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.