Friday, August 26, 2011

Hello Luve

August 18th, 2011

I think I walked at least 10 miles today.  I am lucky to share a community with another PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer).  She is an education volunteer and I am a Health volunteer but we both live in this giant community that I am not really sure where the boundaries are.  I will be working within the community mostly and she will be mostly in one of the primary schools.  We are about an hour walk apart so this morning I walked to her and one of her host sisters walked us around Ekutsimuleni (E-koot-sim-moo-len-ie).  I can’t ever pronounce that name so I always just call it Luve, which is what the actual “town” is called.

Luve (pronounced Lue-vay) town reminds me of a mix between an old western town and a 19th century midwestern pioneer town.  It has a few general stores where you can buy canned food, sugar, flour, and basic household supplies.  You can also buy cold coke in a bottle for 3 rand or about $.40.  It never thought I would enjoy a coke so much.  The advertisements that advertise opening a bottle of Coke as opening a bottle of happiness are so true.  A bottle of Coke can simply make my day.

Anyways we walked all around and I was able to find many key points in the community and met many people.  My favorite place was the community garden that was established for HIV positive people to be able to grow their own vegetables and sell the surplus.  A church funded it and many NGOs and the Coke Cola Company (not just refueling PCVS) contribute in some way.  Coke donated three solar panels that pump water up from the ground so the garden can be watered.  We met the cutest old lady who had the most beautiful vegetables growing.  She was so nice and answered all our questions and invited us back to teach us how to garden.  I hope I can be involved with this garden some how in the future!

And let me talk about the view.  Holy cow is it amazing.  Rolling plains nestled in between mountains.  Spring is just on the brink of starting so trees are beginning to flower.  I can’t wait to see what it looks like in full bloom!  An hour walk is amazing when you have this view to accompany you!!  

Home Sweet Home: Day 1

August 12th, 2011

After the excitement from being in the city we were thrown into the stillness of volunteer life.  The day after swear-in we packed up out lives again and moved into our communities.  I had read about this day, when you get dropped off and you watch the PC vehicle drive away and you get hit with this intense feeling of loneliness, but I still wasn’t prepared.

That initial moment when the car left I wasn’t feeling like OMG what now, I had too much unpacking to do.  It is now 5 days later and I am finally thinking, what am I doing?  Where do I start?  How do I start?  Can I do this?  Will it get better?  Am I on the right track?  Am I screwing up?

I keep reminding myself, its week one and that week one in my host community felt the same way but I ended up loving it there.  It’s just a daughting task to think about the next two years and knowing that nothing will happen until I make it happen.  But how do I make it happen?  My mind shifts rapidly from feelings of “I can’t wait to start”; to thinking “I am never going to be able to do anything here.”  One moment I’m feeling like I’m integrating fabulously and the next I’m cursing the rat that is trying to get into my hut and wishing for the comforts of home. 

My new family is nice.  They speak great English, which is a blessing and a downfall.  However, they are small.  There are only three of them, a grandpa, a father, and a brother.  It similar to the size of my family in the states but I just moved out of a hectic 10 person family, which gave me comfort and something to do always.  It will take a while to adjust into a quieter life here.  I can’t wait for the day when I’ve found my niche, found a friend in the community, found a reason to get out of bed.  “It will come, give it time,” is what I tell myself.  Be gentle and patient and things will fall into place.

My living accommodations are nice.  It becomes cozier everyday, except I have a few friends that I don’t totally enjoy.  There are some rats, are at least one rat.  I haven’t seen him/them but I have spent many frozen moments hovering on my bed with a flashlight shining on the door because I can hear them trying to chew through the pillow I shoved under the door.  I have become paranoid and literally dream that someone is standing next to my bed ready to kill them if they crawl on me.  I also have a pet lizard that I have named Pascal.  Yes I know like in Tangled.  But I do feel like Repundzle.  I live in a round hut with a thatched spired roof.  I do my choirs by 7am, read my books, paint the walls (ok I only pretend), cook, brush my hair (ok not really), read the books again, and dream.  Its funny how much more relatable I can make Disney movies now and you all know how relatable I tried to make them before.  I don’t have electricity, but I do have a sink with running water and… wait for it… a toilet, an actual porcelain god inside my hut.  Hello posh corps, no biffs for this Biff!

PC in the City

August 10th, 2011

After our farewell from training we packed our lives onto a giant truck and moved to Mbabane, the Capital, for a few days.  Here we got acquainted with the city, found places to eat and shop, enjoyed a little nightlife, toured the PC Office and the most exciting part… got sworn in as official PC Volunteers (PCVs). 

This year is also PC’s 50th Anniversary so to commemorate they combined our swear-in ceremony with an anniversary ceremony.  It was a held at a fancy inn and several dignitaries were there.  The US Ambassador gave us our oath and swore us in and the Ministry of Health and the Prime Minister of Swaziland where there to shake our hands and congratulate us.  It felt kind of like a big deal and gave me a spark of excitement about getting started in our communities.  There were also many returned PCVs there who were recognized and our fellow group 8 and 7 PCVs attended to support and celebrate!

