Life Administration: How I Dress

Aka: to bring pants or leave pants as a woman PCV

Sanibonani,

I really should not make a generalizations, but in my experience most South Africans care about appearance especially in the way that they dress. You could see a woman in a pencil skirt and dressy blouse for running errands. I cannot talk about the male experience, but the general consensus is South African PCVs should look neat in the workplace. Dress also depends on the location.  Mpumalanga and Limpopo (most of that province is located above the Tropic of Capricorn) are hotter areas while Amajuba and the Berg experience cold winters. Also, if you are closer to a city, chances are the community will be more accepting towards modern tastes in fashion. Yet (as I found out this year) you never know what will happen during service. I am currently the only PCV in the district and happen to work closely with district government offices while always being watched especially with my appearance.

Most days I wear either a knee length skirt with a corresponding top or a dress. To maintain a professional appearance (read hide my underwear) I always wear biker shorts and camisoles every day. Sometimes I wear pants, but both Amajuba and the Drakensburg fluctuate between very hot to freezing comfort levels. It is easier for me to maintain temperature control in clothes I can layer. My summer dresses became winter gear by adding leggings and long-sleeved shirts.

It is worth noting that some traditional areas, pants are NOT acceptable for women to wear. We are about 45 minutes away from Duke City, and my current host sisters live in leggings and the 19 year old feels most comfortable in trousers. At site 1.0 I was in a traditional tribal authority and did not see boo of pants on women until the shopping town. Also if you ran into the induna or traditional spiritual leader (who happened to live at the bottom of my hillside) it was more respectful to be in a skirt. As an example of old habits dying hard, when my Amajuba family knocks on the door and I am in pant attire, I still throw on a skirt.

With my long legs and wide feet, it is hard to find affordable clothes that fit my body type in South Africa (stress on affordable). I have purchased a few skirts and a dress, but even on sale they were splurges under the volunteer in country allowance.  Before I left for Staging, I raided the local Goodwill and came out with most of my tops and skirts. At first I felt embarrassed about the amount of clothes I brought, but a year in I am glad because my Amajuba house is surrounded by barbed wire that keeps poking holes in my clothes. Also, when laundry is delayed (see next post) I have enough clothes to help me subsist. The one thing I would have left behind were my dress pants, which I wore at staging but not since. Maybe I will attend the international AIDS conference and use them but just as an SA PCV I have not needed them.

Finally, accessorizing is probably the most fun aspect I have while dressing as a PCV. Beaded jewelry is one of my favorite aspects of amaZulu culture and brings a guaranteed pop of color to an outfit. Something that I did not realize was that wearing beadwork serves as a great icebreaker, especially when I am asking personal questions for the CNA or registering clients for ARV pick up at the local clinic. I have a Venda beaded necklace as well, and wore it while greeting a Venda chief who noticed. If beads are not your thing, many PCVs find local tailors who sew custom clothes with South Africa’s traditional fabrics. I just found dressmakers in Duke City and my local taxi rank who do incredible work. Regardless of your gender identity, using local business for gifts or everyday clothes.

In the end, take what makes you feel comfortable but be safe and bring at least 3 skirts. Whatever you take remember, quick dry fabrics are your friend.

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My Tribal Authority uniform Autumn edition for site 1.0, hanging out in the medical supply cabinet

 

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Soliloquy of a Site-Less PCV

Recently I published an article in the “Sunnyside Up” the PCV newsletter for South Africa, on site changes. I wrote this after several conversations with other PCVs that faced site changes during their service and feedback from PCSA on how to move the needed conversation forward. I had said PCVs review the article before I sent it to the PCV committee behind the newsletter, and PCSA staff review every article before it is submitted. Despite this extensive process, there has been some backlash over my apparently irreverent remarks. After reflecting for a few weeks,  I still decided to share it on the blog. Even though it was written in a South African context, there may be  a PCV serving another post struggling to support a PCV friend in a similar situation. Also some of my thoughts could apply to anyone (regardless of DSM diagnostic labels) that falls into a tough situation.

**Full disclosure: My viewpoints do not apply to all PCVs that have had a site change or PCVs that have mental health needs. I know many people who do take comfort in some of the remarks I counteracted in the article.

