10 months left in Peace Corps

My cohort and I—down from 19 at the start, to 14—have officially made it over half way through our Peace Corps services. It was marked by our mid-service conference that all groups attend at this point in their service. We opened up with the worst possible exercise possible in my mind: write on a large piece of paper your successes so far, your biggest challenges, and what you look forward to most in the next year. I enjoy seeing the other folks in my group, but I always seem to leave them with a sense that I’m not as useful as they are in their communities. Some are doing GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and BRO (Boys Respecting Others) Camps, working in local schools teaching dance, lifeskills, business skills and sports, working with HIV support groups, starting sewing groups and libraries, and even constructing an entire sports facility with multipurpose courts. This is excluding the other awesome 80+ PCVs doing their projects here in Lesotho too. I serve alongside people that are intelligent, motivated, creative, and any-other-adjective-to-describe-what-everyone-wants-to-be. This was reiterated with figures and graphs showing all that we had done as a group. I felt I didn’t many of those numbers and couldn’t help but look around the room and feel worthless. I was telling Hannah’s mom this a few days after the conference ended and she went on soliloquy about all that I’ve done. I had forgotten a lot of these things or didn’t even recognize them as a success per say, but when she was saying all this really cool stuff back to me I started to realize that I’ve had an awesome time. Some of these things could possibly make for a good book someday. I have…

  • successfully fought bed bugs three times
  • gone through an evacuation to South Africa during political unrest
  • given a speech in Sesotho at our Swearing In ceremony on live television, and many more since then
  • helped nurture a grassroots organization, Youth 2 Youth 4 Youth (Y3), where we operate in 3 villages training youth leaders and engaging youth
  • introduced peanut farming on a small scale and its benefits against malnutrition (nearly 50% stunted due to malnutrition in Lesotho)
  • held three spelling bees and will take one student to the capitol for a National Spelling Bee in November
  • become a pet owner. A cute and energetic cat named Mushu
  • participated in a BRO Camp teaching young boys how to avoid HIV risk factors
  • taught microbiology and chemistry to the first-years at the nursing college and continue to tutor
  • helped start an Employee Wellness Program at the hospital
  • gained friends from South Africa, Zambia, DRC, Tanzania, Australia, UK, Norway, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Uganda, Madagascar, and Mexico
  • successfully grown maize, tomatoes, green peppers, spinach, onion and beans (giving a go at potatoes and cucumber now)
  • run a 10k race with my host family on Christmas (integration, integration, integration!)
  • learned to play the guitar (well, sort of. I’m learning)
  • turned on many people from so many countries to Kevin Hart (I feel like I should get paid for this)
  • joined my village soccer team (I’m a striker. Haven’t quite figured out why yet, but at least I’m having fun while I embarrass myself.)
  • gotten better after having an amoeba.
  • backpacked in Kruger National Park.
  • traveled all over South Africa
  • learned another language.
  • become a big brother to three siblings. One day my little sister came home from school and showed me her good test scores and said, “I had to show my big brother.” Dawww!
  • lived in another country for a year and a half now

The question, ‘What do you look forward to most in the next year’ put a spot light on something that hasn’t even crossed my mind up until that point: I only have ten months left until I’ll be going back home, so I need to start thinking about what I’m going to do next, now! I’ve thought about this a lot but when our country director brought it up it seemed to make it more real. I’ve learned a lot about agriculture and want to further my studies in Public Health focusing on food security to address malnutrition. I feel passionate about this and see my future down this path. I want to remain in the moment as much as possible in my remaining time here, but I will start figuring out my graduate school plans. If all goes according to the very loose schedule I have in my mind, I will hopefully do a few more successful things in Lesotho, travel for a bit after my COS (completion of service) in July 2016, move to Texas where Hannah is attending graduate school, eat a ton of burgers and milkshakes, buy a car, start graduate school the following year and live happily ever after. Here’s to a ten months full of adventures and building relationships!

