Thursday, December 29, 2011

Khisimusi eKhiza (Christmas in Khiza)

December 24th-26th, 2011

They say the sun dances on Christmas morning.

So I decided last minutes that all I wanted for Christmas was to visit my training host family in Khiza, so I did. 

On Christmas Eve it was down pouring and I boarded three different transports for 5 hours, bracing extreme crowds of holiday travelers, and very muddy roads.  Normally this would make me real crabby, but it was Xmas Eve and I didn’t get flirted with or hit-on once.  I thought the proposals would be much more frequent with the increase in people on the transport but not a single Christmas marriage proposal.  I thought for sure at one point a guy was going to spit it out and he surprised me and instead said “Merry Christmas.”  That moment made me tear up a bit.  Maybe people felt bad that they knew I wasn’t going “home” for Christmas or the holiday really does have magic but everyone was so nice and I didn’t feel like a foreigner that day.

While I wasn’t able to go “home” for Christmas, I have to say I felt like I was at home.  My training host family is so welcoming.  They moved me right into the main house (not the lonely house I lived in before).  I shared the girl’s room just like another daughter, helped make Christmas buns in the wood burning stove, and simply fell into the daily workings of the Mamba household.

Christmas in Swaziland has much less grandeur then in America but it’s the same in many ways.  Everyone is home, food is a central part of the celebration and church is attended.  There were no stockings hung by the chimney with care but that didn’t take away from the feeling of Christmas.

Christmas Eve we stayed up and watched Harry Potter 4 while we baked the Christmas buns for the next morning.  Christmas morning everyone gets up to watch the sun dance as it only does on Christmas morning, or so they say.  I wasn’t informed of this little tidbit until after the sun danced its way into morning.  I will know to wake up for it next year.  We spent the morning preparing food for later.  Then we got on our Sunday best and went to Church.  Everyone shows up to church in sections (I still don’t know why).  Thabo and I went at 11 and as we walked up to the little brick, one room church the familiar sound of Silent Night (in SiSwati) came from the open windows.  It was perfect. 

Then it was time for food!!  The pastor came back to our house and my host brothers braaied (BBQ) up the pig that was slaughtered for the event.  We had potato salad (the exact way by mom makes it), beetroot salad, lipalishi, and pork.  It was really good!  After lunch our church took on another church in the community in a soccer game.  The whole community gathered on the soccer pitch and cheered on their teams.  Nazereen (my church) won in a shoot out!  The evening ended with a walk around Khiza and a call from home.  It was a great Christmas!

The next day I got to celebrate my first Boxing Day.  This is when the family gives their gifts to each other if they can afford them.  This year no gifts were given, but I had brought gifts for everyone and the happiness that filled the room as I handed them out were priceless!  It was such a great moment, and they were such tiny gifts but meant so much to the recipients.  It was the least I could do for a family who gave me a home for Christmas.


December 9th-14th, 2011

I have officially been in Swaziland for six months December 9th!

To celebrate half a year I am getting the heck out of town.  Haha.  No it’s just that December marks many celebrations in Swaziland and so not much is happening in the community.  Schools are out, men are attending Incwala, people are preparing for Christmas.  So it’s a good time for us volunteers to use some of our earned vacation days.  We acquire 2 a month, so I decided to spend six of them relaxing on the beaches of Tofo, Mozambique.

I traveled with 7 of my fellow volunteers (including the other three from MN, funny how these thing work out).  We spent a night dancing in the Capital city Maputo, and then took public transport 7 hours up to Tofo.  Tofo, as a fellow visitor said to me, is so nice because it is secluded enough that all you meet is travelers, not tourists.  I had never thought of the difference before, but it makes so much sense.  I didn’t meet a single tourist in Tofo.  Everyone was there either to scuba dive at one of the best dive sites in the world, or are volunteers/students who heard about Tofo through the grapevine, not in a travel guide.

We camped at a backpackers situated right on the beach.  We basically had the beaches to ourselves.  No symmetrical pattern of beach umbrellas or cabana boys to bring you drinks from the beach bar.  Just local boys calling out to you to buy their bracelets… they make good price, banana price, and the sound of the waves crashing.  

