Last year before I left the US, I wrote “A Day in the Life (Atlanta Edition)” for a fun contrast of my life then vs. now.
I wake up around 7:30 AM most days. Immediately after I roll out of bed, I turn on my hot water kettle for my morning coffee, turn off my outdoor light, and make my bed. Next, I start cooking eggs and making toast with my toaster oven. I empty my chamber bucket into our latrine and wash it with a bit of bleach. I put my morning gratitudes into my 5 Minute Journal App and pick an intention for the day from my “Daily Good Things Jar” (aka a recycled Ricoffy canister). If I have time and am not lazy, I do a quick series of back and neck stretches to help offset the fun pains that seem to accompany aging!
I enjoy a yummy breakfast and coffee from my French press, courtesy of the many coffee grounds sent to me via care package. I appreciate that y’all understand how much I need real coffee to function. Usually breakfast is accompanied by reading my current book. After I finish my coffee, I head to the main house to catch up with my host mom and sister if she hasn’t left for school yet (hi, how are you, how did you sleep, etc.). I am fortunate that my family has a full bathroom—toilet, sink, and shower—where I brush my teeth, wash my face, and refill my water bottle. Then I head back to my room to wash my dishes, which involves using the still-hot water from my electric kettle and scrubbing each dish in my washing basin with towel #1, drying each dish with towel #2, and then laying them on my counter over my other two dish towels. I pour out the washing water on a tree near the house then quickly rinse out any remains in our outdoor sink. Finally, I fill up the food bowl for Mobotse, our cat.
I leave the house around 9:45 AM. For the first few months, I walked to work, which took about 35 minutes. Recently I got a bike. It’s challenging because my entire ride is on sand, but thankfully my quads are up to the challenge. I use the bike-and-greet for any passing community members I see—you greet a few feet early, slowing down just enough to hear but not lose precious momentum on the treacherous sand, and then cheerily wave as you pass. It’s usually in the mid-90s F (low 30s C) by this point, so I appreciate the extra wind that the bike creates but not the sweat. I typically arrive at work around 10 AM every morning, an agreement that I made with my supervisor. I lock up my bike, greet my coworkers, put my lunch in the fridge, and then check in with my supervisor to see if anyone needs help. Often there isn’t anything specific to do, so I spend the first half hour catching up on social media and email.
Health PCVs in South Africa are assigned to a specific organization, but we work with the community. My organization works with orphans and vulnerable children in the area primarily by providing them with lunch and an afterschool program. We have three “wendy house” buildings—small wooden structures—a tin building, and a trailer. One wendy house is LCCS’s office, the second is our library, and the third is used by the local youth center. The tin building is LCCS’s kitchen, and it is HOT in there. The trailer is used by the Department of Social Development, who come to LCCS on Wednesdays so that community members can speak to social workers without having to travel to their main office. We also have a nice garden, a spacious yard, and latrines. I spend most of my time at LCCS, but I also often visit YASPO to help out with their youth HIV prevention programs or talk with my friends who work there. The other organization I work with is our local NPO forum, who I am implementing a Peace Corps grant with to strengthen project management and grant writing skills for local NPOs and creches (preschools).
Some days are very slow. LCCS’s office is very different from a usual American setup: there is one desk for my supervisor and then a table that can seat about four people. There are no walls and no privacy. People frequently stop by the office to make copies, have meetings, or just to chat. It’s been a really interesting shift for me; I no longer wear headphones at work and have gotten much more used to frequent interruptions. I often end up helping with tech troubleshooting, like helping send an email with an attachment from a computer because we don’t have wifi and therefore have to transfer those documents to a tablet or phone first (FYI, hotspotting your computer from your phone to send an email takes up a surprising amount of data). I’m also the designated office typer thanks to my Mavis Beacon skillz. Then there are days where I sit outside and read my Kindle for hours, relishing the brief reprieve from the heat that our shady tree offers, chatting in broken Setswana with my coworkers, and/or going to YASPO for a music listening session. I usually eat lunch around 12:30 PM. I ate the delicious food that my organization cooked at first, but eventually I realized that the gravy they used most days was hard on my stomach, so I’ve switched to bringing my own lunch. When the afterschool learners arrive around 2:30 PM, I ask them about their day and see if anyone needs homework help. It’s infrequent that they request help, but it’s always good to ask!
