Thursday, July 18, 2013

Close of Service


July 18th, 2013

 
So I official close my service today… as of midnight I will no longer a PCV, but a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) minus the R for a bit.

 
Closing your service is numbing, stressful, exciting, and sad all at the same time.  I spent the last week cleaning every inch of my small house, touching everything I own and deciding where it goes and what comes with me (which is not much), and packing it all up.  July 16th, was my pick up day from site.  It was such a weird day.  It feels like normal and everyone goes about there normal business and then Peace Corps shows up, puts your small amount of belongings in a car and officially takes you out of site.  My pick-up day was a Tuesday morning, which is dip-tank day (where the cows and goats go to get dipped in solution for tick control and such).  My host parents were at the dip tank so I had to do my goodbyes with them before hand, so it was just my sister Nosipho and her two year old son Mukelo to see me off.  I was totally numb up until the car came, not sure how I was feeling about all the change, but as soon as it came time to hug my sister and get in the car I couldn’t stop the tears.  I cried all the way out of my community.  I am so excited for the next chapter in my life, but it’s really hard to leave the last.

 
For the past three days I have been running around Mbabane and the Peace Corps Office completing a huge checklist of things that need to get done before I am allowed to leave the country.  Thankfully there are nine of us COSing this week so we were all in the chaotic mess together.  I finished my checklist yesterday and said all my goodbyes to PC staff and then to make it feel really official that all this was over, we had a farewell PC dinner at our DMO’s house.  All the America staff came and the nine of us COSing this week (everyone there just so happened to be RPCVs) had a really nice home-cooked dinner together to celebrate the end.  It was so great, we shared funny stories of the last two years, shared our travel plans, and just relaxed a bit from the stress of COSing and what is to come once we get back stateside.

 
Thankfully I have a nice month long COS trip to look forward to starting tomorrow.  I am starting in Cape Town with three other RPCVs (that’s weird to say) and we are driving the Garden Route in South Africa to Durban, then up to Kruger National Park making a few stops on the way, then a few days back in Swaziland, and then finally a brief 5 day visit to Rome, Italy.  It’s going to be great to get to know South Africa more, and a nice reward for us in Italy for surviving the last 26 months.  It’s going to be awesome!  I will fill you all in when I see you back in America!

 
So this is it, my last blog post.  It’s been such an adventure these past two years.  Thanks for letting me share a bit of it with all of you who are reading.  They say Peace Corps is “the hardest job you will ever love.”  We hear it so often we usually shrug it off as a joke, but its true.  This job is so hard at times, but also the best experience of my life.  I am going to miss the craziness of it all at times, but thankful to be leaving with the happy memory of it.

 
Until the next big adventure… Sala Kahle (stay well)!!

Goodbyes, Goodbyes, Goodbyes


July 6th-7th, 2013

 

I had a whirlwind of goodbyes to attend to this weekend. 

 
It all started Saturday morning when Addy, Ryan, and I went to Umphakatsi (local community government) to say our official goodbye to our community chief.  We waited around until called and then sat with the chief under the official tree in the Royal kraal.  All the men sat on tree stumps and us women arranged ourselves on lihiyas (fabric) on the ground.  We each greeted the chief and his inner council and explained what projects we had completed over the two years and expressed our thanks for being allowed to work within the community.  The chief replied with his own thanks, and we were dismissed.  Then we all relocated into the Umphakatsi building for the community meeting where we officially said goodbye to the community.  Again we all took turns saying our thanks, I am always last of the three to speak, so I tried to make mine funny by thanking the community for teaching me to wash my clothes, cook my food, and weed my garden.  It was a crowd pleaser.  All the official goodbyes were done by noon, so after Addy and Ryan made a quick appearance at my homestead, which is near Umphakatsi, to say goodbye to my host family.

 
We all then headed over to Mpaka and the Refugee Camp.  Our counterparts and friends at the camp put on a goodbye lunch for us that was such a great surprise.  Mr. Moogie, one of our oldest counterparts who is like a father to us, cooked us a Somalian meal that we all shared and was amazing.  After eating we had some entertainment.  One of the High School kids at the camp wrote us a few farewell songs that he performed on his guitar.  They were so nice and talked about keeping the hope, and staying in touch, and being strong to continue the work we have all done at the camp.  I was so touched.  It’s pretty rare to get real appreciation for the work we do here and these songs and this meal were the best form of thank you we could ask for.  We had another round of speeches, which caused some tears.  We have a special relationship with the refugee camp that is very different from our relationship with our Swazi counterparts.   Its is sad to leave our friends here, but the changed that has happened at the camp over the two years is amazing to see.  We came, we suggested ideas, we worked together, and now we go leaving behind the tools that they need to keep going.  And the best part is that they are using these tools.  They have plans and goals and committees and better communication.  I am excited to keep tabs on the happenings at the camp, to see the progress that I know will continue to happen there.

