I'm aware it's been a long while since I've last written. Truth is, there hasn't been much to write about in the past 2 months. I'll do my best to fill you in.
I was immensely relieved upon first arriving at my new site, back in early June. It was a welcome change, and extremely necessary for my sanity. Currently I am living in the office that I am working from - which is ok. Obviously it's not ideal, but it's only temporary. The plan was for me to get caught up on the projects we are involved with, do a lot of learning about water and sanitation technologies, and eventually, be placed out at a site with a project to work on.
In my current living situation, I have electricity, a shower with hot running water, and even ADSL internet. But I didn't come to Africa to live with all the things I could have at home. I appreciate those luxuries (who doesn't?), but I was also hoping to escape from that lifestyle while living here.
I have no complaints about my organization, Tsogang. They are a strong, dedicated organization with a very accomplished history, full of successful and long running projects. My supervisors are incredible people, and have extensive experience in development work over the past 25 years. Tsogang is a great organization to work for.
However, it seems that once again, my timing in life is pretty awful. Bad timing has been a recurring theme in my life that I can't seem to shake no matter what I try. If anyone knows any tricks to kick the habit, I'm all ears.
I seem to have arrived at Tsogang during a lull in operations - a transitional period, where nothing is happening. Before I arrived, Tsogang had just finished up some major projects that they had been working on for a number of months. As I arrived (and still to this day) they have been waiting to hear back from local governments and funders to find out about the next projects we will be working on.
My supervisors are well aware that I'm anxious to get out into the field, into the communities, and start doing hands on work. The also realize the sense of urgency I have about it all because time is running out for me in SA - as of today, I am officially one year into my Peace Corps service.
Unfortunately, things are out of the control of anyone here now. My supervisors are waiting on the requested information and have been waiting for it for months now. They told me about an agricultural project they applied for in Kwa-Zulu Natal which focuses on household gardens - they applied back in April, and were supposed to hear if they got the job last week. It was to be announced in an official government gazette produced in KZN, and we were supposed to get an email the day after, confirming the project. Five days later, we have gotten no email, and in true Africa fashion, when getting our hands on a copy of the government gazette (for which we had to pay 20 rand) there was no information in there about any agricultural projects. I hope we hear soon because I would like to try to get involved in the project myself.
So what have I been doing for the past two months? That is a super question. I wish I had an answer I could be proud of, but I don't. I've been killing time. And time, funny enough, has been killing me in return.
Initially upon my arrival, I was painting four big rooms in the office here. It was a huge job that I did mostly by myself, with some help from the other PCV here, Oliver, and some help from the day worker here, Sam. Unfortunately, in the beginning, Sam and I had some major communication issues, which set us back a good bit. For example, he insisted that we pour the entire 5 liter can of red paint into our work bucket, and then fill the rest of the bucket with water. Just so everyone knows - this is not a good idea, because it renders the paint absolutely useless. Sam didn't believe me when I told him that's not the preferred method of using paint. He tried rolling the water/paint mix on the walls, and it looked like a child with 26 arms had found a pink highlighter and scribbled and dribbled on the wall to its heart's content. I finally showed Sam where on the paint can it said not to mix it with water, and after he still didn't believe me, I simply had to dump the bucket and start fresh, and show him the difference.
So, 5 liters of red paint wasted, but a valuable lesson was learned from what would be a recurring theme: When Sam is left to do things his way, they usually don't end up being done right, and end up creating more work to be fixed - by me. Eventually, Sam and I came to an understanding of how we would work together, (though I couldn't tell you what that understanding was) and we got the rooms done much faster than I could have done on my own. We went thru 12 rolls of masking tape, 20 gallons of red paint (including the wasted 5), 30 liters of "Gaucho" coloured paint (kinda orange-ish), four paintbrushes, two rollers, and countless hours of me biting my tongue. If I never have to pick up a paintbrush or roller or do a project with Sam for the rest of my life, I wouldn't complain.
Sam's a nice guy. We just have communication issues that need to be resolved. I haven't seen him since we finished painting.
The rooms we painted look much better now than they did before, and it was really nice to see a finished product after so many hours of work. I was happy to help, but of course, this isn't the type of work I was hoping to fill my time with in Peace Corps. But I knew it wouldn't be like that forever.
Since those first two weeks, and after a short trip to observe some communal gardens in another part of the province (sorry I haven't written about that - I haven't been in the mood to put it all down coherently), the only other thing that has really happened was when I went out with a nearby organization - called Khutso Kurhula - who did an HIV/AIDS outreach event in some rural villages about an hour from here. The event was held in three different villages and each event had dance contests, free testing, music, a theatre group performing, and free cups of Coca-Cola. I mean, it went deeper than that, but those were the main attractions.
I didn't have much to contribute myself at the events - I went mainly to observe how everything would happen, and to meet the people who worked for KK and for the local governments and clinics. I had a really nice day there though. The theatre group was fifteen high school aged kids (aged 14 - 21). After doing a bit of singing and dancing to warm up at the beginning of the day, a few of them ran up to me and started talking with me. The usual, "Where are you from? What are you doing here? Where do you live now? What do you think of South Africa?" type of questions.
All the kids spoke very good English, and had a very easy sense of humour. They were also great performers on stage. I hung out with them for pretty much the whole day, and made some good friends. I was even kind of proposed to in a round-about sort of way by a 14 year old from the group. Our conversation went like this:
Her: So... you're really from New York?
Her: I want to get married in NY.