With that said, I have a request due to hearing the same problem with a variety of health needs. I beg y’all  unless a person explicitly indicates “be/stay/focus on the positive” is a helpful phrase, please do not tell someone in an upsetting situation (especially with chronic health conditions) to do so. It comes off as extremely condescending and can make an agitating situation worse. The brain does not work like a light switch, you have to be in the right mindset to do said commands (in the middle of internal chaos,  is not the place to try and maneuver the non-existent, metaphorical, switch). With a mental health need, it takes a while to reach that level of cognitive awareness.

Thanks for hearing me out,

Katey

 Until last August, the ambitious PC phenomena known as a site change was not on my radar. The one memory I recall from PST was a sentence from a security session, detailing that it was a remote possibility during service. Then a sudden increase of violent crime in my area and my planned projects became irrelevant as I packed up my belongings with 48 hour notice. I became the enigma of a site-less PCV and thrown into an emotionally intense experience.

Site changes are an unusual experience, but all PCVs regardless of their performance during service, race, or gender identity are not immune to a site change. Most site changes are involuntary and sudden, related to security. In ideal circumstances, all SA PCVs would experience a fulfilling 2 years in one community but South Africa is unpredictable. I still agree with PCSA’s decision, and waiting in Pretoria as opposed to staying in a place where my safety was at risk was definitely the lesser of two evils. Even with a level of acceptance with the situation, it was still hard.

There is a misperception that a site change is a quick fix for PCVs who are struggling at site. Site changes are not enjoyable experiences for anyone involved (PCSA, the former community, the new community who has to adapt to another PCV, and especially the PCV who gets the brunt of the stress). Yeah, Pretoria is a nice break for a few days but being site-less in Pretoria, shuffled between backpackers, and having your belongings locked in the APCD office without an end date is unsettling. You are there until a new site is found and prepared. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict a time length of the wait because the site placement process is complicated and the PCSA staff are always juggling additional needs. In the case of CHOP, you have to find a community with a relevant NGO and there is not a guarantee you will speak the same language let alone be in the same province. Then when an organization and housing have been identified, it can take a few weeks to make sure housing is ready.

When a PCV friend is subjected to a site change, it can be difficult to know how to support them verbally. Depending on the person, “stay positive” either makes someone’s day or accidently invalidates their feelings. Comments that are safer bet are along the lines of “Hang in there,” or ones that appreciate their resilience because it is a very frustrating situation. There were moments where I was excited about the possibility of a new site, and other moments when I was homesick for the Drakensberg. It is okay to say “That really sucks” or “I am sorry”. Site changes suck, no one is a bad PCV for admitting that. Granted if you do reach out, it could be on a bad day where it feels like no progress has been made. Be prepared to hear some negativity. Also, personal evaluations of how PCVs are handling an extended Pretoria stay or worse, how their past behavior possibly factored into a site change are not helpful full stop.

The other thing PCVs can do is offering site-less PCVs opportunities to get back in the field. All I wanted to do was go back to work, and graciously made three visits to support PCVs with their projects as I waited. Even if it is just shadowing your organization or school, providing a safe space for a couple days means the world (and curbs Pretoria spending and ruminating). Also be on the lookout for potential organizations or schools that have housing options to host a PCV. Three of my friends found potential sites, and even though the options did not pan out, it let me know that the PCV community still wanted me in South Africa. Finally still look after PCVs after a site has been identified, walking into a new community and starting over at any point during service is still intimidating.

Also if anyone wants support from someone who has gone through this process, a place for a site-less PCV to visit in the Duke City, KZN area after January 2016, or is up for brainstorming better ways to support PCVs during a site change, feel free to reach out at (my personal email).

Privilege: Are you restricted from Certain Countries?

A huge portion of public health is advocacy. Until HIV /AIDS concerns became my full time job, I did not think about HIV/AIDS in a life span context. Once you have HIV/AIDS, there is no medical cure and you live with this diagnosis for the rest of your life. With advancements in treatment and access to healthcare, people are able to live for the most part fulfilling lives. Unfortunately, there is an aspect to life with HIV that hinders the living process: stigma and its cousin discrimination. Stigma means that HIV negative people automatically gain this concept of privilege. Since you do not face the daily hurdles HIV positive people face, your life is easier in one respect (other forms of discrimination and  apply here as well but that would add at least 5 more pages in Word to venture into those complexities, for the sake of brevity I am just covering HIV tonight).