 

Afterwards, I made a quick stop at Addy and Ryan’s homestead to say farewell to their family.  Then it was back to my homestead where my host sisters greeted me who all came home to through me a farewell party.  We cooked a great meal and took tons of fun family photos and celebrated being together one last time.  The party lasted into Sunday with another meal, gift exchanges, more photos, and a very chaotic raiding of the things I am getting rid of before I leave.  It felt like Christmas.  But then sadly we had to eventually say our goodbyes to each other too.  Thankfully all my host sisters have whatsapp so we will be able to keep in touch easily. 
It was a very busy, emotional 24 hours.  It’s weird to say goodbye after two years and not know if you will ever be able to say hello again.  I am so thankful to have these people in my life, and they will stay with me forever.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mighty Fine Group 9 Ring Out

July 5th, 2013

For the first time in PC Swaziland history we did a group ring out for closing our service.  Group nine has had it fare share of ups and downs and through the waves we lost 16 members who decided to end their service early.  That left only 23 of us and all but 6 are all closing our service in a two week time span.  We all wanted to celebrate each other’s ring out, which are traditional done one by one as people COS, but since we all leave so close together it would be impossible, and the last six who leave later would have no one to celebrate with them.  So we decided to all ring out together.

On July 5th, the day after our annual Fourth of July celebration at our Country Director’s house, we all met at the Peace Corps office.  PC staff and G10 PCVs all came and we took some time to say a few things about the last two years.  Staff congratulated us and thanked us on our service, and we thanked the staff for all their support and each other for being the family that we needed to survive this experience.

Once all was said, we moved outside the office to the “bell” which is actually a weight lifting dumbbell of sorts that hangs next to the front door.  We each took a turn to “ring” the bell with a metal rod and sign our names.  It was a nice way to feel the end of our service as a group.  It would be the last time I would see many of the PCVs in G9 and G10, and the goodbyes were unreal but heartfelt. 

Now it’s back to site for two weeks until PC comes to pick me up for my official close of Service (COS).

The Magic of Green Bar

Green Bar is the all purpose soap here in Swaziland.  It literally is a green bar of soap (about 18 in long) made of who knows what, but it works magic.  I use it most regularly to wash my clothes and it gets any stain out.  I also use it to make my steel pots and pan shine like new and most people also use it for general washing of hands and bodies.  Literally it can be used for anything.

Recently I experienced a new use for this powerful little product.  I was cooking and got a steam burn trying to get a handle less lid off of a boiling pot of water with nothing but a spoon and hand towel.  I immediately put my hand in a bucket of water but my thumb was still stinging minutes later and I had to resume cooking.  My host sister said put some green bar on it.  I immediately had a movie moment thinking of the Windex in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  I was like what? She took some green bar and rubbed it all over my thumb.  It burned like crazy and I was sure that I was just trapping the heat in and that I would be sorry later.  My sister promised that the pain was because green bar was actually healing my burn and that there would be no blister. 

It stopped stinging after a while and I forgot about it until the next morning.  When I awoke I looked at my thumb and it was red where the burn was but no blister, just as my host sister promised.  It was amazing.  It’s now been 4 days and my thumb is completely healed.  Green bar is some good muti (magic) I can get behind.  Don’t judge me if I arrive home with a suitcase full of it.

COS Med and Xmas in June

June 19th-22nd, 2013

I am officially medically cleared to return to America, unless something happens in the next month.  I had my Close of Service medical exam and I am all healthy.  No HIV, no TB, eyesight is good, BP is good, no cavities, no worms, etc.  I even got a bonus thyroid test done as per protocol for loosing more then 10 lbs during service.  On the record its officially 22 lbs and my thyroid is just fine!!!

After the three day fun of medical, we had our annual all PCV Christmas in June celebration.  It was awesome!!!  There is one other girl who is g-free (and dairy-free) here and between her and me constantly reminding people of what we can and cannot eat, it has finally made a difference.  Everyone pulled together and purposely made g-free dishes so we could have a full meal too.  I made g-free sweet potato cornbread, there was chickpea stuffing, g-free brownies, g-free chicken (aka made without stuffing inside), mashed potatoes made with goats milk, and lots of veggies.  It was so great, and I can’t believe my PC family is so good to me.

We ate our hearts out and then did a white elephant gift exchange.  We all brought random stuff from our huts we don’t want.  G9ers (those of us who are leaving) gave some stellar gifts as we are getting rid of everything, and then there were some really funny, but not so stellar gifts also.  I ended up with goody bag of instant coffee, condiments, a condom, and a moist towelette from South African airlines haha.

Santa showed up, we drank lots of eggnog, and celebrated Christmas six months late, American style.  I donated all my xmas decorations that friends and family have sent me from home to make the scene for the party.  I dressed up a tree for all the gifts to go under and the most popular ornament by far was one I received via package that is a snowman holding a star that says “God Bless America.”  We may commercialize everything in America, but its all meant to bring people together, and to me that is what all the holidays are about, celebrating life with friends and family.  We don’t have much as PCVs, but we sure know how to take a little and turn it into a big celebration!

