Hello everyone! I’m Lindsay, a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa working as a Community HIV Outreach Volunteer. To learn more, see my About Me & FAQs page and my first post. To learn more about elands and why I named my page after them, check out Elands. For more on my Peace Corps journey, see my application timeline, and then take a look at some other PCV blogs. This blog is my perspective on living within a Setswana village in South Africa, so it is important to note that this is not representative of the many cultures, people or places of South Africa and is filtered through my personal lens. You can stay up-to-date with my adventures by clicking on the “Follow” button on the right-hand side of your screen!
Hello readers! Thank you for being patient with me during my hiatus from blogging.
The further I get into my PC experience, the more difficult it is for me to articulate my service. And the longer that I go between blog posts, the harder it becomes. Very little tangible has happened, and yet it feels like a lifetime since my last real update. I suppose that’s an apt metaphor for my PC service overall.
Since the grant writing training in April, I’ve helped out with yet another Skillz camp, celebrated Easter, gone to Bushfire & Swaziland, done a lot of work with the Resource Committee, gone to Mid-Service Training (MST), taken up knitting, read voraciously, and started implementing a multi-part workshop for my org’s staff on project design & management and grant writing. I gained an amazing new site mate who’s energized and motivated me. I’ve been struggling for the past two months with increasing nausea, so I’m here in Pretoria getting checked out. By this point in my service, I’ve had my three remaining wisdom teeth removed, a root canal, and a variety of other illnesses. Thankfully, none of them have been serious, and I’ve received great medical care, but suffice to say I’m pretty sick of being sick.
It’s more difficult to explain the mental and emotional challenges and growth of the past few months. I feel simultaneously more and less integrated in my village. There’s still plenty of people who don’t know my name or call me by the previous PCV’s name, but there’s also a lot more people who do know me. Some days, the looming countdown clock motivates me to make the most of my remaining 8.5 months. Other days it makes me feel like giving up, because how much sustainable development have I really achieved anyway?
I was warmed to realize that much of my cohort, regardless of how much we had accomplished, had felt similar sensations of not having done enough by MST. Many of us related how we were trying to redefine our self-value outside the Western parameters of productivity. It was really helpful to know I wasn’t alone in this quest.
I’ve been reading a lot of books that have helped to expand my mind and be more inclusive of diverse peoples, including The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor, My New Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein, Neurodiversity in the Classroom by Thomas Armstrong, The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashadi, Hunger by Roxane Gay, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’m very grateful for all of the internal reflection time that being in PC has granted me. I feel as though the walls of my mind have shifted in some ways and been broken down in others. It’s a challenging process, but one that I certainly wouldn’t change.
My second year has been vastly different from my first, mostly in positive ways. While I’ve struggled more intensely during this year, I also feel more at home in my own skin. I hope to take this back with me to the U.S.
Hello blog readers! Thank you for your patience while I’ve been gone. Life got away from me, and I began to find it harder to articulate my experiences.
I knew I wanted to go to Bushfire, a music festival full of regional artists in Swaziland, since March of last year. I was so excited to have that dream come true this year! My fellow PCVs and I had a ton of fun listening to music, camping, and indulging in yummy food. There were four stages: the Barn for acoustic music, Firefly for EDM, the Main stage for big name artists, and the Anphitheatre for everyone else. Plus, the area of Swaziland we were in was stunningly beautiful; we were surrounded by mountains and sunflowers.
I saw some of my favorite South African artists- Kwesta, Sho Madjozi, Samthing Soweto, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo- and also discovered a ton of new artists, such as Rouge, Bholoja, Dub Inc., and Crimson House. My favorite performance by far was Sho Madjozi, who raps in Shangaan and incorporated traditional dancewear and moves into her high-powered set. Kwesta was also fantastic, and I was thrilled to sing along to “Ngud'” and “Spirit” along with the crowd.