For an example, you have the freedom to travel. Travel is not something one would think as a privilege but there are countries who deport visitors with an HIV positive diagnosis. Entry into countries depends on a clean personal record and following the labyrinth of visa laws verbatim, but usually health history is completely irrelevant to a customs check.
However this is not the case for HIV,

According to UNAIDS, over 30 countries still have restrictions on entry. Progress has been made, and the USA’s abolition of restrictions is fairly recent.

20150918_evol_travel_900

Credit to UNAIDS 2015

While these efforts are great, there are miles to go before we sleep. Here is another map explaining the categories of restrictions.

20150918_welcomenot_900

Credit to UNAIDS, 2015

As a public health student, I see why governments would want to restrict entry to PLWHIV. The threat of an infectious disease that is known to be fatal and expensive, would motivate people to prevent that concern from entering the country. I agree that quarantine should be implemented in highly infectious conditions like ebola and tuberculosis that are transmitted by air or casual contact.

With that said, baring restrictions actually creates more problems (or stigma). Besides how attempting to track detailed medical histories with blood test in a customs takes resources (and customs are bureaucratic enough), HIV is not infectious through casual contact. HIV is transmitted through contact with blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal secretions. HIV is not an immediate threat to unaffected citizens, unless sexual intercourse or copious bleeding occurs in the customs line (and there are bigger issues beyond HIV if that is the case). Also if you dig into the rationale behind the countries that have the highest restrictions, public health has less weight than cultural perspectives of the LGBTQ+ community and racism (the countries with highest HIV prevalence rates are all in Sub Saharan Africa. Regardless of the reasons, it does not change the fact that this is health discrimination which fuels stigma.

In case anyone is doubtful this is discrimination or why is this still a problem when most of the world is against restrictions, substitute HIV for the other health experience mentioned frequently on Eish: autism. If heaven forbid mental health restrictions start to form entry requirements, I would really have to reevaluate this global health career path since in international fields, employers need you have flexible mobility (you do not get to pick where the next outbreak takes place). Also if you think about all the reasons why people go abroad beyond work (tourism, love, school, and oh yeah volunteering), living becomes a restricting process.

People with HIV did not ask to live with a life threatening condition but from what I have seen many are thriving. We need more HIV positive individuals to work in global health. They would do a better job in my role as they actually understand what HIV is like and can connect with communities. It is hard enough to live with HIV but people with HIV should have the right to benefit from cultural exchange just like everyone else. Let’s continue to work towards an accepting world with no restrictions.

Finally to end this on a pleasant note, here is an awesome project showing how dogs are supporting HIV positive people and their efforts to live.

When Dogs Heal

References:

http://www.hivtravel.org/Default.aspx?pageId=152
http://www.bodypositive.org.nz/Pages/Travel_and_Immigration/

All the best,
Katey-Red

South Africans say it Lekker…er

One of the cool aspects of serving in a country with English as a dominate language is learning new slang. In South Africa, English is mixed with indigenous languages. In the Soapies (soap operas) here, people will speak 7 languages in one conversation! Just as Spanglish is a prevalent combination where I am from, in KZN professionals interact flawlessly in Englulu, They use Zulu and when there is phrase not covered by the Bantu languages, they glide into an English phrase. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with South African creativity but seldom boring . Here are a few of noteworthy phases…in South African Style that may sound cool (or lekker) with a bit of my illustrious commentary when semi-relevant!

In America, we say vacation.
South Africans have holidays.

Yebo those national days off are called holidays also, but South Africans simplify the process by giving them one term.

In America we say Barbeque, but in South Africa (Afrikaans) it is a Braai.

Braais are not just the style of cooking but a full out social event. From what I can tell there are not barbeque wars here in South Africa like there are in…most meat friendly American States (Carolina BBQ forever!…Sorry).

