Strength So To Train Them

Strength So To Train Them

What ingredients combine in the making of a Peace Corps Volunteer? This past weekend, our training stirred in a dollop of history, a splash of community, and a generous pinch of fun.

Peace Corps brought our cohort to a rolling boil with a trip to Pretoria for a guided tour of the Voortrekker Museum. Trainees later debated whether we should invest our resources in experiencing a symbol of apartheid history and Afrikaner nationalism firsthand. Although the controversies left us divided in opinion, at the time we could all agree to revel in the fresh air, striking architecture, and startling heights.

The rich Italian granite outside and expansive carved frieze inside both impressed us – then it was our turn to impress our guide by hiking hundreds of steps to visit three tiers of balconies.

At the center lies a cenotaph (empty tomb). A precisely placed peephole at the ceiling’s apex beams sunlight to focus on the tomb’s inscription on 16 December every year: the date of the Boers’ victory over the Zulus at Blood River. More than one trainee reflected that the structure overall resonated more as a mausoleum than a museum.

(For more on Afrikaner history, Peace Corps recommends The White Tribe of Africa by David Harrison.)

Then Peace Corps reduced the heat with an afternoon at Brooklyn Mall. Trainees skipped the halls of the massive shopping center, catching snatches of Thai food, Starbucks wifi, and classroom craft supplies while we had the global marketplace at our fingertips.

I was blessed to meet face to face for the first time with a contact established back when I was under the misguided impression that training would bring us within reach of the capital city. Despite many setbacks, delays, and uncertainties, my new friend graciously devoted her afternoon to advising and encouraging me in life overseas. She even guided me around the mall afterwards, catapulting my ongoing quest for a bulk-sized bottle of hand sanitizer to a victorious finish.

On Sunday, Peace Corps stirred some spice into the mix: PC South Africa vs. the Bundhu Boyz in a neighborhood soccer match!  If anyone else assumed (as I did) that we would be playing a casual game of pick-up football, we all assumed wrong. Both teams armed themselves with matching uniforms and team captains, while a whistle-blowing referee presided.

In no small part thanks to the heroic efforts of local staff and neighbors playing alongside your humble trainees, our team prevailed (3-2)! 

Three hours of sweating in the early spring heat thickened our spirits to a satisfying consistency.  By Monday morning, we were ready to serve.

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