The Policeman and the Provocative Question

Blog-Challenge-2016

This Entry’s Theme of the Blogging Abroad Boot Camp Challenge: crazy moments (aka 90% of this blog’s content). Just for clarification, the amaZulu and Republic of South Africa are not the crazy parties. I am the crazy one, bumbling around rural KZN to the lighthearted amusement of my communities. South Africa is never boring and it always keeps me on my toes. Every day there is at least one cultural curveball from the Rainbow Nation. These moments come in many forms including conversations where English is a second language for one of the participants, which was the case last Monday…

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Washing day for the cars of Schnitzeland’s SAPS (South African Police Force) office. You can see the distinctive trapezoidal shape of SAPS cars.

Here in Amajuba, a policeman visits my house once a week. It is actually a spontaneous arrangement I am happy with, as at site 1.0 the police did not know I was in the area until our Safety and Security Manager visited due to a sudden escalation of violence in the area. If another PCV supports this organization, I will certainly have a discussion about boundaries and how they with differ with each person. For now, Sargent is very respectful and never enters the house. He always stops by in the early evening on his way home so I can anticipate the brief visit which usually consists of exchanging greetings and I confirming there are no concerns.

Last Monday, our conversation was a bit longer than usual as he indicated there were problems at the schools with feminine hygiene products being stuffed down the toilet. I offered to join him on visit to the schools and see what was going on (because if a policeman lectured me about my menstrual behaviors at age 13 it would have intensified my existing embarrassment). Puberty was not that long ago for me and sensitivity to the mater could move towards a solution with minimal hurt feelings. Anyways he was open to the idea and while plans were made to stay in contact(will keep y’all posted if anything comes out this…I am still trying to understand why the police monitors the female toilets) we joined my host family’s spirited conversation under the rondavel’s shade. 5 minutes goes by and the isiZulu translation part of my brain reached daily capacity. So I zoned out, until Sargent asks me a question that I did not anticipate.

“Simphiwe, do you have AIDS?”

Now there were 3 thoughts that flashed through my mind..

1.) That was a very forward question in a valley where stigma is so prevalent that patients will not openly declare they ae picking up ARV (antiretrovirals) prescriptions, at the local clinic. They will say “pansi/down” gesturing to the HIV ward but never describe the amaphilisi/pills with “HIV” or “ARVs.” Also, World AIDS Day 2015 in Schnitzeland did not feature a single speaker who talked about being HIV positive.

Then the more irrational 2.) Crap. They know about autism (which I keep private at site…post explaining why is coming within the month) and have extrapolated my life experience to the prominent life-threating condition that also starts with the letter “A.” Great.

Finally 3.) Eish, South Africa. How do I respond to this without adding to stigma? I have every reason to believe that I remain HIV negative, but taking the literal interpretation of the question and firmly responding “No” could indicate that HIV is something I consider shameful. Not the accurate let alone productive message I want to portray in the community.

Once I remember that no one could find out about my identity as an autistic as the internet capabilities are limited in my area (let alone I have not divulged any hints), I use my 1-year-in-country knowledge to determine that no one would openly diagnose a community member in South Africa outside of a clinical setting (and Sargent is not a sister/nurse at the clinic). He meant to ask something else and I calmly ask him to please clarify.

“Do you have American Money for HIV/AIDS?”

Turns out a creshe serving orphans and vulnerable children just lost funding and Sargent wanted to know if there were American based options. Still not a fun conversation to have  but a dramatically different request. I tried to explain the confusing situation through a 1 minute summary with basic English. In a sentence, there is limited HIV related funding available in South Africa and organizations in Amajuba do not currently qualify for assistance because we have one of the lowest HIV prevalence rates in the province. Sargent apparently understood, as he responded by saying we should write a letter to Obama. Eish, if only international aid was that simple.

Another day in South Africa with another Eish inducing moment. Life is never boring in the Rainbow Nation.

