My villages: rural and lots of room for improvement

Am leaving shortly for 12 days in Pretoria, where Peace Corps HQ is, for “IST,” or in-service training that always happens after a training group’s first 90 days, after PST — pre-service training. We are supposed to have spent the 90 days conducting a “community needs assessment,” getting to know our communities, our neighbors, what the needs are, settling in, interviewing people, etc. PC calls it the “community integration period,” while cynical volunteers call it “lockdown,” since you’re supposed to remain in your village, except for occasional trips to one’s “shopping town” for supplies.
My CNA is 15 pages long, typed, single spaced. I have no idea how it will compare to those of my fellow volunteers. My supervisor, Nonhlanhla, declared it “brilliant” when I had her read it, but I doubt it’s brilliant! Being a writer I have pretty high standards. It’s a decent job but, but not brilliant!
A lot of the information in my report comes from the municipality’s own 5-year (2012-2016) planning document. The municipality is completely rural, with no cities or townships, and has 32 identified villages, as well as six “traditional tribal authorities.” It is honest in its assessment: “The municipality, like others in the country, is faced with a variety of challenges, including inadequate access to basic services, inadequate transport system, high levels of illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and insufficient resources for infrastructure development.” It identifies education and health, economic development, and infrastructure development and basic service delivery as its highest priorities for the next 5 years.
The municipality has 140,700 people — roughly the same population as my home town, Eugene, OR — and about 140,500 of those are black; 200 are “colored,” which is not a bad term here (it refers to those who are of Indian descent), and a few whites, none of whom, but me, seem to live in my collection of 20 or so villages. The rest are spread out, it would appear, on the distant side of the municipality.
Other issues, identified at the district level (a bunch of municipalities make up a district), are orphans and vulnerable children, youth and children in trouble with the law, “youth exposed to trauma,” abused women and children, substance abuse, “widows, divorced and disabled rural women,” the indigent and the homeless, “granny- and child-headed households,” and “unskilled, unemployed and retrenched youth, including school dropouts, ex-combatants and ex-prisoners.” The local area is expected to take these issues into account as well, along with provincial issues identified, in its planning. Developing decent housing for people — human settlement is the official term — is also a priority. Hmm. Sounds to me like the issues are similar to those in the U.S., including Lane County, Oregon, though it may be worse here.
Regarding health, the local government says: “Primary health care remains one of our focused areas. . . . We managed with the assistance of various stakeholders . . . to develop 5 clinics and 22 mobile clinics,” but more are needed. The main clinic has 6,000 visits a month, about 225 per day. One local program manager of an NGO that I interviewed made a direct connection between the high HIV rate and unemployment: “Lack of jobs means that people are free to have sex every day and there are many more opportunities to practice unsafe sex, which leads to a higher rate.” I’ve been unable to tie down an official unemployment rate, but it’s variously estimated at 50-89%. The HIV rate in the most significant demographic, adults aged 18-40, approaches 35+%.
Here’s some of my own editorializing for the report (which is encouraged): “_______, like many places in South Africa, has a foot in two worlds: many citizens live modestly, in many ways not unlike ancestors from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, but also with a keen sense of modern life in the 21st century. A good example: The proportion of households that had a cellphone increased from 14.5% in 2001 to 66.4% in 2007, yet only 12 households had access to the Internet from their homes,” and there still many people who don’t have decent access to water or sanitation.
Many people interviewed said better water delivery systems were a high priority. Most villages have wells with pumps on the surface for people to collect water, but other villages still have water delivered by tanker trucks, which at times don’t show up, leaving people with no water. It’s also a problem that many people still cook over a wood stove, even if they have electricity, because they can’t afford to use electricity to cook. Wood burning is also the main way people heat their homes, which is unhealthy, especially on top of the cooking. An extraordinary amount of energy is expended by residents acquiring wood for cooking and warmth, and getting water for cooking, drinking, cleaning and bathing. There are still thousands of households “without access to potable water,” or 10% of the population. (The report said portable water, but I presume that was a typo!) Poor sanitation services is another significant problem, in that 14.5% of households have no toilets at all, let alone a decent disposal system.
Also worthy of mention is an ambitious provincial program, that operates at its best at the local level, called Sukuma Sahke (“working together”). The program tasks local municipalities — there are 51 in KwaZulu-Natal — with identifying individuals and families in their jurisdictions who need help, then arranging for that help to be provided, either locally or by referral to provincial or national social programs. There are 3.5 million KZN residents who live below the poverty level and could potentially benefit from this program.
What I’ve presented here is just a smattering of the information and statistics I found in my research for writing my community needs assessment, but offers a realistic view of the norm in many parts of Africa. I look forward to using this information to decide with my program what my projects will be.
And a final note: you may have noticed that nowhere in this blog entry did I mention the name of my “local municipality,” or any of the villages it contains. This is keeping with Peace Corps’ request that we not advertise our precise locations for safety and security reasons. But if you just can’t stand not knowing, feel free to send me an email and I will happily identify my precise location!

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The Brits Have Had a Lot of Influence in So. Africa; Watch Out for the Robot!

Today is Sunday, June 3rd, and it’s clear, cold and windy now, but is supposed to be about 70 degrees today. Hope the sun remains, as I have laundry drying on the line. It’s 8:44 a.m. here, which means it’s still Saturday night, just before midnight, on the West Coast of the U.S. where I come from.
Prominent in the news here today – which I report in honor of track enthusiasts in Eugene, OR, my hometown (“Track Town USA”) — is an 89-kilometer road race called the Comrades Marathon. It’s the 87th consecutive year of the race, from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, on the coast in my province, KwaZulu-Natal. The radio station I listen to is one of the sponsors and a few minutes ago interviewed a man who is running it for the 39th consecutive time. Russians have won 9 of the last 10 years. 19,524 people are running and the two winners, a man and a woman, each get 300,000 Rand, about $36,000. Of course, I think it’s bigger news that Toronto has left Canada and joined the U.S. After reporting on the race, the newsperson said, “And in other news, in the U.S., a shooting in Toronto . . . . ” Guess I really am in a remote area! (Late- breaking update: South Africans won spots 1 and 2 in the men’s division, denying the Russians, though a Russian woman won the women’s division).

