Thursday, October 27, 2011

When It Rains It Pours

October 26th, 2011

Sometimes you sit waiting and waiting forever for something to happen and then when it does it happens better then you ever expected.

This was my sixth week at Malindza High School.  Most Wednesdays Addy and I sit in an either very hot or very cold crumbling counseling room entertaining ourselves with games of MASH, reading the Swazi Times, and talking to the few students or teachers that visit us throughout the day.  Its makes for some very long days of boredom and leaves us wondering why we even bother, but today our patience paid off.

Last week a teacher approached us and asked if we would join him in teaching a lesson on HIV/AIDS to his Form I and II (Grades 8 & 9) students.  We agreed of course and joined him today not really sure what to expect.  Non-direct Swazi communications could have left us with a classroom of kids and an hour and a half to teach them with no guidance, but this teacher was very professional and we taught the lesson together off of an outline he prepared.  It went so well!!  We were able to cover a lot of information and the students were really responsive and participated.  It felt really rewarding to be doing exactly what I am here to do – educate about HIV/AIDS.

We were suppose to teach a second class but a large majority of the students were sent home because they had yet to pay tuition so the second class was canceled due to lack of students.  A large thunderstorm also rolled in and by 2:30pm when our health club was suppose to start the majority of our members had run home before the rain started.  Addy and I were left with six boys so we scraped the planned activity and had an informal discussion with the boys on anything HIV related.  We thought hey lets take the opportunity to talk with the boys without having the girls around.  We covered male circumcision, being faithful, using condoms, and HIV testing.  It was totally awkward at first.  Some of these boys are 21 so it was like giving the sex talk to my brother, but after the first few minutes the boys really opened up and completely led the discussion for 40 minutes.  Every time I thought it was over someone would say I have one more question. We even got into a discussion on if the bible supports or discourages male circumcision. 

I have no way of knowing if anything we talked about will be adhered to but I think we have at least proved that we are trusted adults that these six boys can talk to.  HIV truly affects everyone here and sometimes I think the best way to help the situation is to just show people that they are supported.  Whether they are dealing with the virus themselves, taking care of a family member whose infected, or just want to help change the situation of their country, they can’t and shouldn’t have to feel they are doing it alone.  I think we proved to these six boys that we support them and maybe that’s all that really matters.

Like always the boys escorted us on the 25-minute walk home.  Not even 5 minutes into the walk it started to downpour.  I shared my tiny travel size umbrella with Noah, a six-foot tall boy who barely huddled under the umbrella with me.  Needless to say the only thing the umbrella did for me was give me an arm cramp and by the time we got to the main area, where we all go our separate ways, we looked like drowned rats.  Getting drenched in a rainstorm would normally make me really crabby but I may have potentially prevented 25 students from getting HIV so nothing could have made me crabby.  And after the 42°C weather we had on Sunday the cool weather was very much welcomed.  Like Noah said to me on the walk home, “the rain delivers us from the eye of heaven… that is the sun.”

Black Magic

October 21st, 2011

Black magic, or as its locally called muthi (moo-tee), is much to all Swazis dismay present here in Swaziland.

Of course no one has seen it but its here and is to blame for many trouble, like the current drought.  When having a conversation about this with a neighbor I smiled and told him to do a rain dance to call the rains.  He just stared at me and didn’t think my idea so funny.  Muthi is no laughing matter of course.  He then went on to explain that a witch doctor could even make lightening strike a person if he/she or someone else asked them to.  Swaziland does have a high rate of human lightening strikes so maybe my neighbor has a point.  He asked if there was white magic. 

I took this opportunity to explain the Salem Witch Trials and introduce the great American holiday Halloween.  I was having a hard time explaining this to other people but I finally figured out what to call it: A night of Muthi.  I explained we dress up in disguises to hide from the magic and children take the chance to collect treats rather then tricks, and we carve faces into pumpkins to scare off the evil spirits of the night.  Explaining it from the perspective of Swazi culture makes the whole holiday sounds bonkers, but I have never had a more superstitious desire to scare away evil spirits then I do here.  It must be all the muthi hanging about or the fact that the darkness of night is a really scary thing here.  Did I mention I live next to a graveyard?  Anyone up for an séance this Halloween?