-Jody

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World’s Highest Bungee Bridge

On the border of the Eastern and Western Capes of South Africa is the Bloukrans Bridge standing over 700 feet from the Bloukrons River below. Hannah talked me into doing it. No other words are needed. Here’s the video they put together:

If I can figure out a way to edit out my some of the words I say (you’d say those words too if you do it!), then I’d like to post the Go-Pro version I took.

Enjoy,
Jody

Round and Round We Go

Interesting fact: Over half of the world’s round-a-bouts are in France.

I just finished a marathon of a road trip with Hannah around Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland. We visited many cities, gained new friends and did some really cool things! A recap of all we did will most likely come in bits, but I want to take some time to talk about driving here in South Africa. Anyone who has visited a large city in Africa can begin to understand the madness of traffic and lack of road rules. The roads can only be navigated by a person that is okay with driving on unmarked roads with no signs and no lanes. When there is two lanes of traffic, it can suddenly turn into four just as quickly as a swarm of birds synchronize a sharp turn in the sky with no obvious sign or reason. You would have thought Hannah was small child on her first roller coaster the way she covered her face and yelled thinking we were going to hit cars as I followed the quick shifts of traffic and swerved in and out of the new instantly formed lanes. Doing all of this while getting used to sitting on the right side of the car, changing gears with the left hand, and driving on the left side of the road required a bit more skill than what we were used to.

Cape Town

Cape Town

I didn’t mind things being reversed or the traffic so much. I was actually okay swerving around cars and letting them swerve in front of me. It made me feel like I was in one of the Fast and the Furious movies. What instantly turned me into an angry person were the round-a-bouts in Cape Town. On many occasions when I finally got out of a round-a-bout, I had to apologize to Hannah for yelling at her. It was this terrible traffic design we figured out that made me so angry–possibly even more than dogs barking at night and the bad customer service. From the moment I approached them to a few minutes after I exited, I was overwhelmed with stress. Round-a-bouts were two and sometimes three lanes going around. If I was taking the first exit out I needed to be in the furthest left lane, and if the second exit then the middle lane, and so forth. This took an amazing amount of calculation and concentration because Cape Town was a surprisingly big city and it’s very easy to get lost as we found out quite frequently. Sometimes the two furthest lanes of the round-a-bout would exit together on the first exit and sometimes only the furthest left would. Never is the road you want to exit on parallel to the one you entered from so it was always a guessing game which road was the right one. This makes it very confusing when I’m in the middle lane and I want to exit but I’m not sure if the car on my left is going to exit with me or if he’s going around to the next exit. If there were signs letting you know which lanes did what, then we both completely missed them. We sometimes circled around a round-a-bout several times before deciding which exit we wanted to take and then figuring out which lane we needed to be in for that turn. We were forced to make this decision at every new road in Cape Town as they apparently don’t believe in the classic traffic light (or ‘robot’ as they call it in South Africa). If it’s true that half the world’s round-a-bouts are in France, then I’m almost certain that the other half is in Cape Town. Just my personal observation.

-Jody

Hannah Visits (Part Dos)

PART TWO: SOUTH AFRICA (and Swaziland)

The number one place I wanted to take Hannah to was the Cheetah Experience. I went here last year and since that day dreamed of getting to take her. We lost a full day but I told her that if this was the only thing we would do in her time here then it would still be worth it. I think she agreed afterwards, but luckily things were even more amazing as we went on. Hover over the picture to see the full caption.

From there we drove as far as we could make it towards Cape Town. The 11+ hour drive there is flat and uninteresting for the most part. ALMOST as boring as Kansas, Nebraska or one of those other states no one really cares to ever pass through more than once:

We continued up the coast and spent a few days in Durban where we got really good, cheap Indian food, and a few other places. It was all beautiful and worth spending time in. We went through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve north of Richard’s Bay where we got stuck in a mud puddle for a couple of hours. One car stumbled up on us and freaked out that we were outside the car trying to wedge sticks under the wheels. He said lions were just spotted in the area and that we should be on the lookout. We didn’t unfortunately see any lions, but we still got to see a lot of things. We also went through the Isimangaliso Wetland Park just northeast of that.  I’ll keep this brief; almost as brief as our trip through Swaziland:

We drove through Swaziland for about 4 hours, during the night and only stopped once to take a picture of the ‘Welcome to Swaziland’ sign. That picture and the stamps on our passports are the only things we got. We basically extended our trip by almost 6 hours just to say, “we’ve been in Swaziland.” It wasn’t worth it.