In America we ask for a Band-Aid,
but in South Africa they are Plasters.

Not plasters like the paper mache materials (although those are also common place in first aid kits), but a less childish way to ask for the sticky bandage to place over basic cuts.

In America we sometimes go to town,
but in South Africa(specifically in KZN) we go to drop-in.

This is probably the most creative of all the phrases. Town in isiZulu is edolobeni, but rearrange the letters and add an English context and you get drop-in. Here in Schnizeland, since there are 3 possible towns with direct taxi routes, we say the town name after drop-in. However in Site 1.0, everyone called Shopping Town 1.0 drop-in. It took me 5 months to learn that “drop in” was a specific destination and just a general visit!

KZN vs. K.Z.N.
After living 7 months in beautiful KwaZulu-Natal, I cannot say K.Z.N., KZN (K, Zet, N) just sounds right.

In America if someone thanks you in English, the response is You’re Welcome,
But in South Africa the response is pleasure.

I actually like the South African approach better, no contractions to misspell and I am welcome to pester you again? Pleasure makes me the requester feel a little bit less bad about asking for services, hey you enjoyed helping me, it was a pleasure!

When someone is having a hard time in America, we say that they struggle.
But in South Africa they are really battling right now.

I am not a fan of “war analogies” especially in the context of health, but while I will stick to struggling, people talk about others who are battling with sincere compassion.

Awesome is a go to praise phrase
but in South Africa we go to Sharp (accompanied with a thumbs up)!

In America we search for passion fruits
but in South Africa the grenadillas are in abundance in the supermarkets

side note, grenadillas mean little pomegranates in Spanish.

In America, eggplants make a delightful Parmesan dish
but in South Africa, Indians utilize brinjals for their cuisine.

In the United States we use traffic lights in give directions
but in South Africa they will tell you to turn past the robot.

When you enter an American clinic, you ask for a nurse
But in South Africa when you want something done you ask for the sister in charge.

There are Catholic medical facilities in South Africa, but sister is used regardless of religious identity across all clinics.

In America we try to have enough gas in the tank,
But in South Africa, taxi drivers frequently take a detour for petrol.

A favorite snack in America is a cookie
But in South Africa if you want to find Oreos, you ask where the biscuits are.

Finally South Africa is the land of awesome onomatopoeia, Eish and Shosholoza (which sounds like a steam engine powered train.

Autism & the Peace Corps (Edition: 8 Months)

The swing set at my former where I would gently rock back and forth when I needed a break...or an excuse to escape the frigid office!

The swing set at my former where I would gently rock back and forth when I needed a break…or an excuse to escape the frigid office!

After a whopping 8 months in service, I have accumulated enough data…err experience to share a preliminary perspective of service as an autistic PCV. I am sure that this perspective will evolve as service continues, but here is a start, because I have heard of way too many people scared to share their mental health experience. There is a myth about health needs being a liability that scares people into not disclosing their health histories, which is not only untrue but also potentially dangerous.

In case anyone has not received the memo, I am an autistic navigating life with chronic anxiety. Despite my inability to fit most “autism sterotypes” the diagnosis still stands (18 years ago this week actually) and I am aspiring for a career in global health. Currently I am putting this interest to the test as a health extension volunteer in Peace Corps South Africa’s Community HIV Outreach Program (CHOP).

Despite an arduous start to service, my passion for global health has remained. I am open about autism within the PC community but keep that label private at site. Maybe that will change as service evolves but most South African communities are not ready for a discussion on specific mental health labels when the local clinic is struggling to get ARVs to clients.

Autism is not a life experience often shared out in the open, but it is not something I can hide. It is a good thing I have almost two decades of experimentation with coping mechanisms and refined confidence with the label, because my cohort is dominated by professions and family members of autistics who have infallible autistic radar! Recently I found out that a few days before I disclosed to the cohort, the Social Worker leaned over to the School Counselor and posed the question: Did my subtle rocking and lack of eye contact meant I was on the spectrum? Bingo!

