Monday, July 14, 2008

AIDS Reminder

California Summer

Summer at the Beach in LA seems like a Paradise! The day starts slightly overcast in the morning with the fog burning off and languishing into the mid 70’s. The lovely sweet days last until past 8pm with plenty of time for returned Peace Corps volunteers to take long walks on the beach or in the canyons on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The birds seem abundant and more defined in our focus after two years in a bird lover’s haven, South Africa. Formations of brown pelicans swoop along the bluff looking for a fat savory fish. LBJs (little brown jobs) and lovely cream chested songbirds make our backyard their home.

Green may be the buzzword for vehicles but green is not loved in Rancho Palos Verdes. During the past two years the trees and shrubs in our yards have overgrown. All is not perfect in this paradise as a lien on our home was threatened by the City Attorney’s office due to three trees obstructing a neighbor’ s view. Due to irregular mail service and poor forwarding to South Africa we were not notified of the pending legal troubles until March 2008, with the final deadline for trimming Jan. 2008. The packet of mail included notices starting in July 2007 with photographs showing the offending foliage. Unfortunately the photo was reversed, making the identification of the violative trees difficult. A late night call to the City Attorney asking for a delay in the tree trimming until July when we would be home was rejected; he stated that the trees must be cut within 10 days. A plea for mercy based on our inability to manage the tree trimming and our remote location as Peace Corps volunteers working with TB/HIV patients went unheeded and we were forced to scramble around to get the trees trimmed in the 10 days allotted. (Ironically, a few weeks before we joined the Peace Corps the complaining neighbor visited our home and we agreed to trim the offending trees if they would pay the cost but they declined and instead filed a claim. Such is life in Southern California!) From this end, life at the Salvation Army TB/AIDS Hospital was much simpler in spite of the hardships and deprivations.

We are enjoying the ease of living in America (in spite of our tree woes).. If we need something we just get in the car and drive to the store-no two hour trip in a taxi with a 4 km hike down the dirt road. Hot water is plentiful as is electricity. Television is a pleasure for image starved PC volunteers who have not had TV for 2 years. Plus there is a plethora of programs, movies, political commentary, cooking shows, talk shows, etc. Cooking is a breeze with counter space, equipment, gas burners, ovens, a real kitchen and all the ingredients. Friends and family are readily available for a few laughs and support as we recreate our life in America. The process has not been cheap as we have had to purchase cell phones, a washer, garage door opener, a bed, a computer, and equip our kitchen from scratch plus pay for our furniture to be moved into our home from storage. Thanks to our sisters and son who returned our cars in better condition than when we left! We are missing our Zulu friends and feel their pain as they face the cruelty of AIDS and its impact on a daily basis. Life truly is unfair - it is so easy in America to forget the world’s suffering and the orphans left behind.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Home At Last-Happy Birthday America!

God Bless America! God Bless South Africa!
Happy Fourth of July!

The Bond’s arrived safely in America on Sunday and spent the week getting their lives (and house) in order. The last B and B in Pretoria was a repeat of the LAX hotel in July 2006-What to leave behind as four suitcases and 2 carryon’s could not hold all of our Zulu treasures and more mundane belongings. There is a level of stress associated with decision making about possessions-far beyond their monetary value or sentimental value. What makes us cling to tired, worn out shoes or T-shirts? Discard, leave for maids, or cajole that splitting suitcase into holding one more useless item? Taking belongings is the easiest option as one does not have that angst that it may be needed or has some special priceless value, but there is a physical and psychological price to pay when one is overloaded on international flights.

We were thrilled last Saturday as the Peace Corps driver picked us up to take us to Tambo International (formerly Johannesburg International) for the last ride in South Africa. The two weeks of medical exams and close of service conference were a blur as our heads were halfway home and our thoughts centered on the mechanics of returning to our former lives in Palos Verdes, California, a Southern California beach town. Presentations at the conference dealt with grad school applications, State Department jobs, culture shock in America, and completion of the many Peace Corps reports that are part of the continuum of being in a government organization. Opportunities to join the Peace Corps Crisis Corps (Peace Corps Response) were described for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in critical areas of the world for short time frames. The last two days in South Africa were spent doing final reports, communicating with property managers, shopping for computers, a bed and spices on the Internet. Our house was being readied and we looked forward to moving right in as soon as we hit US soil. We have slept in hundreds of strange beds in the last two years and the idea of sleeping in our home struck some deep nerve and longing for comfort.

Our return to America was very emotional and enjoyable. Our sisters and son met us at the airport with Welcome Home Banners driving our old car, which looked pretty good to PC volunteers that have been riding public transport for two years. I did not realize how much stress it is to live in another culture in a fishbowl until we returned and could just be ourselves. The week was very busy with the insurance companies, IRS (good news we do not owe anything, the penalty for filing late does not apply if you are out of the US), unpacking, arranging repairs to the house, purchasing a washer, dining with friends, enjoying American television, and adjusting to the time change. We are feeling very relaxed and happy to be home. The emotions were unimaginable as we pushed our luggage up the ramp from customs and saw our family waiting for us.

All is not perfect in America but it is pretty darn good! We arrived on Sunday to a house without hot water but one call to the gas company produced a repairman within hours to turn on the pilot light for the hot water heater. It was ironic after spending two years with an undependable water supply, not to mention hot water. The movers arrived Monday morning with our furniture and only a few items were broken or missing.

