Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm at the office in Pretoria right now. I have an ear infection. I can't hear out of my right ear, which was such a shame a few minutes ago as I only half heard the dude who sat next to me at the Pigly Wigly talk to me about how psychiatrists were responsible for the Holocaust.

I was sitting there at the table, reading my all-time favorite newspaper, the Daily Sun, as I shook my head in disgust over an article about some of the horrific injustices of the world. He took that opportunity to ridicule me for reading newspapers at all. Then he proceeded to tell me about how Hitler had 6 psychiatrists, Mugabe has 3, and everyone who has ever started a war only did so on account of Big Pharma. I debated whether or not I should tell him that I am planning to join the field of psychology, which he deemed "psychiatry's little brother."

It was all very interesting, and stupid, and a little bit scary. This guy had such an intense and passionate hatred for psychiatrists and psychologists. He even went so far as to say that he didn't consider them human. At that point, I decided I should just listen, and let him spew his vitriol rather than to bother trying to reason with him.

Afterwards, he reached out to shake my hand. In retrospect, I can't figure out if I hesisted to take it because he was crazy and probably would want me dead if he had any idea who I was and plan to be, or if it was because he had a horrible case of pinkeye that he kept rubbing at throughout our conversation.

Anyway, I'm in the city now. We just came from Durban, where we helped out with the training on the Life Skills Manual (my Peace Corps Bible). I'll be serving at a meditation course starting on the 12th. It'll be good for me to sit again and recenter myself.

I've got a lot of other crap on my mind lately, but I've got to sort through it all before I put any of it up here. So ... give me a few days, yeah?

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Big Event

Friday was the big event. It was the culmination of all the Peer Mentors' effort in the form of our last session on how the HI virus is transmitted, a celebration of sorts, and a testing drive. I was a little skeptical at first, but it turned out to be a giant success.

I invited my APCD, who is more or less my Peace Corps boss, to come to the event. I also invited some other volunteers to the event to come and help. Four PCVs came over the course of the campaign, Mike and A.J. came beforehand to help with the kids' training, and Katherine and Adam came to help with the event.

The event wasn't quite as important as all the sessions the kids had been going into the classrooms and giving. I wanted Lydia to see a session. And she saw one, she did!

We needed to combine two classes, which we've had to do all this week on account of scheduling problems. ("Oh, by the way, Lerato, the learners are going to be writing examinations this week." WHAT?????? AGH!!!!!!) So we had a classroom packed with students, and we had teachers (who were generally very flexible and considerate of our sessions) that would come in and pass out papers or make kids come up and get them during the middle of the kids' presentation. People were coming in and out of the classroom the entire time. It was CHAOS.

Regardless, the Peer Mentors handled it with grace and class. Much better than I did. According to Adam's account I was pretty obviously fuming at least one point during the session. All I can say is that it was a good thing that the kids were in charge and not me!

So Lydia got to witness this typical chaos and she seemed to think it went fabulously. Well ... it did, to be honest. Through all the ridiculous amount of distraction and absurdity, it was obvious that the class was getting the information.
I feel confident that the majority of the students at Onkabetse Thuto High School now clearly understand how HIV is transmitted.
And more importanly, they know how to protect themselves.

After we concluded the sessions it was time for the event.
We were originally supposed to start after school until the day before someone said to me, "but if you start after school, everyone will be gone! We've got to start after short break."
Okay, so I got permission to start around 10 to 11, after the kids had finished cleaning their classrooms.

10 rolls around, still cleaning. 11 rolls around ... most kids are standing around and not doing anything. Why can't we start? Oh, there's one classroom that refuses to clean their room.
At this point ... I'm stressing out. We've spent a lot of money and done a lot of work, and I have no idea if we'll even get this thing off the ground.
12 o'clock, the principal gives us permission to start.
The music turns on, and all is right and well in the world.

Erin, who I love so dearly, and who has helped so tremendously, started the day off by announcing that she was going to test for HIV. Soon after, many students followed her, and there was a LONG LINE of kids waiting to get tested for HIV.

We kicked off our event with a candlelighting ceremony for those who have passed on because of HIV/AIDS. The wind was strong, so uh, it wasn't so successful. But we tried. We tried.

Then we went on to do a condom demonstration. We had a couple of representatives from LoveLife, which is a fantastic organization (that I hope to work with in the future), who helped to get the energy going by getting some volunteers to come up and show how to put a condom on.

After a couple of volunteers, one who used his TEETH (eek! don't do this), one of my Peer Mentors came up to do it properly. And I must say, he did a damn good job and was very professional.

After the condom demonstration, we had a two poets read their poems, some jika ma jika (a dance competition) and then we did a little HIV Jeopardy.

Just a quick note- remember earlier when I mentioned the dog? Well, you may have noticed it in most of the pictures I've posted. If you didn't notice, you can do a little Where's Waldo'ing.
Anyway, that dog, Dookie, is Erin's dog who followed her to school. Over a half hour walk. He stuck around the whole time. He slept outside the door of the classroom we were teaching in, and even found his way into the office while we were eating lunch. It was completely absurd. He also terrorized some donkeys, so that was cool.

Enough about the dog.