Life Eswatini

My Hut!

It has been brought to my attention that perhaps you (the readers) don’t actually live here in Africa with me hahaha.  I of course know that but forget that some everyday things here that I don’t think to explain need explaining for you back home.  So here are some basics to living Eswatini (in Swaziland).

Lets start with basic ammentaties.  I live in a hexagon shaped hut (that means it has 6 sides).  It is approximately 10 of my normal walking steps wide.  It is made out of cinderblocks and cement.  The outside walls are painted cream except for a foot at the bottom, which is painted brown to show less dirt.  It is raised off the ground enough so I have to walk up two steps to enter.  It has a tin spirred roof.  There is no ceiling between the tin roof and the hut space so it makes the inside feel really big because the spire is really tall.  If that wasn’t an adequate description see the photo above for a visual.  Inside I have a tile floor.  Typical flooring is just cement but my family went the extra mile and had tile lain on top of the cement.  It makes my hut classy!  It has three windows so it’s bright and airy!  I have a real bed.  It’s about college dorm quality but its real and I bought fun sheets for it. 

My toilet is a pit latrine across the homestead.  It is a cinder block structure with a raised plastic toilet seat over a large hole.  It has a door with a piece of wire that you wrap around a nail to lock it while inside.  When it is windy there is a breeze that gives a whole new meaning to air-drying.  My shower is a bucket that I awkwardly wash my body in.  I have many methods as to this and depending on if I’m washing my hair my bucket bathing style changes.  However I have gotten it down to only having to use approximately half a small bucket of water to wash with.  I get my water from an outside tap on my homestead.  I fill up two 25-liter buckets every few days and lug them the 40ft to my hut but I don’t have to get it from a river so I am really thankful!!  Once I get my water I boil it, filter it, and then bleach it before I drink it.  Peace Corps gave me a water filter that can hold quite a bit so I can treat a lot of water at a time and continuously keep up with it so its not such a chore. 

I do have electricity (my original site that I was in for a month did not so sorry for the confusion)!!  My hut has one light bulb inside and an outlet so I can charge my computer, camera, and cell phone.  Peace Corps requires us to have a cell phone for security reasons and my cell phone here gets internet!  You have to pay for it so I only use it for facebook, which is basically free.  I can’t see photos on my facebook however because the price depends on how much info is downloaded and pics are really large so I have the photos turned off.  Having my computer is a blessing.  I have peace corps reports to write so it helps with that and I pre-write my blog post so I just have to upload them as to not waste internet time once I get to internet.  I get to internet about every two weeks.  I also store my photos on the comp so that’s nice and other PCVs brought tons of media that I have loaded onto my external hardrive.  I have had up to 10 people on my homestead crowd around my laptop for a Saturday night movie party.  Very fun!  I do pay my family each month for electricity use and water, since they have to pay for both monthly.

Grocery shopping is done mostly in Manzini (largest “city” near me) since they have full grocery stores with the most variety.  However I can get very basic stuff at my local corner store but its much more expensive.  The next community over has a decent small grocery store that you can get all the basics at more normal prices.  I go major grocery shopping every two-three weeks and supplement produce in between.  There are local produce stands run by women in my community and my family has a large garden that I can get produce from.  My family has a small refrigerator that they let me store some things in like cheese when I splurge to buy (its expensive for not a lot of product).  Things do go bad fast here when it’s hot so I have to really plan my meals out.  If I have leftovers, will they go bad before my next meal or not?

Laundry… there is a poster in the room at the high school that we hold our health club in that says, “Expose all your dirty laundry.”  It’s a poster to promote people to report sexual abuse within the family.  However, all my laundry that is dirty does get exposed as I do it outside for all to see.  On Average laundry takes me 3 hours.  It’s all done by hand in my trusty green bucket, which is none other then my bath bucket.  It’s a very multi-functional bucket.  Here is how laundry is done.  You soak your clothes in powdered laundry soap appropriately branded ‘Sunlight’ and then suds up each garment with green bar.  I have no idea what green bar is but its looks exactly like it sounds… a green bar of soap.   You buy and 1.5ft pieces and then just cut off chucks when needed; it’s amazing and gets very dirty clothes clean.  Each piece of laundry gets smothered in green bar and then hand scrubbed.  Then they each get rinsed twice unless you choose to use fabric softener then they get soaked in that after the 2nd rinse and then hung on the clothesline to dry.

