Friday, September 4, 2009

Signing off from South Africa

Dear friends and family,

It has taken me quite a while to write this final blog post, and now that I have caught some free time in between jobs, I will attempt to fulfill my duties of updating you all.

Although I have been in contact with some of you directly, my long absence from communication has been due to a whirlwird past two months. After getting some space, gaining some perspective and reevaluating while I was in Cape Town, I returned to my site in late July. There were a lot of conflicted emotions, but I made some decisions regarding my future with Peace Corps and within South Africa and I decided to pursue some other employment/educational opportunities with some of my free time at site. What begin as little more than casting a few lines in the water quickly evolved into an agressive job search in the field of humanitarian relief within the sub-Saharan Africa region.

To make a long story short, things happened quickly and by mid-August I had a job offer from an excellent international NGO with a project in Uganda. I had made the decision before that if I was offered anything I would take it. I divided my decision into two parts. First came the push factors: my frustration/stagnation with my job, a host of issues affecting the relationship between my director and myself, my difficulty with my community as sub-culture within South Africa, and the personal challenges of being alone and isolated culturally, geographically and socially. Then came the pull factors of this new position in Uganda: a more appealing country and host population, a more professional and accountaable work environment, working in a team setting with both expats and locals, freedom from the restrictive auspices of the Peace Corps, and pursuit of my field of interest: humanitarian assistance associated with armed conflict, natural and man-made disasters.

This is what I had been working towards since my last years of University and this was myopportunity. Taking into account the requirement of field experience, I knew that Peace Corps could offer the stepping stone I needed to jump into this field. Although some may consider this path somewhat dubious, I firmly believe that my short time within South Africa has the potential of stimulating my organization towards more accountability, transparency, coordination, ambition and vision. But I knew that it was not where I belonged and it was time for the torch to be passed.

After a flurry of admnistrative duties and good-byes, I boarded a plane to Uganda with a head full of reluctance and optimism, fear and excitement, stress and relief, but as we began to descend through the dusk-lit clouds of central/east Africa, and I came closer to the silver grandeur of the most important lake in the history of mankind, cradled by fingers of the lush, green forest, my reservations evaporated into the mist. The heavy tropical air that surrounded me as I stepped off the plane was like a warm embrace to welcome me to my new home. This is where I was meant to go 7 months ago when I said goodbye to my family at LAX. This is where my future lies.

Though I am currently sitting at headquarters in Kampala, my real work begins next Monday when I will arrive in Gulu, the humanitarian hub for northern Uganda. This is where I will recieve a handover from the current program manager and where I will take the position at the end of this month. Our projects are directed towards rebuilding infrastructure such as schools, health centers, and roads that either fell into disrepair or were destroyed during the war that ravaged the region for almost 20 years, offering employment during the construction process and promoting agricultural livelihoods through redeemable vouchers to acquire seeds, livestock, tools, etc.

Though I have definitely have my work cut out for me, I could not be more ready, excited and optimistic.

This is the end of my web log from South Africa. There is a possibility that I will begin a new one on my Ugandan venture, but I will keep you posted through my blogspot profile.

For a final time, I thank you for you interest, support, calls, emails, messages or even just reading this blog. Indeed it has made tough times more bearable knowing that there are others out there that are aware of this work. What you do with that knowledge is up to you. I can only bestow my highly subjective interpretation of what I observe and experience during my time away from that increasingly elusive concept of what we call home.

I send my greetings of love from the Pearl of Africa and hope that this fascinating trajectory of life may provide us with a nexus sometime in the near future.

Sincerely,
Chris

Sunday, June 28, 2009

It's close to midnight...

Faithful disciples,

So I’ve been promising myself that I’d post a blog as soon as things started looking up. I imagine someone who may had found this site by accident and their subsequent shock to discover that the author is a Peace Corps volunteer and not some narcissistic, melodramatic social critic who seems to have temporarily jumped off the deep-end. But that, my friends, is a conversation for another day.

