Hold up one second, gotta go light another candle. There, now I can see the computer keys. Kind of. $H!T (accidental finger fumble).
Sanibonani! I am composing this from the (deep, dark) depths of my new home. This week has been quite the adjustment after being uprooted from the ever-scheduled, hectic Training regimen we plowed through, side-by-side and never alone. After the official Swear-In ceremony last Sunday, my group of five PCVs was on the road to our new, permanent homes in KZN. We actually stayed at a gorgeous resort the night before we met with our supervisors and individually left with them. Having a hot shower, bath salts, a heated bed, and tea brought to the room on our “last night” was a bitch of a tease, but of course one that none of us were going to pass up. On Monday, united at last with our new principals (which was done like a ‘win a date’ auction: the PCVs stood up, in isiZulu introduced themselves and said where they’d be teaching, and the appropriate principal would shriek and jump up and grab them and pet them), we had a workshop regarding expectations, goal setting, and planning out the first week of craziness. Then – you and your principal were off! Breaking free from the secured clutches of PST and hurtling haphazardly into the discovery that you actually can govern your own life brings emotional peaks and valleys.
As we drove closer to my new home, my supervisor looked over at me and said, “You have grown nervous now.” And I, the ever-prideful and confident Volunteer, said, “Oh, I know. You are so right.” Interestingly, though, as we pulled (lurched) up the rocky front yard she said, “You have grown calm now.” And I had, for good reason too. My new family was waiting for me and they are absolutely spectacular. I have a Baba with crinkly-sweet eyes and a wise soul, a Mama who is the wonderful hybrid of a maternal war eagle, three brothers at the home, and two sisters away at college. My area is literally breathtaking. The main house and my little house are painted bright aqua, we’re at the foot of a mountain, and the front yard overlooks our cow pen, rolling grasslands with stately mimosa trees, and the most gorgeously clear, panoramic layers of periwinkle mountains in the distance. My new village is extremely rural, isolated, and traditionally Zulu, and with that comes an unbelievably tangible feeling of ‘good’ in the air. No frills or fluff, just basic living off of the land and feeding off of tradition.
After my first community walk, I came home with an intricately handmade mat, a bag of beans, some fresh eggs, and the warm feeling of being incredibly welcomed. I can see my primary school from my home – a set of tiny buildings in the distance, also aqua colored, about a forty minute walk through the bush. People told Baba they were shocked that I actually walked to school; they expected all white people to have cars. Here are some of the things that have happened in the past six days…
Within the first hour of being here, as I was shuffling my few possessions around (really trying to set up my place in that earthy-chic way without making it seem like I tried too hard, you know), I heard an odd sound: creeeak, *click*. “Oh. Shit.” My brand, spanking new 4 year-old brother, Thabiso, has just locked me inside my house. I frantically run to the window facing the main house, scour my brain for any of the names that I’d just “learned,” and eventually mime out my situation to the first person I see. We then learn that, as Thabiso was fiddling around, the old-fashioned key head has actually broken off inside the lock. Awesome! Finally, after utilizing a second key, the village’s newest member was free and had completed her initiation. Or so she thinks.
My village hasn’t seen rain in any of 2012, and starting Wednesday it stormed for three days straight. Everyone I meet says the rain is a rich blessing and that I am the cause of it. This is an incredibly heavy sentiment, one that tugs on opposing emotions. Some other snippets of things said to me: “all of grade 12 at the high school is pregnant; you will put a stop to that,” “I want to see you raise up our community,” “you can stop HIV in our area,” “you will make the learners fluent in English,” etc. I am excited to teach and create, what I hope to be, sustainable community projects, but I am nervous to be seen as the God-sent, ‘one size fits all’ answer. I’m simply not; no one person is. I’m new to being a Volunteer, my village is new to having a Volunteer, I’m only here for two years, and so it really is a “time will tell” thing. That’s the frustrating, slow answer that no one wants to hear, but it is the correct one.
On a happier note, my pit latrine is absolutely stunning. Truly, it’s the crown jewel of The Johns. It’s set apart from the house on slightly more elevated ground and looks like an aluminum idol. Seriously, the clouds part and the sparkly sun filters down whenever I approach it. It’s a government latrine so it’s rock solid, has wonderful insulation (no drafty winds up in there), a full-on toilet(!) with no bottom of course, and even a little hook for your TP. I will most definitely be hosting dinner parties and marking papers in there.
My house has two large rooms and a little porch front. This is where the goats sleep and this is also where they poo their little grass-loving brains out. Fiber fanatics. Every morning there’s just a plethora of pellets – my brown carpet as I saunter out to my adoring fans. Goats can also bleat with the intensity and volume of a thousand exploding suns. It’s terrifying and makes me jump every time. Note to self: never tell a South African how much you love mountains or animals, for they will point out every rock and chicken and wait until you fawn over it.
This week has been incredibly busy. My “community integration” time is officially underway, and I’m really thrilled about it. The area I’m in is on tribal land, so I met with the induna (chief) and traditional leaders on Wednesday. I came away from that meeting so incredibly touched; via translation, they told me how happy they were to have me, how I was their daughter, and how they accept me and give me their protection. It was a neat moment, not one that you usually think of as you forecast your day in the morning.
Nor do you think that the first thing you’ll see when you wake up on your first morning is your brothers dragging a dead cow into the pit by your house. Some things have proven difficult – because I am unbelievably foreign here, anything I do is scrutinized by pairs of eyeballs behind curtains (literally) and then I hear about it later from my family. A large piece of advice we kept hearing towards the end of PST was to just be yourself. If you compromise who you are from the beginning, it will be a hard transition to maintain and potentially result in two years that fall short of what you had hoped and worked for. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I configure my home, set boundaries, plan out my week, etc. In the end, you alone have autonomy over your life, how you choose to think, and how you choose to act.
Wow, this post got long. I didn’t even touch on living without electricity. At least now I have more time to figure it out until my next post and then tell you, with the utmost authority and expertise, what it is indeed like. Next week I’ll be observing classes at my school and getting to know my community better (what an ambiguous phrase), so more is assuredly on the way! From a violently aqua-colored home to yours, I’m sending some love. It’s bedtime here so I am, quite literally, blowing the candles out…