--careful here Joey--
Me: ...Oh really? Who do you want to marry in NY?
Me: You want to marry someone from South Africa in NY?
Her: No, I want to marry someone FROM New York.
--CAREFUL here Joey--
Me: Oh... Ok... Well, first you have to know someone from NY...
Her: Uh huh.
Me: ... and then you have to fall in love with them before you can get married to them.
--She batted her eye-lashes at me and said--
Her: You can take me to NY.
--I looked back at her and said, simply--
Me: You're 15.
Her: I'm 14.
Me: Ah. Right. I have to go.
Talk about being forward. I wish 14 year old girls hit on me like that when I was 14.
So, besides painting the office, and the one day HIV/AIDS event, there really has been nothing going on. My days in the office have been spent working on designing an Appropriate Technology manual to distribute to NGOs around South Africa working in water and sanitation. It will be a very useful manual when it is completed, and I am learning a lot from putting it together. But I can only be at my computer for so long during the days.
For the first time in my life I've had to rely solely on myself to cook for... myself. It was easy to get by in college not cooking because I had the dining hall, friends who would sometimes cook, and a bajillion restaurants and other quick food options running up and down Main St. At my first site in SA, the older girls at the farm would cook dinner each nite for 25 - 30 people, and I was always included in that group (I often helped prepare the food there, but never was in charge of actually cooking it). Now, at my current site, I must be completely reliant on my own cooking abilities.
My dad has been a fabulous cook for more years than I have fingers and toes and ears and nose, and you'd think that by this point in my life I would have picked up some super-awesome cooking tips from him. If I did pick up any, I can't seem to tap into them. It feels like I'm starting from scratch in terms of my cooking knowledge - I sometimes feel a caveman who is finally beginning to understand the potential of using fire to cook. I've seen people do it before, but how do I do it?
I improvise mostly, pretending I know what I'm doing, and I must say I've improvised and pretended surprisingly well. My timing is still off - my veggies are cold by the time my chicken is done, or my pasta has stuck together by the time my sauce is ready, but I'm learning to adapt and adjust. I almost always make way too much food for one person, but I find that I always end up cleaning my plate anyway. My mom is always concerned that I'm not eating well enough and that I'm losing weight, so I figure that eating my meal portion plus my invisible guest's portion is a good way to keep what little weight I have, on me.
I eat my dinner while watching TV episodes on my laptop. I try to spread out the shows I watch so I don't go thru seasons too quickly. My current crop of TV shows includes:
Scrubs (all seasons)
My Name Is Earl (season 3)
Entourage (seasons 1 - 3)
The Office (seasons 1 - 3)
Samurai Champloo (first 24 episodes)
Family Guy (all seasons)
I treat myself on weekends to the occasional movie. The latest batch has included:
Singing in the Rain (loved it)
Little Miss Sunshine (loved it)
Trainspotting (was ok)
Sweeney Todd (meh)
Beowulf (kinda ok)
The Fountain (pretty ok)
Super Troopers (meh)
Secondhand Lions (pretty ok)
The Big Lebowski (loved it)
Then I go to sleep and wake up the next morning... or at least, I've woken up every day so far since being here. I don't think I've missed or slept thru any days.
The weekends are a pretty torturous affair. "Oh great. A full day off. What the hell am I going to do for a full 48 hours?" is often the thought that runs thru my head. My current location does not contain many/any things to entertain oneself with. No theatres, book stores, one coffee shop, no sports fields, communal grounds, no places to meet people or easy access to nature.
My Saturdays and Sundays have consisted of me leaving the office at 10 am, walking around town for 4 - 5 hours, and returning home to kill time before the next day. I've walked just about every inch of this town that I can think of, and really, I promise you, there's nothing to do. The most interesting thing I've seen on my walks (which granted was pretty interesting) was one person's backyard which contained, 2 adult and 1 baby ostriches, 7 peacocks, 3 swans, 9 ducks, a turkey, and a partridge in a pear tree. I'm just kidding. There are no pear trees here. Only mango trees.
But seriously, things just don't happen here on the social front. I've approached any and every young looking person I could find to ask them what there is to do around town, either during the weekends or at nite, and all of them have the same expression "This is a shit place to be in to meet people. There's nothing to do here."
So it seems that, temporarily, I'm out of luck socially. There are other PCVs around who I see and hang out with every now and then, but I'm also looking to meet new people, to expand my horizons, and to keep busy in other ways.
I've been very anxious to get back into the villages. It's great to hear other volunteers talk about their friends in the villages, the sense of community, how they've integrated, the stories they tell about every day life, how they've used their local language, what they do with the kids in the villages and schools... I feel like my whole experience for the past year (except my first two months during training) has been severely lacking in many of these aspects - especially the sense of community and family that many volunteers cite as being the bedrock of their experience.
Obviously my current situation was not the Africa I was hoping for. But I accepted this new post because I believe strongly in the work that my organization is doing, and because I expect to be living in a village setting and working to help change things for the better in the near future.
I've had a string of disappointments lately as well - nothing too major, but enough of them added up to knock me down a few levels. I'm still trying to find my way past all this.
To sum up, my life has been very bland, basic, boring, uneventful, and lonely lately. I've been more than frustrated with how things have been working out for me throughout the majority of my service. Many things are out of my control - which is difficult to accept - and I've been trying to change the things that are in my power to do so. Yes, it sucks a lot at times, but I wouldn't still be here if I didn't believe that better things were just over the horizon.
Now it's just a matter of getting to the horizon.
4 months ago