The only thing more annoying than having to listen to the arrogant assumption by other volunteers and PC staff that they can tell you the emotional trajectory of your service is when you realize that they are actually right. Just as the first two months of training and first three months at site were predicted to be hellish, the light at the end of the (first) tunnel has shown signs of peeking through and, despite the impressive South African cold, blood has returned to fill my thirsty veins.

I must admit a substantial explanation for this upsurge in morale is the nearing of the end of ‘lock-down’, potential freedom and my impending visit to the city south of Africa: Cape Town. Who knows if this lock-down period has served its purpose to facilitate my ‘cultural integration’ (I know it’s developed a claustrophobia that I had never known prior) but regardless, I felt I have made some progress within the village just in terms of simple, though important, informal relationships. I am rarely heckled now and if I feel I am being treated unfairly a subsequent conversation ensues between the perpetrator and myself leaving the former wishing he/she had kept their tongue in their mouth. This conversation is best characterized by a reverse interrogation on my part regarding school, work, and HIV status: a conversation few are jumping at the bit to have.

My relationship with my family has also developed warmly. I am finding myself more comfortable with encroaches on my personal space and attempting to erode many of the anxieties I, along with the majority of those from the ‘North’, cling onto like a life vest in a frightening sea of communalism and sharing. My affection for the family is growing and I can still say that they are a joy to come home to, although harsh disciplinary tactics still leave me quite unnerved.

And as if the miracle dropped out of the sky from ‘Jaysoos’ himself, very heartening signs are presenting themselves in the realm of work. I have all but scrapped my shiny-eyed proposal of putting together a strategic plan for the entire organization because of the logistical difficulties, complete lack of support from upper management, and resistance by the staff. Instead I have decided to scale down and direct most of my energies towards a highly neglected Drop-In Center which has every challenge to overcome one may think of: financial strains, no community support, no support from the organization and management, a disillusioned staff and 143 children to feed and clothe 5 days a week.

Nevertheless, I have chosen to concentrate my efforts on this project because of the potential I have seen within the staff and flashes of passion, dedication and vision. I have also decided to start small; yearly activity plans, assignment of individual responsibilities, recording tools, meetings and English classes. Within the first few weeks one could see little more than smiling faces, nodding heads and assurances that ‘we will work hard’. When I would return to the center to find that nothing had been completed I would be supplicated with excuses that would range from blame shifting to saying that it was too cold (if I remember correctly, the temperature was around 61 that day). My frustration pinnacled when I arrived to find that the meeting I had asked to take place was the fault of missing staff members (neither of whom were essential to the meeting). I was with a friend who was visiting from the states at the time and, unfortunately for him, the rest of his visit turned into a 2-day gripe session that I am sure he thoroughly enjoyed.

But he left and I, like the walking dead, visited the Drop-In Center with little more than going through the motions. Like I stated earlier, it was as if a miracle dropped out of the sky from ‘Jaysoos’ himself. I arrived to the Drop-In Center late last week to find the entire staff sitting together in a 2-hour English class orchestrated by my all-star counter-part. After the class I checked up on the individual responsibilities that I had drawn up (to avoid confusion between activities and increase accountability) and the activities to find that they had actually been completed and recorded or at least attempted. I was so dumbfounded that I didn’t know what to do. I sat in a chair with this stupid look on my face and all I could do was try to understand how and when this all happened. Although it was a very small step, it was a step nonetheless. And my greatest challenge, having the staff buy in to the program, was beginning to take shape.

After a few minutes of deer-like immobility, I began to rack my mind for ideas on the way forward. I was so convinced that my efforts were doomed to fail that I didn’t even have a next step. So firstly I congratulated my colleagues to the best of my ability to mark this historic event, then I started talking to the management about the way forward. Now that our systems were beginning to shape and English classes were being held regularly, we would begin trainings on proposal writing and soliciting funding from outside donors to supplement the deplorable reliability of the Department of Health and Social Services.