The main point of the event was the testing. Overall, we had 37 high school students who got tested for HIV, and there was a waiting list for at least 23 more kids to get tested. This way exceeded my expectations, and I am beyond pleased with the way things turned out, even if it did almost give me an ulcer.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Onkabetse HIV Awareness Campaign

This week has easily been one of the most gratifying weeks of my life.
My Peer Mentors have put in a lot of hard work towards getting ready for this HIV education campaign, and it is very clear.
It helps that this kids are incredibly bright and gifted in a variety of ways- but the hard work and dedication ... that's been the key.

It has been a real pleasure to go into all the classrooms and watch as these guys so easily demand respect out of their peers by using their skillful facilitation and passing on their solid understanding of HIV. They set the tone when talking about sex and anatomy by being super professional and demonstrating a level of maturity that has blown me away!

I have witnessed several "a-ha" moments that good teachers become so addicted to seeing on the faces of their students. I truly believe, with the bottom of my heart, that our combined efforts have really set a lot of learners straight about many of the myths and facts that are going around the community- and there certainly are some interesting myths going around.

There have been a lot of interesting comments and questions that have come from the classes. Some kids want to know, is sex a form of exercise? - To which I answer, "why yes ... sex CAN be a sort of exercise- but so can running in front of a train! ALWAYS USE A CONDOM!" CONDOMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

One of the most rewarding moments of the campaign was after my kids ran one of their amazing sessions, and a young man from grade 12 came up to me afterward, thanked us for what we were doing, and asked if he could join in the efforts. YES! Yes. Yes, my dear friend, you can.

It's really encouraging to hear the kids at the school talking about the campaign- and they are. They're excited about learning about the virus, and I think they're really excited to be talking frankly about sex.

It has become so incredibly clear that an Abstinence Only form of education would be so completely ineffectual, preachy and ridiculous. Through the questions the kids have asked, it is ABUNDANTLY clear that a large portion of kids are having sex. Behavior change is hard enough as it is ... to try to get them to stop having sex when they've already started is a far cry from realistic. I want these kids wearing condoms. Condoms!!!!
We will support the kids who are choosing not to have sex by affirming their behavior and encouraging abstinence as their safest and most reliable protection against HIV, other STIs, and "falling pregnant."
By the way, the term "falling pregnant," while referring to a very serious situation that can range anywhere between devastation and jubilation, is a rather hilariously tragic term.

One of the biggest, hottest topics in the classrooms is always the topic of testing.
People are terrified of testing. And indeed, I can't very well blame them.
I remember taking an HIV test myself in order to join Peace Corps, and it was completely uncomfortable. And I cannot even think of a single time in my life where I may have been exposed to HIV- but the fear still resonated in the core of my being. "What if I DO have HIV? What then?"
I could hardly imagine the kind of fear that some of these kids would be facing. It is obvious that many of these kids have been engaging in unprotected sex. The infection rate among adults in the village is around 40%.
There is ample reason to be terrified.

We have also been promoting a healthy lifestyle, and been working hard on encouraging people to support those living with HIV- and they've really seemed to respond to the message. We've been working towards addressing the stigma of testing. I think this generation has been inundated with information about HIV- this week has been focused on trying to help them sort out the good information from the bad. They've been made aware of the fact that HIV is a problem in this country- it's been our impetus to make sure that people recognize that this problem is one that they need to own themselves.

One thing has become pronounced- the kids in the Peer Mentors have definitely owned the battle against HIV as their own battle.

During almost every class, after we've announced that we're putting on a testing drive at the school, there's been a wild reaction. A lot of "Aw hell nah!"s, and a lot of other, assorted, mixed reactions. It's got the kids talking. They're talking to their teachers about their fears, their reluctance to know their status ... it's a big deal.

This next week will be more hard work.

We'll see if we can pull this event off.
Wish us luck.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Onkabetse Peer Mentors

It is officially bragging time.

I love these kids.
First, let me explain how the group was formed.

A few months ago, I went into the classrooms at the highschool, and had the learners nominate a boy and girl from their class who they would feel comfortable going to if they had a problem. I told them they should choose people who they could trust, felt were good role models and were leaders in their community. Of the 60 or so learners who were nominated, 20 or so applied- and these 7 have emerged as the most committed and INCREDIBLE kids.


We have been doing life skills training every week, which includes lessons in communication skills, decision making, goal-setting and HIV education.

During the first few lessons, when we were focusing on HIV education, they got inspired. Something lit them up- perhaps it was the newly formed understanding of how the virus is transmitted, maybe it was the recognition of how it impacts their community- whatever the reason, they were motivated towards action. They wanted to do something; they wanted to teach their community about what they themselves had just learned.

So that brings us to this month and the next. We're putting on an HIV Awareness campaign at their high school. They will be going in pairs to facilitate the same sessions that I gave to them earlier this year. One will be on the Myths and Facts about HIV, and the other will be how the virus is transmitted, and how to protect themselves.
At the end of the two weeks that we will be going into the classrooms to give these sessions, we will be throwing a celebration event/testing drive.

These kids are doing the planning and the work.

After this campaign, we're looking to go into other schools to do similar sessions.

They're awesome.

