Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Watch where you sit

November 14th, 2011

Today Addy and I went to the refugee Camp Clinic.  At the end of the day we met the head nurse’s sister who teaches at a nearby school.  She said something about a cable breaking and said a lady got hurt.  I didn’t ask any questions, it only seemed like she was sharing the daily news.

She gave me a ride to the bus stop and when we approached the police had closed the road off.  I saw the cable she had referenced laying across the road so the police had stopped cars from driving over it.  I went around to one of the road blocks to try and get across to the bus stop.  My around, however, was actually through and I quickly realized that I was in the middle of the scene that ran off to the side.  The first thing someone said to me once I joined the crowd that had gathered was “she’s dead now.”  He pointed to the lady whom I had just walked by.

It was an electricity cable that snapped and hit her when it fell to the ground.  She was electrocuted.  I don’t know how long it happened when I walked by but she was just laying there.  Not covered, not roped off, just there in the position she died in, shopping bags and purse still in hand. 

How did this happen?  Had she just come from town and stopped to rest from the heat?  Was she waiting for someone?  Does she live here in my community?  Is she one of the Bomake who sells fruit at the bus stop?  Again how did this happen?

I was too shocked to think properly and it felt weird standing and watching so I just got on the bus and left.  The police where just surrounding her body with caution tape when I boarded.  I went home and told my Make because I still was processing what happened.  She said near December every year something bad happens in Mpaka.  Mpaka has had a string of bad luck in the last two months, but this scene really shook me up.  Death is no stranger to Swaziland, but of all the ways to die here, to be electrocuted simply for sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time, it seems unfair.  It could have been anyone sitting there.

Our power was out needless to say and I spent the evening eerily reading by candlelight as a strong wind blew in some very nasty looking clouds.  The sky reflected my feelings at that moment; a hazy mix of grey clouds sending an altered brown light across the land as the sun set.  It was dark and light at the same time.  The wind was powerful but gentle.  It was just a weird, somber night.   

Some say Swazi’s are lazy

November 12th, 2011

I disagree.  Yes I have my frustrations at the constant begging rather then providing for themselves, or the complaining with no willingness to make change, but I don’t think Swazis are lazy.

They are just hot.

For real, the Spanish think they need a siesta?  From 10:00am until the suns goes down is pretty much worthless hours once it is 40°C (that’s over 100°F).

Now that I have had a constant stream of 40 degree days, I get it.  The heat makes you lazy, and crabby, and impatient, and tired, and hungry, and thirsty, and it’s too hot to even begin thinking about fixing any of those problems.

Seriously, when the wind feels like someone just opened the door to a sauna, your water is at a degree suitable for a class of tea, and you realize that you haven’t slept in days because your drowning in a pool of our own sweat it makes you just want to give up.  You just lay down on the coldest cement you can find, and move as little as possible.  At this state your brain can’t even function and proper sentences don’t exist.  I believe at one point when describing a fan I bought I said “it work good don’t it.”  I knew it was wrong but couldn’t figure out how to make it right.  Things that aren’t funny become hilarious, ideas that would never be deemed sane seem plausible, and visions of venti iced chia tea lattes bring real tears to your eyes.

It is at this point in my PC experience that I forget the awesome adventures that I’ve had here and the goals Id like to see accomplished for this community, and I sulk on the fact that I am living in poverty and its f*#$ing hot out.

But then the wind picks up and I notice that it contains a hint of a cold front, and within hours a storm has rolled in.  The night gets cooler, the birds seek refuge in my roof, I wrap my sheet around me (its still too hot for a blanket) and I get sent into a much needed slumber by the sound of raindrops; cooled at last until the next heat wave. I wish on the first star I see every night that tomorrow won’t be another hot one.

Follow ups:

Penny my chicken is in her ugly teen-age phase.  She thinks she is a human.  Just the other day I was sitting eating dinner and she jumped into my lap.  Scared the crap out of me but it was kind of endearing.

The King’s men came back through my community and I had to pay them one rand when they came to our homestead.  They were much more cordial this time around, probably because it was Sunday and they were sober, but I still would rather they skipped my community next year.

What looks like a 15-passenger van, but sounds like a police car?

November 7th, 2011

It’s a Swaziland ambulance.  I have now taken my first, and second, ambulance rides and I expect many more in the future.

