South African PCVs have a unique situation, and a lot of unknowledgeable PCVs say we actually serve in the Posh Corps. The presence of latrines, bucket baths, and fetching water from communal taps indicates they lie about that. Some parts of SA are very developed, and truly First World. Mainly the cities: Pretoria, Joburg, Cape Town, Durban, etc etc. Where we live and serve as PCVs is primarily in rural areas, which are “typically African” and downright Third World. Yes, we have electricity most of the time, access to internet, and cell phones, but this is 2012 and many underdeveloped African countries also have these luxuries…which are turning into necessities.
Serving in a country where I can easily travel to the First World and “escape” the Third World experience of my village is nice, but also mentally throws us PCVs for a loop. We never truly pull out of the First World, as many other PCVs worldwide do, and yet we must live a relatively poor rural South Africans. PCVs in other countries have to travel to America for showers, good internet, peanut butter, or English. But I can theorectially find all of these in my shopping town.
Living in the Third World and having to travel to the First World to buy groceries may seem nice, but it can be hard. The kids in my village rarely ever go to Vryburg, my shopping town. To some, a vacation is traveling from one section of the village to the other, about 5km. I, because PC provides an ample living allowance for a thrifty, young, single woman, can leave my village when I “just need” some pampering of the First World. But I often think of how my host brother and sister would be delighted just to go to Vryburg and have a milkshake at a restaurant, or get the beloved KFC. I could provide my family with unique/American foods and treats, a taste of the First World. Now, you Americans may wonder why I don’t….but you kind of have to be an SA PCV to understand how horrible of an idea it would be for me to take my host family to town on my dime. That would likely be a descent into a bad situation.
Anyways, I am happy overall that I can experience the modern conveniences of the First World, and I believe they make my service more effective, rather than hindering it. Yet as I sit in Pretoria now, using free Wifi, eating delicious food, and contemplating taking a wonderful hot shower, my heart yearns to be in my village, eating potatoes alone in my room, huddled under the blankets. Weird? Yes. You have to be an SA PCV to understand.
Another frustrating part of being in this First World-Third World Tango is that there is money in this country to provide shoes and jackets to the very poor kids in my schools, who turn up in winter without. But because we’re rural, black, poor, undereducated, under resourced, and at times incapable of knowing of these opportunities, the funding goes to places that don’t need it as much. It’s easy to ignore the Third World rural villages because they don’t have the resources to stand up and speak for themselves, typically.
It’s hard knowing that solutions exist, but accessing them can be near impossible for schools, especially ones without a PCV. A lot of people who grow up in villages don’t leave, and don’t see the First World. I’ve seen more of SA than most villagers, even the wealthier or better educated ones. I stood in the largest mall in Africa today (disputed, btw), on the top floor overlooking one wing of the mall, and thought about my village. How can they understand this wealth?