Many of us even dressed up in some traditional wear.  Traditional wear basically consists of two pieces of fabric wrapped around you; one on top and one on bottom.  They are called emahiya (or lihiya for just one), and my host Make (mom) gave me the top lihiya and a necklace as a gift to wear for swear-in.  It has the Kings portrait and his praise name on it.  I bought a patterned lihiya in Mbabane to wear on bottom and some earrings from the handy craft market and my outfit was set!

I went shopping for groceries right after and wore by tradition get-up since I had nothing to change into.  It gained me a lot of marriage proposals, some sniggering from teenagers, and many compliments from boMake (moms).  It’s not weird for people to wear these outfits out, just to see a westerner in them was exciting for the crowds.

So here starts my 730 day (that’s 2 years) adventure in Swaziland!

Goodbyes suck… period.

August 8th, 2011

So training is officially over.  We had to say goodbye to our host families and pack up all our stuff and move to the capital for a few days before going out to our permanent sites.

It was so hard to say goodbye to my host family.  I cried.  Not like a baby but there were tears.  I feel I need to dedicate this blog post to them so I am going to describe the members of my host fam in detail as a little tribute to them, because I want all of you to know them like I do!

Make Mamba (mom)
Make is a wonder woman.  She is a stay at home mom who raised eight children well!  Her husband works away so she literally manages the homestead single handedly, and she manages to find time to be very involved in her community.  She teaches Sunday school, helps run the NCP (National care point) where OVCs (orphan and vulnerable children) can go and eat perhaps their only meal for the day, and wakes up at 3am every morning to make buns that she sells at the schools for a little extra income.  She treated me just like another one of her children.  Called me out for not ironing my skirt or washing my shoes, and was willing to help me find a solution to any problem.  She taught me to wash my clothes, cook simple dishes so I wouldn’t starve, and was always dished me up food even when I insisted that I just ate.  She made me feel loved when my own mom was so far away.

Babe Mamba (dad)
Quite, gentle, funny, hard working.  Those are the words that describe Babe.  He goes for weeks at a time to work as a construction manager to provide for his family.  He has taught his sons to be kind, helpful, spiritual, and smart.  I can tell just by the quality of his homestead that he takes pride in his work.  The structures are well built, safe, clean, and the homestead is orderly, aesthetically pleasing and functional.  Even though I only saw him a handful of times while I lived there he always greeted me with a warm smile and helped me with my siSwati.  He even taught me a children’s rhyme to help me remember some words. 

Sandile (24)
Sandile is my creative brother.  He is musical and artistic; he likes to rap and sketch designs.  You can see his creativity when you look at him.  He is highly expressive and his eyes tell a lot.  We have had some great chats about religion, music, and dreams.  He was also my first FB friend from Africa!

Bongani (23)
Bongani is my sporty brother.  He wears the typical windbreaker pants and soccer polo or hoody.  He works construction and is very quite.  It took awhile, but eventually we began to open up to each other.  After a few weeks he would stop by my hut when he arrived home and greet me.  He was on team Make and would only speak to me in siSwati, which helped me improve! 

Lindiwe (21)
My sister from another mister.  I knew from the moment we met we would be friends.  Sometimes you can just tell.  I guess it was sister love at first site.  She has to most kind face, soft and gentle and eyes that are always welcoming.  She has been my greatest teacher in how to become a Swazi woman.  We laugh, watch movies on Saturday nights, have girl chat while doing our laundry, and listen to R&B music. 

Samu (19)
Samu is gorgeous.  She has the face of a model.  She also has a heart of gold.  She is kind and funny and willing to help me with anything!  I really started to appreciate her friendship in last few weeks.  Her smile is comforting and her presence calming.

Andile (17)
Andile and I never really talked.  He is quite around me.  Not shy, he is great with the younger girls and laughs a lot with the boys, but we never were able to connect verbally.  But it’s ok because we hung out a lot just by being in the same place at the same time (usually the kitchen) and I feel we created a weird acquaintance that we were both comfortable with.  Friends by association, with more time I feel we could have really warmed up to each other.

Thabo (16)
Thabo is my smart brother.  Don’t get me wrong they are all smart, but Thabo, he thrives on knowledge.  He is inquisitive, eager to understand and ask questions.  Starting week one we have had the best conversations about anything and everything.  He has an old soul, way mature for his age and we bonded immediately.  He gave me comfort just by being a friend when Swaziland was still a scary foreign place.  He helped when I got lost in translation, was the best siSwati tutor ever, and constantly made sure that I was surviving.  He allowed me to teach him about America and my life and he taught me so much about Swazis.

