While I was in Pretoria I stumbled upon Rachel Platten’s Fight Song. Usually I do not like war analogies with personal struggles (especially with health concerns), but this song moved me. Maybe it was how it was a fight song without athleticsm, the reference to 2 years, or the timing. Honestly, I seriously considered early termination (ETing in Peace Corps lingo or leaving before the 27 month commitment was up) several times when I was in Pretoria. At one point I could picture myself going back to New Mexico, throwing all my travel books away, and forgetting my plan to pursue global health. For many people, that would be the right decision however I would be miserable (even though I probably would be better at financial management if I did not travel abroad).
When PCVs experience hard situations (site dynamics, site change, crimes, illness, or assault, or family crisis) the post grapevine starts to generate sentiments that the PCVs should ET. I am also guilty of this, when you hear of people who are perpetually miserable with the PC lifestyle, sometimes you wish that you would make move for their happiness. In a way, for PCVs who do decide that this is the best option, ETing becomes less stigmatized. However for those of us who decide to continue with service, this becomes a connotation of martyrs because we endure great suffering for our belief in Peace Corps. This is ridiculous.
As someone from a culture that prides themselves on martryrdom (Catholicsm), I am far from willingly compromising my well-being for my wholehearted belief in Peace Corps’ potential. Besides Peace Corps is not persecuting anyone and South Africa is still healing from a recent period of persecution, this country is not purposely torturing any PCV (no country is). I have met PCVs with a martyr-like philosophy when it comes to service, but they are not the ones who have dealt with adversity related to service. Everyone faces challenges, but the PCVs that have been the most supportive to me during this site change have experienced the hard situations mentioned above. (Several of the blogs in the directory are by PCVs who experienced adversity and still chose to fulfil their 2 year commitment).
When these PCVs shared their stories, I initially did what most PCVs do and wondered how they are still here. I was missing the point: they are still here. The situation enabled them to stay (again each situation is different and sometimes ETing is the best choice) and they have connections to their country. Whatever their reasons are they are still here and that is something to be respected.
I am still formulating my reasons why I stayed (besides Venda skirts…of course) but with the end of the year reflection I have a grasp. It comes down to the Manager’s comment he made in a letter before I left: what I am doing truly suits me. I love experiencing other cultures and learning from other people. Global health is a great combination of those two intrests and Peace Corps. Yeah South Africa annoys me on a regular basis (about as much as the US did back home), but I like being here in the global health field. I learn more about international health in South Africa then I would in a text book.
Yet If there is one thing I have learned from 2015, it is how many incredible people live in the Republic of South Africa. From the PCSA staff who took care of me for 8 weeks in Pretoria, to the 3 families who willingly tooked me in and give me Nguni names, and the 8 other families are hosting other PCVs and did not hesitate to host me for a couple days when I needed to remove myself from a situation, I am wanted in South Africa. At a time when I struggled to connect with the PCV community, my counterpart from site 1.0 called me twice in Pretoria just to check on me. A couple weeks ago the host family from site 1.0 What’s Apped me with the same intentions and given our weird relationship it was very kind. My vivacious Amajuba family always gives me jeqe when they make it because they know about my steamed bread addiction, and my 19 year old host sister/friend confides in me her dreams for the future while educating me on life in Amajuba. Yesterday I took a mental health day from the clinic and when my host sister had to run an errand there, the entire staff asked about me.
Everyone from the PCSA staff to the communities I have encountered in South Africa wants me to be successful. During times when my cohort could not be there (because they could not relate to my situations), South Africans have been supporting me, and keeping me glued to this country. I am not sure when I will have this opportunity to live in another country and make mistakes to learn from, where country nationals will provide feedback. I have had to fight to even be a PCV and with South Africa giving me every reason to remain here, I cannot back out of my commitment. Maybe in the future that answer will change but now…
I don’t really care if nobody else believes, cause I still got a lot of fight left in me.
All the best,
PS: on a random note, 2015 was a challenging year for me, but for autistic women it has been an excellent year for awareness. From Olivia Quigley’s win at the Special Olympics, to Girl Meets World’s humanizing portrayal of the female experience on the spectrum, and awesome book published (I have not read yet but still yea for the conversation starter). and finally my beloved alma matter hosting Temple Grandin, a wealth of beneficial discussion was generated. May we continue this conversation in 2016 and beyond.