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Posts from the ‘Liz’s Peace Corps Application Process’ Category

How AmeriCorps & City Year prepared me for the Peace Corps

Back in college when I dreamed of becoming a PCV, I met with a Peace Corps recruiter. She told me that my liberal arts degree only qualified for a community development position, which is a small percentage of Peace Corps Volunteer positions around the world. I wasn’t a competitive applicant.

She recommended that I join City Year, a year-long service program through AmeriCorps. I did so, and became a competitive Peace Corps applicant because I then qualified for education and youth development positions.

City Year targets 17-24-year-olds for a demanding year of service in underprivileged areas in major cities throughout the US. City Year corps members work on a team of 10-16 diverse young adults from around the country.

In either an elementary, middle, or high school, corps members are assigned to one or a few classrooms to serve as tutors and mentors.

Corps members follow those same kids throughout the year and take them out of class for one-on-one or small group tutoring.

Outside of the classroom, corps members put on events for the school, paint murals and really do anything that adds to a positive school climate and falls under school beautification.

City Year and the Peace Corps established a partnership not so long ago that encourages City Year alums to join the Peace Corps and vice versa. The Peace Corps loves City Year. City Year alums are given priority in a group of Peace Corps nominees. Score!

I served with City Year in Los Angeles and believe it greatly prepared me for this Peace Corps journey:

  • City Year exposed me to so much diversity — at my school and within the organization. People I worked with came from all over the country and from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. They taught me how to work with people different from myself, especially those that exercise different styles of leadership.
  • City Year prepped me emotionally. It’s extremely hard to see the failures of public education and the rampant social issues that exist in our Peace Corps service communities, but it doesn’t eat me alive because I saw a lot during City Year. Kids in communities abroad face some similar challenges to those that live in City Year communities, just in a different setting and culture.
  • City Year gave me the classroom experience I needed to make the next step to become a teacher in the Peace Corps. I basically got my feet wet and learned how to teach students who are far behind grade level and how to implement a supportive learning environment.
  • City Year taught me how “another world” within America operated. Although I was serving in America, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and experienced a culture and neighborhood opposite from my childhood. I gained cultural and social awareness. Now in the Peace Corps when anything frustrates me I am able to decipher problems or my frustrations by looking at the culture, politics and social issues intertwined. Such observation and critical thinking taught me to be resilient, a quality the Peace Corps looks for in its Volunteers. I am calm when working in my Peace Corps village because I can embrace differences and not look at issues from one point of view, but many.

I would recommend this AmeriCorps program for any Peace Corps college hopefuls who either need more qualifications to be considered or think they need more experience before moving abroad. Not to mention, you’ll earn the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to help pay off student loans.

give a year. change the world.
Apply now.

Site Announcements: where I’ll be living/teaching these next two years!

We’ve been in pre-service training since we arrived in South Africa and had little knowledge about where we’d actually be spending our two years here. The only hints we had were what language we are learning (hence, I’m learning Zulu, so I figured I’d be in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province and I am!)

As we get closer to the end of training, our sites were finalized and finally announced today!

I will be living in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Province of South Africa closer to the Northern region (Manguzi). My site, M-town*, is located in the Battlefields Region, where the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars were fought (yes, you best believe I wikipedia-ed that as a source; I just relinquished any aspiration of being a reliable journalist later in life).

Pictures I’ve seen of the area are beautiful — some mountains and LOTS of grass. I’ll be seven hours from the Peace Corps main office in the capital city Pretoria and probably four-seven hours from other PCVs serving in Kwa-Zulu Natal besides my geographic group.

I will be teaching at M-town* Primary School (Grade R-Grade 7). I am the first PCV to work at the school. The school requested a Volunteer that can teach English to grades 4, 6 or 7. I might not be with my grade 6 students from Markham Middle School in grade 7 this year, but I can still teach grade 7! As I think more and more about it, I’ll probably go with older students because I love working with middle school-aged kids. I remember telling my Markham students during a presentation I gave them about South Africa that I hope I can find their personalities and passions in my South African students. Of course they’ll be extremely different, but I’m sure my South African middle schoolers will remind me of those back in Watts sometimes. Differences set aside, 12-year-olds will be 12-year-olds.

