Readjustment and Medical Separation

Time seems to fly while I’m at home, and I haven’t posted in a while.

The good news is: I’m finally gaining mobility and a wee bit of strength with my arm, and I’ve been fitted with leg braces, which help a lot with my walking issues.

The bad news is: I am definitively not going back to being a PCV in South Africa. My new official COS/Medical Separation date is 16 January 2014.

Being home has been wonderful, but also a bit difficult. Leaving South Africa in the way I did…little warning and no chance to wrap up projects and say real goodbyes….it’s hard. Nearly traumatic at times. Readjustment to American life was a baptism by fire. It is still. Life hasn’t returned to a normal yet, and my mind is still very much in a South African PCV mode much of the time.

I catch little differences often. Like how I completely ignore the gas gauge and speedometer when driving, since I’ve scarcely driven in the past 2.5 years. Or how I still second-guess which side of the car to get into. I struggled at first to shut lights off when I left a room, because I was so used to living in one room with a light that a scarcely used. And how I often forgot to shut the bathroom door at first, since my pit latrine at site didn’t have one. There are lots of little things like this that I catch myself doing (or saying) which are very much PC/South African/etc. Thankfully, my family is forgiving and deals with my quirks.

I never imagined I would be facing medical separation from Peace Corps. Even after I broke my shoulder, I thought I’d be back at site within the allotted time. Now, I realize that was completely unrealistic. I’m still in intensive physical therapy, and will be until probably March. It’s frustrating that the recovery timeline wasn’t clearly communicated to me while in SA, by the surgeon. But I am very thankful I was medevac’d because I’m getting great treatment here, and am not dealing with an injured shoulder at site. It seems that I’ll be recovering fully, which is a blessing.

I deal with a lot of PC guilt…common among volunteers and exacerbated by the loose ends I was forced to leave behind. There’s not much I can do about it though, besides ignore it.

Now I have to face the “real world” and find some work. I don’t enjoy job hunting, and was looking forward to postpone it until much later this year. However, the real world is knocking!
-Jen

Americans Be Crazy…or Is It Me?

Coming back to the States on Medevac has so far been a bit different than the previous times I visited. There’s a sense of finality, knowing I might not go back to South Africa. Instead of simply enjoying the first world life, I keep wondering whether I need to start transitioning back to it. Rather than only enjoying the company of my family and friends, I’m beginning to readjust. To call the USA my home again.

And it’s weird.

I catch myself truly reflection on how different life here is than my life back in the States. More often than not, I find things to be utterly ridiculous and superfluous, I won’t lie. Some adjustments I made in South Africa to my lifestyle seem logical to bring back here, yet wonder if Americans will understand my quirky behavior.

I will admit that I’m thoroughly enjoying my family’s wifi, but I forgot how incredibly FAST it can be. I went to watch a youtube video, and it loaded almost instantaneously. I had opened another window to slowly download another webpage to read while waiting, but almost before I could open the browser window, my video had loaded. I couldn’t believe it. Youtube is way more enjoyable when you don’t have to wait ten or twenty minutes for a short video to load.

I’m trying really hard not to add the unnecessary “u” to words like favorite or behavior, by the way. It might take awhile to remember, so I apologize.

I also don’t fully understand how someone could possibly use a ziploc baggie only once. So what if you put a piece of pizza in there? It’s not dirty. It’s got at least 3 more uses in it. I physically struggle to throw away a baggie, but I know if my Dad saw me saving them, he’d be grossed out.

Though I definitely identify as a bit “crunchy”, or rather an environmentalist, I haven’t recycled in two years. It’s not like riding a bicycle. It doesn’t immediately come back. My muscle memory has been lost. To be fare, I didn’t technically recycle in the traditional, put-it-in-a-bin-on-the-curb sense. I did, however, find a second, third, or fourth use for nearly everything that wasn’t gross-food-trash. Even that was given to my worm farm. Got an old newspaper? Use it like a paper towel to drain grease off food, because I’m not buying paper towels. Got an old magazine? After reading it several times, cut it up and make African-esque paper beads for friends. Got an old rama container? Jackpot, that stuffs as good as Tupperware. But I think if I tried to use newspapers as paper towels, my family would have me committee.

