I haven’t written in a while because, very simply, I haven’t felt the need to write. Sometimes I wonder if I just don’t feel like writing or if I feel like the events happening in my life aren’t worth writing about. However, many things have happened in the past three months and only looking back do I realize what I could have written about but didn’t. Funny how sometimes we don’t realize everything that we’re doing until it’s already happened. Interesting to think that we talk to people every day and in many cases we talk about our day and what transpired. Needless to say, I felt like writing now and so an entry that has been long over due is finally produced, but there are things that I’ve omitted only because I don’t feel like writing about everything, but only writing to get back into the swing of things.
I’m still living in my village and village life is suiting me rather nicely. I’m attending events every weekend and staying busy with friends so I can’t complain. My host family is as nice as ever and as it gets closer to my departure I’m realizing that I’m going to miss them. Granted, some mornings I wish the little tribe of children were a little quieter, but I’m going to miss their bantering throughout the day, their smiles, and the mere look of excitement on their faces for something that I wouldn’t have thought to be even remotely shocking. It reminds me why it’s important to stay young at heart even when the world pressures otherwise. Additionally, the adults have been both friends and parents to me and I will miss our brief, yet frequent conversations as well as their guidance. The people that I’ve grown close to have done their best to watch over me and to include me in their lives and not a day goes by that I’m not completely grateful. Despite all of my struggles and complaints with work, I’m really happy that I came here and it’s these special people that remind me that the time is never wasted.
Rural village life is the same as ever and there are times when I have no choice but to be reminded of my living situation. Most notably in the past few months I’ve had a few encounters with animals. Now, I know you’re thinking, “Ahhhh Africa, this is going to be good!” However, that’s not the case at all, and these encounters are more frustrating than exciting and in more ways than not I wish the ‘experience’ never happened. First, I had a snake and a rat in my house, both of which snuck up on me. I went to move some dirty laundry on my floor and to my surprise a little snake slithered on out and into the corner of my room. After getting past the shock I realize that I don’t really want a roommate and so I started moving my luggage, boxes and clothes so that I can see where this snake went. In doing so, it brought to my attention that another squatter is in my room – a rat. Not sure if the rat was running or chilling or if the snake was in attack mode or merely strolling on through my house, but the two were together and I was a little overwhelmed. But this isn’t National Geographic and I don’t have a show on Animal Planet so there was no triumph of Nature within my humble home, but only a snake that slithered into a shoebox and a rat that ran under my bed. So I take care of the snake (aka kill it outside because I’d be persecuted and drowned before the village for keeping a snake alive…maybe an overstatement) and then went back in my house to search for the rat. A member of my host family helped as we moved all of my things and searched for the rat. Sadly, he some how disappears. A few days later I see him at night and he runs out of my house…thankfully someone else gets to him and does the killing outside. My host mom shows me the carnage the next day as proof that they are watching over my home. And once again I’m grateful.
As if rats and snakes aren’t enough I’ve had trouble with toads wanting to share my living space as well. Now, toads are pretty low key animals, they sometimes jump on plastic bags and make some noise in the middle of the night, but they don’t eat my food and they aren’t going to kill me. I knew that at least one was living in my house, but I didn’t know where and I didn’t care much as we both respected each other’s space and so we left it at that. But when I arrived in Cape Town on vacation in April, I heard a rustling in the plastic bag with my shoes and I instantly knew what it was. The next morning, a humble, country toad from Limpopo was relocated to the Western Cape. For a month or so I thought these animal troubles were behind me until the other day when I was sweeping my house and I unrolled the door mat and found another snake (which I take care of once again). Then in the middle of the night about a week later I find a rat in my rafters who somehow managed to get in, but on my waking up was unable to find his way back out. He finally did and I hope that he never comes back. If you need any more convincing to understand my feelings other than trusting your gut then I suggest you read my blog entries from around May-September 2010 and you will understand the struggles that I don’t really want to continue living through. Also, birds fly into my house every so often, but they don’t hang out for long so there isn’t much to say about that.
Work is continuing and there are days when I think that everyone gets it and the project will continue smoothly without me and then there are days when I wonder if it will all fall apart in a month. I’ve had more arguments with people in regards to work ethic and motivation and in some ways I’ve quit pushing. They are either going to do the work that needs to be done or they won’t and I can’t be the one who enforces it. At this point, so close to my departure, it’s likely that I can’t make any further changes and just need to work on phasing out and ensuring that the changes that have been made become second nature in my absence.
The major breakthrough for work has been drip irrigation. It’s a rather simple thing when we think about it back in the U.S., but many people in Limpopo still use furrow/flood irrigation, and making the switch is not only saving us water, but also time. The farm is starting to look like a real farm and I think by the time that I leave it will be completely full of vegetables. The Center garden is also doing well and we’ve put drip irrigation in there as well and I’m hoping to have the land full before I leave. We’ve also started a worm bin at the Center and I’m hoping that we have enough diversity of vegetables to keep the worms alive and producing compost.
The nursery is going slow only because we need to test different soils for growing and working with finance slows us down in the sense that we can’t just go and buy something when we need it and we can’t just get a vehicle when we want to collect things.
The household garden project is going well and the new beneficiaries are doing a wonderful job with their new gardens. We’ve done a few workshops and completed household visits that show they are putting in a solid effort and it’s nice to see more people in the community having household gardens. I think this project has benefited the most from my presence and I’m happy to be a part of it.
One day I left work with a co-worker of mine who I usually carpool with. He told me on the way that he was going to get tested for HIV and I thought it was cool that he said that he goes every three months just to make sure. I told him that I thought it was smart and then he asked if I wanted to go with him. I thought I might as well get tested and I felt honored that he trusted me enough to go with him because you might not know what the results will be. If either of us were positive it would be a rather awkward conversation. In doing so I got tested and I learned from my friend as well as the medical worker about local views and behaviors. He first asked me what I knew about HIV because they want people to have a better understanding and to learn more about treatment opportunities so that they can continue to live fulfilling lives. What struck me the most was that he said that many people in the area if they are positive they want to spread the virus. When I found that out I was shocked because I would have thought the opposite for myself. I’d always want to get tested so that I knew that I wasn’t going to spread it to anyone. But it’s a rather scary and destructive finding, which I would hope that health organizations are working on combatting. Another interesting finding over the past few months has been in regards to condoms. The government provides condoms for free, but many people don’t trust them and say that they break easily (whether it’s true or not I don’t know). However, purchasing name brand condoms is actually rather expensive and so I wonder if this plays any role in pregnancy/spreading of STIs. However, I know that a lot of people still use the government condoms so it seems a little contradictory. And, in case you’re wondering, I tested negative and so did my friend.
As far as my future goes, I’ve decided to attend graduate school at Cornell. There is an MPS program for International Development that usually runs 12-18 months and then I can get back into the working world after learning a few things. I’m hoping to focus more on food security and community development. I’m a little scared, but mostly excited to go back to the United States. I’ve been living abroad for 5 years and I think it will be nice to be back for a little while and to be close to home and family. More than anything, I feel ready to go back to school because if I wait any longer it will be harder to go back. I will also use this time to figure out if I’d like to stay in the U.S. for a long time or get back out into the world abroad. In the next three months I’m sure I’ll have a much better idea.