I also met two Swaziland PCVs whose blogs I’ve been following since before I left for Peace Corps- Kirby of What is Kirby Doing? & @beardsofpeacecorps and Alison of Travelin’ the Globe, plus Netta who runs @peacefulcurlsofpeacecorps. Alison even invited me to visit her site Friday morning! Her house looked just like any South African site, which surprised me a little. I got to meet some of her famous chickens, and she graciously baked me a delicious chocolate babka loaf. Also a big thank you to her for providing fantastic directions to and from Swaziland and her site, without which I would have been totally lost! Unfortunately, I forgot to take any photos, but I promise we did meet up.
Playlist from Bushfire
- “Dololo” by Rouge
- “Huku” by Sho Madjozi
- “Ngud’” by Kwesta
- “Akanamali” by Sun-El Musician feat. Samthing Soweto
- “Ikhonkhotsa Ilele” by Bholoja
As an extra special treat for me being gone so long, my fellow PCV Lexi has graciously let me repost her fantastic guide to gqom!
Gqom Guide by Lexi Delahaut
You know that over-produced, menacing, bass-laden house music that you hear blaring in the distance at your neighborhood Shabeen Dream [bar]? Those pulsating, polyrhythmic songs that the taxi baba blasts after he’s retired the gospel, perfectly timed as the Joburg skyline becomes visible in the distance? That’s Gqom, said with the tongue swiftly cupping the roof of the mouth to create that all-satisfying ‘q’ click that peppers isiZulu and isiXhosa, alike. Gqom, meaning, “to hit the drum” in isiZulu, originates from the Durban townships, and is quickly consuming the South African house music scene with its innovative, dynamic sounds. Gqom amalgamates many different music styles, from hip-hop, to kwaito, to house, and massively draws on traditional Zulu culture, with interspersed whistles and ululation heard throughout. Dark, mesmerizing, and body-shaking Gqom is here to stay, and is slowly creeping its way into mainstream popular culture, most recently seen featured on the Black Panther soundtrack.
How Does One Dance to Gqom?
When a Gqom song tells you to Vosho (which it will do frequently), you must drop your bums to the floor and quickly bounce back up. My only form of exercise for the past two years, besides the occasional lethargic run (sorry PCMO [doctor]), has been the excruciating, thigh-burning, Vosho. Throw in some nay-nays, a dab (or three), and the gwara-gwara [Xitsonga dance] and you’ll be golden. While fancy footwork certainly helps, Gqom’s fast–paced beat doesn’t actually require as much movement as it suggests. An embellished dance-walk will do, as well. Anyone can get down to Gqom. Ungesabi! Don’t be scared!
Can’t Get Into It?
I’ve heard again and again that Gqom “all sounds the same.” Wena [you], if you give Gqom the time, instead of a shallow, distanced listen, you’ll find that you can easily train your ears to distinguish the nuances and distinctions between each track. Soon, you’ll recognize the difference between those hollow, almost apocalyptic breakdowns and sporadic, industrial peaks. I don’t need to convince you to like Gqom, though. It will make your legs move, your heart rate quicken, and your booty drop whether you like it, or not.
As the Distruction Boyz so un- apologetically put it: Gqom is the Future. And it’s sure to be the soundtrack to your service. So Wena, Faka iGqom! Put on the Gqom.
It’s been a busy few weeks prepping, writing and designing the grant writing training. It was a lot more work than I had anticipated, but I’m proud of the final, 93 page manual and two day training I created.
On Monday and Tuesday, 19 employees from each of the ward’s NPOs came together for my Introduction to Grant Proposal Writing training. I was very fortunate to have help from my fellow PCV, Gwen; our translator, DK; and my fantastic counterparts. It was a long two days, but we did it!
Our grant is mostly over, although I gave the trainees an optional assignment to write a fake grant by the end of the month. Next up is a Grassroot Soccer camp, working with my organization to submit some grant proposals, and lots of sleep.
This weekend we also celebrated Easter. My favorite little man turns 1 this week. We did an early birthday celebration so I could give him his gift, which he loved!
Announcement: Thank you to all of my wonderful readers! Unfortunately, I have found that I’m unable to keep up with posting weekly. My plan is to post every other week moving forward, possibly once a month when things are hectic. Thank you for your understanding.
