Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unite for Sight

The reality of life in the third world is that the standard of healthcare is low, very low, so low as to be almost non-existent. Seeing a doctor is an incredible rarity, seeing an eye doctor is unheard of.

While you may take these annual visits for granted, imagine if you had never gone to a doctor at all. Certainly there are home remedies for most coughs and colds, bruises and scrapes, but what about your eyes? Are wearing eye glasses or contacts now? Take them off. What do you see? Can imagine going through life like that? Can you imagine trying to get through school like that?

None of the learners at Moshaweng High School wear eye glasses. They are lucky just to be at school (South Africa only guarantees a ninth grade education). The lack of eye wear is not a testament to their visual superiority, but rather a lack of proper eye care. They have never had an eye test. Everyday I seem them squinting up at the board, shuffling their chairs closer to see. Yes, they are at school, but unless they are able to see the board it hardly does them much good.

Unite for Sight is a charitable organization that provides basic eye care to some of the world's poorest people. No, they are not coming to Loopeng, rather Neelam is going to them.

Some of you who have peeked at my Facebook page may wonder who the girl in all my photos is. It's Neelam, an aspiring eye doctor. For her senior year winter break, instead of going home to visit her family, Neelam is going to Chennai, India to work with Unite for Sight. Founded by a college student in her dorm room at Yale, Unite for Sight is not a particularly resource-rich endeavor and Neelam must pay her own way. If you are interested in donating, please follow this link:


And now I will return to my sedulous study of vocabulary...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blogger, Interrupted

I am taking the GRE exam two weeks from today. Regularly scheduled blogging will resume after that date.

When not studying, I am reading Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm. It's a very good read.

Ta-ta for now!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Service Learning

Most of the educators at Moshaweng High School live on campus. When they go home for lunch, they only go about thirty feet. P and I, however, are forced to venture beyond school grounds. We're neighbors, and I've come to enjoy our afternoon chats on the quick walk home.

There is one road through Loopeng of unusual size and it is well-trafficked. The school sits on one side, and our homes on the other. This road is primarily composed of sand, and if you're anywhere near it when a vehicle passes you'll swear you were just at the epicenter of a massive sandstorm. Thus, when P and I came to the road this afternoon and saw a bakkie headed our way, we hurried across as fast as we could. There was no way we wanted to cross the road in the desert-storm atmosphere that followed the vehicle.

As soon as we were safe on the other side, we looked back to see where the bakkie was headed. It was stopped at the school. "Who could it be?" we wondered.

We found out soon enough. The bakkie followed us and pulled up just outside P's house. Windows were rolled down, doors were opened and greeting were exchanged. It turned out to be people both P and I are familiar with. It was the staff of an organization that runs service learning trips for international schools in the area.

Today's visitors are the third distinct group to visit Moshaweng this year. I know more are coming. Each group is usually composed of a dozen or so high school students from Europe, Australia or Asia accompanied by a sort of tour director and a few school staffers. The projects they work on vary. Some work in primary schools, reading stories to children, some work in high schools, reviewing for the matric exams. Quite often they bring and donate an assortment of school and health-related items. They seem to appear from nowhere, stay for a week or two, and then just *poof* vanish... until the next group arrives.

They are, by and large, a friendly, well-intentioned bunch, but I always get a sinking feeling whenever they show up. "Great," I think, "More rich white people on vacation. Hello, neo-colonialism! Welcome, traveling salesmen for capitalism and consumption! Here come the troops to pad their college applications, gawk at poverty, find themselves and go home again."

I wonder how many people thought or think the same about me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shock and Sadness

Receiving an e-mail from the Peace Corps director is the PCV equivalent of having a military officer knock on your front door. It is always bad news. Another volunteer has died.

During my service volunteers have been killed in rock climbing accidents while vacationing in Tanzania, shot in the capital of Lesotho and found dead of natural causes at site in Niger.

Everytime I hear the news I find it shocking, sad and upsetting. I have not known any of these volunteers personally, but as part of the Peace Corps community it cuts close to home.

I suspect that, like me, the PCVs who passed away during their service never seriously considered the possibility that, when they left their homes, friends and family, they would never see them again. I also suspect that their family and friends never really considered that a quick "Goodbye" at the airport was goodbye forever. Death during service is not something the average PCV and their support network is prepared for, nor should it be.

Peace Corps goeps to great lengths to ensure that volunteers are healthy and well-prepared to survive in the environments into which they are thrust. Death, while always a possibility, is not likely. We are volunteers in Africa, not soldiers in Afghanistan. It is not our parents who should be getting knocks on doors, not our peers getting e-mails, not our bodies on planes, and yet, very rarely, it is. The fact that it is uncommon is little comfort to anyone.

My thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of PCVs now passed away.

I hope it's a good, long while before I hear from the director again.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Speedbumps and Stoplights

A strange coincedence is that the distance between my site and my shopping town is approximately the same as the distance between my parents' house and their lake house. While the scenery is wildly different (the green Kalahari versus upstate New York Finger Lakes), the route has some surprising similarities. For example, both trips involve traveling over paved and unpaved roads in rural areas.

Most annoying however are man-made traffic controls. Back in the States these take the form of 17 stoplights over the 3 miles closest to home. Nothing is more aggravating than hitting all red lights and having to spend 20 minutes traveling a distance that should take 5.

Similarly, very close to town here in South Africa, is a string of speedbumps. Not two or three, a string, it feels like an endless, infinite series. It's obnoxious no matter what direction I'm traveling in. As long as I'm sitting in a moving vehicle, I want to really be moving, not suffering through constant cycles of slowing down and speeding up.

