Monday, August 27, 2012

It's Been 15 Months Since I Left Home

August 26th, 2012

This is for all my country music loving friends.  I changed the words to the song “Great Day To Be Alive” by Travis Tritt exactly one year ago.  At that time I was in month three of living in Swaziland and never thought I would see month 15.  Well I made it, and this song sums it all up!

I got rice cooking on my gas stove,
I got dirty hair I don’t plan to comb,
And it’s a goofy thing but I just got to say hey I’m doing all right.
I think I’ll make me some homemade soup,
Feeling pretty good and that the truth,
Neither drink nor drug induced no I’m just doing all right.

And it’s a great day to be alive; I know the sun still shining when I close my eyes,
There some hard times in my community, by why can’t everyday have all this beauty!

It’s been 15 months since I left home,
Said good luck to ever seed I’d sewn,
Gived it my best and then I left it alone,
I hope their doing all right.
Now I look in the mirror and what do I see,
A different person then I use to be,
A wiser, tanner version of me,
Lord I guess I’m doing all right.

And it’s a great day to be alive; I know the sun still shining when I close my eyes,
There some hard times in my community, by why can’t everyday have all this beauty!

Sometimes it’s lonely,
Sometimes it’s only me and the shadows that fill this room.
Sometimes I’m falling, desperately calling, looking for something to do-o-o-o-oooo.

Well I might go get me a night out of site,
see some PCVs and chat about life,
might even go wild and stay out all night, Oh…

And it’s a great day to be alive; I know the sun still shining when I close my eyes,
There some hard times in my community, by why can’t everyday have all this beauty!

Malindza Cleaning Campaign

August 20th-24th, 2012

This past week I have helped my neighbor volunteer Addy put on a giant Cleaning Campaign for our community.  What a week – I don’t think I have logged that many work hours since leaving my last job in America.  The first two days were full of training of trainers in good hygiene practices, proper trash disposal, and recycling with speakers from local Swazi environmental agencies and fellow PCVs.  Addy had arranged for 40 RHMs (rural health motivators) from our community to attend the trainings so they could then go out into the community and train other in what they learned, as well as 20 members of the refugee camp.  We had the training at the refugee camp, finally getting approval to use the large meeting building.  The third day the 20 refugees who attended the first two days planned lessons and implemented them to all the other members of the refugee camp.  It was fun to watch them teach each other – at one point us PCVs were all just sitting and watching the knowledge that was learned being passed on  - it was a good feeling knowing the education was sustainable.

The last two days were physical clean up day.  Like adopt-a-hwy, except it was more like adopt-a-refugee camp and adopt-a-dirt road.  The refugee spent a whole day collecting 60 bags of garbage from around the camp, as well as constructing two trash pits, and cleaning the public bathrooms.  We had so many of the camp members there to help out and they were excited and eager to make their living environment better.  Its amazing that just a black garbage bag, plastic gloves and a little encouragement could easily motivate people to take pride in their homes.  The last day the RHMs joined us again and we all walked from the main tar road to the camp and picked up trash all along the way.  We collected about 20 bags worth, and could have done 20 more but it was tiring work.  However the road looks so much better.  There is no trash disposal service in these rural areas and people are responsible to burn their own, but there is a serious lack of responsibility in that.  Every day I see someone litter as if its no big deal and the wind and dogs haul trash everywhere even when it does get put into a trash pit.  I hope that we were all able to spark an interest in others to become leaders in keeping the community clean.

It was also great to see the refugees and the Swazis working together.  They all live in the same areas but tend to be divided so it was great to connect different parts of the community.  I am so proud of Addy who organized this project.  It took months and months of meetings and planning and trips to town to get everything in order and it went so well.  I am happy to have gotten a chance to help, while I didn’t mostly organizational stuff (check-in, room prep and take down) and helped doing whatever was needed it was fun to be involved.  I did get to do a condom demonstration, which is surprisingly starting to be what I’m know for, haha. 

I’m so tired from the week but it was great to so the outcome of a successful event.  To celebrate Addy and Ryan hosted a braai at the their homestead for those who helped.  We had more meat then I’ve had in months and over indulged but didn’t care one bit – we all earned it!!

Local News

So what been happening in Swaziland while I’ve been off gallivanting through Southern Africa?

Well for one the teachers strike come to an end just in time for the last week of the school term, but it defiantly did not end without its drama.