I also made it my personal task to award the staff with something. So the next day I went into town and, doing my best impression of a midnight telemarketer, I started banging on shops’ doors asking for donations of paint, brushes or signage to revamp our Drop-In Center from the decrepit state of the current building. And wouldn’t you know, one sign store actually agreed to make a donation and is planning to visit next week. Who knows if he will actually come, but if I have anything to say about it he better hope he does.

The biggest challenge I now face is seeing how well the current progress holds up while I am on leave. I have a few colleagues in whom I have confidence, but even a week away can be a long time. Hopefully the struggles I have experienced over the past three months have helped prepare me for some of the failures that are sure to come. It has been a rough ticket, but if its eventual result is growth and renewed strength then I am glad and ready for the next trial. Well, not too soon.

For now I will fully enjoy a few days returning to the throws of quasi-adulthood and a temporary leave of absence from the example I have forced myself to uphold while in the village. There is always a lot to worry about when you leave something you have put so much effort into. But I suppose it’s apt preparation for the eventuality of the end of my service.

Nevertheless, I have never been more ready to be a kid again. Only five days until a group of restless, dirty Americans disrupts the peaceful South African afternoon with the deafening cacophony of:

You try to scream! but terror takes the sound before you make it

You start to freeze! as horror looks you right between the eyes

You're paralyzed!
'Cause this is thriller!, thriller night!


May he rest in peace.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Breaking the Silence

Dear committed supporters,

I believe it has been over a month since my last legitimate post  (the posting of the pictures was kind of a cop-out).  It’s been a frustrating couple months and on a daily basis I sit at my computer asking myself if today will be the day where I fulfill my blog duties and I always respond to myself with the same disaffection: ‘well, if I write today people are just going to think I’m depressed and miserable so I should probably wait until tomorrow to see if something good happens so I can balance my frustration with some more upbeat news of progress on some level or other.’ After over a month of postponing these entries with the same logic, I came to the realization that if I keep waiting for the good to match the bad, the positive to match the negative and the hopeful to match the disheartening, I will indeed keep my already diminishing audience waiting until World Cup time, where I am sure to engage in some lighter reporting. So I decided to just write and see if through a short dissection of my life here, I might be able to find some uplifting news that keeps all of us from asking, ‘if he is so unhappy, then why the hell is he still there?’

So let’s get started. Most of May had been dedicated to my preliminary work following up to a strategic planning workshop that I organized with the help of an outside facilitator and short flickers of interest from our staff and management. Very soon into the process I realized I was in way over my head. With little interest and support from my colleagues within the organization, I had the goliath task of putting together an organizational profile that would include all the work done within the past two years, staff interviews and assessments, feedback from clients, governance and finances among a host of other topics which organizations may or may not pay attention to on a daily, monthly or even yearly basis. The process was beneficial in gaining an understanding of the inner workings of a highly disconnected organization which is kept together by some scotch tape and rusted wire, but that was not the purpose of my investigation. I wanted to provide a thorough contextual background to create a good strategic plan; one that is viable and realistic with the capacity of organization in mind.

So after a painstaking month of running around under this unforgiving sun, extracting information like a dentist might a rotten tooth, and hounding my director for funding for the workshop (I discovered this to be a task that I would rank slightly better than drinking a pint of gasoline) I finally got everyone together for our workshop. I presented my findings and recommendations and handed the stage over to our hired facilitator who spent two days getting our staff excited about work in a way I never thought possible. Despite my great appreciation for what I call ‘soft progress’, almost nothing was done to draft a strategic plan for our next three years of operation and the textbook for how we will run the organization. So I was left with a feeling of exhaustion and relief, which was quickly following by my realization that I would probably have to spend another month drafting this plan individually with the staff of each of the six projects which each sit in an area with a radius of about 40km: another mammoth task.

So now I am in the midst of bureaucratizing my organization. The difficulty of this task invokes images of Marco Polo returning from the East with all of his recently acquired perspective and knowledge on how the world can and should function, but is met with skepticism at best, and chuckles, disinterest and claims of insanity at worst.