I define autism as the way my brain works and a general oversensitivity to certain triggers. Does autism impact my service? Yes. Yet, autism is more of a positive influence because is what makes me a good CHOP PCV and able to support people living with HIV (PLWHIV). I cannot say what it is like to live with a life threatening condition but the frustrations intertwined with stigma are a reality for me also. Also, having my behavior critiqued since the age of 5 via therapy sessions provides me with the ability to graciously accept social feedback, one of the few clear indicators available for personal growth in cross-cultural settings. Factor in this awareness with a general fixation on other cultures and autism fits into this obscure puzzle of South African life/Peace Corps experience. Usually I am happy to be here in South Africa, where direct eye contact is not an obsession (and an abundance of decaffeinated rooibos tea) is a mini-vacation in itself! However in an agitated mood, my realist perspective of life tends to shift into unfiltered negativity. I am pain at times to interact with, but always capable of doing my job and doing it well (in my biased perspective)!

Like anyone with a chronic health condition, I may thrive but still struggle. I am extremely lucky that my friends in the cohort came in with awareness of the autism spectrum, and they let me vent while cracking awkward jokes at the expense of my behavior (my main coping mechanism). Their kindness eases my agitation more than any self-initiated coping mechanism could. My hope is that with more exposure to medical needs as a form of diversity, more PCVs and staff will choose to see those experiences as assets. This has been my experience with the supportive PCSA staff, and I am optimistic that progress will continue to be made. Simultaneously, I am cognizant that there are many people with medical needs (let alone autism) who do not get opportunities to be successful in their communities. I am not more valuable than the autistic loved ones of my cohort members back home and they deserve the same belief in their potentials.

At this time, I am the only woman PCV who is openly autistic during service I am aware of (this service is definitely in part for the autistic girls). I am aware of two men who completed service with autism spectrum. Hopefully someone will call me out on my arrogance and send me a blog, e-mail, or news article proving me wrong as it is a lonely road out here. I could have a stellar service, but still need to shatter a hidden glass ceiling in the global health field because my experience will not curb the doubts over my abilities If more people live out loud with their identities, then we can break this “liability” nonsense. Health needs are a form of diversity and should be respected as such.

In the meantime, I have an incredible opportunity as a PCV on the autism spectrum and will continue to use these experiences to my advantage.

Peace Corps is not Relative

Dear PC Community (and other open minded individuals),

Hey wait my community does fit the mud hut stereotype...who are you callin' Posh Corps?!

Hey wait my community does fit the mud hut stereotype…who are you callin’ Posh Corps?!

I do not like the term “Posh Corps”. I know there is a documentary based on my country’s program by that name and rhetoric is an annoying concept to take on but hear me out. I actually have had issues with the term for a while now but after spending 6 months in a country associated with the term. Also a quick disclaimer, I am in no ways trying to invalidate anyone’s PC service. All I am trying to open the conversation and hopefully broader perceptions about PC in general.

“Posh Corps” for those unfamiliar with the term is what is used to define PC host countries with more American-like amenities (I cringe to type that but that is the concept) like electricity, internet, and running water and easily understood English. I cannot lie, there are countries that PC serves where those utilities are precious commodities. South Africa has readily available utilities…to an extent (more later). The other half of “Posh Corps” is it describes PCV experiences that deviate from the established perception of mud huts and extreme heat.

In case anyone wants to establish South Africa as easier country, come here out to rural KZN before you make assumptions. I do not want to add to the illogical “what country is hardest to serve in” argument. I hope no one walks into Peace Corps expecting an easy ride…because they would be disappointed. Every country has its challenges including South Africa and depending on the area you are placed in, the experience could be very different. I have tried to illustrate this with my site visit recaps to the Social Worker’s Township and Msinga. I worry about lighting triggered wildfires in this drought, and in Msinga they avoid unfiltered tap water due to cholera scares. Some SA PCVs who live above the Tropic of Capricorn or the Pocket between Swaziland and Mozambique do complete their two years in a mud hut braving extreme heat. That will not be me.