I hope this helps paint a picture of life here.  The way everything has become familiar leaves me overlooking how unfamiliar they once were.  I am slowly forgetting how convenient things were back home as the time goes on.  I don’t know if that means that things are getting easier here or if I’ve just integrated that far that the inconvenience is no longer shocking.  I’ve stopped thinking how much easier tasks would be in the US and just do them as if that’s the way its been done forever.  Surprising how a forever can be created in just 4.5 months.  

Fighting Crime One Parade at a Time

October 15th, 2011

Today the Malindza community police joined together with the Royal Swaziland Police (RSP) and held a crime prevention campaign in my community.

The event took weeks and weeks of planning and was postponed twice but finally came together on this hot Saturday.  The campaign kick started with a march from Mpaka to the royal kraal in Malindza.  I joined in here and marched with the RSP and the rest of the community.  I even got there early so I got a great t-shirt that proves that I like to prevent crime.  We marched down the main road surprisingly led by the RSP band and the Malindza High School drill team.  I didn’t know what to expect but a marching band was not on my list of possibilities.  It was a legit parade.  The RSP blocked traffic while we marched and school groups sang songs while holding news headlines that warned against drunk driving (or drink driving as its called here) and speeding.  No one lined the streets waiting for emasweeties (candy) to be thrown but neighbors did wave us on as we passed their homesteads. 

We eventually made it to the Royal Kraal where large event tents had been set up.  The community assembled into seats and the real fun began.  For the next 4 hours there was an array of entertainment.  It was like the community found its spotlight and was not letting it fade until it had proven what it could do.  It pulled out all the stops.  Full sound system, live entertainment, and charity giveaways, the whole works.  The drill teams performed routines.  The school kids did some dramas (skits) about crime prevention.  Boys from the Mpaka schools displayed some high kick routines (traditional Swazi dances) that were led by the hypnotic beat of the drums.  This was my favorite part by far.  These dances are super impressive.  There was even a boy, I would guess around the age of 7, who did a solo and the crowd just roared with joy.  I was sitting behind a group of Gogos (grandmothers) who were having the time of their lives watching.  They were loving the dances and wailing with excitement.  The RSP band played a few pieces and a gospel group, dressed in shiny pleather suits, got the crowd moving with their upbeat songs of worship.  Several families living in poverty in the community were also given clothes, food, and bedding.  I am not sure who sponsored this but the families were really happy.

Swazi’s are so funny.  When they really liked a performance they would get out of their seats, dance up to the performers and throw down money.  Each time this was done the crowd went wild cheering on the giver.  It was really uplifting to see the whole community come together and be excited about something.  Life was present here.  The old, the young, and everyone in between were out celebrating.  It was like a town festival, all we needed was a corn dog.  And just when you thought the fun was over a giant rope was brought out and guess what they did with it… they played tug-of-war.  No joke; RSP vs. Community Police.  RSP won in a best out of three pull. 

The RSP then fed everyone afterwards.  It was such a fun day and made me realize that this community can come together to get something done.  You just have to spark that fire.  Now how to spark that fire on one of my projects? 

PB minus J

October 12th, 2011

Does anyone know how peanuts grow?  I know it seems like a dumb question, but they grow in the ground like potatoes.  I learned that here and never before had I asked the question “where do peanuts grow?”

Peanuts are a big part of Swazi cuisine.  They roast them for a snack, grind them up and cook it with spinach, and now my host Make makes peanut butter.  One day she saw another Make selling homemade PB in town and told me she wanted to learn.  I said I could teach her.  I really don’t know how since I have never done it, but I know how its done in theory.  So we ventured to the local market and bought a 1kg bag of peanuts.  Then we roasted them over the fire (my family cooks on an open fire every day but they also have a gas stove and wood burning oven that they use sometimes).  After letting them cool we shook the skins off and ground them through a hand grinder.  I have never gotten a better ab workout then grinding these peanuts.  We accidently over-roasted the peanuts so they ground up very dark, but it just makes roasted peanut butter.  Then we added oil, sugar, and salt, and boom we had peanut butter.

