All posts in the Culture category

Na ke Koko

Published March 17, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

Dumelang! Leina la ka ke Koko. [Hello! My name is Koko.]

Koko has been my most used nick-name for as long as I can remember. I never introduced myself that way, it was more so just a name used by my family and close friends. Until I came to South Africa.

Overseas, Koleana can be a mouthfull for some people, and on paper it’s even more confusing so when asked if I have a short name I offered ‘Koko’ and that instantly stuck for a couple of reasons. The most obvious being that Koko is a nickname for my first name. But here it has more implications. In the Sepedi culture a Koko is a grandmother, a wise old woman. You would call any elder women Koko as a sign of respect.

Many Peace Corps Volunteers are given new names by their villages which they embrace as a new identity; names like Lerato-which means love, or Mpho-which means gift. I was not re-named because my community saw me as Koko. I don’t know if I molded to the name or if the village made the name mold to me but either way, I feel honored to be recognized as a wise old woman.

On a side note this whole new take on ‘Koko’ is ironic because I used to have a roommate named Jon that called me grandma. I remember the joke started one day when I wore a crochet cardigan and he said it was a grandma sweater and that I dressed like a grandma. Then I started calling him grandpa just to be a brat. This was nearly 8 years ago, haha.

Now I’m not trying to problemetize my village name but I also kind of am. Peace Corps gives us alot of time to sit and think and try to understand. When I think about what it might mean to be called a Koko even though I’m 26 and childless, my thoughts immediately shift to the very real existence of internalized oppression in rural South Africa. I was dubbed Koko before I did anything to earn that respect or privilege, it was afforded to me instantaneously and under some assumption that I hold wisdom, knowledge and all the answers. Is this because of my Americanness? My skin color??

Serving in South Africa as a health Volunteer was more like completing two Peace Corps services simultaneously. While trying to impact community health I was also struggling to break down racial divides left from Apartheid. My job was not only to prevent HIV but also to be an ambassador for racial integration and trying to capacitate people who think they are incapable because they are black. The Apartheid regime was a true crime against humanity and although it was overthrown about 20 years ago, its effects still linger and the society is still very racially divided. For generations, black South Africans were segregated from white South Africans and forced into labor, project housing in remote areas, and treated as less than. They were denied education, fare wages, and recognition as humans. This relentless oppression eventually became internalized and subsquently many black South Africans today honestly believe they are less than, and that white people do everything better, are smarter, more capable, and have all the skills and all the power.

What does it really mean to be called Koko here? Is it just a nickname, or is there something going on beneath the surface? What can I do to combat this whole white-savior complex? Over 2 years have gone by and I have yet to really place my feelings on the matter. I’ve never been quite so aware of my skin color, and defined by it, as I am here. I’ve blogged about this before and I haven’t developed any solid strategies but I know my task is to constantly be aware of what my whiteness means, and to try to not contribute to the continued oppression of everyone that’s not white. I didn’t choose this skin color but because I was born with privilege I believe I have a responsibility to not exploit others. If you’ve ever seen the movie Ever After, you’d know there’s a running theme of ‘those who are born into privilege have specific obligations’. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Also, Drew Barrymore. I challenge myself to think about what privileges I have and how I can use my advantages to help others. The struggle is real.

At my farewell party a close host family friend gave a speech where he said he never thought he could talk to white people until I came. He praised me for being a good ambassador for America. I guess I’m doing something right. 


All the things! 

Published March 11, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

Ok, not really all, but here’s the first 20 that pop into my head! 

Things I’ll miss about South Africa:

1. Reading by candlelight. Sometimes you just don’t have electricity, and that’s ok. 

2. The sound of rain on the tin roof

3. South African traditional music blasting through cheap speakers on every taxi ride 

4. Fat cakes. Fat cakes everywhere 

5. Going to a community garden where the Gogo picks me fresh spinach straight from the Earth 

6. Sitting. Just sitting. This is usually associated with tea time 

7. Snuggling in bed through a thunderstorm, binge watching TV shows on my laptop 

8. The nanny talking to me in Afrikaans. Even though I’ve lived here for 2 years and speak to her in Sepedi 

9. Endless sunflower fields. Love!

10. “Hello ma’am Koko” from the security guards at work 

11. Children shrieking “Hiiiii” with joy and fear from a bakkie when they drive past me on the road

12. The smell of fresh bread from the bakery in the mornings 

13. Reading on the porch with the dogs sleeping at my feet

14. It’s perfectly acceptable to walk into any party and help yourself to food and drinks, regardless if you know who’s party it is  

 15. Greeting every single person 

16. Kotas = calories 

17. When the trees turn purple- quite possibly my favorite time of year   

  18. The feeling of escaping a near-death summer heat stroke thanks to a guy walking around selling Cool Time in the taxi rank  

 19. Being in a place where the honor system still prevails 

20. Seeing animals run freely everywhere: dogs, cats, goats, chickens, cows, donkeys, and non-livestock game. It was a true blessing to see lions, cheetahs, tigers, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, baboons and wildebeests in their natural habitats…even though a rhino chased me up a tree. 