Like many of the small lessons I have learned in the short time I have been here, I am slowly working towards the acceptance that all of my prior ideas about life, politics, people, development, health care, community etc. just don’t make any sense here. As a result of the Hopkins curse I have taken upon myself to look for research and contextual information regarding anything before taking action, lately I have been reading extensively on the political economy of post-Apartheid South Africa, global HIV/AIDS policy and everything in between. Through these investigations I have begun to grasp the concept (though far from implementing it in a practical setting) that the failure of Western development and aid in Africa rests almost predominantly upon the inability to understand and give credence to the systems the have existed in this continent since the beginnings of human existence in regards to government, community and fighting disease.

Nevertheless, the reality is what it is and the powerful coercive nature of the West is visible in even the most hidden corners of the continent. So moderate adaption to this model has become a certain perquisite for modern state survival. African governments, for better or for worse, are moving towards their massive bureaucratization (and other inconvenient by-products like corruption) coined by the West and leaving behind the more informal, community- and kin-oriented politics of pre-European, tribal civilization. However, many times this system is inherently incompatible with the culture and society of those who live within it, with disastrous results in arenas ranging from economics to HIV/AIDS. So what does all this mean for my village, my organization and my work?

It means that I must decide when and where I should capitalize on potential for the inclusion of Western methods of doing things and when I should acquiesce and give support to more culturally characteristic methods. For example, does my organization really need a ‘strategic plan’ to accomplish its goals? Is the HIV epidemic going to be alleviated through decisions made in Geneva and Washington and transplanted to Mphahlele?  Where do I draw the line and say, ‘I agree with you here, but we must doing things differently here’? And do I even have the authority to come into someone else’s world and tell them how to run their organizations, communities and lives?

But, it is also important to consider the historical implications within each situation in order to best make decisions regarding these questions and not to mistake many of the negative traits of ‘modern Africa’ as results of traditionally African society, but instead, adaptations carried out to survive in the wake of the terror and destruction left by 20th century European colonists. For example, black South Africans were violently removed from the land of their forefathers and corralled into homelands where they were at the mercy of systems of intellectual submission and migrant labor dominated by whites that had contributed to the current psyche of shame, humiliation, and disempowerment. These characteristics should not be mistaken as ‘African laziness’, instead they should be taken as results of an horrendous recent history of white domination.

So, once again, understanding where my work fits into all this poses a complicated response whose answer I am yet to ascertain. Through the failures of my work I continue to question national and macro-level implications to reevaluate what the hell I should be doing. And it is overwhelming to say the least and sometimes it is, quite frankly, paralyzing. Sometimes I feel like I should just forget the greater context I am working in, and concentrate on individual challenges that I am faced with. But my own counterargument is that by ignoring this macro-level realities I not only run the risk of carrying out doomed interventions, but I am withholding valuable information from my counterparts who in other circumstances would not have access to this knowledge.

In regards to my acceptance within the community, there is actually some positive news to report. My stubbornness regarding a submission to a livelihood of evasion and isolation is finally starting to produce dividends. Now when I walk by high schools instead of hearing deafening yells of “Lekgowa!” (white person) I now hear my Pedi name “Moloto!”, which I consider to be a radical improvement. Instead of having to withstand unrelenting guffaws at my mere presence, people are now starting to recognize me with either a wave of a hand or a greeting. Although at times it is difficult to separate the personal from the greater social-political-historical context of race relations, I am starting to be more forgiving when I am met with shock and something reminiscent of small-scale hysteria. Making real friends is still a ways away because of apprehension on both sides and the absence of bridges towards connections and camaraderie, but I am hopeful that the process will materialize sometime in the future. As for now, my infrequent meetings with my Peace Corps comrades will have to suffice, but I must admit that spending weeks on end with no one in your presence to speak to candidly is both heavy and taxing. A fellow volunteer of mine put it well when she said that we must all have some masochist tendencies to put up with our lot here.

So life moves on, winter comes and goes, and the difficulties of everyday life are spotted with flashes of potential within the community and occasional weekends of American frivolity (which I am yet to decide are healthy or not), but I’ll take it for the time being.