Hannah is back in the U.S. starting graduate school at Texas A&M while I finish my last year of Peace Corps. One more year apart before I come back to the States. We both agreed we were okay with small amounts of time apart, but never 1-year plus again after this.

Till next time,

Jody and Hannah

Hannah Visits (Part One)

I sat in O.R. Tambo eagerly awaiting Flight 8867. I sat and watched people rushing to make their flights, chatting while waiting on loved ones to arrive, eating out of boredom (maybe that was just me), and doing a number of unusual things to simply make the time pass more quickly. Stories flashed through my mind as I people-watched under three stories of eclectic, buzzing people.

That tall brunette guy standing with the baby satchel strapped to his chest looks very uncomfortable—almost as uncomfortable as the limp, slightly overweight sleeping baby he’s carrying. He’s beyond excited probably waiting for his wife to get back from her business trip. Mostly so that he doesn’t have to bear the weight of this child alone.

Ugh, children! In any other setting most people could find these annoying little creatures amusing and endearing, but never after waking up at 3am, fighting airport traffic and finding the right terminal. No one is in a mood for dodging loud kids rolling around playing on the floor where everyone is walking. Certainly not after a full-day flight, maneuvering through customs and waiting in baggage claim. Every person in the world hates kids at the airport and agrees that there is no reason on God’s green earth that you should let your kids run amok around complete strangers like this. (In retrospect, I think this was a long rant I had to myself)

Weathered skin. As wide as they are tall. Even the grandmother looks like a football lineman from behind. They are definitely Afrikaners from South Africa! They probably just got back from rugby match or letting the son attend a high-school rugby camp. (Because Afrikaners don’t do anything else outside of rugby.)

That poor old lady will for sure miss her connecting flight. I can tell by the urgency in her face as she asks the porter for the way to her terminal. Her panic sets in when the porter checks his watch, looks back at her and their eye contact says everything without words being necessary. He grabs her bag and they both take off at a jog to the right terminal. I can’t help but think of the classic airport scene from Home Alone…

This guy is sitting alone typing away on his iPhone like a nerd. He’s probably playing Risk or some other phone game. He’s probably beyond excited to as he waits for the girlfriend he has been apart from for over a year now. He’s people watching and keeps checking the arrivals board as if the time is going to change with every glance. 

I can say that the last story is undoubtedly true. I was so excited to see Hannah again! 386 days had passed since we had last been together and these last few hours of waiting in the airport seemed to be the longest yet.

It’d take a book of pictures and a day’s worth of explanations to say it all, but I will attempt to do our journey justice through a picture blog with short descriptions.

We stayed in Lesotho for two weeks and then rented a car and traveled South Africa for almost three weeks. We traveled to Cape Town and then took the beautiful Garden Route all the way up the coast to where we ended in Swaziland. Over 5,500 km (3,400 miles) of excitement and adventure. Here are some pictures to highlight our trip (hover the mouse over a picture to see the full caption):

PART ONE: LESOTHO

We had a great time in Lesotho, but the best is yet to come in South Africa!

-Jody and Hannah

365 days down, bro

I have spent 365 days in another country (a check-mark on my bucket list). I have more than one story or experience to tack onto each of these days: camping in Kruger National Park (another check-mark), living with several families that I call my own, playing with and being chased by cheetahs, infinite awkward moments on taxi rides, many funny drinking stories with other PCVs, deep meaningful talks with local youth, art projects with friends, having an amoeba, being consolidated because of political unrest in the capitol, having one of my wisdom teeth ripped from my mouth yesterday, and many other things. I have slightly more than 365 days left here in Lesotho and I only hope the memories are better and the experiences are wilder. Here is a slideshow recap of the year:

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-Jody

Public Transport 1: Luckily, I was wearing long sleeves

“What’s going on? Why did we stop?”

