Sunday, April 13, 2014

Positive Hijacking: My new approach to life.

I exited March much like a zombie might have with staggering strides haphazardly tramping forwards. Say that five times fast.

So, I understand why you might have a brainfreeze. I sure do. On a sidenote, I could not be happier that these last few days have invited me to cozy up in my favourite flannels.

I digress. Amidst the swirl of languages whirling inside my brain and chaotic thoughts of the ever-growing complexities surrounding my work here, it’s quite remarkable that this month reached a relatively tranquil denouemont.  Clinging to the last glimmers of wisdom I’d carried throughout training, I decided it was high time I re-check my attitude at the door. Sometimes there’s no better cure than a positive change in attitude. Like I sort of alluded to in my last post, I think it’s easy to forget the things that matter most, when the big picture is being overshadowed by the demons of yore.

Having a friend outside of Peace Corps stay with me for a couple weeks provided fantastic perspective, and although I was not quite ready for it, invited a revitalization and addition of a word that I’d like to henceforth reclaim. Hijacking. And let me just start by saying, it always comes down to intention. The verb connotes the illegal seizing (of [countless means of transport]) in transit and force it to go to a different destination or use it for one’s own purposes. Thus, I think there’s plenty of room to rewrite it’s meaning to match my intentions. 

Positive Hijacking: |paw-sa-tiv ­ hai-g-ak-ng| verb: to create or cause a change of course with jedi-like ease resulting in a more favorable outcome. To, on one’s own accord, reframe or reappropriate the relative instructions given to ensure a better outcome with the least amount of negative consequences.
I know what you’re thinking… Great scots! Pam could be the next Webster… her definitions are boss. Hahaha… Just kidding.

I think one of the hardest things to do in another culture is to strike the perfect balance of assimilation and acceptance while also feeling satisfied with your social identity.  If you’re not careful, nuances can dig their way to the forefront of your mind, and make it practically impossible to focus on anything other than what makes something different. If I were to focus on all of the little things that would be handled differently in the U.S. I would actually go crazy, feel completely out of control, and my bloodpressure would constantly be through the roof. There’s a doily on my wall that sums it up nicely, “you can do anything, just not everything”.  This is crucial. To live successfully somewhere other than the environment you grew up in, you have to be able to look at the differences not in fear or repulsion but with modest amusement and a casual “hmmm”.  There is no other way. However, there are times when bringing aspects of your culture into the discussion can be extremely valuable, and not intrusive or patronizing.

Cue positive hijacking.

The thing is, while I do a pretty admirable job of absorbing cultures and languages like a sponge, I am who I am.  And sometimes it is perfectly okay to share my me-ness unapologetically. End of story. Thus, I’m shedding some of the anxiety I’ve been carrying around, constantly feeling like I’m walking on eggshells. I am not saying to completely disregard the world around you, by all means, flexibility is probably one of the most valuable traits a person can have in this particular context. However, I am telling you that it is also perfectly acceptable to be you in all of your wonderful you-ness. I’ve been struggling with this for a while because the gray line can often be misinterpreted as a complete disreard for someone else’s feelings. This is not necessarily true. And once you start peeling back the layers, you start seeing things for what they really are (at least in that moment).  Man, this is the most roundabout way I could have gone to address this new beloved definition.

Utsini? Basically… I decided that so much of my time gets hijacked (most often positively) that it was acceptable for me to take equal part in hijacking things as well.  This isn’t a perfect system… and the resulting consequences cannot always be known at the commencement of said hijacking. But, generally, things tend to work out in the longrun.

A perfect example of this was back when Lindiwe was visiting. (In fact, the birth of this fine terminology was this very event).  The sports teacher had been planning an inter-houses competition… for a while, and because of the amount of rain that poured down in March, it kept being pushed back. Finally, the eve of this competition, and we’re having a staff meeting to prepare for the following day.  This is when Lindiwe and I learn that we have been deemed the “Information Centre” and in charge of the “Records Committee”.  News to us. That’s fine. See, hijacked. The ironic thing was, besides that, the so-called Information Centre had no information about what was going to happen… aside from knowning that there were Xnumber of events, and 8 runners per event.  So we made up our own system. Positive hijacking.  And I’d say we rocked at being the Information Centre.