All classes in primary school from grade 4 and on are taught in English. Some of the kids in my community will be able to speak at least a little English and high school students will be more fluent. My host family, however, will be speaking Zulu at home.

The primary school also requested a PCV who has solid classroom management and can organize sports with the kids. Classroom management was extremely challenging for me last year, but as my partner teacher told me: “Once you’ve taught at Markham, you’re prepared to teach anywhere.” In other words, I’ve seen cases of good and bad classroom management, which taught me by observation; I just hope I can successfully implement everything I learned to do and what not to do.

As for being a “sporty PCV”, sure, I have an athletic background — I played basketball, volleyball, softball and ran track throughout my childhood. That sounds like a good set-up, but there’s one problem: I’ve never played soccer, which is the popular sport here. Looks like it’s time to learn those rules and the rules of netball (South African’s version of basketball).

The host family I will be living with has a mother, father and three boys (ages 15, 16 and 17). My host family requested a young female Volunteer, so I’m assuming the mother did so to get a “daughter.”

I will have electricity, but no running water. There is a water pump in the yard, but it goes out every couple of months for a month or so at a time. I will have to buy a bunch of buckets to store water in so I will always have back-up supply. I’ll be living on my host family’s yard in a rondoval (a round, cement hut), which was honestly what I was hoping for!

I will be cooking for myself in my rondoval and plan to live off of rice and beans made on hot plates (easy to make, no refrigerator needed).

There’s a small tuck shop in my town that sells essential things like bread, beans, etc, but all South Africa PCVs have a “shopping town” — a town that has a grocery store and other stores — that they share with a group of Volunteers. My shopping town, Nqutu, is accessible by combi (a 14-person taxi) and is close by; I’m one of the closer ones to the town out of my group.

There are four other PCVs in my group that share the same shopping town. Two of the females, Laura and Katie, and the only male, Will, are in their early 20s like me and then Monica is in her early 30s. These are Americans I’ll be seeing more on a regular basis because we all live closer to each other than the other clusters of Volunteers. I’m happy with this group because I’ve enjoyed talking to all of them throughout training. Yet, I do have to get to know everyone better, but we’ve got two years for that!

M-town* is a small community with one road going through it. Summer temperatures run from mid to high 80s (oh haaay LA!) Winter is cold and temperatures can drop to below freezing level at night with no insulation or heat. I will definitely be wearing my onesies and many more layers to bed.

The community is very religious and the school and host family requested a PCV that will attend Anglican church every Sunday, although they will understand if I don’t. And in case you were wondering, South African church services last up to three hours.

I am not religious, but I was raised Catholic so I can put on a front and recite some prayers. I’ll test the water when I get there and see what’s the best move for integrating into my community.

The unemployment rate in M-town* is high — many live off of government grants. The only places to work at in my community are the schools, clinic or tuck shops. Many men leave their families to work in major cities. I questioned this structure in Watts after reflecting on the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Now, I’ll get to reflect on how my community has improved since Apartheid, which I’m assuming is a factor to the high unemployment rate. I have two years to observe and analyze with my journalistic eyes — who knows, maybe I’ll see a lot of similarities in my two service communities even though they are thousands of miles away.

I will be moving to my site on Monday, Sept. 3! As excited as I am, I am also sad to be leaving my current host family. When I make my way up to Pretoria for Peace Corps business I’ll definitely try to visit them.

I wish I could post up a map of my geographic region, but I can’t format photos from my BlackBerry. One more week until I can get my actual blogging routine going again (with multimedia!)

My bedtime is your worktime,

SmallTransparentLogoLiz

*Disclaimer: because there are safety and security rules that Peace Corps volunteers must abide by, I can’t disclose my exact location on my blog. This disappoints me because I will not be able to fully report on my experiences here in South Africa, but at the same time, I’d rather not get in trouble.

Month one: oh, PST, how I love you

Sanibonani eSouth Africa!

Igama lami ngingu Liz Waka Warden. Ngibuya eAmerica kodwa ngihlala eWatervaal eMpumalanga. Ngiyafunda isiZulu kodwa angikhulumi isiZulu. Ngiyavolontiya le Peace Corps, ngizosebenza ezikoleni. Ngizohlala eKwa-Zulu Natal noma Mpumalanga iminyaka ewu-2. Ngizobhala kakuhulu.