And speaking of the Commonwealth, also big in the news here is all the activity around Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, celebrating her 60 years on the throne as the queen of England. One DJ has been making fun of her, saying that if she had to get a real job, being a “toilet seat warmer” might be up her alley, since she has 60 years’ experience sitting on the throne. But the newspaper that I read once in a while devoted a great deal of space to the event, recalling all the times over the decades that she has visited South Africa. She seems to be popular here.

I’m not even sure if South Africa is still considered part “the Commonwealth,” but certainly the Brits exerted a great deal of influence in the many years, in the 1800s and early 1900s, they held sway in the country, or parts of the country. Every morning at 10:30 at the organization where I volunteer we break for tea. We also have tea over the noon hour and again about 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon. And this is in addition to the tea they probably all had in the morning before coming to work, and the tea they will have in the evening. We also serve tea to the various groups we do at Masiphile Community Care Centre (note the British spelling of the word “centre,” which Spellcheck tells me is wrong, but not according to England!) And the cookies we sometimes have with tea? We call them biscuits here, not cookies or crackers. I asked a guy stocking the shelves in a store recently where the crackers were and he didn’t know what I was talking about.

Another obvious way in which the British have influenced South Africa is how they drive on the left side of the road here. One of my fellow PCVs, Christopher, who hails from Seattle but whose family is originally from New Zealand, told us in training that every year in NZ a few people are killed when vacationing Westerners in rental cars forget and drive on the right side of the road, causing head-on collisions. I imagine that happens here in SA also.

I’ve begun a collection of words that stem from British influence, the most amazing one of which, to me, is robot. When I was here in late February for my 4-day pre-placement visit my supervisor, Nonhlanhla, was trying to explain to me where to catch the Greyhound bus in downtown Estcourt that would take me back to Pretoria. If she could make me understand where the bus stop was – it isn’t well marked — she wouldn’t have to come to town with me from the village. She kept telling me it was “two robots up Harding Street from the bank” and I could not, at first, to save my soul understand what she was talking about. “Two robots?” What the hell did that mean?! Eventually, after several minutes of frustration, I realized she was talking about traffic lights and her directions became clear.

Other examples: a “boot” is not something you wear on your foot; it’s the trunk of your car. The hood – what we call it in the U.S. – is the “bonnet.” A meat market is a “butchery,” and a shopping cart in a store is a “trolley.” Things aren’t on fire here, they are “alight.” And speaking of fire, early in training we were having an evening session, after dark, at the youth camp in Bundu and one of the language instructors, who apparently had dropped something in the dark, asked if he could borrow my “torch.” I thought I must have misunderstood the word, since I clearly didn’t have a torch, which to me is a big stick with fire on one end. Eventually, I figured out that he was asking to borrow my flashlight, a word that apparently doesn’t exist in South African English! He borrowed it, found his dropped item, and returned the torch to me. A “bursary,” a word I’d never heard, despite being an avid reader, is what Americans would call a scholarship. I come across the word bursary a lot these days in my Internet research about funding opportunities. Many big companies offer them to worthy students. And finally, recall how countries influenced by the British say the letter “z.” Zed. I’ve been saying “z” for 56 years. That’s a hard habit to break.

And if any further evidence is needed that the Brits influenced South Africa, just look at a list of street names in Estcourt: Victoria, Albert, Alexandra, Phillip. And the top three national sporting past times: rugby, cricket and soccer. There’s also a lawn bowling club in downtown Estcourt.

Today’s Peace Corps “core expectation” #3: “Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.”

And a couple of updates: I can’t believe when I wrote about learning Zulu that I forgot to mention the famous tongue clicks, generally made by drawing your tongue back from the roof of the mouth, in much the same way you did it as a child. Words that have “c”, “q” or “x” in them call for tongue clicks that can be difficult for non-native speakers to master. I practice them all the time, but still find it difficult. I can do the clicks and I can say the letters, but have trouble doing both at the same time! Try it: xoxo is the word for frog or toad.

Number 4: I’ve had another marriage proposal since I last reported on that aspect of village life. She was an attractive girl in my village that I estimate is about 20 years old. I was out for a walk on a Sunday afternoon and as I passed her and her friend and said “Sani Bonani,” as I often do to people I meet, and she responded by saying “Ngithanda!” (gee-TAWN-da), which means I like you, I love you, or I desire you, depending on the context or follow-up. I asked her if that was a marriage proposal and she said, “Yebo!” I told her I was probably older than her father and she said, “But you look so young!” We exchanged some more laughs and pleasantries, but not addresses or phone numbers, and I was on my way. She was probably kidding, but you never know. Haven’t seen her again. That makes four proposals if you count the woman who suggested her 24-year-old daughter for the right number of cows. I know it seems humorous to Americans, but the woman is HIV+, so she was probably serious and was thinking of her family’s future.

Rachel returns?! — Rachel is the volunteer who left her assignment several weeks ago after she was verbally and physically harassed, and intimidated, by a bunch of drunken men in her town. She went to Pretoria for a time, eventually to Washington, DC for further support, and is now rumored to be returning to South Africa to resume work as a volunteer, but in a different town or village. We’re all looking forward to her return.

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Learning Zulu and ‘Randomly Observing’ South African Culture

Sanibonani!

How about a quick, simple lesson in the Zulu language and then I’ll share some “random observations” I’ve made and recorded when I journal; things that don’t fit in any particular place or order, but which I’ve found interesting?

Sanibonani (san – rhymes with lawn – ee – bow – NON – ee) is the way one greets more than one person – “Greetings!” To greet one individual, the greeting is Sawubona (saw – wu – BONE –a), or, if you’re greeting a woman older than you are and want to be a little more respectful, try Sawubonama. Ma is Zulu for mother, or woman, or madam. The correct term, by the way, for the Zulu language is isiZulu, not to be confused with plain, old Zulu, as in the Zulu people or the Zulu culture. When pronouncing Zulu words, the emphasis is almost always on the second-to-last syllable. This means that in two-syllable words, the emphasis is on the first syllable, since it doubles as the second-to-last syllable. As in yebo (YAY-bow).

