Medical Hold, Part 2

I know I haven’t written in a few weeks, so I thought it might be nice to update a little.

So, after falling, breaking my arm, and having surgery, I spent three days in a hospital in Pretoria. It wasn’t an overly pleasant experience. The hospital was modern and the doctors were great. But, unfortunately, the nursing staff was overall not fantastic. Three days was more than enough hospital time for me.

I was released after a total of four nights in two different hospitals, and here’s the kicker-I didn’t have clothes. I came to Pretoria only with the few things I had at with me at work the day I fell, such as a pack of colored pencils, a book, my bank card, and my two cell phones (no charger). My supervisor had taken the clothes I wore home, with the intention of bringing clean clothes when I was released. However, due to having to leave Tzaneen quickly to get to surgery in Pretoria, she couldn’t get to town and bring a bag of things for me to take to Pretoria.

So, I was released from the hospital in a nightgown, robe, and slippers that my supervisor had bought in town the day I was admitted.

Then I had to go shopping for new clothes in my nightgown. In a mall in Pretoria. Yes, now it’s funny. But at that point I was dying of humiliation!

I’ve spent the time since in Pretoria hanging out with friends, writing my novel for NaNoWriMo, and not doing much else. After a week, someone from my site happened to come to Pretoria, and they brought a bag of stuff for me, mostly clothes and my computer. I’m so thankful for it, as otherwise I’d be out of luck!

I’ve been doing lots of physical therapy and have had an overall good time, though Pretoria does start to get boring after a while. PC determined that I’d be here the full six weeks, which is a long time!

But at least I finished writing my novel for NaNoWriMo. With a late start, I ended up writing 50,000 words in just two weeks!

Medevac/Medical Hold, Part 1

The last week or so has changed a whole lot of things. The short story is that I fell, broke my arm, had surgery, and will spend 6 weeks recovering in Pretoria. If you don’t want any details, you can stop reading here. If you want more info, read on. I will slowly but surely manage to type out the story!

Last Thursday, I was working at the food security project, and we happened to be harvesting tomatoes. Towards the end of the day, we were separating out the last few tomatoes to take to the market the following day. I had my hands full of tomatoes and was walking towards a pickup truck to put them in the back. I tripped, and my right arm flew up, catching on the side of the truck. I face planted into the tire, and the rest of my body was against the ground. I immediately knew something was wrong, as my arm HURT at the shoulder. I flipped onto my back to figure out what was wrong, and my arm just sort of flopped to the side. I knew then that something was seriously wrong. I waited a bit to see if the pain subsided, then called my PCMO to see where he wanted to me to go. He directed me to the Tzaneen private hospital, and after a few more calls, a ride to town was arranged.

The ride was horrible. My arm hurt badly, and a few kilometers on a dirt road, then the rest driving very fast down a tarred road with potholes meant I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t get comfortable, but at least the ride was only about half an hour.

I arrived at the hospital, and after a bit of confusion, managed to sort everything out with the PC paperwork that was faxed in. Then rushed me into a room and tried to make me comfortable, and later sent me off to X-ray. At this point, I thought I had dislocated my shoulder, so when the technician said “it” was broken, I was pretty concerned. It wasn’t a simple fractured wrist….it turned out I had essentially snapped the humorous in half right near the head of the shoulder. It was a clear break, but serious.

The doctor quickly mentioned surgery, which freaked me out a bit because I hadn’t had a chance to discuss anything with the PCMO since I first called him. I told the doctor I preferred the non-surgical option, so he rigged me up in a sling and wheeled me off to a room to spend the night. I called the PCMO, and he was very surprised the doctor wanted to do surgery. He set a whole bunch of things in motion, including calling the other PCMO, the medevac regional doctor, the country director, a surgeon in Pretoria, and PC in Washington DC.

I don’t remember much about the first night, so I assume I was seriously drugged up. I do remember the sling being very painful, and thinking that surgery was definitely in the cards-I couldn’t stand six weeks in that sling, waiting for the bone to heal naturally.

My PCMO came up the next morning, and after talking with my doctor and a doctor in Pretoria, decided to move me to Pretoria for the surgery. The trip to town was very unpleasant, compounded by the fact that the AC wasn’t working in the car and it was in the 90s. I was happy to be in a car with diplomatic plates (which can’t be stopped by the police), as the normally 4.5-5 hour drive took only 3.5 hours. I made it to the hospital in Pretoria a little after 4pm, and after checking in, went straight into surgery. I woke up later in pain, of course, but feeling much better than I had before.