My name is Liz Warden. I am from America, but I am staying in Watervaal in Mpumalanga. I am learning isiZulu but I can’t speak isiZulu. I am a Peace Corps volunteer and I will be working in a school. I will be staying in Kwa-Zulu Natal or Mpumalanga for two years. I will write a lot.

I’ve been in South Africa for a month now for pre-service training (PST, the Peace Corps loves acronyms). I’m learning the language of isiZulu, which I am thankful for because it’s a language that uses the same alphabet English does!

My language and cultural teacher, Nokonzo, is a 22-year-old from Kwa-Zulu Natal. She’s a great teacher, but cramming in at least a year’s worth of isiZulu grammar and vocabulary is challenging for me. I have faith I’ll be able to at least have small conversations with people and be able to get around my village when I move to my permanent site. As I become immersed in the language soon, I’ll become more intermediate/fluent.

About 30 people in SA 26 (my Volunteer group that I will refer as) are learning Zulu then there are two smaller groups learning siSwati and isiNdebele. I most likely will be placed in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa in Manguzi or Sisonke (not that anyone back home really knows where this is, but I could either be in a rural mountain area or closer to the eastern coast of South Africa. You know I’m hoping for some water!) Some Zulu speaking groups also stay in Mpumalanga, the province I’m currently staying in. I’d love to go to KZN; I’m hopeful wishing. We find out where we will be living for two years on Friday, August 25th!

During PST, we live with a host family close to our training site in Siyabuswa. I am living in Watervaal, which is a rural, but developing village.

I live with a Gogo (grandma), Thandi, a 23-year-old girl and Thandi’s kids: Leto, a 6-year-old boy, JuJu, a 4-year-old boy and Emihle, a 1-year-old baby girl. Gogo speaks isiNdebele and Thandi is fluent in isiNdebele and English.

My Gogo has a great sense of humor and is so open and caring to have me in her home. When she picked me up for the first time she held my hand the whole way home because she was welcoming me to the family — I’ve never felt that kind of familial love before. It was so different.

Thandi, my host sister, is very easy to get along with, absolutely gorgeous (America’s next top model status!) and dresses really fashionable. I have a great time talking to her, asking questions and the best yet, watching South African soap operas.

I’ve never been around kids before, so this is a first. The boys warmed up to me in a day and call me “Lizzie”. Leto loves to write and has learned to count up to ten in English. JuJu is a little naughty 4-year-old who cracks me up, but I lock him out of my room a lot. Then Emihle, the little girl, is just adorable. She recently started walking so she never stops going. However, my motherly instincts haven’t set in. I still can’t make a baby stop crying (sorry to disappoint you my friends, but this experience isn’t changing my mind about not having kids).

The house I am staying in is in a rural village — dirt roads, cows, chickens and goats just chill on the streets. There is electricity, but no running water so I bathe in a bucket and use a latrine. Other than that, it’s just like a typical small family home.

Everyone in the village knows everyone. Everyone is welcome to each other’s houses whenever, so neighbors are always in and out. Everybody shares (what up, Ubuntu?) Everybody has to greet each other in the street. I never again can get away with not saying hi to one person walking down the street like I did in America. I no longer can be in my own little world because now — in this culture — everyone is apart of each other’s worlds.

We eat lots of pap (maize meal), chicken, beef, mashed potatoes, coleslaw (South Africans love their mayonnaise…I’m slowly forcing myself to get used to that), cooked veggies, but most of all, we eat A LOT of pap. The food isn’t bad, but there isn’t much of a variety, so those Mexican food and sweets cravings come around every now and then.

At the beginning of September, I’ll feature an “Ubuntu” piece about my whole host family experience with pictures and everything. Right now, I don’t have the ability to upload photos. My computer and other electronic cords are in Pretoria stashed away in my second bag of luggage the Peace Corps is storing until site placement. If only I knew I’d get blogging access before then…

Training is training. Many, many presentations. However, the sessions led by current PCVs about their experiences in their communities and classrooms have been very enlightening. I am grateful that they are allowed to attend our PST and help train SA 26.

