I’ve been at site for over 3 months now and in South Africa for almost 6. I can’t believe how fast time is moving. At the end of our first three months at site, everyone in my training class came to Pretoria for what’s known as IST (in-service training). It was a little strange at first to go from super rural life in the village to a week at a fancy hotel in Pretoria, with catered meals and tea time twice a day, but we got used to it really fast. It was sooooo great to see everyone, and we ended the training with a formal gala event. This was not planned, so we used the term formal loosely, but it was an incredible success. Forty two of forty five Peace Corps Volunteers were in attendance, we had decorations, finger foods, speeches, and a silent auction. Some popular items were a free breakfast buffet at the hotel, a subscription to the monthly newsletter, and the opportunity to catch ringworm from one of our volunteers. Amazing.
IST just so happened to end on July 3, so most people stayed in Pretoria for an extra couple of days to celebrate the 4th of July. It’s winter here, so it was really cold. We couldn’t go swimming and we didn’t barbeque, but we did sing a LOT of America songs (Star Spangled Banner, God Bless the USA, Party in the USA……) and we managed to track down some sparklers. So overall it was a success. After all that, it was actually pretty tough to go back to site. It felt so normal to be around Americans, understand every word that was spoken to me and have people understand what I’m saying, and basically feel like a normal person.
But now I’m definitely happy to be back. I missed my host family and my coworkers, and I just can’t get over how beautiful my site is. Now that I’m through the initial settling in period, I’m ready to do some real work. We have big plans for the youth group I’m working with, and I’m working on compiling a bunch of resources for them.
We just trained our first savings groups yesterday and the day before, so that project is up and running, too. It didn’t go exactly as planned. Ideally, all the group members would have attended the training, and the second day would have been an actual savings meeting. But only 8 of 10 attended the first day and 5 of 10 the second, so we had to walk through the meeting instead. I really wish it went a little more to plan, but that’s life I guess.
Doing those trainings definitely reminded me of why I’m here, though. We were working with a group of teachers at a primary school in my village, and to get to the school I had to take a bus from my house to a fork in the road. The first day we were able to catch a car to the primary school, and we stayed late enough to take a bus back. But the second day we walked from the fork to the school, which took about an hour and a half to two hours. We worked for maybe two more hours, then walked back to the fork via the hilly and rocky dirt road, stopping to look at one of the group member’s family chicken project. It’s frustrating to think that a two hour meeting should in my own village should take up the whole day for everyone who came, but there’s really nothing I can do about that. Savings groups are one way for people to start to control the things they can in their life. A little patience and flexibility will go a long way for me.