Friday, March 15, 2013

Blessings Are In The Rain

Here is a blog entry that I wrote a few weeks ago after a particularly unique experience at site :) 


Writing now to document a fantastic ‘Peace Corps experience’ that happened to me today.  More Drakensburgs/Cape Town to come I promise! The prospect of documenting a month-long, incredible vacation at this point seems beyond daunting though, which may be contributing to my reluctance to actually sit down and write it all out.  Dread.  BUT, I do acknowledge that the trip would have been very much impossible for me if I was without many loving and generous friends and family members so I have good news for you: I have started the entry.  Yes, it’s true! And I promise to have it uploaded by the end of next week along with the necessary and appropriate photographic accompaniments. 

Right now though, it’s time to put the past behind me and get back to today!

The day began much as any other would have; I got up at around 7:00am, did some yoga, and read the news on my blackberry over a mug of instant coffee.  Today we had our second permagarden training workshop for interested village stakeholders where we present information regarding the sustainable usage of soil (so as not to “mine” it of nutrients as happens so often), how to rotate crops, and how to successfully create, manage, and use compost and manure-based fertilizers.   
Today focused exclusively on fertilizers and the process of mulching (which will be invaluable here at my site as we are approx 1600m high in elevation with high winds and an absolutely brutal sun) and once again, my counterpart Debrah worked miracles with the attendees and spoke with gusto all about the things we had been taught together at the Peace Corps’ permagarden workshop back in September.  She even spoke to the women about the importance of nutrition and having a balanced diet wherein the nutrients in your veggies aren’t completely annihilated by salt.  She spoke about how deeper color generally indicates a higher nutritional value in your produce (no beige right parentals?).
For those of you who have spent time in rural South Africa, you’ll realize what a phenomenal feat this is, and understand that I was soaring with pride as I listened to her deliver this message to a populous that is ravaged by high blood pressure and diabetes.   I feel like if I do nothing else during my service, at least this message (however small it is) has been delivered and absorbed by such a loving, charismatic leader within the community.  Rock on ladies.
After the workshop, I returned home and collected some more bears to distribute to the children of Mashuana Preschool who had begun to attend school late.   

For those of you who are unaware, I received approximately 150 hand-knit teddy bears from this wonderful USA-based organization called The Mother Bear Project.  It truly is a wonderful organization and I encourage all you knitters out there to look into participating in such a great cause.  The kids were so happy when they received them, and in the days that followed I received countless requests from surrounding crèches for bears of their own.

By the time I finished distributing the bears, it was around two o’clock in the afternoon and the sky was beginning to darken with the promise of rain.  Eager to blow off some steam on a run and cocky about my resilience to hydroexposure (“I’m from OREGON! I can handle ANYTHING!”) I strapped on my Vibrams (adding to the stereotype, I know) and stepped outside to go for a quick run around the village.  I should have taken many things into account before I embarked on this venture. Like the fact that the power had gone out 30 minutes beforehand. And the fact that on my run I kept seeing people running for what I now know was cover.  But, my tenacious ego and me didn’t heed these warning signs and we pranced away down the road on our run anyway. 

The first drops fell as I was making my way back up the final 1k of hill that leads toward my house.  I kept running. A few more drops fell. I looked ahead.  What I saw was nothing. A sheet of white that faded upward into rainclouds so dark that I swore they must have been solid.  Growing nervous with anticipation I picked up the pace and closed my eyes as the storm slammed into me. 

Struggling against the walls of water that had materialized all around me, I squinted around for any sign of shelter.  As the sky lit up suddenly with a flash of lightning, I noticed a shrubby patch of trees barely taller than me that were nestled at the side of the road by a vacant field of long grasses.  My only chance for salvation I ran to it, jumped down into the thicket and, curling up into a ball at the base of the little tree, I waited.

Now, I acknowledge that some Portlandians out there might be rolling their eyes and wondering how intense this rainstorm actually was, given the fact that our precious little biome tends more often than not to resemble an omnipresent puddle. But let me explain:  The rain in Portland, though seemingly endless, is generally a gentle occurrence that evokes the mood so conducive to creative writers, indi/alternative music groups, junkies, and graphic designers.  It’s the kind of rain that allows us to brag about not needing umbrellas because “only tourists use those” and to look forward to playing outside because nothing makes an activity more fun than mud.
African rain, on the other hand, is a different breed entirely.  Rain on the South African Highveld is a violent, warlike occurrence that assaults the land and any poor creature unfortunate or dumb enough to find itself exposed when it hits.  Streets turn to torrential rivers in minutes, skin is bruised and eyes are blinded by the ferocious lashing of the wind and rain that is unleashed while lightning and thunder crack and explode into the sky like electrical bombs.

