Friday, February 17, 2012

Night Vigil

February 11th-12th, 2012

I had my first Swazi funeral experience last night/this morning.  My family is going to funerals every month but I had never been to one since none were in my community and Swazi funerals are not just a day trip.  This funeral was in my community and was for a cousin of all my host siblings.  All my older host sisters came home and I attached myself to them so they could show me the inner workings of a Swazi funeral.

A Swazi funeral is a several day affair.  Family and non-family come in from all over and help prep for days.  The day before the funeral a large makeshift tent is erected.  Its really quite amazing these tents.  They just find large tree branches with forked ends.  Shove them into the ground so they stand upright and build a structure that tarps are then spread across to create an enclosure.  This enclosure is used for sheltering the guests and to house the worship part of the memorial service.  Grass is spread over the dirt floor for people to sit on and I couldn’t help at one point imagine that Jesus’ birth manger may not have looked all that different from this.  Animals roaming around, wind threatening to take the whole thing down, people coming in and out to pay respects.  However, we were participating in a memorial not a birth. 

A Swazi memorial service and funeral are combined into what is called a night vigil, and it literally lasts all night.  To prove myself as strong African women I mustered up some adrenaline and stayed up all night, from sunset to sunrise.   Around 8:00pm everyone begins to arrive and continues to arrive throughout the night.  There were probably 200 people there, and if I had just been blindfolded and dropped into the setting I would guess it was a wedding not a funeral.  The whole thing was strangely full of energy it was bizarre. 

One side of the homestead has the tent, where a nightlong church service is held.  Singing, preaching, and testimonials fill the surprisingly crisp night air.  The other side of the homestead is a tailgating party.  It’s marula season here.  Marula is a small tree-grown fruit that Swazis home brew into beer.  Women can’t drink at these social events but the men sure can.  All the men had gathered around a giant bonfire, they sat on the tailgates of their pickups and drink marula beer all night.  Being thee only white person, or mlungu as they call me, I was the main attraction for this drunken group of men.  I got at least 10 marriage proposals and hours of unwanted attention.  Thankfully I had a safety net in the large group of my female Swazi relatives.  They helped me fight them off when it got to be 4:30 am and I couldn’t react fast enough to get myself out of the situation.

In between the drunken men and the tent was the outdoor kitchen.  This is where I spent most of the night with all the other women.  This is were a Swazi women shines.  It’s her safe zone.  They can gather, gossip, complain, sing, laugh, sleep, and most of all cook.  I spent the first few hours of the evening inside this mud and stick hut that has a thatched roof and dirt floor, very worn from years of everyday use.  I helped my host sisters, cousins, and aunts hand grind peanuts, chop cabbage and carrots, and make jelly sandwiches for the 3:00am teatime.  There were up to twelve of us in there at a time.  I loved listening to them talk.  I didn’t understand much but it felt comfortable.  We worked under the glow of the single light bulb that illuminated the hut.  Gogo (grandma) sat in the corner peeling boiled beetroot.  Her purple dyed fingers working diligently form years of experience as our shadows danced around her.  Right outside the hut was another 10 women who were managing the three-legged pots that were boiling over a very large fire.  The floor became so hot that once teatime came all you had to do was place the teapot on the floor near the fire and it heated up quickly.

At 5:00am, just as the hint of sunrise threatened the dark night, the entire party walked to the cemetery.  We followed, single file at times, along the cow paths, guided by the faint sound of singing coming from the front of the procession.  At the cemetery, located deep in the African bush under a tree, the crowd gathered around the gravesite.  The women in the family had a chance to pay their respect at the site, a prayer was said and then the men took turns burying the casket.  I couldn’t really see what was going on as I was standing in the back, but this was the first moment I realized this was a funeral.  It felt sad.  The man who died was my age.  His name was Mduduzi, which means to bring comfort.  He discovered or finally accepted he had HIV too late, and only started taking his ARVs (anti-retroviral therapy) a week ago.  This one funeral was enough for me to emotionally feel the awfulness of this virus.  Swazis are attending these funerals every month, why isn’t that enough to make them want to change their behavior to stop the progression of HIV?

