Friday, October 17, 2008

I am a chicken murderer. And also an English teacher, I guess. (And a writer of excessively long blogs…sorry.)

Well, I’m at least an accomplice to murder. The whole buying, killing, plucking, cooking, eating a chicken thing was quite an experience, but from now on I think I’ll opt for anonymous meat. Once was interesting, though. I bought the chicken in town (on the last day I posted a blog) for 26 Emalangeni (about $4), then took it on an hour-long bus ride home in a box made for a tea pot. On the way home the chicken peed in the box so that when I was climbing over two people to get out of the bus (people don’t move for you to get past them, you climb over them) I quite enthusiastically (but accidentally) flung the chicken out of the bottom of the pee-soaked box. She landed about 4 feet outside the bus and was completely stunned by her sudden freedom, which me and some guy at the bus stop promptly ended by stuffing her back in the box. She didn’t enjoy this, which was obvious by the squawking the whole way home. Naturally, on that 20 minute walk we struck up a conversation (I’m going crazy) and I decided I wouldn’t kill her but instead I’d keep her for eggs or something, but then my family informed me she was about 6 weeks old and I’d be waiting forever for eggs, but having to feed her in the meantime. So yeah, I decided to stop calling her Roberta (rule #1 of slaughtering your own food: don’t name the animals) and I appealed to my sisi to teach me what to do with her. She laughed (they ALL laughed…my 3 and 5-year-old siblings had more of a clue than me) and put some water on to boil over some logs in the kitchen.

I didn’t technically slit the chicken’s throat, but I helped hold it while the blood squirted all over the ground (the kids promptly buried the blood with dirt) and then I assisted in the plucking of the bird and the slaughtering of the bird and, later, in the cooking of the bird. I had never seen the inside of a chicken before and it was a pretty interesting experience. There are things that Swazis eat (like the stomach and intestines) that I don’t even think you can BUY in America. (I mean, we have to make dog food out of something…) Seeing them meticulously cleaning the edible parts of a chicken made me realize how wasteful and gluttonous Americans must seem to the rest of the world. At a restaurant in the US you can order a half chicken for a one-person meal, but here a whole chicken feeds all 13 people on my homestead. Anyway, I now know what a gizzard is and where it comes from, and I know how big a chicken heart is and how to empty the intestines and how to pull the skin off the feet (like a glove). In exchange for teaching me how to kill/pluck/slaughter the chicken, I gave my family half the chicken (I’m only one person and I don’t have a fridge!) and all of the innards that I wouldn’t know what to do with, and the head and the feet (yes, they eat the head). I figure that repays them for feeding me for the 3 days I was here over OJT, during which I probably consumed half a chicken. And those assorted innards, I’m sure, but I’m going to pretend not. The whole experience reminded me of the time Lori and I bought “Supa Chunk” chicken in South Africa, only to find later that it was a bag of frozen leftover parts (like 9 chicken necks) that you’re supposed to put in soup. I guess that’s what they meant by “supa,” but we just thought they were advertising exceptional chicken.

Anyway, I roasted Roberta in the oven covered in honey, mustard, olive oil, garlic and diced green apples. That’s basically everything I had food-wise, but it turned out to be really delicious and while I was eating it I wasn’t sad at all about her fate. She had creepy little eyes anyway.

Later that night, though, I had a really sad experience that I still don’t know how to deal with. Boca (the dog) was happy because I’d given her the stomach contents of the chicken (yum, half-digested grass!) and she knew I’d give her the bones, so she was waiting outside my door as I finished my dinner. I tossed the bones outside through the burglar door and then I heard her crying, so I immediately jumped up to see what was going on. My neighbor girl, Hlengiwe, a 5-year-old who weighs 22 pounds (I have a scale), was fighting the dog for the bones. Despite the fact that they were covered in dirt and had been licked by the dog, she broke the bones open and ate whatever (marrow?) was inside, and ate the knobby cartilage parts at the joints and the spine (yeah, my family insisted I cook it). Make (mother) then came out of the main house and said something like “that one, she’s always hungry,” after which I snuck her into my house and gave her half of the chicken breast that I’d been saving for later.

