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

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

Reflections on South Africa: Houses

My village has around 600 households, according to the 2001 census. It’s probably lower than that now because villages in the area are draining to larger villages or towns, like Ganyesa or Vryburg. Among those 600 houses, there are not a whole lot of variance.

There are half a dozen or so brick homes. These are the nicest homes in the village, by far. The are well built, have good roofs, and likely better insulated than most homes.

The vast, vast majority of homes are cement brick houses, including mine. These nearly always have corregated metal roofs, and the nicer ones are painted. The RDP government houses that were built last year are all this type of home. Cement homes can be as small as a single room to a large main house with smaller sets of rooms around the yard. These homes are hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and quite drafty. A corner of my cement room is crumbling where the roof beam enters the wall, and occasionally drops pieces of cement plaster into my kitchen area. These houses are study, but full of cracks and crumbling areas.

The other type of house that can be found in my village is a tin shack house. It’s literally a few pieces of metal roofing nailed to a few wooden poles, with a metal roof. They crop up overnight, and house families. Nearly all of them are smaller than my room, as it’s hard to have a big house if it’s made of tin. I’ve not been in one, but I am certain they are sweltering in the summer and frigid in the winter. These houses make me sad, but the government is trying to get these families into the cement RDP houses mentioned above.

Houses here are built much differently than in the States. They are meticulously planned out and saved for. A lot of people do not have bank accounts here because bank fees are high, so they might choose to keep the money “in the house”. When they have a little extra, they will buy some bricks and build part of a room. When times are tight, construction stops. Because of this, houses are often build one room at a time. Houses are slapped together over a period of years, and you can look at a house and see how it was built one or two rooms at a time.

Houses are often built in a compound-style. There is usually a main house, where the “nuclear” family lives, and which also has the kitchen, dining room, and living room. Of course, most houses in my village consist of only one or two rooms for the entire family. However, those who are well-off for village standards will also start building “free-standing” rooms around the family compound. I live in one, which shares a wall with another exterior room, which has the garage on the other side. Families use these rooms either to rent out, as in my case, or for visiting family members. During the school holidays, aunts, uncles, and cousins flood to my family’s compound, taking up the other exterior room.

I’ve only seen one house in my village that has running water. You can tell because the water heater unit looks like an oil drum attached sideways on the side of the house. The rest of us use pit latrines and bucket baths.

Though my house is rather crappy for American standards, it’s bright, large for PC standards, and pretty new. And it’s my home for the time being, my little oasis.
-Jen

A family's compound, with the main house (right) and exterior rooms (left)

A family’s compound, with the main house (right) and exterior rooms (left)

RDP Government Issue house

RDP Government Issue house

A tin shack house

A tin shack house

Another tin shack

Another tin shack

My host family's main house-one of the few painted houses, and one of the nicest houses here.

My host family’s main house-one of the few painted houses, and one of the nicest houses here.

My house (aka room)!

My house (aka room)!

There is a Robot in the Kitchen

I’m in America!

I left PTA around 2pm on Saturday, even though my flight didn’t leave until 8:30pm because I’ve heard more than one horror story from PCVs who have left too late and missed their flights, to their complete loss.  I took the Gautrain to JNB airport, which was nice, easy, and relatively cheap considering my other options.  When we flew in for PC last year, all 56 of us were herded through customs, luggage claim, and onto a bus in a foggy haze of exhaustion, so I was a little overwhelmed on entering the airport, and frustrated with its general African-like lack of useful signs.  But I found my way through check-in, rather lax security, and to my gate, and spent the next 4 hours or so talking with a few Americans and people watching (moving sidewalks….that’s all I need to say).  About an hour before the flight left, the told us to get into lines because they were doing another security check (just sayin’-good idea) and manually searched through every single carry-on of all of us.  I had fun stunning people when I spoke Setswana, and found my wondering aisle seat on the plane and started watching a movie before we even took off.

The flights went well, though it was pretty rough the entire time.  For almost the first 10 hours straight, we were told to remain in ours seats and keep out seatbelts on.  We kind of ignored that because in 10 hours, nearly everyone has to use the toilet.  It got a little better when we were over the Caribbean, but still, I felt like a bobble-head chihuahua dog the entire flight.  The food was good, I watched a lot of movies/tv shows, and slept maybe an hour or two.  The food was actually VERY good and made me very happy as I scarcely broke into my rather large stash of snacks for the plane. 🙂  Go Delta!

I had an hour and fifteen minute layover in ATL, so I rushed through customs, begged my way into the nice/first class/short security line, and was literally running through the terminal, to find my flight was delay 15 mins, then 15 mins, then some more.  We left over an hour later, so they issued  us all meal vouchers.  Again, go Delta!  The airport emergency security system alarms went off TWICE while i was in ATL airport, but we never ended up having to do anything.  I talked with more Americans for awhile then dozed on the 2 hour flight, which was again a little rough, but better than the international one.

I surprised my parents in the airport with my VERY African garb and jewelry, and we stopped at Ma and Pa’s Kettle in Cameron, MO on the way home from the aiport, where EVERYONE stared at me.  So much for being anonymous.  Maybe bringing only my very bright African skirts wasn’t the best idea.  I highly recommend the restaurant though, we I had real Pepsi, chicken strips, and ranch for the first time in a year.  We also stopped at Kum and Go where I got my first Cherry Pepsi in a year.

I’ve noticed a few problems….I keep wanting to yell at Mom or Dad to get on the “right” side of the road, so I will seriously not be driving while I’m here.  I freaked out a bit at the restaurant, which was very crowded, noisy, and the tables were smooshed together.  Not in a bad way, but a little hard for an American-turned-rural-PCV on my first restaurant encounter in America.  I again freaked out a little at Kum and Go when I saw allllll the varieties and flashy packages, etc.  I ended up staring at the ground, dashing to find my Cherry Pepsi, then finding Mom to get the heck out of there.  We’ll see how Walmart and a mall goes over the next week.  It is all very overwhelming right now though.

Mom and Dad have done a lot of major work on the house, including redecorating a few rooms, buying all new appliances and furniture, and reflooring/painting the stamping room, so the house was strange.  The bought a new fridge, which has an icemaker, and as I was sitting in the dining room eating Happy Joe’s Taco Pizza, I hearing a whizzing mecharical noise from the kitchen.  I look up at home with bugged eyes and said “There’s as Robot in the Kitchen”.

Needless to say, my parents are finding me to be an odd new thing and I think I’m entertaining them.  I know I was entertained when we turned off at the wrong place in Cameron and the GPS got mad.  Dad was very worried and chattering up a storm about how we would never find this place.  I just said “Chill.  There was a big sign on the highway, it’ll be on the main drag, just chill and we’ll find it or eat something else.”  Africa has definitely changed me.

-Jen