Thursday, April 7, 2011

I look like a Peace Corps Volunteer

I definitely look like a Peace Corps Volunteer lately. Dirty clothes, ragged, droopy eyes, bandana, cargo pants, chacos and giant backpacking bag filled with clean underwear and nothing else. Yes. This is the life.
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I had a dream last night where I went to some canyons in a bright red boxy jeep and drove to the top of the highest cliff. Right at the top, the surface was so small that the driver and I couldn't see where we were going. One tap on the gas pedal and we inched forward right off the cliff. We fell and fell and fell, all the while I was too afraid to open my eyes. I tried to convince myself to open my eyes, at least to enjoy this plummet cause the view must be spectacular, but I couldn't. All I kept thinking about was, how much is this going to hurt? Is there any possibility that I could be saved? Is there anything I can do to save myself? lessen the pain? induce a heart attack before my body was crushed on impact? Would I end up lying awake on the ground in pain and for how long would I have to endure it before death would take over? And then... at least I'll be able to determine the great mystery of what comes after life. The lady in the car with me, an American missionary in Botswana, took my hands in her own and started praying. Her hands were warm and dry and she kept saying, "God, give us trust."

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Was it strange going to the CKGR so soon after my first trip? No, in fact, in that respect, it was probably one of the best decisions I've made here so far. Was it difficult? Yes. I don't realize how taxing the trip is on me, physically, until I come home and ate all the junk food I have in my house. We had a full crew this time around, 8 people in total. Drivers, Mechanics, Social Worker, Lorry Attendants, and Peace Corps Volunteer. I sat on the middle seat, which is nothing more than a piece of plastic over a sheet of foam on top of the overheated engine. We drove around 10 hours a day, which meant, by day 4 I was nothing but a quivering, sweaty mess of a person with a very sore buttbone.

Entry written on my ipod 4/3/2011
I smell like a mix of mildew, berry soap, and poo. It's night 2 of ckgr trip "the return." as I write this, nearly 50 kids are outside my very thin tent, waiting for their dinner to finish cooking over the fire. It's 8:30 pm and I am lying in bed. I would like to find a comfortable excuse to go outside and mingle, but unfortunately it's Setswana hour at camp CKGR and my attempts to socialize remain unnoticed. Can't blame them, with my tan and the darker than usual darkness outside, it's hard to notice this particular Lekhoa. I guess I just wish I'd said goodnight before sneaking into my tent for the night. (Photo: kids waiting for their Paleche (porridge) in the morning at Old Xade)

This trip is a pick up trip, we're picking students up for the new term. I've been dreading the trip in some ways. Mostly I was worried that the supposed dread of going back to school would cause the children to be all gloom and doom and ruin my own mood and fragile positivity. The first child we met a Kaudwane refused to be consoled and cried for the better part of an hour while we were getting ready to leave. The next stop, Kukame, yielded less dramatic results, though the general atmosphere was quite sober in comparison to the screaming and singing in the drop off trip. We stopped next at Kikao, where we spent the night only a week ago. This time, we only stayed for lunch, but the same families came out to greet us and have lunch together. By have lunch together, I mean we ate and they watched, father, mother, children, goats, and dogs.
(Photo of children at Metsiamanong, CKGR settlement at nightfall)


I ended up giving away half of my lunch, including an untouched package of grapes :( but I guess it was worth it. I don't think they'd ever had grapes or tuna fish before. The whole lunch hour(s), I couldn't help but feel strange about the whole situation. Coming from a new generation of do good-ers who don't do hand outs, it was strange to feel as though this situation called for it. They didn't beg or ask or whine, they merely accepted with gratefulness not only mine but everyone else's leftovers. I found myself wondering if I was doing the right thing, and brainstorming all the negative potential consequences of my actions. Was I demasculating the father? Encouraging a bad stereotype? Increasing dependence? making them feel inferior? What if one of them had an allergic reaction? Or choked? What if god forbid, I caused a death???! (Photo: my friend Dikgologo (meaning "environment") and her friend in Metsiamonong. She said her mom sent them here so they wouldn't get pregnant. Her friend responds to this with a crumped face and an indignant, "they're just jealous")

In the end I decided this is a situation where no amount of theorizing could produce a right answer. This was one of those times where the right decision could only come from being in the right moment at the right time. I realized that, like many of the other experiences I've had here, I could never prepare myself mentally or anticipate every need because the situation is so new, different, and unexpected. All I can do is make the decision to jump in head first, all in and hope that whatever wits and resources I have around me will be enough to save me when I start flailing.
(Photo of Mma Selena and her kids at Kikao. The very clueless child took this one)

It's strangely exhilarating to be a part of something so foreign when you've deluded yourself into thinking that you've already seen everything this world has to offer. It's even more exhilarating to realize that the only way you were able to experience this new thing was by being in it and not just watching it. This is truly not tourism, though I've certainly passed by my share of tourists during my time here, this is peace corps and all the crazy mysterious and sometimes kooky and humbling situations being a PCV puts you in. (Photo: Kids run amuck in the truck at Old Xade while we're waiting to leave for the morning)

So, peace corps, this point goes to you. Couldn't be here doing this thing no white person has ever done without you. And yes, in this situation, I am white. (Though people in Kikao all thought I was Chinese. If I don't correct ppl, does that mean peace corps and America loses the credit, and therefore I am not doing my job?)

P.S. students are definitely not melancholy anymore. They can't seem to stop talking to each other. It's fascinating watching teenagers flirt after being separated from each others for so long. I guess some behaviors are universal.

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