May 27, 2012
Right now in the US, there is a small group of people packing, repacking, saying goodbye to family, and trying to eat as much Taco Bell as they can in the next month (if you’re not, you should be). The 10th group will be arriving next month in Swaziland. Oliver and I are a part of group 9, the 9th group to come to Swaziland since the post reopened. We are commonly referred to as “the mighty fine group nine.” Since members of group 10 are starting their own blogs and trying to read up on Swaziland and Peace Corps life, here’s some of the things we wish we’d known before coming.
First of all, congratulations! The application process is long and difficult. But you did it! You’re going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa!
One thing to get used to right away was merging the Africa I had in my head with what I was actually seeing and experiencing. Iconic photographs and documentaries show only a few aspects of such a diverse continent. I was expecting all savannah all the time. I also, wasn’t expecting to be cold ever! But, it’s bigger than ideas of landscape, I had an idea in my mind of what “Africa” was. But it was something I developed an ocean away so you really have to open your mind when you arrive.
It’s good to be excited but don’t be too nervous. Swaziland is a relatively safe, small country. There is good infrastructure and real grocery stores. Many rural areas in Swaziland will be more developed than you are most likely expecting. Life is very different but in some weird ways, almost exactly the same. Once you get through training, you’ll find your routine and place here.
Pack whatever you want. My dad tried to talk me into bringing a water purifier even though I told him Peace Corps takes care of that. He still wanted me to bring it “just in case” my Peace Corps issued one broke. Oliver and I almost didn’t bring any white clothes because that’s the advice we got from PCVs -they were too difficult to clean by hand. Bah. We were told that we couldn’t use our Mastercard in Southern Africa. So we cancelled that and got out our Visa. Then we were told no one takes Visa here, so we reapplied for Mastercard (we finally brought both). Honestly, what you pack seems really, really important to you right now, but it’s honestly not. It’s a good starting point but you’ll be able to purchase most things here (including Tupperware which I was told was difficult to get here so I brought a few containers). Bring variety of clothes for different types of weather and dress occasions, bring lots of family photos, anything for your personal hobbies, and whatever the hell you feel like. You know what you like to have in your everyday life, no one can tell you what is more important than something else. Use your common sense.
Pre-Service Training can be difficult to get though. It is stressful trying to learn the language, allow your schedule to be dictated by Peace Corps, meet your host family, and getting through everything else going on. There will be times during training that you don’t know if you made the right decision in coming, that nothing seems like you were expecting. But training is not the lifestyle you will have for your two years here. It is just something to help prepare you for your real time here. The challenges you face during PST will not be the ones you deal with during the rest of your service.
There are some aspects to the living conditions that will take a lot of time to get used to. It doesn’t sound bad, using a pit latrine, not having electricity, having to haul your own water, it might sound like a bit of an adventure. But there are times that you just suddenly realize that, really, you really just have to live with water dripping on your face every time it rains in the middle of night (not that this is secretly all about me or anything). What helped me when I would get frustrated with living conditions was to think that I’m here to help and make a difference, and if I let those things get me down and I leave, I leave behind people who will have to live in those situations for the rest of their life. And just maybe I could have made a difference in their lives to allow them to reach for something better.
Two years is a long time! My first morning here, I just thought, really? I ‘m not going to be home for two full years? and I just couldn’t comprehend it. We do plenty of things at home for two years or longer, but we don’t really think about it. When we start most jobs, we don’t think, Ok I’ll be here for 2 years and 2 months and then maybe I’ll find something new. We just kind make things up as we go along. It can be hard to look so far ahead. But I’ll tell you that I’m quite amazed to be approaching the halfway point. It’s sad because time really does go fast but it’s also an amazing sense of accomplishment.
Enjoy your last few weeks with family and friends. Go to your favorite restaurant one last time, indulge in a trip to the movies, or whatever. Don’t be too anxious to get here, just savor the bit of America you have left. It’s funny but Oliver and I mention every once in a while our last meal in America-Sushi. When you’ve been here for a stretch of time, it’s just fun to think of the last time you were at a shopping mall or when you last had lunch with a friend right before coming. You will want the memories.
Peace Corps will be one of the craziest things you’ve ever done!
See you in a few weeks!
Rebecca is Currently Reading: Clan of the Cave Bear
Oliver is Currently Reading: Lonely Planet: Namibia and Botswana
We are Currently Watching: House, Season 6 and Frazier, Season 2