Monday, January 17, 2011

SOUTH AFRICA!!!!! In the summertime when the weather is fine...

Hello! I am in South Africa! I left a week ago today, which is quite bizarre. I am not sure how long it feels like I’ve been here but with all of the changes that have occurred, certainly longer than that. Where do I begin? I am staying at Willing Workers of South Africa, a non-governmental organization that helps the nearby village of Kurland to meet all sorts of needs. It took two solid days of travel to get here and when we arrived, I could not believe my eyes. This place is absolutely gorgeous. It’s in an extremely rural area with all sorts of creatures roaming about: baboons (there is a pack of 60!), wild dogs, boars, huge spiders, scorpions, centipedes, horses, cows, sheep, antelopes if you’re really lucky…AND nearby is Monkey Land and Birds of Eden which are sweeeeet ass nature reserves for their respective animals. So I have gotten to see lots of animals which has been great! And here there is a dog, Dash, and a kitty named Jumanji, and a tiny puppy that visits with its owner, a local beekeeper, so I get to pet some too.

Living here is a trip. I live in a big tent with two beds and a little nightstand (pictures will come eventually…my camera got lost the second day so I am relying on everyone else’s uploads, which probably won’t happen til we get back to the states) with my roommate, Julia, who is kick ass. We like to talk feminism and politics and love and life when we both spontaneously wake up at 3am. The grounds are amazing. There is a hot tub we get to go in on Friday night (which is enough. Too many shenanigans!), bathrooms with cobblestone floors that sit overlooking the forest, fire pits, a homemade bar, a sometimes projector screen and lots of grass for Frisbee and cricket and what not.

Our plans for going to the village/township were delayed for a few days since my prof got stuck in the snowstorms that apparently exist since it is winter somewhere! Winter seems ridiculous to me. It is nearly 90 degrees by 9am. I am sun scathed. I went to the beach yesterday (got naked and got thrashed around in the waves and laughed hysterically and have seldom felt better.) and got to scale the side of a rock. It’s outrageous. The beauty here is endless. WWISA also acts as a place for backpackers to stay in addition to volunteers, so we get to meet all kinds of folks meandering through. Lots of interesting backgrounds and stories.

Anyhow, today we finally went to Kurland. I am still processing the experience. I don’t know how to fully describe it in a way that is complete. The good things are, the people are friendly for the most part, and there have been major repairs and improvements over the past few years, including turning dirt roads into paved ones, and getting funding from organizations to support kids going to school. There are some modest small businesses in the village. The work that is happening here encourages investment from community members instead of just distributing handouts, in an attempt to give people ownership of their life and village. Still, I cried not ten minutes after arriving, for reasons I don’t think I fully understand yet.

Some people literally live in shacks, and slanted shacks at that. Roofs are plastic sheets in some cases. The children can only go to school here until 9th grade, and then they have to go 30 kilometers away, which is nearly impossible because there is no public transportation. Teen pregnancy is rampant, and someone told me the village of roughly 3700 buries 7-8 people every weekend due to HIV/AIDS. There are extremely high numbers of children born with fetal alcohol syndrome, and we saw a boy who was maybe five sucking on a silver bag of wine. We went to the preschool, which was so vibrant with shining beautiful faces, but that were behind barbed wire because vandalism and theft is a huge issue, even for a preschool. They smiled and waved and got as close to us as they could, and my heart broke, because they are just like any other children in the world, and they have no idea yet how the odds are stacked against them.

The most beautiful moment was meeting a woman named Johanna, who runs a soup kitchen in the village. I have NO idea how she does it, as 99% of the people here can hardly feed themselves, but she does. WWISA helped her repair her home/soup kitchen, and we will continue to help her with whatever she needs. She is such an inspiration. When we got there, she came out and introduced herself to every single one of us, and gave us a hug. I am making a point to come and talk to her and hang out with her as much as humanly possible. What a beautiful, saintly woman.

I have been doing lots of thinking about what I want my contribution to be while I am here. I definitely want to work at the school, either preschool or primary, and I want to help with organic farming, anddddddd for me the most exciting, I want to create my own project. I brainstormed and came up with what I envision when I think of the perfect program. I want a place that educates the community about healthy relationships, personal empowerment, HIV/AIDS (and all STD) and pregnancy prevention, and connects people to contraceptives. I want to create curriculums that encourage communities to not tolerate sexual assault and domestic violence, instead of making protection from violence the victim’s responsibility. I want to provide personal support, job training, life skills training, and anything else necessary to make people economically viable in their community. Because I truly feel that education and economic viability are the best avenues for people to have control over their lives, and sexual health is absolutely key in that. If you have a baby at 14, or acquire HIV, or are a survivor of sexual assault with no support, or simply aren’t employable, life has very few options. So, somehow, I hope to manifest that vision as best I can in the little time that I am here.

In other news, I get to go on a weeklong safari in a few weeks, which I think will be the absolute highlight of the trip. I am also planning on skydiving, which I am stoked about! What else? Everyone here is pretty much fantastic. I have found a posse within the crew and they are amazing. We have a good time : ) I am making sure to get alone time when I start to get overwhelmed, because we are all together from breakfast til at least 11pm and that’s if there is no dance party. I am happy. I will try and update as I can.

Oh one more thing! There is a guy visiting WWISA doing a documentary on NGO’s so I will most likely be on video! Pretty exciting!

Ok that’s it for now. Send me emails! Send me addresses! I send you lots of love.