Saturday, August 30, 2008

I'm a PCV now. (Written 8/29/08)

I have 729 days of Peace Corps left. I’m not desperately counting down or anything, I just have lots of time to sit and think about things and the math is easy at this point (2 years minus 1 day). My big, exciting, much-anticipated, light-at-the-end-of-the-PST-tunnel week is over. But as long as I have bats dive-bombing my head, my life won’t be completely devoid of excitement. And I see (and hear…chirp chirp chirp) LOTS of that in my future.

We officially finished up our training on Tuesday morning after a rousing game of STI/HIV/diarrhea-related Jeopardy (I was on Team Flamingo which meant I got to wear a fantastic hat, most likely purchased by your tax dollars, throughout). After a series of awkward pictures in dumb hats (flamingos, frogs, crabs and parrots) and a decisive Team Flamingo victory (the Frogs cheated), all 35 of us loaded our masses of things into a surprisingly well-packed tour bus and trailer and headed to Mbabane (the capital city). I have to say that it’s probably the most impressive packing job I’ve ever seen…each of us has two big bathtub-sized washing basins, two smaller ones for dishes, etc., buckets for fetching water, a stove, a 9-liter gas tank (some are even bigger), huge water filter things, two suitcases, full pantries, pots and pans and assorted other things we’ve collected over the past 8 weeks. And we’ve been REALLY good at accumulating bulky items to be transported at Peace Corps’ expense rather than our own. The bus ride from Nhlangano to Mbabane takes about 2 hours, during which we watched some presumably made-for-TV movie called “Prey” about this family that gets stuck in some game park in Africa while on safari and are being hunted by lions because their broken-down jeep is painted like a zebra. Okay, not a good choice of movie for the occasion, but I suppose it’s only comparable to how they showed “Snakes on a Plane” on the flight over here. Then we got to see the first 20 minutes of “Commando” with such classic lines as “why don’t they just call him ‘Girl George’ and eliminate the confusion?” Excellent.

In Mbabane we were staying at a fabulous lodge within walking distance of the city so we were able to go out without spending too much on cab fare (you can’t walk anywhere in this country after dark…ever), and it was nice to feel normal for once. Well, as normal as it can be here in Swaziland. We went to a bar that felt very much like a bowling alley where they only had 5 songs on one CD to play the whole night, but I danced and watched a terrible South African soap called “Generations” while others humiliated themselves with their poor pool-playing skills. It was a good time, but if I never hear Avril Lavigne in Swaziland ever again I’ll be okay with that. On Wednesday we did a “walk-around” which was intended to give us an opportunity to do some speed-shopping in the big city for various housewares. I got the Group 5 stamp of approval for the efficient spending of money and managed to buy some nice linens, dishes, a Pyrex baking dish (ooh!) a water kettle and approximately 40 more pounds of stuff in one afternoon. And a hair straightener. Yeah, I’m roughing it. We also go to go to the Peace Corps office, which I will NEVER be able to find on my own, and raid the PCV library so we have something to do in the coming months. I stuffed my bag full of collections of short stories, Sudoku books, and classic novels that I have never managed to read. But now I have no alternative so hopefully I can cross them off my lifetime “to read” list.

On Thursday we had our big swear-in ceremony with the US Ambassador to Swaziland, the Inkhosikati (His Majesty’s wife), the Deputy Prime Minister and an assortment of other important folks. The Ambassador hosted it at his residence and they set up a big yellow and white-striped tent on the lawn for us. (The tent was on a hill leaning to the side and it was quite dizzying. We basically took the US Government oath in a Fun House.) There were about 100 people in attendance and fellow Group 6-ers gave speeches in both English and SiSwati. 12 of the 35 of us wore traditional garments, which essentially consists of a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist and another piece tied over one shoulder on the top. For a country that’s extremely conservative in dress (as in I’m not allowed to wear pants in my community), the traditional attire made me blush a bit. The skirt part is cut exactly 2 inches longer than it takes to overlap when standing and it’s just tied at the top so it’s basically got a big slit from about 2 inches below your waist ALL the way down. We were nearly blinded by the whiteness of all our thighs when we tried to take large steps, and it was even worse when we tried to sit. And to be culturally appropriate you’re not supposed to wear ANYTHING under it. Nothing at all. Boys too. (I cheated.) I’ll post some pictures when I get the chance to go to Manzini to use the internet and you can be the judge.

Anyway, we were sworn in and then in true Swazi style we gorged ourselves on inyama (meat) and emabiskiti (cookies) at a braai (cook-out) and then spent our evening getting to know the night-life in Malkerns. We went to a place called Malandala’s which is the restaurant of House on Fire (the only real concert hall slash club in Swaziland, I guess. Google it. It’s pretty.), which was populated mostly by middle-aged Afrikaaners (maybe white Swazis??) in matching two-tone, short-sleeved dress shirts. We still haven’t figured that one out, but we did all learn that they’re super awkward. Bars in Swaziland are odd because it’s culturally inappropriate for women to drink, especially in public, so all the bars are full of men and Peace Corps volunteers and I guess sometimes some MSF doctors. We also stopped by a reggae night at some other place in Mbabane and I woke up this morning with a dance club remix of “Red, Red Wine” stuck in my head. It was a good time.

