Yebo - Joey and the Deltones

In a way, this song kind of represents me at my best. It is a snapshot of me at my most idealistic, dreamy, and hopeful.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Joys of Being Sick


Did you really think there were joys to being sick? Catching up on your DVDs you haven't seen doesn't really count as a joy. More like a "Well, what else is there to do?" type activity. But I suppose I can't exactly leave it there. This would be too short of an entry. Those of you who were expecting a sort of enlightened, optimistic outlook on time spent being sick, I am sorry to disappoint. But you should know better.

I have now been relatively unhealthy for the past week or so with various ailments - nothing serious or deadly, but my goodness is it a pain in the ass/neck. (Well, throat really)

Any time you travel abroad, especially to countries considered to be in the third world, you must half expect to get sick. It doesn't seem to be an option, it rather seems like an inevitability. It could come from drinking bad water, from not being used to the food, from being in overly crowded public areas where the vast majority of folk don't understand the concept of "private space" and proceed to cough and hock up a lung not next to you, but on to you, or it could even come from from jumping into a pond or lake you assume is fine to swim in, only to realize afterwards that parasitic snail lavae has seeped thru your skin and you have contracted bilhazia. you can google that for an explanation. Fortunately, I personally have not gotten sick directly from any of the afforementioned experiences. Yet.

I don't know exactly why I've gotten sick. One of the kids probably just passed something on to me last week. That's the most obvious way to get sick I suppose. Someone you know (most likely a small, somewhat adorable yet awfully dirty child with no sanitary sense) passes some godforsaken bacteria your way thru breathing on you, shaking your hand, or slobbering all over you after a nice big sneeze when they've forgotten to cover their mouth. As I'm sure we're all aware, children escalate this situation when they proceed to wipe the snot that recently emerged from their nasal cavity onto the nearest cloth, which is usually your shirt. There's no way to avoid these common situations, and by the time you realize what's happening, it's too late to do anything. Life. It's a four letter word.

The majority of my week was spent finding my voice again after I had lost it for 2 days (I found it under my bed after I cleaned my room - the spiders were holding it hostage), as well as coughing, coughing, coughing, coughing, COUGHING so much and so hard that I actually developed a giant knot in my back that felt and still feels like a gremlin is trying to escape from between my spine and shoulder blade. I've taken electrolyte supplements, drank vitamin C super energy booster drinks with literally 1111% of your daily recommended vitamin C intake based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet (it says so on the packet), sucked on lozenges and cough drops, taken both ibuprofen and non-aspirin painkillers, and eaten about a dozen cappucino flavoured muffins with chocolate chips in them. ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Not really at the same time. But over the course of the week, that is how I've self-medicated. All I really wanted was some heavy duty cough syrup, some Tylenol PM to knock me out at nite, and a slingshot with pebbles to keep the cats away from my muffins.

Getting sick really messes with your psyche. This is especially true in a far off land where mom isn't there to pamper you and bring you tea and soup, tell you what pills to swallow and when, give you endless hugs, wait on you hand and foot, and bring you anything you want while you watch your favourite childhood Disney movies that are still on VHS tape. Not that my mom ever did that. (She totally did - she's the best) This week, now that I'm all grown up and still getting sick, I found that all negative thoughts were entering my head as I lay in bed, watching my Scrubs episodes and a pirated version of Pirates of the Carribean 3 (no pun intended). I was upset I couldn't match the progress we made last week with the vegetable garden project we started, and then I started thinking that we'll never get diesel for the tractor at this rate. If we don't get diesel, we can't plow the land again, if we can't plow the land again, we can't make our furrows, if we can't make our furrows, we can't start planting, if we can't start planting, nothing will start growing, if nothing starts growing, WE CAN NEVER EAT VEGETABLES FROM OUR GARDEN.

I found that when I felt ultra-bad, I was getting fleeting thoughts of "I'd rather be sick at home on my own couch"... "WTF am I actually doing out here? Do they really need me? What good am I doing here? I can't even understand what's being said half the time..." Blah Blah Blah.

I then began thinking of all the projects we have in mind here on the farm and how there's so much to do and we'll never actually get to do any of it and blah blah blah blah whine whine whine. I'm fully aware that all these sentiments are completely unfounded, and whereas normally I would think and approach these situations one step at a time, and more importantly, optimistically, I found myself having such a negative attitude towards everything. Then this morning I woke up feeing about 70% as opposed to 25% (so still not 100%) and just like that, I started thinking about how many things we will get done next week if I just keep getting a little bit better each day. My sense of optimism was back overnite and all it took was me not feeling devil claws inside my throat and chest ripping me apart every time I coughed. The three letters and package from home I received yesterday made me smile quite largely, and I credit them with speeding up my recovery as well.

