Monday, January 7, 2013

Kisimusi kuMalindza (Christmas in Malindza)

December 26th, 2012

After being wishy washy about where to spend Christmas this year I decided to just stay at my homestead.  I was told to not really expect a big celebration so I emotionally prepared myself to just skip Christmas this year.  However, like most things in Swaziland, I was surprised by how things actually played out.  I ended up having a really good Christmas.

Despite the really warm weather that Christmas brought in (it hovered around 100), I managed to channel some Christmas spirit.  I was surprised by the visit of four of my host sisters for Christmas.  I was told they all go to their husbands homestead to celebrate.  My oldest Sisi Winnile (Win-ee-lay) did just that, but the next two came home.  Zandile (Zan-dee-lay) is super pregnant, like going to have the baby any day, so she didn’t want to travel far to her husbands parental homestead, so she came here instead.  Lungile (Loon-gee-lay) is a police officer in manzini and is on duty during the holiday so she was in an out.  Nosipho (No-see-po) came home after a month away with Lungile, and Buyile (boo-ee-lay) came home now that she is on break from school the High School she attends in Manzini.  My bhuti Sifiso (Si-fee-so) is also home from University in South Africa.  Three out of the five grandsons were here as well, so it was a busy house.

Since it was so hot, we spent most of the time just sitting outside enjoying each other company and the breeze.  On Christmas Eve we did a lot of preparing for the Christmas meal.  I baked g-free chocolate chips cookies, while Make and Babe shucked fresh mealies (maize) for the mealie bread.  Sifiso slaughtered a goat, hung it from a tree and impressively skinned and butchered it in a record time before the sun completely set.  Lungile had brough professionally butchered goat steaks and she braaied (grilled on an open fire) them up for dinner.  I have had boiled goat here a lot, but braaied is so much better.  Having it professionally butchered helped – a better meat to fat ratio.

Christmas morning didn’t bring presents but it brought the excitement of Christmas food.  All my bosisi started cooking early to avoid the afternoon heat, and Make made two giant batches of mealie bread (my favorite Swazi food).  Once the food was done, the rest of the day was spend eating at our leisure, sleeping, watching TV.  It was awesome.  I love being lazy and I love food so really it was a great day for me.  It was really fun to just hang out with the family and it was really comfortable.  I felt free to just enjoy the day any way I wanted and was in my “home” so I could just do that.  It sounds weird but I felt like I belonged there, as another kid, not a guest.  Despite living here for 1.5 years I sometimes still feel like I am just a guest.  I am always asking permission to do things, worrying about what everyone is thinking when I do things.  But not today, today I was part of the family and that was what I needed and wanted for Christmas.

Goat skinning

christmas cookies

Grinding mealies with Make for the mealie bread

Customer Service Does Exists!

If you haven’t read the previous blog post title “at least it makes for a good story,” read it now before you continue.

My faith in the existence of customer service here in Swaziland was revived!!!

Today I was returning home from a camping trip and was sun-burnt and tired but desperately needing groceries before I headed back to site.  Its month-end (aka pay day) and Christmas time so stores are hectic.  I had to wait just for a basket at the grocery store and then braced the crowded aisles.  Finally I got to the check out and waited in a long line as expected.  I got to the front, unloaded my cart at the till, and just as the teller was about to swipe my first product the power goes out.  We waited in total darkness for a minute before the lights came back on.  I then waited another 15 minutes for the tills to come back up.  The line I was in never did start back up.  Eventually I was asked to pack up my cart and find another line.  Due to the power outage the check-out lines were now half way down the store.  I reluctantly pushed my cart to the very back.  I had now been in the store for 1.5 hours.  Half an hour later the girl at my original till passed me and said “How [expression of surprise]! You are still in line?”  I was half way down the dry foods aisle and just smiled and said “yep, still here.”  Ten minutes later she rushed up to me again, grabbed my cart and said follow me.  I didn’t have time to question so I followed her.  She got her till on and kindly brought me to be first in her line before she opened it up.  I couldn’t believe how nice she was.  I had to really fight back the tears from her kindness.  I tried to express how thankful I was in every form I knew how, without physically leaning over the counter and hugging her.