Since receiving this grant, my life has gotten much busier. I meet with my NPO forum counterparts almost daily to problem solve issues that come up, plan expenses, and keep the project on track. I’m incredibly grateful for my counterparts, Pitso and Sophy; I definitely could not do this grant without them. I’ve also been leaving early to go home and work on the grant writing training. While I’m enjoying the adaptation to South African work culture, I still work best where I can work without distractions. Recently, my supervisor and I also came up with a proposal calendar to start working on different grant opportunities. I requested politely that we meet for an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays without interruptions, and she agreed. I know they can definitely handle a meeting with multiple interruptions, but it’s a skill I’m still working on. I’m also still working with them on organizational capacity building, so I’ve been trying to teach our finance manager Excel when we have time. Once a week, I meet with my Setswana tutor, DK, and try to focus on language learning even though the heat makes me feel like boko ba ka bo tologa (my brain is melting, aka my new favorite Tswana phrase).
I bike home between 2 and 4 PM. It’s usually incredibly hot by this point in the summer, so once I lock up my bike, I immediately unlock my room and go stand in front of my fan. If it’s really hot, I supplement with the strategic use of an ice pack or just suck on an ice cube. I greet my host mom and refill my water bottle since I’ve usually drank the full 1.5 liters by that point. If I came home early to work on the training, I spend a few hours poring over South African grant applications. Otherwise, I put on a show from my hard drive and relax as I try to lower my body temperature and eat a snack. If I’m running out of basic staples (bread, pasta, soda), I walk to the tuck shop close to my house, but I always try to plan in advance so that doesn’t happen. Around 5, the heat drives me out of my room once again. The sun has lowered to the point that I can go to my favorite reading spot next to our braai pit. I like to sit outside and read, especially when Mobotse comes over to be affectionate. One thing I’m trying to do more this year is to spend more time outside my room, and this has been a good compromise. I enjoy chatting with Mma when she has time. I work out if I have the energy and motivation, but I don’t beat myself up if not; my days are very draining even if they aren’t very busy.
Chilling on my reading ledge with Mobotse
Around six, I make my dinner—usually pasta and tuna or a chicken burger with a baked potato. While it cooks in my toaster oven, I fill up my bathing bucket, heat up a kettle-full of water, add it to the cold water from the tap, and bathe. I take a shower once a week in my host family’s bathroom, but generally I use the running water sparingly. One of the reasons that I wanted to join Peace Corps was to have a better understanding of water waste. Also, I don’t mind bucket bathing; it’s quick and efficient! I dump the used water into some of our plants, then settle in with either a book or a show as I enjoy my dinner and a fresh mango for dessert. I’ve also recently discovered that the grocery store in my shopping town sells frozen pizza, so I buy myself one a month for when I need a pick-me-up. I really miss being able to just order pizza. I also catch up with my friends and parents on Whatsapp.
I go to sleep around 10:30 most nights. I like to enjoy a cup of tea (thanks to everyone who’s sent me tea!), brush my teeth in my chamber bucket, and then log three amazing things that happened to me that day and any pictures on the 5 Minute Journal app. I was doing a good job of keeping a detailed journal for several months, but I kept slacking and didn’t want to forget those memories. I miss being able to take walks at night—there’s very little lighting here, plus snakes—but sometimes I sit on my ledge near the braai pit and look at the stars for a while when I feel that wanderlust. Thankfully, I have much less trouble falling asleep here than I did in the US, although I still listen to Bonobo every night.