The Pretoria Effect

So this will likely be my last blog post for a while. Why? Because my laptop is feeling a little ill and had to go visit the doctor. Hopefully it's not too serious and the doctor bill won't be too steep. That also means I will be a bit slow responding to emails, etc. (Currently at an internet cafe in town. And since I don't get to town all that often...)

The past two weeks, I have spent readjusting to life in the village. Readjusting after almost a month living in Pretoria. At the end of June, I started having strange and very painful cramping and stabbing pain throughout my abdomen. Peace Corps brought me to Pretoria to do some tests and try to determine what was wrong.

I lived the posh life in Pretoria at the Rose Guest Lodge--a nice bed and breakfast that Peace Corps uses to house med-evacs from other African countries and South African volunteers who are having a time of it medically. It was definitely high living--in some ways higher than in the states: breakfast made-to-order every morning, terry cloth bathrobes, hot shower complete with water pressure, real coffee. It was a good life at the rose.

I spent my days going between medical appointments, wandering around one of the three malls near the Rose, waiting for test results, deciding which movie theather to go to and which movie to see, deciding what test to try next and choosing between restraunts, ordering-in or cooking with the other volunteers staying at the Rose. It was an entire world away from the four months I had spent in the village.

After a litany of blood, urine and stool tests, an ultrasound, an x-ray, a CT scan and finally a colonoscopy and gastroscopy--all of which came back normal--we decided to try an anti-parasite treatment even though there had been no evidence of parasites in my urine or stool. Two weeks after the start of the ten day treatment, I seem to be fine. Apparently those little tiny creatures are really good at hide-and-seek.

The month in Pretoria was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting. While it was nice to have all of the modern conveniences surrounding me, this was not the life that I came to Africa for. I was tired, and many times seriously considered whether it was worth it or not to continue with Peace Corps. Each time a test result came back normal, I was happy to know that the signs pointed to nothing seriously wrong with me but was still in a lot of pain and disappointed that we were no closer to finding the answer. I wanted to be back in my village--building relationships, settling into the routine of village life, learning the culture and language and assisting my organization. But having so much time on my hands also made me resent many of the things that I had come into contact with in the village. So while I wanted to get back to the village, there was a part of me that also wanted to have nothing to do with the village. I wanted friends and family and resented that they were not there to comfort me through the barrage of medical exams and tests.

It was a strange experience that I really had no one who I could fully express all the things I was feeling to. There were just certain thoughts and emotions that didn't translate without a good understanding of the context. And the Peace Corps rumor-mill is a vicious thing. I wanted to keep myself out of it as much as possible, so I tried to limit the number of volunteers who knew that I was in Pretoria. (Thinking back on it, I'm sure everyone knew, but I like to think that I kept it pretty quiet.)

My month in Pretoria is a feat I hope not to replicate during the rest of my service. It's a nice place to visit for a few days, but a month is too much. The "Pretoria Effect," as many volunteers refer to it, can be a very damaging thing to one's psyche. I am very happy to be back in the village now and as much as possible am trying to pick up where I left off. In some senses, I am starting over and rebuilding, but I know every night when my host brother comes over to say goodnight and everyday when the women at my organization ask how I am feeling and when I recieve a big hug and a "I was praying for you"--I know at those moments that people do care and are truly glad that I'm here. That foundation is still there, just some cracks that need to be filled in before we can start building again.