It is moments like this that I am so ashamed of being so cynical here.  Goodness does exist, but sometimes only when we aren’t fighting for it.  I find myself fighting a lot these days.  I use to call it standing-up for myself, not letting people take advantage of me, but what it feels like now is just fighting.  Usually at times like the one I mentioned above I am to tired to remember or try to fight for myself, it’s always in these moments that I realize that there are people on my side.  Something I am going to try harder to remember.

Mahamba Gorge

December 17th - 19th, 2012

Since my time is Swaziland is rapidly decreasing I have made it a point to start checking of things on my Swaziland Bucket List.  One of these things was to go camping at Mahamba Gorge.

This gorge is situated on the southwestern border with South Africa, very close to where I did my pre service training in Nhlangano.  Myself and 6 other volunteers made the trek down there for a 2-day camping stay-cation.  The Mahamba Gorge Project, which included the camping site, is a community run project as a source of income generation for the community.  The campsite consists of tent space, 4 small cabins that can be rented and a small main lodge.  There is no electricity on the premise, but there is running water as the community pumps water from the gorge.  On arrival you meet Babe Kunene, he handles check-in and out.  He is a friendly Swazi man, who really went out of his way to make sure we had everything we needed.  He let us power up the gas run refrigerator and gas stove, for no charge, gave us a key to the main lodge to use the kitchen, and showed us how to cross the river, find the waterfall, and climb around the gorge.  His directions included phrases like “you follow along until you see a pile of rocks, then you follow that tree,” as he points to the top of a mountain, “see that one, the green one.”  Oddly enough once you get out there those directions actually make sense.  We did find the tree, the green one, at the very top.

We camped under the stars on the banks of the gorge, nestled snug between towering hills.  We ate family style and played cards outside under a tree framed by the beautiful, picturesque landscape.  We spend all of day two exploring. Our first adventure was crossing the river.  It was waist deep and the current was a bit strong but we forged our way across.  Then we discovered the waterfall.  Exact words upon discovery I believe were “holy crap, its amazing.”  It was amazing and fell approximately 30 feet into a small, very cold, pool of crystal clear water.  We had packed picnic lunches and after the waterfall we spent the rest of the morning climbing to the very top of one of the mountains to have lunch.  It was hard, but I made it.  I climbed a freaking mountain!  We found the green tree, sat underneath it and devoured our lunches while looking out across the world, Swaziland to our left, South Africa to our right, Mahamba gorge down below.

The Green Tree
Aside from the waterfall, the green tree, and the rock pile, we saw some other pretty cool things.  We found a group of grasshoppers all migrating together.  It was a mass of bright green, yellow, and black all hopping together.  A snake was briefly seen by Kelly; we all stopped and were curious about what kind it was, but our wise friend Mia gratefully hindered any snakebites by instructing us all to “stop asking questions and walk away from it already.”  We also meet a group of six dogs that were loving life at the top of the mountain.  They had owners who we saw later, but we enjoyed watching them run and play across the hills.  And of course what is walk anywhere in Swaziland without an encounter with a herd of cows.  It was amazing to see the cows go up the mountain – but I wonder if they can come back down?  Isn’t it that cows can go up stairs but not down?

Mahamba Gorge is officially being added to my list of favorite places in Swaziland!!

The Waterfall!

The hill furthest back is the mountain we climbed!

At Least It Makes for A Good Story In The End

December 7th, 2012

My life in Swaziland has gotten to a point where I feel really comfortable with my surroundings and myself.  This is a blessing and a curse at the same time.  I am happy that I am comfortable in living with my host family and working in my community, however with comfort comes a certain expectation of control.  At home in America I can be fairly in control of almost any situation I find myself in and with my increasing comfort here in Swaziland I have begun to let my guard down assuming that I have any sort of control.  I’ve learned that I still have none and my biggest struggle at this point in my service is dealing with this feeling of no control.  I have worked so hard to figure out how to live here, found happiness and every single day things still go wrong.  I know deep down its my problem for not being flexible or accepting the fact that I have no control over my life once I walk outside of my hut.  I guess I naively thought that as I figured out how to live, life would stop feeling foreign; that I would discover that things work just the same as home just in a different language and at a slower speed, but yet be done with the same integrity.  I’m found the exact opposite and am having a really hard time accepting that what has always been right to me is wrong here.  “There are some laws and customs in this empire very peculiar, and if they were not so directly contrary to those of my own dear country, I should be tempted to say a little in their justification.  It is only to be wished, that they were as well executed.” (Gulliver’s Travels, Swift, 65). I feel as if instead of expanding my world-view and opening my mind, I am actually closing it.

