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Third time’s the charm!

Low and behold, our library is back into renovation/complete mess/looks like Liz’s room mode — but with good reason!

Ben of the David Rattray Foundation recently met with my principal and I to discuss renovating our library, as a thank you for the Books for Africa project. We agreed that DRF would supply new shelving and furniture.  My principal was to add burglar bars to the windows and compromise with the secondary school — to receive five boxes of secondary books from our first project, the grade 12 boys would come and take down this awful metal shelving for us. I was in charge of organising my host mom to make curtains for the windows.

All did and done in about two months!

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We’re in the process of re-labelling all the fiction books (more to come on why we are doing that part of the renovation process again…) Yes, you heard right.  More. Labeling. I’ve got a mean team of staff members and learners who have been helping and making me laugh during the process,  so it ain’t so bad after all! Teamwork makes dreamwork and it goes so much faster with more hands.

Look at the awesome furniture below!  I am so ecstatic I had to post pictures,  and so are the grade 7s who used every positive descriptive adjective they could to describe these wooden beauties. Now that we have the room for the books, we can’t wait to finally,  finally,  finally make this the best it can be.

Three has always been my lucky number. Third time we’ve mixed things up in here. Third time’s the charm,  right?

Thank you DRF! Stay tuned for more presentable and not things-all-the-place-ultimate-chaos pictures.

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Yours in service,

Liz

A month in photos: March 2014

  • New donations
  • American family visit! My dad and step mom stayed around my area for three days and got to meet my family,  staff and learners.  My school threw a welcoming ceremony for them!
  • Game drive with my family in Phinda, KZN (photo credit to Tom Warden)
  • My phone went on a vacation to Cape Town without me (I left it in my dad’s rental car and retrieved it via a Battlefields PCV who was also in Cape Town. ..typical Liz.) So, unfortunately didn’t get any photos from the rest of school vacation on a hike through the bush to the beach up in Manguzi! Bummer.

Life After Peace Corps Plan (LAPC)

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Truth be told, my #1 plan is to hold a sloth.

I started this blog in May 2011, a few weeks after my undergraduate graduation.  I coined the name “Liz in Service” because I thought it sounded cool,  but little did I know how much meaning it would have for the next few years and the rest of my life.  I had drawn out a plan that went from AmeriCorps to Peace Corps,  but didn’t know what would happen after my three year service journey.  Maybe I’d love teaching?  Crawl back to journalism?

None of those ended up happening. However,  Peace Corps, as I wrote in my statement of purpose,  made me well-aware of what I needed to do afterwards: “Although my Peace Corps experience is invaluable and is teaching me more about our humanity and myself than I ever imagined,  a stirring sense of patriotism shook me this past year.  I feel the urgency to return to fighting social issues in urban America.”

It’s hard to explain this revelation — because I know there’s much more development work to do around the world. But working in the South African school system made me so grateful for American education,  regardless of its issues. To say it lightly,  I’m looking forward to experience a public school system that is (for the most part) trying to make reasonable decisions and policies.

Although education is an important social issue to me, I’m not a person who should be teaching — a newfound Peace Corps discovery.  Just because I’m passionate and have a bachelor’s degree in no way means I’ll be a good teacher. Teaching is an art and takes a special kind of person. I’m not that person. My passion leads to quite the contrary — to youth development and “behind the scenes” in education.

I decided to apply for Master of Public Administration/nonprofit management programs with a future goal of creating a nonprofit that specialises in journalism and leadership enrichment in urban areas. USC already does this, and gave me the opportunity to mentor in South Los Angeles. I’d like to make this idea bloom into something more widespread.

Through journalism,  urban youth would learn about local governance,  be inclined to write more,  gain the  confidence to speak up and ask questions,  celebrate the overshadowed good and stand against injustice,  which would build social capital.

I’ll always believe in the power of journalism. I know any kids who were able to report on his/her community would realise where they fit into the grand scheme of things.  I hope this knowledge would eventually inspire them to make change in their communities.

