Two days after our swearing-in ceremony, it was time to say our final good-byes and load into our principals’ cars for the drive to our new homes. Along the way we stopped at a mall for household essentials – sheets, towels, pantry staples – doing our best to divine what we would need when we moved in sight unseen.
The day was waning by the time I presented myself to my new family. There was just time for a round of hello’s before I wrapped myself in my comfy new blanket and closed my eyes against the fears and doubts of what awaited me at school on Friday morning.
As it turned out, without the kindness of everyone at S. Primary School, I might not have made it through my first week, because on that very morning, the misfortune I had dreaded most befell me: losing my phone.
Though I readied myself for Peace Corps service with the determination to make the best of doing without technology, it became rapidly apparent that cell phones are integral to life here. Besides the conveniences of handy apps and the comfort of staying in touch with family and friends back home, there’s the reality of limited communication options in case of emergency. Peace Corps South Africa relies on WhatsApp, SMS, and email to inform, support, and monitor volunteers scattered throughout the country.
These thoughts whirled through my head as I sat staring at my phone’s black screen. Was it the battery? The operating system? Not pretending to secret knowledge, I can’t say, but whatever the reason, the hub of my communication and information systems had deserted me on my first morning. No phone meant no messages, no photos, no hotspot for internet access.
My spirits were low when my principal collected me. I had barely slept, caught off-guard by the mountain chill, besides missing my host family from Bundu, and then waking up to a dead phone that wouldn’t revive… I broke down under the stress and the tears were flowing when I shook everyone’s hands for the first time. The staff were subdued, no doubt wondering what was making their new volunteer leak. My principal made my excuses and pulled me aside for an urgent conference.
When I waveringly confessed to the problem, she sprang into action. Enlisting a cadre of teachers for an after-school trip to the nearest mall with a cell phone repair store, my principal supplied me with sandwiches and then turned me over to the care of my counterpart, the Head of Department for intermediate and advanced phase (4th-7th grade): a warm and loving lady named NG.
After the learners presented their choreographed routines by grade level, I couldn’t resist stepping out to surprise them with a few kicks of my own. Let’s hope that made up for crying through my first staff meeting.
Once the crisis settled, my real work began: Peace Corps calls these first three months “integration.” Our goal is to lay the groundwork for two years of fruitful relationships by pouring our energies into meeting the community’s key members and learning about their goals, resources, and challenges.
We had a special opportunity thanks to Heritage Day: attending the official celebration for all of KZN! I carpooled with Sydney and met her host mother, a gardener extraordinaire. In her backyard, she presented me to her banana trees and gifted me with a load of papayas.
Sad to say that the phone saga continued: The photos you’ll see from henceforth are captured by a phone purchased here in South Africa. All my thanks to the SPS teachers and my sister Sbe, who helped negotiate my first major purchase here. It’s now a welcome reminder to put my trust in nothing but the Lord. Even the most reliable technology might collapse in a storm, but God provides. Those who trust in Him will not be put to shame.