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Life Administration: How I Cope in Taxis

When I filled out my health history form, I knew that transport would be an agitating trigger as an autistic. Almost a year and a half after declaring this, I realize that I was right. Navigating the logistics of South African transport can be anxiety inducing, but there are methods for reducing the anxiety. By monitoring finances (so they cover the taxi fees), being prepared to move once you reach the destination, and being cognizant of sensory triggers, it is possible to have successes in taxi transport…meltdown free!

First the ability to move around South Africa via minibus is dependent on your ability to cover fees….which involves a whole other set of logistics. The taxi fee from site 1.0 to shopping town 1.0 was 21 rand exactly. My current taxi fees are 16 rand to Duke City (with the last 2 rand paid at a certain point), 14 rand to Scotland, and 8 rand to Schnitzeland. I try give exact change for local destination, as there is always a local passenger who will give a 100 or 200 rand bill which stresses the driver out. If I am desperate, I will ask them to break a 50 rand.

Now, PCSA’s bank of choice does not have a branch in the closest town (Schnitzeland…technically there is a perpetually broken ATM at one of the hardware stores) and at site 1.0 the closest ATM was at least an hour away. The way I manage this is that I pull out a couple hundred rand and purchase food as need at the local grocery store (at site 1.0 I did this at the tuck shops). While I am in town, I will treat myself to lunch just to break the cash for the ride home (Chicken Licken was my unfortunate choice at shopping town 1.0). Also if at all possible have extra cash on hand for public restrooms (Petrol station stops usually let you use the restroom for free but at many malls it is a 2 rand fee) and food stops for long distance trips.  Finally, taxi associations raise prices with short notice quite frequently and it is best not to be caught off guard. Listen to your host family and friends in the community about potential changes. PCSA is great about sharing safe issues but host family 1.0 knew about the taxi strikes in Pretty City the hour it started.

Also along the lines of taxi strikes, there is a lot in South African transport that you cannot control. However if you are prepared to adapt to changes in the unpredictable schedule, the changes will not shake you up too much. Take my last trip to Msinga, after Cluster 1.0’s retreat the plan was to take a taxi to Durban and stay with my PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader the 3rd year who signed up to maintain SA 31’s sanity and does a beautiful job with it) in Durban and then go up North Coast and visit the Gogo at her site. The day before I was about to leave both Msinga and Durban had nasty taxi wars, and I had to change my route by going back to Shopping Town 1.0 and taking the Empangeni taxi. I got to the Gogo’s site right at dusk (and just in time for dinner), and minimized my anxiety levels. Also, long distance taxi’s leave when it gets full, or at minimum noon. So if you are trying to take a local taxi to Johannesburg in the winter and need to go to Pretoria for PC business, be prepared to transfer to the Gautrain and navigate Pretoria at night.

The other aspect of being prepared is being ready to move when the minibus arrives at the destination. I practice staying “please drop me off at…” in isiZulu before I get on the taxi. Crime is higher in the big cities especially in the taxi ranks, and right when a taxi enters city limits I zip my bags up, hide money, and make a plan. If I meeting another PCV, I message them to establish a location before I get on the taxi (since cell service can be spotty) and try to make contact before I disembark so my phone is not temping criminals. If I am alone, I try to coordinate a local taxi, place to stay overnight (and have the address handy for the taxi driver), or locate a safe place to make a call. When I went to Maritzburg for the database training, I did not know which one of the taxi ranks to disembark at but most passengers got off to the rank next to a petrol station. I walked into the petrol station, explained my situation and the attendants got out a phone book while pointing out the reliable private taxi company for Maritzburg. A taxi came 10 minutes after I called and for 50 rand they got me to the hotel safe.

