Nearly four months in Africa, two of them in Goodhope. And the beginning of a new calendar year. A good time for reflections. The African sky seems a metaphor for reflections. Clear or dark, sunny or stormy, always vast and always different. And what we are discovering here is that what appears to be an impending storm often is taking place elsewhere, passing us by. Just as a photograph of clouds can give only a hint of the reality, these reflections scarcely convey the breadth and depth of the changes we have experienced here.
John: People often ask me how the Peace Corps today is different from the Peace Corps I served in Panama from 1967-1969. It is hard to answer. My first response is that there is no comparison. That is a bit evasive. The whole world has changed in 43 years. Technology has changed our daily life, communications and travel. Carol and I don’t live in a traditional house, like I did in El Valle. No one does in Goodhope. I worked in “community development” in Panama, which meant figure out what could be done and do it. Returning to El Valle to visit four years ago, I saw lasting changes. Here in Goodhope our work is very focused. That makes it easier and harder at the same time. No way to know what changes may come of our time here.
Carol: John has said it well, this experience is “easier” and “harder” than I could ever have imagined in the more than 40 years since Peace Corps service was but a dream for me. Our Pre-Service Training in Kanye eased the transition into this very different culture for me. Our local teachers, our spirited and supportive training group of 35, the incredible coordination of classes and events (even for an “organized” soul as myself) was very impressive. The “harder” part for me has been, and continues to be not the lack of usual amenities (hot water, any water....) but the depth of missing beloved family, friends, work and life in Portland. My aunt used to say “never leave fun for fun.” Then again, I left (for now) an amazing life as I knew it for an amazing adventure!
John: Peace Corps then and now is all about the people-to-people experience. The opportunity over two years to become neighbors, colleagues and even friends across cultures, to learn new ways, share our ways, all of this is what makes Peace Corps’ experience so unique. There are days when I feel isolated and utterly ineffective. The next day, I can feel connected, successful, and utterly excited about my work and the experience here.
Carol: Yes, a roller coaster ride this certainly is. Our huge welcome here by the 2500 students and faculty was followed by seven weeks’ term break and a nearly empty campus. Elation and disappointment are common experiences, just as a beautiful sunset can suggest a pending storm. Most hopeful for me right now is the invitation and interest at the Goodhope Primary Hospital to collaborate in beginning recovery services for patients struggling with substance abuse issues. All of which fits so well with Peace Corps life skills focus in the public health arena. This possible “match” of my passion with a community need holds promise. As John said earlier, only the future will tell.....
John: It is challenging to understand process and time here! Just this morning we attended a mandatory PTA meeting set for 10 a.m. Indeed, the head of departments made a big pitch for being on time. At the appointed time maybe 25 people were there, mostly parents. No one from administration came in until 10:30. A few parents wandered in, so that by 10:40, when the meeting finally started, there were maybe fifty parents and a dozen teachers. The meeting was in Setswana. After about ten minutes everyone stood for prayer. Closing prayer. We were surprised, to say the least. It was explained that there were too few people to continue the meeting It would be rescheduled until form fours (our U.S. equivalent is 11th graders) arrive. I asked how many parents were expected, since most of the students are from quite far away and board here at Goodhope. One of the teachers responded: “1200”. Wow, it is impossible for me to understand that there will be a meeting with that many parents in February or ever. Stay tuned. We have been told that time operates differently here, and so it does.
Carol: Yes, accepting what is here rather than what I would like it to be is quite the challenge. In training, one of our more seasoned PCVs said she prayed The Serenity Prayer many times a day for acceptance, courage and wisdom as she navigates this new culture. I am finding that to be so true! What I/we are experiencing now is the difference between theory (training) and practice (service). When I asked John what one word he would use to describe this morning’s PTA experience, he said “humorous.” My word was “disappointing.” Both are true, and fortunately, we both aren’t usually disappointed at the same time.
John: People ask us if we are eating well and how we like the food here. We eat well, and we cook for ourselves, alternating days so we share in the process. Diets here are less varied and less seasoned than we are used to, but we can get a pretty good variety, between the general dealer (a small old fashioned country store) and a supermarket in one of the larger villages. Sorghum porridge, a staple here, is ok, and we cook it occasionally, but we can get rice, potatoes, and pasta. We might try growing potatoes!. Beef is the other staple, and it is good, and very tough. Seswa is pounded beef or goat, is easy to chew. Serobe (goat tripe) is definitely an acquired taste. Morogo (greens) usually refers to chard, which is very easy to grow in this climate, and can be prepared in a lot of ways. With peanut butter or lemon or potatoes and onions, in pattis (pancakes). Especially the way Carol cooks it, maybe in our retirement we’ll open up the first Morogo restaurant in Portland.
Carol: Now there’s a compliment! It is true we are becoming quite accustomed to the food here and finding inventive ways to put things together. Especially with whatever is in the fridge, since the nearest general dealer is a 40 minute walk and add a 30 minute kombi ride to that for the closest supermarket. We are also eating foods here we would not dream of in our daily meals in the U.S. Such as potato chips and sodas! Maybe with all the walking and gardening (and sweating!) we do, our bodies are asking for more sugar and salt. Who knows, but neither of us plan to return home “traditionally built!”
These have been some glimpses of life here, and as the clouds you see, our experiences and how we are with all of it varies day to day and sometimes from moment to moment. We wish you all a joyous and fulfilling 2012, and love hearing from you.
We send you all love across the miles!