Last weekend, we met to do a session. The session was about looking at complicated issues and critically evaluating them. We did a mock trial, where we simulated a court case about a man with HIV and his doctor.

(welcome to my court room)

In this mock trial, the doctor had tested a man for HIV, which came back positive. The doctor tried to convince the man to tell his girlfriends about his status, but the man refused. The doctor ended breaking his oath of confidentiality up telling the girlfriends.

(defense's first witness to the stand, please)

The Peer Mentors acted out this court case, taking on the roles of these characters, placing themselves in their shoes, and critically evaluating the situation.
With a bit of help from Gannon, we had them not only explore a complicated and profound subject, but they simulated a court proceeding. It was a critical thinking lesson, social issue exploration, and democratic education all in one.
They were fantastic.

The discussion that followed gave me a lot of faith in them as leaders of not only their community, but perhaps, one day, their country.

So, yeah, the point of this entry was the brag about how amazing these kids are, and I think I've done that pretty successfully.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I got a new cat! And he's sitting on my lap as I type this.


His name is Kusasa (which means "tomorrow" in Siswati), and he was previously the cat of a volunteer from the group that came just before us.
- She finished her service and needed a place for Kusasa to go.
- I've desperately wanted a cat.
Sometimes the world just makes sense.

I had to come into Pretoria this weekend for other reasons, and so it was a convenient time for me to pick up Kusasa.
Keep in mind that Pretoria is about a 6 hour public taxi journey from my place of residence.
Also keep in mind that most Africans that I have met have a deep hatred/fear of cats.

Yesterday, I picked Kusasa up from a friend. Another friend was going to the same taxi rank as I was, so she was waiting in the cab while I picked him up. I had little time to make friendly with this poor cat. His first real introduction was me stuffing him into a cardboard box and taking him into a series of terrifying vehicles.

Upon entering the rank and finding the taxi to Mafikeng, I observed more than one sideways glance at the box with a ginger cat's head sticking out of it.

Boy, I tell you what- my adrenaline was pumping at that point.
I honestly did not know if I was going to be able to take this cat on the taxi with me. I didn't know what his temperament was like. If he was anything like some of the cats I've owned before, this was going to be some serious trouble.

I climbed into the taxi, and ... well, to be honest, I got about the same response as I usually do.
Apparently, a white chick with a cat on a public taxi is not a whole lot more sensational than a white chick without a cat on a public taxi. Only this time, people mostly talked about the cat instead of me being white.

I tried to keep Kusasa covered, so as to avoid any potential hysteria that his presence might induce. It is not uncommon for people to think of cats as evil, or tools of witchcraft here.

Fortunately, I ended up sitting next to a delightful old lady who thought the situation was perfectly comical. I was inclined to agree with her. We went off, and at that point no one had expressed any serious complaints about the cat being in the taxi.

During the ride, Kusasa hyperventilated some, but for the most part he was very well behaved. He was adamant about not being boxed in and being able to watch the landscape go by. That was fine by me, but it meant that he was exposed.

I believe that the taxi driver first became aware of his presence when we stopped halfway at the gas station and he saw his little head peeping out. He went off on a tangent in Setswana about how much he hated cats and how displeased he was about the situation. I apologized and explained that I had no other choice.
Another good natured older woman who was getting out of the taxi mentioned something to him in Setswana that I could only imagine was along the lines of "you know how those white people are with their pets."
Anyway, I bought the driver a coke and I think that placated him a bit.

We reached my ouse, and he acclimated to my place very quickly.
Within minutes of him being in my room, he recovered from the traumatic experience and started purring under my loving caress.
I believe Kusasa's going to fit very nicely into my world here.
We even have our litterboxes next to each other's.


I think we've got a good thing going here.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Don't Y'all Worry

So I got a note of concern from a couple of people regarding my last entry. Please, allow me to reaffirm that I am just fine.
Serving here in South Africa is hard, but that's what I signed up for.

I know that I've reflected a bit on this previously, but I have an incredible amount of privilege.
One of the weightier aspects of privilege that tends to dominate my thoughts is the fact that I can leave whenever I want to.
If at any point I want to go home, I can just call Peace Corps. Once they get the call, they will come pick me up, and I can be out of the country in a matter of days.

That simple fact alone sets me apart from those in my village. It's something I have acknowledged from the beginning- but the longer I stay, the more I realize how pervasive that factor is in my life here.
And while it is sometimes hard to accept that I am presented with this advantage simply on account of the circumstances I was born into- I am presented with an opportunity to make a choice. Every day.
Every day that I wake up and remain here- it is my choice. Though sometimes it is not always obvious why it is the case- ultimately, I want to be here.

Okay, I hope that put some people at ease.
Love you all! Over and out.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Let me tell you a little story about last night.
Last night was a rough night.
While serving in Peace Corps often leads to a profound sense of belonging and a sense of solidarity with humanity, it just as often leads to feelings of intense isolation. At least, that has been the case for me.