Last week was D-Day–the fundamentals of project management training had finally arrived. After weeks of planning, meetings, running around to deliver letters, countless SMSs and long days, it was finally here. I chanted to myself my mantra, accept rather than expect, and nervously chewed on my nails. Thankfully, my counterparts were serene and optimistic. When almost all twenty managers of our ward’s NPOs and creches showed up on time, my nausea began to subside.
The next three days were intense and chock full of information. I am eternally grateful to our wonderful trainers, PM Academy, for their excellent training and all of their hard work. We certainly couldn’t have done it without our fantastic translator. I was also very proud of our trainees. Half the day was spent on classroom assignments to apply their training, and the final day was an hours-long exam that will be used to get them an internationally recognized training certificate. It was grueling, but the managers all expressed how useful the training had been! We were delighted to have our Peace Corps Small Grants Manager, Lebogang, stop by on the second day to see the success of our grant. As usual with this grant, every day brought fresh challenges, but my counterparts, PM Academy, and I managed to deal with them and move forward.
After the training, I took a day off to recuperate. However, I couldn’t take long- I’ll be facilitating our second course, basic grant writing, at the end of the month! Additionally, we had a Resource Committee meeting this week, and I’ll be headed to pre-service training for SA37 next week. I was excited to be elected the new chairperson of Resource Committee. It’s going to be a busy few months, so I’m extra thankful for the many wonderful bags of coffee and inspirational cards y’all have sent!
The first year of Peace Corps goes by slowly for many PCVs. It’s a critical time of relationship building, integration, and simply being present in your community. However, the second year tends to ramp up quite quickly. As a naturally busy person, I’m generally loving my increased work, although I rather wish I could have spread it out a little more evenly.
A few weeks ago, the new cohort of South Africa health (CHOP) volunteers arrived. Several of my friends and I hosted the new trainees for a site shadow on Monday and Tuesday. It was a weird but fun experience to be filling the shoes of the PCV I shadowed a year ago. In many ways, having the trainees made me more conscious of and grateful for my PC experience as I was able to see my life through their eyes. I really enjoyed getting to know them, and I look forward to meeting all of SA37 in a few weeks when I head to their PST to assist with their practicum!
This week has also been quite intense because my counterparts and I have been preparing for a project management training for this Monday through Wednesday. Managing a grant in PC is a vastly different experience from my work managing grants in DC. For example, most of the organizations we work with don’t have email, and some of them don’t use SMS. So on Wednesday and Thursday, my counterpart, Pitso, and I trudged through the mud to deliver 18 letters across our ward. My friends Law and David stepped up to help as well. I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to have dedicated, passionate people in my village to work with. Something new has come up with this grant almost daily, and Pitso and Sophy have been there with me to help solve every problem and remind me to take a deep breath. I’m nervous for Monday but also really excited to be bringing something that our NPOs and creches have requested. I hope that this bolsters the NPO forum and creates a strong foundation to strengthen our community.
There was also some very sad news this week. One of my host relatives passed away suddenly on Tuesday. Lillian was an amazing woman and an important part of our community. She made me feel loved and welcomed into the family and always had a kind word. Although I’ve attended several funerals in my village, this was the first person that I knew well. In my village, funerals are usually held that weekend and are largely handled by community members. I headed over with my vegetable peeler and cutting knife on Friday to help with food prep for a few hours. Relatives and friends came from all over to celebrate Lillian’s life and assist with the funeral. It always stuns me to see how much people here will do to help each other, and I am so grateful to be a part of that. One of my new friends in the community kept tabs on me during the funeral to make sure I knew where we were going and was aware of the unspoken rules. Life in PCSA can be challenging, but there are just so many moments of love and gratitude.
So far, my second year in PCSA has moved a lot more quickly than my first. It was surprising to me to realize at the funeral that not only has my Setswana really improved, but that I actually knew and was friends with several people there. There are still many times when I feel as though I’m not very integrated, but I try to hang on to the moments where I do.
[Spoiler free!] A few months ago, I was talking about Black Panther with Law and DK and showed them the trailer. They loved it, and I invited them to come see the movie with me. I was surprised when they told me they’d never seen a movie in theaters, since they’re both movie buffs.
