Waging War

The spider in my pan.

The spider in my pan.

I swear, this year I am waging war on the bugs in my room. Last year, I only dealt with small spiders, tiny flying roach things, an occasional dung beetle, and a multitude of flies. I usually let the things live, except flies. Actually, fly swatting was my main form of exercise.

This year is a different story. I came home from MST to see ants on my floor. ANTS! Ants can quickly infest a PCV’s room, so I located the entrance, swabbed the trail with vinegar, sprinkled the hole with baking soda, and DOOMed it all for good measure. It didn’t really work.

I’ve dealt with more spiders and bigger spiders this year. Spiders above my bed, a spider in my pan, a spider by my face, spiders under my pillow….this could be a sequel to “Snakes on a Plane”-“Spiders in my Room”. I’ve never seen that movie, btw. Everywhere turn around I find spiders larger than an inch ready to jump at me. I was ok sharing my room with spiders when they hid alongside my wardrobe or behind my fridge. But they have mustered the troops and invaded my space, so now I’m on the offensive. Usually I stage a two-pronged attack: a chemical attack (DOOM) quickly followed by a decisive tactical move (shoe).

Yesterday, after finding a large spider in my pan, I thought I had faced the worst of the day. So I settled into my evening activities, and while my glasses were off, I noticed something large and orangish scuttle across my room. By the time I had put my glasses on again, the “thing” had scuttled away, presumably to the only safe haven in my room: under my bed. I had no clue what the “thing” was, but knew I needed to kill it in order to sleep. I bbm’d a frantic cry to another PCV, warning her of the impending danger and making sure PC would know where to find my dead, envenomed body (not really, but I considered asking her to call PC if I didn’t message back). I armed myself (DOOM, broom, umbrella) and put on the proper battle gear (shoes), gave myself a pep talk (fought back tears) and pulled my bed out quickly and found…

Nothing. The enemy was taunting me. I checked the enemy territory thoroughly in hopes of taking the warrior peaceful, to no avail. So I pushed my bed back and began Stage 2: DOOmation. I spray enough DOOM to cause permanent brain damage to myself, then went to the other side of my room. A few minutes later, the “thing” came scuttling out from under my bed, and in the heat of battle, all hopes of a peaceful negotiation flew out the window as I STAMPED him to death, with a loud battlecry (squeal).

After death was confirmed, a careful examination of the remains proved that I still had no clue what the “thing” was. It had 8 legs, 2 huge antennae, 2 nasty pinchers, and the body of a large ant. I conferred with fellow officers of the Insect Offensive Unit (facebooked) and uncovered the identification of the “thing.”

It was a solifugae, whose common aliases include camel spider, wind scorpion, sun spider, or seladia in Setswana. It name means “flees from the sun,” presumably in Latin. It is an arachnid, and thought not considered a spider or scorpion, is a relative of both. It is not venomous, though apparently it liquidizes its food with some sort of super-spit. It’s not dangerous to humans, though it could potentially leave a painful bite with its pinchers. The one redeeming quality is that eats flies and roaches. I’ll think twice before I kill the next invader.

The bottom line is: the teachers at school are terrified that the earthworms in our wormery will bite and kill them, but told me that I should not kill wind scorpions. See pictures below and tell me what YOU think about letting one of these live under your bed.
-Jen

Wind Scorpion!

Wind Scorpion!

See those pinchers?!

See those pinchers?!

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Typical Tuesday

I woke up at 6:20, as usual, and went through my routine of coffee, bathing, breakfast, packing up and was out the door at 7:30. I have been taking baths at night during the winter, but I forgot last night, so I had a cold morning bucket bath.

On my way to school I nearly died of shock: there was a white man walking through my village!! I can’t adequately explain how surprised I was, and realized that must be how villagers feel when they see me! Anyways, I arrived at school at 7:45 and waited until a kid finally brought the staffroom keys, then started unpacking and getting to work. I had to rush to Grade 5 to give them their spelling homework, which was the first period of the day. Tuesdays-Thursday they don’t have Assembly, so they sing and pray in the classes. So when I walked in, they all started singing and I tried to mask my bewilderment. Thankfully another teacher came in and directed them through the routine, as I had no idea what they needed to do. I gave them their homework, then headed back to the staffroom.