By 6:00am everyone was back at the homestead and the meal we had been preparing all night was served: rice, samp, beetroot, cabbage, potato salad, beef, and chicken.  I was on KP duty and washed everyone’s dishes.  By 8:00am I was so exhausted, completely filthy, and now that it was daylight I was being shuffled around and introduced to the dignitaries of the community who were there.  Thankfully my eldest sisi (sister) saw me when I finally got a chance to sit down and rescued me.  She put me in a car and sent me home to bed.  I slept for eight hours, woke for four, and then slept for another ten.  It was glorious.

My family was really appreciative that I attended and helped with the funeral.  I met a lot of relatives, made new friends, and truly bonded with my community.  It was a crazy night that feels a bit blurry but a very unique experience.

Superbowl Sunday

February 6th, 2012

I did get to watch the Superbowl this year (not that I’ve ever really cared to watch it before, but it was a nice American thing to do).  A Superbowl viewing party was set up at one of the backpackers in Mbabane (capital city) and a programming meeting was thoughtfully planned at the office so there was a reason for all of us to come into the city.  The game didn’t start until 1am our time and lasted till 5am but most of us made it through.  One of the volunteers even made a betting board and we all spent our hard earned PC allowance betting on squares.  The winner got 700 emalengeni  (1/3 our monthly allowance), sadly that winner was not me, but the betting board kept me much more focused on the game then I usually would have been.  It was really fun to crowd 30 some people into a tiny room to watch.  Some were more invested in the teams then others and rallied for support. I was rooting for the Pats because if I vowed my allegiance I got a fun sized Snickers bar.  Snacks were passed around throughout the night/morning keeping us all awake.  We all crashed around 5:30 and were all sadly up by 7:30 due to the body telling us that 7:30 would normally be sleeping in so we needed to be awake.  I felt like I was in college again.  Late nights, early mornings, a little hung-over, a feeling that sadly felt so familiar that it was comforting.  The two hours of transport back to site were brutal and I was asleep by sunset but it was great to hang out with my fellow PCVs and celebrate this American “holiday.”

P.S. We may have gotten to see the game but we didn’t get any commercials L.  We saw the same five commercials at every break, it was awful.

Making Mealie Bread with Make (ma-gay = host mom)

February 5th, 2012

I just discovered the best gluten free food to ever come out of Swaziland… Mealie Bread.

This excellent bread can be made without flour and it’s amazing.  I helped my Make make it tonight and I swear I could eat an entire field of mealie bread.  Here are the ingredients:

Fresh Mealies (aka fresh maize cut off the cob)
Baking powder
Pinch of salt
Fresh milk (straight from the cow if available)

First you pick some fresh maize and peel them preserving the leaves from the husk.  Then you cut off the kernels from the cob, saving the cob (this really is a no waste cooking project).  We did this basking in the cooler breeze that dusk brings in.  We sat outside and worked as the chicken corralled around our feet eating every bit of maize we dropped.  The only problem with this is that my white toes look very similar to maize kernels and the chickens couldn’t tell the difference…ouch.

Once we cut the kernels off we prepared the pot that the bread gets cooked in.  I guess we kind of make an oven.  You take the classic three legged pot and put a little bit of water in it and set it over the fire.  Then you take the maize cobs and stack them on the bottom of the pot to create a shelf so the bread wont touch the water and then you let the water boil.

Meanwhile we ground the mealies up in a hand grinder.  While I held the bowl to catch he grinds I complimented my Make at her ability to so quickly use the hand grinder.  She just laughed and said this was not hard.  She used to spend all day grinding the kernels by hand with a rock and then would have to walk to the river to fetch water after.  That was hard work, today she says no one likes to work, they are lazy because nothing takes that much effort to do anymore.  I guess Americans developed for a reason, so we had more time to go to school and/or to work at a job that earns us money.  Here there are no jobs to get unless you go to University and Uni is almost impossible to get into so what really is the point of development?  In the case of mealie bread the point is that we didn’t have to start making it at noon, but rather could start at 6pm and be done by the time Generations starts (very popular evening soap opera here).

Ok back to baking.  After grinding the mealies you add the other ingredients, mix, and then scoop the dough into the leaves from the husks.  The dough gets wrapped up in the leaves and then they get placed in the pot on the cob shelf and covered.  Let them bake for 45 minutes and then take them out of the pot, let cool, and peel out of the leaves and eat!

It’s so amazing, taste just like corn bread!  Kumnandzi Kakhulu!!  (Very delicious).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

How You Are Helping

I am starting a new tab up at the top devoted to how all of you back home have helped me and the people I live with here in Swaziland.  You all have been more then gracious with the sending of packages and I want to show you just how appreciative and useful the items you have sent me have been.  Check the tab every time I add new blogs and see if your item gets featured!