I have gotten permission to work at the refugee camp in my community, which is also the primary medical clinic.  Eventually HIV classes and English lessons will be given to residents of the camp but to start Addy and I are volunteering at the clinic one day a week.

Today was our first day and it was super busy.  No appointment necessary and the line wrapped around the waiting room and went outside.  We have been visiting another local clinic (it’s a 3 mile walk away) that is very, very small, and while they are willing to have us, really have no place for us.  The refugee camp clinic is much bigger.  Today we helped out in the “pharmacy.”  We counted out pills, filled liquid medicine bottles, and ointment containers.  The clinic is always very busy on Mondays and the medications go fast so they really needed us there to fill them up.  It was really nice to have some mundane work to do for an entire day.  Most days we have to literally create work for ourselves so it was a pleasant change to actually be told what to do. 

At the end of the day we said our goodbyes and headed out on our walk home, when one of the nurses asked, “You don’t want to ride with us?”  We looked at her puzzled and she points to a van and says, “We take the ambulance.”  We never turn down a free ride so we hopped in and sat on the gurney in the back.  Aside from the gurney and an IV drip thingy I didn’t see any life saving tools.  But it does have a cool red flashing light on top.  I imagine it would be comparable to a 1940’s ambulance.  The whole clinic is very mid-20th century in looks.  Either way the ride saved me a 20-minute walk, and it actually picked Addy and I up a pervious day when it was really rainy and muddy, so in its own way it’s a lifesaver!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

All the King's Men

November 5th, 2011

Incwala is one of Swaziland’s National Holidays.  It is meant to unite the country in entering a new year with joy.  It is divided into seven stages.  The first of which is Bemanti or Water Party.  This stage requires all the King’s men, or emajaha, to assemble at the royal residence.  The emajaha regiment is made up of men from the King’s family and men from the families of his wives.  The men are divided into two groups that go to collect water for the ceremonies.  One groups collects from the Indian Ocean, and the other from nearby rivers.  After a certain cow is slaughtered and the men are given instructions from the King, they leave at night when the moon is dark.

The group sent to fetch from the ocean is then divided into three groups; two of which are sent to the Lubombo region to collect sacred herbs and shrubs used by the elderly during the ceremonies.  The third group collects the water from the ocean coast of Mozambique.  The route to Mozambique is through the Lubombo region were I live and the road that leads to the border is the road that runs right through my community.  Can you see where I am going with this.

The regiment wears traditional attire of emahiya, emajobo (an animal pelt warn over their emahiya like a loincloth, and a crown of Baboon skin.  They sleep at the imphakatsi (place of community governments) as they travel.

Today the regiment rolled into my community.  They arrived by truck but then got out and ran forcefully into the umphakatsi where they will be spending the night.  All community meetings were canceled and a cow was slaughtered this morning to offer to the men.

These being the King’s men, they have the right to fine community members if they are not dressed appropriately.  This means that men must wear pants not shorts, women must wear long dresses, and married women must cover their heads and wear a lihiya over their skirt.  No nail polish can be worn and shoes must be close toed.  While I’m not married I wore a headscarf just to avoid a fine.  It’s not much, 50 cents, 1 rand, but I didn’t want the confrontation or the harassment, which is much worse.  I did witness some of these fines as the men hung around my community all day and had to stand there and watch my host sisi cry because of their harassment.  It was an interesting tradition to observe.

Home Improvement Sunday

October 30th, 2011

I woke up today with no intentions of doing anything productive.  I was coming out of homesickness funk and felt like wasting the day away being unproductive, but by 2pm I had somehow channeled Tim Allen and completed three home improvement jobs.

What sparked the productivity was the much-needed prevention of bugs getting into my hut.  With the recent rainstorms we have also gotten a fresh batch of creepy crawlers and flyers that like finding refuge in my house.  I decided to finish an already started project of putting screen up on my windows so the bugs don’t get in.  PC gave us old mosquito nets to cut up and use as screens.  I bought some Velcro in town and super glued one side of it to my window frame and then the other side to the net.  Takes a while, but now I have one window that I can have open and not have to worry about what may be getting in.