Ngwempisi Gorge

June 15-17th, 2013

I had what is probably my last stay-cation here in the Kingdom and it was beautiful.  I went with eight other PCVs to Ngwempisi Gorge, which is in the middle of nowhere and it’s stunningly gorgeous (get it hahaha).  We stayed at a community run lodge called Khopho Hut that is literally a rock tree fort.  It is built into the rock cliff face and overlooks the gorge.  The kitchen, and toilet, and shower are completely open so you can enjoy the views while you do everything.  You can even climb up onto the rock rooftop and overlook all that the light touches (which, in fact, is our Kingdom…sorry it was the perfect opportunity for a Lion King reference).  We did some stargazing (those fireflies that got stuck in that big bluish black thing… HA did it again) from up there one night that was unbelievable.

Night one we braaied (BBQ) and spent time chasing rats out of the kitchen.  We had to keep shooing them away from our food before we figured out a way to hang our food up in bags from the ceiling.  Turns out rats really like cake, as it was the only thing they actually ate.  Our one full day at the gorge we had a local guy show us the way to the natural hot springs.  We first climbed across the mountains (I love horizontal hiking), then we got to the top of one mountain and took a rest to look out on the entire gorge, which was just an amazing view.  From then on it was a 1.5 hour vertical climb downhill.  Not so bad, but we knew we would have to go back up it eventually.  We progressed down the mountain landscape from large rock faces and no trees, to fern forest and grass, down into thick forests with large trees, and eventually found the river at the bottom.  Once at the river our guide said we must cross it to get to the hot springs.  So we all undressed as much as we felt comfortable (for our guide it was down to his tighty whities, which were actually blue) and forged the stomach deep river.  We thought well fine, the river is freezing, but we will have the hot springs to warm us.  Yeah the hot springs were a pool deep enough to submerge our feet, but still a nice natural wonder.  We didn’t bask long in the warm pools before having lunch by the river and then making our way back up before it got dark.  I hate vertical hiking, but to be honest I am getting so much better at it here.  We made it up the mountain in two hours and I didn’t feel like I was going to die, but we took lots of breaks.


sunset view from the rock rooftop
The gorge

the gang

the outdoor toilet/shower
We walked home at dusk, enjoyed outdoor showers at sunset, and made dinner.  There really wasn’t much kitchenware at the lodge but we made due, thankful for our Swiss army knives.  We made soup for dinner that we ended up drinking out of mugs as there was no silverware.  This stay-cation was to celebrate my friend Emma’s birthday.  I had received some birthday decoration in a packaged that I recently found under my bed so we decorated the tree house and celebrated with drinks by candlelight. 

After two nights at the gorge we emerged from the middle of nowhere and went into town.  For the first time here I was able to feel like I had gone someplace completely away and didn’t have to leave the country.  It’s a small country so the fact that I found a place like this is nice!  In town the celebration continued with pizza, drinks, a blurry movie at the one and only movie theater and ice cream.  Perfect end to a perfect weekend!

Refugee Camp Library

June 13-14th, 2013

The refugee Camp participated in the Books for Africa project this year.  A resident of the camp was trained in January and the books were delivered in May.  The past few days I hopped over to the camp and helped Addy and Ryan (who headed the project) and three of the refugees in cataloguing all of the 1000 donated books. 

The books were split into adult and children’s fiction, non-fiction by topic, and compilation books.  Each book was given a colored sticker to classify its section and then was labeled with its author and its library number so it can be recorded when checked out. 

The library was built in a run down building that was not being used.  Materials to paint and build shelves were donated by a grocery store in town and Ryan has been working with the camp over the past several months to get the room refurbished with new windows and secure doors that lock.  More shelves are scheduled to be built and then the library is ready to be opened on World Refugee Day next week.

Since all my projects are wrapped up, it was nice to get out and do some work for a few days and see my friends at the camp.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bushfire: Bring Your Fire

May 31st – June 2nd, 2013

The fire was for sure brought this weekend at Bushfire!!

Bushfire Music Festival is one of the greatest things about serving in Swaziland.  For those who don’t remember by blog from last year, it is a three-day call to action.  Through celebrating the arts: music, written word, dance, drama, the festival is meant to inspire, encourage, and celebrate efforts in development, education, and outreach to make communities a better place to live.

I decided to camp on the festival grounds this year with the majority of the other PCVs from Swaziland and a group of PCVs from Mozambique.  It was so much fun.  Three days of awesome music and artists representing Africa, South America, and Europe, great food from all over the world, and of course access to buying goods from all the craft stands representing the fair trade handicraft market here in Swaziland.  The refugee camp I have worked with in the past was represented in the food court.  They had a booth that my fellow PCVs Ryan and Addy helped them organize and they sold native food from Rwanda, Burundi, and Somalia. It was awesome and their stand was very popular.



My favorite acts over the three days were Toya DeLazy (popular SA pop artist), Jeremy Loops, The Muffins (an urban indie jazz band), The soil (acapella group), and Guy Buttery (acoustic guitarist).  There was also a really impressive string quartet from Austria that accompanied a Mozambique band mixing Classical and African rhythms.



Bushfire Stage by Day


If anyone is in Southern Africa in late May/early June, Bushfire is a must.  One of my favorite weekends!!  Late nights dancing, lazy days sitting listening to music, good food, good friends, can’t get better than that. 

For more info check out their website at www.bushfire.co.za


bring your fire!


