Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ke tswa Amelika


Alyssa Bonini
P.O. Box 24173
Mohlarekoma, Nebo 1059

Well it’s official: SA 25 are now PCVs!  I arrived at my site in Mohlarekoma, Limpopo a mere 5 days ago after swearing in on the 22nd and life has been a steady stream of pure yet manageable culture shock ever since.  I can already hear my English going down the drain, which I’ve interpreted as a great sign.  Either that, or I’ve gone overboard with my “Village Voice”.  Our “Village Voice” btw, is the manner in which we speak English with our community or “village” in which everything is said overly clear, overly slow, and overly accented to make ourselves easier to understand.  At least that’s the general idea.

The beginning of the end of PST was marked by our host family farewell ceremony/braai (Afrikaans equivalent of a BBQ) that was held at S.S. Skhosana where we had been having our daily sessions.  In anticipation of a crowd, a group of us volunteered to begin preparing food the day before and another group opted for arriving early the next morning.  Since I had a funeral to attend the day before and generally don’t mind mornings (ish) I volunteered to be one of the few to be picked up at the dark crack of 4:30am.  As some of you may have heard, things aren’t always the most timely and/or organized here in PCSA life and this morning was by no means an exception.  Long story short is that another PCT named Doreh and I ended up chasing the Peace Corps van around in the pitch black of Matshipe for an hour while it took an apparently scenic tour of every single street except the one we had been told to wait on.  Go figure! 

We got to S.S. and began prepping vats upon vats of chopped and marinated chicken and beef curries, chopping heads upon heads of cabbage, and preparing more pap than I would have thought imaginable.  My dear, amazing, irreplaceable host family had presented me with a traditional Zulu outfit the night before (much of it hand sewn by my gogo I suspect) which I timidly tried to rock that day.  With a relatively still freshly buzzed head in addition to the beaded attire and earings, I have to admit I was a little shy.  It’s a crazy sensation to look in the mirror and not recognize the person staring back at you!  Thankfully, my new look was well received by the throngs of family and neighbors who began to arrive.  Other PCTs were dressed up in traditional garb as well, many much more extravagantly than I. 

All in all the day was a success, with traditional Zulu and Ndebele dances and songs in addition to speeches of thanks and praise for the hospitality of the families that hosted us for our first 2 months in South Africa.  People will mention that the food situation was a complete catastrophe: unorganized, hostile, ill prepared, not enough food, what what) but in the end I think everyone went home happy.  And the PCTs went home exhausted, but happily tipsy with the beverages we had brought in anticipation of such a speed bump in the program J.

Swearing in on the other hand, flowed as smooth as butter.  Or in our case, margarine.  Peace Corps vans had collected our bags the day before while some of us were relaxing by the river in Bundu, so that all we needed to bring that final morning was ourselves dressed in our Peace Corps best.  Pictures were taken, and there were speeches of congratulations and excitement given to us by the Country Director, John Jacoby and his lovely wife, as well as a woman named Virginia whos title I have unfortunately forgotten but who nonetheless came from the embassy to represent the American ambassador to SA.  We sang the SA and USA national anthems, stood, recited an oath (the same oath that is recited by FSOs actually!) and voila! There stood 33 fresh-faced Peace Corps Volunteers!

Limpopo was the first province to depart, with those headed off to Kwa-Zulu Natal leaving the following morning.  Those Limpopo volunteers heading far north occupied one van, and those of us near or south of the capital of Polokwane were loaded into another.  I was the first to disembark.  When we reached Groblersdal I was intercepted by a colleague from my org who helped me with my bags (waayyyyyy too much stuff btw..to future PCVs: PACK LIGHT!).  I said a shaky goodbye to my fellow now PCVs who had become my family over the past 2 months, and had the moment I’d been anticipating since first I picked up a book of Peace Corps essays over one year ago: I stood on the side of the road, and watched the Peace Corps van disappear into the dusty distance.  Wow.  Now what do I do?

