And finally, rain.

And then, one day, as if it had always been, the rains came.

For the past two years I have been living through a drought in my north east corner of the Mpumalanga province in SA. The dry dust and dirt have been my constant companions. The warm, beach-like sand that invades every crack between my toes and sandals tells me that my feet have found their way back home to ole Pinkie. The dark, hard earth beneath my feet when I sit on my porch helps me to feel grounded and back to a place that holds so much love. When I look down to my discolored arms, my hands, my feet, anything that was exposed on my walk, and I exhale, blowing a layer of dust into the air, I know that I have been in my community, working, learning, exploring.

December was a crazy time for me. It held my Close of Service conference, where my cohort gathered together for the last time to prepare our last few months of service. I count myself extremely lucky that throughout my life, on adventures abroad and within the states, I always seem to end up surrounded by the “special batch” of individuals. My cohort and cluster were no different. The SA 35’s are an extraordinary batch of individuals that have come together to support and be family to each other the past two years, from those still here in SA, to those home and abroad. Each and every person has inspired me in one way or another. This diverse group of passionate, caring, dedicated, fierce individuals exemplify so much strength and wisdom, that it has been an absolute pleasure serving with them. We may have started out as government assigned friends, but know as I finish with PC and begin the next chapter, I will be doing so with a new extended family.

December also marked the first time that I was able to visit home. It was as if everything and yet nothing had changed. The trip itself was divine. After an hour layover in Queens and a much missed and highly appreciated bagel, Brad and I hopped a flight down to Birmingham, Alabama. It was then, that after 30+ hours of travel, we quickly changed and headed to the rehearsal dinner. He met, and I got to reconnect, with my grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousins, siblings and parents. This highly anticipated moment was everything I had hoped for and more. It was amazing to be back around my family, and lovely to have a chance for Brad to meet everyone! What a good sport meeting the entire extended family after all that travel.

A few hours of sleep later, and we were on to the next day. It was a beautiful wedding to see, and we couldn’t have been happier for Austin and Jarihope! After our whirlwind trip to Bama wrapped up, we hopped another flight with my sister and her hubby to spend a few days with them at their home in Durham, NC. We celebrated birthdays, introduced Brad to the magic that is the Whole Foods cheese section, and experienced some magical foodie places. Just in time to finally settle in to NC, we headed to DC by train. The next few days was spent bouncing back and forth between DC and Reston at my parents place.

In our short little time in my old city, we put our walking shoes (and by that I mean semi comfortable heeled boots)  to the test! We walked to all of the monuments, both at day and at night, explored the mall and hit a few of the Smithsonian museums. Living in and around the DC area for most of my life and going into those museums more times than I can count, I am still so far from seeing it all. We are blessed to have free access to places of learning and history. We don’t get everything right in the States, but that is something that I am very appreciative of.

A comically oversized bottle of Montepulciano and a few thousand rounds of catchphrase later, we said our goodbyes to my family and took the train from DC to NYC to round out our vacation for the last two days. We yet again put the Fitbit to the test, wandering around Central park, most of midtown and lower Manhattan, and the financial district. We grabbed a slice and had two more delightful bagels before wrapping the trip up with a bucket list item of mine: Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. It was a beautiful night that I will cherish for many years to come, along with this whirlwind trip back home.

Whether it was failing to spit out my correct Starbucks order before the barista had already produced my drink, or overly greeting the checkout clerk who stared back at me in wonderment, there were many points on this trip where I either felt a little out of place or was experiencing some reverse culture shock. The amount of English speakers in my vicinity was overwhelming! I could hear, and understand, everyones conversation around me. How did I ever focus or concentrate before?

At least I was doing a little better than Brad. My poor South African boyfriend had trouble getting people to understand his accent almost everywhere we went! The size of the buildings in NYC stunned him, the majestic monuments of DC took his breath away, and the push operated water fountain after ten days of hand motion operated appliances left him looking rather silly as he waved at the water fountain waiting to quench his thirst. But congrats America, you got a positive review from the visiting SA man, and he promises to see you again some day, hopefully sooner rather than later 🙂

And with a flash and another 16 hour flight, we returned to dear SA, welcomed with a smothering hug of heat and humidity. Yippe!  The welcome back to my village however was a super sweet one. Brad came to meet my dear Gogo for the first time, and get to know my home in SA. This whole time was so transformative for us. In the span of just a few weeks, he got to meet and see much of what made me the Alyssa he knows, followed by getting to meet and understand Sphiwe that I have been for the past two years. All of these combined experiences have made me who I am today, so it was very cool for him to get to see more pieces to the puzzle. (and trust me, a puzzle it most certainly is)

