Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Letter to You from the Peace Corps

The following letter is from the Peace Corp for friends and families of Peace Corp Volunteers. If you would like the complete address or any of the phone numbers I have removed below, please Facebook me or email me. Many thanks for all the well wishes and prayers!

January 2009

Dear Families and Friends,

Greetings from the South Africa Desk at the U.S. Peace Corps in Washington, D.C.! It is with great pleasure that we welcome you to the Peace Corps circle of friendship. We receive many questions from family members and friends of Volunteers about life in South Africa, so we would like to offer you advice and assistance in advance. 

1. Irregular Communication. (Please see #3 for the mailing address to Peace Corps' office in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa) Mail from the United States to Pretoria is fairly reliable; however, mail service within South Africa is not as efficient and reliable. There is enormous variation in the time it takes for mail and packages to arrive at Volunteers’ sites. Generally, Volunteers find that they receive mail and packages from the United States two to four weeks after it has been sent. The same is true for sending mail from South Africa. Of course, there are exceptional cases in which a letter or a package might arrive within a shorter period or be substantially delayed. Some mail simply may not arrive. The destination of mail for Volunteers is as varied as the length of time it takes for mail to arrive. 

We suggest that in your first letters you ask the Volunteer to give an estimate of how long it takes for him/her to receive your letters, and then try to establish a predictable pattern of how often you will write to each other. Also, try numbering your letters so that the Volunteer knows if he/she has missed one. 
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is a rewarding experience; however, there will also be times when Volunteers may write home telling of their "war" stories. Letters might describe recent illnesses, frustration with work, isolation, lack of resources, etc. While the subject matter may be good reading material, it can often be misinterpreted on the home front. Volunteers have a wonderful support network in-country that includes counterparts and community members at their site, other Peace Corps Volunteers, as well as Peace Corps/South Africa staff. The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps/South Africa maintains a medical unit in Pretoria with two full-time medical officers, who care for the Volunteers’ primary health care needs. If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in South Africa, he/she will be medically evacuated to the United States. Fortunately, these are rare circumstances. 

If for some reason your communication pattern is broken and you do not hear from your family member, you may want to contact the South Africa Desk or the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps Washington at 1-800-***-****, extension ****. Also, in the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, sudden critical illness, etc.), please do not hesitate to call OSS immediately, so that a message can be sent to the Volunteer. Use the above number during regular business hours (9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday). After hours, or during weekends, the Peace Corps Duty Officer may be reached at (***) ***-****and you will be transferred to an answering service. Tell the operator your name, telephone number, and the nature of the emergency and the Peace Corps Duty Officer will call you back.

2. Telephone Calls. The telephone system in South Africa is relatively good and service in and out of Pretoria to the United States is mostly reliable. In the interior of the country, where most of the Volunteers are located, phones are fewer in number and of decreased reliability. Volunteers do not have residential phones; however, many Volunteers choose to buy cell phones or use public phones to make and receive international calls. They will be able to inform you of the actual telephone numbers and the reliability of telephone service once they arrive at their permanent sites in the country.

The South Africa Desk maintains regular contact with the Peace Corps office in Pretoria through phone calls and e-mail. However, these communication lines are reserved for business only and cannot be used to relay personal messages. All communication between family members and the Volunteer should be done via international mail, personal phone calls, or e-mail. Many Volunteers are able to access e-mail at Internet cafes in larger cities and towns on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on their location. 

3. Sending packages. Parents and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail. Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience for all involved due to occasional thefts and heavy customs taxes. You may want to try to send inexpensive items through the mail, but there is no guarantee that these items will arrive. Even though many Volunteers choose to get local post office boxes, you may also use the following address to send letters and/or packages:                                                                                                                                            

Name of Volunteer, PCV
U. S. Peace Corps
PO Box ****
It is recommended that packages be sent in padded envelopes or bubble envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more frequently and might pose as a greater target for theft. For lightweight but important items (e.g. airline tickets), DHL (an express mail service) does operate in Pretoria. If you choose to send items through DHL, you must address the package to:

Country Director
c/o: U. S. Peace Corps

The phone number for the Peace Corps office in South Africa is (**) **-***-****, as DHL will need this information. If you send the item to the Country Director, no liability can be assumed. For more information about DHL, please call their toll free number, 1-800-CALL-DHL, or visit their web site at Other courier services may operate in Pretoria - DHL is only one possibility. 
We hope this information is helpful to you during the time your family member or friend is serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa. We understand how frustrating it is to communicate with your family member overseas and we appreciate your using this information as a guideline. Please feel free to contact us at the South Africa Desk in Washington, D.C. if you have any further questions. Our phone number is 1-800-***-****, ext. ****/*, or locally, ***-***-****/*.

South Africa Desk Assistant

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Peace in the Whirlwind

Life seems a crazy whirlwind of lists and forms and emotions right now. On February 1st, I board a plane for Philadelphia for Peace Corps staging--orientation and immunizations. I will also have about half a day for sightseeing which I'm looking forward to since I have never been to Philadelphia. Then on the 3rd my staging group will board a bus that will take us to JFK in New York where our flight to Johannesburg leaves at 5:20PM EST. We will arrive in South Africa at 5:45PM UTC on February 4th. Johannesburg is 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (8 hours for the Central Time Zone, etc).

Currently there are several pages of lists--To-Do lists, packing lists, shopping lists, reading lists--that fill the notebook on my nightstand. At times it feels as though every time I cross something off a list, I find one or two things to add to it. The stack of forms to be completed seemed a mile high initially; though, I think I have finally worked through them all. And the emotions range from pure excitement, to pure shock, to pure "I must be crazy."

In the last weeks, I've had the blessing of spending Christmas with my family and New Year's with a dear friend from high school, attending the wedding of my college roommate, and visiting good friends from Portland days. It has been a good few weeks, and I will treasure all of these memories dearly.

Throughout pre-service training (8-10 weeks), I will have limited access to email and telephone. If you would like to keep correspondence with me through snail mail, please send me an email or message me on Facebook and I will send you my address.

Please pray that God will continue to be the author of this journey. Pray that I will embrace peace in the midst of the whirlwind. Pray that I will enter into this new adventure humbly, that my mind and my heart will be open and willing to learn. Pray that I will truly embrace what it means to live simply and love radically. Pray that my feet will be like those who bring the good news.

Blessings and peace upon you.