When you are a PCV, activities are recorded on digital file called a Volunteer Reporting Form (VRF) is due at the end of every quarter. Every program has a different VRF to measures indicators to reflect the aspiring impacts for Peace Corps in that country. Volunteers start submitting the VRF the deadline following their Inservice Training (IST) or after the first 3 months of service. While I have not implemented any projects to appease PEPFAR established indicators yet, there is one activity I always recorded: Eish. This blog has remained the one consistent aspect of my Peace Corps experience. Regardless of my site-situation or attitude at the present moment, there is always something to share here in South Africa.
Prior to my PCV life, I had private and public blogs and managed the student blog for my alma matter. Even with an established grip on the blogging process I have had challenges to navigate in South Africa. The question is not if South Africa has widespread access to electricity (yebo…for most areas) but if the electricity access is reliable (depends on how Everyone’s Favorite Electric Utility feels that day). We struggle with rolling blackouts (load shedding) and if there is no electricity, there is a high probability internet is also down. The other hazard of internet use in South Africa is viruses. USBs and public internet cafes harbor digital pathogens that make McAfee’s head spin. Even though Schnitzeland has an internet café I do not consider it accessible. I have been very meticulous with my laptop ports and still recently got infected with a bout of adware.
At site 1.0, I was spoiled with internet access at the organization (when service worked). Since the director paid for it by the gigabyte usage was watched meticulously. My current organization in Amajuba does not have internet and after a month of searching in Duke City for a safe restaurant with wifi, I had no leads and needed access for the Community Needs Assessment so I invested in a dongle (about a hundred rand). The dongle is a USB port, and operates on an SIM card (the same feature that operates cell phones abroad). The way to access internet is through data and honestly most of my volunteer stipend goes towards groceries and data. Usually I buy 3 GB of Data (a couple hundred rand) online through the PC established bank which is more than enough to upload posts, photos, and approve comments for a couple weeks. Just as a comparison, skyping with video (voice is way less expensive) for an hour takes about 1 GB of data and I can publish a post with less than 300 MB of data. I also have a WordPress App on my phone that lets me review comments (I monitor all comments on the blog).
To preserve data, I type all my posts in Microsoft Word, edit the text into a publishable format, and organize photos offline before accessing the internet. Uploading photos to WordPress does take a bit of data, and the smaller the file the better. Usually I upload photos from my small point and shoot Canon, but I lost the battery charger at IST. With the current postal debacle, I cannot retrieve a replacement so I use my smartphone camera. Even though the current quality of the photos drives me nuts, the visuals still bring the posts to life. For hyperlinks, I copy the address into a draft email on Outlook until the post is ready to be published. I try to keep posts under one page in Word for the sake of attention spans and break posts up if they become too long (like the World AIDS Day Recap).
As for the actual content, to reference the illustrious Steve Biko, “I Write What I Like.” Okay honestly I have three objectives when I blog: 1.) breaking the numerous stereotypes towards South Africa that unfortunately exist, 2.) maintaining connections with my communities back home, and 3.) providing an online resource for the current and future PCV community. What I love about blogging is that it is personal and professional simultaneously. This means that I am able to share life in South Africa but also share my voice as an autistic woman navigating Peace Corps Service (who is a global health geek). With that said, I am cognizant that everything that I write is public and thus can impact other people. The way I try to minimize this risk is using unidentifiable photos (unless I have explicit permission from the subjects of said photos) and code names for places, PCVs, and my immediate family, and watch my content (no interpersonal conflicts or political commentary is mentioned on here).
Overall blogging has been a rewarding part of my PC experience. My writing always needs practice and putting my words out for the public to interpret is a vulnerable experience. Yet, it makes my day when I read comments from other PCVs who stumble upon Eish, loved ones let me know they read my posts (and remind me that I need to watch my grammar), or someone shares how relieved they are to see an openly autistic PCV.
Plus it guarantees I will have one activity for the VRF each reporting quarter.
All the best,
PS: I maintain a directory of awesome Peace Corps Blogs. Each person on the list balances their personal perspectives and sharing the Host Country’s Culture beautifully (and serve as writing role models for me). If you have time available and would like a free semi-trip around the world, please visit their blogs.