I did take advantage of this world-class dive site.  Since I have never been diving anywhere except Square Lake, MN I didn’t really know what to expect.  Well expect the amazing, that’s what Tofo has to offer.  I did one dive, 17m down and saw more fish then I can even remember.  We saw large blue starfish, tons of coral, crabs, and an octopus that was camouflaging itself on the ocean floor.  Since it was my first dive it seems like a big blur now but it was awesome and the staff at Tofo Scuba are amazing!  I had my own personal dive master with me at all times, and he could have been Ashton Kutcher’s Belgium Twin, which didn’t hurt.

I also went on an ocean safari.  Here you go out for two hours and hope to be able to jump and swim with something cool.  Well I did get to swim with something really cool!  About 10 min. after setting out we got to jump in and swim with two Whale Sharks!  They were feeding on a plume of sardines and we circled around each other for about 15 minutes.  It was one of the most amazing experiences.  Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean.  They are sharks but because of their size and the fact that they are filter feeders they are called whale sharks.  They are giant, probably 20 feet long.  Their mouths alone can be 4 feet wide.  While it was so cool to be so close to them, when they turn towards you with their mouth open its really freaky.  They are harmless to humans but my heart raced a few times when I felt a little too close for comfort.  We didn’t get to jump in again but we did have bottle-nosed and humpbacked dolphins swim near our boat.

When not enjoying the scenery below the ocean surface I was relaxing on the beach.  Spreading my toes out in the white sand, body surfing the waves, and just enjoying the beauty that is Mozambique.  We met a lot of locals who sell their wares to you on the beach.  Living in Swaziland makes you feel more like a local then a visitor so it was fun to just sit and talk with them.  They are so nice and I got a lot of sweet souvenirs out of the deal.  Seriously I bought way to many bracelets.

Overall Mozambique is truly a place worth visiting.  Totally underestimated by the American perspective.  It’s a hidden treasure only know to those true travelers willing to venture slightly off the map.  And it has the Indian Ocean!!  How exotic!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

About a Brother and Brotherhood

December 6th, 2011

So I met my host brother yesterday as he came home on break from University.  He is attending a Uni in South Africa learning to be an electrician.  His name is Sifiso but everyone calls him stixs because he is super tall and skinny.

Anyways, the first question he asked me was… wait for it… I literally just stared at him in disbelief at this question… he asked me “Do you know the Free Masons and their plot to form a new world order.”

I was like come again thinking I was hearing him wrong.  We were chatting about music and then he through this question out of nowhere.  No I heard him right, I am half way around the world and here my host brother wants to talk about freemasonry.  I guess I have Jay-Z to thank for this inquiry since he apparently has some clips talking about the theory that the illuminati and the Free Masons are in cahoots to take over the world and “do evil” as my host brother says it. 

After my sudden shock and initial statement of “no I don’t know what you are referring to” because I was still processing that I actually understood him correctly, I had to make a quick decision how to deal with this question.  I could immediately tell him that several men in my family are Free Masons and really freak him out, which I secretly would have gotten joy out of, but no if God insists that I have the “No Freemasonry is not evil” conversation once again then so be it.  But really God?  I am on vacation from real life.

So I launched into a very abbreviated and simple explanation that its just a theory.  I know he wasn’t trying to attack me since how could he possible know that I am connected to Freemasonry, so I had to make sure not to get defensive in my explanation.  I explained that masonry was in fact started as a form of support for stonemasons, and then transformed into a social fraternity for men and their families that is deeply rooted in the ideals of brotherhood, charity, and honor.  I told him that I actually knew members of the Freemasons and as far as I’m aware they are not working towards a new world order.  I explained that yes they have “secret” meetings that only members are allowed to attend but that is no different then meetings most governments have.  I also explained the illuminati connection and the theory that people have used Freemasonry and its prominent place in society, historically connected with the elite, to get ahead or perhaps to accomplish something that does not have the best interest of society in mind (also no different then many governments, but just because a government is corrupt does it mean all its citizens are equally as corrupt?).  Looks like that final paper on Freemasonry to earn my History degree paid off.  Who would have thought that it would come in handy in Africa?

The convo ended with my host brother saying, “Well then I guess we are just miss-informed.”  Just like that conversation over.  I expected a rebuttal towards the contrary or a multitude of questions that this conversation usually stimulates, but no.  Either I had confused him completely, scared him with my intimate knowledge of the topic, or he simply doesn’t care that much.  Whichever way, that was that.  Then we got back to talking about music for the rest of the afternoon.