Perhaps the most versatile word in Zulu – maybe any language — is yebo, which officially means yes. It’s also the most common response to any greeting. It also can mean OK, hi, sure, hey!, what’s up?, how’s it goin’?, whatever and probably a bunch of other uses I’m not thinking of. After you’ve greeted someone and they’ve responded, “Yebo,” it’s common for that to be followed , by either party, with “Unjani?” or one of its variations – kunjani or ninjani. (Ninjani is plural, as in asking more than one person). “Kun” and “un” rhyme with loon. These all mean “How are you?” the most common response being, “Ngiyaphila” (n and h are silent, hard g: gee (rhymes with tea) -a-PEE-la). This means, “I am well.” The final term in the exchange might be, “Nathi ngiyaphila, or “I am fine also.” (This is what I learned in language class during training, but now that I’m 300 miles away in KwaZulu-Natal, I’ve seen that some people here say it in reverse: Ngiyaphila nathi (pronounced NAU-tee). If you’re answering for more than one person, it’s “Siyaphila,” though it’s not unusual for individuals to use the plural in reference only to themselves. Another thing I’ve noticed is that KwaZulu-Natal Zulus love to abbreviate things. It’s not unusual for “sawubona” to be shorted to “sawubone,” or “son-bon,” or even “sa-bo.” Ngiyapila is often shortened to gee-a-pee, dropping the last syllable. Another word I use a lot is ngiyabonga (gee-a-BONG-ga), or thank you.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs and Facebook posts, I struggled in the language classes that are an important part of PC training, not unusual with older volunteers, I noticed. In the final assessment at the end of training, I scored in the lowest possible of 7 categories of language proficiency. But it was enough to graduate! The other four trainees in my 5-person language training group – Christopher, Emily, Cara and Sara – did quite well compared to me, though I’m sure they had their moments. Language training was really the only part of pre-service training I didn’t care for. I’m used to accomplishing what I set out to achieve and it was enormously frustrating to be unable to do that in learning Zulu. Even now I’m looking for a good tutor in my village, something the Peace Corps will give me an allowance to pay for. Fortunately, most people I encounter day to day speak passable English, so I’m able to communicate most of the time. The biggest challenge is understanding what’s being said in rapid Zulu when I’m in one of the many meetings I attend.

I also understand, accept and agree with the idea put forth by Nelson Mandela when he said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” The heart of Peace Corps philosophy.

To prove my point, I’ve given up sunglasses, even though it’s sunny here most of the time, so that I can make eye contact with everyone I pass on the street. When the major form of transport is your feet, you pass a lot of people, even on a short trip. It’s not like I can shrink back and be unobserved when I’m the only white guy in 70,000 people in my municipality, or group of 20-some villages. If someone doesn’t return my eye contact, I usually let it go. That could be cultural. Most people do make eye contact with me and when they do I always offer an appropriate greeting. I am the only White American many of these people have ever seen and the impression I leave with them is the impression they will have of all Americans. It’s a responsibility I take seriously. Ninety-nine percent of the time the people I greet respond appropriately. To the few that don’t, I give the benefit of the doubt, believing they are not being rude, but are struck speechless: not only is there a White guy in their town, he speaks to them, and not only does he speak to them, he speaks in Zulu!

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS:
— So. African men often hold hands or link arms and there’s nothing sexual or romantic about it. It’s their culture. Even the most masculine of men do it.

— There’s never enough light indoors. Most rooms, even in the nicest of houses, have a single, 40-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling, which doesn’t provide enough light by which to read. This was a big problem for me with my host family in training, since there was no outlet in the room to plug in a reading lamp. I used a flashlight to study. For my current housing I bought a small reading lamp that fixes the problem – except when the power fails.

— It’s important when walking in rural areas to always look down as you walk – as if shy or depressed – because if you don’t, it’s only a matter of time, probably not much time, before you step in a cow pie, goat crap or chicken shit! It’s everywhere!

— The courtesy clerks at the grocery stores in my “shopping town” will escort you home or to the taxi rank, up to several blocks, pushing your groceries in a cart. I thought this was a great service one doesn’t see commonly in the U.S., but then someone told me it’s mainly so carts don’t get stolen or not returned, which, as we all know, is a big problem in the U.S.

— Hand washing: something that in the U.S. is taken for granted. It’s quick, simple and as most people know, one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs and disease. The Peace Corps health programs, including the one in which I work, stress the importance of it and we never miss an opportunity to preach it, especially to children. But, ironically, I routinely go all day without washing my hands because it’s so hard to make clean water and soap, and an appropriate place to wash, available. Often, the first thing I do when I get home is heat a little water so I can wash my hands in warm, soapy water for the first time since that morning’s “bucket bath.”

* * * * * * *

Peace Corps “core expectation” number 2: “Commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom you live and work; and, in doing so, share your skills, adapt them, and learn new skills as needed.”

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Volunteer Safety and Security are important to the Peace Corps

I’m going to tell a little story about something that happened early in training more than 2+ months ago. I didn’t tell this story at the time because I didn’t want my friends and loved ones back home to be overly-alarmed, and because I wanted to save it for a blog post on how important safety and security is to the Peace Corps.

