signing out & settling in

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I’m not exactly sure what possessed me to think that I’d be able to provide a blog post during my last week at site. I don’t think any of my capacities – emotional, mental, physical – were prepared to commit precious time to a computer screen during my last few days, so I apologize this post is later than planned. That said, I have officially left the village and arrived at my new site. As expected, the past week has been chockfull of ups and downs and it’s both refreshing and, albeit natural, difficult to start anew.

Grade 7 proudly showing off their GrassrootSoccer graduation prizes!

Grade 7 proudly showing off their GrassrootSoccer graduation prizes!

Who's that Zulu lady?  The school staff presented me with new attire at my farewell.

Who’s that Zulu lady? The school staff presented me with new attire at my farewell.

Since my last post, I have packed up my little hovel, finished up projects at school, and enjoyed a lot of just “sitting and being” with my family and community friends. It’s odd to admit now, but there were actually episodes where I was frustrated with the school and village and very much looking forward to moving, shortly followed by moments of cursing myself for thinking in that manner since – let’s be honest – once I leave village life this time, I’ve probably left village life forever. In the past few days I’ve endured a last rural stomach bug, slapped a protective varnish on the World Map, facilitated the grade 7 GrassrootSoccer graduation, and genuinely enjoyed the farewell function my school put on for me (I’m so thankful that they actually listened to me when I told them I wanted a modest affair). Before I knew it, Time had done its thing and had slipped through my fingers, though leaving in its wake memories, photos, and a few more kilometers clocked on my school route and in my heart.

As promised, here are a few lists that I’ve compiled while looking back at the past two years…

Things I’ll miss:

Things I won’t miss:

  • Sitting around the woodstove with my family, ‘heating’ and shooting the breeze
  • Having meaningful conversations or otherwise oddly depthy moments at the most random of times (all PCVs can back me up on this one)
  • Walking to school, or anywhere really, and be serenaded by traditional Zulu songs
  • Playing with children and inventing games with them
  • Living in such a traditional society
  • Rarely seeing pavement or modern building structures
  • Being part of a community, in the truest sense of the word
  • Having such extreme shortage of water
  • Hand-washing clothes (though I’ll still do some)
  • Being stared at, laughed at, jeered at, and touched so much. I still will be in some contexts in the upcoming year, but significantly less so
  • The pit latrine and its windy updraft
  • Dust. Everywhere. Every. Where.

Things that I’ll both miss and not miss (if that makes sense):

  • Being awakened by the sound of water trickling into a bucket. Though semi-annoying, that sound will always represent Mama waking up early to fetch what water she can for the day’s chores.
  • My little porch being carpeted with chocolate jellybeans from goats. Bothersome to sweep off, but this could be the closest I’ll get to living on a farm; a slight fantasy of mine. Same goes for the cacophony of livestock musings at 03:00.
  • Not having a refrigerator, or living without electricity in general. It was definitely enjoyable for the entire two years (I can honestly count on one hand how many times I cursed my situation) but I would really like to start buying some damn cheese.
  • The light knocking (and sometimes eventual hammering) on my door. During times of pure ‘must retreat for alone time in order to survive’ mode, I would ignore visitors but in the back of my mind it was nice to know I had possible connections so close by.
  • Traditional gender roles. As egalitarian as I am when it comes to interchanging the duties of the sexes (and as frustrated as I become sometimes when witnessing the segregated roles), there was always something so humbling in properly greeting a group of older male traditional leaders (with eyes averted and a slight bended-knee bow) or preparing lunch for my sweet Baba. Since I’m sure I’d feel the same way if I were greeting female elders too, perhaps it’s the respect factor that I’m drawn to more so than (some of the) gender roles.

Lessons I’ve learned:

  • If someone’s talking to you, listen. Seriously, listen. Try not to interrupt.
  • If you’re going somewhere but not pressed for time, walk slowly and notice things around you.
  • Be compiling Plan B as you compile Plan A.
  • When entering any potentially threatening situation, know of an out.
  • Plan before leaving the house: have your phone charged, have enough filtered water, have a snack.
  • Do things that you think you don’t want to do; try things that you think you don’t want to try.
  • Tune into the wisdom of elders…there’s a lot to learn from them.

What I miss

And there we have it. I’ve kept it short because I doubt anyone’s attention spans are as long as these lists could be. For the most part, I think all PCVs, other international volunteers, and anyone who’s lived abroad can agree that it’s impossible to accurately express what it’s like to live in a culture or society so unlike the one in which they’ve been raised – one simply must do it to fully understand. I lived in the village for a total of 732 days and I believe I learned something new, and grew more into myself, during each and every one of them.

I’m posting this from my new accommodation at the David Rattray Foundation (henceforth known as the DRF), located within the Fugitives’ Drift Lodge which specializes in historical battle tours of the central KZN area. I’m thrilled about and thankful for several things: having a few weeks of overlap with Jonelle (the PCV who’s served here for the past year) to shadow her and have a smooth handoff in November, living in a beautiful, low-impact house (completely off the grid; mostly solar-run and built out of rammed earth from the location in which it stands), and being in a place that’s a bit more similar to the culture I know best (for example: I can now exercise in shorts and not have a million ogling eyes trained on me). I’m very much looking forward to my Peace Corps extension; delving into the projects of the DRF, meeting new PCVs, and taking pleasure in living in the African bush for another year.

I’m not sure when my next post will be, to be honest. Until then, though, keep on truckin’, and if you’re someone I know from the States, see you soon!

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A gorgeous last sunset in the village.

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3 Responses to signing out & settling in

  1. Mome says:

    Bravo to you, Laura! You have gone ‘a country mile’ (whatever that means) these past two years, and have left lasting impressions of friendship across racial barriers, love of books (that picture of the library is awesome!) and learning, plus joyful affirmation of everyone. That awesome World Map and you have broadened horizons and lifted dreams. Bravo, indeed!! You’ll ace your new PCV job too, with tales to tell, I am sure. God bless you, dearest one! Your Mome’

  2. Diane Burket says:

    Thank you so much for posting your interesting thoughts and stories. I’m proud of you….and don’t even know you. I wish you the best of luck in your new situation.

  3. milkweedarts says:

    Things I will miss about your blog: the green uniforms, the pictures of Baba and Mama, latrine reports, nuanced observations of village life, things like your lists, metaphors for goat turds, thoughts on teaching and learning, being different and not-so different, contrasts with USA life, cooking, bugs, your little brothers, reading and books, and your BLOG WRITING! LB, you absolutely must keep writing! What a voice you have, one we need to keep hearing! Gosh, love you, Aunt Em
    p.s. counting down to October . . .

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