For those of you who are averse to my sometimes-dismal theses I must respectfully ask your apology and forward you to less sobering blogs regarding puppies, Hannah Montana, weekends in Santa Barbara and other feel-good topics.

I miss you all like I miss flush toilets.

Chris

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pics!


My host sister outside our latrine at my house.



Walking home in the afternoon.



The Seleteng superhighway.


Mphahlele's central banking district.



Some other trainees and I at our farwell party.




My host brothers during training in our backyard.
I know these are only a few, but I will try and get some more posted as soon as I decide to get acquanited with the idea of walking around my village with a digital camera.




Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Kansas and African Chile Rellenos

Trusted Comrades,

Firstly, I must apologize to all those who have been following my blog somewhat consistently for the time elapsed between now and my last post. I will admit that it has been difficult to sit down and write to you these last few weeks, given the pessimism I have been feeling and my attempt to avoid writing anything negative. But at the same time, I have come to believe that these more challenging periods are arguably the most important to report, although this realization is something that I have never acted on in my past travels. So I have now delivered the disclaimer and here it goes.

I have explored the idea of international development and relief work and the NGO sector comprehensively over the last four years throughout college, internships and other forms of pursuit. It has been a passion of mine and I have never questioned whether or not I would end up working in this field. Although I understood that I was far from being a seasoned expert on all issues involved, I had introductory knowledge on food policy, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, disaster relief, and organizational structures from the smallest NGO in eastern African to the UN agencies of OCHA, UNHCR, UNDP, and Unicef. I was well versed in topics of debate relating to sustainability, recognition of gender-specific issue and corruption. I always knew that there was a significant gap between my academic knowledge of these issues and field experience, but I felt like I was more than well prepared to thrive at the ground level…Life is great when you know everything.

And despite all this wealth of knowledge and critical understandings of situations and interaction with those who are the actors within this arena, I still had no idea about what I was in for. The only thing worse than the ending of a honeymoon is when the honeymoon wasn’t even that good anyway. You start wrapping your mind around the idea of making this your life and you slowly start inching towards adaptation and stability, and just when you think that you can do this the ground drops from underneath you and the reality that you thought you knew was like living an episode of Dora the Explorer in comparison to what your life will really be like.

If you are wondering whether I am aware of the degree of ambiguity my words have displayed, the answer is yes, I am well aware. I will now continue…

Going back to what I was saying earlier a paragraph back. I just feel so na├»ve in taking my world here and my organization at face value after everything that I knew about the field of development work. I guess it just goes to show how much more powerful life experiences are than academic and abstract concepts or how bad I needed to be humbled and brought back to earth. Despite everything I had learned and everything people told me, I still believed that my organization, the people I am working with, the government health structure, and everything else were actually doing alright here…then things start to slip out. You find out that everything is just as complex and corrupt and interconnected as you were taught, but you really can’t believe it or understand it until you live it and it is your life. It’s easy to learn about all these things in a classroom because you are a removed observer and you think, ‘o I can fix that…or, that doesn’t look too hard’, but when you are living that reality and you begin to process the concept that your work probably won’t change anyone’s life and it definitely won’t change a society…that’s a tough pill to swallow.

So as you might have taken from all this, work is tough. And when you don’t have any of the distractions or coping mechanisms that are available to you in other contexts coupled with the full-time job of living as a complete outsider, with another language, culture and race that acts as a social wedge between you and everyone else, the realization that ‘Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore’ takes new meaning.

But you live and wake up in the morning and start your 2 hour walk to work through the village, through the bush, the mountains, and the fields, and you start to think that maybe everything isn’t so bad after all. Maybe if I just bring down my expectations, reevaluate the situation and develop a new strategy for the next few weeks, then maybe I just might be able to make it until July. And then the next day is better because it has to be and you’re more prepared for the next hit you’re going to take, because it will come.

So I know that there might have been a more obtuse post than my previous ones, but I feel like it is the best way to describe everything that is going on without posting everyone’s business on a universally accessible website.