You all know from earlier blog entries and Facebook posts that as soon as we arrived at Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on January 27 – warmly greeted, by the way, by Country Director John Jacoby and his top staff — we were whisked away by bus to a remote youth camp a two-hour ride away near the small village of Bundu, in Mpumalanga Province. This was to be our home for the next five days until we were introduced to our host families, to live with in the villages of Bundu and neighboring Matshipe, for the next eight weeks. The camp consists of a kitchen/dining hall where we had our meals, a gymnasium, classrooms and a giant outdoor covered play area where we had many of our sessions because it was summer and in the 90s most days. There were also about 20 “rondavals,” the round, yurt-like structures I’ve described before, with grass roofs, where we slept each night, two to a yurt. Oh, and a nest of baby cobras! You don’t want to know what happened to them!
Those first days were a whirlwind of activity, as we got to know each other, were introduced to our “language and cross-cultural facilitators,” or LCFs, started learning words and phrases of several of So. Africa’s 11 official languages, and had our first tastes of Peace Corps life. All that activity continued for the rest of the nine weeks of training, but after five nights we went to live with our host families and came to the camp only during the day, by local taxis. From the beginning there were armed security guards about, hired by the Peace Corps to keep everyone safe and to look after the property, vehicles and other expensive equipment, especially at night, that was there for our training.
A few days after we stopped sleeping at the camp, we arrived one morning to learn of a change in schedule for the early afternoon, that John Jacoby, country director, would be arriving to speak with us about something that had happened. He was accompanied by John Allen, the regional safety and security coordinator for Peace Corps South Africa and seven other African Peace Corps countries. That something was that two nights before, armed intruders invaded the camp at 11:30 p.m., there was a gun battle, and one of the guards we had come to know had been shot in the stomach. Another guard was pistol-whipped and both were in the hospital, the gunshot victim in serious condition. The robbers got away with a gun and a cell phone, but nothing else. No Peace Corps staff was injured, though some were staying at the camp.
John, who started his duties as country director only two months before our arrival, in November, said he wanted to be completely open and honest about what had happened, to answer all questions, and to assure us that all necessary steps would be taken to keep everyone safe. He said that John Allen and our own Peace Corps South Africa safety and security coordinator, Gert (pronounced “Hairt”), had evaluated the situation in consultation with local police and concluded that it was an isolated incident. They answered all questions put to them, clearly and honestly, it seemed to me. Security was increased. The guards recovered, though the one who was shot was in the hospital for several days. Rachel, a PCT from Virginia, volunteered to hand-make a nice card for everyone to sign. Training continued with no further significant security incidents, except that a few days later we abandoned the youth camp and moved to a different venue down the road, the SS Khosanna Game Preserve, which also had rondavals and nice meeting areas. We were told the change had nothing directly to do with the shooting incident, but, rather, that the local government that owned the youth camp had failed to follow through on promises in regard to other issues. “SS,” as we came to call it, was a nicer place anyway and gave us many opportunities to see African wildlife on the mile-long, twice daily drives from the road to the center of the preserve. At various times we saw wildebeests, water buffalo, baboons, monkeys, zebras and large deer-like animals, the size of elk, that I never positively identified, but could have been elands. Or something else. Cool antlers, though! About two or three feet long and curved upward. Someone suggested they were impalas – “springboks” in Zulu.
In the ensuing weeks there were many more sessions that touched on safety and security in numerous ways: in using public transportation like taxis, in watching out for fellow volunteers when they use poor judgment in public; in policies around alcohol use, not hitchhiking, and avoiding big cities, especially Johannesburg, which is said to have a high crime rate. About not going out at night. About being in pairs when possible, rather than walking alone. About always knowing what’s going on around you, being observant. About not carrying large amounts of money and not flashing it – or your fancy laptop and camera — around. About letting others know where you are when you travel. Common sense mostly. But, as we all know, sometimes common sense isn’t very common so Peace Corps staff hammered away at ingraining those ideas into our heads. Most of these sessions were led by Gert, a talkative, outgoing guy who used to be a cop. And wore the most outrageous shirts!
Our last session on safety and security, just a couple of days before training ended, covered the “emergency action plan” every volunteer is supposed to be aware of: what to do in a true emergency like major civil unrest, a coup, a major natural disaster like a tornado or earthquake. (There was a coup recently in another African country, Mali). The Peace Corps has on occasion pulled out of countries, removing all volunteers more or less immediately, because of significant major, potentially dangerous events. Because volunteer safety is paramount. There are four alert levels, the most serious of which is evacuate immediately to your predetermined gathering point, where PC staff will meet you and see that you get to safety. It was at this session that John asked those of us who blog about our experiences to not mention the specific villages we are in, as a safety and security precaution, since Facebook posts and blogs are very public forums these days, available to anyone with access to a computer. He didn’t offer any examples, as I recall, about why it might be dangerous to announce where you’re staying, but it’s a request I plan to honor. If some nefarious individual wanted to track me down, it would be pretty easy to do so if he knew what village or town I lived in. When you’re the only white guy in 70,000 people, you stand out. This doesn’t mean you can’t know where I am. It just means you won’t read it in my blog or on FB. If you just can’t stand not knowing, send me an email and I will tell you!
And finally, this: One day I may do an entire blog just about using taxis. But here’s a tip anyone who travels in So. Africa should know. Peace Corps training stresses the inherent dangers in hitchhiking, that is, accepting rides from strangers. One could get robbed, or raped, or lost, or take a ride from a drunk. (So. Africa has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world). And we were told a story about four PC volunteers in another African country, not SA, who accepted a ride from a stranger who turned out to be drunk. When they realized this and asked to get out, he refused to stop. Eventually, he crashed. Two of the PCVs were killed and the other two were badly injured.
But the other thing that is reported to happen on occasion is how taxi drivers respond to hitchhikers, which they view as people who are cutting into taxi driver income. A driver who sees a hitchhiker will call a couple of other drivers on his cell phone, they all meet at where the hitchhiker is, jump out of their taxis, surround the miscreant and force him into a taxi and take him back to the nearest taxi stand, or “rank” and order him to take a taxi instead of hitchhiking. In America, we would call this kidnap or unlawful imprisonment, major felonies, that could net you 10 to 20 years in the slammer. But in South Africa? . . . Free enterprise! I find this hard to believe, but, they told us this in official PC training, so it must be true.
OK. One more final. PC has 10 “core expectations” it expects volunteers to abide by. I will share one each time I blog, in no particular order of importance. This is how they were listed on the document I signed agreeing to follow these expectations — Number one: “Prepare your personal and professional life to make a commitment to serve abroad for a full term of 27 months.”

LATE-BREAKING NEWS FLASH: I learned today (4/7/12) that one of my fellow volunteers, Rachel, who is mentioned earlier in this post, had a terrifying experience a few days ago in her town, which is not far from mine. She was surrounded by a group of drunk local men who harassed and intimidated her repeatedly, including poking her in ways that left bruises. Eventually, she escaped and returned to her home. She reported it to PC South Africa headquarters, where she was asked to come to Pretoria immediately for medical evaluation, debriefing and support. She also has a blog and has reported openly there of her experience, so I’m not revealing any secrets here. (If you want to read about it in her own words, this is the link: http://wondersofthewander.com/2012/04/02/a-difficult-confession/). I share it here because it’s another example of PC’s commitment to PCV safety. In the past, the Peace Corps has, rightfully, earned itself a black eye a time or two for its poor responses to critical, life-threatening events, including one in which a female PCV was murdered in an African country a few years ago. It claims it’s turned over a new leaf and, from what I’ve seen in my South Africa experience, so far it’s true.

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Propisitioning 5 gorgeous women for unprotected sex!

