Thursday, April 12, 2012

Water Woes

April 11th, 2012

I have been really lucky until now when it comes to my water situation.  Swaziland has a water service and each homestead can have a meter and tap installed so they don’t have to fetch water.  My homestead does have a tap fortunately as well as a Jojo tank (very large, green container) used to collect rainwater.  However, we have a broken pipe between our water meter and our tap.  When the tap is turned on half of the water leaks out before it gets to the tap and we still get charged by the water service for it.  For months we have only been turning the tap on every once in a while, and have been using collected rainwater instead.  To avoid large fees my host family has now decided to not use the tap on the homestead until it gets fixed.  The water service says the family is responsible to buy the new pipe and then they will replace it.  The new pipe cost E2000 (that’s a lot).  Since it hasn’t rained here for a long time, the rainwater collection is now low.  

So I find myself in the unpleasant situation of having to really fetch my water.  Compared to America I have always had to fetch my water, meaning filling up a bucket everyday and hauling it to my house.  But now I’m really fetching my water.  I take my two 25 liter barrels and haul them in a wheel barrel through the African bush (literally through the bush, I have gotten lost every time I have gone) to our water meter.  It only takes 15 minutes to walk to but the whole process takes about an hour.  And hauling 50 liters of water back on uneven ground, dodging thorny branches, while trying to keep your wheel barrel balanced, is quite challenging.

My host Make and I have been fetching water together this week and she has vowed to get it fixed soon.  She worked really hard to not get stuck living as a servant to tasks Swazi women traditionally are burdened by.  Today she told me how she escaped. 

When she was my age she was walking everyday long distances to fetch water, several times a day, with a baby on her back, one on the way, and two small ones at home.  She was living at her in-laws, like a Swazi wife traditional does, while Babe (host dad) worked in town.  One day she decided this was not the life she wanted.  She didn’t want to get stuck doing the same thing everyday, not being able to do anything else.  The next time Babe was home she told him she was going with him, she wasn’t going to live at the homestead anymore as was culturally expected.  Babe warned that the homestead would be angry at her, but permitted her to go. Without a word to anyone else, she took her youngest daughter and went to live in Manzini (urban town) and “started her life.”  She got a job and spent her lunch hour learning to sew (is now her source of income).  After two years she went back and collected her two oldest daughters and raised all four of them in Manzini.  She worked to send them to good schools so they could have opportunities and not get stuck at the homestead like she almost did.  She raised them “on love” and has proved that even a Swazi women has the power to change her life if she really wants to.  

Gardening 101

April 6th, 2012

It only took me 10 months but I have finally started a personal garden.  Having never really gardened before and feeling very unconfident in my ability to successfully do so I asked my Make to teach me.  She eventually suggested that I build a personal garden right next to my house.  A small one that I can manage and grow just what I need rather then try contending with the big family garden.

So I went to town, bought three meters of cheap fencing, a hand shovel, and some gardening gloves.  Blindingly being guided by my Make’s design and with the help of my 4 host brothers (really just the neighbor kids who have made my homestead their permanent residence simple because no one will send them home), we built a garden.  Using the fence I bought, a house wall, some logs, some wire, and some scrap corrugated tin we managed to enclose a small area.  I am doubtful that the chickens will stay out, but we will take on that challenge when we cross it.  My BoBhuti (host brothers) then created a mixture of cow manure and ash from the fire to fertilize the dirt inside.  Now I just need to heavily water the area for a week and then I can start planting.

It actually didn’t take that long, in the matter of an hour or so it was complete, and I am grateful and excited about it now, but I have to saw it was a quite frustrating hour.  I felt totally out of control of what was happening and I felt guilty for mostly watching while this garden was created because I wasn’t really sure how to help.  Yes I needed the help to complete this project but it was a bit overwhelming for me.  Despite my discomfort I could tell my host family didn’t mind helping.  The boys thrived in the building aspect and my Make, I think, appreciated the distraction from idleness.  My Babe (host dad) is on a, for lack of better description, church prayer retreat for Easter, and my host Sisi is at her son’s father’s family’s homestead for Easter.  She wants to get his hair cut now that he is one year old and Swazi tradition claims that the father’s family gets the honor of cutting it.  So the homestead is quiet and Make was looking for something to keep her busy… and now I have garden!