Stranded in Mpaka

January 31st, 2012

Today being Tuesday we had our English class at the Refugee camp in Mpaka.  Mpaka is my “community” but its more like the next town over.  It’s a five-minute drive away and transport is very frequent, or at least has always been until today.

We finish up our lesson at 5:00pm, which means that I am not leaving the camp until 5:30pm, getting to the bus stop around 6:00pm when a bus comes.  However today the bus came at 5:45 and I saw it pulling away as I was still half way down the dirt road.  No problem, I usually miss the bus, but there are tons of khumbis going to Manzini that I can hop on.  Well not today.  I waited for an hour and half.  Only two khumbis came by.  The first wouldn’t take me, and the second had probably 30 people in it (capacity is 15), kute space (no space) the driver yelled as he pulled away leaving me in his dust.  I wasn’t the only one stranded, there was a whole group of us.  Nothing like sharing the same fate that brings people together.  I had a lot of great conversations while waiting ranging in topics from condom use to how the US recruits their military men.  By 7:15pm it was dark and I was assured no more transports would be coming.  Thankfully Addy and Ryan live in Mpaka so I called them thinking I could sleep on their floor, instead their Babe (host dad) has a car and said he would drive me home.  It was pitch black my now and not safe to be out, but at least I had a ride coming. 

However dark and alone I felt I knew I was safe.  I almost cried at one point, but then one of the bomake (mothers) at the market, who was still around came and asked if I had a place to go.  I had just sorted out my ride, but it was nice to know my community was worried about me and working together to make sure I got home.  All the MTN boys (who sell airtime aka cell phone minutes) were helping me flag down any vehicle to try and hitch me a ride, with no luck, but the help was still appreciated.

As Babe Tsabedze pulled up across the street everyone yelled, Tengetile your ride is here and I was safely brought to by front door.  I paid him for petro (gas) to say thanks and he got to meet my host parents.  It was a fun little meeting between the two families.  My family knows Addy really well and her family knows me well but our families had never met so that was fun.

If it weren’t for Addy’s Babe I would be sleeping on some strange homestead of the thoughtful Make who would have brought me home with her, but thankfully I get to sleep in my own hut and can add this to my crazy adventures in Swaziland list.

As a side note, our English class was awesome!!!  Snaps for Addy who planned a fantastic first lesson for us to teach our 60 students.  We are starting extremely basic and have to write our own curriculum, which is a challenge but it’s working.

Biff’s guide to using a Swazi Pit Latrine

January 29th, 2012

Having now been using a pit latrine for eight months I feel I have mastered proper pit latrine etiquette.  These rules may also be useful to anyone using an outhouse, a port-a-potty, or squatty potty (toilet in the ground found in parts of Europe and Asia).

Rule #1:  Only use the pit latrine in the morning unless it’s an emergency.  During the winter months this rule doesn’t have to be enforced as much, but in the summer the less time spent in the loo the better.  You see most latrines are made of bricks and corrugated tin that trap heat very nicely.  The summer sun does a great job of cooking everything inside so you can imagine the smell that is produced from this box of poo by afternoon.  The amount of bugs that are active in the latrine are also less in the morning when it’s cooler.  By midday the flies coming out of the seat are enough to give you a very unpleasant bum message. 

For the remainder of the day (and especially after dark) it is very much appropriate to use your pee bucket.  It feels just like sitting on the pot after awhile.  So why use the latrine at all if you have the luxury of a pee bucket right in your own hut?  Well there is that pesky #2 business that needs to be addressed.  If you are one of those lucky people to have regularly scheduled bowel movements in the states then good for you, but if you were like me and ate meals mostly consisting of on-the-go options then you probably weren’t that regular.

Rule #2:  Become regular and schedule it for the morning first thing (for reasoning see rule #1).  This will also ease your fear of needing a “facility” when you are out working.  The “facility” available to you will guaranteed not be as nice as your morning latrine experience and you probably don’t want to dig a hole and squat, so get the job out of the way in the morning.  Exception: if you are going into town and you plan to make a stop at KFC or Riverstone Mall for the sole purpose of using the bathroom.  Then you may forgo your morning ritual if your body lets you.

