I’ve Been Everywhere…in West KZN: June Recap

Sorry for the post avalanche. April-June was complicated and our internet was out yesterday…so I am trying to take advantage of wifi when I can. If I did not do this post with the Independence post, then I would have left people on a cliff hanger.

I have been to Pretoria, Utshezi, Drakensburg, Msinga, Research Town, Maritzburg
…cue the Johnny Cash (I omitted the real names for privacy but they would sound better to the tune)

Eish, saying that June was an eventful month is an understatement.

I have been pretty quiet about my site situation on here, in part because it is such an outlier that I do not want to scare people (really in my copious PC research I have not heard of this happening before). However now that the situation is resolved, I feel okay being transparent. In a sentence, I shared an organization and a host family with a response volunteer for the past 3 months. We did not get along and there was no way to provide personal space from each other.

In the case of South Africa PCVs, everyone lives with a host family. There are specific housing rules that have to be established before our staff can approve a site such as burglar bars, locking doors, and a separate entrance. For most PCVs like the Social Worker, they have a separate room from the house. In rural areas there are less options for housing. In my case I live on a compound of 6ish houses. At the end there is a 4 room (plus closet) house I share with my host sister and her infant son. For three months the response volunteer occupied the other bed room and we shared a kitchen. We also shared an organization and an office together.

In relation to this situation I was in Pretoria for the first 12 days of June for medical leave and also providing feedback to our country staff about my…site mess. We had an All Volunteer Conference the weekend after medical okayed me to go back to site so my first day back at site was my birthday. I walk in after work and there was an icy reception from the host family. Happy 23rd to me. The following day there was a major misunderstanding. I did not know when I got back from Martizburg if the housing and in turn site would work out. My programing staff at Peace Corps and supervisor at the organization had to use their scheduled site visit time to mediate between me and the host family. Thankfully we sorted out the misunderstanding and it speaks a lot to my host mom’s character that she is willing to move forward. Hosting 2 Americans simultaneously is hard and I am grateful she is still willing to host me.

The other thing about having two PC personnel in the same community at once is that everyone is confused. The organization did not know what to do with two Peace Corps Volunteers for three months, the community was puzzled, the host family was maxed out, and I was stuck. PST did not prepare me for a situation I had to integrate while trying not to step on the response volunteer’s relationship with the family for 3 months. I tried to interact with the host family but as tensions rose between me and the other volunteer, I started to spend more time in my room. My supervisor (who is also an introvert) pointed out that a white girl spending time in the room could come off as elitist…and trigger memories of apartheid. Big mistake. The family is slowly starting to become aware of my needs as an introvert and in turn I am trying to initiate more interaction with the host family when my energy levels are up.

Let me stress this: I do not have any blame for what has happened. The PCSA staff have been fair to everyone involved in every discussion we had. Between headquarters in DC, former PCSA staff, the hosting organization, and the two PC personnel in the situation (myself included) the jury is out on how this situation was handled. If there is one thing I learned from this, it is that PC as an agency learns at the same pace PCVs do, and on paper this set up would be ideal. I would have someone with twice the PC experience guiding me through integration…but it turned out to be a powder keg. The current PCSA staff has been very receptive to my feedback and I am still proud to be a PCV (please do not let this outlier of a situation scare you from applying…really it was a unique setup that does not reflect the integration experience). Granted it is frustrating to start from square one on integration, 14 days before our In Service Training (IST), when my friends from SA 31 have cultivated relationships with their communities ( and I scrambling to find counterparts…more next week). However at least I am now integrating. Now that I am the only PC personnel at site there is a clearer picture about why I am here for the next two years from all perspectives.

As difficult as June was, it was not all a bust. I briefly mentioned the All-Volunteer Conference, where SA 31 had a chance to get out of lock down. Some of us got to see Trevor Noah perform live (yes that Trevor Noah…there are perks to serving in South Africa) and hear him grill the government, social constructs of race, and everyone’s favorite power utility! His creative ability to critique political issues gives me confidence that he will excel at the Daily Show! Also I was lucky enough to co-present a workshop on health prejudice in the PCV community and within our South African communities. Preparing the workshop was a nice distraction from the site situation. I am really encouraged by the conversation we had as PCVs and sincerely hope that the discussion continues. People have been really gracious about how the workshop went and I am excited to eventually receive the written feedback.

Finally in the midst of all of this, I really found out how incredible the PCSA community is. While in Pretoria I had the chance to meet PCVs from other cohorts and every single one told me that I was justified in my concerns because the site situation was messy. Perhaps this was redundant but especially team KZN from SA 31 looked after me. I am human and there were copious amounts of frantic What’s Apps over the past three months to my friends. The two times I visited other PCVs (the Township and Msinga) were when site escalated to the point where my friends realized that I had to get out and opened their new homes.

My birthday was very low key this year as I did not hijacked by the site situation. Unfortunately my stream of bad luck meant that my friends’ coordinated cake celebration in Pretty City did not pan out. I spent my birthday alone at work trying to catch up on data entry, with a huge smile on my face because of all the e-mails and What’s Apps wishing me well. That and knowing people cared enough to coordinate a celebration, provided the best birthday possible with the circumstances.

The last three months have been hard but I am still here trying to make this site work. My amaZulu name is Nomathemba Zama. Nomathemba means “we have hope” and Zama is “try”. I respond to both (they initially started off as two names in part of this confusion) but they fit the role of my site well. I am cautiously optimistic that things will continue to get better, as I really want to stay here in my South African hope. Geographic wise, I am very much a mountain girl and they placed me in the right place (and only three hours from a beach, 2 from a desert). Also I have a great supervisor and wonderful caregivers to learn from here. But thank you for the well wishes and reading along. Blogging was a huge coping mechanism; if I could share South African perspectives, in my eyes I met my duty as a PCV even when the day fell apart (Let’s hear it for goal 3)! Please stay tuned, life willing I am here until April 2017 and have much to learn (and 3hopefully share)!

Okay these entries are long enough (sorry but it has been an eventful three months and the other purpose of this blog is to update loved ones back home). I will be back next week with more insights. Nigyabonga Khakulu for sticking with me.Let us move forward on this new start together!

Keep Calm, Carpe Diem, and shosholoza!
All the best,
Katey-Red

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