National Condom Week!

Published February 21, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

 This last week I worked a 2-day campaign at the tertiary colleges of the Sekhukhune district (CS Barlow and Dr CN Phatudi campuses). The campaign was organized by First Things First, a school-based project that emphasizes campus health and health education. Over 2 days I had one-on-one sexual health and wellness counseling with 71 college students, and the event overall reached over 500 students! What a success! 

Common issues found among the students are lack of condom usage and thus a high prevalence of HIV and STIs. 

Developmental work isn’t as simple as just saying ‘use condoms’. No, it must reach a level deeper than that. 

There’s a reason why a person chooses not to use a condom. Some may generalize it as stubbornness, but I see much more complexity in the situation and therefore opportunity for development and capacity building to happen. Ignorance about proper condom usage is a very superficial problem. What’s more likely is that the person doesn’t have confidence in condom negotiation, or is in a relationship where an imbalance of power exists, and there may even be cultural barriers to accessing free condoms without facing berating and judgement. 

These are heavy, intricate issues. And they are real. And I try my best to combat them everyday with the people I counsel. 

And I don’t want to make it seem like these problems only exist in South Africa; it’s everywhere. But I think the prevalence is higher here because of certain cultural drivers of HIV like the pressure for women to be submissive and obedient to men. One woman I spoke with wanted an HIV test because she suspects (knows) her husband is cheating on her. She doesn’t feel comfortable talking about using condoms with him for fear of getting a physically or verbally abusive response. 

I struggle with having to tip toe around cultural norms because I don’t want to offend anyone, while at the same time I must encourage self-advocacy and ownership over your own body.

With each and every person I encounter, I strive to deliver quality service because they deserve 100% from me. It most definitely gets exhausting, but it’s thoroughly fulfilling work and at the end of each day I pack up my tents feeling that I made a positive impact. 

On Friday I wrapped up National Condom Week by doing a group exercise on proper condom usage for male and female condoms with 150 learners at a local high school. These are always full of laughs and fun, but the retention of the skill is there because they all demonstrated pretty accurately!  

The clock’s ticking and before I know it it’ll be time to leave! What a weird thing! 



Races: #15: Bronkhorstspruit. And the Buddhist Temple.

Published February 15, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

I’ve been wanting to visit Nan Hua, the largest Buddhist Temple in Africa, for the longest time. They offer meditation retreats and lunch with the monks and it all just sounded so intriguing. It’s in a town called Bronkhorstspruit- only around 250 km from my house so it would be feasible to get there by public transport.

Then I heard there would be a race in Bronkhorstspruit (10k) this past weekend, so I decided this is my opportunity.

After work on Friday I went to the taxi rank and after nearly 7 hours of public transport, I arrived in Bronkhorstspruit. It was a short 2 km walk to the hostel (called the Sink Shack) a friend told me about, and luckily they had a bed in a dorm room available for me! This place had walls of shiny tin and a maze of hallways and made me feel like I was in a fun house at EDC. I’m not complaining. They had a huge bar/restaurant area with indoor/outdoor seating, and live music! As much as I wanted to chill there enjoying the music all night, I knew I had an early morning and wanted to feel rested for the race, so I hit the sack pretty early. Conveniently, the Sink Shack is located directly across the street from the high school where the race would be hosted (could this be any more perfect?). So I woke around 5am and walked over to the starting area.

The 10k course was all tarred road and ran around the neighborhoods of Bronkhorstspruit and the temple, ending at the high school where we started. I placed 7th for women which wasn’t good enough for any prize money but whatevs. I had fun so that’s what counts! After watching the prize givings I showered up and headed to Nan Hua.

The temple is huge, with many buildings for different things…a meditation hall, prayer, a dining hall, a guest house.