King Mswati III summoned everyone to the royal residence on Monday August 6th, for a speech.  He declared a Sibeya or a People’s Parliament to be opened the next day and last until Friday.  This allowed for anyone to come to the residence and tell their grievances to the King and offer their suggestions of how to solve the problems of the country.  The King was not present all these days, the people were recorded and he listened to them later.  After the parliament was closed he made his response.  I was never really told what he said in his response, but he did demand that all teachers return to work the next week.  This led to much confusion, as he did not specify if that was all teachers or just teachers who had not been fired during the Waya Waya.  The Kind’s Parliament then declared that it only included teachers whom were not fired, which didn’t settle with most people.  So as far as I can tell nothing has changed, nothing has been fixed, and people are more confused then before.  However, striking has stopped, students and teachers returned for the last week of the term and some have continued into the break to try and catch-up on the weeks missed.

Bethany and Mom’s Whirlwind Tour of Southern Africa Chapter Six: Swaziland

August 11th-15th, 2012

To finish up Mom’s time in Africa we visited the other three regions.  I live in the Lubombo region, so I took Mom down to the Shiselweni region were I had my pre-service training.  We stayed with my training host family for two nights and cooked them an American meal as well.  This time we made wild rice, chicken, and broccoli hot dish, a make shift meatloaf with rice crackers so I could eat it, and backed potatoes.  We cooked everything in a wood burning stove and the hot dish and meatloaf turned out well.  The potatoes took till next morning to actually cook all the way – they made for a good breakfast.  It was great to have my mom meet my other Swazi family and see where I had all my trainings.

We also spent a few hours in the Manzini region in the town of Manzini visiting the craft market and having lunch.  Then it was off to the Hho Hho region.  We spent a night in Milwane Game Park and visited some touristy craft places in the Ezlwini Valley.  Then for Mom’s last day we headed to Mbabane and stayed at the PCV’s home away from home: Bambaso backpackers.  We spent the afternoon at Ngwenya Glass Factory watching them make hand-blown glassware out of recycled glass bottles.  It was fun and the products are so beautiful.  Mom took an early shuttle to Jo-burg airport the next day.  It was sad to say goodbye for another year, but I am so glad that I got to share this experience with someone from home!  Thanks for an awesome 22 day adventure Mom!!

Bethany and Mom’s Whirlwind Tour of Southern Africa Chapter Five: Maputo, Mozambique

August 9th-10th, 2012

Every trip has to have a really suck moment; Mozambique was ours.  We wanted to go for two nights in Maputo, which is right across the border from Swaziland, but everything went wrong so we ended up spending one night and then coming home.  Public transport in Mozambique is a nightmare and it took us 4 hours to cross the border and actually arrive in Maputo, when it should have only taken 1.5 hours.  Imagine a 15-passenger junky van filled with 20 people plus luggage for two hours on a hot day – miserable.  We got there to find that our reservation for the guest house we booked had been canceled, it was near dark and we had to walk to a way more expensive hotel that thankfully had an open room and exceptional staff.  Hotel Monte Carlo, you may be only three stars and over priced but your customer service was phenomenal – kudos to you!

The next day Maputo earned back some points.  We had a private guided walking tour to all the top historical points in Maputo.  The weather was great and we learned a lot about the city.  We had lunch at the old train station – within the 22 hours we were in Maputo I managed to eat nothing but seafood – it was great!  Then we hired a taxi to take us straight to the border, we were not even going to attempt public transport again it was so awful.  Mom got to see the Indian Ocean at least and while it was a short and chaotic trip it made for a good story.  I was never happier to be back in my hut in Swaziland!

Bethany and Mom’s Whirlwind Tour of Southern Africa Chapter Four: Malindza, Swaziland

August 4th – 9th, 2012

I think I hit my record: Four countries in one day!  We left Botswana early on the 4th, crossed the border to Zambia and flew to South Africa.  Getting back into South Africa from Zambia was much less dramatic then getting in.  Apparently an emailed copy of your yellow card was proof enough and I was able to board the plane to problem.  A quick flight to Johannesburg, then an even quicker (35 min) flight from Jo’burg to Matsapha, Swaziland and I was “home”.  We arrived by nightfall so Mom couldn’t see Swaziland right away but we spent a fabulous evening with a fellow PCV who picked us up at the airport through a Swazi friend who has a car.  My last transport would have already left by the time we got into town so we couldn’t go to my place that night.