Baby Shower

March 31st, 2012

My oldest host sister is expecting her second child.  She lives in the capital city Mbabane and kindly invited me to her baby shower this past Saturday.  Turns out Swazi baby showers are the exact same as American baby showers: tons of food, fun games, presents, and an afternoon with your best girlfriends.

They say Americans are loud, but I think Swazi women could give any group of American women a run for their money.  I had never been with so many Swazi women indoors before.  Most Swazi events are held outside and the noise isn’t evident, but inside I would have never believed how loud it could get.  It was all sounds of happiness though… tons of laughter.  It was really fun to just hang out with a bunch of women all afternoon. 

I unfortunately didn’t get to experience the full shower.  Keeping with true Swazi culture the event didn’t start until 3:00pm, when it was scheduled for noon.  Since I had to catch public transport back to site before dark I had to leave at 3:30pm.  Even with the effort I still didn’t make it home until way past dark.

I caught the last bus home and let me tell you once the sun sets public buses basically become party buses.  I am fairly certain every single man was drinking and we even had an aisle dancer.  Of course I didn’t go unnoticed, a loud outburst of excitement roared through the bus as I made my way from the back to exit.  Many “I love yous” and shouts of “white person” followed me.  However, I survived the experience and my host family met me with a vehicle at the bus stop so I didn’t have to walk home alone in the dark.  There just so happened to be some male family members visiting my host family and they had a truck that they let my host mom borrow to fetch me.  She told them she needed to collect her daughter and when they saw me they were perplexed.  The only explanation my host dad gave them was “she has my last name, she is my daughter,” meaning don’t be rude to her.

Sometimes belonging to a family here is the best thing about this whole experience. 

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls…

March 25th, 2012

Unless you’re in Swaziland… then please go chasing waterfalls.

One of my major struggles here in The Swaz is the lack of appreciation for beautiful things.  Yes the nature of Swaziland is breathtaking, but the lack of beautiful designs, architecture, art, landscaping, anything aesthetically pleasing really is a bit of a downer for me.  I just want to marvel at something.

Well I finally found something to marvel at … a waterfall!!

Another PCV lives about an hours trek to an amazing waterfall.  Of course this also means there are mountains to marvel at as well.  It was amazing.  Myself and some fellow PCVS spent the better part of Sunday morning soaking in the sight and sounds of cascading water.  It’s a popular spot for Swazis to come to also, but thankfully it was Sunday and they were all at church so we had the spot all to ourselves. 

The waterfall is also a religious site for Jericho’s, a religion originating in Swaziland, and they hold a pilgrimage here every year.  Remnants of their last visit were evident in candle wax dripped over rock and trees, wherever a suitable candlestick holder was found.  They also believe it is where the seven headed snake lives, however the snake never made an appearance while we were there.  Aside from bugs and a frog, the only wildlife we saw was a village chicken looking very out of place struggling to climb the boulders.


At the grief and loss workshop one of the exercises was to create a reflection of a loss we had in our life.  Like everyone I’ve experienced loss of family, friends, and pets, but the only thing I could think of to create was a torn out collage of an orange cat.  Now many of you know I have a particular fancy for orange cats starting from when I bought my orange and white tabby when I was 11 years old.

So I’m missing my cats, is what your probably thinking.  Well yes I do miss them in a sense but that was not the message my little collage was giving.  Why am I telling you this, well I guess the reflection was surprising for me.  I know most of you come to this blog to read about my adventures in Africa and with the Peace Corps in hopes that I ate something weird, participated in a bizarre traditional ritual, or singled handedly eradicated HIV.  Well the Peace Corps experience is much more then eating worms and talking about safe sex.   It’s teaching me way more about myself then I ever thought it would.

So back to the cat reflection, it actually represents my 11-year-old self.  At 11 I was desperate to be passionate about something.  I thought 11 was much too old to be passionless so I decided to take up liking cats.  I bought a cat and became obsessed.  Embarrassingly, talk about cats all the time, obsessed.  I would share stories about my cat’s daily doings everyday during my 6th grade share-and-tell moment.  I didn’t care what people thought of me or my intense passion for felines. However, as soon as 7th grade hit I realized my passion was socially unacceptable and I quickly shut it down, unfortunately closing down most of myself that was ever genuine.  I’ve been struggling to find my 11-year-old self ever since.