I think what made this feel so empowering… per say… stems back to my earlier ramblings, about that fine gray line that we’re constantly teetering on.  And I wonder if that line really needs to be there. When I first arrived at my site my outsider-ness was very evident.  But now, I feel as much a part of this community as anyone else. I am a part of this fabulous team. It’s just a very comforting feeling because if you focus too much on the non-permance of your work/presence as a volunteer, then I think that gives way to over-thinking too much. I’m not saying to ignore making conscious and thoughtful decisions based on what things you introduce and work towards, but at the end of the day, life is uncertain whether you intend to stay somewhere one year or ten.  I think I found myself stressing so much on the impact I might be having on the community, which created a lot of unnecessary stress, and made things much less enjoyable, and that’s what led me spiraling into a disgruntled existence.

This goes back to rule number four on the flipchart paper on my wall. “Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome”.  Which might be one of the most crucial mentalities to have here. One of the biggest changes in myself (and perhaps evidence that I’ve adjusted to the Swazi culture even a little bit) is the fact that I do not need all of the ity-bity details to feel like things will work out just fine.

I organized a “basic therapy/counseling” training for my teachers, and the teachers at the high school this past week.  I had to prepare food, organize the hall, and send out an invitation, as well as establish a date for the person running the workshop.  But when it came down to actually “preparing” for it, I found myself thinking “well, it’s either going to work, or it isn’t”. Which, I think could be misconstrued as apathy. On the other hand, I feel like it’s just a more realistic acknowledgment of how much any one person can really control. I did all of the things I could do to ensure things would go off without a hitch, the rest wasn’t on me, and that’s fine.

In other news, the term is officially over, and I have a month before the students return. It felt a little bit like the last day of camp, waiting for the parents to arrive and take their children home. We decided to have one final movie night in the hall on Thursday, I showed “The Goonies”.  I tend to dwell a lot on contemplating “who am I to these people?” and I think sometimes it’s easy to let doubt and uncertainty cloud the fact that you actually do belong. Both boys and girls rushed into the hall, pushing each other, and fighting over where they were going to sit. Once they were relatively settled, I put an annoyed look on my face. You know you have respect when you can get every student to stand up, file out of the hall, line up again and nicely re-enter the room.  I’ve come a long way since those confusing days in the library. 

Sign language may actually be my new favorite language (which is saying a lot… I see that look of shock on your face, Jack Angriff).  To capture perfectly the powers of sign language, I present a meme:

How I feel while using Swazi Sign Language…

Because I can successfully convey a message to anyone, anywhere, like a walk-talkie version of “telephone”, without even leaving the comfort of my doorstep.

And on that note, I think you’ve suffered through enough jibberjabber for one day.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

So... This is happening

I’d first like to begin with a meme that pretty much encapsulates my work as a PCV.

It dawned on me that meetings (and sometimes decision-making in general) here are sort of like Ent Moots.  It took a long time for me to orientate myself this way, and while Lindiwe was visiting (person to be identified in following paragraphs) it became apparent that I’ve adapted to this meeting style… after her conclusion “that was the worst meeting EVER” led to a relatively bemused response from me… “and I was just thinking…  that meeting went pretty well”…

Moving on…

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the older girls, and thought It’d be good to give some attention to the boys and avoid accusations of favouritism.  To reconcile this, (and with on-point suggestions from the lovely Lindiwe) I thought it’d be fun to make some more boardgames out of cardboard and flipchart paper. And why not do it on a Thursday night (especially given that the new trend is to watch movies on Friday nights). So I approached two of the boys (here-to-fore known as Evan and Charlie—since I’ve given all PCVs their Swazi alias, why not change it up and give “American” names to my Swazi friends) that I know best and mentioned that I thought it would be fun to make boardgames tonight so more people could play, etc. (or so I thought…).  I didn’t really think anything of it as the day continued, as I was busy organizing things, while simultaneously trying to tone down the new level of disgruntledness I strolled into and have been wading through on and off over the past few weeks (my life has been a walking “trigger warning” of late… nine months in, I’m surprised it took this long for things to seem less rosey).