Some questions we wish we never asked because of the hurtful truths that follow. Other times, for any number of reasons, the answers leave us with our mouths wide open. This was one of those times…


I had been away from home the previous week at training for the newest group of prospective PCVs. We talked about HIV risk reduction, nutrition, sexuality and relationships, and a handful of other topics that I may have known just as little about except for my slightly-relevant personal experiences from the past twelve months here in Lesotho. Directly after this, I traveled down south for a committee meeting of which I am co-chair because, admittedly, I try way too hard to be involved in as many things as possible. After two more days of being around so many people, it was a pleasing thought to be heading home where I could escape from the world and spend more time with the less sociable and less talkative spiders that also call the space under my thatched roof home.

On this taxi ride home I was listening to a fascinating Stuff You Should Know podcast about Numbers in an attempt to block out all the conversations going on around me—both English and Sesotho from the other PCVs and locals aboard. As normal, the taxi stopped here and there: a ‘me would exit at a shop to buy eggs and bread, an ntate and his young son would exit onto a dirt path on their way home from town, and in the midst of cattle and sheep an ausi would hop off and run into the village. At some point, the taxi stopped and I was handed a young girl of maybe 6 years from a man sitting next to the window. Without thinking I grabbed the little girl and put her in the doorway so she could exit the taxi. In retrospect, this was a little strange because she was too young to be getting off alone, and if she was with another exiting passenger then it was even stranger that she would be sitting in the lap of some other man. I’ve learned that even stranger and more unexplainable things happen in Lesotho so I didn’t bother questioning. I continued listening to my podcast:

“The way babies actually experience quantitative changes is not just a dumbed-down version of what adults do. It’s a completely different version of what adults do–they seem to think logarithmically. Imagine in your head the distance between 1 and 2. Now imagine the distance between 8 and 9. They feel like the same distance from each other: 1. But that’s because we think of numbers in these discreet ordered chunks. Now, if you were to think about it logarithmically, like a baby, the distance between 1 and 2 is huuuuuuge–because it’s doubling–and the distance between 8 and 9 is a ratio closer to one.”

“So, we’ve done these very funny experiments in the Amazon with people who do not count or have a number beyond five. What we found is that these people also think of numbers in the logarithmic way. If you give them a line and on the left you have one object and on the right you place nine objects and ask them, ‘What number is exactly between 1 and 9?’ You’d say 5, right? ‘What they put in the middle is 3?’ If you’re thinking in ratios and you’re starting at 1, then you multiply by three to get to three, and then you multiply by three again to get to nine. So those are equal jumps on either side. 3 is to 1 as 9 is to 3.”

It had been several minutes at this point when I realized that the taxi still wasn’t moving.

“What’s going on? Why did we stop?”

The ‘me on my right answered me by pointing out the window to my left. I turned and looked out the window and saw this little girl dressed in all pink squatting just outside the window. I laughed hysterically because the entire bus was waiting on this little girl to finish pooping.

“What’s funny?”

I turned back to a very serious look and wondered how the lady next to me found no humor in this. I tried to keep myself from laughing. I kept looking back in disbelief at this little girl’s lack of shame and everyone else’s nonchalance about the situation. She was playing with the flowers and grass around her and watching the shrivel of toilet paper blow in the breeze between her fingers. A few bo’ntate gathered around the front of the vehicle talking while the bo’me rushed the little girl with their eyes. At one point she stood, pulled her pants up, but didn’t move. After a quick assessment she pulled her pants back down and squatted again. I lost it! I didn’t care what the serious lady beside me thought. I laughed out loud and a few others found slightly more humor in this too.

I eventually realized that this was the same girl handed to me 10 minutes earlier and that, ipso facto, she would return and put her stinky little hands on my arms as I passed her back to her father next to the serious lady sitting between us. This thought made the situation a little more real (but no less funny!). Luckily, I was wearing long sleeves.

Public transport has brought about some of the funniest stories in Peace Corps for many volunteers! These memories are priceless and will remain in the repertoire of funny stories for quite some time. I’m sure there will be more of these stories to come.