I sat huddled in my thicket for what felt like an hour.  Concerned for the wellbeing of my iPod, I’d managed to pry away some bark from the tree and form a little pocket in which it would be sheltered from the onslaught of water that was cascading over my body in a solid stream.  I truly believe I might have been dryer had I been dunked in a lake.  The thrill of the sudden violence of the storm had begun to wear off at this point, as had the heat I’d created for myself from my run and I was beginning to get cold and a little miserable. 

During these uncertain times in the Peace Corps, a PCV may find themselves exhibiting certain odd behaviors to try and make it through. This was one of those moments.  As the wind and rain howled around me I  looked about and observed all of the insects that had become my roommates in the tree.  As I peered through wet eyelashes at the poor winged creatures that had taken refuge on my shoes and arms, I noticed that they looked as soaking and as miserable as I felt.  Willing the storm to pass, I tried to keep my spirits high by commenting on the atrocity of the weather to a spider that was clinging to what was left of its web located in the tree about 4 inches away from my face.  Seriously. And you know what? It helped. A ton actually.  I imagine it’s similar to being lost in the forest and easing your urge to panic by hugging a tree until you feel safe.  Maybe those OMSI camp counselors were on to something after all!

In any case, after chatting with my eight-legged friend for another 10 minutes or so, the storm had subsided enough to where I could see the road and what looked like a break in the clouds.  Seizing my chance, I grabbed my iPod from its bark shelter, washed my muddy butt off in a puddle, and dashed off as quickly as I could through the ankle-deep water rushing towards me down the road.

As I ran, I was met with shouts and hollers from people standing in their houses and passing me in cars. “It’s raining Pebetse! Are you crazy! You’re soaking!”.  I laughed and kept running, endorphins pumping through me as I felt alive with the camaraderie that only those who do crazy things together in the rain can fully appreciate.  It goes a bit like: “Yes! We’re crazy! This is ridiculous! But look at how much FUN we’re having! Aaahh!!”

After stopping to laugh at my ridiculous American behavior with a friend and her family on the side of the road, I finally made it back home to my hut.  I stripped down, dried off and slipped into my sweats and furry alpaca sweater.  Finally dry, I reflected on my afternoon and sat down to add the day’s lessons to my list of absolute truths I’ve come to realize in South Africa:

1)   Always carry a litterbag. (Uncle Steve, you are truly a man of vision!)
2)   Always carry a roll of TP or at least a pack of tissue.
3)   Clothing and baby animals are a lot more resilient than they appear.
4)   Keep your word at all times.
5)   No electricity is often a sign of bad things to come: PAY ATTENTION!
6)   If you see people running for cover, THERE IS A REASON!

This list will undoubtedly develop as I continue to navigate the intricate web of life as a PCV. Experiences will be had and lessons will either be learned right away or they may take some time.  Whichever our path, and whatever the storm we’ll make it through stronger and wiser, even if it means stopping to ask the help of a spider along the way :)


  1. Oh Alyssa, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Love you so much, Aunt Sarah

  2. A great read....we can't wait to see it all and hear more!

  3. Hey Alyssa,

    I am not sure if you remember me but my name is Jojo, I took over your breakfast shift at Our House right before you left for South Africa. I just wanted to let you know that my husband and I just got invited to serve in Botswana and will be arriving in August, 2013. I have been in grad school for the last year and will be going into Peace Corps as a Master's International. I have enjoyed reading your blog and following your adventure. Maybe our paths will cross again over the next year. Feel free to contact me @ I would love to hear more about your experience as I am in full preparation mode right now. Also, I was in contact with Sally Bixby and she told me that you were going to be home for a few weeks in June. I will be in Portland for a few weeks at the end of June, maybe we could meet for a cup of coffee or something. Anyways, thanks for the great blog, I will continue to follow you.
    Take care,

    Jojo Aggers