Once again, thanks for tuning in and I will be back in a week or two.

O ya…Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Tonight I will imagine my corn meal and spinach to be a nice, juicy, cheesy chile relleno and my water that I fetched from an uncovered, untreated oil drum in the backyard as a nice cold glass of Negro Modelo...Ooo life is sweet.

Chris

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

White ATMs

My dearest friends, family, and others,

My latest Blog entry finds me drinking instant coffee at my desk, 7 am, contemplating the work for the day, which would be a no-brainer in any typical job setting, but given the absolute void of structure into which I have been thrown, this ends up being a necessary daily task. After four years where waking up before 10 would conjure images of the apocalypse, my time in the mornings has been like discovering a new dimension of earth. The mornings here are quite refreshing, especially after days of 90+ temperatures; this is what people here call winter. The air is cool, the sounds are laced with a chorus of waking farm animals, flowing water and the sweeping of gogos, and the light, as it breaks through the mountains and trees to the east, helps me remember why I came here.

While this lack of structure within the workplace could be interpreted as disorganized and debilitating (which it very well could become), it has actually been quite a blessing and temporary due to the influx of administrational duties for the annual assessment by the Department of Health. With this excess time, I have had the ability to design a plan for myself and my work with the organization for the following three months while I will be fixed to the village.

Despite the overall positive opinion I have generated on the organization as a whole, there is a significant lack of planning of activities in a systematic fashion to encourage accountability, organization, coordination, and effective use of resources. From what I have been led to believe in the short time I have been here is that many of the organizations here in the health and HIV/AIDS sector within South Africa have sprung up for two main reasons: they have seen a significant need within their communities and have felt a personal responsibility to address these needs and government funding has begun to pour into this sector and organizations have thus jumped at the chase for these funds. Given the situation, some organizations are indeed doing great work (I believe mine is one of them), but there is a dire need for strategic planning to help guide these NGOs in order to better understand their contribution to social change, the autonomy they have and should exercise from the government (although current funding dynamics would put this statement up for debate), and monitoring & evaluation to ensure that programs being realized are effective.

Although I have very little experience (this is a generous statement) in the area of coordination, management and organizational/project development, I do have a access to a limitless amount of time to plan, conduct assessments and evaluate the organization and the resources and contacts to either educate myself or ask for outside help. Ironically, the greatest challenge this project faces, aside from putting their trust in a 23-year-old surfer from California, is the organization itself. I cannot and should not force the organization into a process it is neither ready for nor wants. This would just lead to a divide between the staff and I, a complete lack of sustainability, and my ultimate frustration. This is where I discover how I would have done in sales. Only now, I am trying to sell a substantially complex idea to a group of people I have known for two weeks and don’t speak my language.

As for my progress within the community itself, I would say that it’s going…well or poorly would depend upon the time of day you ask. My grasp on the language has actually been coming along to my surprise. Since few people around me speak a significant amount of English, I have tried to set a precedent of speaking Sepedi initially and moving to English when necessary. While my language is progressing, my toleration of the laughing and pounding guffaws every time I walk by is starting to wane. I would say that it splits down the middle. With many community members, I am a welcomed surprise and greeted with appreciative smiles and a short conversation on the day. Others are just so taken aback that they fail to answer my greeting or do anything except for hang open their mouths. And the people I have had most difficulty with are those who just laugh at me hysterically and the young men who constantly ask me for money. It didn’t bother me at first, but now it’s starting to get annoying.

I never thought I would be saying this, but my host family has become my greatest asset and relief. When I first arrived I was struggling with significant futility to be alone for a second. My gogo would be running around bringing me things I might need and asking me what I was looking at/for, who I am, etc. in a language I couldn’t understand. And the kids, who are 6, 7, and 10, were like wind-up dolls, but louder and with fewer boundaries. When I finally got moved into a room of my own after two months of being without any sort of personal space, I took a breath, poured myself a glass of water and looked through the crack in my door to see two sets of eyes staring at me. Although the next few days were a continuous game of ‘let’s-see-what-the-white-man-is-doing’, things finally started to settle down and now I am glad to say that I can open my curtains without three faces popping up to look in.