Before coming over to this side of the planet, I received a very uplifting and supportive email from a friend of mine who I've never actually met (I don't even know what she looks like!), yet she has been an invaluable resource to me. Robyn has worked/volunteered around the world with various international development and outreach projects for a number of years now, so she knows a thing or two about what volunteers abroad go thru. She wrote one thing in her email that stuck with me, and I'd like to just copy and paste it here to share with you, because it has done a lot to keep my spirits up when I go thru a rough patch...

***not much i can say that you don,t already know, but would love to send my support by saying-- freaking out is normal just go awith it, when times get rough remember that home will ALWAYS be there and just as college or something goes by and life continues all of this will also go by and you will marvel at how you continue your joey life having completed peace corps, that said though_ take it one step at a time and dont let your thoughts get ahead of you, you will probably get sick after 3 weeks- it will only make you stronger, you will probably come out with more questions than answers which means you really get it, use support when you need it (write me anytime!), and know that this doesn,t have to be a phase or lifequest or something but can just be a very real career; part of your life; part of the life of others if you want OR it can just be a fantastic experience that makes you better in any field. safe journey and be well, safe, happy and inquisitive***

If there is any joy to being sick, I've found that it is realizing that you are strong enough to take on and overcome your illness, and when you do get better, you emerge stronger than before and with a more optimistic view of your own life.

That said, next week, I'm heading back to the vegetable garden.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Time. Or the lack/abundance thereof.

Hootie and the Blowfish wrote a song about time. And if you were even half conscious during the mid-90s, you have heard it before. It was an ok song. He sang something like:

TIME's a wasting
TIME's a something
TIME you ain't no friend of miiiine...

I think he was hinting that time seemed to be always running against him, or going too fast. But who really knows? Hootie was a funny guy. So cryptic in his lyrics. Anyway, point is, I don't believe Hootie (or his Blowfish) had ever been to Africa. If he had been, he would have had a very different concept and maybe even written an entirely different song about time. I don't blame Hootie for not being to Africa. But I'm here to explain why thing's might have changed so drastically had he been a visitor to the motherland.

Side note before we get started: For those of you keeping count, my mosquito kill count is currently at 132. And somehow the pests become more and more invisible as the nites go on. I'm getting very good at killing them once they've entered my ear cavity at nite, though it's not a pleasant clean up job.

It's now just before 6 am. Though you'd never know it by checking the wall clock in my house. It has been stuck at 12:47 and 46 seconds for months. I see it as a perfect symbol and a daily reminder that I am now running on Africa time. I have been up for 45 minutes, as has the sun. Now, maybe it's just me, but 5:15 seems a wee bit early for the sun to rise. It really doesn't matter. People start mulling about any time they please. Sunrise means rise and shine for kids going to school that day, 8-10 am for those with nothing better to do with their day, and some as early as 3 am to get a head start on the people they intend to steal from. Sadly, this does happen quite frequently. Poverty + Unemployment = Crime.

But this isn't about crime in SA. This entry is to attempt to shed some light on the issue of time in this country, if not this entire continent.

I will start out by stating that all of South Africa is on the same time zone, even though technically, the country should fall under 2 time zones. I imagine that this makes things easier on a national scale, though I'm not quite sure how, but it confused the hell out of me the first time I came out east to my site and it got dark a whole hour earlier than it was supposed to. I honestly thought my watch had been screwed up overnite, or that I had been completely delusional about what time the sun actually set every evening for the first 7 weeks of my stay. I was soon informed of the time zone situation. Hooray for not being delusional.

I am currrently writing up a proposal to the government here to further reduce the number of time zones in Soth Africa to zero. You see, people don't abide by time constraints like we're used to in the US. Times set to meet, to start something, to arrive somewhere, are all taken as guidelines rather than concrete agreements. (Just like Deltones practice, as I recall) Unless of course it's 8:00 pm. Generations (the most popular soap opera here, which is in Zulu) comes on then, and whole families and most often their American Peace Corps volunteers who stay with them, come together to watch it. But regardless. The attitude towards time here can be very convenient and sometimes relaxing when you don't feel like rushing to get something done or when you can't get to a meeting on time because you have no mode of transport, or something similar. However, as Americans, we often like to get things done or have things done now now now. When this doesn't happen as fast as we would like, we get mad mad mad. Or just irked off a bit at first. But give it some time. It grates on you after a while.

Take fast food for instance. There actually is no such thing as fast food here. If you go to a fast food place like a Chicken Licken, or a Steers, expecting to put an order in, wait 3 minutes, get your food, get in the car and go, you must be reminded that these places do not exist in America, you are in fact in South Africa, and you will wait 15 sometimes 20 minutes for a single chicken burger with nothing on it but mayo. (Mayo is put on a lot of things here I've realized) Our first restaurant experience in SA was touched on earlier in my blog. We waited almost 2 full hours to see our food. The first hour and a half was just waiting to get a waitress.

We have all learned some key terms when it comes to South Africans' concept of time. Here below are short sayings, which I translated into english for your convenience.

