Saturday, March 26, 2011

Will There Be Tulips in South Africa?

Although I would love to be headed to South Africa right now TODAY to begin my service and adventure, I'm also quite happy to be at home here in Atlanta during spring time.  If one can overlook the yellow coating of pollen that is everywhere, the flowers and trees and bushes are just teeming with new blooms and color.  Tulips are one of my favorite flowers (along with Irises) and I'm happy to have not missed them this year.  However, it has me wondering what kinds of plants and flowers I will be seeing in South Africa.  At this point, I haven't a clue what the local foliage will be like. From what I have read thus far, there seems to be a great variety of climate and ecosystems from one province to the next, so I might expect most anything.  When I visited Tanzania several years ago, I was totally enthralled with the jacaranda tree which has a brilliant violet bloom.  Wouldn't mind having one of those in my front or back yard.

Jacaranda trees
Also, curious about what the general wild life will be beyond the hippos, lions and elephants (smile!).  I already know that one of my first purchases when we get settled will be a book of local birds. I am not a "birder" by any stretch, yet I do greatly enjoy watching and tracking the variety of birds that show up at the feeder currently in my back yard.  Just last week there were TWO pileated woodpeckers flitting around at the edge of the woods.  That was a first time for such a viewing!

Whatever I see growing, flying and running around (just no slithering, please!) in South Africa, it will be a treat!  Can't wait to see it all.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Leap of Faith

I guess maybe it’s not enough that I’m packing up and moving to South Africa for two years, but now I’ve got to try something else pretty daring and risky (maybe I’m taking this rock versus bridge thing too seriously).  Today, John and I drove to Monroe, GA, and made a tandem sky diving jump.  Yes, it was a crazy thing to pay good money to go out of my way to get strapped to a professional “crazy” person (aka, tandem instructor) whom I had just met and together jump out of a plane flying 14,000 feet about the ground.  It was about the scariest things I have ever done in my life.  From about two weeks ago when I made the reservations, I have been challenging myself mentally to be “cool”, “brave”, and to “just do it” when the time came.  I am proud to report that by the time the plane lifted, my hands were relatively steady and my heart was still in my chest (the little voices in my head chanting encouraging words still there but getting drowned out by the sounds of the plane engine).  There was a point when me and my tandem instructor had inched our way to the open plane door and I could see the ground almost 3 miles below, that I was questioning the wisdom of my “I want to be a rock” thing, but within about 3 seconds of getting positioned at the door, the instructor took over and basically with one big lunge, we are out of the plane and hurtling toward earth.   I managed to keep my eyes open the whole time, did not scream like a little girl (confirmed by my instructor), and quite frankly had a marvelous time.

I am quite pleased to have pushed the envelope once again and done something that goes beyond (this time, WAY beyond) my comfort zone.  I can’t overlook the comparison of doing what I did today and setting out for the Peace Corps adventure in South Africa.   Hopefully, over the next couple of years, I will remember today and how I felt a second or two before leaving the plane.   Unsure and scared.  Not at all confident that I will do everything correctly (even with tandem diving, there is a long list of do’s and don’ts).  Aware that the probability that injury or death was quite a bit higher doing this than staying home this Sunday morning drinking coffee and reading the morning paper.  With the upcoming Peace Corps “jump”, I have many of the same concerns, doubts, fears, and uncertainties.  I trust that the journey will not only be a thrill but will also be worth every second and it’s a leap of faith that I’m more than willing to make. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rocks or Bridges … Would You Take the Rocky Path?

First, I would like to credit Nancy M., a lovely PC Volunteer currently in Samoa, for the following.  I read this on her blog and it intrigued me so much.  It goes a long way to help me understand for myself, as well as explain to others, why I want to serve in the PC. (Other explanations will be shared over time.)

There are rock people and there are bridge people. Bridge people take the paved road across the river. They can see the other side and the route is direct and safe. The bridge gets them where they want to go.

Rock people prefer the adventure of jumping from rock to rock, hoping they're close enough together and not too slippery. Rock people are willing to trust that there will be rocks all the way across the river, even though they aren't visible. They're willing to get wet if they miss a rock. They're willing to risk getting swept away. The payoff is the thrill of the crossing, the confidence that comes with making it across the hard way, the unexpected view, the bond formed with other rock people

Some friends’ and family members’ reactions to my announcement that we are going to serve in the Peace Corps has been, “Well, that’s just like you to do something so adventurous.”  It’s strange that some people would see me as a rock person, since not only would I view myself as a bridge person, but I also feel as though I’m frequently gripping the bridge hand rails as I go.

Nonetheless, I want to be a rock person and after considering many options, it seems as though the Peace Corps is the right group to help make it happen.

So, in the famous words of Paul Harvey, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

Peace Vigil

This past Friday evening, John and I attended a Peace Vigil sponsored by the Atlanta Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (thanks to Kirk E. for alerting us to this event).  It was at the MLK Memorial Site, a proper setting as it was an event focused on the promoting peace.  There were about 40 attendees, mostly people who had served in the PC during the past 10-20 years.  We were joined by our friend, Kelly S., who recently learned of her PC assignment and is headed to Kenya at the end of May!  Everyone was very friendly and interested in our assignment.  It was helpful to ask them directly about their experiences.  The support and enthusiasm among the group was almost palpable. 