The next night I was making grilled cheese for myself for dinner and she was sitting on the step outside my house sobbing. I finally went out and picked her up and asked her what was wrong (“Unani?”) and she said she was hungry. Since there were four little kids outside (her 2 brothers, her and one of my brothers), I cut my sandwich into 4 squares and gave each one of them one. Because of the way gender roles work, and because of the hierarchy of age, her two brothers took about ¾ of the piece I’d given her, which I imagine is exactly what happens at every meal because she’s the youngest and the only girl. Every night while the other kids are coloring in my house she falls asleep in a ball on the floor, and last night I offered to carry her home because she’d been asleep for about 2 hours by the time I kicked everyone out. At their homestead, before heading off to bed they went into the kitchen to see if there was any food for them since all they’d had for dinner was the quarter of grilled cheese, but there wasn’t any. “Kute kudla namuhla.” There isn’t any dinner today. Since then, I’ve she’s come begging my Make for food and she’s been caught stealing and eating raw radishes out of the garden. It’s really sad to be hit so hard by the reality of the crisis here.

I’m not entirely sure of the family situation since only one of the boys is going to school, and he’s in grade 5 so he’s only had 2 years of English, but I know their father is dead and their mother is extremely sick (I helped her plant some seedlings one day and she hacked like she has TB, and I ran into her at the clinic the day of the HIV-positive support group). There are 3 boys and Hlengiwe, and the first time I saw her I thought she was just a really vocal 2-year-old because she’s so small.

I know this is why I’m here—to get the NCPs (Neighborhood Care Points) functioning to provide meals for OVCs like her, amongst other things—but the task seems so overwhelming. It’s easy enough to educate HIV-negative high school students on how to stay negative, or to encourage people to get tested at the clinic, but how do I get the NCPs up and running to provide food for all the people in the community who are starving? How do we determine who is eligible for free food and who is entirely capable of growing or working for their own food? In a society where everyone is burdened with taking care of their own flock of children, how do I find bomake (mothers) willing to volunteer their time to cook for other people’s kids? Where do we get the food to cook for them? If we plant a garden (which is what I’d like to do for all the NCPs), where do we get the water in a community with a serious water shortage (as in my family is one of three homesteads with readily available water in the whole community of 1800)? I’m hoping I can work through these things with the new clerk at the Gogo Centre, but even though two people were interviewed at the beginning of the month, nobody has been chosen yet. The former clerk, Vusi, did go to the chief’s inner council meeting on Tuesday morning and lobby for expediting the process for my benefit, but without any result. Maybe it’s a good thing that they had another volunteer quit here before…they want to go out of their way to make me happy so I don’t leave! Next week I’m going to see what I can do with my limited siSwati…maybe my presence will be enough to remind them I exist and need a counterpart.

Last Friday (October 10th) I was supposed to teach at the high school, but apparently the teachers decided at their staff meeting on Wednesday that there weren’t going to be any classes. Instead, I was invited (in person, even though Mvubu has my phone number and I’m a 15 minute drive from his house) to a “party” to be held all day on Friday. Um, okay. So I showed up (fashionably late to the only thing in Swaziland that has EVER started on time) and was greeted by a sea of low-cut dresses and stilettos and provocative dancing. It turned out to be like the graduation ceremony for the Form 5 Matriculates (Seniors), which involved speeches by each of the class “presidents” (what? There’s some sort of organization at the school?), poetry reading, beatboxing, singing, dancing and chanting, which was half entertaining (the English part) and half confusing (the siSwati). Basically it was a kind of combination talent show and graduation ceremony, and the whole school (no parents) was invited. It was pretty funny, too, how between acts the MC would pick a random primary student from the crowd—usually a 8-year-old boy or something—and everyone would chant “jiava, jiava!” and he would dance to inappropriately unedited rap music (have you ever heard the unedited “Candy Shop”…at a school function?) in front of the crowd without any ounce of reservation. I think an American kid would probably cry. At one point they started chanting for ME to dance (and let me tell you, the sound of 400 kids chanting your name is pretty intimidating…) but luckily I was saved by the Form 4 boys’ choir and they forgot all about embarrassing me. They wouldn’t want to see me dance anyway. As the grand finale, the head teacher, Mr. Madlala, stood up and sang a song he wrote, accompanying himself on the guitar. It was a pretty funny sight (but very good!) and I have a whole new level of respect for him after that. Afterwards, as the honorary guest of the Form 5, I attended a luncheon with all the normal Swazi food (beet root salad, rice and gravy, carrots and mayonnaise, etc.) and fried chicken. After my whole chicken experience, I was better able to identify the oddly-shaped cuts of meat I was served, which you definitely don’t find at KFC.