Introducing him to my life here in SA was arguably a bigger step than introducing him to my American life. While he is South African, who grew up and lives just a few hours outside of where I live, they were very different worlds. It was a great experience for both of us to have that time, and he has since been coming to visit me in my Vil each week. I love cross cultural introductions, information sharing and relationships 🙂

The biggest, most alarming change to my return to the village was all of the green! Finally after years of drought, when I was gone in December, my wonderful community was finally blessed with a few days of rain. The earth welcomed this change by new blooms, buds and blossoms filling every corner of space they could! The trees, the grass, the bushes, they all looked happy. Yes, I am choosing a personification of these things because I tell you, I promise you, they were happy.

There is a bridge that I cross over whenever I go into town. And for two years, each time I cross this bridge and looked down into the dry dessert below, I have wondered about what used to exist here that there was a need for a bridge. Was a vibrant river once flowing strong under this road? Did it hold a damn or watering spot for animals around? I can excitingly say that after all this time, when I now cross the bridge, there are three little collections of water waiting below. Thank you for the rain.

Thats all for now. I have another 15 pages of updates that I owe to you all, and promise to attend to, including tales of my plans and next steps.

Lots of love to everyone, and some extra positivity for anyone who needs it. 🙂

Changes, oh changes…and what is next?

The fact that I am just five short months away from finishing my service has not sunk in yet. I was chatting with a friend of mine who is in Peace Corps Tanzania currently, and she said something that I thought described pretty well my current mental state. Some days I cry when I think about leaving in 5 months because it is way too soon, and other days I cry because it is not soon enough.

The chaotic, memorable, exciting, depressing and humbling experience the past two years has brought would be one I wouldn’t change for the world. Sometimes I get so lost in the world here I forget to fulfill my promise to those at home with updates. So here we go, a quick little rundown of some big updates and big life changes.

The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue seems to be, what’s next? What do you want to do after Peace Corps?

My answer changes based on which day of the week, and sometimes even time of day, that you talk to me. Some days I am going to be a writer, and spend time finish my book, crafting stories that I love into shared artistry. Other days I want to be a speaker of truth. I want to take all of the new lenses that I see the world through, my privileges that I have and my experiences I have been fortunate enough to live through, and I want to share my thoughts and ideas. Be hyper intellectual, find out why things are the way they are. Ask unanswerable questions, then try to find an answer anyways.

Some days, I find myself fiercely spun up to a particular political issue. I vow to return to the states, and dedicate my time to fighting for the changes that I believe in. Some days it is through working on a campaign, other days it is leading one, and other days it is through my love of  advocacy and policy. Other days the advocacy and policy I wish to pursue is on an international stage.

My dirty little secret that I have always carried is that in this beautiful life that I feel so fortunate to lead, I want to do, to see and to be absolutely everything. So, if anyone wants to know what I plan on doing life after PC, there is one thing I can promise is guaranteed either way:

I am going to take a long, hot shower, hug my loved ones close, and sit in gratitude for the incredible world that we live in. Followed by eating a long list of food items I miss! As for jobs and what is next, I will figure it out as I go. One thing is for sure, that never again in my life will I do something I am not passionate for. So, if anyone wants to hire any of the above mentioned jobs, if it is a passion project for me, then you will gain one dedicated girl to your team 🙂

BUT all of that is still five months away, and oh my goodness do I feel overwhelmed with the amount still to complete in that time with my projects. The youth center is up and running! We are clearing the ground to put in places for sports and activities. We are collecting supplies for the space and for upcoming projects. Work in the schools has been great, exhausting, challenging and so rewarding. My home based care continues to improve the work being done in the community and continues to impress me with the incredible humans I get to call my coworkers.

In that time, I desperately continue to hope that everything can remain in tact for just a few more months. All of my electronics are one soft breeze away from never turning on again. My body seems to think that we have shot up in age about 15x quicker than is what actually happened the past two years. My bank account doesn’t forgot what a deposit looks like, and my face seems to forget how to put light back in it. Summer is full speed ahead which means long, hot days full of mosquitoes and a miserable Sphiwe. Never again am I living somewhere this warm, someone please quote me! So I hope everyone is snuggled nicely in the holiday sweaters, sipping yummy drinks and end enjoying the crisp fall air. Take one extra moment to stop and admire the beauty of changing seasons.

