Living in a Food Insecure Household

Prior to moving to Africa, I failed to understand what food security meant on a personal basis.  Though I grew up in a household that didn’t have a lot of money, we always had food.  I never went hungry. 

However, during PST, the first few months of training in South Africa, I lived with a family and ate what they ate.  I didn’t truly realize it at the time, but the family I stayed with was food insecure.

Let me be clear, I never went hungry. But I often wasn’t full.  Our meals were limited in choice and greatly emphasized cheap carbs like pap (stiff maize porridge), rice, and bread.  Though we had protein at almost every meal, the servings were quite small.  I didn’t eat many fruits and vegetables, and sometimes would go days without either.

Peace Corps delivered a food parcel every two weeks.  The first few days after it was delivered were great-we had fresh fruit, green vegetables, and our meals were varied.  The rest of the week, the fruit was gone and the vegetables started to peter out.  The second week meant I was often hungry after lunch, and meals were mostly comprised pap and chicken.  My family almost always had chicken at the evening meal, which was great, but the portions would dwindle during the second week.  Some of the meals I had included penne pasta noodles with ketchup and chicken; lettuce and cheese sandwiches for lunch; pap and baked beans; and eggs, bread, and homemade French fries. Not exactly nutritious or delicious.

I remember times when I would open my lunch at 10am and frown because I was already hungry from breakfast and there wasn’t much for lunch.  There were no snacks.  There was no junk food.  During PST, trainees are given a tiny stipend of about $15usd a week, so I was not able to supplement the family’s food often with my budget.  I would occasionally buy some fruit to share or some chips to eat at lunch, but with such a small stipend, and it didn’t go far.

I lived in a food insecure household for 8 weeks, and that experience will never leave me.  I can’t imagine living that way for the rest of my life, but at least 12 million people in South Africa do.  I have no idea what it would have been like if Peace Corps hadn’t provided food parcels to our host families.  Those food bundles ensured our food security while I was living in the household, and it troubles me that this wasn’t necessarily the case prior to my arrival.

Food insecurity has become an important issue for me since I arrived in Africa.  Food security ought to be a basic human right, but at least 12 million people in South Africa are denied it.  Most of the people in my village live in food insecure household.  I’ve spent most of my service trying to ensure that, in some small way, families in my village can learn to be self-sufficient and ensure their own food security.  Yet climate change and its impact on villages like mine concerns me, and threatens to undo all the work I’ve down over the past few years.  Sadly, there’s no easy answer.

I can’t wave a magic wand and fix these problems.  But I can give people the knowledge to improve their own lives and ensure a better future.  And I’m trying to do that on a very small scale.
-Jen

Swearing In

Somehow I managed to update my blog last time without talking about one of the most important days as a PCV-Swearing in!

We swore in as real PCVs on September 8th. Because of the US budget cuts, our swearing-in was more low key than most are, apparently. It was just at our training site, and our future principals weren’t invited, as is normal in SA, at least. I was prepared for a bit of a letdown, after hearing PC staff discuss it. But I was happily surprised in the end.

First of all, the day was bound to be happy and exciting, no matter what. PST was over and we were becoming PCVs-taking the oath of service and actually starting our service! We were all happy and ready to begin a new PC life, even though most of us were also a bit sad to be leaving our PST host families. PC brought in a speaker from Operation Hope, a non-profit, and he was an incredible speaker. He made us laugh, he put tears in our eyes, and he made us immensely proud to be PCVs. He was simply amazing.

The US Ambassador to SA was also in attendance, which was awesome! How often do you get to have coffee with an ambassador? Try swearing-in as a PCV, that might make it happen! 🙂 He was also a pretty amazing speaker, and just a cool man to talk to.

At the end of the day, it was an awesome day. And even though it ended with being shuffled to three hostels before finding a bed (ooohhhhh travel in SA never goes as planned…), it was a happy, joyful day!

Swearing-in as a PCV is an experience that cannot be explained in words. It’s like graduation, times one million!
Check out the article from the Embassy. I’m the one sitting right next to the Ambassador! 😀 http://southafrica.usembassy.gov/newspta110908.html

-Jen

The Climax of Suspense!

18/8/2011

Tomorrow is the big day: Permanent site announcements!!  They are not until the afternoon though, so PC has plenty of time to torture us with waiting.  And other PCVs say they do indeed tease us before giving us our sites.  So mean!  And I’m sure tomorrow will drag.

Luckily this week has gone pretty fast.  Between getting stalked by a goat, being offered porcupine meat, and cramming Setswana knowledge into my head, I haven’t had much time to breathe…or write.  But you can check out some interesting stories in my TISA section (This is South Africa).  It’s just little stories about my life here and what happens on a daily basis.  It’ll show you what a day in rural SA is like, and probably give you a laugh since it stars me-an ignorant American.  J

I am super excited for 2:30pm tomorrow, when theorectically we get our sites.  I can see them delaying it for a bit though-tricky training peoples.