I’m counting down the days until site placement so I can move to where I’ll be going and figure out everything on my own. No matter how many sessions on teaching I sit through, it’s not going to make me a better teacher. Even visiting schools and guest teaching like we have isn’t going to help much because it’s not the school I’ll actually be working at. It’s all a learning experience as you go — I just want to jump in there. I know why I’m here and can motivate myself to do the best I can. I want my classroom. Now. Now. Now. I have to be patient though!

All I’ve really had time to do is attend training, eat with my family, sleep and do it all over again. I only get Sundays off, which is usually laundry or cooking time (South Africans cook as much as they can on Sundays and try to incorporate every color they can into their side dishes).

I’ve gotten to know my fellow Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) pretty well so far, which is one definite plus of PST. I’ve especially bonded with a CYLA alum who served at 112th Elementary in Watts during 2008-2009 and had one of our Markham 6th graders as a 3rd grader! (I have an individual post about that coincidence to be posted with pictures soon). I find myself uncontrollably giggiling through all the presentations because of my friend’s side-comments.

I’m happy I’ve met people who find humor in similar things, but I miss my Markham teammates so much! Everyone on my City Year team had such distinct personalities and I’m having a hard time realizing I’m not going to find all those personalities here (Where’s my Char City? Becktra? Tessa? Laurens? Marissa? Daniel? Mel? Etc, you guys get the picture).

One more month until I move to my permanent site! Photos to come soon, I promise!

Sala kahle (stay well),

SmallTransparentLogoLiz

The new blogging structure of “Liz in Service”

I’m connected again!

I know it’s only been a month, but a former journo kid can’t go long without being able to write and publish! I have many updates, but this whole “publish weeks after it happens” thing is getting to me. Back in the states, I’d give myself up to two days to publish something that happened besides my weekly updates. This is my first step getting used to “African time” — even if content is recent and “blogworthy” to me, it may take a while to get onto my site.

With that said, I got a SIM card for a BlackBerry data plan for only 60 rand a month — the equivalent of ~$10 a month. Now I can use e-mail, WordPress and mobile Internet when I please (assuming I have electricity to charge my phone!) I’ll be able to type things out and upload pictures on my computer then transfer them to my BlackBerry for publishing. It might be a hassle, but I’m damn grateful I can blog on the go!

So, here’s how I’ve planned to blog these next two years:

Bi-weekly posts each month about my primary Peace Corps project: my primary project is to teach English in a primary school to grade 4, 5 or 6. I’ll be permanently assigned to my site in two weeks, so then I’ll know what exactly I’ll be blogging about (lesson plans, my students, my co-workers, the struggles of working in a South African school, etc).

Ubuntu: The Ubuntu category — a Zulu proverb meaning my humanity is tied to your humanity (which was stressed during my City Year service year and originated here in South Africa!) — will explore South African and Zulu culture. I’ll write in-depth about any cultural experiences I have and how Ubuntu is practiced here.

Just another day in the Peace Corps: Similar to my Just another day at Markham category from City Year, I’ll post photos and videos (if possible) that highlight the odd, ironic, funny and sarcastic things that happen to me and my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.

Secondary project updates: As soon as I figure out what my secondary Peace Corps project is (fingers are crossed I can start a school newspaper!) I’ll write individual posts that discuss the trials and tribulations of working with a South African community counterpart to help make whatever project I implement succeed.

A month in photos: Every month I’ll have a photo-oriented post. Self- explanatory. Uploading a bunch of photos on Flickr or Facebook will be challenging, so I’ll make sure to put my best photos on here!

Yours back in blogging service,
Liz

Peace Corps staging in Atlanta: that’s so City Year

I arrived in Atlanta for Peace Corps staging late Monday night after a delayed flight from San Francisco (the travel gods are testing my patience before the big move…) I packed two bags that each were a little less than 50 pounds. I packed mostly business casual clothing because rural South Africa places a lot of importance on professional appearance. I’ll always have the memory of my first Peace Corps panic attack about getting lost in the Atlanta airport looking for my hotel shuttle, carrying my 50 pound duffel bag on my shoulder and rolling my other luggage whispering things under my breath like, “How the hell am I going to do this? I can’t even carry my bag to the shuttle area!” Except now I learned to just move 20 pounds of stuff to my bigger bag that rolls so I don’t nearly kill myself again. I can only imagine trying to carry my luggage walking to my village when I get my site placement…

Staging is pretty much an orientation to the Peace Corps where all the Volunteers meet for the first time and sit through a bunch of presentations.Staying true to my City Year roots, I was expecting a lot of PowerPoints like we sat through every out-of-school service Fridays. However, they switched it up a little bit and this time I actually sat through a couple of paper board presentations. What a relief.