Mvubu, the deputy head teacher, also took me on a short tour of the school grounds. There are 2 hostels for girls and two for boys, divided by primary and secondary school, and each houses about 40 kids, though there are more girls than boys. Quite awkwardly, he walked me through the actual bedroom part (which was just a big room with a large quantity of bunk beds or cots in it) even though some of the girls were bathing. I guess really isn’t a big deal in Swaziland, but it made me extremely uncomfortable. Then he walked me to the “water area,” which is basically a big cement swimming pool with an open top and a pump coming out of it to a single spigot a few yards away. The water coming out of the spigot looked clean enough, but I would never drink it knowing where it comes from. The pool part, because it was uncovered, had birds bathing in it, dead bugs and trash floating in it and a ring around the sides where something gross was growing. I would probably rather drink lake water, and they don’t even boil it! (Technically, I guess the rule is that if it comes from an underground spring it doesn’t need to be boiled because it’s not likely to be infested with parasites or something, but after the water from said underground spring sits in an open-air tank for who knows how long, it’s about like eating mud.) We also went to the kitchen, where they were preparing the lunch for 100 students and the teachers in a pot over a fire on the cement floor, and walked through the school’s garden, which appears to be thriving in weed production. (Apparently the school cancelled its agriculture class, which used to care for the garden, in favor of the HIV/AIDS and health class, which currently is a free period.) Anyway, it was really good to see more of the school, and I snuck in a lot of questions about the community and how the school functions in terms of providing support for OVCs in the community. And then I stole two oranges and gave them to Hlengiwe.

This week I have accomplished quite a bit in the area of teaching English, which is STILL not why I’m here. But I finished up the oral interviews, then showed both of the classes the “exemplary interview” DVD that shows what students are supposed to be doing in these exams. They did a similar interview to get into high school, and since they’re all conducted by Cambridge-trained examiners I can only assume they were just like the ones on the DVD, but they said they had never seen the DVD and that they had no idea what was expected of them until they walked into the examination room. Imagine if you had to take the SAT without any prior knowledge of the exam except that it would be in English…that’s ridiculous! So hopefully when they have to take this exam, which isn’t until about this time next year, they’ll be comfortable enough with it to do well.

Thursday (the 16th) was maybe the scariest day I’ve had in Swaziland yet. Mr. Mvubu had invited me to teach some sort of workshop on composition (essay) writing, using as examples the prompts from past exams given from 1982 to 1988 (one of the questions was “what will you remember most about 1988?”), but when I showed up in the morning at 7:30 he informed me that the King had declared it a holiday (to honor the new Prime Minister, who is actually the same PM as the old one, but he wanted to honor the first day of his new term or something) and all the teachers (except me) had taken the day off. The students, however, didn’t have the day off. So the entire “teacher” population of the high school was the Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher (he left at about 10am) and me. GREAT! So I decided to go ahead with my lesson since there was a classroom of 80 kids (some had taken the day off…) waiting for me who otherwise wouldn’t be doing anything. Unfortunately, I was given the whole morning (8am to 12:50pm) to teach and I’d only planned a 50-minute lesson, so I had to improvise…a lot. The lesson I had planned was on the structure of an introduction, which they had absolutely no clue about (Mr. Mvubu said he had tried to teach them but they got bored so he stopped). I drew a pretty Inverted Triangle Model (courtesy of Mrs. Jecheva’s Freshman Honors English!!) on a huge piece of flipchart paper and tried to explain to them the concept of an attention-getting device, thesis statement and all the stuff in between. After a fun “warm-up” exercise and a 15-minute lesson on introductions, I broke them into 10 groups of 8 and the prompt “What can you do to keep your body healthy?” This whole group work thing is completely foreign to them, since they’re only lectured at, and you should have seen the horror on their faces when I later had each group present to the class! Anyway, over the course of about 2 hours each group figured out how to write an introduction. Three to five sentences, and it took 2 full hours. (In their defense, this was probably the first time they’ve ever worked with a group in their educational careers, and we were constantly disrupted by security guards and primary teachers coming to yell at them for talking so loudly until I explained that I was in charge and they were supposed to be talking. At one point, right before he left to go to town, a teacher came into the classroom, I thought to observe, but then began dancing in front of the class and asking everyone for candy in exchange for his dancing. Do you see how this transition from well-structured American schools is difficult for me?)

Overall I was really pleased with how it went. Before the lesson, ideas for introductory paragraphs created the following: “Exercise, avoid intoxicating substances like drugs and alcohol, and eat a healthy diet because the Swaziland Ministry of Health recommends a lot of protein.” That’s it. That’s not even a complete sentence, let alone an introductory paragraph! After we’d talked about what a thesis is (it’s the sentence that answers the question in the prompt and tells the reader what to expect in the rest of the composition) and how to make things interesting, the groups slowly produced very basic but much improved paragraphs. For example:

“Many people in Swaziland die earlier than they should because they are not motivated to keep their bodies healthy or because they engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking and taking alcohol. However, with some simple lifestyle changes such deaths can be prevented. In order to keep your body healthy, you should exercise, eat a balanced diet and avoid intoxicating substances like drugs and alcohol.” WHOA! Look at that!