Ever been to one of those workshops or conferences where they make you get in groups of 5 or 6 and act out a scenario, or role play, or have a small group discussion to make some important point or to teach you something? The theory is that if you act it out, or talk about it in a small group, you’re more likely to remember it. I’ve never liked those either. I’ve always preferred to listen to the speaker, take notes, and refer to them later as needed. If you’re like that, you may not like training for the Peace Corps!
I soon came to see that Peace Corps trainers are firm believers in the practice of role playing, and small group exercises, and it became clear that we would be doing a lot of those. I couldn’t tell you the number of time we counted off by fives, or sixes or sevens so we could gather in small groups. Many of the younger PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) found this annoying and complained it was treating us like young school children, but we older trainees saw that counting off was quick, simple and efficient. We would form our groups, grab a piece of butcher paper and a marker and go off to do the exercise or role play. Someone would be the recorder and do the writing on the paper, and, when done after about 10 minutes, someone, sometimes me, would volunteer to represent our small gathering to the larger group and we would all share the results of our work. This enabled us all to practice what the PC trainers were preaching to us, and for all to gain the wisdom of the several other groups.
Early on, I decided to embrace the training techniques and was a pretty active participant in the process, sometimes even doing the recording on butcher paper, despite having handwriting that was not as nice as most. I made several presentations in nine weeks of training. Speaking of writing with markers, I was surprised to learn early on that of our original group of 36, only two us were left-handed – me and my friend Julie, one of the youngest. This surprised me, since statistically somewhere around 15% of the population is left-handed, and, in my experience, the percentage is even higher in groups of social worker types who work in the helping professions, which describes many of the people who join PC. When I worked at Lane County Developmental Disabilities Services I was once in a meeting where all were taking notes and 80% of us were lefties.
I think most of my fellow volunteers would describe me as a frequent contributor to the many discussions about so many things, and that this would surprise my friends and colleagues back home who see me as pretty quiet in groups, especially large group discussions. We learned many mantras in training, things like “learn and embrace patience and flexibility.” My personal favorite, which probably doesn’t apply to anyone else, is the result of one of those role plays. Early on, the medical officer, Arlene, was presenting health information, including about the importance of practicing what we would be preaching in our HIV/AIDS prevention work in rural villages: use condoms, whether you’re having sex with a “host country national” or another PC volunteer.
Since there were 6 men in the group at that point, and 30 women, she instructed us to divide into 6 groups, each with one man. In my group were five women, all in their 20s, and me. My role — and the role of the other men in their groups — was to try to convince each of those women to have unprotected sex with me. The job of the women was to resist those efforts. Afterward, each group presented its findings to the whole assembly so we could see the ideas others had. So, my new mantra/philosophy, when I’m facing a new challenge in my PC experience, is, “If I can ask five gorgeous women in their 20s to have unprotected sex with me, I can do anything!” Some of those women had pretty creative ideas, but I’ll spare the details.
Training topics over the weeks included safety and security (more on that later); medical issues, including the distribution of the PC medical kit, one of the more well-stocked first aid kids I’ve ever seen, and about malaria and how to avoid it; the PC’s approach to development in countries like So. Africa; history of So. Africa; economic disparity in So. Africa; appropriate behavior with host families; Participatory Analysis for Community Action (PACA), the heart of PC philosophy in working in communities; everything one might want to know about HIV/AIDS, taught mostly by staff from one of PC’s partners, the Centers for Disease Control, which has offices in Africa; history of race relations in both So. Africa and the US, how they are similar and how they are different; organizational behavior and local networking; group facilitation; strategic planning with NGOs; stakeholder analysis; professional behavior in the workplace – and a few others!
One of the most interesting was about internalized oppression – “when people are targeted, discriminated against, or oppressed over a period of time they often internalize (believe and make part of their self-image their internal view of themselves) the myths and misinformation that society communicates to them about their group. Often people experience this phenomenon unconsciously,” according to a resource called “The Community Tool Box.”
It’s the opposite of empowerment, which is “the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes. Empowered people have freedom of choice and action. This in turn enables them to better influence the course of their lives and the decisions which affect them.” (A definition used by the World Bank). There are parallels between US and So. African history in how both countries treated blacks in the past. The US had slavery and So. Africa had apartheid. Slavery ended in 1965 with the Civil War, but, in many ways, an apartheid-like existence continued for many blacks, especially in the South, for another hundred years. Such oppression is not easily changed.
The session on internalized oppression was taught by our training manager, Victor Baker, an amazing man. A former school teacher and aspiring musician, he’s been with Peace Corps South Africa about 5 years and has led the training of hundreds of volunteers. I never got a chance to ask him why he has such an American sounding name, but he did share with me that he was a single dad, as I was. He raised a daughter who is now 29 (mine is 32).
He taught us many things, including how to sing the So. African national anthem, which has four verses, each in a different language of South Africa. (There are 11 official languages of SA. Our group studied Zulu, Sepedi, Venda and Xitsonga). I studied, and am still studying, Zulu. Studying our target languages was one of the most significant parts of training, led daily in small language groups – there were 5 PCTs in mine – by “language and cross cultural facilitators,” LCFs, who also answered unending questions about the culture, and put on numerous skits to demonstrate different aspects of culture. My LCF was Nonjabulo, who went by the nickname “Minky.” She’s about to finish college and seek a job as a high school teacher.
And finally, in closing, a quote from Victor Baker as he talked about how nice, or not, our host families’ homes would be in the villages of Bundu and Matshipe. Most if not all had running water indoors, but most did not have indoor plumbing. Some were very nice, some were not. “A nice house won’t teach you anything,” Victor told us. “It’s the families, the people, who will teach you about So. Africa.” Bhuta’s home had running water – much of the time – but other times the water would stop for up to 5 days. Then we would survive on what had been collected in our 14 or so 5-gallon buckets, about 70 gallons, when the water was on, to be used for all cooking, cleaning, drinking, bathing and laundry. Laundry is done in cold water, by hand, with line drying. Bathing is done via a “bucket bath” and, if you’re careful, you do it with less than 2 gallons.
And finally again, getting back to language for a moment, Nelson Mandela, speaking about language, is reported to have said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” The heart of Peace Corps philosophy when it comes to learning the local language and becoming part of a community.
One final note: If you you’re an observant reader of my missives, both here and on FB, you may have noticed that I have not mentioned the name of my village or the surrounding villages for some time. Earlier references have been deleted. If you want to know why, read the upcoming blog on safety and security.