I have not had the chance to travel internationally as a PCV, but from my exchange student days being organized before reaching a border crossing always pays off.  I always have black pen (pens disappear at border crossings like leaves in the late fall and the South African government has a weird aversion to blue ink) and a potential address and contact information (hotel, friend, company etc.) ready, as long as you write something most border officials will accept the form. It should go without saying but always obtain the correct visa requirements before entering the country (All of South Africa’s neighbors have some form of Bureaucracy in their government but especially be mindful of Mozambique, it has the most requests for tourist visas and it MUST be obtained before you reach the border) and make sure you are able to renter South Africa (breaking the rule can throw you in perpetual gridlock with the South African government).  On that note, before leaving the border crossing I stow away my passport and any tickets (if on an international bus…because my Botswana-mates do not let me forget the time I left the return tickets at the South Africa border and getting the replacements nearly caused me to miss the bus back to Bots) so they are not snatched. Losing a passport is a pain everywhere, but replacing a South African visa is extremely difficult.

Finally in terms of being the most comfortable as possible on taxis (and minimizing sensory overstimulation) takes a bit of trial and error to figure out what the triggers are. The main two are harassment and heat. If there are intoxicated men on the bus, I have to navigate unwanted attention. To keep a low profile, I choose to wear a knee length skirt (sometimes capri pants…depends how hot it is) and a modest top for the ride. Also I try to bring activities to keep me distracted like crossword puzzles or my Mp3 player, and most of the time people do not bother me for long when they see me occupied.

As for heat, I get carsick and more agitated when it is hot in the taxi. The first line of defense is ing the taxi during holidays, first and last weeked  of the months when government gants are realeased.

Because this was Duke City’s taxi rank on Christmas Eve,

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Introvert’s nightmare. Enough said.

Second is taking only what I need for long trips because more stuff adds to body heat (and taxis do not leave if they are full). If it is a taller taxi (I will explain taxi types another time) then there will be head space, but small minibuses are crammed. If I can, I try to get the front window seat on the right side, because I can control the window and there is a bit of leg space. However since the sun could be on my side of the bus, wear a hat, sunscreen, light and sunglasses to keep cool. If there are Cool Times (Popsicles in a plastic bubble availible in the local tax ranks) I buy one for 2-3 rand and place it at the back of my neck with wipes handy because sticky fingers can quickly exacerbate my agitation levels. Finally the last life hacks I have is staying as hydrated as possible (hard when the bathroom access is unpredictable), balancing salt and sugar intake, and having mint gum on hand (sold at all South African stores). It is a quick way to relieve car induced nausea and when swallowed serves as a laxative in a pinch (if that is TMI…well traveling in low resource areas is the epitome of TMI, you get used to it if you love this lifestyle).

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This concludes the end of the Life Administration Series. Thanks for reading this experiment!  I may elaborate on certain areas  (like minibus types and layout…I ran out of time to elaborate) but if anyone wants more information, comment on the blog (I monitor all comments but see the emails, and if you indicate this is a private message I will delete the comment but email you personally.

All the best,

Katey

One last money side note for SA bound PCTs: As I have documented on here, I have had several unexpected stays in Pretoria for PC related issues which requires bus tickets and hostel stays. I try to budget 3000 Rand in the account at all times, in the event of an emergency/unexpected and only dip into those resources when the situation arises. Also, PC reimburses all expenses related to official business and since I am horrible at remembering numbers I write down taxi fees(and hostel bills if applicable) immediately after paying them in in writing and in draft e-mail on my phone (in case I lose the paper) so they are ready for the travel reimbursement forms.

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).

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.

Independence is Overrated

This July 4th, I am proud to be from a county where we are starting to “check ourselves”…just as PCVs do in cross cultural interactions. The debate on confederate flags needed to happen a long time ago and it warms my heart to know that progress is being made, albeit after horrendous circumstances. My North Carolinan family resides in a state that is naturally beautiful with delicious food. There are way more things to take pride in that our less than amiable history. It is impossible to forget racial injustice in the United States regardless of flags. It is easier to have the conversation about race when certain flags are out of vision (no South African Province flies the Transvaal flag from my knowledge).