And yet, here I am.

The shouting match over women's rights is not helping. Man in the front claims women abuse does not exist, women in the back beg to differ. Apparently, whoever shouts the loudest is winning. And we have a new contender in row 2. And we're quoting popular TV series as arguments. And giving everyone in the vehicle a nice spray of saliva. This is fun.

See what you're missing? Shame. At least there are no stoplights.

Can't Complain, No One Will Listen

Shaka, subject of last week's attempted theft, stars again in this week's installment of South African Saturdays: Stories of Some Fortune but More Misfortune.

This week was time for Shaka's rabies shot. Like the good, responsible pet owner I do my best to be, I made an appointment at the vet's office for 10:30 this morning. Usually the taxi gets me to town by 9:30, 10:00 at the very latest. 10:30 seemed like a perfectly reasonable time. How foolish of me.

I got up early this morning, washed my hair and otherwise prepared myself for the trip to town. By 7 o'clock I was ready. I called my usual taxi driver. Usually he answers the phone with "Yes, yes, I am coming." Today, for the first time ever, he said "Sego, I'm sorry, not going today."

At first, I was undeterred. There were more taxis, right? Loopeng's got a few thousand people, surely some of them wanted to go to town today. I waited out front of my house for a taxi. By eight o'clock it was becoming increasingly obvious that no taxis were coming. Panic was growing.

"Don't worry," said my host sister, "Walk out to the main road by the sign and wait. A taxi will come."

Now, the place my host sister was referring to is nowhere near where I stay. It is almost as far away as you can get. It took me 24 minutes to walk there at a good clip. As it turns out, there was no need to hurry. I staked out a shady position near the sign and stood there.

I stood there for ten minutes, twenty, thirty, an hour. A bakkie went by, headed towards a cattle post. Another hour went by, a car went past going the opposite direction. A gogo comes out of her house lugging a chair for me. I guess I was a pretty sorry sight just standing there. I'm not sure sitting made me look any less pathetic, but it did make my wait marginally less uncomfortable.

At long last, a taxi came by. I climbed in, followed by two others. We were on our way!

The vet closed at noon. My feet hit the hot Kuruman pavement at 11:45. I practically broke into an instant run, or at least a rapid waddle in sandals and a dress. Shaka did his best, but I was practically dragging him. Until, suddenly, I wasn't.

I whipped around and came face to face with a man carrying Shaka and attempting to make an escape. Too bad I was still hanging onto the leash. I grabbed the dog out of his arms and promptly broke into a run.

I ran all the way across town to the vet's office, arriving minutes before closing. Shaka got his check-up and I forked over what little cash I had remaining (thank goodness the man who tried to relieve of my dog did not also reieve me of my wallet).

Now I still had to buy groceries and get enough cash out to pay the taxi fare home. This led to the Great ATM tour of Kuruman. The first two ATMs were out of cash, the next two claimed I had no funds (although their "check your balance" mechanism recognized that I did), a couple more had "technical difficulties". Finally, one was willing to dispense cash. Too bad it was not enough cash. I bought my groceries, but I was R20 short for the taxi home.

What's a girl to do?

I tried more ATMs. I got more rejections. I tried cash back. Still more rejections. Finally, at Shoprite, there was a ray of light. After a cashier called over her manager to help solve my card problem, she took pity on me and just slipped me R20 out of her own pay. It was such a wonderful gesture for which I am truly grateful. I would not be writing this from the taxi if it were not for her. I might have been reduced to selling Shaka for cash.

I guess that's what's so great about South Africa. Sure, nothing actually works, but someone's always there to help you out of whatever pinch you're in.

Ah, drunken citizenry on the taxi. Easily my least favorite part of the day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Live from Loopeng, It (Was) Saturday Night!

Last weekend I went out with my host sisters. It was surprisingly similar to any night out in the States, or at least it started that way.

We all started getting ready around eight o'clock. There was much commenting on make-up and changing of tops. A few major decisions about shoes and hair, the usual. Thirty minutes later than intended, we set off for the party.

I should actually say bash. A bash is a kind of village block party to which everyone is invited. A party is apparently invite-only. This bash was held on a corner of Loopeng's biggest thoroughfares (picture a dirt track bisected by a slightly bigger dirt track). There was a DJ all the way from Rustenburg set up under a cheer and a few dozen people milling about. As soon as I arrived, there was a flurry of picture-taking. Everyone wanted a photo with the lekgowa. That died out and we all had a good time dancing and chatting for a while.

The sunshine and rainbows came to an abrupt halt when my sister grabbed my arm and pointed at a shadowy figure hurrying away in the gathering darkness. "He's stealing your dog!"

We ran like hell after the dog thief, through the bush at night. It was probably one of the dumbest things I've ever done, but the thief was caught and my dog rescued. It was decided that Shaka would best be tied up, so we returned to the bash only briefly before heading home to properly secure the beast (and change our now thorn and pricker infested footwear). Several people asked us what happened, we related the story of dog-thievery and there was much tongue-clucking. If only that was the end of it...

Apparently, while we were at home picking out new shoes, a fight broke out at the bash between the "Poor Sego, what kind of evil being would steal her dog?" people the "Dog thieves for life" faction. This fight grew so intense, that the bash was broken up entirely by the time we returned.

No matter, we hit the tavern instead.

Loopeng: where the party don't stop.