Anyways, we had to do a bunch of sharing our feelings and reflecting on why we decided to serve. Old news. I can’t count how many times I had to read a “Why I Serve” statement and write paragraphs about it during City Year Fridays. Oh, can’t forget that we were also given scenarios Peace Corps Volunteers might face abroad and make up a skit (so City Year, once again) based on how we think the PCV should respond to the situation exercising the Peace Corps core expectations.

I have chosen to commit to the Peace Corps at this time in my life because…

It’s exactly what I need to be doing at this point in my life and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.

I will feel successful as a Volunteer when…

I know I have made an impact in at least one of my student’s lives.

After the expected self-reflection time, we discussed as a group our anxieties and aspirations for service.

Anxieties:
1) Learning a new language. If I’m learning isiZulu, I have to click the top of my mouth to pronounce some words…talk about challenging!
2) Not being able to blog. If I don’t have Internet service or electricity every once in a while I really will drive myself mad with not being able to publish on this site. Writing, publishing and sharing the experiences I have and life stories I hear keep me sane.
3) Sexual harassment. As a young white female, I’m really not looking forward to any unwanted attention.
4) Getting sick from a new diet. Like it or not, it’s going to happen.

And…

Aspirations:
1) Being an effective teacher. Teaching is going to be challenging, but knowing you’re actually making a difference will be the best feeling ever.
2) Implementing strong classroom management. If students don’t respect you, how will you teach effectively? Both of these aspirations go hand-in-hand.

Image

In City Year fashion, we had to draw our anxieties and aspirations as a group. The odd looking cartoon characters are mine…

After staging was done, I got dinner with many of the Volunteers of South Africa 26 (the 26th group to go to South Africa) at a restaurant that is owned by someone who used to live in Durban, which is a major city in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province where some of us will be serving. He can even speak isiZulu. Small world!

There’s a good amount of us newly graduated youngin’s — 22-23-years-old — but I was surprised there weren’t more. It seems like most of the Volunteers are 26-28-years-old, which I guess makes sense because the average PCV age is 28-years-old. There are two married couples in my group and a couple of senior Volunteers (60-years-old and older). Everyone is great, friendly and easy to talk to so I have no doubt I’ll be able to make friends easily. I even got to talk it up with a fellow City Year Los Angeles alum who served in Watts in the 2009-2009 corps year! Yet again, it’s a small world.

Our facilitators today told us to get used to each other because we’re each other’s new family. As I know from experience, people click easily in these types of service organizations because everyone has similar values and aspirations. When we’re around each other we don’t have to explain what we’re doing, what the Peace Corps is and why we decided to do it. We just get to enjoy each other’s company and that’s that!

Tonight is my last night in America. Already said my goodbyes, which of course was hard, but there’s no way around it because tomorrow I will be on a flight to Johannesburg! I still don’t really believe it’s happening. The next time I’ll step foot on American soil will be in September 2014…

Departure Day Schedule:
2:00pm –
Leave the hotel for the airport
7:35pm- Fly out of Atlanta straight to Johannesburg. Sixteen hour flight. No big deal.

July 12, 2012
5:30pm- Arrive in Johannesburg and meet Peace Corps country staff at the airport
Shortly after- Hop on a cold, three hour bus ride to Ndebele College of Education in Siyabuswa, which is located in the Mpumalanga province.

We will be in Siyabuswa for about a week living in college dormitories and then we will be assigned our host family who will help integrate us into South African culture by teaching us about things such as food, daily life, cultural values, etc. From there on, I really don’t know what else happens except we get intensive language and teaching training until September when we will be sworn in as official PCVs.

