Friday, September 23, 2011

New Family, New Name, New Perspective on Self-worth!

September 14th, 2011

Now that I am one week into my new site, I can say without a doubt that I have found a new home here in Swaziland.  My first site left me craving the comforts of my training host family; longing to feel apart of a family.  My new family has proven that I could feel at home again!

My host Make (mom) is so welcoming.  She lets me help her cook, while we swap stories of working in a coffee shops and talk about how the Mediterranean culture enjoys life so much.  They work hard and play hard.  She worked for a family from Cyprus for 14 years and was exposed to their culture.  She has an amazing worldview that I have yet to encounter in another Swazi and a desire to make herself, her family, and her community better!!  She takes me around and introduces me to everyone.  It’s a comfort; I know I am safe here because the community has embraced me as one of their own.  As a relative, a neighbor, a friend, and its only been a week.  The rapid pace in which I have become known here is surprising but I like it.  I walk down the path and I hear my name shouted across the field as neighbors wave at my passing.  I was walking with my counterpart today and everyone we came upon greeted me and he said, “Tengetile, you are very popular.”

Tengetile is my new Swazi name.   Tengetile: Ten-ge-tea-lay.  It means to add more girls to a family.  I have five host sisters and only one host brother.  My host mom said she is glad she was blessed with so many girls; she doesn’t know what to do with boys.   She is already joking that she wants to have me tekked.  Teka (taga) is the traditional way of getting engaged.  The woman is literally kidnapped in the middle of the night by the women of the boyfriend’s family.  She is stripped down naked and put into a kraal (a small structure built of sticks that usually holds animals, it is also the name of a gathering place) where she is to stay until she cries.  The women stand around and sing sad songs to inspire tears, and if she doesn’t cry they throw cold water on her.  It sounds awful, but women here are excited to do it.  They say they cry because they are so happy to be getting married.  In order to be teka'ed, a labola price needs to be agreed upon.  That is the amount of cows the girl’s family gets for her.  I asked my host mom how many cows I am worth.  She said 25!!  I said that was a lot and she said it is because I am educated and will be worth more to my husband.  She said she would put them on a boat and send them to my parents in America where they can sell them and become millionaires.  What do you think the city of Shoreview would do if they got a call saying the Leech’s have 25 cows in their backyard? One cow here is worth between 3,000-4,000 emalengeni.  That is $21,000-$28,000 per cow.  So that means I am worth $525,000 on the low end and $700,000 on the high end.  Not a bad deal at all!

It was all in good humor.  Don’t worry mom I am not getting teka'ed here.

Once a girl is teka'ed she is free to live as if married with her husband and starts a family.  The paying of the Labola can take years and years, and the traditional wedding wont take place until the Labola is paid.  My host mom and dad didn’t get their traditional wedding until 2005 after raising 6 children.

Extreme Makeover: Hut Edition

September 13th, 2011

A large part of the three-month integration process is nesting in your new home.  Doing anything to make it “yours,” a place that will be your retreat when the day gets tough, a place to escape and just be the you, you are most comfortable with.  Thankfully here in Swaziland we have some fun options to spruce up your hut!!

Number one fun option: paint!
Its not glamorous paint by any means but its color, its cheap, and it eats up many unfilled hours.  From the selection of eight paint colors I chose the color rose, which tuned out to be more of a light plum, but I love it.  My hut is hexagonal in shape, which many of my fellow PCVs now call the sextagon.  Now get your mind out of the gutter, that name has no sexual connotations.  I accidently called it a sextagon when I was searching for the word hexagon.  I blame my German language training for that one.   Anyways it came painted cream on the inside so I have painted every other wall rose, and left the three walls with windows cream so its not too dark.  My host mom does sewing out of her home for extra income so I am hiring her to make me curtains for the three windows to add some more color.

It is fun making a home here.  It also helps emotionally.  I now have a place where I can express myself, a sanctuary where I can let my guard down.  It’s really quite cozy.  I’m kind of in love with my hut! 

Creepy Crawlers

September 11th, 2011

Here in Swaziland I hadn’t encountered anything strange or unusual in the creepy crawler department.  That was until yesterday. 