1- Just Now - used as in "We're going just now."
American translation = anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on who said it. Sometimes used when referring to past tense as well. "I got back just now." - also alludes to anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour ago.

2- Now Now - used as in "I'll be back now now."
American translation = about 5 minutes or sooner. "Now now" is supposed to mean immediately, or at this very second. You'll find it's misused often, or maybe confused somewhat intentionally with "just now".

3- Tomorrow - as in "I'll get back to you tomorrow."
American translation = well... there are two. 1- Never 2- Fuck off.

The first time it was really made obvious to me that there was an entire culture of not caring about time (for better or worse) was during my overnite stay in Soweto in 2005. After staying out rather late with my hosts (who were all in their mid-20s) going to various house parties and shebeens and feeling completely awkward as I was rubbed up against by every passing person who was overly sweaty, smelly and drunk and wanted to be near the strange bearded white guy, we were supposed to meet up with the rest of the group at a big church in Soweto the next morning, around 9:00 am. I woke up the next morning around 7:30, feeling very tired and strange about the events from the previous nite, but got dressed, gathered my things, and headed to the main house to meet my host brother and his gogo for breakfast. I get there, and there is no host brother and no breakfast. Just gogo, who didn't speak any English, sitting with a cup og tea, watching her TV. Fifteen minutes later, host brother enters. We then go for a walk to find breakfast. The walk takes about 35 minutes round trip. Eating breakfast slowly with gogo takes another half hour. Walking to find host brother's friends takes 20 minutes. Waking friends up takes 10. Getting one of them ready to come with us takes 25. Walking to pick up a kombi takes 10. Waiting for a kombi takes 10 (though I was assured it never takes that long to find a kombi in Soweto). Kombi ride takes 15. By the time we arrived, the church service was ending - and for those of you who don't know, church services here are very long. Usually over 2 hours.

What stuck out more than anything about this whole experience was not so much the process or amount of time it took to accomplish the simple task of going to church, and getting there on time. While on the way to the kombi, I asked my host brother and his friend if they were concerned at all about getting to where we had to be on time. His friend responded with something that shocked me a little bit. He said, "Pshh, man... as a black man it doesn't matter what time I get somewhere... As long as I'm there." That small comment opened up worlds of understanding about the mindset here.

I have to admit - on the whole, I rather enjoy this change of pace from the

"Crap, I've only got 3 hours until my paper's due and I haven't even started research yet."


"Rehearal is starting - where the hell is Colin?"

Or the ever hectic

"Today I've got class at 9 and 10:15, meeting at 11:30, I want to eat lunch sometime, class at 1, work from 2 - 5, I'm meeting this person for dinner at 5:30, then I have rehearsal 7 - 10 then I have to meet with 2 peope to study for a philosophy test tomorrow, which is actually at the same time as part testing, so after the test I have to run to the music building and hope I'll be allowed to part test later, then I have to go and pick up this person from the train, and then I have a music lesson and then I'm the lead dancer in my dance show which is actually happening OH CRAP THE SHOW STARTED 20 MINUTES AGO."

The good side of African time includes not worrying when our kombi breaks down X number or times, thus putting us massively behind schedule to get where we're supposed to be. You know that when you arrive a few hours (or days) late, you can explain - kombi broke down - or you can at least expect not to be grilled on why you've come so late.

The other day, I started my 10 minute walk to the farm after numerous unsuccessful attempts at trying to find a trail that leads to the other side of the stream here. I got about half way to the main house, until I met "Uncle Leo" and his dog Zeus (a small daschund), who were on their way to check on Leo's herb garden, which is on my side of the road. We talked for a minute or two, and then I asked to join him. He was glad for the company, and eager to show off how well his herbs were coming in. Leo walks incredibly slow, which can be frustrating when trying to rush somewhere, but in the case of that day, we didn't need to walk any faster than Leo's walking stick reccomended. We were out on our errand for a long while, and I arrived at the farm an entire hour and a half after I had originally intended to. In my excursion, I was able to talk to Leo on a more personal level than when we are at the farm, and I learned a bit more about his past, his passions, and the depth of his knowledge on various subjects from herbal gardening, to world history. It made me understand why it's not important to be rushing to a destination all the time, especially here in South Africa. It works to my advantage to just let things happen, and not be hesitant to do something that hasn't been planned ahead of time.

These types of events are what make so many memorable life experiences. Unexpected and spontaneous detours, saying "Ah, what the hell? Why not?" and just going and letting things happen. We seem unable to do that many times in our lives in the US, because we are always expected to be somewhere, to be doing something specific, to be abiding by our planned out day schedule.

Here, we can definitely set our own schedule, and then, if we find it's not working for us, we can just change it or disregard it altogether.

Do I have a point in all this rambling? Or any type of conslusion? Probably not. I can get you one by next week though. Just be prepared to wait a month.