And, six weeks later, she opens her laptop again. (Not really, but it assuages my guilt for not posting in ages.) Today will bring you updates from on and off the playing field: tastes of my Peace Corps Volunteer life and also of the small South African social life I’ve been able to sculpt. I just returned from the mid-school-year holiday and am writing this from my dimly lit hut with a belly full of rehydrated beans, a bottom full of inflated gas, and not an ounce of shame to admit either. Yes, indeed, back to the brazen village life for one final stretch before moving on to my next endeavour. I can’t recall if I’ve revealed this information yet, but I have decided to extend my Peace Corps service for a third year. I will dedicate another post to all the gory details of the who, what, when, where, and why of my upcoming housing and occupation change, but I wanted to voice the fact that South Africa and I aren’t parting just yet because it prefaces what we’re about to get into.
For PCSA Education Volunteers, this time of year is usually marked by a stalemate of conflicting emotions: panic and dread about leaving villages, families, and projects, but also excitement and hope for returning to the States and starting something new. Coinciding with departures from their communities, Volunteers are usually given a ‘farewell function’ at their school; it’s an event for the school and community to show gratitude and say goodbye via speeches, dances, gifts, and lots of tears from both parties. Of the five Education Volunteers in my geographical cluster, two of us are extending (Katie and myself), and we’ve already attended some of our best friends’ farewell functions as well as witnessed them leave the country. In the Battlefields as of late, it’s been a very intense time emotionally, and I’m not even leaving…just watching most of my bunch go is difficult enough.
My Peace Corps group, SA26, recently had its last gathering together: the Close of Service conference. We were able to enjoy camaraderie one last time before some people boarded the plane, many went back to site to start packing up their things, and a few of us began preparations for our extensions. I’ve got to tell y’all…it was weird to see people go. Two years ago, I arrived in this foreign land with these individuals and now I’m watching them leave. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too bad, but I felt less distressed than I anticipated. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have to leave South Africa yet, or perhaps it was a subconscious defense mechanism, but I didn’t feel as I expected. Then again, as I’ve come to realise, if nothing else, Peace Corps makes one adept at two unrelated things: waiting and saying goodbye.
Though the turbulent time for Education Volunteers continues (nearly every week I’m emailing someone a “goodbye and hope to see you soon” note), some of us decided to put emotions on the back burner and enjoy a bit of the social life South Africa offers. Brandon, Briana, Amy, and I left the COS conference and headed to Durban for Africa’s biggest horse race, the Durban July, followed by a few days of very meticulously planned nothing. Having a good time seems to run in my family because our experience at the horse track was greatly enhanced by the one and only Mama Bram. Within the colossal event, we four had pur-chased tickets to the Jack Daniels marquee, and my mom linked us up with a very nice representative who showed us some true southern hospitality within his Tennessee-themed tent (strictly in No. 7 terms; the wagon wheels and overalls stayed in the States where they belong). We spent the day meeting new people, betting on horses (sadly my Kentucky winning streak came to an end, but there’s always next year!), and bopping around on the huge outdoor dance floor to some of South Africa’s top artists. We had a blast and I’m very much looking forward to next year’s races – look out, Jack Daniels!
The next few days in Durban took on the usual enjoyable pace: cooking, catching up with the backpacker staff, wandering the beachfront, playing pool, and just relaxing (the Tekweni couches may have four permanent butt imprints that look suspiciously like PCVs’). We had one very pleasant surprise though: our friend Sheila, with whom I spent my first Christmas here, hooked us up with one of her friends that owns/operates a restaurant so we had a remarkable evening of craft beers and bistro food on the house. If you’re ever in Durban, swing into Marco Paulo for a great meal, staff, and atmosphere (and look for their first dollar on the wall!). I am always floored by the level of generosity and hospitality that South Africans show; it’s something I really appreciate being so far from home. Though it’s never easy, leaving Durban was rather difficult this time because it was accompanied with saying goodbye to some of my crew that will probably be back in the States by the time you’re reading this. I’m enthused for their next chapters in life though it’s hard to realistically say when I’ll see them again. So goes life, eh?
Although it’s usually an arduous mental switch to end a holiday and return to the rural village lifestyle, it’s always so heartwarming to actually arrive at my house…walking up the dirt path, seeing Mama literally jumping up and down in excitement, and being knocked backward by Thabiso launching his increasing mass into my arms – now that’s a home. Since returning, I have gotten back into the routine of cooking by candlelight, thwala-ing buckets with Mama, continuing progress on the World Map, and catching up with Baba. The latter brings us wonderful news…
Our village is getting a crèche (preschool)! Slowly, Baba – our village’s Community Caregiver if you’ll remember – sculpted the idea of starting a crèche and worked with
Connie (a Health PCV who visited a while back) on a business plan, selected the local mama to care for the children, graciously accepted 60 children’s books I gave him from the BFA donation, and is finalising legitimate approval with the Department of Home Affairs. I connected him with a volunteer physiotherapist at my town’s hospital and she is planning a Community Outreach Day in August for us – infrastructure donations, lessons on childcare, oral hygienists, food, the works; all to transform our beautifully humble and unused church (people attend a larger one down the mountain) into a preschool for 32 neighbouring children. The importance of children socialising together, as well as being exposed to English, at such a young age cannot be stressed enough. Though the benefits of this investment may not be noted until these children reach schooling age, I’m excited to be involved in the foundation of this project and establishment, especially as my two-year service is drawing to a close. Definitely more to come on this!
For now, that about does it. In just a couple days I’ll be opening up my spacious abode to four Peace Corps Trainees who arrived in country in early July. Much like I did two years ago, they’ll partake in a ‘site visit’ with a current PCV to see what a village, host family, and school is like. Who knows, perhaps one of them will even be my replacement! Cue tremors of excitement and anxiety. I’ll try to holler at y’all sooner rather than later but, until then, keep well.