We finally made it to my homestead on Sunday, Aug 5th).  It was so fun to introduce my Mom to my host family, crazy to have my two worlds meet.  We spent the next three days around my community.  Mom came to work with me and we spent a lot of time just hanging out on the homestead so Mom could experience Peace Corps Life.  We had an American BBQ one night for my host family with Hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, sweet corn on the cob, and chips.  Addy and Ryan came over for that and we had a BBQ on a Swazi style grill!  The next night my host family cooked a traditional Swazi dinner for my mom.   My Make and I decided that this would be a good moment to slaughter Henny Penny.  I know a lot of you just gasped and think this is sad, but its not.  That’s life here and Henny Penny lived an exceptionally good life for a chicken.  Reality is Penny’s life wouldn’t have been that much longer anyways since she was actually a cock.  Once you have too many cocks together they fight to be the alpha one and it causes a problem on the homestead.

enjoying some American BBQ

Mom came with me to the Refugee Camp to teach my last English class of the term.  My students love, love, loved having her visit.  They made her sit on the “hot seat,” an exercise we do weekly to help them practice asking and answering questions.  I think she really enjoyed being there also, however the 30-minute walk to and from the camp wasn’t her favorite.

English class at the refugee camp.
We spent a day at Hlane Royal Game Park, which is literally right next to my community yet I had never been there.  It’s the only game park in Swaziland that has the Big Five, which means they have Lions.  To all my Phi Mu Sisters: I had my first official Lion Spotting in Africa here at Hlane.  We got fairly close to a male lion (Sir Fidel?), which was resting after a meal.  Two lionesses were also prowling in the bushes near by.  This game drive was actually my favorite drive even more so then the ones in Chobe!  Swaziland isn’t exactly people’s number one destination for safari so the drive wasn’t touristy.  We were the only people in the park, there were several moments we just turned off the truck and sat in silence as animals walked and grazed around us oblivious to our presence.  We saw everything: Lions, elephants, giraffe, white rhinos, impala, kudu, wildabeast, zebra, crocodiles, storks, warthogs, eagles, vultures, inyana (type of antelope).  And I live right next door – I live in the real ‘Animal Kingdom!’  I got to show Mom all my “hangout” spotw here in Swaziland, so nice to have someone from home know and experience exactly where I live and what I’m doing.

Lion Spotting!

Bethany and Mom’s Whirlwind Tour of Southern Africa Chapter Three: Chobe Game Park, Botswana

August 2nd- 4th, 2012

The third part of our adventure was by far my favorite!  We spent a quick day and a half in Chobe Game Park in Botswana.  This park is huge – 100 sq. meters – and is home to the largest population of elephants in Africa – 600,000 of them!

To get into Botswana we only had to drive an hour to the border with Zambia and then cross the Zambezi River into Botswana.  At this point in the river you actually are looking at four different countries at once: Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.  The River serves as the border between them all.  Chobe Park is close to the border crossing has the Chobe River running through it creating a border between Botswana and Namibia.  The Chobe River eventually combines with the Zambezi River that creates Victoria Falls.

We stayed in a lodge right along the Chobe River and in the 1.5 days we were there we went on three safaris: two game drives, and one boat safari.   The first night was the boat safari and we took a three-hour tour around Sidudu Island, which lies in the River.  Botswana and Namibia were fighting over custody of the Island and Botswana won after the case was brought to the international court, because it wanted to keep it part of the animal park and Namibia wanted it for agriculture purposes.  Since the river is a constant source of water there was a lot of animals congregated on the island.  We got so close to elephants it was unreal.  We also saw up close hippos, water buffalo, crocodiles, impala, water monitor lizards, and tons of birds (storks, garters, eagles).  It was really cool.

On our only full day in Botswana we went on two three-hour game drives in the park; one at Sunrise and one at Sunset.  I had a bit of reverse culture shock here in Botswana.  I came to Africa with all the best adventure equipment and quickly learned I needed very little of it to actually survive here.  My neutral colored, quick drying clothes were quickly replaced with the hippest African trends, and my sturdy footwear has been replaced with heels, boots, and flats.  However now that I’ve joined the tourists here in Africa I have found myself in the middle of an REI catalogue.  My new African wardrobe that blends my into my community in Swaziland has left me looking very flashy amongst the oh-so-prepared safari goers.  At times I just wanted to say “I bought this in Africa” just so people wouldn’t judge me on why my pants didn’t zip off at the knee.  Anyways, despite my bright colors we saw more animals then I ever imagined we could.  Probably 50 giraffes, half as many elephants (including babies – adorable), mongoose, antelope, guinea fowl, zebra, lions from a far distance, hornbills, warthogs, baboons, and kudu.  I could go on game drives all day.  You get tired from searching but when you see something it’s such a rush!!  This full day of drives also happened to be my birthday – most amazing way to turn another year older.  To celebrate myself I also took advantage of the hotel spa and got myself a message and then we had a nice candle-lit dinner with wine over looking the Chobe River.