I am also very pumped to announce that my little bro, the last of the fam to see South Africa, is heading my way in just two short days!!! He is only here for a quick 6 days, so we will be spending most of the time in my village where he can meet all of the wonderful humans in my life and get to see a little bit more about how I live…hope he is ready 🙂 And I am so excited to have him here!

Speaking of wonderful people in my life, I have a new one! As some of you know, I am making a quick trip home in December for a family wedding. It will be my first time home in almost two years, which is both exciting and terrifying. There are so many things about me that have changed, from mannerisms and ways of talking that I have picked up here to fit more seamlessly into my world. I will be curious to see how that all translates when I arrive back state side! The trip is going to be a fantastic one! I will get to see my cousin get married, visit my sister and her hubby, spend time with my parents and brother…and oh yes, I get to do all fo this with my special new adventure buddy.

Back in August I met a really unique guy and we hit it off. It was the first time I had found a South African I could truly exhale around, and that was so easy to get along with. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and for something problematic to come up (as there is just so much deep seeded trauma and ideals here) but alas, nothing did! He is a super special human I have been lucky enough to spend some time with over the past few months. Who knew that all I needed to do was travel to SA to find someone who shared my idealism, optimism and  passion for social equality! He looks at the world and at people in the world the way I want to, and it has helped me tremendously these past few months to know him.

The double bonus::: He has really awesome parents! In addition to being with this lovely human, I have had the pleasure of spending some time at home with his parents that fills my heart so much. They are loving and caring and remind me so much of my family back in the states. Spending time playing cards all day in the house is a favorite past time of my family in the states, and how lucky am I it is a favorite for them too. They welcomed me with open arms into their home, and created a kind of oasis for me to get away, and be in a loving home where I can really relax and let go of some of the more challenging parts of my day to day life.

So, the adventure continues and it will be his first trip to the states! I am excited to show him some of the things I love most about the states, especially family, friends and food! In addition to the exciting parts, I am eager for him to also get to see first hand and question some of the more challenging things about life in the states. It is always a little tricky for me to describe exactly what is happening over there, so in all honesty, I am excited to get back and see for myself! Hope you aren’t too different from how I left you…

After the trip, I will be returning to SA to finish off my last few months, hopefully feeling refreshed, refueled and ready to take on the last bit of work. It has been a crazy ride, as life always seems to be, and I am excited to continue right along.

As always, sending my love back to everyone at home. Thank you for your continued support.

**clears google search history

Oh Google.

I recently went to type in a google search on my phone while chatting with a friend from home, and could not stop laughing at my recent search history. The things that I have googled here over the past year and a half are some of the most bizarre, strange and comical things I have ever put into the search engine.

Surely, others must to do this too? Well, you betcha! So to provide a small insight into some of the things we either face or think about while in Peace Corps, I have put together a list of some of the googled things from volunteers. Please, enjoy…

Gorillas talking to humans

Why am I always hungry when laying on my back

Why do my legs hurt every night

How to transport sharks

Where is the moon

What is waxing and waning

Can you get a UTI from farting

How long can black beans last

Ways to make money from home

Are sugardaddys legal

What are the symptoms of malaria

Lower back pain

Nile monitor South Africa

Impeachable offenses

Black plague Africa

Is diarrhea a sign of pregnancy

Can you take a pregnancy test on birth control

how long can mayo go without expiring

Wild berries and leaves safe for eating

How to kill bats

Funding for youth centers

Funding for home based cares

How to grow spinach

how to not kill spinach

Ways to open wine without a corkscrew

how to mop a floor

Can snakes climb through windows?

How to wash hair without shampoo

How long does food poisoning last

What to make with fabric scraps

What does it mean when my strength crystal breaks

How to recycle arts and crafts

Tricks to being a good PCV

Oatmeal toppings

Symptoms of listeria

What to make with x,x,x ingredients

Cockroach killer home remedy

Lizard poop vs mouse poop

Maas recipes (when you buy sour milk on accident)

how to know if you have a parasite

Taxi violence

Is peeing in a bucket sanitary

Poisonous snakes SA

How long do mosquito bites itch

Can I eat food from the fridge on day 5 without power

How many onions is too many to eat in a day

Can you use dough that didn’t rise

What is the shape of a bedbug

How to de-bloat a goat

Dehydration or heat stroke?