I needed something to stand on to finish the window project so my host sisi (Nosipho) and I went to borrow the ladder from a neighbor.  On the walked I discovered what               are.  They are biting ants.  Of course no one warned me until I found myself hopping as my feet began to burn.  I looked down to find them covered in ants.  I was instructed to stomp to shake them off, not to kill them.  You cant kill them because once one gets killed the rest freak out and attack even more.  It was awful.  I really almost cried and vowed never to leave my hut again.  Since I was half way to the ladder I sucked it up and marched like a continental soldier the rest of the way.  Oh but you better believe I gave those ants the death stare all the way.

I somehow managed to still be productive after the ant battle and once finished with the window I moved onto the unfinished paint job.  With the ladder I was able to get my last wall painted with just enough paint, not a drop to spare.  Once the wall was dry and I had cooked lunch for Nosipho and I, she decided to hang around and help me construct a closet.  I have a spare broom that I disconnected the handle to use as a closet poll.  Nosipho climbed up to the rafters in my hut to suspend the pole with rope and boom I had a closet.  I then, finally after almost 5 months, unpacked my suitcases!!  You could say I have officially moved in to Swaziland and it feels great!  I am almost ready for my hut warming party.

Enjoying my new closet!


October 29th, 2011

Being a Saturday, Addy and I went to the KaGogo Center.  Our Community government meets on Saturday so we go and sometimes sit in on meetings and sometimes just sit in our “office” and talk to people who visit us.  We are present more for exposure then to actually accomplish anything.  And today was fairly standard until we herd a band.  Seeing one marching band in Africa was exciting but now to hear a second in two weeks, we had to investigate.  We walked outside the royal kraal to find another parade marching in.

Turns out the final game of the Langa Bricks Football (soccer) League was going on at the local soccer pitch.  I didn’t even know we had a soccer pitch let alone a league that would require a final game.  We were invited to watch so we went.  The field is about a 25 minutes walk back (I can’t describe the direction better then that, its just back from the main road).  We walked through the old coalmine housing complexes, which now stand semi occupied and very deteriorated.  It had the eeriness of a ghost town, holding lots of secrets within abandoned buildings.   Just past the complex we found not just a soccer pitch, but also a whole “stadium.”  There is a set of stands to sit in and we snagged some fount row seats.  The entire sidelines were also filled with fans sitting on the ground.

My favorite student Noah found us and sat with us.  There was some pre-game entertainment provided by a local group that dresses and sings traditional Swazi songs.  Noah translated for us and my favorite song is one called “Ufunani?” It is about a man who is asking his wife who cheated on him, “what do you want, wife, what?”  It’s real catchy and gets stuck in my head.  A close second favorite was one about, as Noah translates, “Stepmothers.  You know how sometimes stepmothers smother their stepchildren.”

Anyways the marching band then led in the teams: Liverpool (orange) vs. Bhelebani (green).  I was wearing a green skirt so I chose to support Bhelebani with Noah.  Addy chose to support Liverpool for added drama and her and Noah bet that who’s ever team loses they have to sing a song in front of Health Club next week.

It was an intense game.  The community Chief showed up in the second half, at which point I realized that he was the person who gave Addy and I a ride to school last week.  I guess I have officially met the chief.  An announcer also showed up for the last half hour of play and ironically the only part of his commentating that I understood was when he said, “I don’t speak siSwati well.”  Apparently he is from Ghana.  However, he commentated without fail until Bhelebani claimed victory with a 2-1 win for the trophy.

The game lasted about 2.5 hours due to that fact that every time the ball went out of bounds it usually flew down a hill and into the African bush.  It took some time retrieving as most African bushes have thorns.  Then we sat for another 2 hours for the presentations.  Everyone and their mother gave speeches and then each team in the league was given money, and then finally the medals and trophy were given.  It was really hot and Addy and I near lost our minds.  At one point we were both clutching our stomachs and wiping our eyes with tear inducing laugher over a poor translation that sounded real dirty in English.  At one point we even met the chief’s young son who was introduced to us as “Kato, like John Kate.”  In our dreary sun soaked mental state the only logical explanation of this was that they were referring to Jon and Kate Plus Eight (they get a fair share of American TV Shows so it was completely logical).   Out of curiosity we asked if our assumption was right and we got a confused look and a response of “No, his name is Johnkate, Kato for short” (no idea how to spell it but that is how it sounded).  This of course sent us into another fit of uncontrollable laughter.

We finally left just in time to get home before dark, singing unfunani all the way home.