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.