Free Sterilization for Disadvantaged Animals

May 12th, 2013

After months and months of trying to find a cheap place to get the family cat neutered, Addy and I responded to a newspaper clipping advertising a free sterilization day that was being sponsored by Swaziland Animal Welfare Society (SAWS), Swaziland Government Veterinary services and local private vets, and all being funded by an insurance company from South Africa.  Can’t get much cheaper than free, so we made an appointment to see what it was all about.

Addy and Ryan’s Host Dad owns a car so he loaded them and their female dog (who has had 16 puppies in the last year) and my cat and I up, and we set off at dawn to the center of the country.  We ended up at an elementary school where makeshift surgery and recovery rooms had been prepared in the classrooms.  With about 40 other dogs and their owners, we waited in a field from 7:30am until 3:30pm before they called our numbers.

They could operate on several animals at a time and since it was in a classroom, we could stand outside and watch from the windows.  Both my cat and Addy’s dog did great, and recovered just fine.  We got to sit in the recovery room as the animals woke up and helped out with the rest of the volunteers who were there.  We were the only white people not volunteering at the event so we kept getting asked to do things by mistake, but we helped anyways.

The day was long, but a really sweet deal.  All for free we got our animals fixed, de-wormed, treated with tick and flea medication, and got their annual vaccinations.  And in true Swazi fashion the event included lunch and a tea break.  Nothing is really free here unless food comes with it.

Overall, this event was awesome.  It was the first of its kind here and much needed.  Animal welfare isn’t a priority here, stray animals are abundant, and malnourished animals are the norm.  By providing this service, the vets were also allowed to talk with owners and educate them.  They were really prepared with information for all ages.  It was nice to see so many people show up to have their animals taken care of, it shows that if available people really do want proper care for their animals, its just not accessible in these rural areas.

COS Conference

May 6th – 9th, 2013

Close of Service (COS) Conference… can’t believe it’s that time in my service already. 

Just one day after Camp GLOW ended, all of the Mighty Fine Group 9 met at our Peace Corps Office.  We were then bused to the nice Forester Arms Hotel, tucked away in the forests of the Hhohho region.

We spent 3 glorious days sleeping in really comfortable beds, loving indoor plumbing (that we only had to share with one other person), eating buffets for breakfast and lunch, and four course dinners.  When we weren’t enjoying these fine things, we were being prepared for what comes next.  How do we rap up two years in Swaziland? How do we go back to America and re-assimilate? How do we get a job?  And how do we talk about Swaziland in five minutes to people who simply don’t care?

To help fuel the excitement about what comes after Peace Corps we were all given our official Close of Service dates.  So here it is…  I am officially COSing on July 18th!!!  I will do a bit of traveling before coming stateside again, but plan to be back in MN mid-August.

For the three days we also reflected on our last two years, hardly believing that we made it through.  Granted we are much smaller then when we came.  We started with 39 in our group and are down to 23 for various reasons, but despite our dwindling numbers we are still mighty fine!  We have become so close over the last two years; it’s hard to think that when I go back to MN I won’t have my G9 PCVs there with me when I get off the plane.  Good thing airtime (cell phone minutes) is much more cheap (see I can’t even speak proper English anymore) in America.

As we left the conference, we celebrated our 23rd month anniversary.  Then it was back to site, after two weeks away.  No matter how integrated you feel, it’s always a transition back to hut life, but I was also returning with the heavy task of having to start packing, getting rid of things, and saying goodbye.  Two months is going to go by very fast.

The Mighty Fine G9!!!

Friday, May 17, 2013

GLOWing brightly at Camp GLOW


April 29th – May 4th, 2013

GLOW camp finally came and went with huge success!!!

The week started when, Nosipho (my counterpart and sisi) and I drug our bags and bedding to the bus stop where we met with the two girls we had selected to attend the camp.  From there we got on a bus and picked up Addy, her counterpart Zandie, and four other campers from our community in Mpaka then we were all off to Siteki where Camp GLOW was being held at the primary school for the deaf.

Once in Siteki we met up with many other PCVs, counselors and campers at the bus rank.  Soon after a bus with balloons and posters advertising itself as the GLOW bus pulled up and loaded us all up to take us to the campus.  A whirlwind of checking in, saying hellos to old and new friends, getting beds assigned and Camp GLOW finally began.

We had a weekend filled with knowledge, fun, empowerment, and food.  The girls were taught mostly by our trained counterparts who were serving as counselors and by us PCVs.  Day one was all welcomes and ground rules, and getting to know each other activities.  Day two was all about health.  Girls attended sessions on HIV and STI knowledge, contraceptives, personal hygiene, male and female bodies, emotional health, having a child by choice not chance, alternatives to sex, and abstinence.  Day three was art day.  A local art gallery called Yebo Art came as part of their art outreach program.  The campers each were taught how to screen print and designed something personal to be printed on their GLOW t-shirt.  They also got a chance to paint portraits and learned about expressing themselves through poetry, lead by a local poet named Black Note.