When should I be concerned about diarrhea

How to cut your own hair

How long do fleas live

The list was in no particular order or design, but a list of the collected google searches. I know that this even barely scratches the surface of some of it.

In other news,

Things at site are going well! We are working to get the youth center up and running still. The home based care, clinic and a few other local partners have come together to plan a testing event for World Aids Day December 1.

My COS conference is fast approaching as the time for me here is winding down. As this happens, we are all now in the phase of getting questions from our lovely friends and family back home of ……drumroll please…..So, what are you going to do after Peace Corps?

Well my friends, no idea. I am currently looking into what seems like a hundred different avenues I am equally excited about. Some days I think maybe it will be nice to have a job back in the states, and other days I spend my energy looking into opportunities anywhere else. Looking into passion projects and looking into language learning. Or who knows, maybe I will stick my credit card in my back pocket and travel around this beautiful earth a little longer.

The only thing I can promise you, is that as much as that question is on your mind, it is on mine much more often. Ill figure it out eventually 🙂

Cheers and love,

Riding the Wave

It has come to my attention that my last post may have sounded a little bit down in the dumps, so I wanted to quickly change that perception.

Yes, there is a lot here that is extremely difficult, and so many times where you feel like you are just taking emotional (and sometimes physical) punch after punch. But honestly that is all just part of riding the wave. There are other times of great happiness and joy, and I will be forever thankful of the opportunity to see it all.

Although my mood is constantly fluctuating, it is all part of riding the wave. And ride we all do. It is ups and downs, highs and lows, and times where we struggle to find and particular word or string of words that can actually describe how we feel. (no joke, we have conversations about this among volunteers….I think there needs to be an expansion of the english language to encompass some unique feeling blends we have here)

But, until Websters takes our submissions, we continue to ride the wave. So, in light of the last darker blog post, let me hit you with some sunshine 🙂

First off, it is the land of greetings. You greet everyone, and everyone greets you. Someone walks into our room, where five of us sit, they greet the room as a whole, we all answer, then they work their way around the room, individually greeting everyone. You are asked constantly through the day, by the people you know and love, by those you pass on the street, where you shop, where you eat, where you linger. Anywhere and everywhere, you greet and are greeted.

I have talked a bit about death recently, but there are other parts of death that I don’t discuss that highlight some really beautiful community strengths. For starters, my always caring group of care giver peers has a system in place which we have unfortunately had to use a few times. If someone in the group has a husband or child that passes away, they go into a period of mourning. The care givers all donate 100 rand which the deposit into the account of the grieving coworker to make sure that money doesn’t have to be a concern during the difficult time. Funerals are extremely common, and are also extremely social events. While funerals for those taken from us too early are a somber affair, funerals for celebrated elders are full of celebration, love, community and pride.

Last week on Friday we got approval from the Chief to build an office for our home based care. The home based care I work for has been working in the community for 16 years, helping countless patients, and will finally have a place to call home for the center. Today is the first day of construction on the foundation. The excitement and pride from the manager of the HBC is contagious! We are all so excited to finally have a space.

There is so much happening project wise in my community right now that my days are happily filled with running from one place to another. The evenings are spent my favorite way, sitting at home, outside with my Gogo talking about anything and everything under the sun. I will miss these moments an unbearable amount when I have to leave here next year.

We had a bad storm hit recently, which resulted in a loss for my Gogo. The building next to mine was damaged beyond repair, and it now sits as bricks. Luckily, no one was sleeping in there during the night of the storm, but my Gogo lost much from her business and her home that she was not prepared for financially. When talking about this to my parents and sister from home, they jumped at the chance to venmo me some funds to help Gogo with the next steps. Gogo and I could not be more thankful.

Speaking of next steps, we are getting a jojo!!!!! Currently, my Gogo and I have to wheelbarrow water back and forth almost an hour to fill up our jugs. This is exhausting for my 70 year old Granny (and for me) and is a big burden. In South Africa, we have large water tanks called jojo tanks that you can pay a company to come and fill up. The tanks are expensive, and the water to refill is expensive, which is why until now, we just use the old school fetch and carry way. But happy change has come, and a neighbor of ours will soon have a tap that we can use to fill our tank. Because of this, we are now saving up to buy a jojo, which will make life much easier for her once I leave.

