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

Safari Christmas

Traffic Jam!

Traffic Jam!

So my second African Christmas holiday was quite different than Christmas 2011. It included a trip to a game reserve, good food, grilling out (braai) Christmas dinner, and a fun and beautiful early birthday celebration. Oh yeah, while chilling on the porch, we heard monkeys chattering and lions roaring in the distance. Yeah, I’m in Africa!

I decided back in November that I would spend Christmas with two South African friends I met at a permaculture workshop. Through our permaculture interests, we became fast friends, and I even attended their wedding back in October. Cajun and Sue, my friends, lived on a small piece of land outside Rustenburg, in the gorgeous foothills (near the platinum mines). I was excited to spend Christmas with my white SA “family” and truly experience Christmas in another culture. Of course, their family is a mix of different cultures and traditions, and it was pretty awesome.

The day I got there was pretty hectic. I met Sue about a block from the Rustenburg taxi rank, in a seriously sketchy part of town. Besides an unfortunate bus ride in Mexico and taking the wrong exit out of a shopping mall in Durban, this was the sketchiest place I’ve ever been to. Me, with my big bag and glaring white skin-I was a little (lot) out of place, but Sue soon pulled up and off we went to a mall. Yes, a mall in Africa 3 days before Christmas. It was insane, but we got what we needed and got out of there. By the time we arrived at their house, we were beat and spent the evening catching up, fonduing, and relaxing.

The next day we rose at a horrible hour-I was so tired I don’t even remember the time. We wanted to be at the Pilanesburg gate by around 6am, when it opened. Pilanesburg is about an hour away. You do the math. We ran a little bit late, but got to the gate before 7am, I think. We pulled into the park and BAM Kudu! The animal after which my village is named. We spent all day driving through the park and saw tons of zebra, kudu, waterbuck, wildebeest, giraffe, hippos, a croc, birds, rhinos, babies of all sorts, and elephants. It is seriously amazing to see a family of elephants walking alongside the road, or to get caught in a traffic jam caused by a herd of zebra. Though the day was dreadfully hot, we had a ton of fun, and I enjoyed my first experience in an African game reserve!

Sue setting up Christmas Eve dinner.

Sue setting up Christmas Eve dinner.

The following day, Christmas Eve, we had to go to the mall again to shop for Christmas food. It was even crazier, but despite a broken phone and keys locked in the car, all went well. We made it home in the afternoon and spent the evening making Christmas Ham and Christmas Cookies. American style cookies-that was my cultural contribution. That night we lit candles for our loved ones far away as the sun set, and stuffed ourselves full of good food and cookies.

Lighting candles for those far away.

Lighting candles for those far away.

Christmas included hilarious gifts that only a PCV would appreciate: 2 ply toilet paper (what luxury!!) and a braai grill (so I can always cook, even if the power is out). We at too much chocolate, after I was introduced to a typical chocolate candy mix whose name I’m blanking…something Sweets. Anyways, we braaied (as in, I watched) steaks and gypsy spits, which are an incredible bit of bacon-wrapped goodness, and which I shall bring back to the USA. We had potato salad, lettuce salad, and steaks for Christmas dinner….what a strange world I live in. We also roasted marshmallows, and I promised to make s’mores happen sometime in the future.

Braaimaster cajun preparing Christmas dinner.

Braaimaster cajun preparing Christmas dinner.

The next day was not my birthday, but we celebrated 3 days early, as I was leaving before my actual birthday. Sue cooked a beautiful Israeli dish whose name I also cannot remember, but involved eggs, tomatoes, and other sorts of deliciousness. I sat down to a place setting covered in beautiful flowers and herbs from the garden, each with a special meaning. We watched a lot of movies that day, as we were still tired from all the excitement from previous days. And we still ate lots of Christmas cookies, finally finishing them off at night. I made tacos for dinner, which involved handmade tortillas, which cajun helped me roll out, pico de gallo, guacamole, and seasoned beef mince…everything homemade! It was quite an effort, but so, so delicious.

I had to leave on the 27th to meet a friend in Pretoria, but on the way we stopped at the Hartesbeesport Dam. It was busy, but cool. It’s obviously a hot tourist destinations, and there are seriously fancy lakehouses (overlooking a smelly lake). We stopped at a bead/rock shop, which I spent too much time and money at. 🙂 Then off to PTA, where I had to say goodbye to my friends.
-Jen

Birthday!