There’s a lot of things in the USA that seem absolutely crazy. I’ve seen photos of a friend’s child’s birthday, and I was appalled at the amount of things that child got. I’m happy for him, but to my eyes it seemed embarrassingly excessive, when I typical child in my village was likely to get a school uniform for his/her birthday, if it was celebrated at all. I don’t know how I will handle the abundance at Christmas. I can’t imagine a traditional Christmas at this point. I’m looking forward to seeing family I haven’t seen in 2.5-3 years, but….I don’t know, it’s hard to imagine the whole gift-giving side of things, and being able to enjoy it fully.

There are a lot of wonderful, absolutely wonderful, things about being home at this time of year as well. Playing Christmas tunes on Pandora, baking delicious Christmas/winter-themed cookies, getting Christmas cards from around the country, seeing a Christmas tree standing tall and proud in our living room, family, eggnog…I haven’t had a Christmas at home since 2010, and the whole festive “feeling” in the air is something I NEVER found in South Africa. When it’s wickedly hot out, there’s no way to feel like it’s Christmas.

But, to be fair, the cold Iowa winter is brutal. I haven’t left the house in two days. I don’t plan of leaving anything soon. :)

I still don’t know if I’m going back or not, but time’s ticking and I haven’t seen a single doctor. Regardless of what happens with my Medevac, my Peace Corps experience doesn’t end here. It’s a lifetime experience…the gift that keeps on giving, if you will.

-Jen

Medevac….Going Home

As I write this, I’m sitting in my bed back home in America at 4:30 in the morning. I’ve officially been medevac’d back to the USA for continuing treatment for my arm and to explore the options for another condition I was diagnosed with last week. Clearly, considering the time in America and the fact that I’m wide awake, I’m struggling with jet lag a bit. ;)

Medevac means I have 45 days in the USA to show enough improvement to go back to South Africa. If I am cleared medically sometime within that 45 days, Peace Corps will send me back to South Africa to finish out my third year. If I am not medically cleared by the end of 45 days, I will be medically separated, which means my service will officially end.

The decision was passed down from Washington DC last Wednesday, and after the Thanksgiving holiday (which PCSA staff gets off), I went up to site to say goodbye and pack anything I’d want to take home. I had to pack as if I’m not coming back, which is pretty stressful and emotional. I came back to Pretoria on Saturday afternoon, and flew out on Monday evening. After nearly 24 hours of solid travel and two delayed flights, I found myself hugging my Mom in the Des Moines airport, heading home for Christmas for the first time in two years. I flew with Delta, and considering my broken arm, they were wonderful the whole way, helping me preboard and stow luggage, get a seat where someone wouldn’t be bumping my arm, and helping navigate the Atlanta airport with two large checked bags. I was very thankful for all the help both Delta and random people gave me throughout the journey!

I’m home now, well, back in Iowa. It’s hard because I have a home in South Africa as well, and I’m not sure if I will be going back. It’s been an emotional week, after the decision was passed down, and I’m still trying to process everything. Once again, the readjustment is hard, made more difficult by the uncertainty of medevac and the cold Iowa winter. The first thing I did here in Iowa was buy a winter coat. It’s been nearly 3 years since I’ve dealt with an Iowa winter.

I will say that if I had to choose a time of year to be medevac’d, I nailed it. :) I think only people who have lived abroad for an extended amount of time can understand what being home with family for the holidays means. Though I’ve celebrated holidays with friends and near-family back in SA, it also feels like I haven’t had a real holiday for two and a half years. I feel so blessed to be home for the holiday season, though the reason for me being back isn’t wonderful.

It’s still hard to believe I’m home though!
-Jen

Medical Hold, Part 2

I know I haven’t written in a few weeks, so I thought it might be nice to update a little.

So, after falling, breaking my arm, and having surgery, I spent three days in a hospital in Pretoria. It wasn’t an overly pleasant experience. The hospital was modern and the doctors were great. But, unfortunately, the nursing staff was overall not fantastic. Three days was more than enough hospital time for me.