To start my day I was taking down one of my lihiya that I am currently using as curtains.  As I was folding it up something flew out and scurried across the floor and around my bed.  I chased after it to see what it was and found the largest spider I have ever seen.  It was the size of my palm, with thick long legs.  It tired to seek refuge under my bed.  Wishing I could just leave and deal with it later I just stood in fear for a few minutes.  Then my adrenaline kicked in and I quickly shoved my bed over and trapped it under a bowl.  I then ran to my Babe (host dad) and made him come and kill it.  He brought a mop with and scooted it outside and them pounded it to death with the end of the mop handle.  He said it was a good thing we killed it, he thinks its poisonous.  Well great.  But he assumed it came in through the window seeking a cooler place to hide from the scorching African sun.  So just don’t leave my windows open was his suggestion.  I am going to makeshift some screens out of old mosquito nets so I wont literally bake in my tin roof hut once it gets above 100°F.

To end my night, I was sitting enjoying the setting sun with some of the men and boys on my homestead.  One got up rapidly and stomped on something.  He said it was a “wife snake,” an ncobe umfati, and it needed to be killed because it was poisonous and would kill you by the end of the day if bitten.  Awesome… not.  I haven’t quite figured out what a wife’s snake is as it was small and unidentifiable once squished.  They couldn’t explain to me better then a wife’s snake as to what it was.  I assured them I was going to die here in Africa and they just laughed and said no poisonous things are not what kill people here.  They are probably right on that one.  I don’t know if that should comfort me or if it’s a sad reminder of the great effect of HIV/AIDS here.

Round Two

September 9th, 2011

So we can’t win them all. 

I was given a difficult site placement.  I was warned before I arrived a month ago and I gave it a good fight, but some things are just not meant to be.  After a near mental break-down, serious loss of identity, and a month running into brick walls after every attempt to make it work I gave in and excepted the loss.  I moved sites two days ago.


It was the best decision I ever made.  Why I fight my intuition sometimes I don’t know, but I am thankful for Peace Corps for identifying that there was a problem, convincing me that I wasn’t the one to blame for the whole mess, and helping me move on. 

So about my new site:

I now live in a town called Malindza.  It is in the Lobombo region, which runs along the eastern side of the country.  It is about 20-30 min east of my previous site.  It is hot here.  Already gets up to 95 F and its only the very beginning of spring.  It very much looks like Africa here, acacia trees, flat dusty landscape.  Thankfully there is a strong wind to help with the heat.  I am a 10-minute walk down a tiny dirt road from a main tar road.  It’s a peaceful walk to good transportation.  From here I can travel west to Manzini (large city), or east to Siteki or Simunye.  I have never been to Siteki but will be going to Simunye quite a bit for the following reasons:  One it’s a great central meeting point for me and other PCVs in my area, two you drive through the Royal Game Park where I had my first African elephant sighting, and three they have a Country Club with a pool, free Wi-Fi, and good food.  All that and I can get groceries so its totally worth it!! 

There is also another Health volunteer from my group in the community next door.  We will actually share counterparts so we have a great opportunity to work together on projects!  We have chatted and we have some great leads and ideas of things to do in the community. 

My new family is great and much bigger then the last, which was a large part of why the last site didn’t work.  I have a host mom, dad, five sisters, and a brother.  Only one of the sisters still lives on the homestead and the others are in and out.  There are several OVC (orphan and vulnerable children) neighbor boys who my family takes care of so they are around all the time so there is always someone to talk to!  They speak good English but are really good about helping me with my siSwati.

The day I decided to move is the day I saw the two elephants!  Ganesha, the Hindu deity, is symbolized by an elephant and is the remover of obstacles and lord of beginnings!! So here’s to new beginnings!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back to the Future

September 4th, 2011

Frances Mayes once wrote, “Travel pushes boundaries.  […] – the own-little-self is unlocked from the present and released to move through layers of time.  It is not 2006 all over the world.  So who are you in a place where 1950 or 1920 is about to arrive?”

Swaziland is definitely not in 2011, so where are they?  As I continue to get to know this place, I’ve realized that I’m not really sure what era Swaziland is in and it can drastically make finding your place here difficult.  Swaziland has this confusing way of shifting through the eras.  I am sure its close proximity to South Africa and extreme economic inequality provides some answers as to why Swaziland displays characteristics of many eras all at once. 

In one moment I am in future 2011.  I can be standing in a clothing store with AC and a live DJ playing the latest hit from America that I have never heard.  Hence why I call it future 2011, because it hasn’t happened in my world yet.  This whole experience still feels like a big trip, and you know how your life back home stops in your mind until you return and then you pick it back up.  I’m still trying to except that a lot will change in two years back home.