Fast forward a few hours.  Charlie presents me with a sheet of paper, glowing with evident enthusiasm.  It turns out, that I had actually communicated that we should have a checkers tournament that night. And Charlie had taken it upon himself to organize EVERYTHING. *Insert moment of beaming pride here* I recollect asking him to gather names/gauge interest of those who’d enjoy [a checkers tournament] making boardgames. He had gone above and beyond that. Neatly printed on a sleeve of loose-leaf paper was a list of boys and girls’ names, the age group, the time, and location of the event, and he had even gone so far as to find and write the name of an adult who would be responsible… which was NOT me. The amount of initiative he took in planning and organizing (in a matter of hours) was really cool to watch, and see how the event unfolded. Save for the creation of another checkerboard (Shoutout to the incredible colouring skills of Lindiwe), and a bracket (created from the gifted mind of Lindiwe), he pretty much singlehandedly ran a tournament of twenty people. 

(I bet you’re now thinking I made Lindiwe my slave for two weeks… That is probably an accurate summation. Apologies in retrospect Ms. Dlamini!).

It’s hard to explain why this seems so remarkable or noteworthy, but the fact is, one of my biggest goals/ideas for the school is to provide more opportunities for students to feel like they have room to organize and implement things that they find interest in (the word I'm looking for here is empowered). To encourage them to follow through and feel supported in the activities and events they want to see happening on a regular basis, and then go through the steps for planning and seeing those plans through. I can’t really take credit for anything that happened that day, other than accidentally giving the greenlight to what turned out to be a really fun evening.

It was also just comforting to see something like this come together. It gets tedious to feel like the only person who is interested in seeing things through, and being expected to do the legwork. I have also had a pretty rocky first term, largely due to having perhaps too high of expectations on how things would transpire. C’est la vie.

Also, I have yet to directly mention that I had a terrifically awesome (superbly wonderous) friend from home visit over the past three-ish weeks. She was swiftly given the name “Lindiwe Dlamini” which was pretty fitting. “Lindiwe” means something along the lines of “we’ve been waiting for you”. Because I’m actually insane, I put her to work for most of the time she was here… (still 1 million times grateful), and despite the fact that I left no time for fun (mostly true), it was actually the best visit I could hope for (you’ve got some big shoes to fill, mom). 

I had a lot of anxiety around her visiting, especially because it felt like literally everything was crumbling right before she landed in the Kingdom. I had reached a new level of disgruntledness that I didn’t know could be achieved, the weather had been pretty icky… essentially I had my own version of “March Madness”.  However, her visit ignitied an urgency to accomplish things that I honestly wasn’t sure existed here. All of a sudden, we had to do this and that “before Lindiwe leaves us.” Thus, sparked the consistent use of the phrase “so… this is happening” because that was the best way that I (perhaps we) could describe the events that unfolded. One minute I’d go from saying “I’m really sorry… I don’t think xyz will be possible.” To being instantly contradicted. You can ask her sometime… After a while I stopped pretending like I knew the answer.

It was also just really validating to have someone from home see my life practically through my eyes. The frustrations and confusion were also shared, and made me feel less like I was struggling more than necessary.  

Because despite my relatively hectic schedule, I still find solace in quiet reflection...

I can’t deny the fact that I experienced a significant amount of growth my first 6 or so months here. However, I think this term provided me several learning opportunities, and unanticipated challenges.

For one, it was amazing to have a friend from home visit. It provided comfort, reassurance and plenty of moments I’ve been missing over the past several months, like pop culture references that provided familiarity, chocolate kakhulu and the familiarity of home. At the same time, it highlighted, then somehow magnified who Bongiwe is. And would the real Bongiwe please stand up? Because I think, while she’s not really an alter ego, she’s definitely a more tenacious and intrepid Pam that boarded a plane all those months ago.

You’d think it’d be hard to misplace yourself when there’s two of you floating around, but February into March was rough. I got ugly.  Disgruntled, cantankerous, bitter, and perhaps even a tad jaded. Woof. With help from Lindiwe, I added a new rule to my list. “It is NOT my responsibility.” Which is a simplified explanation for why things went so sour. The little things that I had not adjusted to so well (forms of communication, overzealous gregariousity in shared living and working space, etc.) tipped me over the edge, and I felt increasing anxiety that things were spiraling out of control, and that everything I’d put my energy towards was no longer valued or relevant. It was a gargantuan bucket of suckiness. In retrospect, the contributing factors to this overflowing bucket, were temporarily forgeting my role, and job description, AND that one of the biggest aspects of being a volunteer is centering your experience on relationship building. Which, honestly, should just be the centripetal force of life. (Fun fact, “petere” is Latin for “seek”). So here I am rambling on as I seek my center. 

How's that for a zen-like conclusion?