For various reasons, I have lately felt very ... alone in life. But this is nothing new.
Throughout my adolescence and most of my adult life, I've carried with me a profound sense of being alone. (Yes, even despite my incredible family and friends.)
I wont get into any existential ramblings here. But I will just say that I knew that this was something that I would have to confront even further in my Peace Corps service, and that it was a very big factor in why I joined.
I wanted to explore my sense of isolation further, because even though it can be difficult and painful- acknowledging that I'm alone in this life has, in a way, provided me with tremendous inner strength.

That being said, I knew it would be hard. But knowing ahead of time that something will be hard ... well, it doesn't make it any easier, now does it?

Anyway, like I said, last night was rough.
I was in bed, quite sad.

As I was laying there and thinking to myself something along the lines of "oh woe is me, life is so hard, buuuhuuuhuuuu," the map above my bed slowly started to fall off of the wall.
It slid down and landed squarely on my back.
The symbolism was just too much for me, and, not bothering to move myself or the map, I burst into a fit of laughter.
It was a tipping point. I laid like that for about ten minutes, just soaking it all in.

I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, and all this time, all I had to do was stick it back on the wall.

(Because it was just a map. Maps aren't that heavy.)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

On the Road Again

I'm sitting here at my computer, stalling. I need to wash my clothes before I hit the road tomorrow.

Normally, I hire a woman from the village to do my laundry (that's right, I'm soooo bourgeoisie), but it's short notice, and I don't have a lot of clothes to do. Plus, it's mostly underwear that needs washing and it is BAD MANNERS to get someone else to wash your skivvies. I'm okay with this, because, well, I mean, just ... it's kinda personal anyway, you know?

I'll be going to the training of the new volunteers. They've come in just about three weeks or so ago.

I'm looking forward to meeting the new group. There's obviously something about the nature of Peace Corps that draws a generally respectable crowd. It'll also be interesting to relive, through them, the anxieties and challenges that we all faced at the start.

I remember meeting PCVs from the previous groups that came into our own training. It was encouraging, because most of them gave the impression of being comfortable, confident and solid in their service. It gave me hope that I could be there one day as well.

I like to think that I've adjusted well to my life here.
I FEEL adjusted.
I don't really know how else to measure adjustment, though. I mean, I eat liver and onions now, for crying out loud.
I don't even veer away from the donkeys when I walk past them. (They're like part of the landscape. A very loud, ridiculous part of the landscape.)
I can tell you everything that is going on in Generations (the favorite South African soapie).
And perhaps most impressively, I can squash a random man's marriage proposal, in Setswana, in under 10 seconds flat- sometimes I can even crack jokes and get them to laugh while I'm doing it.

I guess even if I don't fix the world, at least I'm having a good time trying.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The "Threat Food"

Once upon a time, when I was just a wee lassie, my mother used to threaten me.
I would ask her, "Mom, what's for dinner??" and she would respond, "liver and onions!" to which I would shrivel up my nose in disgust and go, "ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww."

Fast forward to September, 2007. It is the end of my Pre-Service Training for the Peace Corps in South Africa, and I am on my site visit (the first time that I got to see my new home, Setlagole). I am staying at my principal's house, and it is time to cook dinner. I figured I would endear myself to her a little, and cook dinner for us. I ask her what I should cook. She tells me that there are some chicken livers in the freezer. Hmmm.

Well, I had never cooked chicken livers before, so I ask how I should prepare them. She tells me I should cut up an onion and fry them together. (Understand that I hated onions up until coming here to South Africa)

So there I was
cooking up some liver and onions

the food that my mother used to amuse herself with by threatening to cook it for us for dinner

the food that I later used to threaten the children that I worked with for snack time.

But guess what, everybody? It's actually pretty delicious.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's Been a While ...

So it has been some time since my last update, I guess. I got a subtle hint from my father that it was time to update when he forwarded me an email sent to him by a concerned friend. Well played, dad.

I suppose I will start by explaining just why I haven't updated for so long. First and foremost, I hadn't any access to a computer for the past two weeks- but before that is a different story.
Last month, I'd say I was something close to depressed. Not depressed in the way I once was, but rather, I had lost my enthusiasm. I was frustrated with work because I felt like I was getting nothing done (a rather justified feeling). I was empathetically hurt by the suffering and pain of the people of this country, and in neighboring Zimbabwe. I felt debilitated and isolated by the cultural divide between myself and the people around me. I knew I was in a bad head space, and just didn't feel like writing about all that to my family and friends who are reading this blog.

The past two weeks for my vacation I went to another Vipassana Meditation course. It is a course that is ten days long, and of those ten you cannot speak for 9 of them. You learn three techniques of meditation, and during those ten days, you do a sort of deep operation to purify your mind.

I learned about this Vipassana while I was in India with my mother, and we visited one of her friends that my parents worked with at an orphanage several years ago. Her name was Mrs. Modok, and she was by far one of the most amazing people I've ever met. Immediately, you felt a presence that was at peace with herself and the world. She radiated compassion. I wanted to be like Mrs. Modok (and I still do). I found out that she runs a center for Vipassana in Pune, and that that is her method for turning awesome.

I had to try it, and I did. It was the best thing I have ever done, and it is the best thing that I will continue to do. I just finished my fourth course, which was so important for me to take here. I let go of a lot of anger and frustration. I feel far more at peace, and I have regained the drive for my work. I am much more equipped to take on my job. It may simply be that I am more at peace with my limited power to do anything here, but that perspective has empowered me to at least do what I can. Just last month, I was about paralyzed with frustration. Now here I am, ready to go.