Anyways, as soon as I walk out of that store I am thrown from future 2011 into 1970 where women are trying to exercise their right to wear pants, students are exercising their rights to fight for what they want, and the possibilities of the developed future seems possible.  Once I leave the “big city” and am back at my homestead I help my host mom and sister make dinner on a wood burning stove while my host brothers chop firewood and I’m in 1890 western frontier; images of Laura Ingles Wilder flashing in my brain.  Then I sit down for a Swazi dinner and find myself in the turn of the 20th century, where gender roles are so defined by tradition.  Men are served first, literally on a silver platter (ok so its usually plastic but a platter none the less).  Finding my place as a woman in this scene is foreign and uncomfortable.  Then as I get ready for bed by candlelight I hear the distant preaching of an evening church service.  Not sure for the reason of the service, but I’m instantly in the middle ages, where the voice of God gives fear and meaning to life.  Where concepts of art, literature, and music for music stake (not for worship) are portals to sin. 

In one day I can travel through hundreds of years of development.  Outside of Disney World I haven’t been through that many decades in a day, and sadly time travel here doesn’t end with fireworks or a heart full of magic.

I am left wondering where do I fit?  Who am I in each of those settings?   Just figuring it out is exaughsting.  Add in the language barrier, it is no wonder that as soon as 8:30pm hits I am so mentally drained I can’t fight sleep.  I feel like an iguana, every changing to fit in with my surroundings, hoping that I changed just enough to not stand ourtcompletely.

Going to the Homestead, and we’re going to get married

September 3rd, 2011

Swazi Traditional weddings.  One of the great things here.
I was invited to one in my community on the homestead of another volunteer.  Preparation takes days, as any wedding does.  Family from all over the country come to stay at the homestead to help with the endless cooking required to feed everyone.  Days before, Mahewu (Ma-hey-u, a corn meal drink) and traditional Swazi beer are brewed in giant quantities.  The actual wedding takes place over the weekend.  The husband’s family host while the wife’s enter family comes onto the homestead as well.

A cow slaughter kicks of the events as any good celebration does here.  It is dismembered and dispersed to be cooked over the braai (br-eye), aka BBQ.  We (meaning the other volunteer and I) were literally given a hunk of cow and told to go cook it for ourselves.  It’s actually delicious!  It gets coated in some seasoning and then cooked on a grate over the open fire.  I once paid $30 to do that at a restaurant in America and honestly it tasted better here.  The bride’s family and the Bridegrooms family at this point had their separate braais.  You are allowed to bounce from one to the other to socialize but most people I noticed stuck to their family.

At lunch time everyone come together and all the women of the husband’s family (aka the hosts, ourselves included) gathered trays and served lunch to everyone.  Lunch consisted of liphalishi, rice, spinach (that I got a blister from cutting all morning), potato salad, cole slaw, and beef that was stewed to taste like pot roast. 

After lunch the real fun began.  Everyone switched into their traditional Swazi attire.  We donned our emahiya for the event and gathered to watch an afternoon full of dance and ceremony.  The bride’s family started the event by dancing in the bride.  She wore a traditional outfit of a feathered headdress, cow’s tail tunic, and what I think was a felted cowhide skirt.  I thought she was a traditional healer until someone told me it was the bride.  I wasn’t expecting white dress, but wasn’t expecting that outfit either.  Once she was danced in, the women all formed a line in front of the crowd and lead the songs and dance after song and dance.  They stomped in rhythm to the songs and the bride dances between them and the guests watching.  People took turns  to come up and dance with her.  I am sure there is a precise order to all of this but as an outsider I just watched and enjoyed in my state of ignorance.  We were lead up twice to dance with the bride.  Once we just stood by her, hunched over, stomped our feet fast and hollered, which I was told was a way of celebrating with her.  The second time was for the dollar dance.  Yes Swazi’s have a dollar dance!  People go up to the bride, dance with her and tack bills to her headdress.  Eventually oranges are passed out and throughout the dances people go up and give the orange to the bride and groom as a gift.

At one point the bride danced over to the grooms family escorted by the females of her family.  Then she danced back to the other side with the males of her husband’s family.  I assume this was the transfer from one family to the other.  Then her and her husband danced from one side of the field to the other together.  Some drums were brought out and some high kicks where done.  It was now after 5:00pm and I needed to leave to get home before dark.  However the men of the husband’s family were just lining up and doing some dancing of their own as the brides bed (a straw mat and blanket) were transferred to the homestead from the camp that her family had set up on the lower field.  I am sure the party went on all night.  I know another meal was coming, and I was insisted to come back on Sunday for more dancing as I left. 