We were also able to meet and speak with Jason Carter, a current state senator in Georgia, who is not only President Jimmy Carter’s grandson, but was also a PC volunteer to South Africa.  He spoke very positively about his PC experience and I look forward to reading his book about his PC service especially since he served in one of the two provinces where we will most likely be assigned.  Hopefully, I will enjoy his book as much as I enjoyed reading his great-grandmother’s (Lillian) account of serving in India in the Peace Corps.  Another highlight of the evening was the guest and speaker Lois Puzey, mother of Kate Puzey who was a young PC Volunteer slain about two years ago during her service in the Republic of Benin.  It was a very touching tribute and I greatly admire Lois for speaking so positively and encouragingly to this group.

The evening was bitter cold and this was an outdoor event, but the whole experience was quite heart-warming and greatly affirmed that we are headed for some wonderful times/experiences.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

To Click or Not To Click

We have always known (or believed) that when training to serve in the Peace Corps, we would be learning a new language.  This both excites me and makes me nervous.  This is a far cry from learning French 101 back when I was 16!  This will involve immersion in language and will need to happen quickly ... and yes, there will be a test!!!  So, clever that we are (ha!), John and I figured that we could get one step ahead of the game and learn a little of the language before we leave.  Not so fast... South Africa has eleven major languages, including English.  Presumably, our pre-service training will be in English (or not), but we will learn one or more of the country languages to use in the rural areas.  John has determined that Zulu is used quite a bit in the two provinces where we might go, so we are going to gamble that it will be one of the languages that we will learn. There are a number of you-tubes and other resources online for learning Zulu and we will be spending some time seeing what we can understand and pick up before departure from the US.

I never thought I'd be learning a language that uses embedded clicks in some words for some letters (e.g., q's and x's).  So far, we have discovered that there are at least three different clicking-sounds, but something tells me that there's probably more!  Not sure how well clicks and my ever present Southern drawl are going to mix!

A Lot To Do

John and I are very anxious to start learning as much as we can about South Africa, and believe me, there is no shortage of information about the country and history ... this is Mandela country, after all.  Lots of movies and books (both non-fiction and fiction) which go way beyond the two-page list of suggested reading provided by the PC.  (For all of you wondering, Yes, we have seen the recent movie, Invictus.)  Also, there are countless accounts written by PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) of their experiences in South Africa, as well as other African countries and throughout the other areas served by PC.  We have already read a couple of those (one notably by Lillian Carter who, while in her 60s, served in India) and we continue to thoroughly enjoy reading about others' experiences.  While performing various errands today, we headed to the library and checked out 3 books and have placed several more on hold.  It's time to get smart about where we are going!  Can't read it all before we go, but will look forward to reading lots more after we are there (thanks, Bernice, for the reminder of re-reading Michener's The Covenant).

Sharing the News

After receiving the news of where and when John and I would start training with the Peace Corps, we started making phone calls and more phone calls and more phone calls (yes, my voice was pretty much wasted by the end of the day).  It was pretty clear that most everyone agreed that South Africa is a great destination for us.  Several people talked about how great the city of Cape Town is, but we already know that we will not be anywhere near Cape Town.  Our information indicates that we are assigned to either the Mpumalanga or the Kwa-Zulu Natal Province, both of which are east of Pretoria in the northeast area of the country.  We will most likely work in a rural area, although a few placements might actually be in an urban area.  That will be determined after our training is underway.  We will be going through training with a group of other PC volunteers.  Haven't a clue how many others there will be, but probably somewhere between 10 and 30 (can't wait to meet them!).

The Big Wait

The way it works for receiving the formal invitation from the Peace Corps is that after we have received the phone call from the Placement Officer, we now wait for the placement package to arrive ... so we are in the waiting mode again.  The phone call from Placement came on Monday, so on Tuesday I didn't really expect the package to show up in the mail so soon.  And it didn't.  However, on Wednesday morning I began to think that the probability of the package showing up this day was pretty good.  Our mail tends to be delivered between roughly noon and 1:30pm, so just after breakfast I started mentally counting down the time.  I'm proud to admit that I checked the mailbox only twice before noon just in case the delivery happened to occur early on this day (it happens sometimes).  Nonetheless, the mail came around 12:30 and no PC package.  Bummer!  I immediately recalculated my mental count-down clock at 24 hours and went about my day.

Around 3pm, John was working outside on the deck and went down to the garage to get a tool.  When he returned, he called me from the kitchen and told me to close my eyes and to give him a big hug.  I could tell he had a large envelope tucked into his shirt and I said "NO WAY!!!".  Turns out that the package had been delivered by UPS (rather than USPS) and they had left it in our garage as the garage door had been left open (yikes, it could have been left there for days and we may not have even noticed).  Thank goodness John saw it when he did.  We quickly opened up the package and read the cover letter which opens as "Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that we invite you to begin training in South Africa for Peace Corps service."  Additional information lists the Orientation Dates as July 5-7 and Pre-Service Training as July 8 - September 2, 2011.  That's the information we have been waiting for.  Big cheers, squeals of excitement, lots of hugs, and glasses of champagne all followed.  The package includes a LOT of information and we tried to absorb as much as we could, but it was information overload (or maybe it was the champagne!).

Oh Happy Day!