The challenge in South Africa is the extreme dichotomy between American like services and low resource areas (where I call home in SA). Take Saturday for example, I was out of food and met the Social Worker in Shopping Town. We met up at our usual spot and had a conversation about this very topic. She also has several RCPV friends through graduate school and was contemplating telling her friend who served in Burkina Faso why Posh Corps is a misnomer. The example she used was our present situation. She and I were sitting in a restaurant with hot drinks and burgers. We had a flushing toilet and were listening to American music. Yet both of us had to return to our respective communities to no indoor plumbing and our neighbors could not afford a taxi ride to shopping town, let alone a burger. That is the frustrating part about South Africa, it has all the natural and human resources to take care for a population but then historical circumstances derailed progress for most of the 20th century. You have to meet South Africans where they are at, and most days is personal prejudice 101.

There is more to South Africa then apartheid’s legacy but it is an everyday part of my life as a health extension volunteer. I am constantly thinking about how my words and actions could perpetuate internalized oppression because I am white. Even though I try to be sensitive (and use my past lessons learned as an anti-bias conversation facilitator at my alma mater) my race still impacts the people around me, I cannot win. To mention one of many example, I try to get the front seat of a taxi because it has a seat belt when possible (and because I actually use the seat belt). Doing so I risk inducing white privilege.

Yet my seat belt debacle is minor when you hear my friends that serve near Pretty City  who are very articulate about what it is like to serve as African American women or in South African race terms black women in a post-apartheid society. I do not want to violate their privacy and will just say that it is no cakewalk. While in Pretoria I met a couple who were closing their service. Pretoria is a regional medical hub and you have the chance to meet a lot of medically evacuated PCVs. This couple noticed that other countries in the Africa region did not understand how permeated race is in South African culture.

Also as I keep trying to illustrate to people, having electricity is not the same as having reliable access. Right now the country cannot keep up with the electricity demand. There is this phenomena called lowshedding, where without warning (sans maybe a radio message if we are lucky) the power is cut…for a few hours entire communities go without power. No area in South Africa is immune to this, but some areas experience it more than others. My friend who completes team Pretty City PCV(and also religious) prays that lowshedding happens at 8-10 PM, because by that time we are in bed. I have to plan my dinner, interactions with my host family, and boiling water for the hot water bottle before the power is cut. I cross my fingers to see that the hot water bottle will last 12 hours as getting up at 3 AM because the water bottle is lukewarm…not fun whatsoever. There is a different pain you feel living with an electricity situation that is near impossible to fully adapt to, and realizing your community will not have electricity for two years.

South Africa is only one country that is classified under posh corps. I am sure the other PCVs from those countries could type similar rants. The reason why I am raising the issue is because posh corps, once a harmless joke, is now being used to make assumptions about the PCVs that serve in these countries. The jury is out if I could have survived in an area with electricity for two years (it would have made blogging difficult), and someday if the curiosity is still present, maybe I will try to have that experience. However DC makes the placement decisions based on how the agency feels comfortable and I am grateful that I can call myself a PCV in any country but South Africa provided the opportunity. With that said, staying in tribal authority at the foothills of the Drakensburg requires a certain type of fortitude. Scrap that, anyone who commits to 2 years abroad in one of the most vulnerable experiences an American can be in demonstrates fortitude, regardless of how the situation turns out.

It is possible to quit the Peace Corps or in agency lingo “early termination of ETing”. It is a temping prospect; if I become where I am miserable to the point that I cannot learn anymore, Peace Corps can fly me home in a couple days. I am comforted to know there are options if there was an unforeseeable emergency and I need to go back home. Every PCV has their own values and motivation, but in my case ETing would be a last ditch resort. However on rough days where I wonder “I cannot live 2 years like this”, I have contemplated the option…but I could not pick up the phone and call Pretoria. I have worked too hard for this and currently this is a better learning environment for me than the states. However that is me, and other people walk into Peace Corps realizing that it not a good fit. Being able to care enough about your well-being to advocate for yourself in a very difficult manner is courageous.

When I return to the states, I want to take pride in my experience and hopefully connect with other returned RPCVs. I do not need to prove my experience to anyone, but I hope that other PCVs can appreciate my service as well. After all all PCVs are fortunate enough to learn from an international community for 2 years, few programs offer that opportunity. But please stop with the country Olympics…we all struggle. Let’s move towards a world where all people who get on the plane for PST are respected, regardless of how long they are in the country. If you know a RPCV or someone who tried Peace Corps, take some time to thank them and ask about their experience. We do not do this for a recognition, but it is nice when we receive a sincere acknowledgement of our experience. I do not need a thank you but please give me chances to keep talking about South Africa after 2017 (life willing).I anticipate missing this country.

