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*Pictured above, a bakkie burnt by protesters in a nearby town
It starts off as no big deal. I wake on a Thursday morning, the birds chirp, the sun shines and it all feels a bit too Disney-esque. Not until I arrive at school do the first subtle hints of something amiss arise. Your principal’s office is closed and he and several other staff members are out. It comes in whispers and slowly grasped blurbs of Setswana, “he was detained by the protests”. They tell you that the national road will be blocked tomorrow; people have been looting stores, burning tires and cars…
It’s the start of a fearful roller coaster. I try following the situation through a haze of whatsapp messages and anxiety creeping up inside my head.
This past week a variety of protests broke out across the nation. There was a national bus strike, strikes against the Premier of the North West province, local service delivery protests, and now a national union strike. Given my unique location on the border of two provinces, I found myself sandwiched between two unrelated but increasingly escalating protests.
So not exactly the best feeling situation. By Monday, I found myself plotting a way out of my village (a gravel farm road to a southern exit point on the national road…) just in case it came to that. As low key as I try to keep myself, the stressful blur of mixed messages, multilingual communications, and the sight of smoke are not conducive to a healthy and relaxed state. Finding myself swirling down into an anxiety spiral, I collapsed into stress sleep, determined not to dwell.
But after confirmations that not only were the protests not set to end, but also that they would likely intensify as they coincided with a national strike action on Wednesday, Peace Corps decided to evacuate us.
From there it became a mad scramble of phone calls and whatsapps, throwing clothes into a duffel bag, hopping into a bakkie, and screeching southwards hopeful for a clear path.
And the minute I was out it was like a big weight lifted. I started laughing and chatting with my HOD, the giddiness of being safe overwhelming me like the crash of an ocean wave. I’m chilling in Kimberley at the moment with plans of heading to my favorite beachside paradise (Cape Town) tomorrow for a relaxed long weekend.
So everything’s sorted and it’s all good right? Well, that remains to be seen. With my region in such a state of turmoil at the moment, we’re playing a wait and see game to figure out when we can head back to the vill. So for now I guess I’ll just enjoy the showers, wifi, and beautiful fall weather.