And on that note... Here's a flowchart I've been crafting...


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I just spent 6 days in an alternate reality

Despite the geographical closeness, and practically daily use of the South African Rand, it’s been easy to forget that Swaziland is nearly surrounded by another country. 

To be honest, I harbored a lot of anxiety for my trip pretty much until I arrived miraculously at the King Shaka Airport where I met one of my dearest friends.  I had planned literally all I could plan. There’s no phone book, directory or any sort of established timetable for Khumbis. It is the pefect example of organized chaos. There isn’t an ounce of predictability in the system, except for the fact that khumbis always return to the same place. Khumbis: The boomerang of public transport. With that in mind, I knew that all I needed to do was to place one foot in the Manzini Busrank and the rest would simply fall into place.  It’s essentially impossible for you to end up on the wrong khumbi/headed to the wrong place. I’ll try to paint a picture for you.

The Manzini busrank was the most dreded and terrifying, nearly mythical place during PST.  Mainly because Manzini is the most heavily trodden city in Swaziland (okay… I may be speculating, but am 99.9% sure of that truth). The rank is probably the size of 4 or 5 football fields strewn across a mass of overcrowded parkinglots.  Organized because the buses are in one area, khumbis are arranged by location being traveled to, and there’s even a section for international transport. Chaotic because if you blink any number of things could happen… such as potentially being run over, or finding yourself snared into a 5 minute cameo in Let’s hit on her! Swazilands most popular reality TV series, (which would actually be rather interesting to watch… if the show were created ironically…). After a few trips you’ll become a pro at weaving through buses, khumbis, vendors and people, allthewhile handling the rank with as much grace as movie characters in NYC hailing a cab. Completely effortless, cue the perfect breeze to gently play with wisps of your hair, and superbly functioning breakpads. Pro status achieved when you arrive at your vehicle of choice with some fruit swiftly purchased from a Make. There’s always time for a snack. Always.

The process is either made easier or difficult by the number of men dispersed throughout the rank who’s sole purpose for being there is getting people where they need to be. Beyond the honking, and relative noises of being in a city, your ears will be filed with a chorus of “MbabaneMbabaneMbabane! Mbabane?” interspersed with whistles and the names of dozens of other places that one might be traveling to. Given my paler complextion[1], it tends to be assumed that Mbabane is my destination. Having moved past being an amateur, however, it takes a second of eye contact and blurting out where I’m going to redirect all enthusiasm away from Mbabane.  That is how I found the khumbis headed to Durban. So far, so planned. (We have reached the end of all I could plan for).

Having been in my Swazi bubble now for nearly 8 months, a quick trip outside the country pinpointed the things I had become used to.  It did not occur to me, that two hours away in South Africa, my hopping on a khumbi (or public transport---essentially the ONLY means of getting around Swaziland) would cause utmost panic in the people I was staying with in Durban. It also didn’t occur to me that what I find to be the most reliable and easiest form of transport would so shock someone that a free planeride home was offered to me instead. Oh no, I was not in Kansas anymore. I would just like to note that this is merely a synopsis of the challenges I ran into while on my brief but incredible vacation. The focus on public transport is because that was the one thing I was absolutely sure of, which also turned out to be my biggest cross-cultural obstacle. I pretty much was in a dream the entire time I was in Durban. The food, the imagry, amazing company… It was much needed and there is no good way to express my gratitude for such magnificent hospitality. The transport situation merely provided a glimpse of a larger reality that isn’t necessarily relevant (prevelant?) in such a homogenous country like Swaziland. I will say, it was the first time in 8 months that I went a day (and then days!) without being hit on, proposed to or feeling like 30 sets of eyes were on me at any one time. I was temporarily displaced from my fishbowl, and it was refreshing. 

My mini-vacation consisted of consuming waaay to much food, attending a rugby match, GO SHARKS! Eating finger sandwiches and drink tea in a decadent hall, dipping my feet in the ocean and not feeling like I had to rush through everything to make it home before dark.  It was much needed after the slightly rough start to the term. 

I had a less dramatic trip home (thankfully), and it was comforting to reach the border post and return home to Swaziland. 

