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. ūüôā

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. ūüėČ

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. ūüôā 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

Uniquely Peace Corps Experiences

Life as a PCV can be intriguing and unpredictable in some many ways, and there are many experiences that happen to be uniquely Peace Corps. ¬†Some are just so out of the ordinary that a US citizen living abroad still wouldn’t experience them, but Peace Corps Volunteers do. ¬† A lot of it comes down the community that is Peace Corps, worldwide.

Through Peace Corps, I have friends around the world: Peru, Jordan, Botswana, the Ukraine, Lesotho, Benin, Panama, Zambia, Azerbaijan, to name a few…countries that many Americans probably don’t even know are countries. ¬†Primarily we have been brought together via friends-of-friends, the internet, stumbling across blogs, or random encounters in airports, and some have become close friends. ¬†No matter what country, we are connected through our experiences with the Peace Corps. ¬†It’s a family. ¬†A very diverse, strange, open family that reaches to all corners of the world.

The past week has highlighted the connections I have with other volunteers. ¬†Last Monday, a site mate moved into my village. In many PC countries, site mates are common, but not in South Africa. ¬†The fact that we live maybe a mile apart, and that I can see her school from my house, is nothing short of amazing in SA. ¬†She contacted me just before moving to the village, and we made plans to meet up on Friday. ¬†Favi, as I’ll call her, was pretty much a stranger to me. ¬†I had spent two days training at their PST, but since there were about 40 PCTs, I didn’t catch many names, and I don’t think we ever chatted.

So, essentially I was meeting a new neighbor. ¬†Should be awkward, right? ¬†Well, remember we are both PCVs. ¬†So when we finally met up, it was like we were long lost friends. ¬†We literally couldn’t stop talking, and I’m sure anyone who saw us on the street were amazed by how fast we were talking, and how animated we were.

Later on, an RPCV (returned PCV…aka, finished with service) from Liberia called me up and stopped by my place. ¬†We had met through a PC couch surf group, and she was wanting to see what a PCV site in SA looked like. ¬†We had chatted quite a bit on Facebook, and I was delighted to show her and three of her friends what the rural areas of SA are like. ¬†She spent about an hour at my place, and we all had a great time learning about each other’s PC services. ¬†We talked about all manner of things, and it was fascinating to learn what PC Liberia is like.

PC is a very unique experience. ¬†Very few organizations send Americans abroad for such a long amount of time, and to be completely integrated into a new culture and language. ¬†PCVs are trained to speak the target language, and embrace the culture of their host countries. ¬†Typically, volunteers live at the level of the people in their community, and give up many comforts of modern life. ¬†Of course, each county is different, but the highs and lows, joys and sorrows, struggles and successes, are relatively the same. ¬†They’ve even worked out a graph depicting the mental state of volunteers over their two years of service-worldwide, not country specific. ¬†PC can identify when volunteers will hit their highs and lows in service, based on a worldwide average, and it’s pretty darn accurate.

When I met with my cohort in Washington DC two years ago for staging, it was like I was meeting a group of friends I had known for years. ¬†We didn’t know anything about one another, or even our names, but we had a strong connection already. ¬†Each one of us had spent months (or years) applying for PC, and had fought through challenges to get there. ¬†After two years, we are still a closely connected group. ¬†We’ve been through some much while serving in PC, and there are some things that only other PCVs can understand. ¬†It has been like this with every other volunteer I’ve met. ¬†We understand each other on a deeper level.

Being a part of the PC community is amazing.  I look forward to returning to the states next year and getting involved with the Peace Corps community there, and for the random encounters with other volunteers in the future.

-Jen

PS…..random fact, but this is my 300th post. ¬†I thought about doing something special for it, but then decided the PC community was special enough. ūüôā

And It’s Back to the Grind!

I can safely say I am not good at posting when I’m on holiday in the USA (and that people laugh at me in the States when I say I’m “on holiday”).

I’m sitting in the Des Moines airport now, about an hour away from flying back from my holiday in the States. ¬†It has been a crazy, busy, wonderful month home. ¬†I saw so many good friends and family, though of course not as many as I’d like. ¬†I had amazing Mexican food, delicious cupcakes, tasty ice cream, and all sorts of other great foods. ¬†Including a deep fried Snickers bar on a stick at the Iowa State Fair.

Dad and I spent a weekend in Chicago. Oddly enough, I have flown, driven, and even taken a train through Chicago, but I have never actually “been” to Chicago. ¬†So we “tourist’d” up and set out to hit all the sites: Shedd Aquarium, the Soldier’s Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, the John Hancock Observatory (with an open air balcony….94 floors high), Navy Pier, and the Skydeck at the Willis Tower…aka Sears Tower. ¬†The Skydeck is 1,353 feet (412 meters) in the air, or 103 floors. ¬†It was a fun stop….you can see 4 flights from that high! ¬†We only got a little bit lost driving around Chicago (did you know there’s like an underground highway under downtown Chicago….not sure if we were supposed to be there, but….)