Rustle Up Some Grub

December 5th, 2011

What’s a grub?  This is a grub:

If you’re going to stick with us kid, you’re going to have to eat like us!  Bottoms up!

Guess what was for dinner tonight on the homestead?  Yep grub.

Its caterpillar season here and the marula trees are swarming with these large, squishy, hairy caterpillars that are a “good source of protein.”  You collect a whole bucket then either boil them or braai them.  We had braaied caterpillars tonight and they actually tasted ok.  They had the grill smoked taste mixed with a real earthy taste.  Not squishy, not slimy, not even hairy in texture.  Before indulging, I asked what they taste like and everyone told me it just taste like inyama, like meat.  And well it did, like a little caterpillar jerky.  Now I didn’t get carried away and eat a whole one bunch, just a few sections that my host mom ripped off for me.  She said the boiled ones are “much more delicious” so I will have to try them.

Happy World AIDS Day!

December 1st, 2011

To celebrate World AIDS Day (December 1st), Addy and I held our last Health Club meeting for the year on November 30th (The school year ended this week and summer vacation will go until end of January).  School was not actually in session that day but we met with six members of our Health Club and had a poster making party.  Each member created their-own slogan about HIV prevention and designed a poster.  They were very creative and come up with some great posters to decorate our meeting room.

Addy was offered a great opportunity for a University professor from the University of Swaziland to come and film our Health Club.  He is a Fulbright Scholar from America who is teaching a film class at the university.  He is putting together a documentary on how people in Africa are promoting HIV prevention.  He asked to film our Health Club and will be coming early December.

We spent the rest of our meeting (which, ended up being 5 hours long) preparing a drama (a skit) to perform for the filming; the drama is about the importance of being faithful and not having multiple concurrent partners.  In a traditional polygamist society, like Swaziland, having multiple partners at once is what makes a “real” man, its one of the hardest behavior changes to overcome here. 

We asked the students if they also wanted to sing a song for the filming and out of nowhere they composed one about protecting yourself by wearing a condom.  The main chorus says “uvikela ngecondom,” which means protect your self, with a condom.  It was fantastic and then they decided that they wanted to each say their slogan they had created for their posters within the song.  I was soooo impressed and proud of them.  I took a video of them practicing because its so great and I am trying to get it uploaded for all of you to hear.


A Scorpion and Snake

November 27th, 2011

As many of you saw on my Facebook status that I found my first scorpion in my hut.  I actually new it was there, but didn’t know what it was, and cohabitated with it for about an hour.  It wasn’t until I was shaking out my pajamas (as I was instructed to do after a safety session at IST) that I decided to really find out what was in the middle of my floor.  It was then I realized it was a tiny, orange scorpion (public thought is the smaller the more poisonous, but I don’t know how true that is).  I think it had fallen from my roof because it had a spider web stuck to it.  It hit it with some cardboard and it took off.  Those suckers are fast.  I threw the cardboard on top of it and it thankfully stopped.  Then I calmly swept it out my door into the night.  I didn’t even have to have my host dad come and deal with it.  How’s that for integrating?  My host mom said she found a really big one in her house last week.  Uhg, I hope that’s the only one I have to deal with.  A fellow PCV was stung by one a few weeks ago and her foot swelled up twice its size but she is fine now.  Still I don’t care to find out first hand what a scorpion sting feels like.

This same day I was also informed that a snake killed the female turkey on my homestead.  No one saw it but they found her dead in the field as if she died mid-run.  She was nesting so my host mom had to transfer her eggs to a chicken to sit on.  We have dozens and dozens of baby chicks right now.  More chicken = more snakes.  But we finished plowing our fields and they say that helps keep snakes away because they prefer living in bushes and vegetation.  We are advised to keep chickens away from our huts and many of my fellow volunteers warned me to keep Penny out of my house.  I told them not to worry; she has her own house.  She really does and she insists on sleeping on a bed.  I have started calling her Princess Penny.

Here is a rundown on all the wonderful snakes here in Swaziland:

Black Mamba (imamba): grey body, black mouth, lifts head and hisses before striking, poisonous.
Green Mamba: green body, long and slender, likes orange trees and humidity, poisonous.
Puff Adder (Libululu): short and fat, rough scales, triangle shaped head, strikes in S position, poisonous.
Gabbon Adder: diamond shaped head, has long fangs and clings to bite, poisonous.
Spitting Cobra (Phemphetfwane): brown with black-scaled edges, spits in a circular motion without raising its head, poisonous.
Python (inhlatfu): Can get to 6 meters long, coils and squeezes pray to death, not poisonous.
Boomslang (lidloti): green body, long and slender, very large eyes, very poisonous – you’re dead in 24 hours.