I requested that our house be repainted exactly as we left it with a Lavender Ice living room, Ivory Charm bedroom and the furniture moved into their old spots. Is this an effort to walk directly into our old lives or are we too disoriented to make changes at this time? After living in one room for two years, our home seems huge but not uncomfortable. Today we enjoyed cooking on a real stove a traditional Fourth of July meal and seeing old friends who may not understand what our experience has been the last two years but know who we are and how we fit into America. Will the honeymoon last? Will we miss the adventure and fun that were constant the last two years (as well as the dangers, annoyances and deprivations)? My feeling is that America can also be an adventure and service opportunities abound. The trick is not to get complacent but to seek new challenges and volunteer opportunities that will continue the Peace Corps experience of helping others and learning about their lives.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Last Night in South Africa

Tonight is our last night in South Africa and we are filled with excitement, anticipation and deep gratitude for this amazing adventure. We are so thrilled to see our families in a few days and return to America. The week was spent at a Close of Service Conference hearing about life in the United States, career opportunities, adjustment issues for returned Peace Corps Volunteers and catching up on the stories from our colleagues

The medical tests last week took four days but what great news! In spite of daily interaction with HIV/TB patients at Mountain View Hospital, countless rides on taxis with coughing passengers, and many encounters with children our PPT skin tests did not react and we never even had an encounter with TB. The numerous medical tests showed that Peace Corps service is not hazardous to your health. Adjustment to life in the United States may be a challenge but the Bond’s are alive and well!!. Two years spent hiking the dirt roads is good for old coots who love to look at the fantasy scenery and see the game and birds. We are thankful for God’s protection and guardian angels who watched over us in this beautiful country that has its dangers, toils and snares.

The trip back to middle class life takes some work and management. It is a reverse of the process done in July 2006. We are returning to our four bedroom three bath home in a beach community of Southern California. We return with four suitcases filled with momentos of life in Zululand, a very rural section of South Africa. Our suitcases contain baskets, beads, Zulu pots, monkey balls, carvings, ethnic art, kitchen utensils, wooden spoons, and who knows what all. They were packed two weeks ago as we left Mountain High Hospital after two years of serving at an AID/TB hospital serving the poor in the mountains of Kwa Zulu Natal. Our clothing and shoes were worn out and left for the patients and staff at the hospital.

The process of returning is the reverse of the start of the adventure. The movers will return our furniture from storage, our son will move back into our home and we will have the task of unpacking the 44 boxes of housewares, clothing, books, linens and whatever else we thought was important two years ago. We come back without a phone, car, internet connection, or bed but are thankful for our family and friends that will help us readjust and get equipped for US life.

The greater challenge will be to find meaningful work in the United States. Our experience has been intense and we have felt needed, in spite of the challenges of living in a very rural isolated setting. America also has many opportunities for service and many needy people. Hopefully, our service will carry over to our lives in America and we will continue to find opportunities to be of use.

What did we miss during the two years that will be first on the agenda?
Mexican food in Los Angeles. We dream of tamales or chili rellenos from any taco stand or chain restaurant
The ability to get a cell phone with a contract instead of continually buying air time on the pay as you go system for the nonaffluent in South Africa
Driving a car and being able to go out at night, even doing something as simple as going to a movie or church meeting
Having space in our living quarters so that we do not run into each other
Being able to cook with a kitchen counter and a real stove rather than a hot plate
Listening to live classical music
Being able to see the ocean at will and seeing the sunset over the ocean
Hearing American voices and seeing American baseball
Attending church services where global mission is a concern and American English is spoken
Internet and phone service that is not an exercise in frustration
Blending into the crowd and understanding the behavior norms of American society
Toilet seats and paper towels in public places
We will keep you posted about what we miss about South Africa. Tonight we are too close to the experience to recognize what we will be longing for.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Farewell Photo

Mountain High Farewell

Today we are headed to Pretoria for a week of medical exams and a close of service conference to make sure we are ready for America. The week was very emotive with highs and lows each day as we grew excited about returning home but had to say goodbye to our Zulu friends and coworkers. We crammed in many hours of last minute computer training, shopping trips to make the cupboard was well stocked for the occupational therapy program, packing/discarding our belongings, and even played tour director for 7 US medical students visiting the hospital..

Wednesday was a beautiful warm fall day, the first warm day for several weeks. After lunch in our flat I talked Brendon into a quick hike up the mountain to look at the gorgeous views before we returned to the chaos of the office. We heard beautiful Zulu singing coming from the chapel and I asked someone if there was a funeral today. He said “No funeral, they are singing for you.” We did not understand and kept on our trek out the gate and up the mountain. The kitchen manager gave chase after us and told us that the hospital (unknown to us) was holding a Farewell ceremony for us and we had better head into the chapel. No funeral here as we walked into the crowded chapel and were escorted (danced with the matron on one side and the director on the other) to the head table. Staff, patients, managers, office workers, school teachers and even the principals from the two public schools showed up to say goodbye to the goofy couple from America that never got the Zulu right but tried to help. South Africa knows how to do ceremony and this was no exception. The Zulu songs continued with solos and duets. The speeches started, mainly in Zulu, but a translator was provided so we did not miss any of the kind words and thanks. The nurses got up and did a shtick about riding a bicycle in 1940, a correct date as they are all well into their 60’s and more. A patient got up and read a passage from the Bible. They sang the “BINGO” song which I used each week to round up the patients for a bingo game. They spoke of leaving one’s country to serve AIDS patients in a very rural place. They sang “For she’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and bid us that we would send more Americans to their community to help them. The experience of being the center of such adulation and praise was embarrassing but also intensely endearing. I apologized for all of our gaffes and our poor Zulu. I told them that they would be in our hearts and minds every day, which is certainly true today as I remember their faces and individual style.

I do not know how much we accomplished at Mountain High Hospital but we were able to experience being accepted into a very different culture and embraced in a very special way. It will be a change to go home, blend in, and be ignored by neighbors and children in the street. We are so grateful that we have had this opportunity and that we have stayed healthy throughout this amazing experience.