However, I started to look around for a movie theater to watch BP and realized there are less than 100 theatres in the entire country—and nearly all of these are clustered around the five largest cities. This was a huge contrast from my American experience; my small town in suburban Ohio had three movie theaters within a 15 minute drive. I did a quick internet search to find out why movie theaters weren’t very popular here, but my search was unsuccessful. We did find a theatre in Pretoria finally and spent months watching the trailers and getting progressively more excited.
All of this hype culminated yesterday when we got up early, dressed nice, and took a 3+ hour taxi ride to town. We were running a few minutes late but only missed some previews. I met up with fellow PCV and Pedi Pal Gwen, who also invited two of her counterparts, picked up our 3D glasses, and headed to the theater with barely contained enthusiasm. The film was worth every second that I waited for the past three years, and we were all beaming as we walked out of the theater. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my Saturday or seeing it with anyone else.
Black Panther exceeded all of my expectations and also managed to be a fantastic movie. Director Ryan Coogler wove in commentary on important issues seamlessly with the main storyline. For example, the film features strong, multi-layered, and dark-skinned black women with natural hair—including as the main love interest. This is a critical counterpoint to the racist, colonialist narratives that media often reinforces of treating POC as sidekicks, as well as relegating lighter colored skin as “good” and natural hair as “bad” or “unprofessional.” The fictional nation of Wakanda—a wealthy nation whose technology far exceeds the US—challenges the audience to take a look at what countries in Africa might be like if colonialism hadn’t stripped them of their resources, land and people. T’Challa is a wealthy, powerful king, a very different black male protagonist than those usually chosen by Hollywood. Coogler also brings in the plight of persons of color outside of Wakanda, ensuring that these issues are given their due without exploiting them. I also loved how Wakanda effortlessly married tradition and technology. Plus, the film’s director, producer, and cast are almost entirely black. Finally, the soundtrack, which was produced by Kendrick Lamar, is absolute gold.
Seeing it in South Africa gave this movie an added dimension for me. Coogler designed Wakanda partly based on South Africa and neighboring country Lesotho. The characters speak isiXhosa, a South African language, and my friends all freaked out when we heard Babes Wodumo’s “Wololo” and Bhizer’s “Gobisiqolo” in the background of one of the scenes. A famous South African father and son duo play old and young T’Chaka (T’Challa’s father), respectively. The soundtrack also features four South African artists—Babes Wodumo on “Redemption,” Sjava on “Seasons,” Yugen Blakrok on “Opps,” and Saudi on “X.” Portraying a strong African country modeled on a nation like South Africa is a much-needed counter-narrative to the strong ethnocentrism in the US.
In short, go see Black Panther already! I could write on and on about its greatness, but many writers of color have already written about its importance and symbolism so I encourage you to read their perspectives instead. If you aren’t convinced of the need for more positive black representation in major films, check out this site which shows all of the lines spoken by POCs throughout major films (less than 7 minutes for the entire 8 movie Harry Potter franchise, for example).
Have you seen Black Panther and have anything to add to the discussion or other reviews to share? Write them in the comments below!
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.
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.
I really enjoy South African music, so I thought it would be fun to look at the past year in terms of the top 10 songs I heard (note: a few of these are Nigerian artists but are played frequently in SA). I’ve decided not to include any of the songs featured in my previous posts, Sonic South Africa and Shekhinah, to give more exposure to other songs, but I recommend that you check that out also!
- Omunye by Distruction Boyz
- Midnight Starring by DJ Maphorisa
- Akanamali by Sun-El Musician
- Maradona by Niniola
- If by Davido
- Love Potion by Mafikizolo
- Gobisiqolo by Bhizer
- Spirit by Kwesta
- Makoti Sikulandile by King Monada
- Particula by Major Lazer ft. Nasty C
What were your top 10 most heard songs this past year? For those in South Africa, did I miss any? Let us know in the comments!
Also, a shout out to Aunt Patti, Joni, and Kjersti for their wonderful care packages! There are no words to express the wonderful feeling of receiving a taste of home and kind words from friends and loved ones.
