Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Welcome to the Bat Cave

So I had a pretty uneventful Halloween. Until 2:44am Saturday morning. This whole week I’ve been sleeping on my floor because I’m afraid my bed will re-infect me with scabies, and at 2:44 I woke up to the sound of screaming bats. I’m used to the chirp of the bats, but apparently they do this more breathy distress call thing that sounds like a guinea fowl (that probably doesn’t help you at all), so it woke me up. It was completely dark in my room (a storm had killed the electricity so the outside lights weren’t on) but I could still make out a small black figure moving about a foot from the head of my “bed” on the floor. Thinking it was a mouse I reluctantly fished for my flashlight, making a lot of noise in hopes of scaring it away. But it didn’t move…

As soon as I shined my light on it and realized it was a bat, it stopped moving. I suppose it was trying to play dead, but maybe it was as scared as me…I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing, too! After staring at it for a minute and freaking out about what to do next, I realized it was STUCK to the cement floor and it could only move one of its wings, which is why it was screaming and why all the other bats were freaking out too. Apparently it had flown into the sticky fly strip I have hanging from the ceiling in the “kitchen” and, though it managed to get free, it landed on its back stuck to the cement floor. Not really sure what to do, I took a small dish-washing basin and turned it upside-down over it and put the 10 pound anvil doorstop on top of it. And the screaming stopped. So I scooted my bed a few feet over on the floor and went back to sleep. (It’s amazing what I have come to consider “normal” in the past few months…) I’d also like to take this moment to claim at least a little bit of credit for “catching” the bat, since I’m sure my chasing him around with a broom at 2am probably created some level of confusion that led to the flying into the fly strip. (And, yes, running around the house with a broom at 2am fits this revised definition of “normal.”)

It was pretty funny the next morning, though, trying to explain to my Make (mother) my problem, since I really wasn’t sure what to do with it and I was absolutely incapable of explaining in siSwati why I had a bat under a washing basin on my floor. It still chirped when I tapped on the basin, and I wasn’t about to kill it myself and all the boys on the homestead were already gone by the time I got up. So Make came in and tried to scoot it out to the doorstep while I stood by with the broom to play Bat Ball if it miraculously got away. Well the little critter sneaked out and I ended up having to stomp on it in my flip-flops, which was scary but it made a quite gratifying crunching noise. And then the dog ate it, which I think is a bad idea but I guess that’s the standard procedure for dead bat disposal.

So Happy Halloween! That was scarier than any haunted house I’ve ever visited. Sunday, with a new resolve to rid my house of bats, I hunted down a ladder (aka a bunch of sticks tied together so that you can climb up them) and made a bucket full of cement-like mud and tried to fill in all the holes on the outside of my house. But, alas, I woke up Monday morning with bat poo all over my house so I obviously failed. But I’m not going to give up just yet! My family thinks I’m crazy, I’m sure…but what’s new?

On Monday the students in my Form 4 (Grade 11) English class turned in their first full compositions for me, and I now know that I never ever want to be a teacher. Some of them really got it and turned in fantastic compositions, but some of them still can’t tell the difference between a complete sentence and an incomplete sentence, or when I say they need to write a 5 sentence introduction they turn in something like: “I like my mother. I like my mother because she loves me. She pays my school fees. She feeds me and provides me with shelter. I love my mother.” Yes, that’s 5 sentences, but not exactly what I was looking for. And not exactly what I’ve been teaching for the last 2 weeks. Come on! You’ve done this in class! So it’s frustrating, and I know that part of the class is ready to move on to “argumentative writing” (I’ll be good at that) and part of the class needs to go back and review the difference between a question and a statement. How do I teach without leaving part of the class completely bored and the other completely confused? Hmmm…a challenge.

I also learned that Swazis believe that if a woman takes birth control pills before she has children that her first born will be born deaf and mute and that everyone will know that she was taking birth control and, therefore, that she had sex before marriage. I guess that explains why so many girls in Form 3 have babies. See, I would think that having a baby in high school would make people assume you had pre-martial sex… Completely unrelated, Swazis also believe that thunder makes meat rot. Which I suppose is true if said thunder is part of a thunder storm that causes the electricity to go out, which causes everything in the fridge, including the meat, to rot. Then, yes, thunder causes meat to rot. But I’m SURE thunder causes electricity and cell phone reception to die.

