fences; no boundaries

My former life of city lights and fast food ended recently.  Since
mid-July I have seen a wildly glorious introduction to my new life
here in South Africa.  It’s funny: I’ve only been here seven weeks but
we joke that Peace Corps is actually counted in dog years because it
truly feels like we’ve been here nearly a year.  I’ve been, primarily,
a student but also a teacher, a family member, a teammate, and, to the
locals, a source of unfailing entertainment bathed in a gleaming white
beacon of a body.  PST (Pre-Service Training) hit the road right on
schedule on 11 July, scooping us bewildered and naïve Trainees up from
the airport and, lovingly, tossing us into our new reality.

We’ve had just under two months’ worth of the most diverse variety of
sessions to help us prepare for when we go off to our individual and
remote sites, very far apart from one another.  Departure day is
quickly approaching (2 September) so, not unexpectedly, the Trainees
are feeling two main emotions: unbridled excitement to see what comes
next for them and sheer terror to see what comes next for them.  We’ve
become part of a community here as Training group SA26, as part of a
host family, and as a local (of sorts), so it is difficult to digest
the fact that we’ll be uprooted soon.  It is intoxicatingly exciting,
though, that we’ll be going to our own sites – handpicked for each one
of us – a new home and purpose for two years.

Training has been interesting, to say the least.  The amount of
topics we’ve been able to cover, in 46 days of an 8am-5pm schedule, is
unrivaled.  Our sessions have been composed of, but are assuredly not
limited to, Core Competencies (diversity, gender, HIV/AIDS,
resiliency, community tools, etc.), Technical Competencies (how to
teach in South Africa, what to expect from the learners and educators,
classroom management, some practical sessions teaching on our own,
etc.), Language (small groups based on our target language; mine is
isiZulu), Medical (oh my…anywhere from receiving shots to emotional
health to a ‘how to’ with condoms to lancing your own leg or face),
Safety and Security (risk reduction, sexual assault, transportation,
internet safety, etc.), Cross Cultural (SA history, internalized
oppression, cultural awareness/sensitivity, etc.), and, if that wasn’t
enough, a whole slew of brown bag lunches during our ‘free time.’  It
has been a jam-packed ride!  (Quite literally, as I live off of PB&Js
every day.  And you thought I’d leave my puns in America.)

My brain, after having the workout of its life, is thoroughly ready
for the next three months.  We have a community integration phase
until December when we meet for IST (In-Service Training).  For now,
we’re getting to know our school, its needs, planning for the school
year (which starts in January), building trust, and acclimating to
life as a community member.  I think the next few months promise to be
exciting.

It’s anecdote time!  What follows are a few snapshots of what I’ve
experienced here thus far.  Houses have wire fences around them but
it’s just a formality: everyone walks through everyone’s yard at every
hour of the day or night – as a shortcut, a way to say hello, or to
make a beeline for the seemingly public property of a family’s
backyard pit latrine.  A word on ‘the pits’: they’re actually quite
delightful – you’re outside, no one’s in line behind you, and…it’s
impossible to have backsplash (the fatal drawback of the fancy
porcelain gods that we all pretend we don’t know about).  I have
slaughtered a chicken and consumed its feet, as well as cow stomach
and intestines, and had my initiation bout of the runs (in isiZulu:
“Ngikhishwa isisu” – appropriately, “my stomach is running out of
me”).  I have had an unforgettable time at my short-term home stay
with the Mtsweni family.  We laugh so much and they’ve taught me a ton
about cultural do’s and don’ts, domestic duties, and how to down a
diet that is car-bo-load-ed.  I’m insanely sad about leaving them soon
but I hope to visit on one of our school breaks.

I wash my clothes by hand, continue to dance offbeat, bathe in a
bucket, wake with (or before) the sun, and have really appreciated
observing my new country and culture(s).  My feet have just barely
gotten wet, but I have already adapted my priorities and expectations,
and there’s no doubt that I’ll come back a modified individual.  Of
course there have been low points and frustrations, but they are few
in number and pale in comparison to the other euphoria that stands out
to me and is, let’s be honest, what I’d like to share today, my first
post since arriving.  I will touch on the darker issues in upcoming
posts, but today’s will just serve to show you all that I am safe and
unashamedly happy thus far.

Unbelievably soon, I’ll head to my site where I’ll have a new agenda,
entirely different than that of my sedentary lifestyle as a PST
attendant.  I’ll be the first PCV at my placement and the primary
school, which has a comfortable size of 180 learners and 6 educators,
wants me to address Information Technology, English, Math, and Sports
Coaching.  I’m stoked!  The village that awaits me is rural, isolated,
and sans electricity.  I’m nervously excited to meet my new community
and really dig into my purpose and reason for being in this foreign
yet familiar land.  Oh, yes, and my new surname is Ndlovu –
“elephant”!!  I’d like to start updating more often, assuming that I
can figure out the technology here (cue the doubting eye rolls of
everyone I know).  Pictures are on the way soon, too!  I really hope
that all of you reading this are having an absolutely fantastic day
and are striving to do well in your place.  You are surely there for a
reason!  Much love from me to you.

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3 Responses to fences; no boundaries

  1. MamaBram says:

    It’s FABULOUS to have you back in tech-land again! We’ve missed your bloggie updates 🙂

  2. Marissa says:

    Its great to read your posts, you make me laugh. Take care Laura….keep us posted ❤

  3. Mark says:

    Laura – remember when Marnie and I randomly saw you in England? Well . .. that will NOT be happening where you are now! (Ha). But do know of our prayers for you. May the gift of God’s presence be very real to you every day. We’ll look forward to reading your posts.

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