There were long corridors and staircases everywhere. It made me feel like I was in some Asian variation of the Labrynth LOL

Meals are eaten in silence, with and without the monks. Everything is vegetarian, served buffet style, and donation-based. While eating we’re encouraged to contemplate how our food got onto our plates, considering all the people and steps involved and showing gratitude for each one. Also thinking of food as nourishment or medicine for the body and believing in its healing properties. We also think about greediness- a trait we want to avoid- and when given the opportunity to serve oneself in a buffet, practicing self-control, only taking as much as one needs and not more.

Through the years I’ve developed my own unique set of spiritual beliefs that don’t ascribe to a particular religion, but I do believe in the power of meditation and the formidableness of inner peace. As a person who’s very energetic and restless, I try to use yoga and meditation to quiet myself down for some soul check-in time, and I find it very helpful. I saw this weekend as an opportunity to practice meditation in preparation for the Vipassana course I’ll be taking in a couple months. It can be challenging to sit still, in silence, and focus on myself; but this weekend I forced myself to do so and left the temple feeling so light and clear.
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. The race felt good, the temple was fulfilling, and I managed to be home just in time for Sunday family dinner with the host fam! I brought home some pink and white cupcakes for our Valentine’s Day dessert! ❤




Lions and Tigers and Bears – Oh my! 

Published August 6, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

 Sometimes I can’t believe the types of opportunities life throws at me. 
 When I was younger I was like most kids- overly excited about the zoo and the idea of getting to see animals that I normally would never get to see. I was also different from most kids in that I didn’t get to experience the zoo all that often – my Dad was really against it. I think I got to sneak to the zoo once or twice on school field trips, but I don’t have any vivid memories of this. I didn’t understand why he never wanted to go? I wanted to go to the zoo like everybody else. It wasn’t until I grew up that I started to really understand all these things about my dad that I used to think were odd. Animals are not meant to be kept in captivity for human entertainment purposes. The more I grew up the more I understood the weight of this, and struggled with it as well. Where do we find a balance between satisfying our desire to observe and learn about animals and not hold them as captive prisoners?  

 Fast forward several years and now I live and work in Africa. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Southern Africa is Kruger National Park- several thousand acres of land that has been fenced off to protect the wild life contained therein and patrolled by park rangers to scare off poachers. Although parks like Kruger exist, poachers still find their way in and several species of animals have either been killed off or are facing extinction. In Kruger, visitors can only drive through the park (staying inside their cars the entire time of course), but through your windows you’re lucky if you can spot the Big 5- lions, leopard, elephants, rhinos and buffalo. This is an exhilarating experience, creeping at a slow 5MPH speed hoping to see some animal activity. I didn’t spot all of the Big 5 when I drove through, but we did manage to see rhinos, hippos, impala, spring bock, monkeys, baboons, giraffes, buffalo, wildebeests, zebras and a ton of elephants. The elephants, being enormous and dominating, didn’t seem scared of us and they would roam within a couple feet of the cars, but the rest of the animals would scurry away the moment they noticed humans nearby. While it was amazing to see these animals going about their daily business and living in their natural habitats, it still felt very distant- quite literally it was distant, we’re trapped in a car peering through our windows trying to get a good look. While this is a much less manipulative way of seeing animals than the zoo, I still hadn’t quite fulfilled my need for animal interaction (I’m a kinetic learner, I need direct contact, what can I say). But all this was about to change…
Relatively near my village I found an animal sanctuary. This space of land is reserved for rescue animals brought in for sanctuary, rehabilitation, and most of them stay permanently due to the realities of poaching and extinction. Rescues brought in range from snakes and birds to lions and tigers. One cool thing about this place is that it functions predominantly through the help of volunteers, so naturally I find myself frequenting this place and they’ve trained me on how to properly feed and interact with the animals. As I’m writing this I’m realizing I don’t have many photos, which is probably a good thing that I’m not snapping pictures when I should be worrying about asserting dominance with the lions, so I’ll try my best to describe the animals I spend time with. ..

I don’t spend a lot of time with the snakes because they freak me out. The monkeys are adorable but pretty bipolar. Half the time they leap towards me with excited intrigue- rather, they’re more excited about my jewelry than anything else. They love shiny things and constantly try to snatch off any jewelry I’m wearing. One of them actually broke a ring off of my finger one time- he was THAT serious about shiny things. And when they’re not interested in being jewel thieves, they don’t seem interested in interacting with me very much. 

Timon is the resident meerkat and she is a snuggle bunny! She leans into my chest where it’s warm and loves being scratched on the head. She also makes adorable little gerbil noises. ❤ swoon! 