I noticed that a goat had broken into the schoolyard, so I went to chase it out and close the gate. However, as I chased it out, I realized the gate was completely closed! The goats were skinny enough to squeeze through the bars of the gate (winter means food is scarce, so all the village animals are looking a little thin). I chased another goat out a few minutes later, then walked to the far edge of the schoolyard to gather my cardboard compost bin lid that had blown off during the weekend. I was careful to look and listen for snakes in the long grass, and luckily did not see any. I fixed the compost bin, then went back to the staffroom to work.

The school cook brought my lunch (split pea soup and bread) at about 9:20, which I happily scarfed down, then I worked on editing an article for the PCSA newsletter, contacted Darien Book Aid, and responded to a church in my hometown who has books for my school. The principal came in awhile later and told me all about the white guy I had seen (I had mentioned it first thing in the morning). He apparently lives on a farm outside the village, doesn’t actually have a home, and comes into the village to buy liquor or things from the shop. So he’s the village drunk (one of many).

I had talked to the principal yesterday about developing some learner encouragement techniques for the staff to use to motivate the kids, so I bbm’d another PCV who had a bit more teaching experience than I. We messaged back and forth for a while discussing what would work best with the challenges my school faces. I have some good ideas now, and will be working on fine-tuning them over the next few weeks.

I then headed out to the garden to track down the records of produce sales, which I had been trying to get for a week. They keep records in a notebook, but I am also keeping my own records. I found my counterpart and finally got the totals, and then headed back inside. I spent some time working on a blog post about how a chicken has decided to use a flowerpot outside my door as an egg laying spot, worked some of learner of the month criteria, and piddled around a bit.

Then an educator came up to me, asking me to print photos for the sports registration forms. He told me there was a cross country meet in Piet Plessis tomorrow, and after a little bit of hinting, I got myself invited to go! Both my host brother and sister are going, which will be fun. I went back to working on learner of the month and finally settled on some good criteria, which I’ll present to the principal.

At 1:38, my principal handed me a scribbled note about a meeting at 1:40, which I then took to every single teacher in the school and had them read and sign it-typical procedure. Of course, I didn’t get done doing that until almost 1:50, which was fine because the meeting didn’t start until after 2. It was an insurance salesman, and I was a little offended that he didn’t try to sell me anything, hand me that paper he gave everyone else, or even acknowledge me until I bumped into him. So I worked through the meeting, combing through ideas on incorporating Permaculture into the curriculum, a project I’ll be working on through the end of the school year. I headed out at the meeting was wrapping up, at 3pm.

As I walked towards my house, I saw a group of workmen marching into my yard. Today was the day they assembled our new pit latrine. I chose to hide in my room, even though I really needed to pee. I didn’t feel comfortable peeing in an open-air pit latrine mere feet from a dozen men who likely want to marry me. They left after a while, thankfully. I tasted my pickles, which are delicious, frittered away time on my computer, made up a recipe for homemade Hamburger Helper sans hamburger (I used beef soya), made some cookies, and chilled. After washing my hair (didn’t do that this morning, as I didn’t need to), I’ll be burrowing into my warm blankets and drifting off to dreamland.
-Jen

Normal Monday

I’ve decided to illustrate what my life is like by chronicling each day this week in detail, so you can see what a week in the life of a PCV is like. I got the idea from a fellow PCV (Kelsey) who did this a few months ago. I assume this will be a normal week (besides Friday, you’ll see), but normal in Africa never means normal. We’ll see how it unfolds!

Here goes!
I woke up at 6am, stuck my arm out of my blanket to reset the alarm and snuggled deep into my warm blankets. I got up at 6:20 and made coffee, the returned to my blankets to check the overnight news and ready my Bible. I was running behind today (eish Monday) and didn’t end up dressing until 7:15, so I had to hurry while packing my school bag, and downed some breakfast as I headed out the door just after 7:30am.