I’ll write more about my three remaining days in the hospital later, and what has happened since. Now I’m on medical hold in Pretoria for 6 weeks. PCSA doesn’t really do medevacs, since we are a medevac country, but that’s essentially what I am. I’ve got 45 day (6 weeks) to recover and get back to site, which the doctor is confident will happen. If not, well….theoretically I could be medsepped, but the doctor is confident I’ll recover enough to return to site.

For now, I’m on a medical holiday in Pretoria. I’m sure I’ll be bored out of my mind soon enough, but with a bunch of PCVs here now, I’m enjoying it.

Just Paint a Target on my Back

I’ve tried to steer clear of this topic on my blog, partly because I don’t want to represent PC this way, and partly because writing about it stresses me out to no end. But based on the events of the past week, I don’t think I could ignore it if I tried.

As a PCV in South Africa, I am rarely safe. I feel safe in my home, and just about anywhere in my village, but as soon as I leave my village, I’ve got a big target painted on my back, saying “Rob me! Grope me! Harass me!”
And I’m sick of it.

Last week was a bad week. I was in Pretoria Monday through Thursday for medical, and went through my shopping town Vryburg on Saturday. Early Tuesday morning, around 4am, I was awoken by some soft rustling and movement outside, which was later followed by loud screams, running, and loud banging on my roof. The next morning at breakfast, I found out some men had broken into my favourite backpackers, a place I had always felt safe at, and escaped by climbing on top of my roof and hoping the wall. The next day, after returning from the Peace Corps office, I found out a PCV had been pickpocketed at the Hatfield mall, a place I often shop at alone when in Pretoria. Then on Saturday, as my friend Tumi and I were walking from the taxi rank in Vryburg, I heard bloody-murder-screams right behind me, turned around, and saw a man mugging Tumi. I started to run towards her, ready to punch the thief upside the head, when the thief broke away from Tumi and ran off with her phone. Broad daylight, tons of people around, and nobody tried to stop it. Later that day, as we headed back to the rank, two men came up to us and went to grab/grope/hug me when I held up my arm and told them I’d hit them if they touched me. The men backed off.

Obviously not every week is dramatic or full of crime, but often my trips to town include shrugging off inappropriate remarks, turning down proposals, avoiding gropings, and trying not to get mugged or pickpocketed. I’ve been warned by strangers on the street about the boys who will steal my purse. I am so highly vigilant that I end up exhausted. I was shaken and disoriented all day after watching Tumi’s mugging, and am literally scared to go to my shopping town again. We had done everything right, everything PC had taught us, but crime still happens. Being white and using the taxi ranks makes us a huge target, and thieves are now actively targeting us for thefts around the rank.

With an unemployment rate of 29.8%, and an expanded unemployment rate of 40%, it’s no wonder SA has a high crime rate. Add to that the racial and economic equalities that still exist and the problem only escalates. Some even question if PC should be in such a crime-ridden country. I’ve lost count of the number of PCVs I know who have been mugged or assaulted. Heck, according to the stats we were given at MST, half of the PCVs in my cohort will be a victim of crime in this quarter, our “mid-service quarter”.

I’m at a loss as to how to prevent being a crime victim in my shopping town. I’ve had 2 attempted muggings and a guy grope me, all in daylight, in crowded areas, when I was traveling with other PCVs. I wasn’t showing off my “wealth,” but being white automatically broadcasts a “rob me” signal.

I’m sick of the crime, and I’m exhausted with trying to prevent it. I’m pretty sure I’ll have PTSD by the end of my service. When I was back in Texas, I realized how jittery and on-guard I was in public, and how relaxed my sister was. I was unreasonably vigilant, and didn’t really know how to calm down.

That all being said, the PC Safety and Security Coordinator (SSC) called me and my friend on Sunday morning and made sure we were alright and advised us. The Country Director and Medical Officer (CD and PCMO) also contacted Tumi over the weekend and offered all the support they could. PC’s response was amazing, and training helped us know how to respond to the incident. But at the end of the day, crime still happened, Tumi was without a phone, and we were both traumatized..

Epic Everyday Travel

PCVs always have the best travel stories, and they usually revolve around something as mundane as grocery shopping. So you can imagine how much fun I can have on a trip to the capital for medical.

At MST, the dentist and I decided I needed to have my last wisdom tooth removed, based on the fact that it had been causing me a lot of pain for the last 10 months. Peace Corps agreed, after a discussion with the regional medevac doctor and a disgruntled PCMO (pretty much all PCVs have to have theirs removed, and my PCMO was not happy that I had one left). Because of scheduling with the surgeon, I couldn’t have it done at MST and had to return to PTA later in the month.