In other news, I also repainted my house for the third time in as many months. Either I need to paint my walls dark brown or get over my OCD…nothing is ever clean in Swaziland! But I painted the walls cream (with the rest of the paint leftover from paint job number 2) and then got black paint to paint “baseboards” around the bottom of the walls (so that the mop doesn’t leave gross brown marks on the wall) and a triangle-shaped border around the door to cover up dirty little kid/carpenter who put my door up handprints. Personally I think it’s pretty fancy. I’ll try to upload some photos of my house so you can see where/how I live (after my linens are out of quarantine so and I have my new curtains), but I promise you it’s nicer than what you’re picturing right now. To be honest, I’m not really roughing it. (Except, of course, when I’m making an elaborate pasta dish for dinner and it starts thundering and the power goes out when my food is half-cooked and the cell phone network is down so I can’t even text anyone to complain about it. It’s a tough life.)

I’ve also successfully (I hope) killed all the scabies in my house, which required washing all of my clothes, washing, boiling and quarantining my linens, sleeping on the floor for a week, and bathing myself twice daily with soap that made me smell like rotten eggs and Lysol. Apparently sulfur kills them, which is not surprising because it made me pretty nauseous. But the important thing is that I’m scabies-free (I think) so I’m allowed to see other people and have visitors now. As soon as I get rid of the bats, that is.

Also, word on the street is that there’s an education group coming next year with Group 7. Apparently there will be the normal 35-ish people doing HIV/AIDS and an additional 7 or so coming as high school teachers. It’s funny, really, since a lot of us HIV/AIDS educators are high school teachers, too, but it’s encouraging to see that the program is expanding despite budget constraints at Peace Corps. We must be doing something right! It’s also exciting to think that I’ll have 42 new friends instead of just 35! Pathetic, I know, but for real…

Some final thoughts…

Things that drive me nuts about Swaziland: When I’m at the internet café, paying by the minute for internet, and a Swazi guy sits down next to me and proceeds to propose to me for the entire 45 minutes I’m there, going on and on about his 7 children (it means he’s fertile) and his wealth (he owns a grocery store) and his past modeling career (which ended before I was born). Yeah, I don’t really want to date/marry a 47-year-old man, and in no way did I indicate otherwise. Then he told me that I was rude and that I must be crazy because “all those Simelanes are off in the head” (that’s my surname here). Um, okay. Other things I don’t like: bats, scabies, lack of margaritas and Life cereal, difficulty of getting enough calcium and the related and equally terrible powdered milk, etc.

Things I really like about Swaziland: Goats, especially baby goats, and even more especially when said baby goats sneeze; babies and small children who wave to me and say “bye bye” and “I’m fine” because that’s all the English they know; peach-granadilla yogurt, which doesn’t make me sick even if I haven’t refrigerated it for 2 days; the family’s dog, Boca (Boka?), who I’ve started calling “The Undertaker” because my bhutis love wrestling and would never hit The Undertaker; the fact that dog food here is called “dog chunks,” which seems vaguely cannibalistic; never having to vacuum; washing my clothes by hand, which gives me a great sense of accomplishment and is FREE; East Coast Radio (FM 95.6), which I listen to for about 15 hours a day; hitch-hiking in a place where it’s absolutely normal; having ample time to read, write this blog, study for the GRE, walk aimlessly, play Frisbee, etc.; boerwors (big sausages) and biltong (jerky). I am endlessly amused by Swaziland, to say the least.

AND if you’ve received your invitation to be in Group 7 for Swaziland, you should accept it. It’s a tough post (high mortality, frustrating school systems and transportation, drought, no margaritas), but all things considered it’s a really good place to be (supportive staff, proximity to other volunteers, really nice people, relatively easy language and fantastic language training, a currency pegged to the Rand, good living conditions) and, overall, Swaziland is really supportive of Peace Corps. Plus, I’d say, the Group 6 people who you’d be joining are pretty cool, too. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me (Justine.Amos@Gmail.com) or find me on Facebook.

FINALLY, if you’re an AEPhi, look in the next edition of Columns for an article about me and Serena here in Swaziland. I miss you girls and I’m so sad I’m not there to meet the Alpha Lambdas!! (And Happy Birthday to Tory, the most amazing little in the whole world…this is really the last time I’m going to be at the internet before her birthday!)

That’s all for real, now. Love from the Swaz!


Dad said...

I would be soooo freaked out to see a bat that close to me!! You really are very brave! Something you get from your Mother, no doubt. I love reading your blog and I am very impressed by your attitude. Keep up the good work, and I will save up for Margaritas on your return!! Love You!!!!

Erin said...

Dad's right about the bat, we both would have screamed like little girls! But that's why you're the brave one that we made go first through all the haunted houses!

Serena said...

I'm glad you update your blog cause I DON'T and I'm gonna start referring everyone to yours. See you Sunday, woo!