This term is already shaping to be much different than last term, and it's really exciting. There's a different atmosphere and I think we're putting people's passions to better use.  I continue to frequently reflect on my role here, but for now it's fun to feel part of the team, and not some awkward outsider floating around trying to find my place. I'm working to better respect people's needs and not be as demanding, although the consensus seems to be that people appreciate being held accountable. I've realized a lot about things here as well. While I am a new set of eyes, my ideas and visions are not all that different. It's clear that the teachers here are knowledge, passionate and dedicated to their work here, and that they've been fighting the same fight (so to speak) for years now. I think in some ways I initially lacked empathy in understanding the struggles they've been through to have what they do today, and that there was never really an absence of trying. It's good to be humbled like that everyone in a while. At the same time, I am happy that the skills I do have, and the things I am interested in seem to fit seamlessly with what I can do here.  

Oops, duty calls!

[1] I’m in the process of collecting my thoughts on race and priviledge and how that is a part of my experience here. There’s a lot that can be explored, and I want to dissect it carefully. It’s been interesting to hear the varying experiences of other PCVs in Swaziland regarding these topics, and I want to note that the feeling of constantly being in a “fishbowl” is linked closely to this, and while it is easy to make light of it, I think it’s crucial to contemplate what my experience would be like if race was socially constructed differently, (or less visible due to a more hetereogenous population), and how the priviledges associated with my upbringing were not so easily pronounced here. In sum, I’d like us all to take a moment and contemplate, “How does our cultural worldview influence and inform our perception of people from other cultures?”, whereby “cultural worldview” can be exchanged with “priviledge in association with race or class” as an additional food for thought. End soliloquy 1.0

Sunday, February 9, 2014

This week sure has been something.

I’ve been ruminating over this blog post for several weeks now. It seems that inexplicably, the moment I feel definitively on one track of mind my thoughts become immediately derailed. I pranced into this semester with a slight bounce to my step, feeling quite rejuvenated and ready to take on the world. Three weeks later classes have finally started and if my mind were a room it would most closely resemble the wardrobe from the Chronicles of Narnia. I cannot tell you where you might end up if you meander inside. So below is an offering of my initial feelings on this term, despite the fact that most much of what I wrote about feeling at ease got sucked up into a cyclone and spat out rather frivolously. Nevertheless, Welcome Aboard the Pam Express.

A breath of fresh air

I think one of the biggest changes I’ve seen within myself is how utterly patient I’ve become.  Things happen when they happen, and I’ve moved past the notion that force will get you there faster. I suppose you could say I’ve reached a new state of “Zen”, where no matter what situation I find myself in, I easily brush off my shoulders, there’s nothing treacherous about things not working out exactly as you planned, if anything it enables more room for creativity, and influence to come from any number of sources… which in a brief political analysis would probably make the process and execution far more “democratic” (whatever that means anymore). 

While time is still flying at the speed of light, I no longer have this relentless feeling that I’m being rushed. There’s a running joke amongst the volunteers about the difference between “Now” and “Now Now”, something that emerged as a distinction of time in Swazi Culture. In the context here, “now” tends to usually mean within the next couple of hours (just like “soon” is often 20+ minutes), whereas “now now” is as close to “immediately” as you’re most likely going to come. While it might not seem like a pertinent distinction to make…  it is a necessary point of clarification when making plans, and my new method of time management/prioritizing.  For example, by simply asking myself “what really needs to happen now now?” My brainwaves translate that into immediate needs, vs. things that wouldn’t really change if I worked on them any sooner.  Which of course, tends to reduce stress levels, but has not prevented my new nickname amongst the teachers at my school, which I’m sure to most of you, dear readers, would not come as a shock. During week #2 of our Development Plan process… my (one may say) strong work ethic, and desire to maintain focus on one particular topic has led me to be known as a “workaholic” amongst the staff. Although it’s sort of a cringe-worthy truth, in this particular setting I can’t help but get the impression that it’s a compliment and has set the tone for expectations around some of the areas I am working in, and is not something I feel like I need to apologize for, or try to alter.

I’ve often been accused of taking things too seriously (and honestly, still am not entirely convinced that that’s a bad thing) but I will admit that it puts me at odds with the expectations I hold for myself, and those held by others. Ultimately, it comes down to acknowledging that everyone places varying degrees of priority on the same (or different) things.  I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating whether or not privilege influences the order that certain “priorities” can take, and what that means in terms of “development[1]” work. I guess one could relate this a little to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs… but I think that refusing to acknowledge the privilege you might bring to your work outside of your particular cultural context can be a real hindrance, especially in learning to empathize with those you’re working with in terms of learning to understand how access to different resources and separate life experiences can affect someone’s approach to life (and thus their priorities).  Welcome to my mind, please, step into my office.