I am no longer a Peace Corps invitee and as of today I am a Peace Corps trainiee. Let the adventure begin! BYE AMERICA!

small heartYours back in service,
Miss Warden

Expect to not hear much from me these next three months — IF I have access to Internet it will be very limited and I might not be able to blog. I’m already having withdrawals. As my current country music says, “That’s the way it is, you gotta roll with the punches. That’s the way it goes, you gotta bend when the wind blows…”

The hardest goodbye

It’s not goodbye it’s just see ya later — that’s what I’ve been telling people when saying bye to them, which is totally true. Just because I’m leaving for two years doesn’t mean that I won’t talk to my friends ever again. As I’ve said plenty of times in this blog, distance and time apart shows you who you real friends are and I have absolutely no doubt about that because it has proven true to me in the past couple of years.

The hardest goodbye yet is saying bye to my childhood friends from my hometown, Half Moon Bay. I will always somehow be connected to them; I never see myself loosing contact with them even if I end up on the east coast after my Peace Corps service. Twenty-seven months doesn’t sound too long, but two years sounds like a long, long time.

A lot can happen within the span of two years — especially when my friends and I are at the prime age (23) to start making major life decisions, whether that’s regarding careers, relationships or traveling. I could return to the US and a childhood best friend could be engaged (cough, Mary, wait for me to have your wedding or else), Kelsey traveling the world or Jessica off to grad school and doing something bomb with whatever artistic career she ends up with.

These people have been my friends since elementary and middle school and I can’t begin to comprehend that I might not be in the states to know the next major life changes and updates that happen with all of them. We’ve stuck together since we were little elementary and middle school brats and have been there for each of our accomplishments and hardest times. Following life updates on Facebook or through e-mail during these next two years isn’t the same as a phone call or visit when something big happens.

It’s hard to find friends like them, but I do find friends like them every once in a while. At every stage in my life I’ve found someone who I can put on the level of my Half Moon Bay friends (ya’ll know who you are).

As a “going away” present, they gave me a journal personalized with my theme quote and tattoo “hold fast to dreams” to write in and read whenever I feel lonely. I can’t wait to write in it and share my experiences with them when I return to the states.

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This will keep me sane in the loneliest of times these next two years. Keeping childhood friends from as far back as the third grade doesn’t come easily nowadays, and I am beyond grateful that they have been such a huge part of my life for so long. I love you guys!

Back to packing,
Liz

What will I miss the most?

I haven’t really realized that my time in the US is coming to such a quick end until this morning — I have three days to pack up for two years into a few bags. And, of course, I haven’t started packing…typical procrastinating Liz.

1. Avocados. I eat them on everything…literally, everything. Californian born and raised!
2. Warm showers. I shower every single day. Showering in a bucket everyday and boiling my own water is going to be tedious, to say the least.
3. Accessible coffee. I woke up this morning completely flustered because there was no coffee in the house and I couldn’t find my wallet to go buy some. Aggravated and frustrated, I finally found my wallet. I can’t even imagine going a whole day without a cup (fingers crossed I won’t ever have to).
4. Dogs. I am hoping my host family has a dog I can play with.
5. Internet. How am I going to get through another service year without being able to blog?! Once again, hoping for the best and that I have internet access more than often.
6. Texting. I’m always on my phone and always connected to my loved ones. It’s going to be quite a shock to not constantly be talking to someone.
7. My car. Whenever I want to go somewhere, I get in my car. Now whenever I want to go somewhere, I’m going to have to wait up to four hours for a bus to fill up and go to the next town.
8. Country music. I have a weird obsession with country music (even the overly patriotic stuff). Although I think the lyrics are hilarious and all the songs are the same, I can’t get enough of that corny country music.
9. Mexican food. I’ve grown up eating Mexican food at least once a week. I lived in upstate New York for a year during college and couldn’t find ONE restaurant that had authentic Mexican food. It was horrible.
10. Oh, and of course, my family and friends! I’ve never been more than a five hour car or plane ride from my elementary school best friends, but two years ain’t got nothing on our friendship! However, all the friends I met in City Year this year will all be in different areas of the country when I get back, which is real sad — I’ll never be in the same spot with everyone together at once. Things are a’changin’!

Mostly everything I listed here many Americans (including myself) take for advantage and are just part of ordinary life. Reality check.

Now to spend the day to start to pack my bags up for the adventure of a lifetime. If only packing wasn’t such a pain…

Sala kahle, (goodbye in isiZulu)

Liz