Who is coming to visit now?

Swazis when they see a snake they decide that it must be killed rather then back away from it as us PCVs are instructed to do.  Their method of killing is the classic stick or stone beating.  Imagine throwing rocks at a very poisonous and now very angry snake hoping that it will die before it bites you.  Doesn’t make much sense but hey what do I know; all MN has had to offer me in 24 years was a Garter snake.

Turkey Day

November 24th, 2011

This year I am Thankful for the U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland. 

For the third year in a row, he invited the entire American community to his house for Thanksgiving dinner.  There were around 100 people there: the entire Embassy staff, their families, the PCVs and PC Staff, American students attending Waterford High School (one of the most prestigious High Schools in Africa), and Fulbright scholars.

It was so nice.  We had a real Thanksgiving meal with turkey and mash potatoes and pie.  It really felt like Thanksgiving even though we are half way around the world.

It also helped that Mbabane decided to throw us some fall like weather and gave us a cool, crisp day.  From what I hear between your warm Thanksgiving and my cold Thanksgiving we may have had the same temperature.

I of course I fell into a turkey coma once we got back to our training center and the poor kitchen staff had to store dinner in the fridge because none of us could possible eat another meal.

It was sad to be away from family this Thanksgiving but my Peace Corps family was great company!!

No Black Friday however… oh shem (a siSwati word pronounced shame and used as many forms of expression like wow, whoa, no way, really, too bad).

IST: In Service Training

November 19th-25th, 2011

IST marks the end of our three-month integration period.  The mighty fine group 9 gathered in Mbabane for a grueling 5-day training session.  We debriefed our first three-months, learned how to apply for funding, practiced filing out our trimester reports, and met representatives from local NGOs and government organizations that can assist us on our future projects.  We had sessions from 8:00am to 5:00 or 6:00pm most days, which is a much more intense schedule then I am used to.  After the first day I couldn’t even sleep because my brain was so energized.  I had had more brain activity that day then I think I’ve had in three months.  The last two and a half days was an all-volunteer conference with Group 8 and Group 7 extenders.  We elected our members of PSN (Peer Support Network – who you call when having a break-down), VAC (our official group reps to the office), and Sojo (our newspaper editors).

Honestly, the best part of the whole thing was… the showers.  We stayed in a dorm like hall but I felt like I was in a palace.  The showerhead is situated at my shoulders and the warm water was either scolding or freezing but once you got the temp figured out it was the best shower of my life.  After three months in the field I have come to appreciate the shower as one of man’s best inventions.  It also helps that Mbabane is in the Highveld, which is much cooler then Malindza, so I wasn’t sweating all the time.  I could shower and feel clean all day, it was amazing.

The second best thing about IST is that I didn’t have to cook one meal or wash one dish.  I gained at least 5 lbs because I was eating three very full meals and sitting all day.  My host sisi even said I looked as of I’ve gained weight and I couldn’t even be offended because I new it was true.  However, it was weight gained in a state of bliss because I know it will be another 4 months before I can overindulge like this again.  No OCB or Chinese Lunch Buffet to fatten up on here.

The third best part of IST was the social life.  It was so great to see all the volunteers again.  It felt like being at college again and I loved every minute of it.  We had late night movie parties, went out dancing one night, celebrated a birthday by seeing how many adults we could fit into a 15-passenger van (its 30 by the way), and just socialized like old friends.  We are old friends by now in our sixth month here in Swaziland.  Hard to believe it been half a year already, it really does go by fast.

Overall it was a great week.  It was a much-needed break from village life and refueled me to continue with my work in my community and gave me the tools to start new projects. 

Snap Moment (when I give myself snaps for getting something accomplished):
Malindza High School (where I have my Health Club) had applied to participate in a Peace Corps and Books for Africa sponsored library project.  Addy and I found out at IST that the High School was selected as one of the participants, so we will be getting a shipment of 1,500 books next spring (your spring, my fall) to supplement the library and our librarian will get some further training.  It is all very exciting.