Rule #3:  Always carry your own toilet paper.  The only option you will find in the latrine for wiping will be yesterday’s newspaper.  While this provides great reading material your bum wont be happy if you receive a paper cut.  TP is also essential if the person who used the latrine before you does not have good aim.

Rule #4: Upon approaching the latrine pay attention.  If the door is open its most likely that there is someone using the facility so kindly wait out of viewing range for them to finish.  If the door is closed it is still important to make as much noise as possible upon arriving at the latrine and if you feel like it giving a courtesy cough letting anyone who may be inside know that you are there.  This little trick was a suggestion from another volunteer and it really helps deter any awkward moments at the latrine.

Rule #5:  Always thoroughly check the latrine for the following: snakes, scorpions, lizards, rats, and spiders.  They like to lurk in this dark, confined area and can easily hide from you.  They wait for you to get comfortable and then either attack or aggressively try and escape; either of which you are bound to severely freak you out.  Best to make sure the area is clear beforehand.  If you do encounter something sweep it out or let it make its way out before going in.  If it’s a snake best to just walk away and use the pee bucket, informing someone on the homestead on your way so they can kill the snake.

For the most part I don’t mind the latrine.  I enjoy the early morning walk across my homestead every morning and then forget about using it until the next morning.  However, that being said it has gotten to the point that I was using my pee bucket one day and thought to myself, how great would it be to have a bathroom facility inside your house?  One with a way to just let the excrement flow away rather then having to empty your bucket every time.  I was half way through a brilliant design of how this would work when I realized that I had just reinvented the toilet! 

My lovely pit latrine

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What does God and Cyclones have in common?

I sit staring out the window down onto the busy workings of the Manzini bus rank (bus/khumbi depot of sorts).  I am exhausted from a days worth of travel, glad to finally be on my sixth and final leg of transport.  I am transfixed on the ladies sweeping the parking lot and putting the trash into a giant bomake bag.  My brain waves are so low they probably register as off and I’m not thinking of anything in particular. 

I am suddenly rocked out of my tranquil state by the over exaggerated preaching of a bus pastor.  The phenomenon of separation between church and state has yet to grace Swaziland and religion is not something you can choose not to participate in, at least not when you’re on a bus.  The style of worship here in Swaziland is loud; it is filled with passion, strained vocal cords, and flying spit.  Most passengers seem to enjoy it as they gladly provide an offering to the bus preacher. 

Its when the bus preacher stands, I quickly pull out my ipod hoping I can get a song playing before the first cry of “Siyabonga Jesu (thank you Jesus)” fills the bus.  Today I was too consumed by the actual picking up of trash that I failed to see the preacher rise and my peaceful state of being was invaded with the beginning of a sermon.  I slowly got my ipod out but by the time I chose a song he was done.  I guess we were only getting a prayer for a safe journey today.  The bus driver, to supplement the lack of sermon put on a video of church services from the 1980s in the USA; one of those services where the congregation is really into it, standing, singing, and overly swaying with their song of worship, big 80s hair bouncing all over the place.

Anyways I finally got my song of choice playing on my ipod and I listened to the sinful sound of American pop music while I watched the sermon (its like an accident, awful and uncomfortable but you cant help but watch).  My song of choice was ‘Cyclone’ by Baby Bash Feat. T-Pain.  It was selected in honor of Cyclone Funso that is festering over the Mozambique Channel.  As I listened the video switched to another church service where the congregation was dancing in a circle.  All of a sudden I lost it.  I was consumed by a fit of laughter that I couldn’t stop.  These faithful churchgoers were no longer passionately praising God, but were now dancing to the smutty lyrics of Cyclone.  Their circular movements matched the beat playing in my ears so perfectly.  I felt like I had beat the system, instead of having religion forced on me I was forcing my inappropriate music on them.  Their expression of praise I had reinterpreted as dance club moves, it was great.  Of course I was the only one to get the joke as no one else could hear Baby Bash telling me ‘she moved her body like a cyclone.’

So the answer to the question ‘What do God and Cyclones have in common’ I guess is that they both have influenced people to move their bodies in circles from time to time.

Cycle Funso has yet to move down and pour heavy rains onto Swaziland like Cyclone Dando did a week or so ago, but you better believe that if Funso does makes an appearance I will be moving my body like a cyclone to the song Cyclone during a cyclone.  Not everyone gets to check that one off their bucket list.