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Month 17: an American visitor understands that the struggle is real

I try my best to keep in touch with people and post photos from my experiences out here in South Africa, but no one will ever understand the extent of my Peace Corps experience until they see it for themselves. This month I’ve been able to share this life-altering, strange and amazing experience with a best friend from America.

I had the delightful pleasure of picking up Amy, a friend from my hometown Half Moon Bay, from the airport at the end of November. We barely recognized each other, but after five minutes it’s like I never left. She’s with me until mid-January and wanted to come to South Africa before December vacation to actually get the Peace Corps experience. She’s gotten that, alright!

After picking Amy up from the airport, my friend Kelsey and I took her to dinner at our favorite restaurant in the urban areas, Mugg and Bean. We chowed down on burgers, salads, drank cider and got some damn good soft serve ice cream as if we were in an American city. We dipped our feet in the Indian Ocean, took some showers and used WiFi to complete grad school applications. At this point, Amy was in a daze – wait, we’re in Africa? Where are we? I told her to just wait to see how drastically different urban and developed areas are from the rural areas PCVs serve in.

The struggle is so real began when it was hell trying to find my public taxi from Durban to Nquthu (I’ve been here for more than a year and still cannot figure out how to get from the backpackers I stay at in Durban to my taxi rank.) Amy’s first public transportation journey went over smoothly, but she was in culture shock when she got to my African shopping town Nquthu.

We then came to my village for about two weeks. Amy ventured to school with me, met my staff, and bonded with my learners. My staff named her “Gugulethu” (Precious). I’ve been so warn out since this book project that I took a backseat for most of Amy’s visit, sat on my phone and let her take over all my library work. I desperately needed a resting period before snapping and she got to “volunteer” and see my Peace Corps projects in real life; it was a win-win situation. She ate some Zulu phutu, chicken and beans, loved it, witnessed the typical South African morning prayer and song, and slowly learned Zulu greetings. She’s also traveled to town with me a few times to pick up groceries and experienced the harassment I go through every time as the only white person (and not to mention woman). So far, she’s been proposed to and been asked how much she is worth.

On the home front, I taught her how to bucket bathe, hand wash clothes, use a space-ship looking outhouse, how to pee in a bucket, scare away chickens and cows, kill mosquitos and other creepy crawlers, love Zulu house music and understand more or so how things operate culturally here. We cooked a meal with my host sister and have been watching my favorite South African soapie Generations. I took her to Lion King-looking rocks and gave her the history of my village through the Lion King while playing Lion King songs in Zulu (i.e., this is where Mufasa died, this is pride rock, etc.) She’s learning how to live with practically nothing but a book and good company, and is enjoying it.

After school ended, we headed up to Manguzi in Northern KZN. Manguzi (which means Land of the Mangoes) is another shopping town where PCSA clustered Volunteers around. Three of my good friends Shawn, Katrina and Michael live up there and I had yet to visit their sites, although they have all been to mine. Katrina and Michael hosted a Grassroot Soccer camp, similar to the one I hosted in June. I figured it would be a perfect time to see everyone’s sites, help at their camp and Amy would also get see other PCV sites and PCV projects!

I have heard so much about all of their sites that it was nice to finally see their daily lives in person. Katrina and Michael’s sites are very rural and isolated – you have to walk down small sand paths 15 or more minutes to get to the next property and could easily get lost. It was different than anything I had ever seen before and how I would now define the “African bush”. Goats woke us up at Katrina’s site two days in a row, screaming in distress for an hour or so at 5 a.m. in the morning. As soon as the goats started yelling, I could not stop laughing because I knew Amy hated every moment of it (the struggle is so real). We walked to the Mozambique border at Katrina’s site in search of elephants that freely roam her area from time-to-time (but didn’t see any), searched for ripe mangoes at Shawn’s site (and found a few!), and saw a Science Centre in Michael’s village, where they hosted the GRS camp.
Michael’s community counterpart started a Science Centre at an old tavern (bar) this past year. The Science Centre has science activities for the rural youth, recently benefited from our Books for Africa project with new science books and hosts science fairs once in a while. The PCVs in Manguzi usually run booths at the science fairs and Michael spends a lot of his time outside of school to help develop the Science Centre.

The GRS camp was held inside the Science Centre and the kids slept overnight in different rooms that Michael’s counterpart owns. Thirty-three kids were a part of this camp and were from either Katrina or Michael’s village. Katrina’s community counterpart did all the Grassroot Soccer sessions in Zulu. Katrina, Michael and their counterparts ran the show, Amy took photos, and Shawn and I helped with the backstage work like doing dishes, preparing lunch, etc.

The camp was stressful on Katrina and Michael’s part because Michael’s counterpart didn’t follow through with her words most of the time (the struggle is so real). However, the kids still had a great time and were very well-behaved. I was in shock about how respectful their kids were compared to mine at camp. We even had a fun, totally planned session with random American dances and no music (pretty much all of us just looking insane), Heads-Up 7 Up and yoga!

Through this experience, Amy was able to understand how challenging it can be to run such huge projects as a PCV because we have to rely on South Africans to move projects forward and always have to be ready to improvise. I don’t think anyone from my American life will understand the extent of the struggle here except Amy.

“The struggle is so real” is mostly sarcastic; every time something strange happens – even if it’s just a chicken trying to get into my hut — she looks at me and says, “The struggle is so real.” I’m just thrilled someone finally will understand what this struggle really entails!

Thanks to Shawn, Katrina and Michael for hosting us! We’re back in my village for a week then will be heading up to Pretoria to start our real vacation and pick up my City Year teammate Charlotte from the airport! Who’s lookin’ fly, who’s lookin’ fly? Markham in South Africa gonna be lookin’ SO FLY! After sleeping on the concrete floor for a while (I’m a good host, however, and have given her my bed for the duration of her stay at my home sweet hut!), I think my American visitor is ready to have a shower and comfortable bed again.

This may be my favorite month of service – for multiple reasons, but definitely because I’m always uncontrollably laughing. Every time a cow moos or a rooster crows, I die. Yes, Amy, this is my life.

Miss you Half Moon Bay! Sorta?

Love to our peoples,
Mpho and Gugu

One Comment Post a comment
  1. dennyfoto #

    Once again I so appreciate your continuous blog. My S African short PC experience and the returning one where I visited Sharon have definitely stamped a memory in my brain. No there is nothing like it here for people to understand if they have never experienced similar. I am grateful for having done this and give you all tons of credit for the work you are doing. Many good wishes to you….thank you for what you do. Mary Kate

    December 14, 2013

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