Happy and Healthy 2015!
While 2014 was full of personal growth and incredible opportunities, I am glad it is in the past. I learned in 2014 to not interpret my life ambitions with certainty (or in colloquial terms: with a grain of salt), but it is nice that I will likely be in South Africa for the rest of 2015 after January 20th.
Like all Peace Corps Invitees, my month before staging has been spent accumulating items for the next 2.25 years. South Africa has nice department stores, but in my brief experience they are expensive. I am probably not the tallest female volunteer in South Africa, but I struggle enough to cover my legs in the States. Wearing short dresses/skirts in Southern Africa can instigate cultural clashes and the country office established a certain dress code for training. My scavenger hunt for appropriate knee-length apparel meant copious amounts of time on Amazon, Ebay, Sierra Trading, and an overly successful visit to the neighborhood Goodwill.
Today was one of two phone conferences the country desk coordinated for SA 31-to-be (That is my group number). I was hesitant to join at first because phone conferences are not my favorite (I cannot read body language and usually interrupt people) but it was a good experience. It was dinner time in South Africa but the country director and new head of programing and training generously stayed late to answer our questions. There were two times, and about 12 of us joined for the West Coast half hour. This was the first time I heard other invitees on the line, which put my irrational fear about me being the only member of SA 31 to rest (I would feel really bad for the country office…I can be a handful)!
My question triggered a funny moment. I am one of the few members of my generation who chooses not to have a smartphone. I asked if we needed e-mail capability on the phone and would have time to shop for one if necessary. The country staff said we would have time to shop for phones during training and in order for a smart phone to work in country that we needed a SIM card capable phone. The country desk officer at Peace Corps headquarters said that his IPhone did not have a SIM card, and the director of programing and training quickly corrected him as IPhones have SIM cards. The desk officer then semi-joked that he would drop his phone to see if he could find the SIM card. Everyone laughed and someone at headquarters quickly showed the desk officer where his SIM card was. No valuable electronics were harmed in the confusion!
In addition to a bit of humor, the country staff provided us with a general outline of expectations and asked us to reflect on what we wanted to bring to South Africa. Ironically I just had a tiny-existential crisis about this Tuesday night. I could not pinpoint a special exact reason or purpose for doing Peace Corps, except that I have had fixations about different cultures and service since elementary school (not being facetious….I really was a weird child). I am wary of establishing purposes because I do not want set expectations and am fresh out of college. Beyond my bachelor’s in psychology and a grasp on public health, I do not have a snazzy skill set to offer like a law degree or counseling license. Granted I have 9 months experience with Motivational Interviewing, tutor certifications, and fantastic lessons from college organizations abroad and on campus. Still I will probably be one of the youngest members of SA 31 and I do not have a lot of formal work experience. There is nothing wrong with that because I still can add value in South Africa.
I am ready to learn from my South African community and support their solutions for addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic. I am also someone who really wants this experience and realizes that it will be extremely difficult. In the words of my insightful classmate from last semester (who was a volunteer in Paraguay), “You can only accomplish what your community lets you accomplish.”
Is that awareness and passion enough to bring to South Africa? That is what I am providing to the Rainbow Nation at this time.
All the best,
Katey (who is still not getting an IPhone…maybe a blackberry if I have to be forced into smartphone-dom!)