Here is an example of a frustrating moment when my “American senses” were completely opposite from what I encountered. 

A few days ago I met some PCVs in town for a mini town-cation.  We hung around Ezulwini Valley, which is the touristy area of Swaziland and because of that it feels like an American suburb – a really great escape.  At least that’s what I assume, I see what looks like America and expect it to act like America and then it doesn’t.  We went to the one and only movie-theater in Swaziland.  Its brand new, yet has the movie projection quality of the budget, one-room, vintage movie theater in River Falls, WI.  Aside from the movie sometimes being unfocused, the sound mixing being off balance, and occasional un-intended intermissions when something goes wrong up in the projection box, seeing a movie is such a nice option when us PCVs need a break from PC life.

So we buy our tickets and try to go into the theater.  We of course are hauling backpacks and bags of food for our stay in town (essential parts of the PC uniform) and are told we can’t bring our bags in the theater, but the employee taking our tickets lets us put them in an office.  We were really surprised and thankful for the employee to help us like that, so we went and bought her a chocolate bar to say thank you.  Then we went in to watch the movie.  When we got out the theater was closed, and there was one employee left.  We soon realized our bags were now locked into the office and the one employee still there didn’t have the key.  He kindly called someone with a key then picked up his bag and left.  We let out a shock of distress that he would just leave us unsupervised in his place of work as well as leave us unhappy customers to solve a problem the theater created.  As he walked away we said “wait, you are just going to leave?”  and all he said was “oh you wanted me to wait with you?”  We let him go on his way but got the number of the employee coming, unsure if we would ever get our bags back.  Half an hour later, just as the mall security guard was about to harass us for loitering, a khumbi pulls up and the employee, who we quickly learned was the manager, got out.  At this point my American expectation was that he would apologize profusely for the carelessness of his employees, perhaps offer us a discount on a movie for the inconvenience the theaters caused us, or less preferably but acceptable a mild scolding for leaving our bags there.  Nope, upon approach and without being greeted he immediately went into a tirade about how we inconvenienced him, and made him turn around 30 minutes ago.  He accused us of being over-privileged for using the office as a coat check, not once asking how our bags got there in the first place.  I, having lost my patience somewhere in the African bushveld, launched right back in our defense, but didn’t get far as my PC pals told me to cool-it.  Not a single sorry for the trouble or miscommunication, but we got our bags back!

I know its my problem that I can’t accept the lack of customer service here, or that things always go wrong, or that as a customer I am always wrong but isn’t it also wrong of me not try and correct these things.  Swaziland desperately wants to be a developed country, and they have a lot of influence from South Africa that they mimic.  Sometimes I feel as if it’s all role-play here.  Swaziland sees what it wants to be and tries to be it before it really knows what its doing.  Its like I am playing house with a five-year-old; they so want to be an adult yet can’t quite get it right.  They get the basics, but when it comes to the details, things get lost; like customer service.  In my fiver-year old scenario, the five-year old has years to watch and grown and has adults in their lives to fill in the blanks.  Where is Swaziland’s adults?  Is it the International Community?  And if so isn’t it my job as a representative from a developed country to guide and fill in the blanks.  Am I wrong to get mad when I confront a problem someone has caused me and am told that it’s my problem in the end?  Or do I just smile and accept that things don’t work here and that it’s just part of the culture and just how things operate here?  I used to accept these things quite well.  I shook them off because everything was foreign and uncomfortable to deal with.  But now I am comfortable here, I know things don’t have to be difficult and yet they still are.