I'm meeting this Saturday with my Peer Mentors again. They are some of the most fantastic kids I have ever met, and I firmly believe that they're the reason I'm here.

A few months ago, when we first started exploring the subject of HIV, they got so inspired by this newfound understanding of the virus and how it spread that one of them raised his hand and said, "Can we make a resolution? Can we resolve to put on some kind of awareness campaign or testing drive?" It was far and away the most profoundly awesome experience that I have had here. I will never forget that moment, or Godfrey for as long as I live.

So this Saturday, we'll be meeting to start planning our event.

It is really nice to have my motivation back.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Current Events

Hello all.
I imagine that a number of you have seen or heard about some of the conflict going on down here in SA. For those of you who aren't aware, this link may give you a little glimpse:

SA leader orders army to deploy

If you're reading this blog, I assume that that means that you care about me/my welfare to one certain degree or another. (Thanks for that, by the way.)
I just wanted to put everyone's mind at ease, and let you know that I am okay, and I will be okay.

There is a website for volunteers and for incoming volunteers to SA to interact before they come. A place for them to ask for information, establish communication with one another and voice concerns. One of the incoming volunteers understandably asked about our safety in regards to these events, and I took some time to write out a pretty thorough response. I am just going to paste that response here, because it hits on some major explanations, issues and will hopefully shed a little more light on what is happening.

Keep in mind that it is written for people who are a few months away from coming here and serving themselves:

First and foremost: speaking as a volunteer in a rural area, I am not seeing any of this violence that is making the headlines. Of course it's extremely concerning, disappointing and depressing, but my life is largely unaffected.
Definitely, there are issues with xenophobia here. I have heard xenophobic remarks from people in my daily interactions but there hasn't been any action on those sentiments. Some volunteers struggle more or less than others regarding this issue depending on their site.

The aggression seems to be mostly focused on other African immigrants. This is happening for a few reasons. As a result of the economic situation in this country, unemployment is high, and unskilled jobs are both scarce and coveted. African immigrants are being seen as taking those jobs. Further, many immigrants (especially from Zimbabwe) have been made scapegoats for many of the crimes being committed in the area. Of course, there is some legitimacy to these claims, considering their situation in their home country and the desperation that many are faced with.

This, compounded with the fact that black South Africans are still affected by a psychological legacy of oppression. After generations of Apartheid, it is not going to go quickly either. It is far and away one of the most difficult phenomenons that you will deal with when you come here.

Keeping the aforementioned in mind, Americans are not the target. Americans generally are not seen as competition, but instead looked at as bringing in opportunity and skill. The whole situation sucks and can be disheartening, but I do not feel that my safety has been compromised by the current events.

Furthermore, I have faith that Peace Corps has a grasp on the situation- they are in contact with us when they need to be, and we have all been briefed on emergency plans, god-forbid we ever need them. I truly do not imagine that we will.

Of course, I am speaking as a white female living in a rural area (but I don't speak for all of them). I think it would be valuable to hear from some African American PCVs (or of any other race) and also some PCVs living in more urban sites to see how they have been affected or not-affected.

All of that being said, I wanted to comment on the psychological impact that these events have had on me. I don't know how much these sentiments are echoed in other volunteers, so I can only speak for myself.

Serving in South Africa is hard. It is a country that is in an incredible transition period. As I mentioned before, there is a very powerful legacy of oppression that you will run up against time and time again. There have been times when I thought to myself, or even to aloud other volunteers "God, why didn't they send me to Ghana or Zambia or something?"
On the other hand, I've come to a point where I've realized that I wouldn't trade my assignment given the choice. We have a unique experience here- living in a place with so much complexity and so many interesting facets. It has transformed me, and opened my eyes up to several realities that I never would have been exposed to anywhere else. Absolutely, my village is influenced by what's going on in the rest of the country and what's going on (or not going on) in the government; but for the most part ... it's just my village. People here are living their lives. People are surviving, growing, dying, and carrying on in their own way. I have had some rough experiences, and some amazing experience. More importantly, I have learned some extremely valuable lessons.

Bottom line: it hasn't been easy, and in all likelihood, it wont be easy for you either. There will be times when you question your purpose here, or your effectiveness, or whether or not you think it is worth sticking around. I think it is important to be honest with yourself as to whether or not you are up to serving here- but I also think it's important to hear that there are people here who think that it is worth all the trouble and heartache.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Back in the 'Gole

Welp, I'm back in my village now. Vacation was excellent (thanks mom, dad and Soya, for being such troopers), but I'm ready to get back to WORK.

It was good to confirm that my village had not forgotten who I was while I was away. This became apparent to me upon my first run again in the village. The children had their tires out, ready to run alongside me, pretending that they were cars. The adolescent boys were perched on stoops, ready to cat call me as I ran by. The grandmas hanging up the laundry and snorting their snuff, the old men tinkering around their yards, the toddlers rolling around in the dirt, the donkeys kicking each other in their faces ... yes, the world was still in order.