Birthday!

What Happened to December?

I am indeed alive and well. December was such a busy month that I decided to take a holiday break from blogging and just enjoy the festive season. It would be a little unfair for me to completely ignore the events of December, when I was repeatedly reminded of how welcoming, kind, and open-hearted people are in this country.

At the beginning of December, just before the school let out for the summer holidays, I zoomed off for a short stop in Pretoria (PTA) and on to the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) near Johannesburg. The PDC rates its own post due to the complete awesomeness of the course and the people who came. Maybe even 2 posts! Let’s just say it was a game changer, for certain!

After the PDC, I went back to PTA to spend a few days in the First World with Tumi and her boyfriend P. We thoroughly enjoyed shopping for clothes and eating good food for a few days. I tried Ethiopian food for the first time, and I sincerely hope I never have to move to Ethiopia. Not my idea of delicious, but I would give it another try. After PC, I’ll pretty much try, eat, and convincingly pretend to enjoy ANY food offered.

After purchasing some new summer clothes (necessary after 1.5 years of handwashing) and stuffing myself with food, Tumi, P, and I parted ways for Christmas: Tumi to Cape Town, P back to the village, and me off to my wonderful friends near Rustenburg.

Again, my visit to Sue and cajun rates its own post, but as a quick recap, we went to Pilanesburg, heard both lions and monkeys while sitting in their yard (Africa!), make American style cookies, shared our Christmas and birthday traditions, ate lots of wonderful food, and talked a lot about plants. These are my permie friends, fyi.

I went back to PTA for just one night to meet up with Oratile, a PCV who lives nearish to me. I though I’d just see her and another PCV, but suddenly 8 other PCVs, one brother of a PCV, and I were all catching up over dinner! Ahhh PC life is awesome!

The next day Oratile and I woke up early to get to the first taxi to Vryburg. We got good seats and the kombi filled up quickly, and after several long, loud, bumpy, hot hours on the kombi, we got to Vryburg. We located the taxi to her village (there is exactly 1 per day), did some quick shopping, then set off on another long, hot, loud, and bumpy three hour ride to her village. A horde of children were waiting for us as we got off the taxi who quickly rushed to pick up all our bags and carry them off to Oratile’s room. A tiny girl who had to be no older than 7 or 8 picked up my massive hiking backpack and carried it away, no problems….whereas I had struggled with it. 🙂

Oratile’s village is strange because there are white people there. We both pretty much agree that Apartheid still exists in her village, and I’ll write more on it later. Sufficient to say that I had a wonderful birthday which included swimming outdoors, I snuggled with a baby warthog, and I celebrated the New Year at an 80s theme party with loud Afrikaans pop music sprinkled with several rounds of “Cotton Eyed Joe”.

Needless to say, Africa is a very strange place.

And now: welcome back to the Third World. The village welcomed me back by being out of food staples like eggs and potatoes. Considering I didn’t get to shop before I came back, it’s been an interesting week for food!
-Jen

Father’s Day

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and it will be one of the last holidays I celebrate in the USA and with my family for awhile.  I leave for staging July 5th, so the 4th of July will be my last holiday.  But since we will either be camping or visiting extended family, it was nice to have one last holiday at home.  And a great day to celebrate my amazing Dad, who is always there for me, and will be while I’m in South Africa.  I (with Mom’s help) made him breakfast-yum!!  We found some funfetti pancake mix, and it was delicious and festive.

Anyways, obviously going away from home for two years means I will miss a lot.  Some of it I expect: Christmases, birthdays, vacations, holidays, the wedding of an awesome friend and sorority sister, my sister’s graduation, etc.  Others  I pray don’t happen but might: deaths, primarily.  When I decided to become a PCV, I knew I would have to miss some milestones in the lives of my friends and family.  It’s not a fun reality, but it’s part of being a PCV.  Anyone who considers going into the PC has to think long and hard about how we will handle being away, as I did when I began applying.  I will have to find new ways to celebrate things with my family, and ways to celebrate while I’m in SA.  I am looking forward to learning about new traditions and celebrations in SA, and bringing those home to share with my friends and family at the end of service.  So while I do have to leave things behind, I have the opportunity to embrace new things as well.

I’m just going to have to remember to send my Father’s Day card a long while in advance. 😉

-Jen