Peace Corps thus far

Dumelang! (<– that means “Hello” in Sepedi, which is the language I’m learning).

I’m sitting here staring at my computer screen trying to figure out how I could possibly condense my last month into a blog post, and capture the essence of my Peace Corps experience in a way that y’all can understand.

I’m pretty sure it’s impossible, but I’ll try.

Here’s some terminology that might help you understand my last month:

Refilwe: My South African name! It means “we are given” and it’s pronounced Ray-feel-way.

CHOP Volunteer: Community HIV Outreach Program Volunteer… that’s me!

Cohort: Group of volunteers that arrive in-country together and train together. There are 32 people in my cohort, ranging from 22 years old (I’m fourth-youngest) to 74 years old. It’s an extremely diverse group of people.

SA31: South Africa 31. My cohort is the 31st group to arrive in South Africa. A new cohort arrives in South Africa every six months. Every January, a new group of CHOP volunteers arrives, and every July a new group of education volunteers arrives (they teach in schools, duh). Every even-numbered cohort (SA28, SA30…) is an education cohort, and every odd-numbered cohort (SA29, SA31…) is a CHOP cohort.

LCF: Language and Cultural Facilitator. These people are host country nationals (aka, native South Africans) who teach us the local language, culture, etc. They come to class with us every day and live in the villages with us.

PST: Pre-service training. It’s what I’ve been doing for the last month, and what I’ll be doing until April 1, 2015. PST lasts 10 weeks and involves learning language, rules, and regulations, HIV schtuff, etc. My two years of service don’t being until I’m done with PST.

PCT: Peace Corps Trainee, that’s me! I’ll be a trainee until I’m done with PST and get sworn in on April 1st, then I’ll be an official volunteer (aka PCV)!

Sepedi: The language I’m learning. Sepedi is spoken in Limpopo and Mpumalanga South Africa, which is most likely where I’ll be placed permanently.

Language Group: Not everyone in my cohort is learning Sepedi. In fact, 22 people are learning Isizulu, 6 people are learning Siswati, and 4 of us are learning Sepedi. Each language is broken up into language groups. Since only 4 people are learning Sepedi, we are one language group. My group consists of me, Colleen, Shelby, and Bobbi. Each language group also has an LCF who is in charge of the group and teaches the lessons. The LCF in charge of Sepedi is Kgabo (pronounced Habo). We have language lessons for 2 hours each morning. Siswati is divided into two language groups with 3 people in each, and IsiZulu is divided into 6 (I think) language groups.

LPI: Language Proficiency Interview. It’s a test each volunteer takes at the end of PST to see how well we know the language. If we score too low, we have to have a tutor at our permanent site.

Matshipe: This is the village I live in for PST. It’s a really small village that has more cows than people and doesn’t even have stoplights. I don’t know how many people live in Matshipe, but I know I can walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes. Half of our cohort lives in Matshipe and half our cohort lives in Bundu, which is a village walking distance from Matshipe.

Main Hub: This is where the majority of our classes take place. The main hub is located a short distance from Matshipe and Bundu. Peace Corps drives the whole cohort to the main hub every day for lessons (but language lessons take place in the villages each morning). Our main hub is actually a nature reserve, which means we see zebras, wildebeest, and monkeys on a daily basis!

Permanent site: This is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s where I’ll be placed for two years once PST ends. Since I’m learning Sepedi, I’ll most likely be placed in Mpumalanga or Limpopo. The Siswati groups will be in Eastern Mpumalanga, and the IsiZulu groups will be in KwaZulu-Natal. Even though the volunteers will be in the same provinces, we will not be in the same villages. I actually find out my permanent site next week (though I don’t move there until after swearing-in on April 1).  

Tuck Shop: A tuck shop is a local market. Matshipe is so small that we only have three tuck shops. The tuck shop sells everything from airtime, bread and soda, to weaves.

Host Family: Each volunteer lives with a host family, either in Matshipe or Bundu. I live with the Makuru family. I have a Mom, two sisters, Gontse (12) and Lethabo (3), two cousins, Mpela (1) and Khumisho (3), an aunt, Nicia (16), and a gogo (grandmother).

Shopping town: Peace Corps volunteers usually live in such small villages, we can’t always get the things we need at the local tuck shop so we must travel to nearby, large “shopping towns” for groceries and such. The shopping town for Matshipe and Bundu is called Kwaggafontein; it’s about 20-30 minutes away via taxi.

Integration Period: After we move to our permanent site, we have a three-month integration period. We aren’t allowed to travel outside of our village (unless we need to go to our shopping town for groceries) or visit other volunteers. The point is to get to know your new community very well, and (wait for it…) integrate! PCVs refer to this as the “isolation period” and apparently it’s the most challenging part of service because we are isolated from everything we know and all the people we became friends with during PST.

IST: Internal Service Training. This occurs right after the integration period. Peace Corps sends the entire cohort to Pretoria for one week of training. We discuss how our isolation period went and learn shiz.

Pit Latrine: Mine is probably 50 feet from my house and it’s where I pee. Outside… in a hole in the ground…

JoJo: Each house has a JoJo; it’s a large tank of water that the government periodically fills up since Matshipe and Bundu don’t have indoor plumbing or running water.

Bucket bath: Since Matshipe and Bundu don’t have running water or indoor plumbing we bathe in buckets in our rooms. I get a large bucket and fill it with water from the JoJo (probably 2 gallons) and bathe in it (well, I sit outside of the bucket and dunk my head in and use a washcloth for my body). It’s a process, but I think I have it down to a science.

Daily schedule during PST:

6:30: wake up
7:30: breakfast
8 to 10: Sepedi lesson (in Matshipe with my language group)
10: the bus picks us up and takes us to the main hub for lessons
10 to 10:30: tea time (the best time ever. Can we bring teatime back to America?)
10:30 to 12:30: Lessons (these vary from Community heath, HIV facts, CDC schtuff, Sexual health, how to talk to adolescent girls, etc.)
12:30 to 1:30: Lunch
1:30: More lessons
4 or 5 or 6: Drive us back to our villages, depending on when we get out of class, I either go to Colleen’s house, go home, go for a run, etc.
7:30ish: dinner
8:00: Generations (best TV show ever, and it’s on EVERY night!)
8:30: bath time (aka bucket-bath time)
10:00: sleepytime

My cohort has class 6 days a week (Monday – Saturday) so our only day off is Sunday.  We (meaning the Americans) usually hang out on days off, whether we go to Kwagga, play soccer, watch movies, or just chill. We also use this time to do laundry (by hand… in a bucket…) and sometimes we even go to church with our families. Next Sunday is my friend Colleen’s birthday so the whole cohort is getting together at a nearby hotel (this sounds fancier than it actually is) and having a PARTY – and by party, I mean eat pizza and socialize. Oh, and there is a pool! This is the most exciting thing since we went to Pretoria and used flushing toilets! 

I know this isn’t a lot of information (or is it too much?) but I promise I’m still writing, I’m just not posting much. You’ll see more posts soon!



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