It finally rained this week, for the first time since I came to SA.  Let me tell you, rain and a tin roof makes for some NOISE!  Luckily it was just during the afternoon and evening, at not while I was trying to sleep.

Oh, the news is on.  I shall go watch.  I wonder what language it will be in today!

-Jen

Yeah…I’m in South Africa

Hello!

Long time no…write.  As it turns out, PST means almost no internet and phone access whatsoever.  But I went to the mall today and found the internet cafe.  Ahhh  to be connected is so nice!!

South Africa is….not easily described in one sentence.  I love it here, and am beginning to feel at home.  We are settled in a “village” though it is rather large.  Most likely we will be in a much smaller village once we get to permanent site.  But even so, I am adjusting to taxis (big vans/kombies), dirt roads, and endless rooster crowing at all hours of the night.  And I am even getting used to bathing in a bucket in my room and I actually like the pit latrines, which are pretty much like out houses.  In fact, I like them a bit better because they can’t break-toilets can and often do.  So home life in SA is going well.

Training is CRAZY!  Each day is filled with about 8 hours of training-language, culture, safety, medical, and PC policies.  We also go to schools to observe and eventually try teaching.  The training here really does prep us for service, though in a few months I’m sure I’ll be completely at a loss when I reach site.  🙂  But for now I feel much more confident that I CAN handle the next few years as a PCV.

I won’t go into details, as I do have limited internet access.  But I am typing up more organized posts as I go and will likely post them at the end of PST.  Right now my brain is just kind of going haywire.  But I’m alive, well, and loving life here.  Oh, and I am learning Setswana, so I will most likely end up in Northern Cape or Northwest.  They are more arid than Limpopo, which is alright with me.  I will find out in 28 days where exactly I will be serving.  Then I will take a 4 day trip there during training to check things out.  I will move there permanently after swearing in on September 8th.  Time is moving fast!!

-Jen

PS. A 16 hour flight is NOT fun, in case you were wondering.  Good thing I’m here for 2 years because I don’t want to do that again any time soon!! 🙂

No News is Good News

As I actually leave in a few days, I know some of you might be expected updates soon after I get in country.  However, we were notified the other day that we will have extremely limited internet access during the first two months in South Africa-Pre-Service Training.  Therefore, there may be no updates for a good long while.  Sorry!

I will be writing during that time, and when I have access to the internet there will likely be a flood of posts-prepare for that.  🙂  And always remember-no news is good news.

Anyways, I would love to hear updates from life in the US, and you can send me snail mail to the address located in the “Mailing Info” tab.  Packages too, but I don’t expect that.  And emails are welcome.  My email is in the “About Me” section of my blog.

Well, I ought to run to Target to pick up a few things I still need.  I leave in just 3 (THREE) days!!!  Crazy…still seems surreal!

-Jen

Down to the Wire

Time is running out fast!  I leave in less than 5 days, and I’m feeling pretty good about things.  I’ve gotten to do about 95% of the things I wanted to do before I left, and I feel pretty prepared to leave.  My stuff is just about completely packed, although I did reshuffle things yesterday after an email from PC.  And my room is nearly all packed up, though still a little messy.

Anyways, yesterday the SA24 group got an email from the SA Country Desk detailing answers to all those little questions I had.  I know have a rough outline for PST, know exactly what we’ll be doing when we get to SA, and the logistics of life during PST.  Ahhh it feels nice to know about bit more about training.  We did get a packing list and some guidelines about what we should pack.  Oy.  This made me rethink my packing scheme and change things around.  During PST we’ll apparently have tiny rooms, and PC recommends packing essentials in one bag and non-essentials in another.  However, my essentials bag must be fairly large because I’ll be living out of it for two months, and all my warm clothes need to be in there because it will be winter when we arrive.  Thus I am going through a slight packing panic, but it will all work out.

We have been given some more guidance on what languages we can expect to study.  We have been told to study some introductory phrases in Setswana because we’ll be settled near Pretoria for training, and Setswana is the prevalent language there.  We’ve also been told we may learn: Setswana, Sepedi, TshiVenda, and XiTsonga.  A bit of a change from what the PC toolkit website listed.  Good thing I attempted to study some isuZulu, right (as in, I listened to the first few lessons and gave up after being told to by current PCVs).  I will spend some time studying things like “Hello” and “how are you” in Setswana in the next few days.

I shall share some more info later.  I need to prepare for family pictures.  We haven’t done them since I was 12 or so, thus I must make myself look nice for the next 10 years. 🙂

-Jen