Pumba is also a girl and honestly warthogs are probably the ugliest animal I’ve ever seen. (But I always tell her she’s pretty because who doesn’t need a good compliment once in a while?!) Have you ever watched a pig or hog take a mud bath? She loves when I carve out a hole in the dirt a few inches deep and fill it with water, then she trots over to it and rolls around until she’s absolutely caked in mud. It’s the grossest thing! Warthogs are funny little creatures. And quite skittish too. 

The cheetahs are the most loving animals in the whole place. They’re a couple named Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is a little more friendly, but Romeo stays close by and demands a solid chin scratching every now and then. And my god, the purring! They purr so loudly it’s like someone’s beating a drum. My cat allergies go insane around them so I’m always sure I properly wash up after visiting the love cats. 


Speaking of big cats, the sanctuary cares for over a dozen rescue lions and tigers, but there are 2 that I totally adore. White tigers are endangered, they no longer exist in the wild sadly due to poaching so they can only live and breed now in captivity. White lions also face this same endangerment. Here we have a few of these rare white lions and tigers and we’re trying to help continue the species but it’s difficult. Saber is a white tiger and loves to be loved, he’s the first tiger I’ve ever interacted with and bottle fed. Yes, I literally take a baby bottle full of milk and bottle feed a grown ass tiger. He’s a big baby. He also loves to swim! Well, this is normal actually. Tigers in the wild naturally climb into any body of water they see fit to cool themselves off in from the African heat. There’s a pool nearby that he frequents, and one day I’ll get trained on how to handle a tiger in water then I’ll drum up the courage to swim with him. Until then, I’ll stick to the bottle feedings.

One of my other faves is a lion named Solo. He’s about a year old so he’s massive in size but still acts like a cub. He asserts his strength and demands that I play with him all the time. He’s also still bottle feeding and this is probably the only time he’s not interested in pawing at me. When he stands on his hind legs he’s tall enough to use my head as an arm rest. WHAT. Most of the animal trainers get some battle scars from play time with Solo. I have yet to experience the wrath of those claws and I hope I never do. 

There’s a lot of lion cubs that pass through. Sometimes it’ll just be 1 single rescue, other times a litter of 4 or 5 cubs. We’ll care for and rehabilitate them for as long as we can support them, but the reality is that is it bloody expensive and difficult to house and feed several grown lions at once so the cubs will most likely they’ll be given to another sanctuary or facility that can afford to give them the care they need. But the fun part is- there’s always lion cubs around to play with! They’re pretty lazy and sleep a lot of the time (like most baby animals), and eat constantly, but play time is always fun. They’re just like puppies or kittens, small, furry, they fit in your lap and nibble anything and everything. Cubs haven’t learned how to control and retract their claws yet, so they’re little lion claws are constantly snagging on things. Don’t have any dangly clothing or jewelry around the cubs- they’ll rip it right off! There’s no greater feeling of contentment then having a lion cub purring in your lap as you’re rubbing its belly and it’s falling asleep. Pure bliss. 

Oh, and I have to mention Baloo, our black bear! He’s basically with us permanently because where are we supposed to put a black bear?! He takes play time to a whole new level. He’s half my size but twice my strength. And he’s not even full grown yet. Bears naturally spend like 2/3 of their lives standing on their hind legs as they use their front legs like ‘arms’ to scavenge trees for food. But if you’re name is Baloo then you use your ‘arms’ to wrestle Koko everytime she’s around. He runs on his hind legs, and climbs trees and would probably climb my legs if I didn’t stop him. He seriously refuses to do anything but play or eat. It’s the cutest thing. And he’s the messiest eater I’ve ever seen. Probably half of his milk bottle ends up spraying out the sides of his mouth and onto me or dribbling down his face and all over his chest. He tries to hold the bottle with his arms, he’s basically a bear baby. 

 When I stay there I sleep in a tent in the camp- which is thankfully fenced and separated from where the animals are. But as I lay in my tent at night I can hear the roars of the lions. This is an insane experience- sleeping through the sounds of lions. 
There’s some lions and tigers only certain experienced trainers interact with, mostly because ones that are rescued when they’re older aren’t used to humans and they can be aggressive. While baby rescues end up being raised by humans so as long as I exude an energy of love and calmness they’ll be comfortable with me and want to play. 

