While Suz was being flooded out of house and home back in the village I was hangin’ poolside at a hotel near our training villages in the Northwest Provence.
On January 2o at approximately 5:00 in the morning Brandon and Rachel with Paul along for the ride, graciously picked me up on their way back to Pretoria in their rental car. Paul and I were headed out for our Educator’s In-Service Training (IST) while Rachael and Brandon were finishing off their whirlwind of travel adventures all in the name of gathering supplies for their Pahlala Girls and Boys Clubs. We arrived in Pretoria by 8:45 am, not bad for a four hour trip. Because we had left so early we saw a tremendous amount of wildlife along the way. It felt like our own private safari. Brandon asked for tips, we told him we’d pay him later. <grin> Paul and I spent a night in Pretoria and then caught a ride with the Peace Corps Khumbi to Zeerust, another two and a half hour trip, the next morning.
IST is strategically situated about 3 months after we arrived at our permanent site. This is just long enough for us to start to get a feel for what is needed and what is possible in our villages. I have said it many times, and I’m sure I will say it again, one of the things that I feel most proud of when I tell people about the Peace Corps is their desire to truly meet the needs of the community, as the community sees them, and not to bring in a pre-perscribed agenda from afar.
During our first 3 months Peace Corps asks PCVs to do a lot of research about the villages we now call home; who are its people, what are its assets and what changes do people want to see in order to create a better life for all of us? Each Peace Corps Volunteer brings skills and interests of their own so I believe the magic occurs when the community needs connect with these skills and interests in order to help create positive change.
In our first session at IST volunteers were allowed the chance to share the projects that they have begun or wish to begin upon returning to the village. This session was both inspirational and daunting at the same time. While Susie has been working diligently on breaking out from the Home Based Care office environment to connect with the community and schools on a more real level by putting in motion her dreams for a much expanded version of Dazzling Divas, her young womens empowerment program back in the states, I have mainly been observing and helping out on little projects in the school as they arrive. This means that I felt that my contribution to the session at IST was a bit lacking. In fact, I just listened. I know others were in the same place as myself but I heard all of the great ideas that have been implemented and will soon be implemented and thought to myself, what have I really done so far and do I have a direction when I return to the village? This is the question that I know many PCVs have faced before me but it doesn’t make the vast space any less intimidating. I guess, in the end, it is just one step at a time.
After IST, I did have a few inspirations, like an after school club based in inquiry based science (Discovery Club – If I may borrow the name from a fellow PCV. Thanks Suzanna.) Also at Jacob Langa the instructors have asked repeatedly if I could teach them how to use the computers. (A much desired skill here in SA considering it is truly a newly industrialized nation.) The struggle that I face internally is, am I going to lend a hand with what what the people of Abbot’s Poort really need? Am I doing what is most important for its people? But then the realization strikes, everybody’s needs are different, and if I can find spaces where my talents connect with what some of people need I will be helping in a real way.
I must say though, there are times that I wish I brought the magic wand that could take away this disease that ravages the people of the village. It is behind closed doors, hidden from view, but in the words of our host brother as his gaze drifted far away and his head shook gently back and forth, “people are dying, we are sick.” HIV, while talked about in the schools in an abstract way, is apparently not a disease that anyone has in the village. They die because they are “sick”. This sickness is often brought on by bewitchment and not from their choice to refuse a condom. We have been told by our clinic that 1 in 5 people are infected here in our village. Recently we were told that there is a belief in the village that a person can actually become infected with HIV from condoms themselves. Reasons for this we believe to stem from a massive recall on condoms that were improperly quality tested, but released to the public to save a rand or two. These condoms are notorious for breakage. Then there is a view that pains me most as it reveals the tension that is just below the surface. Because in SA a great majority of the large corporations are still held by the white minority there is a belief that this minority is lacing the condoms with the virus as a weapon against the majority. Oh to just have decent channels of communication of correct information. But I have digressed, I started this post referencing IST so let’s get back there shall we.
The sessions at IST were useful but as you can guess the most important aspect of this gathering was reconnecting with our fellow education volunteers to share stories of joy and frustration and to let our hair down and enjoy the moment. One of the impromptu evening activities was a costume party (heroes and villains) to celebrate the January birthdays that were present. If you get a bunch of educators together there apparently is no limit to their creativity (especially with many elementary school educators).
Many of you know that I apparently share some facial expressions with the gregarious actor Jim Carry, so I was instructed that my costume would be The Riddler, the villain from the batman series who was most recently played by Mr. Carry himself. I donned some question marks and and had a little help with the eye makeup and wallah The Riddler I became. The costumes were excellent and the best part is just getting the chance to enjoy some good natured frivolity free from worry!
Well I must be on my way, for today. There is laundry to hand wash and get on the line.
Be well, and make every moment count!