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Training over, Gary gets promoted in South Africa

Where to begin!? Nine weeks of training is over and as of Thursday, March 22nd, I’m promoted. I’m no longer a “PCT” — a Peace Corps Trainee, but am a “PCV,” a Peace Corps Volunteer. After swearing in on the 22nd – essentially the same oath taken by Foreign Service officers, US Marines, and CIA agents — I left the next morning, for an 11-hour bus ride to the village to which I’ve been assigned in the SW part of the province of KwaZulu-Natal. I am the first Peace Corps volunteer in this group of 6 villages, which is both good and bad, I suppose: I don’t have anyone else’s shoes to fill, no reputation to live up to. Rather, I get to set the standard for those who may follow. I take it as a big responsibility.
I’ve also learned from my supervisor, Nonhlanhla, who has lived here her entire life, that I am the first and only white person (umlungu), ever, to live in this 6-village community, or “local municipality” of 70,000 people. The only whites who come here seem to be tourists on the way to Giants Castle, a provincial park about 35 miles from here that I’ve described in Facebook posts as Yosemite without the 10,000 cars a day. She took me there when I was here for a 4-day pre-placement visit about 3 weeks ago that was part of training.
Training was intense, challenging, and, at times, difficult. Also rewarding. Mostly. At least two hours a day was devoted to language study. My “target language” is Zulu (known formally as isi-Zulu). I’ve confirmed what I heard from others, that learning a new language is more difficult for older PCTs. I have struggled mightily and finished training at a level that is the lowest of 9 possible. I’m looking for a tutor in my village, which Peace Corps will pay for. I’m used to accomplishing what I set out to do, and found it enormously frustrating not to be able to grasp the concepts that the others in my 5-person language group – all in their mid-20s – seemed to do so easily. Nor could I seem to memorize hundreds of vocabulary words. I know perhaps 150, but learn more each day.
The first week of training was spent at a more-or-less abandoned youth camp about 6 miles down a dirt road from the nearest highway, in the province of Mpumalanga, two hours from Pretoria, the capital. Sleeping accommodations, two to an abode, were in yurt-like structures called “rondavals.” My roommate was the same one I had for two nights in Philadelphia for staging and orientation prior to leaving for Africa — Donovan Walker, a 25-year-old from Los Angeles: delightful, funny, personable, good at learning the language, adored by young African girls all over the village! Eventually, he was appointed one of 3 PCT leaders who met weekly with the training manager to represent the rest of us around various issues that arose; we wanted input into the training program; or had to plan events.
Orientation in Philly was mostly paperwork and getting to know the other 35 volunteers. (Three people dropped out and went home during training, reducing our training group – “SA25” – to 33. (SA25 means we are the 25th group of would-be volunteers to train for service in South Africa since the PC started here in 1997, an event initiated after President Bill Clinton met in 1994 with South African President Nelson Mandela and promised to aid the fledgling democracy in any way the United States could). There are two major programs in Peace Corps South Africa: education and health. Our group is in the health sector, formally known as Community HIV/AIDS Outreach Project, or CHOP. Simply put, our job is to aid in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic that makes So. Africa’s rate one of the highest in the world. Our placements and assignments in villages all over three provinces reflect that.
It’s not unusual for a few trainees to decide during training that PC service isn’t for them after all and to return home. I gather that 3 of 36 is not an unusual number. What’s left are 28 women and 5 men. Our group includes two married couples — both of which are from Seattle – and two women, one from Oregon, who are married, but whose husbands are not PC volunteers. Linda, married, is from Bend and Alyssa, early 20s, is from Portland. Oregon is well represented given that we have less than 2 percent of the population, but 11 percent of the volunteers in SA25. I wondered for months before I met my fellow volunteers if I would be the oldest in the group, since at 56 I fall into the statistic that, on average, only one in 20 PC volunteers is over 50. I needn’t have worried. The honor of oldest goes to Vivian, a 78-year-old African-American great-grandmother from Austin, TX who used to work in the VA medical system. She has won the respect and admiration of every person in the group. Coincidentally, she’s the same age former President Jimmy Carter’s mother, “Miss Lillian,” was when she joined the Peace Corps about 3 decades ago and served in India. (There are about 8,000 PCVs worldwide, in about 77 countries; there are 190 in So. Africa).
After that first week at the youth camp, we moved in with host families in the nearby villages of Bundu and Matshipe, but continued to meet each day at the camp for training sessions and activities, arriving each morning by taxi. Some weeks there were sessions, field trips or activities 6 or 7 days a week. Occasionally, we got Sundays off, or had “shopping days” or field trips in Pretoria. One such trip was to visit the Apartheid Museum.
I lived with the Bhuta family, which included Bhuta (many African men go primarily by their family or surnames, rather than by first names), his wife Maria, 64, and their 5-year-old grandson, Siyabonga, whom they are raising. He’s the same age as my grandson back home, Jubal. (Siyabonga means “we thank you” in Zulu). I never learned Bhuta’s age, but guess him to be 65-70. He worked 6-7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day, chasing monkeys and baboons away from crops at a commercial farm. He left in the morning, by bicycle, each day before I got up, and got home about 6, just before dark and then still had to go round up the 5 family goats that were turned loose each day to graze in the neighborhood, a task I assisted with several times – rounding up goats, not grazing!
The main purpose of having PCTs live with families is to help them become integrated into the community, have first-hand assistance with learning the language, and to learn about culture. I guess two out of three isn’t bad! I became part of the community, and learned more about the culture than I would have in 10 years of college, but I didn’t learn a lot of the Zulu language. Most PCTs, perhaps everyone else, were placed with families where at least one person spoke passable English, which enabled them to be corrected when they made mistakes, learn new words and receive valuable feedback. I didn’t get much of that because I spoke no Zulu and no one in my family spoke any English. Most of our communication was via sign language and acting things out.
I think Maria’s original language is Ndebele, a dialect that is similar to Zulu, but Bhuta’s first language was Afrikaans, which tells us that he is of an age when, in the 50’s or so, the white government passed laws requiring native Africans to give up their languages and culture and learn Afrikaans, a language similar to Dutch, spoken by the whites in charge. Later, they passed laws requiring the indigenous people to give up their traditional homelands and live in forced, segregated communities in much the same way the United States government forced Native Americans to live on reservations in the 1800s. The end of apartheid meant the end of such laws, thankfully.
Bhuta and his family are wonderful people and I treasure every moment I spent with them – even those evening meals where I was massively overfed, despite repeated efforts to convince Maria I needed only about a half or a third of what she insisted I needed to eat! Part of the culture. (More on food in another blog).
I wanted to talk more here in greater detail about what we learned in all those weeks of training sessions – some led by PC staff, some by locals, some by veteran PC volunteers, some by us PCTs. About “community needs assessments,” about “internalized oppression,” about how So. African history compares to US history, about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, about how “medical male circumcision” greatly reduces the risk of female to male transmission of the virus. But I’m out of time and out of room. More next time, including about why I’m still “homeless,” though I’ve been at my site for a week. Long story – stay tuned! . . . . One final note: thanks to my daughter, Megan, and my webmeister/friend, Tim Mueller of Grey Wolf Projects, website designer extraordinaire, for pitching in and getting some material on my blog site when I didn’t have Internet access for so long. Megan posted an entry I hand wrote and sent through the mail, and Tim cut and pasted Facebook snippets for people to read. THANKS!