We talked about literary devices and using statistics or narratives or something, and they seemed to understand what I was talking about, but it’s difficult to start at absolutely ZERO prior knowledge of what an introduction is (as in the Deputy Head Teacher who I had to okay my lesson plan with didn’t understand what purpose an introduction served) in just a few hours. I gave them all a short homework assignment and a choice of very easy prompts, so we’ll see if they’re able to write introductions on their own. I’ve noticed when grading their homework before, though, that usually one person in the dorms does the homework and everyone else copies word for word, so I’m going to have to devise a way to deal with that, since it’s generally accepted. The more familiar I become with the Swazi education system, the more frustrated I become. It’s not that the students aren’t bright, but they’re not motivated to accomplish ANYTHING. What’s the point when none of your homework is seriously graded and the only thing that matters is the exam administered by Cambridge at the end of the year? Why even try to learn anything not on the exam? Attendance is not taken, tardiness is punished with a few lashings of an electrical tape-fortified stick, cheating is allowed, a large portion of class time is devoted to students doing their homework (which is actually spent sitting outside on a rock talking about boys, etc.) and the only curriculum they have is the exams at the end of the year. As in the 1982 examination in English language did not ask anything about symbolism, so we won’t teach it. And it’s not the fault of bad teachers or bad students, it’s the whole system! Where do you even begin? (I’d like to also add that I really appreciate the teachers I had through all the years who have given me the fantastic education that led me here and gave me perspective enough to understand what effective teaching and motivated teachers look like!)

Later (HOURS later, since I had the whole morning) we talked about outlines (which I had no idea I was going to do…), which was also a completely new concept to them. They have never taken notes, never seen an outline, never tried to write from one, never attempted to organize their thoughts, never made a list, etc. We spent about an hour trying to figure out the concept, and I think they finally got it. Or at least one person in each group finally got it because they all wrote down acceptable outlines. How do you write a composition/essay if you have no idea what you’re planning on writing about? Forget outlines, how do you write if you don’t have a thesis statement? Or an introduction?! Maybe I’ve just had amazing teachers who have emphasized the importance of having a plan, but trying to write an essay with no organization whatsoever scares me.

Also, I would like to point out how I snuck in a very Peace Corps-related lesson on health and nutrition into an English class. Groups even talked about protecting yourself from HIV/AIDS as one of the keys to maintaining good health. See, I’m doing my job.

Completely unrelated to my purpose in Swaziland, I have also witnessed a fair amount of goat sex this past week. There’s one man goat in the village (that my family knows of, at least) and he basically wanders around and impregnates all the lady goats. It’s odd, though, because you’d think that inbreeding would eventually create a problem since, you know, he’s mating with his own offspring. Maybe nearby villages rotate man goats every year on some sort of goat-swap program. And isn’t there supposed to be a mating season? One of the goats I saw him pursuing has a month old baby goat, so hasn’t she had her offspring for the year? Maybe I should ask my 5-year-old bhuti since he seems to know what’s going on around here. (Turns out, he’s 5 now. His birthday was at the end of September, but Swazis don’t celebrate birthdays so I was not informed…too bad, too, because I have a “Happy Birthday” banner and pin the tail on the donkey!)