I was released after a total of four nights in two different hospitals, and here’s the kicker-I didn’t have clothes. I came to Pretoria only with the few things I had at with me at work the day I fell, such as a pack of colored pencils, a book, my bank card, and my two cell phones (no charger). My supervisor had taken the clothes I wore home, with the intention of bringing clean clothes when I was released. However, due to having to leave Tzaneen quickly to get to surgery in Pretoria, she couldn’t get to town and bring a bag of things for me to take to Pretoria.

So, I was released from the hospital in a nightgown, robe, and slippers that my supervisor had bought in town the day I was admitted.

Then I had to go shopping for new clothes in my nightgown. In a mall in Pretoria. Yes, now it’s funny. But at that point I was dying of humiliation!

I’ve spent the time since in Pretoria hanging out with friends, writing my novel for NaNoWriMo, and not doing much else. After a week, someone from my site happened to come to Pretoria, and they brought a bag of stuff for me, mostly clothes and my computer. I’m so thankful for it, as otherwise I’d be out of luck!

I’ve been doing lots of physical therapy and have had an overall good time, though Pretoria does start to get boring after a while. PC determined that I’d be here the full six weeks, which is a long time!

But at least I finished writing my novel for NaNoWriMo. With a late start, I ended up writing 50,000 words in just two weeks!
-Jen

Medevac/Medical Hold, Part 1

The last week or so has changed a whole lot of things. The short story is that I fell, broke my arm, had surgery, and will spend 6 weeks recovering in Pretoria. If you don’t want any details, you can stop reading here. If you want more info, read on. I will slowly but surely manage to type out the story!

Last Thursday, I was working at the food security project, and we happened to be harvesting tomatoes. Towards the end of the day, we were separating out the last few tomatoes to take to the market the following day. I had my hands full of tomatoes and was walking towards a pickup truck to put them in the back. I tripped, and my right arm flew up, catching on the side of the truck. I face planted into the tire, and the rest of my body was against the ground. I immediately knew something was wrong, as my arm HURT at the shoulder. I flipped onto my back to figure out what was wrong, and my arm just sort of flopped to the side. I knew then that something was seriously wrong. I waited a bit to see if the pain subsided, then called my PCMO to see where he wanted to me to go. He directed me to the Tzaneen private hospital, and after a few more calls, a ride to town was arranged.

The ride was horrible. My arm hurt badly, and a few kilometers on a dirt road, then the rest driving very fast down a tarred road with potholes meant I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t get comfortable, but at least the ride was only about half an hour.

I arrived at the hospital, and after a bit of confusion, managed to sort everything out with the PC paperwork that was faxed in. Then rushed me into a room and tried to make me comfortable, and later sent me off to X-ray. At this point, I thought I had dislocated my shoulder, so when the technician said “it” was broken, I was pretty concerned. It wasn’t a simple fractured wrist….it turned out I had essentially snapped the humorous in half right near the head of the shoulder. It was a clear break, but serious.

The doctor quickly mentioned surgery, which freaked me out a bit because I hadn’t had a chance to discuss anything with the PCMO since I first called him. I told the doctor I preferred the non-surgical option, so he rigged me up in a sling and wheeled me off to a room to spend the night. I called the PCMO, and he was very surprised the doctor wanted to do surgery. He set a whole bunch of things in motion, including calling the other PCMO, the medevac regional doctor, the country director, a surgeon in Pretoria, and PC in Washington DC.

I don’t remember much about the first night, so I assume I was seriously drugged up. I do remember the sling being very painful, and thinking that surgery was definitely in the cards-I couldn’t stand six weeks in that sling, waiting for the bone to heal naturally.

My PCMO came up the next morning, and after talking with my doctor and a doctor in Pretoria, decided to move me to Pretoria for the surgery. The trip to town was very unpleasant, compounded by the fact that the AC wasn’t working in the car and it was in the 90s. I was happy to be in a car with diplomatic plates (which can’t be stopped by the police), as the normally 4.5-5 hour drive took only 3.5 hours. I made it to the hospital in Pretoria a little after 4pm, and after checking in, went straight into surgery. I woke up later in pain, of course, but feeling much better than I had before.