Some friends have left to to go to the city to start new jobs, which is fantastic considering the extremely low youth employment rate. Others have come home from university or finished contract jobs and are back in the community. I am happy to have them back again, enriching the community and making my life much more fun 🙂

As for trips, I have done much less traveling than I hoped with my time. When weekends also count as work days, those vacation days given annually just FLY right on by. I have so few left now, so I need to be careful of when I use them so I do not run out. We all know that a stir crazy Alyssa is not a productive one. That being said, one trip I have on the books for October will be a return trip to Vic Falls. I went with my parents on our vacation, but missed out on two adrenaline activities that I have to fit in. I will be going back to bungee jump off the Vic Falls bridge into the canyon below, and to swim in the Devils Pool, a pool of water situated at the top of the falls right on the edge. Hopefully these activities can curb my adrenaline needs for the near future.. If all else fails, there is always skydiving in Namibia for New Years…

Always riding the wave, but wanted you to hear some of the up swing too. I find myself feeling happier these days (even though the dreaded summer is here) and am having a bit of a love affair with my community, with the people in it, and with the wonderful world they let me be a part of.

I am broken, hear me roar.

One day, two day, three day, four.

Most days, the days here crawl by at an intolerably slow pace, while the months are flying by. With each passing week I grow more and more uncomfortable with the idea of leaving this place.

Don’t get me wrong, I miss plenty from home. My friends, my family, my culture, particular foods, air conditioning, reliable electricity, running water, craft beer…ya know just a few. But then I think about what I will eventually be leaving behind and I get a great pit in the middle of my stomach. While it was a difficult decision to leave my family and home for two years to come in PC, it was also with the understanding that when I had finished my work I would return to that world.

The dreadful, daunting, one way return ticket to the USA post Peace Corps is something rather different and all together unfathomable.

My org, my family here and my community have all been conversing about my quickly approaching April return date, and what will happen next. We have discussed ways to ensure we communicate, contingency plans on when we will see each other again, and possible nuclear options (aka me finding a nice husband here so I never go home) so that the thought of potential separation can be tolerable.

It isn’t all roses. There are days here where I just want to lock myself in my room and cry all day. Trouble is, it is too hot to stay in my room. I have ultimately decided that I can never live somewhere this warm again in my life. I am 100% a cool weather kid, and the prospect of having over 100+ days for 10 months out of the year is too much to handle. I also noticed a drastic improvement in my mood during the “winter” month. Summer is back and “heat rage” is about to be full swing.

Back to the idea of departure, the most intolerable goodbye that I have to face will be to Ma Chyntia, the granny that I stay with. She has become more than a host mom or friend to me, but in all honestly, is someone who knows and understands more about me than I understood in myself.

From my first day, where we did not share a common language, until now, where we have discussions about what here moving back to America with me, we have grown closer than I have ever been with someone outside of my family. She sneaks in my room when I am gone to tidy up my things and refold my clothes to her liking, but would NEVER tell me she did so. We sit together, each and every night, at the end of the day for hours on our outdoor steps. We talk about anything and everything under the sun (that I know how to discuss in Shangan) and mime/drawl/act out anything that I don’t understand.

We talk about what her coming to America would look like. She is worried she would be lonely because no one will speak her language. She is right. She can’t leave here, she has a community that depends on her. But I too need her. Going back to a world without her in it just doesn’t seem like a world I am meant to be a part of. Our solution? A phone I bought, that I am teaching her WhatsAp on. But what happens when I can’t send her data for the phone? Or money to buy airtime so she can call? Or electricity money? Or the phone breaks?

All of these ideas push me past the concept of sanity, so instead I just sit. I sit day after day on the porch and soak up every moment of time I have left with her. I have not shared enough with you all about that wonderful woman, and will endeavor to do better in the future.

I am also at the point in my service where EVERYTHING is breaking. My body, my mind, my technology.

Every chord, charger, and headphone I brought with me is in utter disarray. If it still works, it is held together by cheap duct tape and prayer. If not, I have bought whatever generic off brand thing I could find, because the cost of even a replacement Apple iPhone charger is half of my monthly salary. The result of my crappy purchases? everything dies SUPER quick, and takes way too long to charge (if it charges at all)

My body has aged more than I could have imagine. My skin has spots, bites, sun marks, bruises, scrapes and scars to outline the journey I have seen here. My hair is less luminous,  my face perpetually tired, and my eyes reveal a new sadness reflected back from what they have seen.