I was not happy about having to travel to Pretoria twice in a month, especially because crime against PCVs in Pretoria has become noticeably worse. But I decided to make the best of it. I worked with medical to have the surgery scheduled the week after a wedding I had been invited to, and thus began my epic everyday travel.

I left my village and managed to meet two PCVs in Vryburg, one who was sick and going to a local doctor, and one who just wanted to be our bodyguard (it’s sadly necessary). So Tumi, Tsiamo, and I had an early lunch together and had fun sharing our crazy village experiences of the past few weeks. We got Tumi to the doctor, and Tsiamo walked me to the rank where I found my taxi to Rustenburg. Sound familiar? Rustenburg’s the heart of the current mining unrest that has swept the nation. But luckily I wasn’t headed to Rustenburg, yet. After waiting hours for the taxi to fill, more hours traveling, and an hour or more stopped at construction, I managed to arrive at the farm of my friends Sue and cajun, who were getting married the following day. I spent the next two days celebrating their beautiful marriage, chatting with white, coloured (not an offensive term here), and black South Africans…and even 4 other Americans!! It was an incredible weekend, and I found my real South African family. I was invited to spend time with 3 or 4 families that live in Johannesburg and had some very interesting discussions about village life versus urban life. One guy laughed and pointed out that he was asking a foreigner (me) about the culture in his own country….nobody visits rural village here unless they have to.

On Sunday, after a beautiful rainstorm, I was given a ride to Phokeng, the township of Rustenburg and about as close to the mining unrest as I could be (don’t kill me Mom, I swear I was safe). I visited a PCRV, a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, who was spending about 10 months in country assisting with the Special Olympics African Unity Cup. She lived (LIVED!) in a B&B, one where the police who came to assist with the mining unrest were staying. I spent on night with her, and we talked long into the night. The next morning, after gifting me with a few things she wouldn’t need once she COS’d, she pointed me to the taxi that would take me to Rustenburg. I hailed the taxi like a pro and quickly found the taxi to Pretoria once I arrived in Rustenburg.

After a quick stop at the office, I got to the backpackers and spent the evening getting to know some new PCVs. The next day I had a quick tooth extraction-it was seriously like 5 minutes. The next few days I spent eating soft foods and in a codeine-induced haze. About 48 hours after the surgery, I was on a taxi to my friend Tumi’s site. I was doing a permaculture workshop with her school, which deserves its own post.

A bakke, 6 kombies, 4 taxis, and a fair amount of walked led me to a wedding, 2 PCV sites, and Pretoria. Oh how epic a simple doctor visit can be!


Upon my return to SA, I went back to the middle of MST-Mid Service Training. MST is 40% celebration that we lasted so long, 45% medical and dental checkups to make sure PC isn’t killing us, and 15% sessions on somewhat relevant information. It’s also kind of a PC-paid vacation, so thank you taxpayers of America! Actually, it’s really low key, and we stayed at a backpackers in Pretoria and not in a nice resort, like at IST and COS. So thank you a little bit, taxpayers of America. 🙂 Although I was horribly jet lagged and utterly exhausted, I arrived at the backpackers around 11am and immediately was inundated with “JENNNN!!! YOU’RE BACK!!!! *hugs galore* How was America?!?!” I love my SA24s!! I had brought back Reese’s PB cups for everyone, and made myself quite popular when I began handing them out!

I missed nearly all the sessions because I had been gone for the first two days of MST. However, the important part is the medical and dental checkup, where I received good and bad news. I was declared worm-free (yay!) but was told I have to have a wisdom tooth take out (ugh). That’ll happen before the end of the month, when I have to travel back to Pretoria (ugh) but get showers (yay!).

MST was mainly a nice time to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen for months and relax a bit before heading back to site. I managed to travel back to Vryburg with 3 other PCVs, and one of them and I ended up staying at a guest house for one night in Vryburg before headed back to site. It was nice and we enjoyed getting one last shower!

I caught a ride back to Kudunkgwane with my principal Monday morning, and spent a long, tired day back at school before I got to go home and unpack. The first week back was hard because I was exhausted from all my traveling and battling flu-like side effects from my Hep A shot. But all is well now, and I am enjoying village life once again!

Some of the PCVs I saw at MST I probably won’t see again until COS, the Close of Service conference in May. How crazy is that?! COS will be the last time SA24 is all together, ever. Sad!

Street Names

I’ve been in PTA for over a week now, and the city is in the process of changing the street names.  Changing the main street names in the capital city…I…hmm…well, I have a few strong opinions about this that I’ll try to verbalize without sounding like a jerk.

