Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Penny all grown up

I know Penny is very popular among all of you back home.  She is all grown up now and no longer sleeps inside on a bed.  She sleeps in the tree with all the other chickens now, however she does feel entitled to come into the house whenever she feels like it so search for dropped food.  I expect her to get knocked up soon, and then maybe there will be some baby Pennys running around!

Mpaka Refugee Camp

January 12th, 2012

As the New Year begins so do some new projects in my community.  This week I have met with several committees at the refugee camp here in my community.  We (Addy, Ryan, and I) have decided to teach a weekly HIV/AIDS education class and a weekly English class for the camp residents, as well as plan a massive cleaning campaign to be held in the future that will focus on keeping the camp tidy as well as sanitation, hygiene, and safety.

Its been a lot to think about but I am excited to become really busy.  Today we had a meeting with the youth committee and the camp committee.  The leader of the Youth Committee is a 26 year old man nicknamed Amnesty who is from Somalia.  He I think is going be a very crucial part to the success at the camp.  Within the 1.5 days between our first meeting and our meeting today he managed to compile a list 70 camp residents interested in our classes.  He also organized our meeting today bringing together people from all different areas of the camp.

There were about 20-25 people at this meeting, which to date, is the largest meeting ever gathered during my service for the sole purpose to talk about a project.  We started by introducing our names and why we were there.  Peace Corps prepares you for one language barrier, but try six.  We had people there representing Swaziland, Somalia, Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi.  Despite their native languages they also speak French, Italian, Swahili, and thankfully English.  With the help of many English-speaking refugees serving as translators we got everyone introduced.  About halfway through one man made the comment that he is thankful we are all here, working together, as a family.  I really liked this comments because not only are there extreme language and cultural differences that separate all of us, but there is also religion.  Christian, Muslim, Traditional, it’s a giant mix.  The camp also hosts refugees from Mozambique, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe that I know of.  I guess the one thing that we do all have in common is not being Swazi.  We can all bond on the fact that we are all separated from our own countries (although us Americans it was by choice not force) trying to make a life in Swaziland. 

We had a really good meeting filled with two-way conversation and what I hope is a sparked desire to work together.  We ended with a resident guided tour of the camp.  Some of the residents let us see inside their homes.  The camp housing is giant brick buildings that are divided into “houses.”  Residents are required to build any dividing walls and furnish their space.  Most of the refugees are here for years so they have really been able to set up functional homes with separate sleeping, living, and cooking areas.  It was humbling to see how they live; makes me think twice about complaining about my next bucket bath or pit latrine experience.  The “bathrooms” at the camp aren’t even accessible, weeds have over grown and made it impossible to get to them, so residents relieve themselves wherever and in plastic bags that just get thrown outside.  The cleaning campaign is going to be a real great benefit to the quality of living at the camp. 

Some of the refugees have shared parts of their stories.  I hope to hear more.  They are sad; many of these refugees are young adults who had the fortune to be sent away by their parents to escape whatever they faced in their home countries.  They talk of leaving, going to some other camps just to be chased out by Xenophobia (fear of foreigners), until finally landing in Swaziland.  They say they will go back someday, hopefully with skills that will help their families live better lives.  I guess that’s where I come in.


January 11th, 2012

This phrase, Ngiyatsandza, is one of the most frequent phrases said to me here in Swaziland.  It directly translated means ‘I am loving’ but when said to someone it means ‘I am loving you.’  Swazi culture is rooted in the tradition that a male cannot let a female, whom he finds marriage worthy, pass without telling her he loves her and asking her to marry him.  Needless to say I get a lot of this unwanted attention.  It’s at the point where I usually play along with their game and say ok but I’m worth so many cows (which my host mom has officially upped to 100 because I proved I can weed the maize fields like a good swazi wife can).

However sometimes they spice up the comment with some other phrases that just make you laugh out load.  Here are a few that I have gotten in the past few days.

While trying to get to a khumbie you get grabbed a lot by drivers who want you to take their van.  The other day a driver grabbed me and I just pulled myself loose and kept walking.  As I ignored him he called after me “Hey, touch me back, touch me back.”  Who says that?

Then today as I was boarding a bus a guy came up to me and kept saying “lets dilute, lets dilute.”  I was like huh?  He explained “I’m black, your white, lets dilute.”  I just laughed, patted his arm and said not today bhuti, not today.

It gets annoying but when you have so many of these encounters everyday you just have to laugh it off.  Today I got hit on three times.  My neighbor on the bus (happens everytime I end up sitting next to a male), the guy who wanted to “dilute” with me, and an old man who tried getting my phone number to “work on a project.”  When I’m with my host mom I get hit on even more, I don’t know why, but she no longer finds it entertaining, she just straight face asks them how many cows they are going to give her for me.  She rejects any number they come up with.

Happy New Year

To celebrate the end of 2011 and the start of 2012 I stayed on my homestead in Malindza.

All of my host siblings but one came back to the homestead for the holiday.  Each of my four older host sisters have a son so there were four young boys, with endless energy, running about.  It made for a very busy homestead.

For New Years Eve, we all stayed up, had a mini dance party, and then lit off small fireworks at the stroke of midnight.  It was full of the usual excitement and the night was flashing with blurbs of light as all the homesteads welcomed 2012.  We got the fireworks off just in time to, a very heavy rainfall came at 12:30am.  Rain is a perfect way to start 2012, we need it bad, lets hope its a sign of more to come!

On New Years Day my host sisters spent all morning cooking a feast for lunch.  I helped a little, but lets face it I’m not the best in the kitchen.  I did make some pretty tasty Kool-aid however.  We had grilled fish and chicken, local mushrooms picked from the field, rice, beans, and vegetable stew.  Then we spent the rest of the day napping off the heavy meal.

It was really fun having all my host siblings home.  I got to talk with them individually and really connect with them.  Its very weird not being the oldest (in this family I am the fifth born).  For the first time in my life I have older siblings and I’m not totally sure how to act being a younger sibling.  I’m not so sure I would have enjoyed not being a first-born. 

In this family I have three very successful older sisters.  They are really good role models for Swazi girls.  They all have sustainable careers, are married, and waited to have kids until they were married.  That’s somewhat of a rare combo here so I am proud that my sisters are proving that Swazi women can be modern, independent, successful, yet still respect tradition. 

Anyways back to New Years.  They don’t really do New Years resolutions here.  They know of them but they aren’t so committed to making or breaking them here.  I have made the resolution to just keep on surviving Africa.  Even though its been seven months, there are still battles everyday here that take fighting.  For example like not freaking out when I came home after Christmas to a snake in my house.  Not a big one, and in the snakes defense I think it was just resting under my door and I pushed it into my house, but still.  One of the boys killed it right away and honestly it wasn’t scary, just makes you very aware about what you might be living with.  I also resolute to keep my house neater.  This factor did not contribute to the snake getting in but the neater my stuff is the easier it will be to see a creature hiding within. 

I am also trying to speak SiSwati more.  I realized when going back to Khiza that there are accents within SiSwati.  I could understand so much more in Khiza because they are influenced by the Zulu language, which is more enunciated and the words are more broken apart.  In Malindza they speak “Deep SiSwati,” meaning they string all of there words together, no breaks, and talk very fast.  Its no wonder I spend most of my time say “angiva,” which means I don’t understand.  I honestly can’t understand.  I have gotten a tutor to meet with every other week.  Hope it helps some.

So here is to a New Year; a new whole year in Africa.