When I wake each morning, I move slow. I am lucky if I complete 4 hours of sleep. When I rise, my body is stiff. It yells to me, louder and louder each day, registering new complaints. These I try to dull down and ignore, until those that insist on problem take the frontlines. It is so hard to know here what is just the expected wear and tear and what are real problems.

My mind is forever changed. You are not prepared what your mind will need to endure while here. I could not have fathomed the loss of a child you know until I held a lifeless body of a baby in my arms. I could not imagine a healthy, young early 20s first time healthy mom’s funeral until I stood next to her body as they laid her to rest, on what should have been a celebration of her first child’s birth. I will never fully understand the perpetual loss of my friends and family because I was born to a place of privilege. And to that place of privilege I will return after this experience, in desperate need of some mental health counseling that isn’t widely accepted still in my own circles.

What else is broken? My American habits! I realized the other day that I will need to start becoming aware of the cultural pieces I have adopted here that are not socially acceptable back in America.

I was standing by the road, waiting on a taxi, conferring with my friend when the wind blew a piece of hair into her face, stuck to her lip, which I promptly removed and tucked behind her ear for her as conversation continued. normal. In America….uhhhhh, why are you touching my face?????

I have a long process ahead of me. Patience is requested as I navigate the crazy transition. Until the, you can find me sitting with Gogo, dancing with my friend at traditional events, at the youth center or at my HBC. Sending lots of love to all of you.

I am broken, hear me roar.

One day, two day, three day, four.

Most days, the days here crawl by at an intolerably slow pace, while the months are flying by. With each passing week I grow more and more uncomfortable with the idea of leaving this place.

Don’t get me wrong, I miss plenty from home. My friends, my family, my culture, particular foods, air conditioning, reliable electricity, running water, craft beer…ya know just a few. But then I think about what I will eventually be leaving behind and I get a great pit in the middle of my stomach. While it was a difficult decision to leave my family and home for two years to come in PC, it was also with the understanding that when I had finished my work I would return to that world.

The dreadful, daunting, one way return ticket to the USA post Peace Corps is something rather different and all together unfathomable.

My org, my family here and my community have all been conversing about my quickly approaching April return date, and what will happen next. We have discussed ways to ensure we communicate, contingency plans on when we will see each other again, and possible nuclear options (aka me finding a nice husband here so I never go home) so that the thought of potential separation can be tolerable.

It isn’t all roses. There are days here where I just want to lock myself in my room and cry all day. Trouble is, it is too hot to stay in my room. I have ultimately decided that I can never live somewhere this warm again in my life. I am 100% a cool weather kid, and the prospect of having over 100+ days for 10 months out of the year is too much to handle. I also noticed a drastic improvement in my mood during the “winter” month. Summer is back and “heat rage” is about to be full swing.

Back to the idea of departure, the most intolerable goodbye that I have to face will be to Ma Chyntia, the granny that I stay with. She has become more than a host mom or friend to me, but in all honestly, is someone who knows and understands more about me than I understood in myself.

From my first day, where we did not share a common language, until now, where we have discussions about what here moving back to America with me, we have grown closer than I have ever been with someone outside of my family. She sneaks in my room when I am gone to tidy up my things and refold my clothes to her liking, but would NEVER tell me she did so. We sit together, each and every night, at the end of the day for hours on our outdoor steps. We talk about anything and everything under the sun (that I know how to discuss in Shangan) and mime/drawl/act out anything that I don’t understand.

We talk about what her coming to America would look like. She is worried she would be lonely because no one will speak her language. She is right. She can’t leave here, she has a community that depends on her. But I too need her. Going back to a world without her in it just doesn’t seem like a world I am meant to be a part of. Our solution? A phone I bought, that I am teaching her WhatsAp on. But what happens when I can’t send her data for the phone? Or money to buy airtime so she can call? Or electricity money? Or the phone breaks?

All of these ideas push me past the concept of sanity, so instead I just sit. I sit day after day on the porch and soak up every moment of time I have left with her. I have not shared enough with you all about that wonderful woman, and will endeavor to do better in the future.

I am also at the point in my service where EVERYTHING is breaking. My body, my mind, my technology.

