I did that ol’ matriculation thang from Centre College a year ago, almost down to the day. Who would’ve thought that a life in the Peace Corps could correlate quite closely to a life at college? This is brought to mind by a few things I’ve observed over here. And, no, not all of them relate to traditional Zulu beer…
Well, for starters, I go to school every day. Although this time I have assumed a slightly more authoritative role as the-new-teacher-who-doesn’t-quite-know-what-she’s-doing-but-by-whom-the-learners-abide. It’s interesting to switch from a class goer to a class commander in a matter of months. Every day, something about my appearance is fawned over as if I’m permanently in some of the, let’s just say, eye-catching ceremonial regalia we all know so well. I joke around with the security guard, cook, principal, other educators, and learners at the primary school just as I did back in America with my college’s Department of Public Safety, staff, President (get it, P. Roush!), first name basis professors, and fellow students in my Spanish Literature class (pero de una manera totalmente respetuosa, por supuesto. ¿Estoy en lo correcto, Genny y Jefe Julie?). I wake up early, attend classes, have a lunch break, mark papers, give homework, and have dance parties if the kids are good. Just like a normal collegiate Monday-Friday.
Most of the food I consume is prepared for me. My main meal of the day is the huge lunch my buddy Mzala or Mancolwane makes for every person at the primary school. At home I’ll make soup or eggs for dinner but my substantial meal comes from school. I have slowly developed trusting relationships with the cooks who are now comfortable enough to greet me and joke around; this reminds me of many of the lovely, dedicated, and hilarious staff members at my college cafeteria. A huge thank you for their four year supply of ice cream and tater tots.
Colleges and villages are, oddly, quite comparable settings. A large portion of why I’m reminiscent of college whilst living out my Peace Corps dream is due to watching the children in the village. They are excited to go to school so they can learn and see their friends (and yes, perhaps so they can also goof off). They get into light to heavy shenanigans (not that I know anything about this or would ever completely switch the possessions of two cross-campus friends’ rooms). They usually ask permission from superiors for things they want or need (like asking the RA if you can throw a huge party – because obviously Columbus Day is worth it, or pleading with a professor for another extension).
Since everyone lives within walking distance, kids will go to each other’s houses to play on the weekends or do homework after school (just like dorm rooms or apartments). It’s pretty cool to see a little bit of myself in each and every kid that crosses my path…worlds apart we may be or worlds apart we may not be..
The entire body of Peace Corps South Africa has such a large amount of responsibility that much is delegated to the PCVs. It reminds me of the various clubs, organizations, and sports teams that exist on college campuses. In country, I serve on VSN (Volunteer Support Network), which aids Volunteers in anything from complaints to crisis and helps connect them with the appropriate sector of Peace Corps staff. I sometimes compare this to my extremely fulfilling experiences as a Bonner Leader and as a Resident Assistant. Eventually I’ll be an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) – just like the college alumnus I am now! Until then, I’ll continue my double major in Philanthropic Sustainability and What Am I Doing Here? with minors in Praising The Sun 101 and Some Days Just Getting Through It 500.
So, my college ship of four years just crash-landed on this unpredictable Peace Corps island where I teach what I can, wash clothes when necessary, relieve myself in a variety of places and, most of all, continue my gloriously fun and rewarding role as a lifelong student.
Some typical classes: