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“Better Remember This”

I’ve been back in the States for 5 months now and I find myself holding my memories of South Africa more closely to my heart than ever. It still feels so close to me – like I can reach out and touch it. I can still feel how I felt when I was there, I can still hear my friend’s voices and the laughter of the children, can still see my hut and smell the African earth. I don’t want to let it go. 

I recently came across this post called “Better Remember This” from an RPCV in Kenya. I could definitely relate and found it worth sharing. Enjoy!

 

http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/peace-corps-experience/2013/10/15/better-remember-this/

 

Better Remember This

Posted by Marian Haley Beil on Tuesday, October 15th 2013     

by Meg Sullivan (Kenya 1992-94)

This essay won the 1995 Moritz Thomsen Award for Best Short Work about the Peace Corps Experience.

YOU’D BETTER REMEMBER THIS. Because people will ask you. Whether you want them to or not, they’ll ask you how Africa was. And though you won’t know where to start, you’re going to have to have something to tell them. A shrug of the shoulders and “Good” won’t be enough. So you’d better remember this. Open the parts of your mind you need, and work them over until you’ve got them just right. Then put what you know in a place the will be easy for you to get to. Deep, but not too deep. Just enough so that even though no one else can see it, you know it’s there, and you can see it and feel it, and you know it makes up part of who you are now, as well as who you were then, and it will be there for you when you need to speak of Africa.

Remember things like the clarity of the light of the Equator after a five o’clock rain shower, cold and temperamental as broken glass. The bark and thorns of an acacia tree, so long and sharp your own forehead feels sticky from commiseration with Jesus. Tell them of the sound you hear only in Africa. The rattle of a crate of empty soda bottles strapped to the back of a bicycle. Or, the moans of a very pregnant woman in a reed chair on the back of another bicycle as she’s pushed toward the maternity ward. The different sounds drums make. The light beats of the tightly stretched skins, and the louder, deeper sounds of the loose ones. Time beaten out to the movements of even the tiniest kids, fluid as the elephant grass in the breeze of the inland trade winds. The way you can hear the neighbor’s boy no matter where he is, always drumming on his empty water jug. The Max Roache of the bush. Tell them that just two days before, these same people had sung with such exalted majesty you thought God Himself had made his Second Coming right then to join in.

But don’t forget how the stillness can surprise you at times. The quiet of early morning when the children run to school. Their legs long and bony, feet splayed wide across, toes clutching the earth, guiding them down dirt tracks and paths. Picturing them stalking the hyena and leopard that come around here sometimes. For, though they run fast, they are silent . . . silent as a whisper.

Or as the women balancing pots on their heads, disappearing into the banana groves, green and yellow. Remember that, so you can tell them how the women who can balance full pots of water and carry them home from the river without using their hands or spilling a drop are ready for marriage. The little girls begin practicing as soon as they can walk. Tell them about one you know, a good friend of yours, who has progressed from a single matchbox, to a small basin, to these days, a tiny jerrican of her own. Burn her image into your brain like a brand, or the scars on the faces of the old people, and remember what she was like when she was two, since you won’t know her when she’s ten or eighteen, and everyone should have someone who remembers what they once were.

And when they ask you, you can tell the of the shambas dug in anticipation of the afternoon rain. Furrowed in the morning before it gets too hot. The earth rich and black. Heavy. Smelling of decay. And generation. Riding your bike past fields of maize and cassava, and cane so tall and sweet the bees hover around it for months before it’s cut. And, of course, the countless dirty-faced kids who come out of nowhere to watch you pass. Pointing, yelling, chasing you with shouts of “Mzunguuuu!” Like a password, or a war cry. Floating through the air to the nextmanyatta where the next group of kids does the same. Staring with big, big eyes as you pass. And you thinking Hey, kid. Didn’tyourmotherevertellyounottostaredon’t pointdon’tpickyournosedon’ttalktostrangers? Well, I’m telling you now.

Remember simple, unaffected pleasures. Teaching a grown woman how to ride a bike. And trying to teach another who was afraid of falling and so would never pick her feet up off the ground. The roar of a lion. The way flamingos dance together, in the scorching heat of a midday during the dry season. The innumerable cups of tea you didn’t want but couldn’t refuse. The ugali andsukuma you can’t believe you actually crave.

Explain that to them. As well as the days and night of frustration and lonely boredom when even crying seemed like too much effort. The hours from 5 to 7 that seemed to go on forever. And how you wished the sun would set so you could go to bed and sleep through the night and wake up in the morning one day closer to the end of all of it. Tell them about the harambees, and the weddings, and the funerals held under trees where the wails of the women were as deep and loud as those of the earth itself when the Rift Valley split open. The earth couldn’t possibly hurt more. Tell them about the ache at the base of your spine and down both sides of your neck after a long matatu ride. And the long, long delays at the sides of empty roads where the bus had broken down, and everyone was staring at you, and you tried to pretend you didn’t notice and it didn’t bother you. Sitting in the middle of all of it, rather bewildered. Watching and listening, and trying to get your bearings. Only to realize, once you finally thought you’d gotten the hang of things for good, that you just didn’t get it. Any of it. At all.

But you stayed for two years. And when they ask you why, you can tell them how your students begged you not to give up their class to another teacher. How your friends took you home to meet their families. How your neighbors were always so glad to see you safely returned from a safari. How profusely everyone thanked you for the little you’d done for them, forgetting that you’d all done it together.
Remember, so when they ask you, you can tell them these things. And tell them how you stood tall and looked those others in the face as you left. Although it hurt you and them both very much. But take the gift of their pain, and yours, for that is love. And feel it as it was there, then. As you turned and left. As they stood and watched you go.

And speak of how you thanked them.

Thanked them for teaching you how easy it is to laugh in so many languages. Thanked them for letting you in.

Me with the children at the centre.

Me with the children at the centre.

Host sisters!

Host sisters!

Les, Me and Hazel

Les, Me and Hazel

My home for the past 3 years

My home for the past 3 years

With my youth!

With my youth!

Getting emotional giving my farewell speech.

Getting emotional giving my farewell speech.

My family and Ayanda's farewell dinner (we're both Mchunus) Allie and I cooked friend chicken, mash and green beans along with apple pie!

My family and Ayanda’s farewell dinner (we’re both Mchunus) Allie and I cooked friend chicken, mash and green beans along with apple pie!


Saying goodbye to the staff and women's group in Msinga

Saying goodbye to the staff and women’s group in Msinga

In many ways I have been finding it difficult to reflect on the past three years because for me this is no longer “my Peace Corps experience” rather it has become my life. By nature I would say I am a reflective person but when something becomes part of your everyday life it is sometimes easy to overlook the small amazing things happening daily. After three years of living in my hut in rural KwaZulu Natal, it is no longer newsworthy to discuss how I wait hours for the taxi to fill or how it is normal for me to be the only English speaker in the room or how fighting the often corrupt government is to be expected. These things become part of your life and after awhile you forget that there is another way life can be. Peace Corps has quite literally become my life and I have formed and developed relationships with people here who have impacted me in ways that have not only affected my experience but have shaped the person I now am. I have built a life here in this community in South Africa and for as long as I have claimed to not want to establish roots, have found that I have in fact been doing just that these past few years. I am now trying to look at this transition in my life not as uprooting these roots; rather I am continuing them in another place and in many ways taking them with me in a non tangible way. This has not been an isolated experience where I came to Africa to do Peace Corps only to put it on my resume and check it off my list. It has become a very integrated, fluid experience that has weaved its way into my old and new life and will continue influencing me even when I am gone from this place.

I am so blessed and thankful for all of the remarkable, incredible, unforgettable people I have met along this journey – many of whom I hope to know for the rest of my life. I know there was something much bigger behind all of this – something guiding and pushing me to stay on course and to do the work I’ve done even when I didn’t know why or didn’t think I was capable. I truly believe there have been many miracles in my life these past few years – things that happened that I never would have thought possible or have believed to be true at the time. I am in complete awe as I begin to end my Peace Corps service – not only at what has been accomplished with the help of the youth in the community but also within my own personal life and the people I’ve been so blessed to have been touched by – even some for a short time. I will never know why certain things happen or do not happen. Or even worse – why things you think should and will happen in fact do not.

For these I do not have the answers. But what I feel I do know – which is not much – is that I am only a small part in all of this and as long as I do my personal best to contribute positively to society and to live a life full of love – everything else will find a way to fall into place the way it is meant to be. I truly believe that. I feel so full as I begin to end this magnificent time in my life. I gave so much in my three years here – my time, my patience, my understanding, my service – but I do not leave feeling empty, rather I leave feeling more full than I’ve ever felt at any other point in my life. For so long we work as volunteers in these communities day in and day out, challenge after challenge, misunderstanding after misunderstanding and despite these hardships we persevere and prevail holding on to the hope that all of this will somehow be “worth it” in the end – that some good will come from this. While I think most of what we do in our service we will never fully understand the effects of or see where the ripples reach in the lives of the people we touch, we hope that we will see the difference we have made by the time we leave – a little reassurance that we’ve accomplished “something” in our time here.

I’ve been fortunate to serve this third year and to have been able to actually see some of the seeds I’ve planted begin to grow – but I know there is so much more I will never know and never see. Perhaps that is the hardest part. To invest in something head first with your heart and soul thousands of miles away from home and family and familiarity only to never know the impact you actually had or what was accomplished – a very Western idea as well. By our nature we want to measure our accomplishments, list them on a wall and declare them to the world to state our worth, our success, to prove we are capable of something – that we are not, in fact, a failure. When I think about it now, the mark of my “success” has not been in the things I have “accomplished” or the list on my wall, it is about the love that I had and shared and received with the people of this community. I hope to carry this lesson with me throughout my life and live a balanced life full of love in my work, my family, my home and all lives that I encounter. There is a much bigger picture that we tend to forget exists in our crazed American world where we fool ourselves in believing we have control over everything when in fact we are afraid of what we do not know – which is most things. In America we create problems and drama in some failed attempt to give our lives meaning only to spend them running around in circles with our heads down and hands out on our iPhones finding ways to save time only to use that time doing more things that add no value to our lives.

How much value do you have in your life? How full is your life? How much love is in your life? I feel thankful and grateful to have been offered this opportunity to represent and serve my country for three years in a new place that I am now able to call home – South Africa. I feel so blessed to have met people who have quite literally changed my life and opened my eyes to new ways of living. I feel so humbled to have been chosen to come to Weenen – this place of Weeping – and to have been welcomed into the Zulu community as the first Peace Corps volunteer. I feel heart sore to say goodbye to these people and this place I have grown to love and hold so dearly in my heart, but I rejoice in knowing a new beginning awaits me on the other side and with every ending a new beginning is in store. We mustn’t look back or wonder how things could have been or live in what was. We must forge on forward into the unknown with our heads held high, our eyes wide open and the trust and knowingness that all things are possible. The world awaits all of us and is there for those of us who are willing to go out there, try something new and leave behind all we’ve known for something new and beautiful and meaningful. And as hard as it is to let go we must not hold on because we are fearful of what will happen or who we discover we are or who we are not without this thing we have held so dear- for we are much more than what we do and what we produce. And as Thoreau said, “I left the woods because I had many lives to lead.”

For a little Easter action Samkelo, Director of Meals on Wheels took me and the new PCVs to Durban Easter weekend. It was a great opportunity to say my proper goodbye: See a bird eye’s view of Durban from the top of the new soccer stadium, see the Indian Ocean for the last time in a long time, eat my favorite bunny chow and get some local crafts.

Ayanda and Z with bunny chow

Ayanda and Z with bunny chow

View of Durban from the top of the stadium!

View of Durban from the top of the stadium!

New PCVs :)

New PCVs :)

Hazel, Les and I went camping and hiking in the Drakensburg for one last time at Monk’s Cowl. It was a really perfect way to say goodbye to KZN and spend some quality time with them.

Hazel and I at Monk's Cowl in the Berg

Hazel and I at Monk’s Cowl in the Berg

Smores :)

Smores :)

berg4

Hazel and Les hosted a little farewell for me at their house which was such a nice afternoon spent with my sisters and some close friends.

hazels4

some of my stars of tomorrow who are really the stars of today

some of my stars of tomorrow who are really the stars of today

Les, Me and Hazel

Les, Me and Hazel

Giving a poster presentation about Simunye

Giving a poster presentation about Simunye

In January Peace Corps told us about an opportunity to attend the HIV Capacity Building Summit in Johannesburg. It would be an opportunity to meet professionals from Eastern and Southern Africa to network, share best practices and learn more about building capacity within organizations. I knew I had to go. I submitted an abstract about the work we’ve been doing with Simunye in Weenen and it was accepted! I was chosen to do a poster presentation about Simunye which I thought would be a great way to show others about our work with rural youth and a chance to talk to other professionals doing similar work.

So from Tuesday to Thursday I along with three other PCVs from SA and two staff attended the Summit in Johannesburg. There were about 150 people in attendance from various African countries including SA, Namibia, Zambia, Zim, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. There were also a few Americans in attendance from various USAID funded implementing agencies and it was really great to get to meet some of them and learn about the work they are doing on the continent. Alost all of the sessions I attended were actually people presenting on behalf of organizations funded or partially funded by USAID which was really surprising to me just how much America is funding work being done in Africa (more than what I previously knew/thought). There were some very important, high level people in attendance including the Executive Director of UNAIDS Africa and South African top officials not to mention many well respected African and American professionals doing excellent work in capacity building and working hard against the fight on HIV/AIDS.

It was very inspiring to be surrounded by people of such caliber – especially to see so many amazing Africans coming together to share best practices and ideas on how to improve their communities.
I was particularly excited for the session I attended on youth Wednesday morning. It was the only session focused on youth and there were about 40 of us present. The whole summit operated around skills based sessions, roundtable sessions and presentations which you could chose which to attend. The youth session was lead by UNAIDS youth and social organization officer and he did an excellent job talking about the work they are doing through Crowd Out AIDS with and for the youth. Then there was a man from the South African Youth Council – a SA youth himself who was very good at “talking” about youth issues – he really sounded like a politician.

I tried my best to hold myself back as I sat there feeling my blood boiling in within my skin and quickly raised my hand when it was time for questions. My question was directed to the youth from the SA Youth Council – the first I have heard of such an entity – I wanted to know what their involvement was with the NYDA (national youth development agency) which was started by the ANC and is riddled with corruption and a complete failure as well as more specifics as to what this SA Youth Council has actually done or plans to do. While I of course got a very political, vague answer, it still felt good to be able to ask this question in front of all present. He also said that the “NYDA was set up by the government to fail” – what a cop out! They spent less than R800,000 ($100,000) last year on actually youth projects while they spent R33 million on communication, PR an travel. Set up to fail, eh?

Anyway, I felt very passionate about the session and was so thrilled to hear a woman from Sudan talk about the Arab spring and that youth must not be mouth pieces for the government. Thank you! I quickly went up to those who presented, gave them my card and more information about Simunye. The man from UNAIDS actually has gotten in touch with me and we are hoping to get together when I am in Pretoria in a few weeks for COS. The session was a great transition to my poster presentation. I worked very tirelessly for hours on putting this poster together with limited resources and much help from my dear friend Hazel.
The room had about 30 posters hanging and I stood proudly by mine while people came over to ask about the work we are doing at Simunye. I also realized that mine was the only handmade poster – all the other were professionally done and printed (funny thing is I didn’t even think about that as an option). Anyway, I suppose it made my poster stand out all the more and I had plenty of people coming over asking about the project. I met some incredible people and made some amazing contacts from Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia – all of whom I plan to visit on my trip around Africa. It was so wonderful to share the project with others – a woman from Botswana and a man from Kenya both said they want to replicate the program – and to meet other people doing some fabulous work with youth across the continent. It was so motivating, inspiring and really a perfect way to end my three years of service as a PCV.

Later on Wednesday night was a cocktail event form 6-8p.m. and luckily Peace Corps provided transport for those of us who wanted to stay and network. Two of us decided to stay and I couldn’t have been more happier. It was an excellent opportunity to talk to other professionals in a more relaxed setting and I was fed wine and smoked salmon appetizers which made me really happy. I made some wonderful connections and left feeling on top of the world. Sometimes as PCVs we feel really along in our villages doing the work we are doing. We also most of the time feel completely unappreciated. It was so great feeling like other people were interested in the work we are doing, to receive encouragement about our work and to meet others who are doing similar work across the continent – and to learn from them. I also met a bunch of RPCVs living in Africa doing really incredible work and it made me feel good knowing I must be on the right path. Cheers to building capacity in Africa!

Melinda (Meals on Wheels in Estcourt), Me. Allie (Weenen - SYDP) and Kathleen (Msinga - MDRP)

Melinda (Meals on Wheels in Estcourt), Me. Allie (Weenen – SYDP) and Kathleen (Msinga – MDRP)

Zanele and Ayanda (Allie)

Zanele and Ayanda (Allie)

Overlooking Weenen

Overlooking Weenen

mkhlombe2mkhlombe3

Finally the day we had been waiting for arrived! The new PCV to replace me: Allie Simpson, arrived in Weenen on March 12th. After living and working in Weenen for 3 years, I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the community and the work that needs to be done. Of course there is always more to learn and more challenges ahead, but I knew how important the selection of the PCV to replace me would be not only for the PCV but also for the community. I was fortunate to be able to attend PST to meet the trainees but it’s still very hard to get to know someone over a few lunch breaks over a few days and you never quite know how someone will react in a situation such as this until they are in it. Regardless, everyone at Simunye and Siyanakekela was very excited for the new volunteer. We had been hoping to host a married couple so one could work at Siyanakekela (the AIDS centre I worked at my first two years) while the other would be at Simunye. Unfortunately, there were no married couples in this group so we decided it would be best for the volunteer placed in Weenen to be shared between the two organizations. A staff member from PC even visited us back in February and had a meeting with both committees to discuss this possibility and explain what it would entail with all members complying.

A few days before Allie arrived, Thembeni my old supervisor from Siyanakekela and Zandy, a staff at Simunye, drove to the Bergville area to attend the supervisor’s workshop. Gugu, my supervisor in Msinga with Mdukatshani also attended the workshop as they decided they would also like another PCV. Another contact of mine, Samkelo from Meals on Wheels in Estcourt, who I have been working with since July – when he gave Simunye 25 stipends for our peer educators – also applied and was granted a PCV. So off they all went to attend the workshop. Over the next two days I received various phone calls from all supervisors. “Ohhhh Zanele we are so happy,” Zandy said. “I am over the moon!” Gugu said. And, “We are very very happy, Zanele,” Samkelo said. It was a really great feeling seeing how excited and proud these supervisors were to have a PCV.

This third year I continued my work in Weenen to get Simunye off the ground but also started working in Msinga two days a week with Mdukatshani. It was decided that it would be best to put one PCV in Weenen and one in Msinga as it may be too much work for a new volunteer to try to juggle both sites and there really is enough work for two volunteers. I was so excited to see Allie who came to Weenen and Kathleen who came to Msinga (and Melinda with Meals on Wheels in Estcourt). It has been really amazing to meet these fantastic girls, get to know them and have the opportunity to try and have a continuous transfer in volunteers. It is amazing to me that it is actually rare for a current volunteer to meet the volunteer who is replacing them. Because I am a third year volunteer – I had to stay for 13 extra months because one month PC sent me home – meaning I end my service in April not in March like most PCVs. Luckily, this gives me and the volunteers one extra month together for us to learn from each other in hopes of a smooth transition.

It has been really wonderful so far and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next two years.
In celebration of these new volunteers coming to the area, we organized a hike up Mkhlombe – the tallest mountain in Weenen. I’ve been eyeing this mountain up for years and vowed to climb it before I left. Thanks to my good friend Mike Clark – who climbed it before – he lead a bunch of us up the mountain – 4 PCVs, 6 youth from Simunye and Mike, Cara and Edwan!!!! I was so happy to finally climb this mountain. When I asked Mdu – Simunye’s project manager – if he wanted to climb Mkholombe, he replied, “But that is my dream: to climb Mkholombe.” Sure enough he was the first one up the mountain. We posted a sign-up sheet and a few of our youth actually signed up and did the 5 hour hike with us. I was so happy. On top of the mountain! We could see the whole Weenen-Msinga valley, the township, our centre, the farms, everything. It was really special and a perfect way to welcome the new volunteers and a perfect way for me to say goodbye to Weenen.

pst

Last month I travelled to Limpopo, a province in the Northern part of SA (2 hours North of Pretoria) about 9 hours from my home in KZN. I assisted as a resource volunteer for the new group of PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) in the group SA-27. I am part of SA-21 (the 21st group in SA). They arrived in SA the end of January to start their 6 week PST (Pre Service Training). PCSA decided to do this PST different than mine by making it a bit shorter (6 weeks instead of 8) and then having their community integration period where they are at site also a bit shorter (2 months instead of 3) but then having their in-service training be longer (6 weeks instead one 1). The idea is that the in-service training will focus strictly on technical aspects of their service like how to facilitate a girls club, how to start community gardens and how to capacitate organizations. In theory it seems to be a really good idea but I suppose only time will tell.

In the mean time, I was called to come to PST for about 8 days to assist with the training, facilitate sessions and act as a resource to the new trainees. I was really excited to meet the new volunteers (30 of them) and to help in any way possible. It was also really strange to be back at PST (mine was 3 years ago) with our old training manager Victor Baker and the LCFs (Language and Cultural Facilitators). One of the PCVs described it as Post Traumatic Pre Service Training Disorder where old memories of your own PST would flood your brain. This proved to be quite true. I remembered walking with Claire every morning to our Zulu classes, having random dance parties in the middle of the day, singing Shosholoza, Victor Baker’s wide smile and spending time with Nozipho my host sister every night. It was also pretty great to finally feel like I learned and accomplished something over the years and to have the opportunity to share this knowledge with newbies was pretty rewarding because for most of your service you definitely feel like you know nothing.

I facilitated sessions on cross-cultural behaviors, gender and women’s empowerment and two on PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action). I really enjoyed the cross-cultural behavior session even it promoted a bit of a debate – which cultural sessions sometimes tend to especially when you have Americans and South Africans in the room together. Some interesting questions and discussions emerged – is teenage pregnancy part of South African culture? While I think teen pregnancy tends to be the norm nowadays, who is to say it is part of the culture? At what point do a collective group’s actions tip the cultural norms? How long must it take for it to be considered part of one’s culture? Especially in a context like SA where there are so many sub-cultures based on race, language and economic-status. While I do not have the answers to these questions it was certainly interesting to think about it.
I also really enjoyed talking about PACA which can be really boring but I did my best to use real life examples and activities to show PCTs how they can in fact use these very effective tools during their community integration period where they are supposed to be observing their organizations and learning about their communities. I stressed not to focus on the “needs” of the community as asking what one needs often implies you will satisfy these needs. Rather, I feel, it is better to focus on the community resources and assets as a way to make the community proud and build them up and then lead to what the community is lacking or what they would like to see happen in their community that is not already happening.

