Saturday, October 25, 2008

Yesterday I carried a fifty kilo bag of pig feed for 40 minutes.

So when I sat down Friday morning to write this blog, I realized that nothing incredible/shocking/surprising/etc. has happened to me this week. And I’m glad. After all, I think that’s the point of integration. I’ve finally gotten to a point where Swaziland feels like home and where the random things I do every day feel normal to me.

That said, I think it’s time that I actually feel like I’m doing something with myself. Sure, I’ve been teaching at the high school and helping Doctors Without Borders (MSF) at the clinic on Tuesdays, and directing an improvised preschool from my own house every day of the week (this week we played Simon Says A LOT)…but since none of it feels like work I really don’t feel that accomplished. (FEELING like you’re doing something is one of the more difficult parts of Peace Corps, especially for a high-energy multi-tasker like me.)

This week I looked back over a 2-year “to do” list that I wrote for myself in the hotel in Johannesburg exactly 4 months ago, and I decided to get started on it. That means that this week I started studying for the GRE (which I will be taking next year sometime, but I would like to feel prepared since I have to go all the way to South Africa to take it!), exercising, and reading like a fiend to get through my “lifetime reading” list. (Seriously, on Thursday I read over 600 pages.) And I suppose I could work on my siSwati homework (due mid-November) or my “Phase II Community Study” (also due mid-November), neither of which I’ve started yet. But yoga is just so much more fun.

The exercising part presents an interesting challenge. A few months ago I bought a jump rope and yoga mat and I’ve been using them periodically, but this week I stepped it up. The only problem is that when it’s 80 degrees in my house at night, all yoga is hot yoga. And even a “cool down” is ridiculously uncomfortable. And after about 10 minutes of cardio exercises, I feel like I’m going to pass out if I don’t open my windows/door (or lay on the cold cement floor). Since my house is on a platform I figured it would be okay, so I started opening the curtains to let the cooler evening air in while I was exercising. And it made my life infinitely easier. Except that when I paused the DVD to take my last-2-minutes-of-daylight trip to the pit latrine one evening, there was an exercise class going on outside my window, as directed by the one little boy standing on an overturned cooking pot and imitating my movements as he peered in through my window. Excellent. My life is a spectator sport. And all the spectators think I’m nuts. I also cut up a length of heavy-ish rope I bought to hang my mosquito net (which I didn’t hang because it smells like feet) into a few jump ropes for the kids to use instead of just staring at me jumping rope, but the next day I found that they had been confiscated, unbraided and used to help build a fence. Hm.

I also made some significant improvements to the dog. Even though my bhutis volunteered (reluctantly) to bathe her, I figured that someone who had bathed a dog before would probably do a more thorough job. So after we dumped the first bit of water on her and she didn’t freak out and bite anyone, I stepped in gave her a scrubbing with flea and tick shampoo while they held her down and threatened her with a stick. My family, as usual, thought I was crazy because I used warm water (they bathe in cold) and dried her with a towel afterwards (I didn’t want her to go lay down in the dirt!). And it didn’t help that I gave the dog a “necklace” (flea collar). But it seems to have worked. All this week I’ve been checking her flea colonies, which seem to have decreased from 3048 to about 15, and I haven’t found a tick on her yet. I’ve also been giving her about a cup of actual dog food every day this week (my Make literally gasped and covered her mouth with her hand the first time she saw me feed the dog) and she’s gained enough weight that her hips no longer fit through my burglar door. That doesn’t mean she’s stopped trying to come in. No, instead she comes in ¾ of the way and gets stuck and cries until I push her back out. But hopefully she’ll get the idea soon. She also MOVES now. She actually followed me about a quarter mile up to the tar road, which is about a quarter mile further than I’ve ever seen her go before. Amazing! Aside from the fact that she still only has one eye, she’s almost a normal dog now.

This week has also been extremely erratic weather-wise, which I can prove because my parents sent me an alarm clock with a thermometer on it. Wednesday morning when I woke up at 5:15am the thermometer said 89 degrees, and by the time I left for the school at 7:00 it was up to 99. Almost a hundred degrees by 7:00am!!! It was absolutely disgusting and the normally 45-minute walk took over an hour because I kept having to stop and stand in the shade. That afternoon I taught a lovely English class about thesis statement revision with an attractive amount of back sweat. Yum! Then Thursday I woke up and it was 61 degrees. What? That’s almost 40 degrees less than the previous day. How does this happen? It didn’t even rain! I’ve also noticed that a warm morning does not necessarily indicate a warm day. For example, on Friday it was 75 when I got up, but by noon the temperature was down to 60. Yeah, I don’t get it. I think I’m going to get an umbrella and carry it around with me at all times in case it rains or in case the sun is unbearable, either of which is possible on any given day here.

For Christmas/New Years/Boxing Day (those are the holidays we get the day off from PC without having to use vacation days) we’re planning a trip to Mozambique. We’ll spend a day or 2 in Maputo (the capital) and then head up to Tofo, a beautiful beach community about 8 hours North of Maputo. It’s the same trip I made with Lori over Easter Break when we were studying in Durban, but this trip will be completely different since we’re traveling en masse. It should be a good time and I’m really looking forward to being able to wear a swimsuit (or even pants) without everyone thinking I’m a skank since you really can’t do things like that in Swaziland. And I’m going to eat copious amounts of matapa (or “mablahblah” as my family says), the national dish of Mozambique made with collared greens, crabs, peanuts and coconut rice. Delicious! (My dad says it tastes like shrimp and peanut butter, but I happen to like shrimp and peanut butter.)

As a final thought, I was reading a book the other day (historical fiction of sorts) and it was talking about life in the US circa the Great Depression. And I started to think about how terrible it would be to live in a place with no jobs and widespread poverty where most people live paycheck to paycheck, hand to mouth, in a place with poor sanitation and crowded living conditions, where deaths from easily preventable diseases are expected, and with a high birth rate due to conservative beliefs about family planning. If you add HIV/AIDS, that sounds like Swaziland.

That’s all. Don’t forget to vote (especially if you’re a Democrat).

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