A Holiday Away from South Africa

This blog post has been rattling around in my head for a few weeks now, during my three weeks away from rural South Africa.

It came to my attention during the holiday that I spent with dear friends from England and America that I sounded very unhappy in my Peace Corps service and that they felt that an “intervention” might be needed.   They felt that I might need to be persuaded to give it up and come on home.  (Excuse me for a moment while I poke at the place where a lizard is rattling around.  We both want the same thing I am sure–getting out of my space.)  I was able to explain to my friends that an intervention was not needed and that in general, I like being in the Peace Corps about 85% of the time and really want to leave about 15% of the time.  I am unhappy or lonely or pissed off in that 15%.  In the 85%, I am glad I am here.  I appreciate the opportunity to live and work in South Africa, am grateful to make new friends in South Africa, love living in my cute little house, am curious about life in Zululand, am interested in this dysfunctional educational system failing to meet the needs of poor children, am feeling lucky to travel to different parts of South Africa and Africa, and I am fortunate to know some wonderful Peace Corps volunteers from America.  Do I love every minute? No. But…

No intervention is necessary.  I convinced them.  I plan to finish teaching Terms 1 and 2 and then come home.

I am sorry if my previous posts made anyone think I was so miserable that I really needed to come home.  I have been trying to write a true picture of my Peace Corps experience.  Yes, some days I am miserable and do want to get the hell out of here.  But mostly, I am not that miserable.

My greatest support here has been from friends and family in America (and England). I do not have a great support system of Peace Corps volunteers although they are wonderful people.  I am sustained by emails, phone calls, Whatsapp, packages, letters, cards, from all of you.  Thank you so much.

The time away, in England and Morocco, was wonderful.  Best of all was seeing friends. Second best was showers and sinks.

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Alfi and family in a London pub

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Sue and me in Regents Park, London. We had scones and tea there!

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Sumaya and me in ?

4

Lori and Sumaya and me

Alfi is a woman I met during a short stay in Guatemala.   She has done lots of overseas volunteer work and strongly believes that a one- or two-week jaunt to “help” others is not really much help.  It isn’t cost-effective, you barely know anything about the country or people, you dabble in some sort of assistance, and leave.  It may be good for you but hasn’t much impact in the poor country.  She said that in order to have any chance of impact, you have to stay a long time.  Her voice was in my head when I applied to Peace Corps and even now I hear her.  It was lovely to meet up with her and her wonderful husband and two little sons for breakfast in a pub across the street from her London flat.

Sue is a dear friend who lives in a very small town near Bakewell, England.  I met her ages ago at a peace vigil in San Francisco and we have been friends ever since.  Sue took the train to London and stayed one night at the hotel with us, even though she dislikes London and especially dislikes it at Christmastime.  She is a writer and a mother and a grandmother and a wife and a gardener and a sax player and a bike rider and a Quaker (and much more).  She calls me on Skype about once a week and honestly says she would never do what I am doing because she loves her creature comforts too much.  She is very supportive.

Sumaya is a dear friend from Redwood City.  We were teaching partners at North Star during the best of times there, have been friends and travel companions ever since.  I can moan and groan and be sarcastic and irreverent and philosophical and silly and she is right there with me.  She planned the trip to England and Morocco and did a fabulous job. She brought me a newish computer and guided me through the anxiety of recycling my old “vintage” computer at the Apple Store in Covent Garden.  She came all the way from California to see me!

Lori is another dear friend from Redwood City who came all the way to Morocco to see me!  Wow!  She is a walking buddy, a book group buddy, a coffee-drinking buddy, a dinner buddy, and a hard-working woman at her job with West Ed analyzing educational research.  She has organized and sent five boxes of books and stuff from California!  It was so good to see her!  Her adventure began with losing her iPhone (stolen) while we were just meeting up at the train station in Casablanca.  I can’t believe how well she handled it!

Sumaya and I visited London, Casablanca and Chefchaouen before Lori arrived.  I loved being in London.  I did not enjoy Casablanca (white houses, but badly needing paint). I loved being in Chefchaouen.  With Lori, we visited Fes (great!) and Marrakech (teeming with very fast scooters, mopeds, motorcycles that made me edgy and nervous in the narrow lanes of the ancient medina).  In both places, we stayed with great hosts and enjoyed the arts and crafts in old and new buildings. We walked a lot and got lost in the weave of streets.  At the end, however, I was tired of “too much stuff” to buy.  It may be lovely stuff, but street after street of slippers, handbags, scarves, bowls, wool, clothing, spices, olives, etc. is too much.  I liked the parks and gardens for respite.

The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It is the third largest mosque in the world and cost half a billion dollars.

5

The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It is the third largest mosque in the world and cost half a billion dollars.

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Chefchaouen is the blue town in the Rif mountains. It is small and lovely and a long bus ride from Casablanca.

 

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Fes is an Imperial City with an ancient medina of narrow lanes, wonderful pottery, a fabulous art school. It is grayish.

 

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Marrakech is the pink town, again an Imperial city with an ancient medina, great mosaic art, a lovely garden restored by Yves St Laurent, and we rode there on the “local” as there is no “express.”

 

9

In a little park in London, the daffodils were blooming! Daffodils! Blooming! In January! In winter!

Now I am back at school.  Term 1 has begun. I am only teaching 42 students (all Grade 7), but three subjects with them.  It is a huge relief after having 155 students last year.

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4 thoughts on “A Holiday Away from South Africa

  1. Thank you once again for your so interesting , down to earth, honest depictions of your life in Africa as well as all the other magical places you have been.

    What a gift.

    Kathy

  2. Dear Karen,
    Wow!!! What a wonderful visit with your friends. So glad you were able to get “recharged” I never had doubts that you would stay your full time in the P.C. As I’ve said before you are a “trooper” and have lots of determination to finish a job.
    Good luck in your remaining time there and I’ll look forward to your return to the Bay Area .
    By the way, I love your hair. Don’t ever “wash it away”.
    Much love and best wishes in your journeys of life.
    Carolyn

  3. Karen, So glad you could spend time with friends, beautiful gardens, buildings, art, interesting cities and towns and showers!!!
    I actually did not think you needed an intervention; a break maybe but you have the resolve to finish what you start and you are learning so much about the place and yourself! Love, Jacquelyn

  4. Hi Karen,
    So happy and relieved that you are not at your wits end. So happy that you had a great vacation.
    Enjoy the rest of the term. I’m going to Europe again in April. Maybe we can skype or talk on What’s ap since I will be in the same time zone it will be easier.

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