Tutu (11)
Tutu and my relationship is similar to Andile’s and mine.  We were friends by association, but I got this feeling that she was over my presence and the excitement it caused the family.  Maybe our shyness got the best of us, we never really found a way to connect outside of simple small talk.  Maybe she was the only one who realized that I am not as cool and interesting as everyone else thought I was.  Still I enjoyed her company.

Anele (7)
Anele is the trickster of the bunch.  Being the youngest she gets away with everything and has a wonderful sense of humor.  For example one night she finished the juice and filled the container back up with water so to trick the next person who went to pour some juice.  Lindiwe was the unfortunate recipient of the prank, but it sent the kitchen into stomach aching laughter.  Being 7 she also has some attitude in a harmless way.  She is really a great kid, loves hanging out with her older siblings, and always smiling at me.  She was the perfect person to practice my siSwati with, always spoke with the just the right speed and annunciation for me to understand without asking to repeat please a thousand times.

Did I mention that there last name is Mamba.  A creature feared by most.  My last name is leech, a creature feared by most.  Mambas, Leeches, so you see we are all just creatures feared by most.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Side Note

If anyone is looking at the Map I have under the Swaziland page I am currently living in Nhlangano in the South.  Next week I wil be moving just north of Manzini to Luve.  Manzini is a farily large city where I will do my shopping at once a week.  It will take me anywhere from 25-45 min. depending on who you talk to!  Nhlangano has been great!  They have a KFC with ice cream... and bathrooms!

Down on the Farm

I managed to spend 5.5 years in River Falls, Wisconsin and not become a farm girl.  I held steadfast to my city girl living in the county act, yet in the matter of 7 weeks in Swaziland I am now a self-proclaimed country girl! 

I help out on my host families homestead whenever I can.  I have raked cow manure, collected chicks, shucked maize, dug up sweet potatoes, and collected firewood from the mountain.  And by firewood I mean entire tree branches.  My host brother basically balanced on his shoulder a small tree all the way up and over the mountain (really just a big hill).  Unfortunately I am not that talented.  My Make (host mom) puts me to shame everyday with her strength.  I have a 5 gallon bucket that I fetch water with and drag back to my hut.  She can fill it, lift it up on top of her head and balance it back to my hut without even blinking.  Did I mention she is only about 4’10”. 

It is amazing how many more country songs I can relate to now or at least find a whole new meaning in.  For example: Sara Evans “Suds in the bucket;” Miranda Lambert’s “Famous in a small town;” Alan Jackson’s “Gone Country;” Sugarland’s “Small Town Jericho;” Keith Urban’s “Where the Blacktop Ends;” and B&D’s “Red Dirt Road” just to name a few.   

Aside from becoming a country girl I have also developed some new domestic skills; like hand-washing laundry.  It’s actually really hard and I am discovering new muscles every time.  Last weekend it took me 3 hours to wash my two weeks worth of clothes.  I literally rubbed my fingers raw, no joke.  There is this specific hand movement to hand washing that I am awful at, but its getting easier.  I usually wash with many of my host brothers and sisters so we chat and sing and enjoy the sunshine if it’s out, which makes the task worthwhile.  It is super windy here in winter so your clothes dry fairly fast on the line, however if you don’t get your emapegs (clothes pins) tight on the line your clothes fly off and into the dirt and you have to wash all over again.  Of course with my luck it is always the one white piece of clothing that flies off the line and into the red dirt.

I am also learning to cook.  I have a gas camping stove, two pots, one skillet, and one kettle that make up my “kitchen.”  Forget variety because there are not too many things that can be made (or at least that I can make), but I am being very Peace Corps Creative (PCC) with my meals.  I have perfected rice and am getting better at making liphalishi (maize meal porridge).  Eggs are essential to my diet and I have learned when in doubt sauté carrots and onions and add it to anything to make a meal taste good.  Its also avocado season right now so I eat them almost everyday.  For snacks I make popcorn a lot, roast peanuts, and make guacamole.  Some things I am going to try soon are lentil burgers, homemade spaghetti sauce, corn chowder soup, and pizza.  I can makeshift an oven on my stove, but my host family has a wood-burning stove so I can use that instead.

To answer my own question about how a tin roof sounds when it rains… well it sounds like a hurricane.  Not that I have experienced a hurricane, but when its 3:00am and you think that your hut just might blow down or loose the roof I assume is similar to a hurricane.  And it wasn’t even raining hard.  Just an average rain, a couple of inches maybe, but its so windy.  I can’t even imagine what a full-blown thunderstorm sounds like.  Thankfully my next hut that I will be moving to in August has a thatched roof so that will dull the sound a bit.  Aside from the noise my hut also leaked a bit; just along the seam of the tin.  I had to arrange my buckets to collect the water; thankfully my bed wasn’t located near the leaking area!

Anyways I am in my last week of training and sware-in to become an official volunteer is right around the corner.  Busy studying for my final proficency test in language, safety, culture, etc. and spending as much time with my host family as possible.  I am going to miss them so much.