Gratitude: Days 18 and 19

Day 18: This is something I had never really considered before, but I am thankful for street addresses, in America. Street names, house addresses, postal delivery…seriously, this is an amazing thing. I am asked by PC to provide an address when I travel in country, but sometimes, that scarcely exists. For example, my school’s address is Stand xx, Maebeebe Section, XXXX Village. That may SEEM like an address, but if you stood in my village, there are no streets, signs, indication of section, and house/stand numbers are randomly painted on the walls of houses. The infrastructure simply isn’t there in rural areas. Also, actually figuring out a physical address can be headache-inducing. And postal delivery? Ha!! I think it exists in places like Pretoria or Cape Town, but I’m willing to bet you pay for it. If you are well off, you have a postal box, but likely share it with other people (I share mine with 2 other PCVs, and apparently a church?). I have to travel 42km to get to mine, which means that only happens 1-2 times a month. You’d be surprised by the number of people who don’t have a mailbox. I have no clue what they do in terms of mail. But man, the mail system here makes me very thankful for the USPS, and for MEANINGFUL home addresses/street names/house numbers.

Day 18: I am grateful to have been taught computer skills from a young age. I started using computers in school in Grade 1 (1994-ish), so I learned how to use a computer from 6-7 years old. I remember the first time I used the internet, in 4th grade, and having no idea how to use the “address bar”, but quickly figuring it out. Using a mouse, keyboard, turning on a computer, saving documents, surfing the internet…these are all things I can do as naturally as breathing. But the teachers at my school here have only been exposed to computers in the last few years, and most are terrified of them. I have to teach them how to hold a mouse, what right click means, where the space bar is, and what the Start menu means. Sometimes I really struggle to teach these things because they are second nature to me. I was taken aback when I first started teaching computers to South Africans because I literally had to start with “this is a mouse. It’s what you use to select something.” I know that’s a bad explanation, but that illustrates my point-I don’t know HOW to teach some of these things! I see how timid educators are around computers, and how much they struggle to do things, and I’m very grateful to have been taught computers from such a young age. It makes for a much easier life in this world of ever-changing technology.

-Jen

Following the Election from Africa

My homemade electoral map-post-it notes galore!

My homemade electoral map-post-it notes galore!

PCVs care about elections, and even though we are halfway around the world, we will mail in those absentee ballots no matter how many hours we have to spend on a sweltering bush taxi. Following the election can be hard because we don’t live in the lap of technological luxury (usually *cough cough* Posh Corps *cough cough*). Even with my Blackberry, I frequently lose a signal and it becomes a purple paperweight. But I had to have a way to keep up with the happenings on election day. I am a political science major after all.

So here was the game plan: Wake up every hour starting at 2am on Wednesday to check on results, and I ended up awake by 3am, with coffee by 4am. I had intended to use my shortwave radio, but forgot about it until 6am or so. But at 4am, my sister was feeding me live updates via whatsapp, and I was constantly refreshing electoral college maps. By about 5am, I was antsy, so I made my own electoral map, which I kept updating. I BBM’d other PCVs who were awake and as anxious for it to be over as I was. I kept an eye on twitter, where major news tends to break first, and around 6am, I saw the “twitterstorm” announcing Obama’s relection. Around that time I turned on my radio and found “Voices of America” loud and clear, and listened to their broadcast as I update electoral counts on my map again, reflecting Obama’s win.

In what sane world does someone decide to make an electoral map between 4-5am, I don’t know. But I live in the Peace Corps world, which is NOT really sane.
-Jen

Iowa! Before it was called.

Iowa! Before it was called.

Gratitude: Day 9 and 10

Day 9: The longer I work in South African schools, the more thankful I am for the education I received. I was a public school kid from Iowa, which is one of the better states for education. All throughout my school years I had teachers that challenged me, encouraged me, and helped me realize what my goals in life are. The worked hard to make sure I received the best education they could offer, and for that I am especially grateful. A few teachers have stood out as role models and are a large part of who I am today: my 2nd and 5th grade teachers who taught me how to love writing, my 5th and 6th grade science teacher who encouraged my experimentation and while theories, my TAG teacher from 7th-12th grades who showed me how to think outside the box and helped me through some difficult year, and my high school English and Calculus teachers who challenged me to my limits and helped me grasp concepts I thought I would never understand. Every teacher I had cared about ME, not about my test scores or grades, but about me, as a person. They went beyond the call of duty to give me something priceless: a quality education. Then I went to college, where I spent 4 years learning from some brilliant minds, some of whom are as much friends as professors. They taught me how to have a holistic education, one which crossed academic boundary lines and was truly interdisciplinary. That’s how I wrote my Spanish senior thesis on the effects of the EU’s climate policies on Spain’s renewable energy market, and my political science senior thesis on incorporating the local food movement into university dining halls. My education is far from complete, and even now I’m studying for the GRE in hopes of starting grad school in a few years. But my education is one of the things I am most grateful for.