Also, I have renewed faith in humanity because the Supreme Court rights injustice even though there is opposition. It takes courage to ensure that due process actually is enforced in the states. I read the decision and disagree with the dissenting opinion that this will end the debate, but maybe we discuss other concerns beyond marriage which we kept getting stuck on. As a young asexual who in turn technically identifies as LBGTQ+, I welcome the new opportunity to discuss how my country views sexuality, gender, and parenthood in general. This ruling directly impacts several loved ones in a positive manner. There will be disagreement within my family members and PCV cohort on this news. While this saddens me, I respect all opinions. I will always remember sitting in my South African bed room at night after a rough week when my mother shared this news during our phone call. I shrieked for joy…because that is how mature twenty somethings react to hopeful news like we are back in High School.

There is miles to go before we sleep but I am thrilled that progress is being made!

Inspired by a fellow PCV in Macedonia, in case anyone wanted to know how to say “Love Wins” in isiZulu here is my attempt.

Uthando lunqoba!(remember the “q” is a palate click… Uthando Luwina also works!)

July is here and as I try to keep warm while Drakensburg unleashes its cold fury, America is gearing up for the 4th. I am in an interesting predicament as a semi-part of the US Government serving in amaZulu tribal authority. Until recently I did not think about paring red and blue together for outfits, but then I started graduate school…Bear Down y’all! Usually I acknowledge the day by blasting “Born in the USA” or “American Girl” (any other 80’s rock fans here) while being wary of extreme nationalism and managing over stimulation (fireworks are not my friends). These days I am not concerned about firework-triggered wildfires, but more about how America views independence.

I did not realize how much I valued independence until I moved to South Africa. As an autistic independence or living away from parents is the ultimate goal in the US. I defined myself as a resilient person because no matter what agitation life threw at me I was always able to maintain some sense of independence. Even though people have been too kind in calling me altruistic, the fact is that I have always lived for myself. I always have my own needs to manage and agitation to direct away from others. One of my many (thankfully there was more than one) reasons for doing Peace Corps was to continue testing my independence, even though you relinquish a bit of your independence.

Do not expect to walk into Peace Corps anticipating you will learn how to live on your own. You may get my unique situation where one of your roommates is a 7 month old and your assignment is to work with a group oriented culture for 2 years. In my case, it is providing an invaluable learning experience.

Okay, yes Peace Corps is very much self-directed. It is on me to show up to work, obtain groceries, and if I was not motivated to do the Community Needs Assessment it would not have gotten done. However my direction is impacted by a major road sign: amaZulu culture. I live in amaZulu tribal authority where it is all about relationships. I recently got a powerful reality check of how my attempts to survive impact the rest of the community.

I will explain in another post but my site transition has been extremely difficult due to unique circumstances. Last month, things escalated to the point where my supervisor and Peace Corps staff had to use their scheduled site visit time to mediate with the host family. Everything is fine now, but during this mediation I got some really valuable feedback. If a child walks into a Zulu household, even if they are not biologically related they can expect to be fed. In the context of this situation, I used to take the hot water made for the entire house each morning for bathing. Around the middle of May I noticed that it would stress my host sister out when I would try to refill the kettle after I took the water (the way I was raised is that you leave something they way you found it). I decided to start making my own hot water in the morning (to bathe). I felt so proud of myself, thinking that I solved mine and the family’s problem…until recently. Turns out not taking the water is not being a part of the family.

I am a part of this family (albeit not in a biological sense) and introduce myself with a Zulu surname. This means using the family’s filled to the brim fridge and using the communal hot water in an area where water is scarce. We share laundry lines and food (this afternoon Mama gave me a slice of steam bread just for visiting). I am far from independent in South Africa. Without my family, I could not survive this new environment.

With this realization, I am now starting to combat the belief that if I am not independent then I failed. This week I heard some sad news about my friend back home. We were diagnosed with autism around the same time, have supportive families, graduated from high school together, and she is 2 days older than me. Recently she had a medical set back which means she will be under her parents’ roof longer. I always believed that she was capable of living independently, so to process the situation I enlisted the help of my friend who serves as a PCV in Pretty City. Before she started PC she was a special education teacher, and with that perspective shared some wise words: Independence is fluid.