However there is more to the story.  I was 11 years old the very first time I ever traveled abroad.  My parents blessed me with the opportunity to travel to the UK.  I remember my mom asking if I wanted to go and no questions asked I said yes.  I was fearless at eleven.  If that opportunity has come to me at twelve I may not have taken it, I may have never gotten the “travel bug,” I wouldn’t be here in Peace Corps.

So as you can tell the Grief and loss workshop has opened up another path on my road to self-discovery. I am finally figuring out just who I am, and it turns out I’ve been hiding the better part of myself for a long time.   Yep the Bethany you are all going to get when I come home is not going to be who you last saw… she is going to be better.  

Grief and Loss Workshop

March 21st-23rd, 2012

To finish up our week long training we had a grief and loss workshop with our PCMO (medical officer).  Talking about grief and loss sounds like a whole lot of crying and sadness but it wasn’t entirely about that.  Yes there were tears, and sad stories, and surprise discoveries, but for me it was much more then that.

As Americans we tend to forget to take time for ourselves.  There is always something to do for someone, somewhere to go, some responsibility pushing at us.  Having packed my American work ethic I struggled as many volunteers do to adjust to the slower pace of life the majority of world operates at.  If we are sitting it means we are wasting time, or at least that’s what I thought before this whole experience.  Here sitting really is no waste of time at all, its time to recharge. 

A simple task here equals the effort, emotional stress, and physical drainage of several tasks back home.  My job at home was 5 miles from home and it took me 10 minutes to get to it.  I didn’t have to talk to anyone on the way, I could listen to music of my choice, and I could control my temperature with air conditioning or heat.  Here one place I work is about 5 miles from my house.  It takes me an hour to get there.  I walk, take transport, and then walk again.  I walk when it’s hot, I walk when it’s raining, I walk when it’s windy, and I walk when it’s cold.  I talk to every neighbor I pass, everyone at the shops, the transport operator, the person I am sitting next to, the bomake at the market, all the neighbors on the way to my destination, and then eventually the people I work with; all while caring my lunch, my materials for the day, a first aid kit, water, a book, and my umbrella for protection from the sun.  And after I’m done with work I do it all over again to get home.  One simple lesson takes all day and is exhausting.  So moral of the story, take time for your self and don’t feel bad about it.  It’s a struggle for me every day even here, but I think once I master “the art of doing nothing” my life will feel much more complete.

PDM (Project and Design Management) Workshop

March 19th-21st, 2012

We have reached our mid-service training.  While we still have a few months until we hit our actual mid-service, its still feels like a major accomplishment.  Most of our “Mighty-Fine Group-Nine” converged at Thokoza Conference Center in Mbabane once again with visions of showers and catered meals in our heads.  However we weren’t alone this time. 

For the first three days of the training we had our PDM workshop with our counterparts from the community.  Addy, Ryan, and I brought two counterparts with us.  We had Bashin, our Kagogo Center Manager, whom we all work with and is our link to the inner council of the local community government.  We also had Amnesty, our counterpart from the refugee camp.  I am giving Amnesty a major shout-out here.  He agreed to come to this workshop where not only was he be surrounded by Americans speaking English, but also Swazis speaking siSwati, neither of which are his first language.  And he did fabulous!

We spent two days working with our counterparts on the step-by-step processes of identifying, developing, implementing, and evaluating a project.  It was really nice to be able to work with our counterparts with PC right there to answer any questions we had.  I think it gave everyone a boost of energy to get projects going.

It was also really fun to bond with our counterparts out of the community.  We could hang out in a neutral environment; get to know each other outside of just working with each other.  We taught Amnesty how to play some American card games, and he taught us and Bashin how to write our names in Arabic and is educating us on Islam.  The great divide between cultures is melting away slowly and the laughter and smiles that replaced it is infectious.

Me, Amnesty, Addy, Ryan, Bashin