Now, I cannot say exactly when and how it changed, but at some point the kids stopped making me want to put my head through glass and I began to thoroughly enjoy their antics and crazed interpretations of well-behaved children. I think we are all starting to share camaraderie in the fact that we are all here in this house and in this village without our immediate families, since they are all cousins with each other and I am…ya exactly. Within the villages there truly seems to be a generation of children raised by their grandmothers. This can be attributable to a variety of factors, including those orphaned by HIV/AIDS, but also those quasi-orphaned by migrant labor and the magnet of industry that is Johannesburg and the flood of working-age South Africans that arrives in the millions. So, this is my new family and while life and work here as one of 2 white people in the village can be tough, at least I can come back to my kingdom of sugar cane, orange trees and my adopted nephews who think I’m the best thing since sliced bread.

Well as you can see this is a long one, but for those of you who stuck around, you have a piece of ntso (chewed sugar cane) here waiting for you. I thought you might enjoy.

Chris

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Day 3 as a PCV

Hey all!

So hopefully most of you received my last email. I had the liberty of spelling out my contact information more explicitly and free of the dangers of these Somali-like waters that Peace Corps likes to call the world wide web.
Where was I? O ya, South Africa. Unlike some of my other adventures where I tend to wake up after every sleep and expect to see the Pacific out of my window, promptly followed by a few seconds of confusion and fear, here I haven’t really been that shocked to realize that I am 13,000 miles away from In-n-out and Zuma Beach. I can’t say whether it’s that my acclimatization to being here or just that everything has been moving so fast since training ended a few days ago and I have finally arrived to site as an official Peace Corps Volunteer.

I never thought that reaching the title of PCV would be something that I would celebrate, but after the frustration of being in international purgatory for the last two months and finding myself at the butt end of endless condescending remarks by smug ‘veteran’ PCVs, it’s a welcomed transition.

So I guess I should probably speak a little about my new home. I have spoken briefly about the village where I will spend my next two years and the organization, Pholoshong HBC, with whom I will be working. Now that I have arrived to find that I was mistaken to think that my new efficiency (ha!, I use the word with all literary freedom possible) would be ready for me to move into, I have spent the last few nights with my host family who will be living in the main house next to mine. Although this gogo (grandmother) and her young children and so unbelievably sweet, it has become somewhat aggravating to have to rely on 6-year-olds to bring you meals and water every time you want to bathe. Although many men here have no problem being served without end, I prefer to retain some vestige of personal autonomy and like to take care of myself and my living quarters. So there has been somewhat of a tug-of-war between being annoying to my supervisor in helping with the necessary logistics of moving-in and desperately wanting my own space. I am currently writing for one of the first times alone for more than two months and it feels like the tide is finally moving back out and allowing me breathe.

Since I am someone who needs to have their personal life organized before I can be at all effective in my work, I now feel like I can start thinking about my plan of attack for the next few weeks. It seems like it’s gong to be easy to get tied up with different types of work here. With my supervisor moving at the speed of light and me struggling to keep up under an unforgiving southern African sun, I have been introduced and made tentative plans to work with several parties, within and beyond Pholoshong. It is going to be a challenge to decide whether to begin working on programs and trainings early on or whether I should probably be spending this time settling in and learning from an observer’s perspective. On the one hand I have been warned not to spread myself too thin and learn before jumping in headfirst, but on the other hand it is impossible to ignore that there are serious gaps within the organization and in regards to the organization’s response to the community’s needs. All of this despite the fact that Pholoshong is one of the better-developed orgs in the district.

Anyways, with any remnants of a social life being put on hold for the next three months while us newly initiated PCVs enjoy ‘lock-down’ and the fact that my life outside the house ends when the sun sets because of security reasons, it seems like I will have a lot of time to explore these issues and continue writing these endless blogs.

O ya, I also need to start posting some pictures of my village. I’ll get those on this week. Until next time…