I will close with one of my favorite TED talks that I kept thinking of while typing this.

Hard is not relative, hard is hard.- Ash Beckham

Peace Corps is not relative, Peace Corps is Peace Corps.

Thanks for hearing me vent.

All the best,
Katey-Red

Ubuntu: The Baby on the Bus edition

Still chugging along with my Community Needs Assessment but wanted to share a positive example of humanity. I am open about my mental health needs and a proud mountain girl (definitely not complaining about living in the ‘Berg for PC). Some of my college classmates are participating in an awesome project starting June 8th. They plan to summit all of Colorado’s 14ners (14,000 ft, peaks) this summer to raise awareness about mental health. This is not an easy journey at all as there are 53 summits and some of the mountains are notoriously vicious. Then again it is fitting as life with mental health needs is unpredictable. Some days are very stormy and other days consist of clear skies of optimism. I plan to follow the team (which includes the illustrious Aaron McDowell who kept our Village Aid Project Teams together) on their 10 week journey and encourage my communities (readers sounds too pretentious) to do the same at:

http://cotdexpedition.wix.com/cotd#!the-project/chgb

or
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Climb-Out-of-the-Darkness-Expedition/382881848534894

Thank y’all from a current PCV who wants more mental needs accommodated in the world! Wishing y’all good luck and safe conditions. Please enjoy hiking season for me!

isiZulu: intwana

isiNgisi: baby human (could also work for animals but let’s not go into noun class conjugation right now)

Meaning: what likes to cry (ukukhala) on long bus trips

This past week I have been in Pretoria. Pretoria is one of South Africa’s 3 capitals…because South Africa likes to be epic: Cape Town hosts Parliament, Bloemfontein has the Supreme Court of Appeals, Pretoria is home to the President, and if we want to be technical Johannesburg is the location of the Constitutional Supreme Court. In my case, Pretoria is the location of the country office and where I go when PCSA business arises. Getting to Pretoria is a bit of a progress from my area as I am trying to find alternative routes in the nearest city (Ladysmith). Racing after Citiliner buses at remote gas stations of the N3, is not a fun past time for me. Anyways it is at least a 5 1/2 hour ride from my stop to Pretoria (usually you transfer to another Citliner at Jozi’s (Johannesburg) Park Station and then brave the N1 traffic.

This particular Monday the Durban-Jozi bus was full and late (I waited 30 minutes for the bus at the gas station). I was diagonal from a baby girl who was quiet for most of the trip. Around 4:30 PM somewhere in the middle of the Free State, the child starts to scream. She finally had it and I do not blame her. 5 hours on a constantly moving vehicle and additional stimulation would make any infant have a meltdown. Unfortunately the young mother was not able to soothe her child. This is the part when the mob of angry passengers tries to stuff Benadryl in the mother’s hands right?

Nope. This is a bus in South Africa. First the passenger who got on in Ladysmith next to the mother and infant calm wakes up from her nap, picks the child up and stands the aisle for 10 minutes. At the same time a man in the front tries to offer his water bottle and then entertains the child. When the little girl made eye contact with a passenger, they would try to wave or interact with her (ironic because South African cultures tend not to be renowned for direct eye contact). As for the funny American, I tried to sing Shosholoza off key and made obscure faces which worked for 10 minutes for my tough audience. As the man next to me said, “You would have to keep making funny faces to Jo-berg.” I was waiting for someone to get annoyed and increase the volume (if you catch my drift). However no one lost their temper and eventually the girl soothed herself. The African (sorry do not know the specific culture) proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”, as opposed to the American mentality “Your child is your responsibility” applied to this situation.

The math teacher (what I call my American/biological mother…I have 3 moms to keep track of now) recently told me that being a parent made her less judgmental. Maybe it was the autistic child, but she now views meltdowns as the child losing their ability to cope and the parent is doing the best they can.

This edition of Ubuntu: You have your kids and I have mine. Screaming happens.