Turns out, you take yourself with you wherever you go. For those of you who know me well, the following list will not be surprising. For the newer or less close friends and readers, you might need to rethink who you think I am.
I am also
I keep thinking: Am I really the right personality to thrive in the Peace Corps, with “thrive” being the operative word? Sure, I can muddle through being sad and lonely a lot of the time and missing the golden opportunity to “connect” with the Zulus. I can be easily discouraged by my attempts to reach out and make friends, rather than “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” I can also work hard at teaching the learners and put less weight on “finding a friend.” I can “embrace” my solitude. Or, all of the above. Or not.
Turns out, wanting deeply and insecurely to be included by others is not a great way to start making friends. I always wonder if I have some sign radiating out from my being that only I can’t see. It says “I want you to like me. I want you to like me so much you will invite me to hang out (go for coffee, come to your house for dinner, go to a movie, go to the beach) with you and we will have such a great time together that we will do it often.” It repels rather than attracts. It is too much, too needy. Most people here (everywhere) have on-going lives, with jobs, husbands/wives, children, church activities, extended families, housework. They are not fully available for new friendships even if time, culture, and curiosity allowed it. They are, however, very friendly.
I can remember back in 1992 when I moved to Redwood City from Berkeley. I was very lonely, knowing only Pam and Mike. I would drive back to Berkeley many weekends to visit friends. I also was a brand new teacher and often worked 6-7 days/week, 11 hours/day, just to get prepared. And because I had no social life. As time went on, I made a few wonderful friends, got married, and my community grew. I am now at home there (well, not right now, but prior to July 2014). And yet, I left for a while (a LONG while) to join the Peace Corps.
Did I think about all my combined personality traits when contemplating this adventure into another country, another culture, another language, far away from my family and friends? Yes, I did. But it is one thing to do it while you are sitting comfortably in your California home, and another thing when you are living it on a daily basis in rural Kwa Zulu Natal. I remember Ian saying, oh, the two years will just zip by. Only in hind-sight my child and wise man. Each day seems very long, not hard, but long. With 20 months to go, September 2016 seems very far away.
Six people have left my cohort. We started out as 35 in Philadelphia, ready to fly the big airplane. Now we are 29 in SA30. Whenever I hear about someone leaving (medical or early termination), it hurts, even if I completely understand why they leave and I was not particularly close with them. It is such a personal decision and apparently not unusual for a significant number of PC volunteers to leave at this point in their service. I thought we would all stay together until the end of our commitment.
Why am I writing like this, more intimately personal? Partly, because each time I add a new blog post, I get fabulous comments from some of you that talk about a person I don’t recognize as me. Sue H. says my “grit is awe-inspiring.” Toni says I am an “incredible creature.” Eileen admires my patience with the difficulties and “willingness to adapt to some of them.” Carolyn says I am a “trooper.” Others say I am brave and they could never do what I am doing. Get the picture?!?
I often think of myself as a big whiny baby (a 69 year old baby?) moaning and groaning about being old and lonely and not being able to sit in a coffee shop, drink coffee, and enjoy free wi-fi. To put things in perspective, last Monday morning I heard about: 9 people of one family who died in a lightning strike, the son of a teacher who was in a car crash and hospitalized, and our Grade 1 teacher being taken in an ambulance to a hospital and kept for 5 days while they tried to figure out what caused her pain, and an Oregon nephew who had emergency abdominal surgery. And I am moping about what?!?!
I am not brave. I totally freaked out when a 3 inch toad fell from the ceiling onto my head while I was reading. I totally freaked out at the bat situation. I cried buckets during a unusually severe wind storm.
Turns out, you can’t be someone you are not. So, here I am in the Peace Corps. They accepted my application, they decided I should go to South Africa and teach English in a rural primary school plus live in the manner of the local population, and I said “Yes.” I wanted to do this, not even really knowing how hard it would be or how frustrating the bureaucracy rules would be. It IS hard for an old, white, single, highly-educated, Jewish, secular-humanist, female reader to fit in in rural KZN!!!!!! In reality, I am probably doing pretty damn well, given that set of differences.
So far, I have no intention of leaving the Peace Corps before my 2+ years is up. I am sick of the bugs flying around and dive-bombing me in the evenings while I am reading, the big spider way up high on the wall, peeing in a bucket, volunteer friends leaving, waiting “forever” in a taxi until it it is full before it can go, and not having a coffee shop anywhere nearby with scones and free wifi. Oh well, if it was easy here, I wouldn’t be here, right? Well, some traits on my personality list are keeping me here. Let’s just hope I am doing some good along with the whining!
Update on my cute rondaval: I made it cuter. While I was at the Victoria and Alfred Wharf in Cape Town, I spent a lot of money on stencils, oil paint, and brushes. I have painted little trees on my house (to combat ugliness)!
Update on the garden: I have harvested three skinny, not very red radishes. I gave a teeny bite to my host mom and she was surprised at the tang/heat. No one has radishes here. That may be all I have. Some bug (perhaps the 2 inch long grasshopper) is sneaking in and eating my baby bean plants and lettuce sprouts. The sunflowers have tiny buds in the centers!