I'm particularly excited about today, because today, my best friend here (ERIN GANNON) is moving into the village just next to mine!
I am excited because now we can hang out and do our nails and our hair and have pillow fights and watch movies and talk about boys like alllllllllllllllll the time now!
Oh, and I suppose that we could do some joint projects together.

Anyhow, I am going to keep this brief, because I've got some other business to take care of. (I am a productive member of 2 societies, simultaneously. isn't that impressive?)

I just wanted to give a couple of high lights of my vacation:

- Sitting back and watching my parents' attempts to adapt to Africa Time.
- Showers. I got to take showers, and that was cool.
- Getting to see my parents. :)
- Getting into arguments with my parents and then reaching common ground, resulting in much more meaningful relationships.
- Running the half-marathon (THANKS FOR YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS: Mitch, Uncle Allen, Emily, Jenny and Beth!) and getting stress fractures in my feet. For the record, I ran it in 2 hours and 3 minutes, which is approximately 13 miles run at 9 minutes.
- My mommy mommy and my host mother getting to meet one another.

- Getting to see my sister! (... and her bringing me a lot of awesome stuff. Thanks, SoyaGaboya.)

- All sorts of amazing animals (except baboons, baboons are HORRIBLE little creatures)
- Almost breaking an axle due to the canyon-esque potholes in Botswana.

- I got spanked by a babboon. (You can expect a guest entry from my sister on this)
- FEARLESSLY plunging off of a bridge into the gorge below:

Anyway, I'm going to wrap it up for now. I will try to update more regularly, but you see, I am a very busy woman.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hey All

Just a little friendly reminder that my BIRTHDAY is coming up ...
and for my BIRTHDAY present, I would love it if you could help me raise some funds for the Longtom. I need to raise at least 75 bucks if I want to enter the race, and it'd be really embarrassing if I wasn't allowed to run on my BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!

To help me not look like a big DORK:
- Go to http://www.klm-foundation.org/
- Click on the "Donate" photo
- Donate!
- Make sure that my name, "MEGAN CLAPP" is in the box asking for the runner's name.

Come on, guys! You don't want me to look like a fool out there, right? Right?!?!?!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I'm going to put myself a little bit out there for you all right now

It's been quite a day.
I'm getting my Peer Mentoring program off the ground. The mentors, about 12 high school students, have been chosen, and they're a really great group.

But this post is not about that. I am sure you'll hear about my projects in more detail later, when they're up and running.

There is a boy in my program. He is really bright. He is very compassionate, and he is motivated to help people. I am proud to have him in my program.

I had a conversation with him and it was ... I have a lot of feelings about it. But first, I want to talk a little bit about my life.

I've had a good life. I've had really excellent parents (shout out to mom and dad- what's UP), and a near perfect childhood (still wish you guys would've bought me that EZ Bake Oven). My parents are damn good parents. Heck, they even went to almost every single sporting event that I had, even through college- traveling to Texas, Canada, Washington, Utah ... they've been there for me a lot. My parents supported me in practically everything I did, except for when I dyed my hair red. Mom didn't support that.
I've had a lot of privilege, and not only because I was the youngest child. First of all, I grew up in America. I'm beginning to understand the implications of what that means. Second, I was born with white skin. As much as I hate what it means to say this, that has given me a tremendous advantage, and will continue to give me an advantage, in most parts of the world. I came from a supportive, functional family, that has been financially stable. The only other factor that would have contributed to the privileges bestowed upon me from the world, would have been being born a boy. Of course, I am not saying that I would have had an easier life, but instead that I might be earning $0.15 more an hour as a male.
Growing up, I was pretty smart, athletic, and didn't have any severe disfigurements. I had a blessed life.

Despite all of these things, during my adolescence I was severely depressed and even suicidal. This was a major episode in my life, and it has played a huge part in who I am today. I can't totally pin down all the reasons why I was depressed- but I can think of a few.

First, I was angry that I wasn't perfect. I am not going to lie, this still irritates me a little to this day. But only a little.

Second, I couldn't hang with the superficial world that was high school. I wasn't the prettiest girl, I wasn't the most popular, and those are the things that seemed to matter most at the time! Ridiculous, I know, but I think that I had a fundamental resentment towards the whole situation. I knew there was more to life, but couldn't quite put my finger on it, and it was frustrating.

Third, and I think, perhaps most important, I was angry at God. I didn't grow up strictly religious- but my grandma used to take me to Sunday school, I was baptized, etc. Entering into the real world from childhood is not an easy thing- especially when you had one as reasonable as my own. Once you start recognizing that all the world doesn't operate on reason, and with a sense of fairness and justice- that is an awfully hard thing to accept. I hated that there was suffering in the world, and I thought that God was just being a big, giant jerk.
I've grown up a little, and come to a few realizations on this matter, but I wont go into it. Basically, I will now just say that, God and I- we've come to an understanding.

But beyond all of that, there was also an underlying sense of guilt for feeling the way that I felt. I felt miserable for so long, and for reasons that I still sometimes think are a little bit silly. Of course, that didn't mean that they weren't real feelings, and that they weren't justified in their own way. What it did mean, though, is that I knew that I was living a charmed life, but STILL couldn't stop suffering feelings of profound misery.