The idea behind changing the street names is great, I think.  Most of the street names that have been changed were named after horrible Apartheid supporters.  They are including names from all nationalities/languages in the new names, including Afrikaner names.  Despite what you may think, not all Afrikaners are bad.  There are some great Afrikaners.  Pretoria just has a lot of streets named after not-great Afrikaners.

Change-good, right?  Maaaaybe not.  You see, changing the street names is REALLY confusing.  Especially to someone like me.  I don’t come here much, and suddenly I have a few dozen of the biggest streets to rename in my head.  Ay batho, not cool.  I love the idea behind it, but the city has invested a lot of money in putting up temporary signs that has the old name crossed out in red, and the new name.  Considering Limpopo province is broke and nearly every rural school in the country desperately needs supplies, I feel like that money could have been used more efficiently.  In about 6 months, they will remove the temporary signs and the streets will just be going by their new names.

I have a map that I recently got.  PTA is a little confusing to get around in, and now my map is useless.  Many businesses have signed with the old names, and they will now need to invest in new signs.  Changing things up like this can hurt tourism because it makes it harder to get around.  And not all the changed names were once named after Apartheid supporting Afrikaners, so the Afrikaner population is not happy.  Also, a lot of the new names are really long and hard to pronounce.  Afrikaners generally do not like this idea, and they feel like SA is trying to erase history.  Yeah, it’s not a great part of SA history, but it is a part of the country’s past.

Apartheid ended nearly 20 years ago, and these are the things SA is struggling to change.  Can you see why race relations are still terrible in this country?  Also, they want to change the name of Pretoria to Tshwane….that’s an even worse controversy.  Oh yeah, next year is an election year, and the ANC is losing its chokehold on SA….wonder why they were hasty to change the street names this year?

Read about it here

One of the “redlined” street signs.


Kreate Pizza

Since I’ve been spending some extra time in PTA (more on that in a later post), I’ve gotten to eat some delicious food.  I mean, legit delicious food.  It makes me happy.  And on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, Khayalethu Backpackers, where I am staying, opens up their pizza restaurant-Kreate Pizzeria.  Now, this is a really good pizza place because it’s wood-fired pizza, and its create-your-own.  There’s a list of available ingredients and you pick and choose.  YUM!!  Tonight is my last night in PTA (until I return to fly home next week) and Kreate is open.  Guess what I’m having for dinner soon!  I’m thinking mushroom, tomato, green pepper, onion, pineapple…who knows.  Probably a veggie pizza tonight.  Gotta get my vitamins.

Here’s a few pictures I took the other night.


Mixing Cohorts

Because of the size of South Africa, training groups (cohorts) don’t always mix much with other training groups.  My cohort is SA24, and currently in country are PCVs from SA22, SA23, and SA25, along with a handful of SA20 and SA21.  In about a month, SA26 will arrive, and SA22 will be leaving by September.  But at any given time, there are 4 SA cohorts.  You would think there’s a lot of opportunity to mix cohorts and meet volunteers from different groups, but for a few reasons that doesn’t always happen.


During PST, PCVs gain a close bond with other PCVs in their cohort, and during the first 3 months at site, we are not allowed to travel.  Around half of us are in North West or Northern Cape, and besides 3 PCVs, only SA24s are stationed in those provinces.  So half of us couldn’t meet up with other PCV cohorts, even if we wanted.  The ones in Limpopo have other cohorts around, but are still clustered around shopping towns of SA24 PCVs.  So for our first 5 months in country, we had few opportunities to meet PCVs from other cohorts.


This week, at Warden Training, I’ve been lucky to meet and get to know a few PCVs from other cohorts, and it’s been wonderful.  Thought we are different “ages” in PC/in different points of our service, we can easily relate to each other and there is a camaraderie between us naturally that is kind of rare. PCVs are a unique breed.  It’s been fun learning from them, swapping stories, and catching up on all manner of PCV gossip.  It’s been the first time that I’ve been able to mix with other cohorts much, and it’s been a lot of fun.  I wish SA was a bit more like other countries where PCVs from different cohorts were able to hand out more, but SA is a huge country and has 150-200 PCVs at any given time.  We get new training groups in twice a year, so things are always happening and changing.  SA has a crazy high ET rate, which means “older” cohorts are often dwindling in size.  And as there are two different programs, SCRP and CHOP, there are two pretty different sets of PCVs and projects going on.


But when we can get together, it’s a blast.  And I get to learn new things about PTA from the older training cohorts.  🙂


I’m just leaving all these acronyms for you to figure out.  At training today, there was a slide that had CD, PCMO, PCV, OMS, RSO, PCSSO, and CIRS on it…and I knew almost all of them.  By the end of my service, I’ll be set to work in the government!


Reflections on South Africa: First and Third World

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?