Peace Corps Tip #41: Do not expect. – Book of advice from my RPCV friend, Janelle
Friday marked my cohort’s one year anniversary of arriving in South Africa, as well as my birthday (big thanks to my PCV friends Gwen, Jonas, Lily & Bianca for helping me celebrate!). It’s been an interesting time of reflection for me. The newest health cohort arrived today, starting their journey. I’ll be serving as a resource volunteer for the 37s, which really brings the last year full circle for me.
I recently played roses, stems and thorns for 2017. My highlight was my org’s capacity building workshop—my coworkers really rose to the occasion and made the workshop a success. 2017’s thorn has been the identity changes I’ve been undergoing; not knowing who I am any longer and the emotional growth spurts have broken me down emotionally and mentally. Relatedly, my stem has been working on acceptance and expectations.
The biggest lesson I’ve taken with me into 2018 is to accept rather than expect. My unrealistic expectations in 2017 created a lot of unhappiness for me. I spent a lot of time bouncing between feeling disappointed that my circumstances hadn’t lived up to my expectations and then blaming myself, which created a pretty unpleasant spiral.
For instance, I’ve really struggled with feelings that I don’t belong in any of my groups- my community, other PCVs, and people back in the U.S. I expected to feel more integrated by now in my community, and the chafing of my reality not meeting my expectations has been very painful. Sometimes it’s just so blatantly obvious that I don’t belong in any of those groups, especially in my community. I feel like The Interloper, lurking in the background like a giant white sore thumb.
On Christmas Eve, this really hit me hard. Some subconscious part of me expected Christmas to be like it was back in the U.S., but it was different. Perhaps part of it is that this was my first Christmas away from my family, who I missed fiercely. I spent the evening at church with my loving and wonderful host family, struggling with guilt over thinking of my U.S. family. The three and a half hour service was entirely in Setswana, and I was utterly lost within the first few minutes. A darkness began to spread inside of my chest, a vulnerability that splintered like a cracked egg. You don’t belong, it whispered. No one wants you here. I tried to smile even as the tightness rooted in my chest began to spread to my throat and stomach. Then, the insidious voice of guilt chimed in. You wouldn’t be so lost if you just tried harder to learn Setswana this past year. You could have some idea of what to sing if you weren’t too proud to ask someone for help. Everyone here can see that you just don’t care enough to really try to integrate, that you’re simply too lazy to ever be a good volunteer. I recovered, partly thanks to the love and care of my host family, but that low point has stuck with me.
The opposite has also been true: the moments where I had no (or realistic) expectations) helped me to enjoy my present much more. I did a journaling exercise for both 2017 and 2018, and I decided that my word for the year is “acceptance,” and my mantra is “accept rather than expect.” For the organizational workshop, I put myself under a lot of stress to make sure the workshop would be successful. The day before, I realized that I couldn’t guarantee how my coworkers would respond or what they would take away. The only element under my control was myself, so I set my expectation to be that I would do a good job and be flexible. The workshop’s success meant so much more to me because I approached it from a place of gratitude and acceptance rather than expectation. I still struggle with this lesson, but I remind myself of my mantra every day—and that it’s ok when I don’t do it perfectly.
I have a lot to look forward to in 2018. The local NPO forum and I successfully applied for a Peace Corps grant to bring an accredited project management trainer to the NPOs and creches in our village. I will also be facilitating a grant writing training as part of the grant. These will also be part of my ongoing organizational capacity building efforts for my org. In mid-February, several trainees will come to my site for the day to shadow me, and then I head to pre-service training in mid-March to assist trainees with practicum. Then in May, I’ll be headed to the incredible Bushfire music festival in Swaziland. Two of my favorite people are coming to visit me in South Africa in August, and my undergrad is hosting another study abroad here in November. And of course, I’ll be turning the big 3-0! Along with all of that will be many moments of bonding with my host family, hanging out with my coworkers, jam sessions at YASPO, tutoring sessions to improve my Setswana with DK, and hours spent sitting in front of my fan with an ice pack plastered to my face to avert the heat. I can’t wait.