By volunteering here and I finally feel like I’m getting the animal experience I’ve always desired. Lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) may seem scary and intimidating but the truth is, they’re gentle giants and they just want love like the rest of us. Through animal sanctuaries that strive to save these beautiful creatures from poaching, I get to have direct interaction with them. These animals are loving and playful. Only in animal sanctuaries would I get this kind of wholesome experience that places like Kruger and the zoo lack.
  All around the world animal conservationists are struggling to rescue endangered species and stomp out poaching. If you’re looking to support this conservation work, trying looking up animal rescue and sanctuary facilities in your area that you can volunteer at. Go play with some animals! It seriously is life-changing. 

Pheonix, Arizona recently became added to the list of about 60 U.S. cities that have a desire to put an end to puppy an kitten mills by passing a law that requires all pet stores to only offer rescue animals for adoption!
Here’s a list of a few of the larger global reputable animal sanctuaries!


Nelson Mandela Day.

Published July 31, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

I’m not all that great at interneting, but I’m trying my best to keep you loverfaces updated! Here’s a breifing on Nelson Mandela Day! South Africa has a national holiday to celebrate Nelson Mandela- more specifically, to commemorate his 67 years of service to his country by giving 67 minutes of your day to provide a service to others. I teamed with some Peace Corps volunteers for an event at a primary school- we had tons of activities for the kiddos! I was in charge of drawing (because Ma’am Koko is such a talented artist 😛 ) Along with coloring pictures of Mandela, we had group readings, Mandela trivia, a movie and some other games. We finished up the day with the most important part – 67 minutes of community service. Teams of 7 roamed to each corner of Mphane village picking up trash and cleaning up the roads while instilling in the children the values of community contribution, and taking pride and ownership in where you live – all in the name of Mandela. The amount of trash collected was impressive – over 2 dozen big black garbage bags bursting at the seams. A successful Saturday promoting community service among the village youth! 





The Drakensberg Mountains

Published July 23, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica







A couple months back I went on a backpacking trip with some Peace Corps volunteer friends through the Drakensberg mountains. The Draks are huge and cover a vast amount of land, much more than a few days of hiking would allow us to explore. But the smidgen that we did hike through was endlessly breathtaking and awe-inspiring. These photos don’t do the Draks justice though, no camera could really capture the beauty.

Disclaimer! Some of these photos are my friends’ from my hiking group, I can’t take all the credit here. 🙂 Man, collectively we got some incredible shots. One of my friends brought his GoPro and captured a ton of footage, then my other friend edited it and made a short video of our trip! Check it out here! 

Unfortunately an unfriendly rainstorm decided to plague the area with thunder and lightening so we were forced to take shelter at a little backpackers and abandon our final 2 days of hiking. We made the best of it though. We explored some nearby small towns, found a Chinese food restaurant, Ethiopian food and Mexican food, a brewery, and we spent some time just sitting around playing cards and sampling the array of home-made organic jams and jellies the backpackers owner sells.

I’m hoping this won’t be my only Draks trip while I’m here. I’d like to get back down there and explore some other parts of the discerning, mysterious and seemingly endless Dragon.


Getting all packed!


Katy & me before we started the trail- see how clean we are!





Quick lunch break!

Quick lunch break!





This is how we collect water

This is how we collected water from the caves we slept in





One of the caves we called home for a night.



Coming back into civilization

The gang at the Ethiopian restaurant.

The gang at an Ethiopian restaurant.

Ethiopian food!! Absolutely delicious, and all this was just 1 person's serving.

Ethiopian food!! Absolutely delicious, and all this was just 1 person’s serving.


Published July 6, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

The crew! From the left: Me, Mapula, Thepiso, Tumelo and Busi.

On this year’s 4th of July, I wanted to introduce my host family to American culture and show them how we celebrate our Independence Day by organizing a women’s empowerment weekend away. Five of us ladies (ages 16 – 46) rented a vacation cottage in the lush, beautiful Graskop area of the Mpumalanga province, which is centrally located near many tourist sites, making it easy to get around and squeeze in all the funsies. Each day was filled with many activities, delicious food and a belly ache of laughs.

I made a point to incorporate typical ‘American’ things into our day on the 4th – BBQing, making s’mores, and playing card games. I even managed to facilitate some ‘U-S-A’ chanting. 🙂


Turns out none of us are very skilled at BBQing and couldn’t keep the fire lit…so we took the party inside and finished up on the stove and roasting marshmallows over a candle. >.<

The aim of the weekend was to place emphasis on physical and emotional health, self confidence and overcoming fears. Each day we has group exercise- yoga, running, hiking and trampoline jumping. Each meal was carefully planned and home-cooked (and often vegetarian!) to encourage broadening dietary horizons and incorporating healthier foods into our lifestyles. We also had group discussions about boosting self image, feeling confident and recognizing ability.

group photos

One activity supporting personal empowerment was zip lining!