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Greeetings From South Africa

 

 

Greetings from South Africa—I’m still trying to figure out how to access the Internet reliably and regularly, and have had to be very creative just to do this short update.
I’m in the village of Bundu, in the province of Npumalanga, about 2 hours from Pretoria, the capital. I estimate about 1500 people live here. There’s one or two paved roads; most are dirt. Cattle, goats, and chickens roam the roads freely. Have also seen 2 dead snakes, smashed in the road. I live with an older couple who speak only Zulu and Afrikaans, no English. She cares for a 5 year old grandson and he works 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week, chasing monkeys and baboons away from crops at a commercial farm. My days are busy and full with language lessons in Zulu and other cultural and technical info I need to know. It’s 95-100 degrees every day.
I’m part of a group of 36, 30 of them women, who are the 25th group of PC trainees to enter South Africa. The group includes 2 married couples. I’m the 7th oldest. The honor of oldest goes to Vivian, a 78 year old African-American great-grandma from Austin, TX. She’s the same age President Jimmy Carter’s mother, “Miss Lillian”, was when she joined PC and served in India.
Will post again when I can. Could be several weeks. —Gary

Posted from a note on Facebook…

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It’s beginning to seem real; ‘Philly’ and ‘Joberg’, here we come!

It’s starting to seem real. On December 21st, the shortest day and the longest night of the year, I got the long-awaited email from the Peace Corps about “staging and orientation.” It happens in Philadelphia, PA on January 24, 2012. Those of us traveling from the West Coast get to arrive the day before, so as to be there for the 12:30 p.m. meeting the next day. After several hours of orientation and training in security, probably a bunch of government paperwork and perhaps some shots, we depart at 1:30 a.m. on the 25th for a 15-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa — “Joburg” –to begin training.

Thirty-six of us. That’s how many are in “SA25,” the 25th group of Peace Corps trainees to enter South Africa. I’ve been meeting some of them online in a Facebook discussion group. They have names like Peggie from LA who wants to study Zulu; Cara, a rock climber who posted a note asking if there were other rock climbers; Linda, who, from her Facebook picture is nearly my age and lives just up the road in Bend, OR; and Teresa, a recent college grad from Phoenix who found my blog by googling “peace corps + south africa” and contacted me.

I’ve begun packing — summer shirts and shorts I won’t need for the next month in Oregon; calendars for gifts to host families and South African colleagues; reading and writing materials; work gloves; pictures of my dog and my grandkids; a map of the US to hang on my wall so I can point out to people where I live.  I can take 80 pounds in two suitcases of about 40 pounds each. The PC has supplied a packing list and writers at the discussion group who already are serving in SA have made suggestions. I’ve also begun packing away for storage the personal things I won’t be taking with me and that the person who will  be living in my house won’t need. 

Half-a-dozen people a day say to me, “Are you excited?”  I usually just smile and say, “About as excited as I get about anything.”  I’m a pretty low-key kind of guy.  It wouldn’t be obvious if I was excited.  Sometimes people ask me if I’m afraid or anxious, to which I usually say, “I’m more nervous about the two acres in Veneta I just bought,” an investment that I hope to build on one day. I never owed two acres before!   I’m nearly finished with “The Binder,” the looseleaf notebook my daughter, Megan, has named. It contains all the information she will need to manage my affairs while I’m gone: a power of attorney, a copy of my will, a list of bills to be paid, contact numbers, directions about editing the blog for spam, what kind of food Carly, my dog, eats, and how to contact her vet, where to send my 1099s and W-2 for doing taxes.     

This may be the last blog entry I do before I get to Africa, unless something significant happens before that.  And I don’t know yet, once there, what my Internet access will be. Stay tuned!

P.S. — Remember that disclaimer I talked about the last time I posted? The one I stole from another PC volunteer in South Africa, who was uncredited because no where in his blog did he give his name.  I heard from him via email. His name is Mardy Shualy.

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Countdown continues for Peace Corps South African departure

See that “Peace Corps Disclaimer” to the right of this paragraph? I stole it from another Peace Corps voluneer serving in South Africa. He’s been there for several months, working on education projects, in the province of Limpopo, one of the provinces to which I could be assigned. He writes a blog called “The Sudden Walk — Writings of a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa.” I’d love to give him credit, but nowhere in his blog does he give his name, though there are several pictures of him and some of the kids he’s working with. I do know that he graduated from a university in Maryland with degrees in linguistics, government and politics. The Peace Corps requires such disclaimers from volunteers who want to blog about their experiences, and I didn’t think I could improve upon his version. So I plagarized it. Maybe I’ll meet him one day and I can thank him.

Only about six weeks until the start of the big Peace Corps adventure. There’s lots to do, but still time for fun occasionally.

