Monday, September 14, 2009

I just wrote a 4 page blog about my African experience, and the computer ate it. Yes, I saved every 10 minutes. Booooo!!!

Anyway, when I left Stillwater, I was exhausted from all the going away parties, goodbyes and emotional stress of leaving someone I love very much (person and pets). I hadn’t anticipated how much the separation would affect me, so it took me by surprise. It was really hard to leave and hold it together. I hadn’t really been nervous, just wiped out and looking forward to a good night’s sleep before flying to Washington, D.C. for staging. I arrived on a muggy, cloudy afternoon to check in to our hotel, and meet my new fellow trainees, soon-to-be volunteers.
I walked into the lobby, and already people acted as if they had known each other for years. I was nervous! As much as I love meeting new people and making new friends, I always get nervous. The first person I really talked to was Karen, a gardener from Kentucky. She reminds me so much of my mom; down to earth, beautiful but totally humble and modest. After an entire day of introductions, what to expect, and some paperwork, we were given money for our last American meal. I chose a sushi restaurant, thinking I might not get to eat it again until after my 2 year service. It proved to be delicious, I could not even finish my meal.

We packed up and left for the clinic the next morning to be vaccinated against yellow fever, then straight to the airport. We arrived about 6 hours early for our flight, so us smokers (myself, Tim a young physicist from Illinois and Anne, a young graphic designer from Minnesota) found coffee in Dulles airport and smoked outside until we boarded South African Airways. Some people scrambled around to change dollars to rand, the South African currency. I did not, I want to try to live and travel solely on my Peace Corps salary. There was an excited hubbub throughout our gigantic line of 43 volunteers. (We started with 45, but one couple woke up late in D.C. and decided not to go.) I thought I might be one of the oldest volunteers at my ripe old age of 27 (now 28!) but definitely am not. There are six married couples in our group, one of them in their early 70s. Two are under 21, and a good portion of us are in our late 20s-early 30s. Some are in their 50s. We come from all over the country, and strangely enough, 4 came from Oregon and had been student-teacher a few years previous. On the plane, I sat next to Kelsey, the 20 year old from New York who recently graduated with a BS in math and attended Obama’s inauguration. We both love baking and food, among other things. It was nice to sit next to someone and form a bond so early on.

After the 19 hour plane ride (one stop in Dakar, did not deboard) we got on a bus for a 2.5 hour ride to Marapyane, where we have been in training. Our new language and cultural teachers greeted us warmly and enthusiastically with traditional BaTswana songs and dancing, and we shared a meal before being assigned individual dorm rooms and a 7am breakfast the next day. I would have loved a shower and a fall into bed, but in the Peace Corps, one rarely gets to make these decisions for oneself. It was the dead of winter and very, very cold. Peace Corps bought everyone bedding, including a mink blanket, which was much needed. No one has indoor heating here.

I wasn’t used to getting up early, complaining if I was woken before 8am back in the States. Now, I wake at 6am everyday (sometimes earlier if traveling), run 10k before dinner, and try to get in some yoga. I am actually training for a marathon in April- it benefits local South African kids to go to college- and it’s a 21k. Well, the half marathon, the one that I’m training for, is 21k. The Ultra is 56k or some crazy thing like that. I never thought I would run in a marathon, but I’ve been doing a lot of things I never thought since I’ve been here.

I’ve stayed with a local family while training in Marapyane, they are an older couple who take care of two of their grandchildren. A boy, aged 7, and a very naughty girl, aged 4. They have all modern ammentities, like an oven, refrigerator, running water, electricity, fruit trees in their backyard, etc. It’s a bit different from my situation at my permanent site, a tiny village about 20k away from Kuruman in the Kalahari desert. I don’t have running water there, but I do have my own 4 room house! A living room with some furniture, a bedroom with big double bed, vanity, and lots of space, a kitchen with a hot plate and soon-to-be refrigerator, and an extra room with nothing in it (yet). I plan to draw and paint in that room, or maybe use it if someone wants to come visit me.

We have a lot of time off for traveling, and I plan to do as much as I can. One of our volunteers stays near Meerkat Manor, some kind of popular place on the Animal Planet channel. I believe we are going there for Thanksgiving this year, and I am supposed to go to Cape town later this month with my school for a field trip. Exciting!