I couldn’t make it on Sunday, but I was so glad I got to participate in this event.  It was fun, the singing is always enjoyable, and I met so many people.  You can’t help but feel Africa at events like this.  It’s so rich in tradition and spirit.  A great day here in the Kingdom!

Umhlanga Part Two

August 29th, 2011

The last and final day of the Reed Dance was today.  This is the dancing day.  All the troops assemble again and march into the stadium on the royal residence.  It reminded very much of a Native American Pow-Wow.  They come in on one end of the stadium, and circle around as a grand entrance, all while singing and dancing.  There is estimated to be 60,000-80,000 maidens and they just kept on coming.  It took 2 hours just to get them all into the stadium.  Once they enter they fill in the stadium in rows and begin a whole group dance of some sort.  I have no idea how they know what to do, but some will separate from their line and move forward to dance.  The dances were less energetic then yesterdays but we may have left before the main event happened.  The setting sun required us to leave early again, but the purpose of this day is to dance for the King.  When we were leaving the red carpet was just being rolled out for the King to, I assume, enter the field. 

All in all it was a fun cultural experience.  Many other PCVs were there so it was fun to experience it with them.  As much as I like seeing the real side of a country, its nice to just be a tourist once in a while.

Umhlanga Part One

August 28th, 2011

Umhlanga, or Reed Dance, is my replacement for the MN State Fair this year.  It’s one of Swaziland’s major holidays.  The explanation point at the end of winter.  Five days of Fun.  A Cultural experience.

Maidens, previously virgins (now you only have to be a maiden, meaning you are childless), from all over Swaziland come together to present reeds to the Queen and dance for the King.  Maidens from each community go and cut Reeds and travel to Lobamba, the Royal Capital of Swaziland.  I’m not sure what goes on the first 3 days but on the fourth day they assemble by community and present the reeds that they cut to the Queen at her residence. 

Today was that day.  We watched as each troop lined up for the presentation.  They assemble by rows, each maiden carrying her reed bundle that is three times here height.  They sing in unison and step dance to the beat of their song.  They wear traditional Swazi attire.  A beaded mini skirt that just barely covers the bum (sometimes not even) is worn on bottom, and a sash with huge tassels of yarn on top.  The tatas are fully exposed and many maidens wear beautiful beaded necklaces.  Bright colors are a must and some even have shiny beads for a little extra bling.

Their song and dance was rhythmic and hypnotic.  All the reeds swayed together as the amount of troops escalated.  After a few hours the line of troops stretched at least a mile.  The air was alive with excitement.  Some of these girls have come here year after year and for other this will be their first and only reed dance experience.  I would never be caught dead so physically exposed, but you couldn’t help feel the draw of wanting to be involved.  To be part of something, the friendship, the excitement, the culture; I got the feeling that this could be the Swazi equivalent to girls summer camp.  As the tourist crowd also grew you could see how pride these girls had in showing off their culture.  They began to showcase their dances, which features the high kick.  The high kick requires one to take all the energy from every part of your body and thrust your leg up at far as it will go, and bring it down in a whip of rhythmic thrust, beating the ground.  It is extremely impressive.

We didn’t get to see them progress into the royal residence to present the reeds as we had to leave to make it home before dark (really quite annoying when it get dark at 5:30pm).  But we walked along the line of troops on the way out.  Hoping that we had cameras many groups stopped us and asked us to take their picture.  They of course wont get to keep the photo but taking it and looking at it was fun for them, and, whether they realize it or not, it is way of preserving their culture.

Quote of the Day:
A simple observation I made while at the reed dance
“There is something coming.  It’s on a stick.  I think it’s a head.”
It was a head.  A bull’s head.  Severed from its body, a stick strung through its mouth and out the neck, being carried to who knows where.  We watched several parade by as we ate lunch. 