Last night I went to a potluck hosted by a member of the Eugene area chapter of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, the West Cascade Peace Corps Association (www.westcascadepca.org). I’ve been going to the periodic WCPCA potlucks since a few days after I submitted my online application in June 2010. (It will be about 19 months since I applied by the time I actually hit the road). These former PC volunteers have been nothing but kind, supportive, welcoming and encouraging since that first day. I now know many of them by first name — and they call me Barry. Just kidding! They know my name. They welcome anyone interested in supporting the Peace Corps. You don’t have to actually be a returned Peace Corps volunteer to join, though most members are. They’ve served in places like Ghana, Peru, Thailand, Phillipines, Swaziland, Nepal, Morocco, Cameroon and dozens of other developing countries. The organization even waives membership dues while you’re actively serving in the Corps. They raise a lot of money — many thousands of dollars last year — by selling Peace Corps calendars and tee shirts and doing other fundraising. Those funds are then used to support Peace Corps projects around the world, especailly ones led by PC volunteers from Oregon and the Northwest. They could be a resource for me once I’m in So. Africa and have done some community development that leads me to start a “secondary project” the PC encourges all volunteers to develop, in addition to one’s primary assignment. I wonder if there might be a need that involves supporting people who have developmental disabilities, one of the areas in which I have some experience. I suspect that services to such folks are not as developed in Africa as they are in the West, especially in rural areas.

The Peace Corps tells me I could be assigned to a “sceondary city,” a small town, or a rural village. Won’t know until I get there and am well into training, at which time specific assigments will be made, based on one’s experience, the needs of the project, expressed preferences, and how one has been doing in learning a new language and other aspects of training.

You may have noticed other changes in the website, besides the addition of the disclaimer. Though www.garycornelius.com and the blog, “Crossing the Rubicon,” will still be about promoting books and writing, it will have a second focus: reporting about serving in the Peace Corps. So, if you having nothing better to do Saturday (12/10/11) between 10 and 6, stop by Holiday Market at the Lane County Fairgrounds and say hi. I’ll be at an authors’ event to raise money for the Lane Library League.

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January: leaving for Peace Corps service in South Africa

The three largest land mammals in Africa — elephants, hippos and rhinos — and the tallest, giraffes, roam there in the wild, as do some of the deadliest snakes on the planet. Snakes with names like puff adder, black mamba (average length: 8 feet), boomslang and spitting cobra. It’s larger than California and Texas combined, has deserts, mountains, oceans, jungles, plateaus, savannah, forests and everything in between. Imagine a crop grown anywhere in the world, it can probably be grown there: South Africa. My home for 27 months beginning in late January 2012.  Also reputed to make some pretty good wines.  Welcome to the Peace Corps!

They tell me South Africa has seasons marked by hot summers and cold winters, with “very changeable” weather on a daily basis.  That it’s a good idea to come prepared for cold, but also bring clothing that can be layered.  And, “The rainy season is wet (imagine that!) so bring rain gear.”

On January 23rd I’m scheduled to leave for two days of “staging and orientation” in an as-yet undetermined U.S. city where I and others from my South Africa training group will assemble before departing for Johannesburg to begin nine weeks of “pre-service training” in culture, language and other things we need to know to be successful and safe Peace Corps volunteers. During this nine weeks I will probably live with a South African family. There may or may not be running water and electricity. “For the purpose of culture and language immersion, email or cell-phone usage to contact family and friends will be limited,” says the material the Peace Corps sent me. 

At staging we’ll get shots (except for yellow fever, which I had to get locally last week), complete massive quantities of paperwork (it is the federal government, after all), receive our new special Peace Corps passports, and meet fellow trainees. I expect to be among the oldest there, since only 5% of volunteers are over the age of 50 (I’m 56). I’ll probably soon acquire a nickname, something like “Gramps.” Can’t wait!

My volunteer job is HIV Outreach Worker and I could be assigned to a village in a rural area, a “small town,” or “an urban setting in a secondary city.” That assignment won’t be made until sometime during the nine weeks of training, so I won’t know for quite awhile exactly where I will be or what I will be doing. Possibile duties include working in a clinic, doing home visits, working in an office, writing grants, mentoring people, co-leading youth groups, teaching computer skills (damn, I hope not!), working with a board of directors, helping improve management and program evaluation skills, or working in support of orphans whose parents have died of AIDS. Or it could be something else!  Or it could be all those things.

“We will place you where an organization or community needs you — being flexible will be a great asset, maybe the most important one,” The Peace Corps says.  “We will match the needs of the community with your skills, prior experience, expressed interest and your performance during pre-service training.” . . . . . “The examples of the kinds of work you may do and will be exposed to will fluctuate depending on the degree of skill, experience and commitment you  bring with you,” my assignment packet states.

Peace Corps’ South African “Community HIV/AIDS Outreach Project” started in 2001 “in partnership with non-governmental and community-based organizations to which volunteers were assigned to help improve management systems.  In 2007 the project strengthened its partnership with the Department of Health and Social Development, which is actively addressing the pandemic in rural areas.  The project also broadened its focus to include mobilizing local community networks, working with youth associations, and providing AIDS relief to those affected by the pandemic, including orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers.”   

The Peace Corps tells me that the most important thing I need to do upon arrival in my new community is to “build trust, form relationships and establish credibility.  This requires committing yourself to learning the language and becoming integrated into the social life of the community.  Patience (with yourself, as much as with others), a good sense of humor, humility, a constant desire to learn, and emotional self-awareness are critical ingredients needed to make it through the first challenging months.”

Another challenge for all South Africa Peace Corps volunteers is facing the reality of the impact of the AIDS pandemic.  “During the course of your service, you will experience AIDS-related deaths, either in your host community or among your circle of friends and colleagues.”

I will be expected to have a “secondary project” because of my “attitude and willingness to assist people outside of your primary assignment. . . . . come prepared to spend the vast majority of your time, both professional and leisure, in the community, assessing needs, developing relationships and providing support to community initiatives. . . . You will be called upon to provide advice, ideas and recommendations on a variety of community issues and projects.”

What an adventure. Wish I were leaving tomorrow, but, January it is!  I will do my best to post blog entries regularly to let folks know what and how I’m doing. But without knowing whether I will be in a village with electricity, let alone Internet access, it’s hard to know at this point how regularly I will be able to report.  Stay tuned!   And thanks to my friends and family for all the kind wishes and support.

Meantime, I will continue to work on writing projects and blog accordingly.  For those interested, I have an author’s event at the Eugene Library, the Bascom-Tykeson Room, on Thursday, September 8th, 6:30 p.m.  I will talk about my book, “Crashing Through the Underbrush,” about mental illness, about writing, perhaps a bit about my pending Peace Corps assignment, and whatever anyone wants to talk about.

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