When I signed up to be an Augustinian Volunteer, and even during my time as an undergraduate at Villanova, I became accustomed to "reflection" pretty quickly. Whether it was at AV Orientation, during a service break trip during college, or even in some of my classes, the idea of "reflecting" on my experience was something the Augustinian mindset got me very used to. So when I came to South Africa as a volunteer, and an Augustinian Volunteer at that, I was fully prepared to "reflect". I didn't know it would be so hard, and I certainly had no idea that it wouldn't be just frustration, or guilt, or sadness, or joy at one time-- I didn't know that my head and heart would take on the gamut of emotions every single day.
After a week and a half of a really successful time with the St. Leo's kids and our summer programme, we had to end things early. There had been kids showing up that we didn't know-- the word was out that we had soccer balls and sandwiches and so these other children from Molweni began to outnumber our own kids. Themba and Ayanda, two coworkers from St. Leo's, were both a great help to us during the camp, but last Tuesday, Themba pulled Mary-Kate and I aside and told us that she didn't think continuing the camp was safe, for us or for the children. She pointed to one of the teenagers wearing a Bafana Bafana jersey and playing netball in the grounds and said, "That girl's family lives here in Molweni... and I know for a fact that her father and brother are professional thieves. Who's to say that they didn't send her here to get information for them?" While it's hard to believe that situations like that arise, they do, and putting ourselves in the middle of them compromises too much. We also heard rumors that the older kids who showed up to play soccer were stealing sandwiches from the younger St. Leo's students, which made me more upset than anything. It's hard enough to dole out food to hungry kids, but dealing with these older kids taking advantage of our learners was really hard to hear.
We went ahead with the movie screening we'd planned for Wednesday-- nothing beats hearing Zulu kids singing along to High School Musical like any good pre-teens would-- and then said goodbye to everybody until we see them again next week, when school restarts. I'll be really relieved to get back to seeing them all every day again.
With the camp ending early, I had to find some other way to occupy my days, so I decided to work a day at the Hillcrest AIDS Respite Centre this past Friday. Though I'm not cut out for that kind of work on a daily basis, I often feel like I should put more pressure on myself to be challenged-- and that's how I found myself standing over one of the patients, giving her a bedbath. I'd never done something like that before, and it was hard. Really hard. She was in a lot of pain, and even raising her arm so I could wash underneath was a huge effort, but I tried to make lighthearted conversation, even telling her that her legs were long enough that she could be a model. I realize now that the comments were just to keep myself distracted.
I spent the remainder of the day on Friday holding Bianca, a one-year-old who had just been admitted, with her mother, the day before. She's HIV positive, has TB, and looks more like a 4-month-old than one whole year. Although she's sick, she's happy just to have attention and be held like any baby, and I really enjoyed spending time with her. She has the most beautiful eyes-- and is so curious! All I can do is spend time with her and hope that she gets better soon.
Then the weekend came, and with it, more World Cup festivities. These past few weeks have flown by (it's already July?!) but all this waving of flags and blowing of vuvuzelas has gotten really tiring. I'm happy with how South Africa has handled all this commotion so far, but I'm really nervous for the aftermath. That being said, we had a nice weekend, spent some time at the fan park and down around Durban-- even enjoying a Greek lunch on Saturday in the gorgeous winter sun. After a long afternoon nap in the sunshine yesterday, we invited a few friends over for a small 4th of July celebration... and we even conquered lighting the charcoal barbecue all on our own! And, even though the USA is out of the World Cup, I had another excuse to don my soccer scarf last night-- once the sun goes down around 5 or so, it gets really chilly up here!
And now it's Monday, and already today I woke up exhausted after another restless night of sleep. I laughed with the kids at 1000 Hills, as we played games and sang "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes". I vented frustration to Becca after another failed attempt to pick up a pension for Gogo Gloria, who lives at the bottom of a steep hill in kwaNyuswa and can't walk thanks to infected skin grafts, the result of terrible snake bites on her legs. I heard from Mary-Kate that the patient I bathed on Friday died over the weekend, and consequently went for a run to clear my head. I sat on the hill and cried. I met an Irish woman named Mary who is on a silent retreat at the center next door. I caught up with my family back at home via videochat, and laughed at their jokes..... all in one day.
My work here is tiring, and challenging, and stressful, but it's the emotional work that is most grueling. My roommates and I often joke that our friendships have been put on overdrive-- we have one year to become roommates, community members, and hopefully, friends. But every day here is overdrive. Every single day, my emotions go from one to the other and back again, and before I know it, the day is over and I lie in bed, completely overwhelmed at the thought of my life here. And that is why blogging is hard, writing letters is hard, talking to people on the phone is hard-- the process of reflecting on my daily life seems sometimes to be a task too gigantic to undertake sometimes.
But I'm trying. Thankfully, Becca, Meg, and Mary-Kate are incredibly understanding, patient, loving people who deal with me on a daily basis... and vice versa. We've made some really good friends with South Africans as well, both our age and older. The Augustinians we live with are fantastic, and even my students at St. Leo's seem to have a sixth sense about my emotions.
So even though it's hard to be here, and be present, and process everything all at the same time, I'm forced to be held accountable for how I feel, and that's a challenge I really value as the sun sets at the end of the day.