Saturday, September 27, 2008

More productivity!!

So I know it’s only been 3 days since a blog entry, but I’ve done things in those three days so here’s another one.

Wednesday (when I posted the last blog) I picked up my seedlings from Nhlangano and hauled them all the way back to my site without damaging a single one! And the rosemary isn’t seedlings, but a BUSH. Did you know rosemary grows on a bush? Yeah, well it does. At least in Swaziland (where “spinach” is the generic term for anything green, including chard, lettuce, mustard greens, kale, etc.). I wasn’t able to plant on Wednesday because it was almost dark by the time I got home and I had to build a gate for my garden before I could plant anything or the goats would ravage it. And judging by how the goats that broke into my house demolished my beans, onions and bread, my whole garden would be gone in about 45 seconds.

So Thursday I got up bright and early and taught Form 4 English at the school. They have to do oral exams in English proficiency (like I had to do in siSwati) and they’re going to be practicing for the next few weeks before the actual exam in mid-October. So I had 6 separate conversations of 10 minutes each on the same topic with each student. What kind of films do you like to watch? How do they make you feel? What kind of films do you NOT like? If you had an unlimited budget, what kind of movie would you make? There were specific questions so I couldn’t ask things like “do you have a favorite actor or actress?” because they hadn’t prepared that question beforehand. So it was kind of frustrating, but now that I know what I’m doing I think it will go better next time.

Then I went to Hluti to pick up my furniture, which not surprisingly was STILL not done. But I needed to buy fence to make my gate and I had to hire a truck to transport that (I can’t take it on public transport) so I went ahead and picked up the furniture that was done: a bookshelf, a table and chairs, and a kitchen counter thing with shelves for storing food, etc. (I’m still waiting on a chest of drawers and a bench thing that I’m going to put a cheap mattress on and call a couch.) And then I painted them because they were awkwardly half-painted…as in all the horizontal surfaces were painted but the sides of the legs weren’t and the front part and things weren’t. So yeah, now they’re pretty and my house reeks of paint and my family thinks I’m a boy for painting it.

By the time I got around to the gardening thing, I only had two and a half hours of daylight left, but I decided that my seedlings deserved to be planted so I started on my gate. The opening for my gate was 1.2 meters wide, so I bought 2.5 meters of wire, folded it in half and bound it on both ends with small logs that I found lying around. I even cut them to the right size with a SAW this time! What an amazing invention. Then I used wire (which I had to buy in increments of 10 meters, but I only needed about 1 meter) to attach it on the one side so it swings, then made three little hook-and-eye type latches on the other side so it can’t be penetrated by goats and the like. It’s pretty heavy duty. And, for the record, my family recommended that I buy a ready-made gate for 280 Rand, but mine only cost 38 Rand and I even have 9 meters of wire left. I’m pretty cool.

The whole time I was building my gate all the kids in my family were standing around watching me curiously, so I decided to put them to work when it got to planting. They fetched water for me from the tanks, then got the trenches wet enough that I could dig the holes. Then I picked out the best seedlings and dug holes and placed each seedling in one of the holes. All the little kids (ages 3, 4, 8, 11) then followed after me and filled in the holes with dirt, made sure the roots were covered and patted them down. And then the 8-year-old watered all of them. It was pretty impressive to see how much they know about gardening. I don’t think I know a single 4-year-old in the US who knows what a green pepper seedling looks like. The only seedling my 4-year-old bhuti couldn’t identify was broccoli, but my Make didn’t know what that was either so it’s just a Swazi thing I guess. But they were ridiculously helpful and, as always, adorable. And I learned that the 4-year-old boy’s name is Mukelo, but they call him MK so every time I say “okay” he answers because I guess my “o” sounds like an “m.” I’m figuring this out, little by little. I paid them approximately 4 gummy worms per hour.

The whole time we were planting the goats were eagerly eyeing the seedlings, but this morning I woke up and they’re all still intact so I guess my fence is adequate. I planted 10 tomato plants, 12 lettuce, 7 green pepper, 7 green beans, 7 broccoli, 1 rosemary bush, 6 basil plants, 6 cilantro plants, and started a seed bed for chili peppers and celery. And with any luck I’ll be able to feed myself in approximately 50-90 days, depending on the vegetable. Excellent. I’ve promised the rest of the seedlings to my family, but since Babe is gone and gardening is a man’s job, I think they’re probably going to die before they get planted. We’ll see.

Oh, and I had another fun pig-related experience this week. Have you ever heard the demonic growls and screams that a pig makes on a regular basis? Imagine what it sounds like when they’re being butchered! Apparently the chopping block is the flat bit of land right behind my house, so I watched the whole thing out my window because, well, it was so loud I couldn’t just pretend it wasn’t happening. So our pig population has been halved. Unfortunately the big mean pig is the one we still have. Stupid pig.