That’s the face of confidence.

Each of us took our turn zipping down a 450m line, 130m above a natural riverbank. This was easier for some more than others…but after extensive coercion and encouragement- we succeeded in getting all 5 of us women to zip the line! This adrenaline rush boosted everyone’s confidence and we were all smiles for the rest of the day.

There were a couple of beautiful waterfall hikes in the area that we checked out – Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls at Blyde River Canyon.


Lisbon Falls


Berlin Falls

Another hike we went on took us to God’s Window. We also managed to see the Lowveld View and the Three Rondavels – very popular panoramic mountainous spots in this side of the country.


me and tumi
We found an adorable little photography studio where we could dress up in old 1920’s costumes!!


Family photo!


I just had to.

This ended up being one of my favorite weekends I’ve had in South Africa thus far. Getting to laugh, joke, cook, BBQ, sing, dance, jump, zip, and spend time learning and growing with these beautiful women was an amazing way to spend my 4th of July. (While supporting cultural exchange- yay Peace Corps Goals 2 & 3!)
















AVC & 150 Hours of Introspection

Published June 18, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

I recently attended an annual All Volunteer Conference where over 100 Peace Corps volunteers from 4 provinces of South Africa gathered in Gauteng for 3 days of learning, sharing, and getting to know each other. It was amazing to see so many new faces and meet new volunteers! Volunteers are so spread out in country, and with so little money and free time, it’s not often we are able to see each other, especially in large groups. One unique thing about AVC is that the presentations are volunteer decided and led. Anyone interested in presenting a topic, program or leading a discussion group can submit a proposal and a volunteer committee decides which presentations will be given at the conference.
I presented a program I’m running at my site as a secondary project called Roots Tribe Yoga. It’s a program that utilizes yoga as a medium for personal development. In my presentation we talked a lot about village life, holistic health, spiritual healing and cultural exchange. I feel good about sharing my yoga experience with other volunteers and helping them make a plan for implementing yoga classes in their villages because yoga is a direct pathway into personal development. Yoga is so much more than a physical practice. While physical gain is a benefit, I acknowledge yoga more so as a lifestyle practice and lifelong journey.
Within my first few months of being in Africa, I was presented with an opportunity to lead yoga classes and I gladly accepted – having been a student of yoga for 10 years, I felt comfortable stepping to the front of the room to lead a class. I am constantly looking for ways to combine my Kinesiology degree with my service as an HIV outreach volunteer, and I think yoga is an impactful way to reach people in my community.
Peace Corps sent me to South Africa under the funding and guidance of PEPFAR, meaning that I should (try to) align my activities to satisfy PEPFAR’s initiatives. This could mean anything relating to preventing new HIV infections, addressing female and youth populations about HIV issues, and providing support to people living with HIV. While there are a lot of activities I could do that promote abstinence or safe sex, I feel those activities are sort of superficial and are barely scraping the surface of a massive iceberg that is HIV. To really impact people we must engage them on a deeper level. There’s a reason a man doesn’t put on a condom, there’s a reason a woman goes into the sex work industry. There are deeper reasons behind every choice people make and I thoroughly feel that we must find ways to reach the core of every human being – starting at the basic level of helping them understand their dignity, their strength, and their life’s value. Then progressing into interpersonal relationships- building trust, integrity and accountability. And finally promoting the concept of the ‘Human Tribe’ by encouraging the belief that we are all connected as humans, we have a moral imperative to contribute to humanity and society, and together we have influence.
Now that I’ve been teaching yoga in my community for over a year, I’ve found that I’ve grown even more as an instructor than as a student. Every class is a journey, and while I’m teaching my students, they are also teaching me. As a yoga student I experienced physical growth, mental toughness and awareness of dignity. As a teacher I have gained better patience, humility and creativity.
It’s ironic how this has all unfolded because a close friend of mine and I have always talked about opening up a yoga studio together. We were half joking (because neither of us are ‘certified’) and half serious (because we both love yoga and would totally commit to running a business together).
When us volunteers get together, I get a lot of questions like ‘What are your passions and dreams?’ and ‘What are you doing after Peace Corps?’ While I’m not super certain what my post-Peace Corps steps will be, I do know what I’m passionate about and I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I can live out my passions every day. I like teaching yoga because it encompasses my fanaticisms for fitness, holistic health and personal empowerment, and it supports a lot of the things I want to accomplish while serving the developing world.