What may seem obvious to some was mind-blowing to me. Independence, this hardline concept that my country embraces, is actually a diverse experience. It is not as simple as having financial stability, being able to use a toilet, getting out of the house or getting dressed. Independence does ebb and flow. There are periods of life when things are going well and then challenges arise and there is no other option but to lean on others for support. My close friends in SA 31 have reached out to me for support and in return listened to my vents. Our communities are wonderful, but it makes you feel better talking to another American who understands how aggravating lowshedding really is. I do not know how we could maintain our perspective in an extreme experience without it.

The concept is much more blurry in amaZulu culture because everyone supports one another. My cousin also has a 7 month infant (November 2014 was eventful for the family) and at 22 she is trying to finish metric. Every school day she gets up and gets her daughter ready for the day. On the way to school she drops her daughter off with a relative who watches the child for the day. I have not heard of “day care” in my deep rural areas because there has not been a need. Gogos will take care of their grandchildren so their children can help with the house. There could be mixed interpretations of how this impacts South Africa’s social issues, but if you saw the unconditional love my host mom has for my host nephew and second cousin….I would say this emphasis on family is a positive.

As we approach July 4th, I realize that my new found experience with independence probably clashes with holiday values. However I want to ask how this cultural perception is serving us? Even if medical and mental needs means that someone requires constant care is valuable to the world. They are not failures because they are not able to obtain traditional experience. The same friend I mentioned earlier also entered a relationship and learned how to drive before me. There are areas some social cues humans grasp quicker than other humans and vice versa.

My PCV status does not necessarily mean I am more independent or less (although in a good way it is looking like the later). Even as a PCV, my independence is limited by my agency’s rules and also my community. It is a bizarre paradox to articulate outside the PCV community but my wonderful country director says that in order to have this experience of living in another culture alone, they clip your wings a bit. On the community side my wise classmate once said, a RPCV who served in Paraguay, “you can only do what your community will let you accomplish.”

Sort of along the same lines, it was a group effort to create the Declaration of Independence right? I think the founding fathers realized that the world would move to a global economy, where isolationism would eventually cause problems. Even more of a reason to learn about other cultures and how to best support them on their terms.

Independence is a balance: too much or little can cause problems. However at least now I am to see independence in a more complex manner….and starting to see how it can help or hurt me as a PCV.

There are somethings the AmaZulu excel at. Fluid independence is one of them.

Off to listen to Neil Diamond “They’re coming to America…TODAY.” Enjoy the holiday and celebrate America’s diversity stateside for me!

All the best,
Katey-Red

Piesangbrood with a side of Protein

Originally written on February 17, 2015

I love to bake and luckily my family-in-the-bush has an oven. Last week my host mom bought bananas and asked me to make Banana Bread. The only recipe book available was in Afrikaans. Like English, Afrikaans has Germanic language roots so I was able to decipher the ingredients, and relied on previous quick bread baking experience for the rest. We were out of flour but Mam has voiced concerns about our mealie (SA version of cornmeal) surplus, and I decided to attempt a South African Mealie-Banana Bread or in Afrikaans Piesangbrood (with way less margarine and sugar than the recipe originally called for). When I poured the sugar, dead bugs were mixed in with the crystals. Like my Mam, I do not like wasting food so I decided to pick the 5 bugs out of the sugar.

Afrikaans...you can sort of see the Germanic/English influence

Afrikaans…you can sort of see the Germanic/English influence

It took 10 minutes but I accomplished the task and started to measure the Mealie. There was much more Mealie than bugs but I lost count of how many dead insects were in the cup. The organisms were dead, there was no fecal matter present, and they probably would incinerate in the oven heat. I decided to take my chances and came out with a delicious Banana-mealie bread that both my family and the trainees enjoyed. Plus, the cooking adventure made a great weekend story for isiZulu class!

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The delicious product...with no additional bug flavor!

The delicious product…with no additional bug flavor!

For some places in rural South Africa, it can be a minimum two hour taxi ride to obtain a basic grocery item like sugar. In America, I would be the first to throw out a case of sugar with bugs in it. Here, I cannot afford to be wasteful and learned that it was still a bag of sugar with extra protein. It made me wonder how much food Americans waste every year.