“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” Thank you, Grateful Dead, for taking a few mundane words and so aptly weaving them together in a beautiful way with stellar meaning. I’ve been in country for almost nine months now (my baby Sustainable Change is doing well and slowly gaining strength every day) and this lyric has been known to affirm me on those successful, wow-everything-actually-worked-out days as well as ground me on those frustrating, what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here days.
The weather is shifting towards autumn now and, as my favourite season, it’s an exciting time but one that’s also kin to nostalgia. No pumpkin pies or bonfires with friends this year, but all will happen again in good time I’m sure (I’m really not gone for that long). I was recently sitting out on my hut’s porch; bundled up with a coffee, reading a book, and trying not to drift too deeply into the some-times paralyzing throe that is reminiscence. Then I had this kind of sobering moment, accompanied by the above lyric, where I re-realized how good I have it. I looked around and stopped comparing things to what, or where, they “used to be” but rather saw them for the new potential that they have here. Because I was in a different setting, it felt good to appreciate everything all over again: my scarf had been handmade by my friend Manoa, my hazelnut coffee had been sent by my friend Michelle who knows my flavour preferences, my Aunt Emily had mailed me one of her own copies of Walden because right now is probably the prime time for me to most tangibly relate to Thoreau, and without my Zulu family allowing me to live with them for two years, I wouldn’t even have been on that porch. One of the most powerful things a person can have, in my opinion, is perspective. Now, when a perfect storm meets Murphy’s Law and all hell breaks loose, I’ll be the first person to admit that I dip into doubt and frustration; it seems almost natural, a reflex. I think the key thing is allowing yourself the time and space to breathe, think, and gain perspective.
SO. I live in a country with very apparent post-apartheid issues (wealth, education, economic, ethical gaps); in a province that has one of the highest HIV rates in the world; in a district with large unemployment, alcohol-dependency, rape, and theft issues; in a remote village without electricity; my most viable transport is the sporadic taxi; and I teach children who often have no idea what I’m saying.
BUT. My country is shifting towards acceptance; it has incredible HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, and treatment initiatives; the district is attempting to decrease its weighty issues; I have a solar panel; I can use my bike or walk (the horror!) if necessary; and there are tons of ways to teach that are exponentially more successful than “chalk and talk.” Progress is slow, so painstakingly slow that sometimes you swear you’re going backwards, but it is still progress.
My situation is fairly ideal. I couldn’t ask for a better site, host family, school, and partnership opportunities that I was unknowingly plopped into last September… I wake up to an untouched savannah and I’m fully dedicated to my role as Nala from The Lion King. My family and I get along famously and we are permanently cast in a theatre of hilarious mishaps (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Pit Latrine?). My school functions quite well and the staff is usually attentive and willing to adapt their methods in the spirit of sustainable teaching. There is an excellent, selfless NGO that is partnered with 17 schools in my area (including the five that have PCVs) called the David Rattray Foundation. The Foundation has built several buildings (out of organic materials and with local labour!), sponsored camps, helped school staffs learn management skills, donated borehole installations, and overall done everything it can to help the learners of central KZN. There is also a gorgeous top-notch resort near me (Fugitives Drift Lodge) with a spunky owner who, despite her South African upbringing, really does bleed red, white, and blue. She even allowed the PCVs to cook a Thanksgiving dinner there – hello, culture exchange!
In summary, I have resources abundant to execute my small, two-year part in combating the aforementioned issues. My role is to seek out, access, and activate them in such a way that the positive forward motion will still continue once I’m gone. So, when I dive into the brig of frustration and doubt, that’s the key moment to step back, gain perspective, and perhaps try a new angle. I couldn’t be happier with where I was placed for my service and with what raw, still polishing, and polished materials with which I have to work. Grateful(ly) Alive!
– – – – – – – – – – and below, a few glimpses into the life of a PCV – – – – – – – – – –