We have some things to tweak for the next batch, but we are learning by our mistakes.  We ended up with a large peanut butter container amount.  This amount cost E40 in the grocery stores and we made the same amount for E20.  It’s so economically smart to make it rather then buy it.  Most Swazis grow their own peanuts also so its basically free, unless you add in the labor and time cost, but it only took us like 1.5-2 hours and for a stay at home mom why not.  

Once we were done my Make was so happy.  She had no idea she herself could make peanut butter.  She kept saying she was so proud of herself and I said I was proud to!  I would never decide one afternoon to just make PB at home in the states, but here it just made sense.  Make eventually wants to perfect her recipe and sell it if she can find a market.

The Homestead of Misfit Boys

Like I mentioned in an earlier blog post, there are many OVCs around my homestead.  OVC stands for Orphan and Vulnerable Children.  This can mean that they are orphan by one or both parents, living in extreme poverty, and vulnerable to the harsh side of life.  Some are living with 10 of their siblings and cousins and being raised just by their elderly grandparent because its all they have left. 

My family has created sort of a refuge for some of these boys.  They come to eat and some sleep on the homestead on weekends and school breaks.  Behind every door I find beds and I am beginning to realize just how many of them are living here on and off.  I am starting to recognize them but I am still working on names.  They play soccer outside my hut and we are still kind of shy with each other but through simple greetings we are getting better acquainted. 

My favorite boy is named Wiseman, literally that is his name.  He is about 13 and everyone fondly calls him Bebeba (baybaya).  Whenever they yell for him is sounds like “hey Bebe” and I am reminded of that song that was uber popular about 4 years ago that goes “Hey Babe, hey Babe.”  I sing it to him whenever I see him now.  He has seen me struggle to haul my 25 liter barrels of water across the homestead and decided that he wants to help me because he can tell it’s hard for me.  Haha it is hard for me and I appreciate his help a lot.

Last night there was a soccer game on TV, Pirates vs. Sundowns.  Like eight boys show up in the doorway wanting to come in and watch.  Make (host mom) was adamant that they must bathe first after having played soccer all day in bare feet.  She had to tell them to bathe like 3 times before they went off.  As they left she shakes her head and says, “African children always dirty.  They hate to bathe, its like they are scared of the water.”  I must be an African child.  I hate bucket bathing too.

Wiseman is in the middle

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Broken Dishes and Good Luck

Yesterday I thought a would be helpful and clear the table after dinner.  This was actually the first time I had ever eaten at a table for dinner here in Swaziland.  So I picked up my and my Babe’s (host dad) plates to take into the kitchen and as I turned a plate went crashing to the floor.  I froze, cringed, and braced myself for the wave of fury I was expecting from my host family.  I had just broke one of their dishes after all because I wasn’t being careful.  It was a nice plate that doesn’t come out everyday.  I was so embarrassed and immediately scrambled to pick up the shards and sweep the mess away hoping it would erase the disaster.  In my haste I suddenly realized I wasn’t in trouble.  Everyone just sat there and as I humbly said my apologies they just looked at me and said “its good luck, Tengetile you have good luck today.” 

In Swazi culture when you drop a dish and it breaks it means that evil was on its way to harm you, but the dish broke and chased it away.  The harm that was to come to me would not because another force sent the dish crashing in order to scare it away.  I was not scolded for not being carful or clumsy.  I was not blamed for one less dish in the cabinet.  Today I was lucky and no harm would get me.

My Make (host mom) seeing my reaction to the broken mess asked if it was not the same in American culture.  I shook my head and said, “No broken dishes are not a good thing in America.”  She smiled and said “sit, we will clean in the morning.”

Build a Table: earn one LIFE tile!

October 1st, 2011

To continue with the extreme makeover of my hut I have gotten my first piece of furniture.  A 5ft long table that will make up my “kitchen.”

