Thursday, February 18, 2010

My "snail mail", random questions, and Ubuntu...

When we first arrived in South Africa, well, actually before we even came to South Africa, we were warned that the South African postal system was not secure and that packages and letters from the US were subject to tampering--and even theft. Peace Corps gave us all kinds of "tips" to pass on to loved ones about how to prepare mail for us that would lessen the chances of "tampering."

The only parcel/letter that hasn't made it to me, that I'm aware of, was damaged in the US postal system. I received this torn front piece of an envelop and an apology from the US postal service. I'm not sure who it's from, but I think it is from one or both of my sons. If not, and you recognize it, could you let me know? thx!

While not terribly unhappy with my mail service, I could be happier. The mail comes to me through the college. I get my mail somewhat regularly and I don't pay for a post-office box (like many other volunteers).

However, there are problems. For example, when the college closes, for all practical purposes, my mail stops. The post office does a nice job of saving my packages for me, but put all of my letters in the college's mail pouch. So, while I received my packages over the Dec/Jan holiday, I didn't receive my letters until the college reopened in the middle of January. (I had quite a lot of letters in the middle of January!!).
Also, while the college used to travel to the post office regularly for mail collection, there seems to be a problem with transportation and the mail is now collected sporadically. Once again, I can walk to the post office to collect my mail, but the post office has put my mail in the college's mail bag (which is sitting there awaiting collection.)
So, I'm becoming frustrated. My nearest volunteer, Emily/Lesego, is also unhappy about her mail situation. We've talked about bucking up and sharing a post-office box so that we would both have more regular/reliable mail service. It would be an additional cost for both of us, but would both feel happier about our mail. She's away for a week but when she returns, we're likely to make this arrangement and my mailing address may change. Will keep you "posted." :-)
I've recently received a batch of letters that I'm going to address now. Please, for those of you, who have taken the trouble to write, please excuse my "laziness" of an electronic reply. No, I don't have so many fans that I'm backlogged with answering letters. My lame excuse is that I'm so swamped with work that I barely have energy to limp home and prepare for the next day. (See next blog.)
This will change, eventually, when the dust settles, I have a real schedule, and have adequately prepared my class work. For now, I must reciprocate electronically. Please forgive me.

One faithful writer tells me all about local and world news. I'm so grateful for this because a) I rarely know what is going on outside my village; and b) hearing about news in the US and especially Louisville, (even if it is crazy, scary, bad) helps me feel like I'm home. It's a very powerful connection, to simply hear of news from home and in reading my heart fills with great happiness. This particular writer has a very sharp wit, and keeps me laughing out loud.

(I've decided to try to better protect people's anonymity; I'm not sure why.)

There was much somewhat-recent news about Louisville politics, sports news, celebrity news, family/friend news, and puppy news.

One comment that stood out for me was noting the passage of Martin Luther King's birthday in January, which is a national holiday for the US. I hadn't realized that he would have been 81 this year. I always think of him as happening a long time ago so it was jarring to realize that he could still be alive today (and relatively young!).

How different would our world be today had he lived? What a great man!

A family member sent me pictures of my home: pictures of my nasturtiums and zinnias (last season's), pictures of my neighborhood taken from my front porch, pictures of my dog pouting with her head on my side of the bed, and pictures of my dog(s) with their granny. Treasures, all.

Another question from mail concerns the notion of South African "Ubuntu" and had I heard of it?

Yes, I have heard of Ubuntu. The African philosophy was covered in our pre-service training. It's a beautiful philosophy that loosely translated means: a person is a person only through other people.

In Ubuntu philosophy, all are cared for, all are protected, always. For example, if a woman of children dies, the surviving children are taken in by family members or anyone else in the community. There is no question as to what happens to the children: the community steps in and cares for their own.

The philosophy is realized in other ways: sharing wealth, food, clothing, etc.

The current practice of Ubuntu for South Africans is stressed with poverty and disease. (There are many more children orphaned because their parents are dying of aids.) In other words, there are more and more children to be cared for, but less and less adults available to care for them.

Now what I'm about to "say" may be offensive to some, or even all.

In my limited experience of living in South Africa, the practice of Ubuntu seems closed to outsiders. In this way, if you are "a part" of the community, you're protected, cared for, always. However, if you're not a part of the community, you're not protected, cared for, etc.

This may be a reason why Peace Corps South Africa places its volunteers with families; in this way, the volunteer becomes a "part of" the family and is protected and cared for by the family especially, but by the community as well.

I sometimes wonder if my integration would have been easier if I were placed with a family unit rather than living in my own accommodations on the college campus. (Many of you know I had a horribly rough time integrating.) While I feel relatively safe on my college campus, I do not feel as safe moving about in the community. I think living with a family would have helped me establish stronger community ties and therefore help me feel safer, more a "part of."

I’m taking steps to strengthen my bonds with the community and I think going to a village church helps me in this way a great deal. I also intend to become active with the health clinic, community meetings, etc. It’ll happen, captain!

So, that's it for now, snail mail, MLK, puppies, and Ubuntu.

Soon, Karen

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