I had the choice of going back to USC or heading to New York City. I thought a lot about going back to doing youth development in Watts, and having a pretty solid understanding of the city, culture and politics. So simple!  But, it’s time to expand my horizons outside of the California bubble.

I accepted my offer at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service today, which was my top choice.  The program aligns with exactly what I want. Not to mention,  I’ve talked to several RPCVs and all had good things to say. (The RPCV network is pretty solid there and I already feel welcomed!)

I’ll be moving to NYC to start part three of the service journey. I’ll always be Liz in Service and will keep writing because I’ll still be chugging along in the public service world, but this time on the administrative side. Although I’m a delusional and idealistic mid-20-year-old,  at least I acknowledge that and know I need to be open-minded and of course improvise.

I’m going to grad school part-time,  so I’ll be looking for jobs in the education nonprofit field. My dream job, of course,  would be at City Year New York (especially because I now have a red bomber).

Give me a few years to come back and read this post and see how the LAPC plan is — if at all — is unfolding.

I’ll be saying goodbye to stipend living soon, but then will greet thousands of dollars of debt.  I’m digging myself into a hole that will be hard to climb out of,  but it’s all worth it to me because it’s for a purpose I strongly believe in.

See you soon, NYC! LA, I’ll always love you for your diversity, food,  sunny days,  culture,  courage, complexity and way of life. Until we meet again.

Yours in debt and delusion,
Liz

A month in photos: February 2014

  • Labeling library books and organising
  • Paige’s farewell party at her org; she moved from our area to Pretoria for a third year extension
  • Library opening #2 (and one more to come after even more renovating — third time is the charm,  right? )

Month 19: finding my niche

I laugh a lot.  Probably every hour or so — no doubt there have been times I’ve been in the back of a classroom uncontrollably laughing to myself and crying. That’s not because a kid did something funny. It’s because some text message I got from a PCV that range from a plethora of topics — stories from school, home, major Peace Corps fails,  or random thoughts that have absolutely nothing to do with South Africa.

An average day after school consist of me coming home,  curling up under my mosquito net, watching bugs ruthlessly die on the net, and shooting out texts to my peoples. Not only does it keep me sane and grounded,  but it also adds some spice to my ever-so-routine life.

Yes, we can make friends with our South African colleagues and families.  But, at least my case,  it hasn’t been easy to find someone who finds humour in the same things and someone I don’t have to censor myself around.  My PCV friends,  on the contrary,  can take it all. A text-by-text frenzy blowing off steam when I’m not in the best mood, a live update on shooing the hens and chicks out of my house, or a text-by-text update on how the lawnmower (I mean weed whacker that takes 3x longer to cut the grass) is encroaching upon my hut. Trivial things, really,  but you can always find a way to laugh at them.

It took a good while for me to find my niche in American culture.  I never felt like I fit in in college outside of the journalism world, and God forbid those treacherous middle school days!  Through my two and a half (omg!) years of service,  I have found people that are passionate about the same things as me, have similar senses of humour, share dreams and aspirations and all that jazz. I have finally found my niche,  and I’m pretty happy about it!

The Battlefields cluster — my closest Volunteers geographically — recently said bye to our mama hen, Paige, who was in the cohort before us (SA 25). Although she is not going back to the States and rather extending for a year in Pretoria with the CDC, her farewell party made me think about the relationships I have with her and other PCVs. (And not to mention,  if it weren’t for mama hen, the little chicks of SA 26 would have never found their way in the beginning.)
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Battlefields last group trip to our beloved shopping town Nquthu

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Paige’a farewell function at her organisations;  all her colleagues singing and prancing around the yard

Peace Corps and City Year combined really helped me understand who I am as a person and what I need to make me happy, which is generally being around likeminded people and doing something that will help improve our world. I know that I will never feel like “I don’t belong” anywhere ever again because I know where I stand.  When I return to America at the end of July/early August, I’ll be entering a graduate school programme (public administration), which will be seeping with AmeriCorps alums and RPCVs.