Bethany and Mom’s Whirlwind Tour of Southern Africa Chapter Two: Livingstone, Zambia (Victoria Falls)

July 30th  – August 2nd, 2012

Very important note: If you are going to Zambia DO NOT forget to bring your yellow vaccination card saying you got a yellow fever shot.  I of course did forget this document but in my defense it wasn’t on my person and that is why I forgot it (Orch Dorks reading this, remember Madura always saying “keep your passport on your person.”).  I almost wasn’t let on the plane.  However I flashed my Swaziland Work Visa and all of sudden it was ok for me to go to Zambia without proof that I’m vaccinated.

We landed in the tiny Livingstone Airport and waited in line for 45 minutes to buy our Zambia travel visas.  We then got picked up and brought to a Paradise in Africa.  Our hotel, the Zambezi Sun, was located in a wildlife sanctuary and is very resort like with an outdoor pool and restaurants.  Having seen “real” Africa this tourist destination was way perfect for me.  Plus we had Zebra roaming around right outside our room!

Our first night there we went on a Sunset Cruise along the Zambezi River.  This river is one of the largest in Africa and runs from Zambia to Mozambique into the Indian Ocean.  We slowly drifted along the river, stopping every now and then to look at the animals that were spotted.  We saw hippos, crocs, monkeys, a giraffe, an elephant, and many birds.  Eventually we stopped to watch the sunset.  The sun goes down so fast here you can actually watch it set in the matter of minutes. 

Zambezi River
On our second day in Zambia we walked to Victoria Falls.  This is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and is absolutely amazing and breathtakingly beautiful.  They are named after Queen Victoria who was the first Royal to visit the Falls after a Scottish explorer Robert Livingstone discovered them.  Our hotel was only a five-minute walk from the Zambia side of the Falls, they are so large they run also into Zimbabwe.  We spent the morning ogling at this wonder and getting quite wet from the mist.  We spent the rest of the afternoon poolside relaxing.

Victoria Falls

Meantime I got a copy of my yellow card emailed to me and printed in hopes that it is good enough if I get asked for it again!  At one of our poolside periods we got to see the true nature of baboons.  A whole troop of them (do baboons travel in troops?) came bounding into the hotel pool area.  The largest one quickly stole a woman’s bag, ran to the top of the hotel and took everything out and threw it everywhere.  It was really funny, but I felt bad for the lady.  She did get her stuff back eventually.

We spent three days enjoying Victoria Falls and then headed to Botswana for Chapter three!

Bethany and Mom’s Whirlwind Tour of Southern Africa Chapter One: Cape Town

July 25th – 30th, 2012

Mom and I landed in Cape Town in July 25th coming from different directions and reuniting in the international arrivals section of the airport.  It was 8:30pm, the airport was closed and deserted, but quickly came back to life as the last flight from Amsterdam arrived.  I anticipated the scene from “Love Actually” at the beginning and the end, but that’s not exactly how the reconnection happened.  However, it was still good to see a familiar face for the first time in almost 14 months.

Mom and I spent 4 days in Cape Town exploring everything.  The fast paced modern life was a bit overwhelming for me at first, but I quickly got used to hot showers and good food that I didn’t have to cook.  Seriously, I attacked the breakfast buffet like a lioness taking down an impala.

Day One we explored the Waterfront, touristy but great.  More things to buy then the Grandstand at the State Fair, street music, outdoor restaurants, and fishing boats coming and going doing their daily business.  Its cold in Cape Town!  Mom thought it was great coming from the unusually hot MN summer, but I was freezing.  It was probably around 65-70 degrees F but my body had acclimated to the African bushveld and it wasn’t used to having to heat itself up.  I may just die when I get back to Minnesota.

Day Two we went on an all day tour of the wine country.  MN entrepreneurs lets get on this wine tour bandwagon, it’s so great.  We got picked up at our hotel in a van with 9 others and spent a whole day visiting wine estates sampling their products.  Wine and cheeses, wine and pastries, wine and chocolate; does life get any better?  I also had a Kudu burger for lunch – Kudu is a type of antelope – tastes like venison. 

Day Three we went down the coast to Cape Point.  This is the Cape of Good Hope and the most South-western tip of Africa.  It was a beautiful drive, however I may have slept through part of it (I was up way to late watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics – I love TV!).  When I woke up we were stopping to look at ostriches.  We saw a lot of wildlife on this day.  We took a boat ride out to seal island on Hout Bay, so many seals, all sunbathing, on one large rock.  I already mentioned the ostriches; also baboons appeared along the road.  We even stopped to watch a colony of African penguins (called Jack Ass Penguins for the sound they make) that call the beaches of Simons Town South Africa their home.