Friday morning I walked myself the hour and some it takes to get to the clinic for their monthly HIV/AIDS support group. It’s sponsored to some degree by Doctors Without Borders, so they invited me, which I thought was nice. By the time it started at 10 there were about 55 people there, including all of 4 men, plus the MSF staff and the nurses from the clinic. They talked about various topics all in siSwati, but one of the MSF doctors who I worked with on Tuesday translated the important parts for me. It was an interesting glimpse of the challenges of administering anti-retroviral therapy in the country, and I learned a lot about the ways that being HIV-positive changes peoples’ lives here in Swaziland. But I think most people come for the free stuff at the end (a kilo of beans, a kilo of maize meal, one cabbage, two avocados, a tub of Vaseline, a bar of soap and a half kilo of sugar).

The two things I found really interesting were about the ARVs themselves. First, in the US if a person’s body develops a resistance to a specific ARV, doctors just switch him/her to a “second line” or “third line” (…) ARV. I guess there are 22 “lines” available in the world, but most Americans go through 4 or 5 from the time they start taking them to the time they die (according to one of the MSF doctors). In Swaziland there is only one that is widely available, so when a person develops resistance/immunity to that drug he/she just stops taking ARVs altogether and dies. For some really wealthy people there is a SECOND option which, technically, is guaranteed FREE for all Swazis. So what’s the catch? One: it has to be picked up WEEKLY from one of only a handful of clinics in the country, which is impossibly expensive for most Swazis (and what if you have a job?). But even if a person could afford the cost of transport, there’s reason number Two: it has to be refrigerated. So before the government will allow a person to begin second line drugs, the person has to prove that he/she as a fridge and has consistent electricity, which pretty much means they have to live in a city. Aren’t there other kinds of ARVs that don’t have to be refrigerated? I mean, a fridge is prohibitively expensive for ME here and I’m being paid by the US Government!

The second thing they talked about was the silica gel packets that come in the bottles of ARVs, as in most kinds of medicines. They say “Do not eat” and “Ne pas manger” (French), but most people here would only be able to read “Musa kudla” so someone asked what you’re supposed to do with them. It’s something I’ve never really thought about before, but not one of the 55 people knew what they were for, and some of them had been EATING them! (Why are they in the medicine bottle if they’re not medicine?) When the doctor told them that you absolutely CANNOT eat them, people asked if they can dissolve them in juice and drink it. No! So if anybody is reading this who manufactures silica gel packets for ARVs distributed in Swaziland, you should really consider having them marked as inedible in siSwati…or at least have a picture.

Friday afternoon I had another visit from Peace Corps and they STILL forgot to bring my packages! Boo. I was hoping to have my magazines that my parents sent for the youth HIV/AIDS club meeting on Saturday, but no such luck. But the visit was good just the same…it’s always nice to talk with someone fluent in English. And he confirmed that another volunteer WAS placed in my community at some point in the past few years (since 2002 when he started working for Peace Corps) because he knew how to get to my homestead. Hmmm.

Saturday we have the meeting in Nhlangano for the youth HIV/AIDS club, and I’m pretty excited to do some actual work. (I GUESS I’ve been doing work, but I’d like to start a similar club in my community so it will be really good to see how it works!) We’re focusing on journaling, which I guess involves cutting pictures out of Newsweek and other magazines that we have (Time, Economist, etc.) and gluing them onto paper. Fun! I also stopped at the library this morning to see if I could get a library card, but you can only check books out for a maximum of ONE WEEK, which would require me to go to town about twice as often as I do already, plus there’s a fee and I have to have a number of passport photos and have my chief sign the paper saying that I will take care of books. Um, okay. No wonder people in this country don’t read. I’m teaching an English class with less credentials!

Oh, and I’ve been at my site for exactly one month. I’m officially 4.2% of the way done. Excellent.


Anonymous said...

Great reading your blog twice in one week. What a pleasant surprise! I love you and miss you! Talk to you soon, I hope. Dad

Erin said...

Good point about the silica gel! We always joke about eating it, but I can see how they wouldn't know if they haven't seen it before. I did some research and it's not really that bad. Apparently the warning is there more because of a choking hazard than an health hazard. Probably because of some stupid American sued the company for a million bucks because they choked on it. A very small number of people have an allergic reaction, but that's it. The blue silica is suspected to be a carcinogen if taken in large amounts, but the other kinds seem to be ok.

Anonymous said...

Great Stuff! Sounds like your having a good so far. Michael G.