I also was able to talk a bit about the work I’ve done with Simunye which was exciting for me because maybe some of the PCTs will want to do something similar – the more youth than can be y reached the better!
I met some really amazing PCTs – the group really seems to be cohesive for the most part – and I think they will all do great work in their communities wherever they are placed. I wish I had more time to get to talk to all of them but it was nice having lunch together and getting to know the few that I did. It was also really interesting to hear about their concerns and to hear they were happy to know about my failures. A point that I found really interesting because all I had for the first year was failures! I felt the need to show my successes but they seemed to be more interesting in what hadn’t worked. I guess the important part is for them to realize the positive effects they can and will have on the people they interact with – their host families, their colleagues and the friends they make. After all, Peace Corps is about friendship even though we tend to forget about that most of the time. All we have at the end of the day is relationships anyway.

bears nkaseni

Me and Mr. Ximba

Me and Mr. Ximba


The "van" to Msinga

The “van” to Msinga

As I am nearing the end of my PC service, I find myself “tying up loose ends” and finishing assessments of all sorts. Back in November I had my 3 day health training with the traditional court in Msinga and it was a huge success. After the training, we had two pilot events with Indunas (male headmen) in the rural areas where they did teach back sessions of what they learned in the training with male farmers. Another huge success. This was all thanks to a PC VAST grant I received to make the project possible. My grant report was nearly due so I had to do final assessments with the Induna Mr. Ximba and the farmers who attended the pilot event to see what has transpired since our event in November.

Mr. Ximba is my favorite Induna. We first met back in October when he asked, “Is your family ok from hurricane Sandy?” I couldn’t believe he spoke English and that he was up to date with current events – ignorant on my part I realize, but still we were in the middle of deep rural KwaZulu Natal. He is not my favorite because he speaks English – rather he is well educated, well with the times and willing and wanting to create positive change in his community. He called the other men to attend the focus group but only one attended. I was slightly disappointed, but still happy that I could see Mr. Ximba one last time and get to talk to him about what he’s done since our meeting in November.

I was very excited to learn that he had called a meeting with the home based carers in his area (he also is the Chairperson of the Clinic, which I did not know) to discuss what he had learned in our training. He also encouraged the home based carers to reach out to the men in the area and make an effort to include them in the HIV discussion. I also learned that many men were going to the hospital to get circumcised, something we stressed at our training and male event. While I cannot say men are getting circumcised as a result of our training and event, I certainly think it may have had an influence on the community. Mr. Ximba stressed that he was very happy with the training and event and is going to keep discussing what he learned from the manual we are providing the Indunas (in isiZulu) at his quarterly community meetings. All of this was very promising.

As far as the one man who also attended, he said he hadn’t talked to anyone about what he learned from the event. I was a bit disappointed, so I pushed the issue. I discovered that he had a 19 year old son but that he never talked to him about HIV, condoms or testing because the boy’s mother is a nurse and he knows that they talk about those things. I tried explaining that it could still mean a lot to the son – who is recently out of school and unemployed (hello, Simunye) to have his father talk to him about wearing condoms and going for an HIV test and that it is not something to be discussed once but over and over again. Sort of like my parents telling me to wear my seat belt every single time I would get into a car. I knew I should do it but just because you know you should do something doesn’t mean you will do it. Sometimes you need to be reminded by your parents up until the point where their voice is in your head. All in all, it was a fantastic last meeting with the Induna and there are potential opportunities for the new PCV in Msinga to work with the new PCV in Weenen to reach out to the youth in this rural area.

Later in the day we visited Nkaseni Primary to show them the dvd on HIV and hand out teddy bears from the Mother Bear Project. About 60 learners stayed after school to attend the event and it appeared to be a huge success with them asking intelligent questions and demonstrating condom use.

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