Monday, October 4, 2010
It has been over a year now that I have been volunteering in South Africa. During the last 14 months, I have seen a lot. I have pushed my body to limits I never thought were possible. I have seen the depths of my soul and not been able to run away. I have lived in poverty with no running water, and I have been fed some of the best meals I have ever eaten. I have fallen in and out of love. I have learned to like children. I have gardened in the desert. I could go on ad nauseum with a list of crazy, fucked up and wonderful things I've experienced here, but I think you get the idea. In short, I have been pushed to the limit in every way imaginable, some by external forces, mostly by myself. Living on the edge like this is a very dangerous thing, because if something big happens, something major, the person on the edge is the least stable and likely to fall.
As an education volunteer, I work mainly with schools. Last month, there was an almost month-long teachers' union strike. We are not to affiliate ourselves with anything political, so we were instructed to stay home, away from the schools and not to do any community activities. Coming from a country where unions are all but disbanded and powerless, this was a really upsetting, uncomfortable time. Everything was in upheaval. From one day to the next, we didn't know what to expect. Were the demands going to be met? Would there be picketing? Would there be rioting and looting? Intimidation from union reps? Parents and kids asking when can they go back to school? Dazed volunteers feeling useless, scared, depressed, and very confused about tons of conflicting information? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. All of these things happened, to smaller or greater degrees depending on what part of the country you were in. I personally witnessed demonstrations, speeches, walk outs, but no violence. That doesn't mean I still wasn't extremely uncomfortable, fearing for my already questionable safety and well-being.
The winter was still lingering in the Kalahari, and that meant super cold nights and mornings, me being less active due to the cold, waking up later, eating more (meat, rich curries), less sunshine, general glum ho-hums. I seem to be greatly affected by the weather, thriving in the hot sun and becoming quite blue with cold, wind and no sun. Perhaps I have always been this way, but living as an isolated foreigner has a way of bringing things like this to the spotlight where they cannot be ignored. I am also still dealing with the loss of a relationship, which has not been easy, to say the least. Mostly I wander around, only half-engaged with whatever I happen to be doing, only half-enjoying life and not caring about anything nearly as much. The strike rode winter's last wave, and left my already shaky psyche tumbling to the shore, choking up salt water and trying not to knock myself unconscious with that surfboard which slipped out from under me the second I got in the water.
The icing on the cake, the piece de resistance, was the very recent betrayal of a dear friend by another among our group of volunteers. The results of this situation are that I cannot trust one and will greatly miss the other because he is no longer allowed to remain as a volunteer. Instead of blaming or being angry, I am really, really sad. I am hurt, I am confused. I feel betrayed, and I feel the fool. One person's actions reverberated so strongly within our group, and I wonder how one person can hold so much power. Does this person know it? Was it planned or meditated, manipulated and forseen? Was it a simple mistake made out of anger, hurt, or revenge? I don't know. I don't know if I ever want to know. People do stupid shit all the time, myself included, for no good reason. The problem with doing anything is that you can never take it back, good, bad, or ugly. What's done is done. The end. Move on. Stew, reflect, learn something from it, but move on.
I'm hoping to do this very soon. I'm hoping to not let this crazy chain of events keep me down. I'm trying to take lessons from each situation and start again. The latest thing I have learned is how important it is to reach out and keep in touch with my fellow volunteers. I created a nice social circle of local friends in my village, and get busy doing "my own thing," not worrying about anybody else. If I didn't hear from someone, I just assumed they were okay and went on with my own business. Now, I am going to make the effort to be more available to more volunteers more often. We are the only support systems for each other, we are our surrogate family and friends, and damn it, it gets really hard sometimes. I think the peace corps says it's normal to be depressed at this time in our service, to be disillusioned, or to be really excited about the coming year. If we are neither and all the above, I think that's okay, too.