Thankfully, those feelings are in the past now. The experience of being suicidal was not an easy one to go through by any means, but to this day, I consider it to be one of the best things that happened to me. I learned a lot about myself in that time, and I think I came out of it as a better person.

I've brought all this all up for a reason, I promise.

Today, I had a conversation with the aforementioned boy. He came to me to talk about life. We sat down, and he started to unload some of his story. This kid ... he's been through a lot. When he was 12 or so, his mother ran away, and later died of AIDS. He used to get beaten, and is currently being emotionally abused at the house he is staying at now. His father is sick.

Here he is, though, this incredibly bright boy, with so many challenges in his life. Just the simple fact that he is where he is, living how he does, speaks volumes of his resilience and wisdom. I believe that in his heart of hearts, he truly wants to face his demons, and help others while he's at it.

At one point during the talk, he admitted to me that he had had thoughts about ending his life. I couldn't help but feel a profound connection with him on that level.

Part of me thought to myself "how could you even have the AUDACITY to compare what you went through with what this boy has gone through?" The other part of me acknowledged that all beings suffer.

I think that that has been one of the greatest gifts that has been bestowed upon me. I have lived an extremely privileged life. But despite all of my privilege, despite my caring and competent parents, despite my relative social grace ... I was still miserable. I've learned that privilege does not necessarily equal happiness, and that has been the greatest privilege of them all.
I have learned that the only way for me to feel like I've earned any of the privileges that I've had is to do whatever I can to help other people to have the same ones, or even better.

I don't know how to end this entry, because I don't feel like this is the right place, or the right way to end it- but I cannot think of anything more to say.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Why hello, everybody! Do you want to do something for me??

I know that you do! You love me, and you think what I'm doing is great! And I think that you're great! And that combination means great things. GREAT THINGS.

So. Before I give my update on my day today, I am going to tell you a little bit about the Longtom and the KLM Foundation.

On March 29 (my BIRTHDAY- for further incentive to help) I will be running in a half marathon (21.1k) held in Sabie, Mpumalanga, just outside of Kruger.

The main reason for taking part is to support the KLM foundation. Their website is: www.klm-foundation.org ; please check it out. I won't go into all the details of what they do since you can read that on the site, but I'll just say that the organization was founded by two PCVs who served here in South Africa a few years ago. They decided to hook up with the Longtom marathon as a fundraiser; they fund a worthy, needy child to attend an excellent secondary school in Mpumalanga - Uplands College.
The child they choose is very carefully selected, going through a four-tier process of elimination.
The four children who have been chosen in the past four years so far are excelling in all respects.
And god. The one thing that this country needs most are competent leaders. Giving these kids a chance to get a good education can mean one heck of a difference.

Any amount is appreciated. And it is tax-deductible. 10 bucks, 20 bucks, 8,000 bucks ... it's cool because YOU get to decide. And remember, the amount of money that you donate is directly proportional to the karma points you receive!!!

How to help me out:
Go to the KLM website ( www.klm-foundation.org )to make a donation- just click on the 'donate' photo. Make sure to put my name ("Megan Clapp," if you've forgotten!) in the white box where it asks for the Longtom person you want to sponsor.

Without further adieu, I'd like to tell you give you a run down of my day today.


It wasn't a spectacular day. Instead, it was pretty typical. But it was EXTRA typical today.

The local municipality was to play a soccer tournament today in Vryburg with 3 other municipalities in the region. Here's how the events unfolded:
I woke up and left the house by 7 a.m. with the intention of meeting someone- and upon arrival to his house, he's gone. Of course! He said to meet me at 7:30, and I arrived at 7:29. How on earth did someone leave AHEAD OF SCHEDULE in this country? Anyway.
I figured he went to the municipality. Nope, not there. Wandered around some until a guy called me over and asked me if I was going to Vryburg to play. I was then reunited with my friend who, oops, told me the wrong time.
We hang around for about an hour, pick some people up, which takes another hour. Drive to Vryburg (an hour), get to the field (no one's there), look around for other fields for about an hour ...
So what time is it now? 12? Well, somewhere in between all those events, another hour had passed- it should've been 1.
So we go to the grocery store to get some food for the day and we hang out there for about a half hour before I decide that, hey, some guy had gone off to buy a table just now, so heck, I need to get my running shoes while I am here.
Got my running shoes, and was stressing out a little (residual Americanism) about making the guys wait for me. Of course, when I get back, there are three or four other dudes out doing something else, so we had to wait for them. All together, that excursion was another hour and a half.
So it's 2:30. We finally get ahold of someone from the local municipality and get a game organized (surprise, the tournament didn't happen).
3:30 rolls around, and we play!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
5, game ends, we get out of the stadium and the guys decide to go to a pub to watch the end of the Chiefs game (I stay in the bus to read- I don't like being around men who have been drinking). From there they decide to go to KFC to hang out for another hour.
7 o'clock, we head home, get back to the village by 8, drop people off- hit a donkey with the bus (he was fine), and one of the men shouted out in English, probably for my benefit, "Oabile, you are committing DONKEY GENOCIDE."
Then we went on to hit a pig with the bus (not as fine), and some other guys in the bus shouted "PIG GENOCIDE!!!!!!!!!!"
We stopped to survey the damage, and put the dead pig in the trunk. He'll make a fine dinner.