I built it with my bare hands, a hammer, some nails, and the much-appreciated help of my neighbor volunteers Ryan and Addy!

We bought the wood at the hardware store in the next community over (Mpaka), where Addy and Ryan live.  Then we transported the supplies on the bus to Malindza and hauled the wood on the 10-minute walk to my homestead. 

It only took three hours on a cloudy Saturday afternoon.  Ryan and his mad sawing skills, Addy and her perfectly straight hammering skills, and me with my two extra hands nailed piece by piece until miraculously a table was built.  I had no idea how to build a table going into this project but somehow it just threw itself together.  We had to scavenge for some scrap wood to reinforce the legs, and worked our way through using the entire evolution of hand saws, but in the end we had a sturdy table that wasn’t going to fall apart as soon as I tried to use it.

Not only did I physically build a table with no power tools, no measuring tape, or table building know-how, but I also did it in a skirt.  Impressive huh?  Of course my host Sisi had to show me up; she helped build not only in a skirt, but also with her 6 month old son strapped to her back.

By dinnertime I was able to prepare my meal for the first time not while sitting on the floor, but actually standing at a table.  Oh the little things in life. 

P.S. I also got my curtains made!!  They are perfect and aside from the whole principle of privacy they add a nice homey and decorative touch to my hut!  All I have left is to build a desk/bookshelf, and some sort of closet so I can get my books and clothes off the floor. 

Meet Penny

September 29th, 2011

I become the proud owner of a baby chick this week!  I have named her Penny.  Like Henny Penny, the sky is falling.

I don’t know why but she has no momma hen and her only sibling didn’t make it.  She isn’t being accepted by any of the other baby chicks so she runs around alone.  I noticed her follow me on my way to the pit latrine a few times and one night while she hovered around our feet looking for dropped food I asked if I could take care of her.  My host mom said, “Yes, she will be Tengetile’s chick.”  I picked her up and she fell asleep in my arm so I took her back to my hut for the night and she has been mine ever since.

I made her a bed out of a bucket and some sheets.  Her little chirps are quite load in a cement block hut but once the lights went out she was quiet all night.  I let her out during the day to feed and do chikeny things, but she manages to follow me back to my hut every few nights to sleep with me. 

All those years of hatching chicks in the states with mom for her students and never being able to keep them, I finally got my baby chick.   I will have to get her a chicken basket to sleep in once she gets bigger.

Namuhle ngigcobile umhlanga na bomake!

September 26th, 2011

Today I cut reeds with the mothers!

Every Monday Addy and I sit at the KaGogo center from 8-noon in hopes that someone will come by and want to talk to us.  Today was a slow day.  By 11:00am we had already gone over our Youth Health survey that we had the High schoolers fill out and were ready to call it a day.  There were a bunch of women hanging outside the royal kraal (like a town hall, but really just an enclosure where the community meets) so we decided we would say “Hi”, see what they were doing and then go home.

Turns out they were waiting to be picked up to go and cut reeds to donate to the royal kraal.  The reeds are used to repair the kraal.  This is an essential part of a female Swazi’s life.  All the girls who attend the annual reed dance go and cut down reeds to present to the Queen every year and women cut them every now and then for the royal kraals in their community.  Ask any girl if she has cut reeds and she will say, “yea” like “duh I have cut reeds.”  We asked if we could go with and they actually said yes.  So we boarded a lorie (large pick-up truck used to transport anything from furniture to people) with 15 other women.  As the guests of honor we got to ride in the cab, it was nice to ride in a car like normal, even though I was sitting on what I know to be the driver’s side but was the passenger.  They drive on the left side of the road here.

We traveled up close to the Mozambique boarder where there is a river that the reeds grow by.  Once again we got to drive through Hlane Royal Game Reserve.  Not being in a khumbie or a bus we were able to animal watch much better.  We saw warthogs, impala, antelope, and get this… nine Giraffes! They were just getting lunch by the side of the road.  I love that I can just be on my way someone and have the chance to see African animals in the wild.  It’s so cool!

