Love and hardship with my training family


I have wanted to write about my PST host family for a really long time. I started a post about a month into service but I could not finish it. Writing about them was too emotional. It still is now.

My first afternoon and evening with them was nothing spectacular. Everyone was shyly glancing at me and there was little interaction. The family was four generations, with a make and babe, some of their children and their children’s children, one grandchild, and the grandchild’s son. There were so many people and I did not know how they were related. I did not know the family structure or how to do anything.

I ate a dinner of a simple chicken stew with liphalishi with my family that night while watching the news. I was thankful I did not have to kill a chicken or eat a strange animal part. My bosisi even had me serve myself, which was such a relief. Shortly after, I fell into bed and was asleep immediately. I fixed my own breakfast the next morning and left for class after telling make I was departing.

Everyone was talking about their family experiences that day at class and I had nothing exciting to report other than the sheer number of people I was living with. I got off the school bus that afternoon to an entirely different world.

The children ran down the driveway to meet me while screaming my name Ntombi. They walked me home while holding my hands. After dinner, the news, and a gangster soap opera, the children would scream good night to me.

These moments became so, so precious to me, but their wonderfulness was hard to balance with the bad moments at home.

The same children (the grandchildren) would always ask for food. They would see what I had on my shelf when my door was opening and ask for what they could see. They also thought a fun game was asking me to name all of my food items when they would point to them.

One of the adult children always asked me for food as well, and after a few of these moments, I told the Peace Corps about what was happening. These involved a variety of conversations in person and over the phone and retelling the stories over and over. One of the training leaders also visited my homestead to speak with my make and babe and things marginally improved.

The good moments continued though, as I shared homemade stovetop pizzas and s’mores with them. Even the pizza became chaos by the end, because when there are five children under 10 years old, everything is always chaos–but it doesn’t matter. The little kids really wanted to help make the pizza dough, which they over-kneaded because it was so much fun. They were so excited to participate, even when they couldn’t reach the stove, which was sweet.

The last week with them was hard. We had a second crazy pizza party and the s’mores party. I was trying to study for my tests and pack and prepare myself for moving back into the dorms where everyone would be together for a few nights.

And then, while watching the news waiting for dinner one night, my sisi escorted her daughter out of the house and started beating her outside.

The switch was always visible and often used as a threat, but I had never seen it used.

My little sisi’s screams will never leave me. And the fact that I cannot do anything about active abuse here will be one of those things I will always have to live with.

My job is to educate people on the perils of all forms of abuse and to stay out of what happens at home.

In the end, the love and excitement of those children always won. We made pizza that second time because of the sheer joy it brought them. It did not matter that it took four hours to make forty pan-sized pizzas from start to finish.

I went back to visit my family this past weekend after having been away for 12 weeks. The kids ran down the driveway to greet me and walk me home just like I hoped. It was a relaxing visit with everyone happy to see me but not hanging off all my appendages. I got some baby love, checked on the garden (it’s doing so well!) and overall had a nice time. It was nice enough that I think I will return again in a few months with pictures and s’mores.

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