The past month has been full of challenges, and it’s had me missing America quite a bit lately. I had what I think was food poisoning last week, and once I was finally able to eat food, I was desperately wishing for delivery wonton soup. Then, when I tried to go back to work too soon, I longed for an Uber to take me home instead of having to drag my nauseous self through every second of my 35 minute walk home. I also really miss central heating now that South Africa’s winter is in full swing. Don’t even get me started on how much I miss pizza. And most of all, I’ve been missing my friends and family. My friends in my MPA program recently graduated, and now one of my best friends is heading back from Atlanta to the Philippines. I’ve missed being able to be there for those moments.
I know, I know. Sob story. No one in my village has access to delivery food, reliable and convenient transportation, central air, or most amenities common in America. It really helps keep me from feeling too sorry for myself when I get stuck in a funk. Plus, my host family has a toilet- believe me when I say that dealing with food poisoning when you have a toilet is infinitely better than when you only have a pit latrine. Taking time to reflect on those moments of gratitude has helped me to deal with my momentary bouts of self-pity. And I know that one day, I’m going to miss my home here in South Africa the way that I now miss my home in America.
So I’m spending a lot of time focusing on turning my room into my home. I’ve been spending my weekends working on projects, like my cardboard box shelves and an insulated cat home for my family’s cat, Mobotse. I re-read my favorite book series, Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce; any home of mine is incomplete without these books. Weeks ago, I hung up my line of family and friends photos. Also, I bought a toaster oven so that I can start baking again. I’ve developed my own dish-washing and bucket bathing systems to maximize warmth and efficiency.
These efforts have all been helpful in creating a homey atmosphere, but of course, a home is much more than the things inside of it. I’ve been blessed with a truly wonderful host family. At least once a week, my host mom comes by with a delicious baked treat for me. She checked on me while I was sick and made sure that I had everything I needed. Today, my host mom, host sister and I made my Mma’s famous carrot cake for my supervisor’s 50th birthday. I asked my friend Lucky, a local shop owner, to bring me back some saffron when he goes to Pakistan in a month, and this week he gave me a bunch of other delicious spices just because he’s such a generous person. I continue to meet new and warm- hearted people every week who welcome me with open arms. And I’m so lucky to have friends and family back home who are also helping me by sending me a taste of home. Special thanks to Aunt Patti and to Joni for some amazing, and much-appreciated, care packages!
I unexpectedly had to go to Pretoria for a few days this month for some Peace Corps business. It was a strange experience. On the plus side, I met some really great people, including Mel, a very intelligent and wonderful woman who took me around Hatfield, showed me the best shawarma spot, and wants to start her own nonprofit helping connect women and children to services, and her boyfriend Bruce; Beryl, a PC Response Volunteer who provided training for early childhood educators in South Africa; Hope, a PCV from Malawi; and King, a PCV from Rwanda. I had the chance to re-connect with some of the other PCVs in South Africa. Additionally, I had constant access to wifi. The city is covered with restaurants specializing in amazing, gourmet cuisine- I enjoyed everything from incredible gnocchi to drip coffee from Ethiopia. I had to re-download my Uber app to get around. I even had Domino’s delivered and a Burger King burger. But I felt like I had stepped into a strange, parallel universe, where I had one foot in America and one in South Africa. My village had never felt further away. And in a strange way, the whole time I just really wanted to go home. Not to America- to my village. I missed greeting my host mom in the morning; my long, beautiful walk to work; my supervisor’s wry sense of humor; and my friends in the village. In spite of myself, my village has very quickly found its space in my heart.