One of my GLOW girls Landiwe making her
screenprint on her t-shirt.
 Day Four was all about getting out and about.  We took a walk to a beautiful private farm nearby and held sessions on volunteerism, leadership, and team building.  I taught about leadership in an orange grove, and then we ate lunch by a lily-pad pond.  Beautiful day!  Day Five was all about learning more about the resources around Swaziland that can help empower women.  We had a career fair, a male and female panel made up of successful men and women from Swaziland, and national organizations supporting women’s right were there to talk with girls about how they are there to help empower young women.

The week ended with an epic talent show.  We had 20 acts that covered all topics of women’s empowerment.  Songs, dances, poems, dramas (skits) and even a thrown together dance number performed by us PCVs to Beyonce’s “Girls run the World.”  I lost my voice cheering on the girl power that was happening in that room.  We expended all the energy we had left in a dance party where my campers taught me how to move like a true Swazi.  Get ready America; I have some awesome new dance moves to show you.

A week after we arrived we sadly had to say goodbye.  The shy greetings that started the camp was replaced with cheering goodbyes and promises to stay in touch on facebook and whats app.

Hurray for GLOW!!

The Malindza/Mpaka crew!
 Us PCVs needed to do a debrief after camp so we stayed an extra night after sending the girls and counselors on their way.  We stayed at the private farm we walked to earlier that week.  After reviewing the week and making suggestions for next year, we celebrated our huge success with Mexican food, cocktails, and another dance party.  Sadly it was all over by 8:30pm and we were in bed by 9pm all super exhausted from the week.  It was nice to sleep in a normal bed again.  We PCV took the brunt of the sleeping accommodations at the school and stayed in the preschool dorms, with preschool sized beds, preschool sized toilets, and low level sinks. 

The PCV GLOW executive council!

Can’t wait to see how GLOW will continue to grow in my community and excited to hear how camp will be even bigger and better next year!

A huge THANK YOU to everyone at home who contributed to GLOW, with donations, monetary or in-kind.  This would not have been at all possible if we didn’t have your support and donations.  We were able to give each girl a goody bag with personal toiletries and fun stuff that are novelties to them.  They also got a week away from the confines of the role of girls in a traditional Swazi homestead.  They got a taste of what life could hold for them and received some tools and knowledge to get to wherever they dream of going!  Giver yourself a pat on the back for making all of that a possibility, your donation may have been just the thing to change a girls life forever!  

Lusuku Lwenkutalwa lwenkhosi: The King’s Birthday


April 19th, 2013

I have officially been to a royal birthday party.  Cross that one off the bucket list, although I have to admit it was not the glamorous event my imagination dreamed up.  My participation resembled more of a 16th century royal outing from the perspective of a peasant.

Every year the King hosts a birthday party in a different region of the country.  This year, for his 45th birthday, he held it in Siteki, the closest town to my community, so I decided to put on my party clothes and go.  It was a rainy day so I didn’t go full out in Swazi attire, which leaves a women fairly exposed to the elements, rather I donned modern clothes plus a lihiya as a skirt and a traditional necklace to show I had some Swazi spirit. 

Catching a very crowed, standing room only bus to Siteki I practiced how to say “King’s Birthday” in siSwati, which provided a lot of entertainment to those around me.  A stadium had been erected in a muddy field, much like a jousting tournament, and we (the public) were admitted and squished into stadium benches to view the events of the day. 

So we were there, we were excited to see what a King’s Birthday Party looked like.  We arrived just in time for the scheduled events to start and in true Swazi style they didn’t start for 2 more hours.  Siteki sits on a plateau and its significantly colder then down in the area where I live.  It was cold and rainy, sitting and waiting was miserable.  I was sitting in the student section with my PCV friend Ryan’s primary school.  I recruited the students to sit around my in a circle, we created a huddle of warmth to pass the time.  We waited and waited and then we saw just about nothing. 

Before the King arrived a very heavy fog descended on the Siteki plateau making it impossible to see past 25 feet in front of you, let alone across a stadium field.  Despite being very late for his own party, the King made an exciting entrance.  The army provided guard and he inspected them to kick-start the events, which got him within 30 feet of me!  A few singings of the national anthem later it seems things were getting started.  The army guard did some really cool silent marching that got the crowd cheering, despite the fact we could all barely see through the fog.  Then someone talked for an hour announcing new titles people were getting and then the King left and it was over. 

There was supposed to be hours of entertainment that was prepared by various school groups and performance arts groups from the area, including Ryan’s students.  It all got canceled because time was up.  One good thing to come out of the day was that the students, after sitting in the cold all day, got their free gift for “participating,” which ironically was a jacket that they received upon leaving the event.

Frozen, we made our way back to the bus rank to try and get home.  This proved to be the most exciting part of the day.  Since everyone was trying to head west, as were we, the demand for getting on transport was insane.  Finally a bus willing to stop at all our little places along the main road came and it was a mad dash to get on.  All etiquette was thrown out the window, pushing and shoving were the tools needed to get on the bus and I did and I got a seat.  I’d say that means I’m fully integrated.

All in all, an interesting way to spend the day and its one more cultural event under my belt.


The End of an Era


April 16th, 2013

My Peace Corps service is rapidly coming closer and closer to the end, and today marked the end of a project that has truly defined my service. 