My parents thought it would be fun to move houses while I was back. ¬†So my last week went like this: Friday-get a new dog,Saturday-have Dad’s 50th birthday party at the new house with about 40 people, Sunday-PACK, Monday-move the old house to the new house, Tuesday-pack my bags and have Graham’s ice cream one last time, Wednesday-Leavin’ on a jet place. ¬†Crazy, right? ¬†Notice how we had a party at the new house BEFORE we actually moved. ¬†We like to live life on the edge.

And now I’m looking forward to sleeping for the next 16 hours. ¬†On a plane. ¬†Yeah, right. ¬†But at least I can watch some good movies!

 

And I have a province-wide Permagarden workshop I’m cofacilitating in 3 days. ¬†That’ll be an interesting experience, with jet lag and all!

-Jen

The Biggest Surprise Ever!

I know I’ve been silent the past few weeks, and there’s a very good reason for that. ¬†You see, I’ve been in the USA!

I’ve known for a few months that I would be going home to Iowa in July/August, but I chose to keep it a secret so I could surprise all my friends and family, primarily my father. ¬†Only my Mom and sister were in on the surprise. ¬†On the 25th of July, I border my flight in Johannesburg, landing back home in Iowa on the 26th, where my Mom kept me sequestered at home for the day. ¬†On the 27th, my Mom and I drove to meet my Dad at the end of RAGBRAI, which is a bike ride across Iowa. ¬†I surprised him at the finish line, which was an incredible experience. ¬†He certainly didn’t expect to see his daughter from South Africa at the end of RAGBRAI….speechless for sure!!

Since then I’ve been enjoying life in the States. ¬†I have a month at home before I head back for my third year of service, designated Home Leave by Peace Corps. ¬†PC bought my ticket and granted me 30 days of leave, which I am exceedingly grateful for. ¬†Good food, family, friends, and all the familiarity of home….I’ll post some pictures in the coming days!

-Jen

Last Few Vacation Pics

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Dad wasn’t happy that I was perched on the edge of this cliff.

So for your enjoyment, here are a few more pics from my Dad’s visit to SA. ¬†And then I swear I’ll update about the last month of my life.

 

 

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Cool birds at Kruger.

Rhino!  They were pretty far away from us, but it was great to see them....they are in grave danger due to poaching here.

Rhino! They were pretty far away from us, but it was great to see them….they are in grave danger due to poaching here.

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Bourke’s Luck Potholes

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Dad at the top of the world, AKA God’s Window.

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Feeding a Hippo and Zooming Through Trees

Dad and I quickly realized how short his trip to SA was.  After our safari day in Kruger, he only had 3 nights left in country!  On our was back down to the Graskop area, we made a short detour to do something extremely unique: visit Jessica the Hippo and interact with one of the most dangerous animal species in Africa!

 

Now, Jessica is a semi-domesticated hippo that was rescued after a flood about 13 years ago. ¬†Her “family” will tell you she’s still completely wild, but wild hippos do not eat bread and sweetened rooibos tea….I had mixed feelings about the visit for several reasons, and was horrified at the “funny” (aka extremely offensive and racist) story the host told us about a local printer. ¬†However, it was really cool to get up close and personal with a hippo, including feeding her, giving her some tea, kissing her, and giving her a back massage. ¬†I’m fairly sure this is a VERY unique experience, and was worth the money. ¬†For kids, it would be an amazing and once in a lifetime experience….heck, it was still that for my Dad and I.

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After shrugging off our slight misgivings about Jessica the Hippo, we continued on down the Panoramic Route and stopped off at the Three Rondevals, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, and God’s Window. ¬†The fog because extremely dense at God’s Window, so the employees let us in for free. ¬†Though we didn’t get to see the view, we did get to play around a bit on a slightly flooded and sparsely maintained rainforest trail.

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Our last big adventure was ziplining, which we did in Hazy View. ¬†There weren’t a whole lot of ziplines in Limpopo, but this one made up for that. ¬†It was a 3 hour, 9 line, 1.6km long zipline course. ¬†And WOW was it fun! ¬†I had been ziplining before, but this one was longer and a bit more…rugged than the last. ¬†Very African, but in a good way. ¬†The one I did on the Garden Route in 2011 was more strict, straight-laced, and formal feeling than this one….but I still felt 100% safe. ¬†Our guides were great, and our small group of 8 or so people were a fun bunch. ¬†One lady was pretty afraid at first, but seemed to have a blast. ¬† I fully intend to do another zipline in SA, and would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone! ¬†

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The day after ziplining, we headed back to Pretoria. ¬†On the way we stopped at the Sudwala Caves. ¬†I was a little let down by this attraction….the tours were tame, with big groups and lost of kids, and the guy talked extremely fast….I had to translate the English for Dad, and I even struggled to catch some things. ¬†It would be fun for kids, but it was underwhelming, though a nice break in the drive back.

 

Dad left the day before Easter, and I swear the saddest place in the world might be the airport departure gate. ¬†Or else the lonely Gautrain ride back to Pretoria. ¬†ūüôā ¬†He’s already talking about coming back, and my Mom wants to as well. ¬†Guess who is excited for that?! ūüėÄ

-Jen