After spending several weeks and many relatively productive hours it was time to introduce the Development Plan to the first set of our stakeholders… the teachers. I was really nervous for this. Make Nelsiwe and I agreed that it was necessary that the teachers feel that they have ownership over the plan in order for them to want to support it’s implementation, and in my eyes, it was asking them to do a lot more work. We spent two days discussing it.  I was really excited by the discussions the teachers had around the Development Plan, they shared some really good ideas, and it was rejuvenating to hear them discuss the various topics that they are so passionate about. It made me feel really good about this school year, and that despite feeling totally wiped out from last week, like there’s going to be a lot of positive change this year. 

I might have mentioned that I had started a Student Council at the end of last term. Right now it’s a collection of students in the 6th and 7th grade. However, the plan is to include students from the 5th and 4th grades as well, once we get more established. The idea was to not only train the students in leadership, teamwork, public speaking and other organizational skills, but also to introduce the students’ voices into the activities and programming done at the school. My heart pretty much burst with pride, when after a meeting on Thursday, the Pres. and VP met with the Head Teacher to discuss some of their concerns and have their responsibilities realized. It was really wonderful to see them receive such encouragement from the HT, and for them to feel like their concerns matter. Not only that, but the HT also advocated for them to be part of the Development Plan.  This council is definitely a work in progress, and a massive learning experience (… for me, perhaps more than the students…) but it’s nice to see the potential that it has. 

I was really anxious that my SSL (Swazi Sign Language) would have me looking like I was constantly in a flourish of interpretive dance due to the 7 week break that just sort of dissipated into thin air, but that was surprisingly not the case. I found myself interpreting during one of the staff meetings last week, and not only surprised myself, but all of the teachers too. Even the students have commented that it’s improved a lot, which is nice. Some days it’s really crucial to focus little things like that that make me proud. Otherwise it’s just as easy to focus on the things that fill you with the kind of dread that Frodo and Sam felt when they were about to trudge their way up Mount Doom. (I mean… the sun already makes it feel like I’m living in fire).

This past week was also emotionally draining for reasons I’d rather not divulge on such an open and public forum, but I will say it has offered incredible insight, and was a good catalyst for reflection on my goals and purposes here.  It can be far to easy to get overwhelmed by the reality of any job; I am but one piece in a much larger system. Eish. That sure is stifling, and makes a person sort of want to crawl beneath the covers for a while.  It’s about this point where I’m like LOLOLOL…qualifications? Somehow I manage to maintain relative confidence in my work here despite “faking it til I make” about 90% of the time.  Which puts an intriguing twist on the fact that I am viewed as a professional. But this means that I have faced less barriers in terms of putting myself out there, learning new things, and experiencing epic proportions of personal growth. I think if anything it expands on maybe a rather narrow understanding of what “professional” work looks like.  But anyways.

I think I’ll close with a quotation passed on to me from another volunteer:

The way of the Warrior/Leader: Show up and choose to be present
The way of the Healer: Pay attention to what has heart and meaning
The way of the Visionary: Tell the truth without blame or judgment (speak your truth)
The way of the Teacher: Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome

And my own addition…
The way of the Peace Corps Volunteer: Demand no more of others than you do of yourself

[1]I honestly rather loathe this descriptor. I get it, technically I am indeed involved in this so-called development work… however, I don’t understand why the label is associated with work in some areas of the globe and not in others... “develop” means to “grow or cause to grow and become more mature, advanced, or elaborate”… And in that sense, things are only (if ever) temporarily “developed”, but in most cases, achieving a new stage or level only opens the doors for future embellishments.  I’d like to strongly argue that it would be an awful thing to be “fully developed”, and I’m not sure that’s what one should set out to achieve. Bongiwe used “Hegel” it is super effective.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

If ever I needed a reminder for why I am here

It was visible in the experiences of this past week. 