Every chord, charger, and headphone I brought with me is in utter disarray. If it still works, it is held together by cheap duct tape and prayer. If not, I have bought whatever generic off brand thing I could find, because the cost of even a replacement Apple iPhone charger is half of my monthly salary. The result of my crappy purchases? everything dies SUPER quick, and takes way too long to charge (if it charges at all)

My body has aged more than I could have imagine. My skin has spots, bites, sun marks, bruises, scrapes and scars to outline the journey I have seen here. My hair is less luminous,  my face perpetually tired, and my eyes reveal a new sadness reflected back from what they have seen.

When I wake each morning, I move slow. I am lucky if I complete 4 hours of sleep. When I rise, my body is stiff. It yells to me, louder and louder each day, registering new complaints. These I try to dull down and ignore, until those that insist on problem take the frontlines. It is so hard to know here what is just the expected wear and tear and what are real problems.

My mind is forever changed. You are not prepared what your mind will need to endure while here. I could not have fathomed the loss of a child you know until I held a lifeless body of a baby in my arms. I could not imagine a healthy, young early 20s first time healthy mom’s funeral until I stood next to her body as they laid her to rest, on what should have been a celebration of her first child’s birth. I will never fully understand the perpetual loss of my friends and family because I was born to a place of privilege. And to that place of privilege I will return after this experience, in desperate need of some mental health counseling that isn’t widely accepted still in my own circles.

What else is broken? My American habits! I realized the other day that I will need to start becoming aware of the cultural pieces I have adopted here that are not socially acceptable back in America.

I was standing by the road, waiting on a taxi, conferring with my friend when the wind blew a piece of hair into her face, stuck to her lip, which I promptly removed and tucked behind her ear for her as conversation continued. normal. In America….uhhhhh, why are you touching my face?????

I have a long process ahead of me. Patience is requested as I navigate the crazy transition. Until the, you can find me sitting with Gogo, dancing with my friend at traditional events, at the youth center or at my HBC. Sending lots of love to all of you.

Project Update: Youth Center

**so I wrote this to put under the project tab but don’t have enough service to…so I will put it here instead.

Project Updates: Apparently many of you ask my family for updates here. I was mandated from the parents to either delete a project section or to actually write in it. So here we go. I am not going to retroactively write about them, but here is what is top of mind for me right now project facing.

A Space for Youth-

One of the first challenges presented to me by my community when I arrived was the need for a youth center. Meeting after meeting with stakeholders, community members, teachers, social workers and tribal leaders, a constant need presented was a space for youth to go. Simple as that. If there is no space to go, then the only other place people tend to gather is at taverns drinking.

One thing I try to do, with all the projects that I work on, is to ensure that it is community driven and lead, so that when I leave (a rapidly approaching time) then the projects will continue without me. A few other things to set the context of the youth center. Youth unemployment in SA is huge, coming in at 38.6%. Because of this, there are many people around the community with skills, talents and educations not being utilized. I told a group that if they did the leg work and were committed to starting a youth center, found a space to meet and were committed to showing up every day, that I would do everything that I could to help them get what they needed.

Well my friends, they accepted the challenge! Every day, without pay, a small group of youth show up at our very own youth center. The house and property we use was given to them by the tribal authority in our area, and it is now a dedicated space to have a youth center. They have brought a personal computer and table and a few chairs from home. Every day for the past few months, they have been showing up to the center.

So now, it is my turn. We have multiple projects that were are trying to run, just waiting on supplies. We have written a few grants trying to get funding for computers, paper, pens, chairs tables ect, all the things we need to kick off our computer literacy program. This we plan to teach computer literacy and skills while using content that is HIV related.

We have asked community members, neighboring communities and businesses to help by donating to purchase sports equipment. With this, we have someone who just finished university who is going to teach nutrition and exercise classes and teach about maintaining healthy lifestyles.

We have another person who will be running Grass Roots Soccer, and HIV & Stigma reduction training that incorporates sport and activities to teach children.

On top of these programs, the center wishes to be a space to provide homework help after school, assistance with college applications, and a space to help get jobs. To promote this, we are doing everything from resume and CV assistance, to job applications, to practice interviews for the big day.

I am really blown away by the continued dedication of my peers. They are showing up and donating their time for the betterment of the community. Additionally, they are acting as mentors to additional youth who wish to study or work in any of the related fields. Together, they are providing spaces for activities and betterment of youth as a whole in the community.

We may not have many of the “things” we need for the center yet, but we have the people! We are continuing to look for ways that we can get what we need to fully ramp up, and in the interim continue to run programs with what we have.

More project updates to come!!