And now
I am home.
at 9.

Quick summary: I took 14 hours of my day to buy a pair of running shoes and play one game of soccer. Yup. Africa.

Final note:

Thank you SO MUCH to all of you who've sent me packages ... Mom, Dad, Soya, Uncle Allen, Jeanie. You guys have played a very big part in keeping me sane!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hm, you know what

I was thinking
Maybe I will wake up early to stop by that new drive-through Starbucks they've just built here in my village.
It's so strange, where they've decided to place it ... right across the dirt path from the OTHER Starbucks. I really don't understand.
I suppose if I were to decide where the new Starbucks would be built, I would have put it in between that big thorn bush and the rainwater-lake where the kids swim and the donkeys poop.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Oh, life.

So, it's been a while since my last update. I think that that is mostly on account that life here is just beginning to feel like life again. I'm in South Africa now. I've been here for some time now. I'll be here for some time longer. It's life. I've got a job, I've got a 'social network', I've got things to do, crap to take care of. I've got to see a man about a zebra, you know?

I just came back from IST (In-Service Training), where I got back together with all of my fellow volunteers. We spoke about the things we're doing, the things we're going to do, and the things we couldn't possibly do. All the possibilities, the problems, the factors, the opportunities, the realities, our hopes, our dreams, our fears- in short, we talked about everything. Except kitchen sinks- we didn't talk about those.

Coming back from that, there was one point that was further so drilled into my head since I have been here. This world is so complex. This life has endless layers, endless angles, endless ways to see things. Since I have been here, my brain has been completely reformatted. I see the world so much more fluidly. I feel things and am so much more aware of how temporary it all is.

I'm just trying to surf the wave that is life.
Talk about an EXTEME sport, am I right?????????

In spite of all of the insight that I myself have gathered, I have nothing insightful to say.
Hehe, sorryyyyyyyyy.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A few pictures

I suppose that it is time for me to put a couple of pictures up, eh?

Boitumelo, one of my sisters, holding my nephew, being terrified by my new puppy DIDIMALA!!!!!!

Maeroba, my other sister, holding Didimala:

Christmas in Durban:

Kids playing in the rain-lake:

Friday, January 4, 2008

Yes. Yes, it is also 2008 here in Africa.

I will be spending every moment of this year in Africa. Isn't that exciting?

Sorry I haven't updated in a while- it's been pretty busy.
Just wrapping up my first vacation here. We went to Durban, which is in KwaZulu Natal, and spent practically the whole time on the beach. It was all dandy and swell except for a few things:

- I was sick the majority of the time
- The sun here is way burnier.
- I got stung by a jerk jellyfish.

When I got stung, I didn't have any pee. So a friend of mine went into the ocean and peed into a bottle for me. I poured it on my leg, and it didn't really work. So I had a horrible stinging leg with someone else's pee all over it.

Vacation's ending soon (tomorrow) and I'm ready to go back.
It was nice, obviously (especially the showers), but I am excited to get back to my village and start working again. I also felt like a bit of a fish out of water on the other coast, because I just didn't know any Zulu. It's such a comfort to be able to greet and speak enough to ingratiate myself just a bit among the Tswana- and I had none of that on the east.

Race relations on that side are also a bit different. And to be honest, I think it is a bit rougher there.

I have a theory on what's going on here:
Where I live used to be what was called Baphutatswana- and it was basically a black homeland for the Tswana people. A lot of pretty terrible things happened just at the end of the Apartheid and in some ways made it pretty uncomfortable for most white people to stick around (it sure wasn't easy on blacks either, though.) The ones that did would for the most part need to be relatively racially tolerant. That's my theory anyway.

My shopping town, Mafikeng, I believe is one of the blackest towns in SA. If I were to estimate, there'd be about a 4% white population. Of course, in my village, the white population is me.
But what that means is that there is a smaller white population, and they are generally not openly jerks to black people. What I've gathered on my vacation, is that that is not necessarily the case everywhere. That was an extremely rough realization to come to. I knew it was the case- but seeing it in person (on more than one occasion) is a different story.

In some ways it was surprising because practically all the white people that I know in Mafikeng are pretty damn neat. They definitely don't have the same mindset that I've come across a bit more frequently in other towns.

Race relations here are by far the biggest challenge that I am facing. Things are so, so, so complex. There are decades of history of oppression and injustice that influence the collective psyche of this country- and every part of the country is affected in different ways.

I am constantly reminded of my own race, constantly confronted with what being white implies, every single day. Coming from the Bay Area, which is more or less the most racially diverse, and possibly one of the most racially tolerant areas in the world- it can be bewildering at times.
It can be a lot of pressure, too. Along with my awareness there is a sense of responsibility that I have in every single interaction that I partake in. In some ways, I represent all white people, or all Americans, or women, or zebras or whatever minority I am at the time.

It can be overwhelming, sure. It makes practically every moment of my life here active service.
Though, in its own way, it is also a profound honor.

I'm looking forward to 2008.