And a few last random, entirely unrelated (except for 6 and 10) thoughts:
I find it humorous how South Africans (at least those on the radio) pronounce every car company differently than Americans. Nissan, for example, is pronounced NISS-in (as in rhymes with missin’) and Subaru is suh-BAR-oh (I thought they said Sbarro and I got excited for pizza) and Renault is like RUN-oh. In unrelated news, in Swaziland, “penis” also rhymes with “tennis.” So I now giggle every time someone says PEN-iss…like a 3rd grader.
Things I miss from America: bus schedules, Chinese food (crab rangoons), napping, washing my underwear without an audience, margaritas, frequent hand washing, and fine cheeses. Oh, and structure in my life. That would be nice.
My bhutis and sisis (brothers and sisters) think that my headlamp is the coolest thing ever, and earlier this week I came home from school in the afternoon and found the three little ones (3, 5 and 5) running around the homestead with “head torchies” made from circular pieces of aluminum (the bottom of a soda can?) strapped onto their heads with shoelaces. They were even tapping it to turn it on and off!
Peace Corps gave us this book titled “Where There is No Doctor” about basic medical care for various ailments. This is an excerpt from page 126, which also includes a section titled “Fat People,” but this is from the lower section titled “Constipation”: “If a baby is severely constipated, put a little cooking oil up the rectum (asshole). Or, if necessary, gently break up and remove the hard shit with a greased finger.” I’m not doubting the effectiveness of the method, but I can’t help but question the word choice…
It’s fun to think that the people who will be coming with Group 7 next June/July are starting to get their invitations, or at least going through the application and interview process right now. We were all overwhelmed with the level of excitement of the Group 5 people here when we showed up, but now I completely understand. I’ve not even been here for 4 months and I’m already contemplating where people will sleep when they come to visit my site during training…I can’t imagine how excited I’ll be come June of next year. (If you’re Group 7 and you’re reading this, Facebook me or something!)
Boca and I have a date with a bucket and some flea shampoo on Saturday, which should be a fun experience. The dog has never had a bath before, but I plan on rewarding her with actual dog food afterwards, and my bhutis have said they’d do it so they get bitten and not me, so that’s good. They think I’m ridiculous for wanting to bathe the dog, but they bathe the cows. Why do they bathe the cows? Because the insects bother them. I don’t see how the dog is any different.
The other day I ran into a man on my way home who knew me by name, so I walked with him for a little while. As per my earlier blog, our conversation covered the usual topics: why I’m not married, why I won’t marry him and why I won’t give him money. And then he said: “But you must have children. When I saw you from behind I knew that you had at least 3 children because I looked at your body and thought you had to be the mother of at least 3 children. You have hips as wide as the mother of 3.” Why, thank you! He even offered to do me the “favor” of fathering a child for me. If I never get hit on again in the rest of my life, I think I’ll be okay with that.
In other news, I added a can of tuna and some garlic to Kraft Mac & Cheese (sent by my wonderful parents) and it’s basically the best thing ever. How did I never discover this in college? I mean, it does smell a little like cat food, but it sure beats eating a baked potato with rosemary on it, which wouldn’t be so bad if I had some butter or something. I have made some pretty interesting concoctions, though, especially since I finally have herbs growing in my garden. That means that everything I cook tastes like rosemary, basil and cilantro. But mostly rosemary because that’s my favorite, I think.
The other night I led an impromptu exercise class for a small herd of children. We did crunches and push-ups and leg lifts and squats and stretches, and I’d like to brag that I was better at all of those things than them. Of course, they can probably carry a bucket of water on their heads and I can’t.
I want to get a dog. But I have no idea what it takes to get said hypothetical dog back to the US. Or what I’ll do with it once I get it there. And nobody seems to be able to help me with that, including the person at the embassy who deals with animal transport for diplomats. But I keep thinking about all the cuddling and English-speaking I’d do with this dog and I can’t help but lean toward just doing it and worrying about the consequences later. And it’s not like I haven’t tried…I spent all afternoon calling places trying to figure it out. I called the embassy and a “the office of the chief vet of Swaziland” and the airlines. My favorite part was when I was talking to the head of the cargo department at South African Airlines and I was asking if they transport live animals like dogs and she was quite suspicious of me. “Why do you want to know if I have a dog? Where do you live? I have a dog and he is a good guard dog. Why do you want to know if I have a dog?” Uh…okay. At that point the line got cut off. Or maybe she hung up on me. Either way I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m trying to break into her house.

Oh yeah, VOTE. I’m trying, but my absentee ballot still hasn’t come. (Please note, Shawnee County Commissioner of Elections.) And I’d prefer if you’d vote for Obama, but I suppose you can vote for whoever you want as long as you vote. We’ll be celebrating (hopefully celebrating is the right word, and not mourning) the election in a few weeks from the comfort of Swaziland’s premier backpacker hostel, complete with DSTV (we think). And happy still forthcoming birthday to Tory, who is amazing and whose birthday I’m afraid I will forget so I’m going to mention it incessantly. And HI BRITTANY’S MOM! And possibly Connor’s parents, too.

Yep, that’s all. Ncesi (sorry) for making you read so much, but what else have I got to do with myself? Maybe if I had a dog…but I’ll to try to fix up the one I have before I get a new one.


Erin said...

you're going to have the most spoiled dog in all of swaziland!

Rockin' Granny said...

Justine, I thought I sent one comment, but guess I didn't. Your grandmother, Marie, gave me the URL to your b-log. I live close to her. Your Swaziland adventures remind me of the 2 1/2 weeks I spent in Malawai last year. The book, Where There is No Doctor, is very good and I have used it. Look forward to reading more of your adventures. Take care and God bless. Gayla