Living in SA means I am constantly faced with rivaling realities. SA is a pretty well developed country-on paper. If you have been here, you have probably traveled to Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban, Jo’burg, or another area of the country that seems much like America-well-built buildings, paved roads, drinkable tap water, electricity, wireless internet, bright lights, shiny cars, and endless shopping malls. So why is PC here?
That is far from my reality, where I live. My village is a tiny little village, literally on the edge of the Kalahari, secluded from a glamorous life. The nearest tarred road is 30+km away, and besides a few tiny shops selling essentials (flour, bread, canned beans, soap…no butter though), 3 schools, some churches and a clinic, there is nothing else to attract people to my town. Cows and goats command the dirt/sand roads, rather than cars. Heck, I could probably count the number of cars driving through my village on my fingers. On weekends I could do it on one hand.
I am constantly faced with a mental battle-trying to justify the contradictions and stereotypes I see each day with what I have been taught-at home and at training. Here are some of the stereotypes of African life that I experience in my village. And some of the ways my life contradicts my expectations.
Numerous orphan (and likely child-headed households) due to the HIV/AIDS problem in this country.
Women walking through the bush, gathering wood for outdoor fires, even though their homes have electricity.
Children walking 10km to school one way because there is no high school in my town-and no transport for them, or else they cannot afford it.
Children dropping out at Grade 9 or 10 because getting to school is so hard.
BMWs and other extremely nice cars driving down tarred roads in my shopping town…passing by families who are emaciated and haven’t eaten that day.
Greeting people in Setswana and being responded to in Afrikaans, because I am white.
Children coming to school barefoot, in ripped and dirty uniforms, likely without having eaten breakfast.
Families living in tin shacks, next to large, beautiful houses.
Darling fluffy little dogs running along the fences, barking at me as I walk along. Or just following me.
Getting woken up each day by a mixture of chickens, turkeys, and donkeys.
A beautiful, clean school with a 19 unit computer lab and enthusiastic educators. With 16 year olds in Grade 5 (equivalent to fifth grade in the USA).
Women gathering water in plastic jugs and carrying them home on their heads, with a baby tied to their backs.
A dried up watering hole next to my house, awaiting the rainy season and a short rest from the ever-present dust and grit blowing around.
Villagers traveling 80km to eat at KFC. Yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Some of what I see each day is heartbreaking, and I am stuck because I cannot hand money over to the hungry, protect a child from an angry parent, or wave my hands in the air and make everything ok and right. Being a PCV here means I cannot fix many of the huge problems. Yet at the same time being the only white person to live in this village (I assume…and a fair assumption), attempting to learn the language and living with a black family has a lot of power in this country that is still recovering from Apartheid. By living here, working in the schools, and educating children, I am not only giving them knowledge, I am also helping to battle the racial legacy of this country. This will have an impact that I will never see. And I am confident that my two years here will have an effect of the next generation. Most of my work will not produce immediate results. However, as the children I work with grow, finish high school, and ponder what opportunities they have after secondary school, I hope my time here will provide them with hope of a brighter future, and the perseverance to achieve it.
High hopes? Yes. Impossible? Not at all. For now I will keep working to provide my learners with important tools: hope, resilience, a vision, and leadership, at the very least.