In three short months, each of us has changed; some more drastically than others. At Pre-Service Training (PST), we were asked to make an Identity Map at one of our sessions highlighting how we identified ourselves at that point in time, only a few short weeks into our new adventure. We did the same exercise at IST, later comparing it with our first one. On my first map, I had "white" and "woman" in two different bubbles. This time around I had "WHITE WOMAN" in one bubble. Not to say that my race and gender weren't visible before, but now they both seem to be in my face at all times. Sexual harassment incidences in Peace Corps countries on the continent of Africa are highest in South Africa. I don't say that to freak anyone out (mom, dad, and family back home), I'm just telling it how it is. Unwanted attention, marriage proposals, and a proposed scenario of "friends with benefits" are all examples of sexual harassment, and have each happened to me so far at site.
On my first map, I had "daughter" and "sister" in a single bubble encompassing family ties. The updated map had "daughter," "sister," and "granddaughter" each in their own bubbles. Who I am as a daughter and a sister with my host family is slightly different; I have a relationship as a child to be protected with my host parents, and a relationship of joking, secret-sharing, and Generations-watching with my siblings. I haven't had a grandmother since I was ten years old, so it was really interesting to think of myself as a "granddaughter" once again.
The "college graduate" bubble didn't seem like such a big deal when I included it on my first map. In order to qualify for Peace Corps, you have to have a Bachelor's degree in something relevant. So I was no different than the next person. In my village and at my school, I feel like that bubble makes me stand out. Some teachers at my school have no degree whatsoever; others just took their exams and were receiving their results in mid-November. They come to me to ask what a word means, or if they are correctly constructing a sentence, or if I can explain an entire lesson to them so that they may later teach it to their class. In one region where our SA26 cohort is assigned, five incoming volunteers were told that they made up something like 1/6 of the college-educated inhabitants in the area.
On my first map, my central bubble read "Diana." My new middle bubble reads "Diana Pitcher / Thandi Mngomezulu," taking into account my American and South African names and families.
Having been gone for a month has allowed me to see other parts of this country and how they work: taxis that can and can't be relied upon in villages versus cities, the feeling of accomplishment after hiking up Masubasuba Pass from South Africa into Lesotho, and the genuine kindness and hospitality of complete strangers. Coming back has also given me time and experience to reflect on things I want to change: my biggest resolution for the New Year is to be more patient. Honestly, that is going to be a huge undertaking for me, as a person who likes to see things get done in a timely manner, and more so as an American. Life here is slow and more time is wasted waiting for a taxi to fill up or for someone to show up for a meeting than the time it would take to complete the task at hand. Learning patience here of all places will do nothing but benefit me in the long run. My other resolution has to do with fitness and exercise (and is realistic!). After five days of hiking, climbing, walking, falling, drinking lots of stream water with iodine tablets, and sleeping on the ground, I felt generally amazing (except for extreme sleep deprivation). I want that feeling to last, not for it to be a fleeting, once a year occurrence when my muscles are sore. I am going to start the Insanity fitness program all over again. I am also going to start running with my host dad in the mornings before school. I think this will help to get me into a routine of fitness, but also a general routine for school, sleep, etc. And finally, I want to be a good teacher. I have no formal training as an educator, and have only previously worked in small groups or individually. I want my students to succeed and feel confident about their work and about themselves. I'll let you know how we're doing a few months from now…