We held out very last ESL (English as a Second Language) class at the Refugee Camp.  Technically it wasn’t even class, it was a certificate ceremony that we have after every completed 12-week term.  This was our fourth and final term.  We wont be able to start and complete another before our service is over.

It didn’t feel like the end, but I am sure it will soon enough.  No more trips to Mpaka every week.  No more meeting to plan our lessons with our co-teachers.  No more assessing new students and re-assessing current students to mark their progress.  As much as I will get sentimental about this project ending it feels like the right time for it to end. 

It was a great project, but all of our students are moving on in life.  Working with refugees we got used to our class roster changing every term.  Students would leave for new places or home countries and as of last term students were getting jobs in Manzini.  I like to think we helped with that, giving them more confidence with speaking English.  My co-teacher Amnesty even got his official refugee status and got a job.  Everyone is starting to move on to better things so it feels right that classes are over and I’m moving on to.

All in all I think this is the project I am most proud of here in Swaziland.  We listened to what a community needed.  We found ambitious, hard-working, motivated counterparts, we reached out to get them trained and together created, developed, and implemented a English language class that taught people of various proficiency levels.  We had no idea what we were getting into that first day we gathered everyone, but we figured it out, and it was a success.  Students that would not even say hello to us on the first day are now having a conversation with us every time we see them.  Down caste eyes and embarrassed mumbles have turned into proud handshakes and greetings with a smile.
It makes being here that much easier when you can see the difference you have made.  And to top it all off, we know that this learning can continue after we leave.  There are trained people who can write a lesson plan and implement it.  The Refugee Camp will be getting a library full of books within the next few months to help with continued language learning, and we have shown the refugees that they can use each other as teachers.  Yay for sustainability!  Yay for English language learning!  Yay for successfully completed projects!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

On The Sani Pass!





April 8-11thth, 2013

To try and use up some of my well-earned vacation days (seriously I have enough to take vacation for month), I planned a trip into South Africa with a few of my PCV friends.

It was so Amazing!!  I spent the first 3.5 days on the Sani Pass, in the Drakensburg area of the Kwazulu-Natal region, which is the southeastern part of South Africa; from the bottom of Swaziland to the bottom of Lesotho.

At this point there were three of us and like the public transportation rock stars that we are, we made it from the center of Swaziland to the Sani Pass in one day.  It took a total of 5 different transportation changeovers, and we were in transit from 6am to 7:30pm, but we made it, cutting our costs by several hundred rand because we took public rather then a backpacker’s bus.

We stayed at the Sani Pass Backpacker’s Lodge, which I give a 5 star rating, because it is the best backpackers I have ever stayed at!  Best staff, best view, and best shower and all for the same price as most of the questionable backpackers out there.  They have free milk from the diary cow that is milked daily, guided tours into Lesotho, unguided day hikes, a warm fireplace, 2 fully stocked kitchens, drinkable tap water that is the freshest I’ve ever tasted, and they make your bed everyday, adding extra blankets when the nights get colder.  It doesn’t sound like much, but when I am used to paying the same price at most backpackers and getting very basic accomadations, musty bedding, a cold shower, and a kitchen you’d rather not cook in, it felt like the Sani Pass Lodge was a high class hotel.


Day one on the Pass, we took ourselves on a 4-5 hour day hike, which took us 8 hours.  We weren’t slow, we just got caught up in the views, and a very fun cave we had to walk through.  It is so beautiful in this region.  Mountains in every direction you look.  On our hike they just engulfed us from all sides.  We ate lunch by a blue lagoon, but I didn’t swim as it was very cold water.  Then we found the waterfall, which required us to stand on the very edge of a cliff to look down on it.  Very scary, very awesome!  The hike became more adventurous and less fun after the waterfall.  Two wrong trail turns (let led us on some very narrow paths along a steep mountain before we realized we needed to turn back to get to the real trail) and three awful walks through the cold river later we finished the hike.



Pool along the hike
The very clear spring water
Day Two we took a guided day trip into Lesotho.  The Sani Pass into Lesotho is crazy scary and can only be done by a 4x4 vehicle.  A heavy fog descended on the Pass during the night so I couldn’t really get the whole effect of the dirt roat, but it included 14 switchbacks to get up into Lesotho.  Some requiring a three-point turn they are so narrow.  Once up, we decided that it was too foggy and cold to do the scheduled hike up the Hodgeson’s peak (the highest point in SA), so we went further into Lesotho and did a hike just up one of the mountains.  It was so cool, but so cold.  I was unprepared for winter like temperatures and was freezing.  We were hiking over 3,000 meters so altitude made it hard to function, but we finally made it to the top just as it started to snow.  Well it wasn’t really snow yet, more like ice chunks and it was super windy so were actually just getting pelted in the face with pea size hail (not fun).  But the view was great.  We could see the tallest point in Lesotho, and the mountains that stretch forever with the sun peaking through and highlighting further away ridges.  We had lunch briefly as to not let our body temps drop and then headed back down.  We met some shepherds along the way.  This area of Lesotho is very unpopulated; only the Shepherds that bring their flocks of sheep and goats up during the summer to graze.  They build little stone huts and carry everything on horseback.  Aside from them there is a tiny village of a few women we brew beer and make bread to sell to the shepherds.  There are no schools, no stores, no clinics, nothing but views and a sheep-shearing shack. 

up in the mountains

A shepherd
 We headed to the village after the hike and watched them sheer the angora goats.  This wool gets exported out everywhere and ironically gets sold back to the shepherds in the form of blankets.  Then we visited with one of the women in the village and she made us some bread.  They use cow dung as a fire source and cook inside their stone and cow dung huts.  The huts have no windows to try and preserve the heat during the winter.  The lady we visited runs the village pub.  She sells homebrewed maize/sorghum beer and bread and plays a radio that is powered by a solar panel. 