Anyways the rest of the drive was beautiful, the landscaped turned from dusty and dry to lush and green.  We weaved back up next to the mountains, in between the sugarcane fields, to find the reeds.  Our lorie drivers and some other men thankfully went and cut the reeds down.  We were each given a machete and we had to cut all of the leaves and shoots off of the reeds, leaving the little fluff at the top.  These reeds were probably 15 ft tall and once cut they are bundled into piles and tied with leaves.  Once stood on end they look strangely likely the trees from Dr. Seuss’s the Lorax.  There were at least 30 women there and they would break out in song every now and then while we stripped the reeds down.  They taught us siSwati and treated us like old friends.

It only took about an hour and half to collect an entire truck full of reed bundles.  Once finished we went to someone’s home nearby, where the reeds are being stored until they are brought to the kraal.  Here we were fed and I had a Swazi delicacy for the first time. Bengidla inyama imbhuti: I ate goat meat.  It was good; taste like inyama (meat).  Of course it probably tasted good because we were eating Swazi style, meaning with our right hand.  You just scoop up some pap (liphalishi) soaked in soup and shovel it into your mouth.  Then you rip off a piece of the meat with your teeth.  Its strange how this no longer shocks me.  Its always messy and I just dig right in and don’t think anything of it anymore.

The women sang songs all the way home.  We arrived back at the kraal and joined the ladies in a small dance.  We then walked home basking in the beautiful African sunset, smiling at the memory of this amazing day.  At times like this I just cant believe my life.

It was a fantastic day in Swaziland!!

So you can go back to High School

September 22nd, 2011

Being a Community Development Health Volunteer is a really vague title.  We don’t really have anything specific that we are assigned to do aside from educate about HIV/AIDS.  We are just instructed to go out into our communities and find ways to do that.  Ways in which the community would like us to help. 

One place my community has for me to work is the local High School.  So this past Wednesday Addy, the other PCV I am working with, and I went back to High School.  We cleaned out our “office,” which is the counseling building that isn’t really being used.  We have taken it over and are planning to turn it into a functional resource room.  For the rest of the day we shadowed a Physics class, which solidified my lack of passion for the sciences, had an hour siSwati lesson from one of the Head Deputies, and for the grand finale got to introduce ourselves to the entire student body at closing assemble. 

On Wednesdays they break class at 2:00pm to have time for Sports.  I didn’t actually see anyone play any sports but it allotted us time to meet with the students.  However after 2pm all of the teachers just vanished.  Indirect Swazi culture of course left us having no idea what was going on or what we were suppose to do not that we were the only “staff” on campus.  The Head boy and girl told us that they would gather the students for assembly and make an announcement about our desire to start a health club and instruct those interested to meet us.

So all the students were assembled, a few hundred at least, and then the head girl just looked at us and said go.  We were like what, come again?  Not being prepared, but having no choice, we got up in front of the crowd.  In our very broken siSwati we introduced ourselves, where we are from, where we are living, and why we were there.  They of course laughed at our sad attempt to speak siSwati, but listened to our little speech.  It took all of three minutes and when we were done one kids yells in English “that’s it?” and they all rapidly disassemble in every direction.  We walked to our office and hoped that someone would stop by.  It took about five minutes then we were swarmed.  Of course everyone was interested in us but as soon as they realized we were actually doing an activity the crowd dwindled to about 20.  We had the boys and girls split up and draw a map of their school campus to compare and see what they find important and what they think is missing.  The boys surprising spent half on hour precisely drawing out their map with detail down to the design of the flag on the flagpole.  The girls were done in 10 minutes.    We also got them to fill out surveys to determine their level of HIV knowledge.  It went surprisingly well for not really knowing what to expect.

All in all, first day of High School went well.  I didn’t get lost or thrown in a locker.  I did get three marriage proposals from some students however.  Oh Swazi guys always looking for a window in the conversation to throw in the marriage proposal.  It their version of the pick-up line, but they will swear it’s a cultural compliment.  One student even said it would be fine if he could just marry my daughter.  That’s when I just shake my head and laugh at the ridiculousness of the whole conversation and that it has managed to last the entire 20-minute walk from school to town.

Now if we can just get the kids to show up again next week!