Many of you have been asking about my accommodation for the next 2 years here, so here we go:  I am staying in a little one room house that is located on the property of a family but separate from the main house.  My room is complete with running water (ish) and electricity, which was a COMPLETE shock for me when I came during site visit.  Bucket baths are still compulsory and for that reason alone I’m ecstatic about the no-hair thing.  (Other reasons include applying lotion, exfoliating, and the incredible feeling of a breeze and raindrops on ones noggin).  Everyone deserves to feel any or all of those things at some point during their life!  My family is made up of a gogo, and 3 of her adult sons (all in their 50s) plus her other 2 sons who come to visit often but have families of their own.  I’m pretty sure her daughter Julia lives here (she’s older too) and some other people who’s relationship to the family I really haven’t gotten down yet..To be continued! The family really is enormous though. Then there are the people who rent little living spaces like mine on the property, I believe there are at least 3 of these, if not maybe 4.  There are at least 3 children/ babies who live here permanently.  One is named Kimberly, whose mother is Mimi, then the other two are Nashela and Phillip Jr. whos father is as you may have guessed, Phillip Sr.  I think he is from Zimbabwe, as is Mimi, but Phillip and his wife studied in Cuba so they speak Spanish as well, which honestly is not helping my situation at all!  If we’re being honest here, I feel more inclined to speak español here than I have in my life and I have no idea why.  About 2 nights ago, I had a dream that I was speaking a mix of Italian, Sotho, Spanish, Afrikaans and English to my supervisor and somehow we were able to communicate.  My brain really needs to figure itself out.

On to the org!  As many of you may recall, the organization I have been placed with is called Mohlarekoma Home Based Care (MHBC) and offers a variety of services including to my knowledge: Palliative care, drop-in center (for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC)), community health outreach, and HIV prevention and awareness.  Right now I am participating with some of our “carers” in a one week-long training workshop given by one of our funders on pediatric psychological support for OVC.  Its amazingly interesting and provides me with an opportune chance to connect with the women I work with and observe how they work in a group.  It has also proven to be an invaluable opportunity for me to listen to their views, concerns, and passions regarding their work for MHBC, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and the successes/failings of the Departments of Health and Social Development here in South Africa.  Wow. Just, wow.  We are truly on a different planet here.  Only we’re not.  And that’s the devastating part.  And that is part of why we’re here.  To help shatter the idea that the cycle of poverty, desperation, and HIV/AIDS is not YOUR problem or YOUR responsibility.  It is ALL of our problem.  It is ALL of our responsibility.

There is so much work to be done here, it is difficult to even construct an idea of where to begin.  These next three months before IST (in-service training) are to be spent assessing the needs of our communities into a formal CNA document, or Community Needs Assessment.  There are so many questions I want to ask about everything here, but the tough part right now is waiting.  I know I need to integrate myself wholeheartedly into my community before I have even a slightest hope of understanding it’s needs, let alone how to make myself of any use to anyone here.  Patience, patience young grasshopper!

So here I am, day five of service has successfully dipped behind a distant horizon of rolling brown fields and tin roofs and I’m sitting in my room eating a plastic fork-full of crunchy Black Cat peanut butter (PC SA staple #1!) and patting myself on the back for finally sitting down and catching you all up to speed with happenings down here in sub-Sahara.  I hope all is going dazzlingly for you wherever you are, and know that I miss you all like a bagel misses Philadelphia cream cheese. Which isn’t actually from Philadelphia I found out. Devastating right? I know, my world was unhinged also.

Peace, love, and Mzansi fo’sho.

From Left: PCTs Cara, Wilda, Stephanie, Jess, Alyssa, Teresa, Emily Gill,  (bottom) Sepedi LCF Lebo!

Isizulu dance

Host Family Farewell: Niki, Paige, Alyssa, Dr. Susan

Me and CD John Jacoby! (He says hi Chuck and Gay!)

This one's for you Lilly's dad! She's a lucky girl, her community is as splendid as she is!

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