We soon left her because it started to actually snow and we needed to make time for one last stop before heading down.  The last stop being the one and only real pub up here.  In fact it is the highest pub in Africa, and they make a deliciously warm mulled wine that was wonderful to drink after a day in the snow.  The ground was completely white now and I was so happy.  It felt like home, breathing in the cold air.  We descended the pass back into South Africa slowly, now we had the extra challenge of doing the pass in winter conditions, but we made it no problems.  We spent the evening eating our poor PCV meal of beans and rice by the fire, defrosting before heating up hot water bottles to snuggle with in bed.

We slept-in our last morning there, it was too cold to leave the comforts of our warm beds.  The fog had lifted and the sun was out again, but it was still frosty out.  We had the lodge to ourselves, which was nice compared to the night before.  The lodge was packed when we got back from our trip into Lesotho with a new wave of backpackers.  It was overwhelming, so many people wanting to chat, I’m no longer used to that.  We enjoyed a makeshift rice porridge breakfast by the fire and then set out for transport back to Durban.  Despite the 2 hours we had to wait in a khumbi for it to fill up, we made it to Durban by dusk.  

Durban!



April 11-13th, 2013


Our last two night of vacation were spent in Durban.  An actual city!!!  It was a short two days, but the best two days!  Here in Durban we met up with 4 more PCVs from Swaziland.  It was great to expand our group a bit, and even though there were only 7 of us, this is now 1/3 of our group that’s left in country.  It was fun to be on a Group 9 only vacation.

Night one, after reuniting, we all went out for a nice meal.  A real meal, it was amazing.  We went to an Italian restaurant in walking distance of our backpackers.  It had gluten free options so I had real pizza for the first time in 22 months.  Thankfully g-free pizza only came in one size – large, and I ate the whole thing not feeing one bit of guilt.  It was great being with my Peace Crops friends in a modern environment.  We had so much fun at dinner!  I felt we were that table that people wanted to be with, our happiness for being surrounded by good friends, food, wine, and having gotten a shower that day was radiating.  We felt alive!

For our only full day in Durban we spent the whole day at the waterfront.  We leisurely walked along the entire beachfront, toes in the sand, sun on my back, and the smell of water in the air.  It was so relaxing.  The afternoon we spent eating of course (my one an only plan for Durban…eat, eat, and eat some more) looking over the water, and shopping!  We headed back to the backpackers and got all glam-ed up for a Friday night out on the town.  We started with a sushi dinner, which spanned 3 hours and several bottles of wine, simply perfect.  Then we hit a rough spot trying to find a place to go dancing, but after walking off the sushi for a while we found a place called Tiger Tiger.  Best night out of my Peace Corps Service.  We spent the entire night dancing and singing our hearts out to the best music.  We closed down the dance floor around 4am, and then in pure American style had our cab drive-through McDonalds (we don’t have them in Swaziland).

After one hour of sleep, I roused everyone and we packed up the best we could and half functioning got ourselves to the bus rank.  Seven uncomfortable hours later we were back in Swaziland.  We all grudgingly crossed the border with the fuzzy memories and the faded entry stamp from the night before to remind us of our fabulous weekend in Durban!  

PCV girls:  Emma, Me, Mia, Kelly

Library Complete!


April 5th, 2013

The Malindza High School Library is officially complete…well as complete as far as my participation goes.  All 1000 donated books are out of their boxes and labeled and shelved with the existing books.  If I had to guess I would say we labeled around 5000 books total.  Each book got categorized with a color by topic and have been placed in numerical order according to their subject number.  The library looks so beautiful now and useable!

The system isn’t quite sticking with the students yet, I find pinks in the blues, and greens in the reds, but the point is there is a system.  The students are already really enjoying the new selection of fiction books that came in the donation boxes, and there are desks now for the students to work on.  Its just amazing to look back at what it was before, a disorganized mess.  Granted there are still about 2000 books that need to be labeled, and some shelves still need fixing, and the teachers resource room needs to be finished, but there are plans for these and that’s all I can ask for.  The technology and design class is helping every Friday to fix up the teachers resource room, which will also serve as the check-in/out desk.  It’s a slow process, and for a while I wasn’t sure we would see the end, but I am glad I was able to witness the progress to the point we are at.  I look forward to the day when I can return and see the library even more functional!

