The Last 14 Days
As is often the case with life, especially as a volunteer in Peace Corps, the past two weeks have passed me by blindly, cheating recognition, understanding, and even an apparent awareness of all that has happened.
Fourteen days ago tomorrow, I ran my first marathon, clocking in at a svelte 1:57 for a total of 21.1 kilometers. Going in, I had no time-
related goal; I simply wanted to finish. Two minutes into the race, I decided I’d run the whole length without slowing to a walk. I knew if I walked any portion, I’d feel as if I had taken an easy way out; I also knew it’d be that much more difficult to start running again. At water stations, I grabbed wildly at the electrolyte-filled plastic bags; small cups of coke missed my mouth and splashed over my face. My proudest moment came on a 1-kilometer, 35-degree uphill stretch during which the hundreds around me one-by-one dropped to a walk and I, biting the insides of my cheeks and cranking the volume on my iPod, fought forward at a clip. At 8:57am, as I crossed the finish line, I silently thanked my two brothers for running with me and collapsed on the grass, prouder than I’d ever been in my life.
I also raised the largest amount of money of any current PCV in South Africa: a whopping $1,650 US dollars. Needless to say, I was incredibly happy to learn that from the KLM Foundation, and to share that information with all those who donated in my name. Thank you for your support, for your belief in my abilities, and for empowering a soon-to-be chosen young man or woman in Mpumalanga. Continue to check the KLM website in the coming months; sometime this summer (northern hemisphere) they should announce the new student for next year! You should know that this year’s donations set the record for all-time highest. That would not have been possible without your contributions. From the bottom of my heart: thank you.
After Longtom on Saturday, nine of us set out Sunday for a 30-km, 3-
day back-country hike through the Blyde River Canyon area north of Sabie. This was, in hindsight, an awful idea, and one compounded by the endless, torrential downpour under which we stubbornly began our hike. After losing the poorly-marked trail approximately six times (one of which pretty seriously, for about an hour), slopping through swelling rivers and muddy valleys, and getting soaked to the core, we eventually found our camp site almost six hours after starting out. Adding insult to injury, it was in this pouring thunderstorm, in this half-alive bone-chilled state, that we discovered the parks department, to whom we had paid money to furnish certain supplies ahead of time, had failed to stock our camping site with firewood. It was at this point that several of us almost lost it.
As volunteers are fond of lampooning, we luckily had packed our resourcefulness and were able to scrounge soaked but dead wood from the surrounding countryside and dry it out enough to get a fire going. From there, it was a herculean attempt to rotate everyone’s sleeping bags, sweaters, and socks onto the clothesline we strung over the fireplace to dry everything before bed. The next morning, unsure if the department had stocked the other two sites and unwilling to endure more (forecasted) rain, four of the hurting and injured (including myself) doubled back for Sabie – while the rest of the Fellowship (as we had dubbed ourselves) pressed on. Several of us ultimately spent the next three days at the backpackers in Sabie, resting and eating and pressing our luck by going bridge jumping.
On to Pretoria, where I’ve spent the last week or so at a training for volunteers and counterparts. PC put us up at a swanky little place outside of the city center and all of us, HCNs included, have been enjoying the delicious buffet dinners, unlimited cold drink (no, friends, this is the SAfrican term for soda or juice), and air-
conditioned rooms – not to mention cool, Gauteng weather, hot showers, and free drip coffee. Oh and there have been a dozen different sessions designed to enhance our abilities to run camps, manage gardens, and support HIV/AIDS drop-in centers. While, at times, it has suffered from the prototypical PC problem of a lack of structure and support, the symposium was helpful, engaging, and I think a real eye-opener for many of our counterparts. Overall, it was a positive experience, and we’ll walk away tomorrow the better for it.
I’m taking one more day in PTA tomorrow, with Kristy, to run some errands I wasn’t able to accomplish before the symposium began: I’ve got a ready-to-explode laptop battery that needs replacing, new running shoes to pick up (I maxed out my first pair: 500 miles!), and hopefully a second external hard drive to find. I’d also like to take in one more delicious hot breakfast, read a newspaper, and sit and do nothing for the first time in months. Happily, though, I will return to site Sunday to find one of my school’s new library almost completed, a boys camp committee ready for reinvigoration, and my own herb garden ripe for the planting. You take a breath, find your footing, and continue the pace, for that’s life: a trip with no end, a race with no start, a soul’s journey.