So this morning we got up bright and early to haul everything we own and re-pack it and ourselves into a massive fleet of rented kombis (like a VW bus or matatus in Kenya) to take us out to our site. I was the second person dropped off at my permanent site, so I’ve been here since about 11am, basically doing nothing. I made a bed for myself on the cold cement floor out of my yoga mat, two blankets and my sleeping bag and took a nap for a few hours. I don’t know what to do with myself anymore since I’ve been getting 10 to 12 hours of sleep every night…last night’s 6 hours was wholly inadequate. I still don’t have a door (well, I do but it’s not attached), but I guess they’ll put it on tomorrow or something. Whatever…I have a burglar door with a massive padlock on it so it’s not like anyone can get in. Or out. Like me earlier when there were two bats repeatedly dive-bombing my head and I was trying to get out of my house and I all the screaming and swatting was impeding my ability to unlock the door. It was quite a scene. Then I just stood outside of my house for about 10 minutes trying to explain to my family what was going on in siSwati, but I don’t know the siSwati word for “bat” so basically we played charades. Maybe they guessed it, but I still don’t know the word for “bat” so I wouldn’t really know.

Tomorrow I’m heading to Nhlangano (pronounced inn-hlon-gone-oh, but that hl sound doesn’t exist in English so that’s not terribly helpful) to buy a bed, oven, table and maybe a wardrobe or chest of drawers or something. We’ll see. The furniture piece I liked most at the furniture store is apparently supposed to be for holding baby clothes, which means that the furniture salesman didn’t want to sell it to me since I don’t have a baby. I really don’t see what the difference is…he’d still make the same money off of me whether I had a kid or not. I actually drew up some plans for furniture to have it made, but since I already have to pay for bed delivery tomorrow it would be nice to just buy stuff in town so I don’t have to make two trips. And I really need something to organize all of my clothes and books and stuff into because scorpion season is rapidly approaching and I’m not allowed to have anything but furniture touching the floor, for obvious reasons. But apparently those suckers like to climb up bed legs and snuggle with you in bed…I have that to look forward to. And I need to buy a new radio because in a moment of overwhelming kindness I gave mine to my host family. My make (mother) cried she was so happy.

That’s all that’s going on in my life right now. For the next 3 months (until Thanksgiving or so) we’re not really allowed to leave our villages because we’re supposed to be “integrating.” I’m excited about the coming months, really, because I’ll finally have some idea of what the next two years will bring. I have a number of assignments, including a lengthy report on the history of the community and the current rate of HIV and other OVC- and HIV-related statistics and current activities in the area, and I have to teach a third-grade Life Skills class entirely in siSwati. That’s 45 minutes of siSwati. Hopefully I don’t need to say anything about bats in that 45 minutes. I’ll also be doing some surveys at the schools and exploring a bit more to get to know the NCPs and whether they’re ACTUALLY functioning (most just exist). And I’ll be painting my new house and hopefully cementing over the hole in the wall where the bats live. What fun.

Oh, and tonight there was a goat walking around on the tin roof of the house next to me. I still can’t figure out how in the world it got there. How high can goats jump? 12 feet?

That’s all for now. Happy Birthday (!!!!!) to my wonderful grandmother who sent me the most fantastically practical skirts (which I got yesterday). It’s hard for me to remember birthdays on time when I never know what day it is here.

Love to everyone and thanks for the packages and letters and stuff.

-Phindile (pen-DEE-lay)

1 comment:

Colleen said...

Hi Justine!
I am so sorry to have missed the chance to toast you on your 22nd. what day was it ? Damian will want to mark it on his calander.
When I finsih this I am going to email your Mom and get your address at your permanent site, then set out on the streets of Washington to find : something to deter bats and scorpions, a couple great books, and some really fastastic vegetables, dried fruit.
As for your garden: great idea ! Would seeds help?
Reading your email I spent some time thinking about the challenge you face in terms of education w/ HIV/AIDS, changing existing behavors, etc.. Being a nurse, this is a lot of what we focus on. If you allow me to add my "two cents' . I think your true "counter part " is not that guy( I forgot his name) , but the faith healers( since as you said 80% of population goes to them. Though the things they say may frustrate, they reflect the belief system of the community. If you want to change a behavior you have to co-opt them somehow. Maybe that is a way you could spend your free time: learning everything there is to know about faith healing/ traditional medicine and why the community ( at 80%) still so heavily believes in it. There is strenght in all belief sytems and if that's all the community has,study it and build on it. Even if it means the people distributing the antiretrovirals have to resort to paying the traditional medicine people to give it out as their own "elixir:" ...who cares. right. You are working w/in the belief system of the community and THAT is what works. It will take generations, maybe never, to trust "the White man's medicine" . Why not work through what they do believe in ??? But first you have to find out....
all the best
Colleen