My job for the next three months is to conduct a community needs assessment (CNA) and integrate into my family, work, and community. One of the aspects that drew me to Peace Corps is their grassroots approach to development; during my CNA period, the emphasis is on me building relationships rather than jumping in to implement unsustainable and uninformed programs. I’m currently working at my org three days a week and traveling around the community for my CNA the other two days. I spend a lot of time greeting community members, desperately trying to remember the names of the 100+ people I meet every week, and sharing small moments where I feel as though I’ve done well (and many other times when I don’t). Thankfully, my community is full of some very patient tutors! For example, this past week my org asked me to do a roll call at our daily lunch for secondary (high school) students. In typical American fashion, I began reading out the students’ names without an introduction or greeting. I ended up marking about 20 students absent (largely because I couldn’t hear some of the students, who often speak very quietly) until one of my coworkers helped me to correct my mistake. I introduced myself in my broken Tswana attempts and asked the students to help me by speaking loudly, and the rest of roll call went much more smoothly!
I’ve been very fortunate in my integration thus far. Quite a few people saw me last weekend at the wedding, and I bonded with some of the women helping to cook and clean for the event. Also, the local social workers come to my org on Wednesdays to meet with people in the village so they don’t have to travel to the main office. I am taking advantage of this to meet some of the people (mostly women, several with small children) in my area who are receiving support from the Department of Social Development and talk about what they perceive are the needs and opportunities in the village. My org also does home visits, and I’ll be accompanying two of my coworkers this week to get to know the families we serve this week. As I keep reiterating, integration happens in the small moments and the relationships built. For instance, I shared with two of my coworkers that I had learned the “[X] namela thaba” wedding song, and we ended up having an amazing, impromptu sing-along. Then later that week, my coworker announced that she was getting married in August and trusted me enough to request that I design her wedding invitations!
I’ve also been spending some time in my shopping town both to finish outfitting my room and also to relax. Getting to my shopping town entails getting up very early to walk to the tar road and catch a taxi; taking a 30 minute taxi (read: SA’s rural public transportation) ride to another, larger town; then getting off at the taxi rank, waiting around an hour for that taxi to fill up, and an hour-long ride to my actual shopping town. I’ve been doing a lot of my shopping at Game, which is sort of South Africa’s equivalent of Walmart. Many of the people in my shopping town speak Tswana, so I try to use it as an opportunity to practice and make friends. Recently, I was buying a heater (SA gets cold during its winter season, which is now) and the friendly associate helping me was floored that I could speak Tswana and that I traveled by taxi. I’m constantly surprised at the level of amazement other people have when they find out that I’m learning Tswana, living in a village, and doing ordinary things like riding a taxi; PCVs have been in South Africa since 1997 and my village alone has had five PCVs, including me. This past weekend, Bobby (the most recent PCV) and I went to our shopping town for a relaxing weekend. We went to a spa, ate some delicious food, watched a lot of Animal Planet, and enjoyed the pool! I came back today feeling refreshed and ready to flex my burgeoning Tswana skills. I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to Black Motion, a great South African artist, also- their song “Imali Imali” was practically the theme of my cohort’s PST! I highly recommend giving it a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuslzuKdMGk&sns=em.
Yummy breakfast of sharonfruit (persimmon), koeksister (honey-covered pastry), and brie
Peaceful garden at the spa
One of my cohort mates recently pointed out that, as of yesterday, we have been in South Africa for 100 days. That really made me pause. One hundred days sounds like a long time; almost a third of a year, and a little over three months. But in reality, one hundred days is hardly any time at all. Nearly 8,500 days ago, South Africa held its first democratic elections after the demise of apartheid. Now, the country celebrates Freedom Day every April 27 to commemorate that landmark day in 1994. But, as this article points out, the freedom celebrated: “should mean emancipation from poverty, unemployment, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination… and many of these issues are still rife in our country…. Freedom Day therefore serves as a reminder to us that the guarantee of our freedom requires us to remain permanently vigilant against corruption and the erosion of the values of the Freedom Struggle and to build an active citizenry that will work towards wiping out the legacy of racism, inequality, and the promotion of the rights embodied in our constitution.” (South African History Online, http://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/freedom-day-celebrated-south-africa) These words apply far beyond South Africa and are a galvanizing call to us all to reject complacency in the face of inequality, and to commit to this fight not for 100 days, or a year, but for a lifetime.