Day 10: My Blackberry has been a vital tool in my service, and I am extremely thankful for it. Who knew that I’d join the Peace Corps and get my first smartphone? Seems counterintuitive! Now, we could make jokes about whether blackberries are even smartphones anymore, but in SA they are pretty much the top of the line. IPhone what?! Some PCVs get down on those of us who have blackberries, calling us Posh Corps and making jokes about how we are always on them. But honestly, the connectivity the blackberry provides has been invaluable in South Africa, what with the First World-Third World reality. There are practical reasons, like unlimited internet for R60 on my BB (like $8), and FREE BBM. BBM is amazing because over 40 of the 49 of us have blackberries, so I can message them for free. That has saved my sanity over the past year, and has allowed me to support other PCVs as well. Access to the internet via computer in my village is almost impossible because the signal is so weak, but on my BB it works decently. That means I can (and do) a lot of research for classes and the garden, allowing me a vital resource that wouldn’t exist otherwise: the World Wide Web. And keeping in contact with people back home via facebook, twitter, and this blog has HELPED me achieve Peace Corps’ Third Goal. Cool, right? So don’t get down on me for having a smartphone in the Peace Corps, because it has notably improved my service.
-Jen

Gratitude: Days 3, 4, and 5

Some of the things I’m going to post over the next month will be serious, but some are a bit more lighthearted. I’ll post two serious ones and one lighthearted one today. Remember, all of this is in no particular order of “thankfulness”.

Day 3: I am grateful to be placed at a somewhat functioning school that cares about improving itself. That being said, there are major problems at my school, and the quality of education that the learners receive is far from satisfactory. But on any given day, almost all of the teachers show up, the majority of the classes are actually taught, and educators actually do want the children to learn something. Of course, not all is perfect, or I wouldn’t be here. The difference between the school I’m at now and the school I dropped in June is that the teachers, principals, and learners actually want to improve themselves. The teachers WANT me to teach them new strategies, and then they actually put that knowledge to use. I am seeing change in my school, especially with the school garden. With my counterpart, devoted garden workers, and some training, I’ve seen the garden transformed into something I didn’t even know was possible. I’m seeing home gardens pop up in the village, using permaculture methods. And I’ve having learners get excited to work with me in the garden. I still have some days when I doubt all the work I’m doing as a PCV, but then I go to school and see a different place than it was a year ago. And it’s because the school wanted to become better, NOT because I did all the work.

Day 4: Peanut butter is an amazing thing, and I’m grateful it exists in South Africa. Furthermore, it’s plentiful and cheap!! How much better can it get? Some PCVs go two years without PB, unless parents send it. Heck, I even saw a blog named “27 Months Without Peanut Butter.” PB it amazing because it’s nutritious and delicious. I scarcely eat meat at site, for a few practical reasons, but peanut butter is a great source of protein. And when I get homesick, I can make peanut butter cookies or dip a chocolate bar in PB and call it a Reese’s PB Cup (BTW, if you want to send me some of those amazing things, I could be persuaded to name a first born child after you, as they don’t exist here-check the Mailing Info tab). This leads into a wider realm of gratefulness-access to “normal” food. I’m not subjected to months of cabbage and potatoes, like Eastern Europe PCVs in winter, or strange meat concotions. Being in a more developed country, I get to shop in grocery stores. Things like soy sauce and spices exist. Often they are expensive and considered a very rare treat, but I can get my hands of lots of things I could find in America. Of course, I frequently eat pap and unknown meat products too, just like any other PCV.

Day 5: I am very thankful for technology. I have no clue how PCVs handled it 50 years ago, or even 15 years ago. While I don’t have high-speed internet or the newest, nicest things, I do have a computer, kindle, ipod, and blackberry. The blackberry has been vital, and deserves its own post. And it’s pretty much my only for of internet access, as my USB internet modem for my computer is nearly non-functional due to the low signal in my village. My kindle means I can carry a library with me, and didn’t have to pack a ton of books. My computer lets me play movies, games, and write. And my iPod saves my sanity on long taxi rides with blaring “house music”. My service is quite different from the PCVs of yesteryear, but technology has only enriched my service, not hindered it. I can research for my school, download forms from the department, and contact other PCVs instantly for advice through BBM. And let’s be real-if I don’t help my South African counterparts understand and learn to use technology, am I really helping them? Technological knowledge is a requirement in South Africa, and I get to be part of educating the educators, allowing them to be more efficient and independent.
-Jen