I’ll write more about my three remaining days in the hospital later, and what has happened since. Now I’m on medical hold in Pretoria for 6 weeks. PCSA doesn’t really do medevacs, since we are a medevac country, but that’s essentially what I am. I’ve got 45 day (6 weeks) to recover and get back to site, which the doctor is confident will happen. If not, well….theoretically I could be medsepped, but the doctor is confident I’ll recover enough to return to site.

For now, I’m on a medical holiday in Pretoria. I’m sure I’ll be bored out of my mind soon enough, but with a bunch of PCVs here now, I’m enjoying it.
-Jen

NaNoWriMo…and I Might be Crazy!

I might be considered crazy, but I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. It’s a month long….campaign?…to help “writers” write a 50,000 novel in one month.

To be fair, family and friends would say this is a relatively sane decision, compared to other, much crazier, things I’ve done (join Peace Corps, move to Africa, eat a goat nose, extend for a third year, swim in crocodile infested waters, etc).

But that’s beside the point.

I’ve wanted to write something more substantial for quite awhile, and “write a book” was even officially added to my bucket list. Of course, I thought it would be my Peace Corps memoir…stay tuned for that in the far future. But since I’m at a point in my life where I would consider myself “not busy” much of the time, such as every night and weekend, I thought it might be nice to use that time constructively. The options were: get a guitar and teach myself to play, start crocheting teddy bears for the kids at my creche, or write a book. So I settled on the last one for a variety of reasons.

For now my novel is going to be set in a rural Tswana village, focusing on a young girl Dineo. I’ve got a few ideas of the direction the story will go in. Though it isn’t based on any experience from my Peace Corps life, it is a way to share the Tswana culture, language, and life to others. That is, if anyone ever reads it. ;) I wanted to honor my host community in some way, and this seemed like a nice way to do it.

So, hopefully I will not fail. I’m a little afraid. But I’m also super excited to start writing on Friday!
-Jen

The Saga of the Leaky Roof

So, it seems that the “Saga of the Leaky Roof” is nearly at an end. Praise the Lord!

Yesterday my APCD was up to visit from Pretoria, which ended up being perfect for two reasons: one being a grant I’m writing that she needs to look over, and the other being my leaky roof that I need fixed. You might remember a post or two on this whole leaking roof thing (actually, I thought I had written two posts about it already, only to go back and find none), and it has caused me a considerable amount of stress over the last few weeks. Last night I was up until 2am dealing with an internal deluge of rain.

So my roof leaks. Not a drip-drip trickle. A constant downpour of water from a wooden beam, numerous drip-drip-DRIP-PLUNK leaks, and crying walls. It takes 2 containers and three basins to manage this, one being my huge laundry/bath basin. It means disrupted nights and preoccupied days. And a constant worry about when the next rain is coming. Even now, the sky is filling with clouds. Sigh.

We had a guy over last week to fix the holes. He got up on the roof and laughed. It seems that my roof dips in the middle, causing water to collect there and eventually pour into my room. Sometimes over my bed. Without taking off and essentially replacing the whole room, it’s unfixable.

However, yesterday I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. My APCD came and checked it out, and we decided I would move. A whole 10 meters to the rondeval next to my room!

A rondeval is a circular thatched roof house that is what most people envision houses in Africa to be. I’m actually kind of excited to move into it. Because the roof is high up and thatched, it’s quiet, doesn’t leak, and is COOL in the summer (praise the Lord again). It’s huge, and just a cool place to live. Some small repairs have to be done before I move in, and burglar bars have to be installed. But hopefully over the weekend a good portion of that can be done.

No more leaky roof. It’s somewhat of a trade-off because I might get more critters in the rondeval (spiders, mosquitos, lizards, and bats), but I can handle those. If anything, they make for very interesting (blog) stories!

-Jen