One adult and two teen penguins
Mom and I at the Cape of Good Hope
Seals basking!

Day Four we went back to the waterfront.  However this time we took a ferry ride out to Robbin Island.  This island is where Nelson Mandela was held as a political prisoner for 18 of his 27-year sentence.  He was held in the solitary cell section, where he slept on a thin mattress on the ground, along with other political activist that seemed dangerously influential.  The prison is no longer in use, all prisoners were released in 1991 and now you can have a guided tour of the place by one of the former prisoners.  Our guide was held in the group cells with up to 50 other men.  Very educational and the view of Cape Town from the island is amazing. 

Mandela's Prison Cell
This was our last day in Cape Town and we celebrated with a fantastic meal at the hotel restaurant and I think I hit up the dessert table like three times.  We left Cape Town at 4:30am the next morning to begin chapter two of our adventure.

Waya Waya Teachers Strike

July 13th, 2012

Waya Waya = indefinite strike

We are now ending week 3 of the indefinite teacher strike here in Swaziland.  This means a whole range of operation statuses for the schools across the country.  Some have stood vacant since the beginning of June. Teachers and students have occupied some schools, like my High School, but class isn’t being held.  Everyone just hangs around until after lunch.  You can decide if this is a good or bad thing, but the students are still being fed lunch!  The World Food Program (WFP) started a school-feeding program here in Swaziland and it successfully got transferred over to the government to manage.  However, the government hasn’t been able to afford the program and schools were without food for much of last year (part of the school protesting that happened last winter), so it is now back in the hands of WFP.   Despite all this, there are still some schools that are operating as per usual. 

For me this means that my Health Club has basically disbanded, however, as you already know the library is still up and running thankfully.  Well that was until this week.  Teachers went to the government on Monday and lost their case.  In retaliation they decided to host a sit-in: basically what they are already doing – being on school grounds but not teaching.  The Government in response said this wasn’t allowed and in cases where schools are participating anyways violence has broken out.  My school officially closed for the last three days of this week in response.  I have seen a number of schools being “blocked” from entry by police but things have been quite in my area so far.  There is talk of all civil servants striking together but so far transport is running and nurses are still at the clinics.  We’ll see where this goes.

My question is why are parents not the ones protesting?  They pay extremely expensive school fees yet their students are not being taught.  Form 3 (grade 10) and Form 5 (grade 12) have national exams next term that they will be forced to take yet will fail because they have lost so many weeks of instruction.  If this waya waya results in reform then it may be worth it, but right now it’s causing a lot more damage then good.

Books For Africa and Tofu Sloppy Joes

July 12th, 2012

Our Books for Africa books have arrived!!!

Last Tuesday Addy and I met our Librarian from the High School and a large lorry truck at a warehouse in town.  It took about 3 minutes for five strong boys and Addy to load boxes with 1,000 books onto the lorry.  It was real quick and easy, now we just have to sort and label them all.

Anyways the adventure to pick-up the books was way more exciting then I made it sound.  First we had to find the warehouse.  The PCVs who are in charge of the project thankfully drew us a map, however they drew the longest possible route to the warehouse.  Addy and I spent half an hour walking in a giant circle following the directions precisely.  We found the place no problem and helped some lost lorries from other schools find it as well.  However as we went to leave a fellow PCV took us the opposite way we came.  This lead us to where we started from but was only a 10 minute walk down one road.  Yay for adventure and exercise!!

We also discovered the Asian Market in Swaziland, which is actually an unmarked garage behind a strip of stores.  I have no idea who stumbled upon this gem in the first place but its awesome – giant bags of rice noodles for cheap cheap!!  And Cheap tofu!!  So this leads me to tofu sloppy Joes.  A Vegan friend introduced me to tofu sloppy Joes long ago and I loved them so I have attempted to make my own.  This had much better results then my homemade egg rolls (if anyone knows how to actually make an egg roll please help a sister out).  The sloppy Joes are simmering as we speak so I may be talking to soon, but it smells so good and were easy to make.  Of course no bread but I have chips and lettuce to make a wrap perhaps. 

Here is the recipe I used:

-       2 large blocks tofu
-       several tbsp chili powder
-       diced onion (one small)
-       chopped garlic (few cloves)
-       one can diced tomatoes
-       squirt ketchup
-       squirt mustard (or mustard powder)
-       dash of sugar
-       oil

1.     break tofu into little bits and fry with oil in a pan
2.     add onion and garlic and fry a bit
3.     add tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, chili powder, and sugar
4.     let simmer for about a half hour until its thick and delicious

Vegan/Vegetarian friends have any suggestions of what else to do with tofu?