I arrived at school at 7:45, just as the first bell was ringing. Because it was windy, the staffroom was thoroughly covered in a layer of dust, so right after assembly, a group of learners cleaned out the staffroom while I checked the garden. The wind had done some damage to our new recycling/compost area, and scattered mulch and debris around the garden. It was still quite cold at this time, so I headed back to the staffroom as the learners were cleaning up and settling down into my spot in the sunshine to warm up and read the news on my blackberry.

By 9am I was into my real work, editing some computer curriculum for my educator computer lessons. I was happily doing this when my lunch arrived, at 9:10am. I chowed down on my pap, cabbage, and soya then got back to work. I noticed how badly the goats were attempting to break into the school gates to eat the garden, to no avail. As I was working, a man and two kids (man taking care of kids…what?!) came in, presumably to register one or both girls for Grade R for next year. As the conversation was in Setswana, I’m not entirely sure. They left as I printed out my computer lessons, wondering where the main printer had gone over the weekend and settling for the cheap printer.

At 10:30 I looked around for my first “learner” for the computer lessons-my principal. She wasn’t there, no surprise. African time. She came twenty minutes later and switched her time permanently to the new hour. So awhile later she sat down for her hour-long lesson. I went through some of the basics of Microsoft Word, then had her work on a Type Faster lesson. As she slowly pecked away at the keys, I surfed the net for some Peace Corps blogs, one of my favorite pasttimes. I read while she typed, and half an hour later we finished up and I prepped for Grade 6 Spelling.

I headed to Grade 6 to give them their spelling homework and was very discouraged that they couldn’t even respond to “Good afternoon, class”. A few minutes later I was out of the class and headed to the garden to clean up a bit. I was trying to recover my compost heap when I smashed two fingers with a cement brick. So I decided I was done in the garden as I tried to figure out if I broke anything (thank goodness I didn’t, though typing now STILL hurts). I then decided I needed to go to the toilet, so I grabbed my toilet paper and headed out to the latrine….JUST as Grade 3 was heading out to recess. Now, the latrine has no door, and you can see into it from the yard pretty well, so I decided I did NOT need to go then.

I headed back to the staffroom and started to research Darien Book Aid, which provides a small grant of books, and has a special relationship with PCVs. I wrote up a request letter and bbm’d another PCV who had received books from them to ask a few questions. I also worked on editing an article for the PCSA newsletter.

After her English class, my principal and I sat down to talk about my plans for the rest of the year. We had a good discussion and it looks like I’ll be pretty darn busy for the next few months! Then I basked in the sun for a few minutes, shut my computer down, packed up my bag, and headed home at 3pm.

Once home, I rejoiced because the water was back on, and quickly filled my bucket. Then I grabbed some beef jerky and my chocolate bar (I had been saving it from town) for a snack. Odd but good combo. I started up my computer and played Sims 2 for a bit-yes, I am a dork. But I also get REALLY bored on nights and weekends. After awhile, my host mom came in a greeted me, then checked out some photos I had recently hung up. Then I made some pickles (can’t wait til they are ready to eat) and warmed up leftovers for dinner.

Then I wrote this blog while cuddling into my blankets, and will go to bed around 8:30pm.
-Jen

Whooah, We’re Halfway There

Yes, like the Bon Jovi song.

Congrats, SA24, we’re halfway there. Thirteen months, sometimes long, sometimes short. We came, we saw, we adjusted. We no longer flinch when handed some unidentifiable goat innards for lunch, can flawlessly shrug off advances from 60 year old men, and are masters at self-diagnosing the various causes of diarrhea. We no longer feel like the newbies, and all of us have unbelievable war stories.

On a serious note, it’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that my service is halfway over. Peace Corps is the hardest, most frustrating, and most rewarding thing I have ever done. I’m independent and self-reliant in a way I never thought was possible. I’ve gained a new understanding into my life and the lives of my villagers. Sometimes that is heartwarming, and other times it’s heartbreaking.