I’m now beginning my last week of the break I thought would never end. Two Saturdays ago I attended the wedding of one of the teachers at my school. It was beautiful. I carpooled down towards Matata with several of the teachers from my school. Our location couldn’t be found on a map. Somewhere in the south-eastern corner of Swaziland amidst the plethora of Aloe plants, was a blue and white festival tent. The ground had been coated by strips of white paper that gave off the illusion that we were floating on a cloud, and despite the inexcusable heat, it was a pleasant event. I really enjoyed sitting at the table with the teachers, and socializing with them outside the school setting. They are truly beautiful people. The type of wedding I attended is referred to as a “White Wedding” that has more of a Western flare to it, and is much different than the traditional Swazi wedding. All the same, it still had it’s own flavor to it. A smile burst across my face when a conga line erupted in the aisle while we were waiting for the ceremony to begin, and it stayed there as the wedding party danced their way to the front of the tent.  I think it cemented the notion that I live here now, (I know I keep saying this… but I have to keep reminding myself that this is my life… because it’s still so unbelievable).

As a volunteer, it’s hard to forget that our work is only temporary, and that we’re not permanent fixtures in our communities, presented simply as catalysts for change. At the same time, I’ve been reflecting on this aspect of our service, because in truth, I feel like in general, the expectations for our generation have changed in that it is no longer expected of us to remain in the same place for our entire careers.  To each their own, but I wonder if it would not be beneficial to frame every new job, or experience as a short-term sequence in a much larger series of events, rather than placing emphasis on labeling something as “The” anything. Yes, I suppose I would then be living in a huge cloud of ambiguity, but at the same time, I’d hope that I would approach everything I do with as much consideration for the long-term effects of my involvement and re-evaluate what sustainability means in that particular context. I feel like if something is not seen as the culminating end point in and intense journey, than it is merely viewed as an obstacle, rather than a crucial learning experience necessary for further advancement. Perhaps at this point your eyes have begun to glaze over. Bear with me. What I’m trying to get at is how my work as a volunteer has reminded me that in most cases, the process is more important than the result. “Well, duhhh, Pam”, you’re probably thinking. And that’s fine. I can just sense an attitudinal shift as I come to the lovely conclusion that this experience (… my experience) is not in fact all about me. *Cue celebratory confetti canons* (how’s that for an alliteration?)

This past week I found myself once again involved in a training at IDM (my first home in Swaziland… a place that sparks both feelings of sentimentality and comfort, as well as full-body cringes and a tired mind when I think about how much time I’ve spent at this facility). 

As I mentioned a while back, I am a co-director for a program we have here called GLOW (Girl’s Leading Our World), and what this means is that next year I will be one of several PCVs in charge of organizing a week-long girl’s empowerment camp, as well as overseeing the development of various GLOW clubs, and providing training for counselors.  This particular training was the Training of Trainers or T.O.T. Although I am not really involved in the planning and execution of this year’s camp, myself along with the other co-director and the director for my group were invited to observe and help out with T.O.T. It was an incredible week. 

The training involved over 60 women, (a combination of both Swazis and PCVs) and was a crash course in the activities that go on at camp, and introducing the counselors to what GLOW is, and depicting all of it’s potential. The sessions covered included nutrition, providing counseling, sexual reproductive health, and healthy relationships, facilitation, goal setting, and planning (fun) activities. Having no idea really what this training was going to be like, it is safe to say I was thoroughly impressed with the work my fellow PCVs had put into making it a success, as well as inspired I felt by the Swazi women present as well. I was touched by their openness, dedication, and caring hearts, and I get goosebumps just thinking about the positive influence they are going to have on the girls in their communities. It was amazing to see the women rally behind topics that they felt so passionate about, and within that, I saw a glimmer of what the future of Swaziland looks like, and it is beautifully exciting.  Our last night concluded with a Talent Show, which without a doubt is my all-time favorite memory here thus far.  Not only because it was filled with side-splitting laughter, but because I felt a strong sense of gratitude for being apart of this experience, and being involved with such an incredible organization.  It also made me feel like I was at camp again, and like that person I wasn’t sure I had managed to bring with me. Which is pretty darn comforting. All I know is that I am going to tuck away this past week and keep it safely in my pocket, to draw upon if I am having those infamous REALLY bad days.

After T.O.T. I headed down to Candyland with Zinhle to spend the weekend in her community.  The ride was a lot less scarring than my first trip, despite the brutal heat (did I mention it’s HOT?). But I think I will leave that for another day, as tomorrow is Monday and I’ve got meetings to prepare for and a school development plan to write…

So, in the lyrical styling of Ke$ha, It’s going down, I’m yelling “timber!” You better move, you better dance.*

*Some one please explain this song to me.