to wage war, to at a minimum chase them out of my room. So, you can image my immense disappointment and dread when the big porch spider, which was slightly larger than my whole and, had founds its way into my room, and hovered on a perch above my bed, laying claim to its new kingdom. YIKES! The issue them becomes escape routes. If I miss the spider, only get a partial hit, or it somehow gets away, it is just inches from disappearing behind my headboard and I will never sleep again. I opted for a book smash, which is a dangerous maneuver on a wall. But, I think the universe decided to throw me points for boldness since for the book smash you have to be up close and personal, and I came out a winner. For the moment, anyways.

Later, I am laying in bed trying to fall asleep under my scorching hot tin roof. As I am staring at the ceiling hoping for sleep to finally come and take me out of my sticky hot misery, I feel something crawl quickly from across my exposed stomach and I instantly, and rightfully so, FREAK OUT.

I flail aggressively, and engage in some sort of a hand sweeping movement to brush away whatever horrid thing is crawling across me.

I think I’ve made contact and brushed whatever it was to the floor. Still spazzing, I reach my headlamp so I can shine a light and find whatever it was and kill it. Needless to say, images of hand spider are flashing through my head. Quick reminder for your visual and comic needs, I encourage you to keep in mind that I still cant move, stand on my own or jump out of bed as I have my big brace on my leg for my mending leg.

Once I get the light shining, I see no movement on the floor as my eyes desperately scan from one side of the room to the other and around me in my bed. Where can it be? What was that thing? I know I felt something. I know I did, but what. Where is it? …..And as these thoughts also fly around my head, the adrenalin subsides just enough for me to feel something in my body other than the pounding of my heart…and I feel something moving…on my leg….my hurt leg….under my cast…!

Again, with the flailing and spazzing, and out crawls a frantic scorpion, barreling towards the now bunched covers next to me. Yup, a scorpion. In a quick motion, I grab my water bottle next to my bed and crushed it, all the while its tail attempting to penetrate my water bottle and release its poison. I don’t even know where to begin, in terms of invading safe mental spaces. There was a scorpion in my bed. What else could be in my bed at any given time? There was a scorpion hiding in the space between my leg and cast. OMG, what else could crawl there. Nothing is safe anymore. And so, my life in Peace Corps South Africa continues, though I have earned a new salutation for my signature line.

Call me Spiwe the Scorpion Slayer.

The Crutch Life

Before I dive in to this next post, I wanted to send out a blanket thank you to everyone who has reached out via FB, the blog and email. Please know that I am receiving the communication and appreciate it so much! I love getting to read through and have those connections back home. Please know that I haven’t responded because it is very challenging to get connection to internet but as soon as I have an opportunity too I will 🙂

For this round of updates, I thought I could bring you all come comedy as to what pre service training looks like on crutches.

Each morning, two of the volunteers that live in my village walk to my house to make sure I am all set getting ready and help me get my things to the transport. They also take the time to fill my water filter, chat with my host mom, and provide general happiness to the day. I am not sure it would be possible to survive without them.

Last week we had four days of rain in a row. While everyone is extremely thankful of the rains, for bringing both much needed water security to areas that struggle as well as cooler weather, the rain also brings with it a new set of crutch challenges. I liken clutching through mud and on mud roads to slalom skiing, with a bit less control. Each step is a roll of the dice in a game you don’t remember signing up to play, but nevertheless continue to roll and roll as you move towards the transport. Thankfully, when I did finally roll 7 & out, it was on the way home from school so that I had time to wipe off the inches of mud that had caked on to me and my cast. I am extremely thankful that my parents overnighted me my rain jacket when I was at staging in Philly before departing, because holding an umbrella is an option I don’t have, and the rains here can be pretty intense. A saying that has emerged among my cohort is that in SA, everything is a bit intense. More rain vs crutching excitement to follow…

Language class is currently being held in a open air garage-like structure at one of my village mates house. While I am doing decently well at learning the new language, there is no good way to sit with a cast that keeps your leg straight and goes from your ankle to the top of your leg. So I alternate sitting all the way at the front of the chair so that just a few inches of my bum stays on, or I sit with all the way back with the entire left half of my body off the chair, so that either way my leg can be straight. Either way, 4 weeks of not being able to sit comfortably ever is 4 more than I ever wanted. Now, back to the rain. A few things I have learned. One, burglars are more likely to come and thieve during the rain for a few reasons. First, there are less people outside. When it is not raining, everyone typically drags plastic chairs outside and sit under a tree or other form of shade, hoping for a breeze, which plays into reason number two; the roofs. The roofs are tin roofs, which heat up the houses like crazy in the day, and make it sound like a drummer form an 80’s rock band is giving you a never ending solo performance when the rain pounds on the tin roof. The noise makes it difficult for you to be able to hear anyone stealing. So, when we arrived to language to find a car parked sideways in our classroom, we giggled and just wrote it off as another on a long list of laughable “I don’t even know what to say here” moments. When they found the owner to come move the car, he explained he parked it that way so it would be harder for someone to take. And yes, I do have a picture that will be coming your way as soon as I get enough internet to upload.

One area that I wanted to give some positive remarks towards the crutch life comes in the war on spiders. I now have a weapon to utilize that keeps me a safe distance from the spider in question while I can attempt to kill it (or so I thought). This plan was great, as is all things, until it wasn’t. So there I was, one afternoon in my bedroom when confronted with a large spider on my wall. For a spider to make it on my hit list, let alone recognition list, it has to be at least palm size or larger, and this one fit the ticket. So, I stood back, raised my crutch and prepared for battle. Problem was, when I  only managed to knock him off the wall, as he was now barreling towards me, full speed on the floor. In my infinite wisdom, I did foresee the spider charging while I had no escape option since I was using my only source of mobility for the attack. Tisk. Tisk. In my clumsy getaway attempt, I ended up falling to the floor, next to the spider who thankfully pivoted away and ran under my door. Now while some of you might be quick to call that operation a failure, I will make it down as a training experiment and make some adjustments to my overall spider strategy. In the interim,  there are currently four visible spiders on my wall, as life and time in Africa goes on.

Back to the rain, once I have successfully navigated myself through the mud slopes to get to transport, my salvation is short lived before I arrive at school. Inside most of the buildings here, I am greeted by concrete flooring, slicked with water trudged in from the outside rain lands. I crutch along with small, hesitant movements waiting to hit a wet spot and meet the harsh concrete with a thud. Luckily, I have had few embarrassing wipe outs to date, and am hoping to keep the streak alive for the next few weeks left in my crutch life.

For a more serious note, I have been reflecting a lot on the PST experience, which can be extremely challenging. Many trainees struggle with letting go of independence, letting go of control over what and when you eat, your schedule, and essentially every aspect of your life. Being on crutches significantly limits me physically to going to visit other volunteers and utilizing the small bit of free time we do get for social activities. In a strange way, having to give up 100% of control and choices to be able to live on crutches with my host family in the rural community has helped me to let go of my independence that many of my peers struggle with. Who would have guessed that forced helplessness would prove to be a bit of a virtue.

More updates to come.Thank you again for all of the love and support! Teaser: a week from tomorrow I will get the announcement to see what site I will be living at for the next two years.

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!