Extra gratitude this month for all who make my service just that much more worth it.  Thank you for the comic relief, the support,  and keeping me updated about things like the whereabouts of the chickens on your lawn.  I love ya’ll!

Yours in service,
♥ Liz

A month in photos: January 2014

  • Opening prayer at school; school shuts down for a day so the community priest,  learners,  teachers and parents can pray for the upcoming school year
  • Sports day 2014
  • My counterpart’s creative art project with grade fours using some beads my friend Amy left from her visit
  • Bruce Springsteen concert in Joburg! This was his first time playing in South Africa. Unfortunately, I did not bring my camera or phone to the concert,  but got a few pictures before!  The concert was incredible – he played most of my favourite songs while we danced in the rain!

Everyone can learn a lot from my sister

When I first arrived at my host family’s house way back in September 2012, I had been told I had a sister the same age as me. She was nowhere to be found.  It wasn’t too soon until I found out that she had been admitted to the hospital due to a miscarriage at seven months because of high blood pressure. When she returned home, I remember meeting her for the first time. It was somber moment,  as we quietly sat next to the wood stove to warm up. I knew she was happy to meet me, but it just wasn’t the right time.

As months went on, obviously my relationship with her grew. She told me how much she wanted a baby, and how last time it just had been the wrong time. I reassured her everything happens for a reason.

Late March, I got a knock on my hut door. It was her beaming with joy, delivering the news that she was pregnant again. Her and her boyfriend were delighted. Since then, she has taken every precaution possible and been to and forth from the doctor’s. She was determined to make it right this time with anything she had control over.

A few weeks ago, she had her second miscarriage at seven months in. The doctors cannot give her a reason why.

I sat on writing about what’s been going on with my family for quite some time. Mostly because it’s personal and everyone deserves a certain right to privacy during challenging times.  But as the weeks have gone on, I’ve realised more and more that I should write about this – and in fact, celebrate my sister.

I know an American reading this may say 24 is far too early to want a kid so badly/have one. I completely agree in our culture. But in her culture, it’s pretty incredible she has waited this long. All of her friends have at least two children. Not to mention, her boyfriend has planned for it and saved money. This is something that is rare, as usually babies just come along as something that “just happens”.

My sister would make an incredible mother; my mom would be the fun-loving gogo. My sister’s boyfriend and his family would be very involved.

She knows that. We all know that. Then we look around our community and see so many young teen mothers, kids who were unexpected and being raised by gogo at home with young mothers living elsewhere or too busy, absent fathers, and come back to our perfect set up. My sister and the two families involved deserve a little one. So why can’t it happen?

They say God only knows; I say everything happens for a reason and sometimes it takes a while to see what that reason is, good or bad.

Life. That’s just life, right?

Well, that’s my sister’s attitude even after going through this twice. She has said to me: “There is nothing I can do about it now. I must move on. That’s life.”

She carried the baby after the miscarriage for three weeks and gave birth to a stillborn. I never heard her complain once about being in pain. And when doctors were telling her conflicting information, she sat there calm and collected. Of course she cried, and seeing her at the funeral was heartbreaking. However, she has gone on with normal life as is, and as if nothing had happened.

It’s not that she doesn’t care that it happened. It’s her reaction to the situation within her cultural norms – Zulu women are brave, extremely strong and have a high threshold for pain and suffering. My sister falls directly into this description, and may be just one of the strongest people I’ve met.

My sister is one example of a woman in my community enduring such strife with a smile on her face. I can only imagine what other women take and handle.

Everyone can learn a lot from my sister. Life happens and sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way you planned, but you may have no control over it. You’ve got to pick the pieces up and keep on going, just like many Zulu women do.

Amandla / strength

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