The Library Before

Library After

With the Librarian David

Easter Sunday


March 31st, 2013

I learned about and attended an interesting Swazi event today.  I can’t remember the name of the event, but it is a celebration that a family has when the price of 5 cows has been paid in order to acknowledge a pregnancy out of wedlock.  Someone in the Dube Family was in this situation and her boyfriend’s family paid the 5 cows to honor her.  Eventually those cows will be included in the Lobola price if she gets teka (traditional engagement) in the future.

Traditionally only married women and women with children are suppose to attend, but I was invited along as a guest.  Only these women attend because one of the cows is slaughtered and eaten to celebrate.  It is thought that by eating this cow you are welcoming children into your life there fore only married women or women already with children should eat it.  They let me eat the cow anyways and take annoying photos of the men eating the cow’s head.  The cow’s head is always reserved for the men only.  I did get offered some intestines however, which I gracefully declined.

It’s amazing that 21 months here and I am still learning the intricate workings of this culture.  I was happy to be invited along to participate in this event.  It took place on Easter Sunday, so in a way it just felt like a nice family get-together for brunch.  We ate not just the cow, but chicken, and salads, and of course pap (maize meal porridge), and drank Coke-a-Cola.  One of my older host sisters and her two sons came over for the event so it was really nice to see her.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

If Books Could Talk


March 15th, 2013

I am currently opening and shelving 16 boxes of donated books to the High School library from the Books for Africa project.  As I examine each book for cataloguing I am having a great time discovering the remains of many book exchanges.  Its just amazing how much information a book can leave behind from its onetime owners.  I have found so many things within the pages of these books, its like buried treasure: receipts, greeting cards, scratch paper with scribbled notes, and even a dollar bill (I pocketed that one).  And of course there are all the messages scrolled on the first pages that caption a moment in a person’s life; birthdays, Christmases, graduations, deaths, its seems anything can be said with a book.  It’s sad, in a way to think, about these one-time gifts no longer holding meaning to the receiver.

Today I was reading a message from Jon to Karen in a book that was given by Jon to Karen for her birthday with many XOs after his signature.  I read the message out loud to Addy and we quickly developed an entire plot line of Karen and Jon’s life; what significance the book meant and why it ended up in a donation box in Southern Africa.  Basically Jon did Karen wrong and the book was too painful for her to keep, all those XOs were just too powerful. 

It really makes you think twice before writing that nice, private, message in a gifted book.  Someday, somewhere, someone else is going to read it.  Probably a Peace Corps Volunteer, so feel free to keep forgetting your buried away dollars, and know that out of sheer boredom and craziness from high heat exposure, we will over analyze your message.  I only have 6 more boxes to go, and one is textbooks so that will be no fun, but I can’t wait for what else I find within the pages to come!  

Consolidation Drill


March 14th, 2013

Every Peace Corps Country has an emergency action plan to keep volunteers safe during times of turmoil within a country.  Each stage increases the severity of the security threat and gives us instructions to follow.

Today at the first light of 5:45am I received a SMS (text message) that said we were in a code orange and I needed to get to my consolidation point as soon as possible.  At the time I didn’t know this was drill (had an inkling, but didn’t know for sure) so I diligently packed my emergency bag – clothes, food, water, medicine, Emergency Action Plan guide, both passports, id card, phone, and South African Rand in case we needed to cross a border out of Swaziland.  I told my family I was going to the town my consolidation point is in and didn’t know when I would be back.  As I walked away, I realized that if this weren’t a drill this would be last time I saw them.  That was a sad moment, I almost ran back to hug my Make. 

Thankfully it was 6am so transport to Siteki, where I consolidate, was easy to get.  I met all the other PCVs in my area and we all figured out that this was just a drill.  Members from our Peace Corps office arrived a few hours later and checked to see how long it took us all to get there, if there were problems, and if we all packed what we needed.  I passed with flying colors.  Nice to know if stuff is going down I can get all packed and to my consolidation point within an hour, even when I am half asleep.

I was home by 10:30am and explained the whole thing to my Make.  She thought I was acting really weird as I left in the morning so it was nice to clear the air.  She didn’t even tell my Babe (host dad) I had left because I didn’t give her an explanation.  Overall I am glad it was just a drill.  It was an exciting hour until I found out, but also a nervous hour.  Being forced home with no notice at this point in my service would be hard.  Being evacuated would be hard period having to return to America with only the stuff in my emergency bag, but even harder would not being able to say goodbye to my friends and family here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

I am a Real Swazi Woman Now


February 13th, 2013

I crossed one more thing off my Swazi bucket list today and in doing so earned my place as a real makoti (bride, but what they call you when you do something well befitting a wife).

I killed my first chicken.  I really did it and it wasn’t a bad experience.  I remember my first encounter with the beheading of a chicken and it smelled bad, and was gross, and made me queasy.  I have put off being involved since then, but decided I needed to kill one for myself at least once while I was here.

My sisi Nosipho helped me.  Babe picked out a young cock and Nosipho caught it and held it for me as I wielded the knife.  It went fast, but it is still a bit freaky that the body continues to move after the head is separated.  I then helped Nosipho pluck it, cut it apart, and cook it in a pot over the open fire.  Ekhaya Inkhukhu (Home chicken) never tasted so good.  I am really going to miss fresh homegrown chicken.