Throughout high school, I adopted this romanticized image of Peace Corps. The details in my day dreams were blurry, but I was part of a community in an unspecified country in Sub Saharan Africa. As a college student, the hazy images sharpened a bit as I gained international experience and worked as a peer health educator. The picture came into focus with aspirations of health education and collaboration through local clinics. With Wikipedia and Google images, I could add specific settings and corresponding languages to the scene depending on my mood. One day I would filter in a Malgasy class on malaria prevention, the next day I would switch to the terra cotta soils of Zambia.
As a PCV picked by South Africa (who realizes conducting classes on infectious disease in Madagascar is more complicated than my arrogant teenage ambition…I barely scrapped enough isiZulu for caregiver supervisions), I now realize it is impossible to picture service full stop. There is now way to maintain plans as they evolve and sometimes get derailed. My plan (life willing) was to stay in Kwa-Zulu Natal to the valley I committed to until 2017.
Then August 21, 2014 I left my beautiful site in the Drakensburg permanently. What happened to my Peace Corps dream? This was not in the plot.
PCSA decided that my safety was at risk due to a sudden and unforeseeable increase in violent crime at site. Nothing directly happened to me and even though I was in contact with PCSA staff for a couple weeks (and fully agree with their course of action), the decision still came as a shock. Since these events also impact the communities I served, it is not my place to publish those details on a public blog. The Drakensburg and South Africa are much more than violent crime (said incidents also occur in the United States). Most PCVs make it through service in South Africa without a site change. Pulling a PCV out of a site is a pain for everyone involved and it is not done without reason. I just happen to be “special” and deviate from the declared norm (what else is new)!
When reflecting upon the last 5 months I feel bittersweet gratitude. I lived in a beautiful area of the Drakensburg few experience. My amaZulu supervisor is a wonderful woman and a great role model for self-care. She graciously taught me amaZulu culture and laughed at my snarky sense of humor. The 48 hour notice provided me time to express my sincere (albeit messy) goodbyes. The caregivers were attending a training the day before PC picked me up and were able to give me a small farewell, where I had to dance amaZulu style (the only funny thing about me being pulled from site). No site is perfect as that enables PCVs to grow, but I walked into unique site challenges. I made considerable cultural integration progress from a less than ideal start but honestly welcome another opportunity for integration despite the frustration.
In the meantime, I am in Pretoria waiting for Peace Corps to find me a new site. I have spent enough time here in South Africa that it has become a second home and my commitment to South Africa entails 27 months. There is so much more that I want to learn and PCSA and I are in agreement that there is no reason for me to Early Terminate (ET) or end service now. As for all the details, angiazi (I do not know). I have no idea what the next 19 months will look like; what language I will speak, province I will be in, or how often I can blog. Even though I am homesick for KZN and the wonderful PCV clusters I left behind, there is a terrifying and exciting adventure forward. As a public health student who is interested in a global health focused career, exposure to more cultures and organizations can only benefit me in the long run. As a type A autistic who prefers to plan, this change has served great albeit annoying therapy!
PCVs are getting better about sharing their experiences when service does not go as planned. Still when a site change happens it tends to be an unspoken experience that we keep quiet. Hopefully the more PCVs who are brave enough to admit when the unideal circumstances change the direction of our services, then this prevalent predicament I am currently in will be less scary. I am the only member of my cohort currently in South Africa who has been pulled from site in the middle of service. Yet I am lucky to know phenomenal PCVs who finish their service strong after moving to a different community for me to realize this is not the end of the world. My gracious RPCV (returned PCV) classmates at the University of Arizona and other PCVs here in South Africa, have reminded me that I am not alone. It is their support combined with well wishes from friends and family back home that rejuvenates my self-confidence so I can persevere through ambiguity (this autistic’s best friend…NOT).
I do not know what will happen next (or what my address is, I will update my PO Box once a new site is assigned but please stop sending things to Winterton). Hopefully by October (if not sooner) there will be more concrete news. Thank you so much for the encouragement and patience during this time. I still have some ideas for posts but we’ll see about wifi access before I make any declarations. Hopefully I will be back in the field soon!
All the best and shosholoza!