Peace Corps is a series of extremes. Extremely joyous, extremely sad, extremely angry, extremely lonely, extremely satisfied….I can only assume life in the US will be boring after being in the Peace Corps and its emotional roller coaster.

Some days, I am happy to be halfway through. There are days when I simply want to go into my room and cry, or escape to town and rant to other volunteers. Perhaps it was one whistle, one beg for money, one request for me to be a typist, or one advance too many. Maybe I am frustrated because my attempts at improving things are school are being ignored, pushed aside, or fought against. Maybe it was something entirely unrelated-my phone froze again, my water bottle leaked inside my bag, my stomach was hurting, or the shop was out of bread. These things happen often, and they can make things miserable.

But more often, it scares me to be halfway through. I am not ready. I’ve not accomplished half of the things I wanted to do, and there’s no way I’ll be ready to leave my village in 13 months. I’m the last PCV my school will have, and I feel pressured to make an impact that makes up for the PCV that won’t be coming after me. I work hard to try and make my work sustainable and lasting, so that when I leave, my school is better off than when I came. But two years isn’t enough time. It feels like a big clock is tick, tick, ticking away, counting down to my absence. At 13 months, 11 of them in my village, I feel like I’m just now grounded, just now knowing enough to get things done. It takes a long time to start being effective, and now I don’t have that much time left. What happened?

Other PCVs, worldwide, say the second year goes the fastest. I know I’ll be sitting here in 6 months, 8 months, or 12 months, scratching my head and frantically trying to wrap things up. I can’t push that away, or ignore it. That’s the harsh part about a two year commitment-it’s limited. Though I could apply to extend/spend more time here, there are several reasons why that’s not practical.

So, it’s two years. Oops, I mean 13 months. When did that happen?
-Jen

Reflections on South Africa: Life is Good

I live in Africa. This means that I am confronted with some of the worst poverty in the world on a daily basis. Even though I live in South Africa, and the government is fiscally able to support the poor, at the end of the day, people in my village go hungry, kids shiver themselves to sleep, people die from curable or treatable diseases, and children come to school without coats and shoes in the winter. In my village, where I call home.

The level of suffering in my village is hard for me to comprehend, even though I see it often. Kids steal unripe food from the garden, kids eat veld grasses, and nearly every child in the village is small and stunted. When I was in America, I was stunned to see how big and healthy young children looked. The adults suffer too. Hardly any people between the ages of 20-40 live in the village, either because they have died or because they live away from the family to find work. Almost every child in the village is raised by grandparents, many of whom live completely off their pension and social grants, or raise themselves.

Other PCVs are able to do fundraising, such as casual Fridays, where a kid can pay 1-2 rand to wear anything besides the uniforms. They do that once or twice a year at my school, and many children show up in the uniforms because they can’t pay the 1-2 rand. That’s about 25 cents, USD. Most schools have “snack ladies” that show up and sell sweets, biscuits, and crisps during lunch. My schools don’t, and the shops rarely stock such items because nobody can afford it.

Living in this reality makes me realize how truly blessed I am. I didn’t grow up in a rich family, and my parents certainly didn’t cater to my every whim. Yet I never went without what I needed, and my family usually found a way to provide for the things I wanted. I never went a week without seeing my parents, and I grew up in a fairly functional family. My sister and I weren’t passed out to relatives to raise us. I never had to worry about whether my mother or father was going to die. I never went hungry, thirsty, cold, sick….I never had to experience what nearly every child in my village has to experience.

Being a PCV can be truly heartbreaking. But it also shows me how truly good my life is. God has blessed me with so much, and before joining Peace Corps, I took most of that for granted. When was the last time you thanked God for a shower, steady electricity, insulation, carpet, a ceiling, not having to shake your shoes out for scorpions/tarantulas, reliable transportation….In America, we say Grace for our food, but how thankful are we really? How can we be truly thankful when most Americans have never gone hungry? I am incredibly grateful for the simple things in life, because I know what it’s like to live without these luxuries, now.

My life is good, and now I can spend two years trying to make the lives of my villagers better.
-Jen