Things to do in your Hut after dark when you don’t have electricity

August 24th, 2011

Ok so not having electricity is an adventure, but having lots of time on your hands makes you get creative, and go a little insane.  I sometimes feel like Tom Hanks in castaway; lots of time, no one to talk to, not really sure how to live in this new environment.  But you make do and come up with ways to entertain yourself.  Here are some things I do:

-Read!  A lot, it’s probably the last time in life that I will have so much time to just read.
-Make dinner and eat by candlelight (insert scene from Shrek)…very romantic
-Watch movies on the good old laptop if it has any battery left.
-Think of names for your future pets.  A future cat will be named Sidwashini.  I’ve also named the two additional lizards that I discovered.  Pascal was the first, now I have Leonardo and Giuseppe also.
-Rewrite lyrics to well-known songs that describe your life (look for some in future posts).
-Rehears your plan of action for escape from the next bug or snake that you encounter.
-Meditate, aka just sit there and try not to think.  Thinking always leads to a panic attack so its best to just skip that part.
-Write letters.  Really I have written a lot of you letters but my ability to actually get them in the mail isn’t very good.
-Write blog posts... haha can you guess what I did tonight.
-Practice siSwati a real boring option but an option non-the-less
-Count the number of grass straws used to make your thatched roof… j/k I don’t do this but I’m might someday
-Evening dream, like daydreaming but in the dark.  Usually I do this when its 7:30pm and I want to go to bed but feel its much to early so I get in bed and evening dream until a reasonable hour to sleep (so like 8:00pm, which is totally reasonable).
-Come up with an exercise plan that I will get to one day (some things never change) 

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

August 20th, 2011

Never in my life have I been on such an emotional rollercoaster.  Not even middle school can compare to my ever-changing mood swings.  One minute I have never felt happier and within 10 minutes I am having a quarter life crisis.  I’ve become so manic that I feel like Dr. Jeckal and Mr. Hyde.  One moment I am seriously breaking-down and the next I’m content.   And to make it worse I have all the time in the world to sit and ponder those emotions.

It’s an awful feeling.  Sitting with yourself, deeply analyzing your every trait to the point of self-destruction.  Then you remember that everyone around you has troubles that are so heavy you can’t even think about what it would be like to hold them.  In a blink of an eye your mental state whips into a downward spiral of self-doubt entwined with anger for even wasting the time on such a trouble as emotional happiness when you could be using your brain towards how to help others.  You know you’re here to help but have no idea how and can’t find peace to sooth your worries.  You hit rock bottom with a thud of guilt.  Loneliness slaps you across the face and tells you, you deserve it.  If you hadn’t spent so much time thinking about your emotional state maybe you would have a friend.  Then thud you fall to the sub basement of rock bottom with another thud of guilt.  Its dark down there.  You lie there with only the sound of your own breath letting you know that you’re still alive.  It’s hard to get up but you do with of the last ounce of self-respect you can find and the thin, thin hope that once you get up you will find something to lean against.  Something that makes everything seem worthwhile.

Good news is there is a ying to that yang.  Ying (said with a same positive flair as zing) is the opposite of that awful feeling.  It that moment when life is so justified you could burst with happiness, self-worth, and warmth.  This is the moment when everything is bathed in a golden ray of light and you notice just how beautiful the tiniest detail is.  Those moments, here in Africa, when you make that connection with someone, you set a goal and accomplish it, you learn something new.  During these moments the world is still and calm and thankfully so is your mind.  Its like your brain puts its game face on and says bring it on world, I’m ready to deal with whatever you got.  You find solutions to problems so fast you don’t have time to emotionally process that you had a problem.  You have an armor of endorphins to back you up.   And endorphins make people happy, and happy people don’t just shoot their husbands.

Its one extreme to the other.  Its so back and forth it can make you nauseous… literally.  Perhaps I have experienced these intense emotion before, but never this raw.  Never have I ever not had something to cover them up with, never have I ever had to acknowledge their existence.  Now, after the completion of a quarter century of life, I am listening to life itself. 

I wonder if this is what ever single Peace Corps Volunteer feels.  Sometimes it’s so hard to believe that it gets better.  Everything seems impossible at this point.  Everything is so foreign.  You just want to run and honestly I can’t believe more people don’t.  They say this is “the hardest job you’ll ever love.”  It’s hard, that is the most honest statement I’ve ever made.  But love.  Where is it?  When does it come?  I was so confident that my global perspective, open-mindedness, and love of discovering new cultures would support me without a doubt through this.  But it’s not.  Is it the way PC is set up?  Is it Swaziland?  Is it just plain loneliness?  Is it adjustment?  Whatever it is it sucks.  This feeling right now sucks.  I hope, hope, hope, hope that it gets better.  PC wouldn’t exist if it never got better right?

Hopefully I haven’t depressed all of you in my venting.  As I hope all of you have seen in my previous posts I have felt the love here, I have just temporarily lost it.  Like the loss of any love it takes an adjustment period to find your balance again.  At least that’s what I am telling myself.