Wuddup, world? You have stumbled upon the online journal that I’ll (hope to) keep up with throughout my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of South Africa. I will be away from the good ol’ USofA from early July 2012 until mid-September 2014, and am simply stoked about what lies just around the corner.
A little background info about where I’m going couldn’t hurt… South Africa is about the size of Texas and California combined and is in the southern hemisphere – meaning that when you flush a toilet (not sure how many times I’ll actually do this), the water spins the opposite way. It could be argued that this eighth world wonder is really why I’m going abroad. The Dutch colonized South Africa in the mid-1600s, developing the Cape of Good Hope, and then the Brits grabbed the land in 1806 before pushing northward. Suffice it to say, various wars broke out as the British met the Xhosa, Zulu, and Afrikaner native groups and some of the ramifications today are continued animosity, stereotypes based on nation, and racial segregation. In 1961 South Africa became a republic and left the Commonwealth of Nations, only to rejoin it in 1994. Today it is a parliamentary republic – an interesting one because the President is both the head of state and the head of government (the current President is Jacob Zuma – my very own JZ).
Many post-apartheid issues remain, including increasing unemployment rate, continued racism, and gaps in health and education. South Africa has nine provinces, 1,550 miles of gorgeous coastline, and its flora/fauna is considered “mega diverse,” which thrills me. South Africa is a country that is, like we all are, recovering from adverse historical events. I am so psyched to be able to live there for two years and hopefully see some transformations. Grand scale, my role is indeed small, but by bringing with me awareness, a non I’m-here-to-save-you attitude, and respect as my utmost virtue, I hope to help make a dent of progress. I will surely come home with more than a dent of worldliness and personal growth. Let’s get dentin’.
There are some common questions and statements that I’ve received when people learn my plans, so why not address them here? “Wow, two years, that’s a long time” – yes, it is…but also, not at all. “How will you manage being so detached?” – I’m actually really excited about it. I’m admittedly shackled enough as it is with Internet, TV, and phone, so I’m pretty pumped to ‘live simply.’ I’m trying to acclimate myself to a life of fewer amenities, so the past week or so I’ve been walking around my house more in the dark (as you’ll learn it’s perhaps my most intense fear) and today I even petted a roach to show myself that I actually wouldn’t spontaneously combust from doing so (although soon my mindset of it’s-okay-you-can-shower-right-after will need to evaporate). “What exactly do you hope to accomplish?” – it’s a great question, one that will always get a different answer, and I think that’s a positive thing; sometimes when we are too set in our ways or convictions or deadlines, we can become our own bottlenecks. On paper, I am to be an English teacher. So, obviously, I hope to teach as much English in as many fun ways as I can, as well as learn some of the native dialects. A more personal goal for this adventure is simply to meet people – meet people and establish connections that fracture the racial, national, and socio-economic strata that is often so crippling. I really do believe that we are all global citizens, each one akin to the next, everything else aside. Of course, all these answers above are what I think now, in my bed, A/C blowing, cookies on the nightstand. Stay tuned, yo.
The Peace Corps is notorious for giving you a crumb of information at a time, but there are some facts that I do know for certain! What I’ve been able to glean thus far about my service: I’ll be an English teacher for 7-15 year olds, as well as helping with computer literacy and HIV/AIDS awareness; from July-September I’ll undergo training with my group near Pretoria, and then I’ll be living in either the Mpumalanga or Kwazulu Natal provinces on the eastern side of the country with a host family; I’ll cook/launder/clean for myself; and I’ll be learning one of the eleven languages spoken in South Africa (which are Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Ndebele, Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda) – I have recently learned that “every effort is made to place you in a host family that speaks the language you will be learning, although this is not always possible.” Hilarity ensues!
So, I leave in basically one week. This is the real countdown and it comes with its slew of expected emotions. Sometimes I literally cannot wait for that 15-hour flight and other times I am an estrogen pinball machine. Soon, I will begin to actually put things in bags and will write about what I’m bringing (for example: a frying pan). In the meantime, Happy 4th of July! What a fitting last American holiday…