Year 1 of Peace Corps in Numbers
- 10 days at Zithabiseni lodge, 2 months and 3 days of pre-service training with host families, and 9 months and 19 days at site
- 34 incredible cohort mates
- 2 host families
- 50,163 words written for NaNoWriMo
- 2,000+ Setswana/Sotho words learned
- 200+ days of using, emptying and cleaning my chamber pot and bucket bathing
- 56 books read
- 40 blog posts
- 30+ meetings
- 10 care packages
- 5 Peace Corps trainings/workshops and trips to the dentist
- Facilitated 4 workshops
- 3 World AIDS Day events
- 2 Grassroot Soccer camps, birthdays, Thanksgivings, and vacations
- 1 Mandela Day event, YASPO sports competition, new name, wedding, funeral and hike
- 9 months and 17 days of watching my adorable baby host brother grow
- Countless amounts of pap
- Innumerable gifts of baked goods from my gogo
- Too many hours spent watching TV shows on my hard drive
- Millions of Whatsapp conversations and voice notes
- Thousands of times petting Mobotse the cat and Ranger the pup
- Many gallons of water drank and used for cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening, and bathing
- Hundreds of hours spent on taxis and buses
- Billions of little moments of joy, anxiety, bravery, fear, gratitude, disappointment, exhaustion, love, shame, and forgivenes
It can be really tough to stay motivated on a workout regime in Peace Corps. After being a regular exerciser for several years, I’ve fallen off the wagon pretty hard. I’ve found some ways to make the process more fun and manageable, however.
This weekend I finally undertook two projects I’ve been meaning to do for a while: DIY heavy bag and speed bag (instructions below). I’ve been doing Krav Maga on and off for the past four years and really enjoyed it. My new equipment is supplemented by occasional running and strength work with a Theraband (I highly recommend bringing a Theraband to PC with you).
Unfortunately, the heavy bag turned out to be too heavy to hang so it currently chills on a chest-height ledge. It’s also painful to punch full force even with hand wraps, so I plan to use it for form work instead. Still better than spending R400 and toting a heavy bag on a public taxi though. Kicks and knees are done in the air, but it’s better than nothing. The speed bag is more useful, and it will be great for doing speed and endurance work!
- Shopping/duffel bag
- Long sock or hose
- Lots of sand/dirt
- Trowel or shovel
- Duct or packing tape
- Rope, chain or utility cord
- (Optional) Zip ties
DIY Heavy Bag (~1.5 hours)
- Take an old shopping or duffel bag, preferably without holes.
- Place it where you want the bag to go eventually. I learned the hard way that it’s better not to have to drag it across the yard when you’re done.
- Fill with dirt/sand, leaving a few inches at the top. I borrowed gogo’s garden trowel, but a shovel would’ve been faster. If there’s not enough sand where the bag will go, use a bucket.
- Close using rope, tape, zip ties, etc.- whatever will work.
- Wrap in duct tape (or packaging tape if you run out) to prevent the bag from falling apart while you punch.
- Hang and/or place where desired. Chains may be preferable for hanging as these bags live up to their name. I recommend using a tree.
DIY Speed Bag (~30 min)
- Take a long sock or other similar type of item. I cut the end off a pair of pantyhose.
- Fill with sand/dirt or rice, leaving a few inches at the top. Use your hands to push the sand down into a round shape. Again, I used gogo’s trowel.
- Secure the top using a zip tie or similar, ensuring that you put a little rope through first.
- Cover with tape.
- I discovered one layer of tape wasn’t enough to keep the sand in, so I tied a plastic bag over top of the bag and then taped it again.
- Tie securely, ensuring that the bag is mobile but doesn’t move too far. A tree is ideal but since the speed bag is much lighter, there are more options for hanging. Leave plenty of rope in case adjustments are needed. I used utility cord instead, and it’s worked fine so far.
How do you stay fit in Peace Corps or overseas? Leave your tips, strategies and questions in the comments!
Also a big thank you to Aunt Patti and Kathryn Craig for their amazing care packages! I am so lucky and grateful to have people who send me such wonderful gifts.