Yes, it’s true! I’ve fallen in love in Africa, fallen absolutely, positively, head-over-heels in love in Africa!
I’ve fallen in love with my South African community, my South African schools, my South African church, and my South African village! I’ve even fallen in love with the people who work in my area of the taxi rank, who I’ve come to rely upon to take care of me (and they DO!), and GASP!, have even fallen in love with my taxi rides to and from my shopping town. (However, I still refuse to ride the taxis to Pretoria!)
What? Is this our Karen Kaye? The one who has been struggling so hard with trying to find happiness in her life in Africa? What has happened? What has brought about this dramatic change?
Yes, the change is recent and dramatic, so much so that my friends and family and fellow volunteers are shocked; one friend has even asked me, jokingly of course, “Can I have the name of your drug dealer?”
Indeed, I am almost unrecognizable to my fellow Peace Corps volunteers.
All of you have supported me during my first challenging year-and-a-half in Africa. You’ve been along for the ride for all of my hardships. At first I couldn’t explain the positive change in my sentiments but all of you kept asking, “Why the change?” Your pushing me for more details forced me to think about why my situation has changed and the details have become clear. So, thank you to everyone asking “why” and a special thanks to Mary B in Louisville who helped me dialogue and get clearer concerning my sudden happiness.
And with everyone’s help, I can now tell YOU! Actually, I can point to a few things that have changed for me, and have added to the “happiness factor” in my South African life, but a few stand out as particularly important:
• I’ve shifted in my work assignment from classroom teaching to school and/or community projects. While I loved working with my students, I was hoping for more of a collaborative-teaching experience with South African teachers: I wanted co-teaching experiences and an exchange of ideas concerning teaching methods, lesson plans, etc. The South African educators were too busy with their own workloads and I became increasingly isolated, even though I was in both schools all day every day. This last term of this school year has realized exciting school projects, where everyone was involved: I, the teachers, the staff, the principal, the parents, and the children! The project work seems much more effective in my community, I’m reaching many more community members, and the project work seems to make everyone, including me—and perhaps especially me--much happier!
• My sister and niece sent me a laptop computer and I now have internet capability 24/7. I hadn’t noticed how difficult living in South Africa was without it, and feel much, much happier having a personal computer and internet connection at my disposal. It makes my life here much, much easier and I feel much more connected to my family and friends. And wonderfully, have “befriended” several South African friends on Facebook. Having computer access makes project work much easier. (Before coming, I went back and forth trying to decide if I should bring a laptop to South Africa, and now I know! Yes, I should have bought a netbook!!)
• I’ve somewhat “taken on” a neighborhood stray dog and enjoy having someone (consistently) glad to see me and someone who barks when anyone approaches. She protectively guards my home every night, and although I hadn’t felt particularly afraid or vulnerable in my African home, I feel much more secure having her with me. She seems to love me dearly and it’s nice to have such unconditional affection; I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.
• A friend has recommended Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, and another friend sent me a copy. I’m not even half way through the book, but I’ve already applied some of her suggestions. (Ms. Chodron is a Buddhist nun.) One thing she recommends, and I’m sure this is Buddhist philosophy repeated, (I’m ashamed that I’m not more knowledgeable—YET!—about Eastern traditions), but her suggestion is: instead of shrinking or cringing from our fears, we should not only face them, we should RUN TOWARDS THEM. I immediately put this in practice in place in my African life, and it was easy to do so. Because I knew exactly when I felt afraid and vulnerable in my village: it was any time I was walking about getting to where I was going. I would often avoid people walking in my village in fear of them taunting me, especially groups of young African men, and would often lower my eyes and walk on by (in other words, I was cringing and shrinking in fear!). After beginning Chodron, I began greeting everyone I met, greeting them FIRST and smiling and waving and stopping to chat. With this small, seemingly insignificant shift, my life has transformed! The South Africans in my village are absolutely DELIGHTED when I greet them, when I take time with them, when I smile, when I’m sure to greet FIRST! (And it’s very important that I greet first! I think the Southern belle in me would get grumpy that she had to always greet first. After all, aren’t I a GUEST here? [Well, no, I am not.] When was someone going to greet ME first? Eish!) Just this small, small shift, really requiring very little effort on my behalf, has transformed my life!
Hallelujah! It has finally happened for me! I absolutely and completely love my African life and absolutely and completely love my African community! I’m so grateful that I kept trying and didn’t give up on this wonderful community, because I feel loved and welcomed and a part of! FINALLY! I love my life in Africa and feel like the luckiest girl in the world!
And it couldn’t have happened without you!
Karen "Molebogang" Kaye
PS: The photo is a shot of kids at “my” primary school mugging for the camera! They’re so much fun!