Thursday, February 5, 2009

Death behind the curtain, the coolest backpack ever and other things

Monday afternoon I returned home from Hluti, (where I discovered a computer and printer run off a solar panel-charged car battery where I can print things for 4R per page) to find a rather life-threatening surprise in my house. As usual, all the little kids greeted me at the entrance of my homestead and fought over my hands so they could walk me to my house. I unlocked the door and, appalled by the moldy stuffiness of my house, immediately went to open the windows while all the kids snooped through my groceries. I was reaching up to open the curtains of the second window when one of the boys started screaming “Inyoka! Inyoka!” and all the kids ran out of the house screaming. Not really sure what was going on, I followed them out and around to the side of the house. Through the window, I could see a HUGE snake wrapping itself around the burglar bars of the window I had just been standing in front of. AHHHH! Sibongile, one of the women on the homestead, immediately rushed in with a stick and beat the thing to death (it took about 10 minutes and the snake kept trying to strike her) while everyone watched the spectacle through the window. When it was finally dead and its innards were splattered around my room (on the wall, the curtains, my mosquito net, my bed, my floor, a basin-ful of clean laundry, and a stack of books) I realized how scary the situation really was. The snake was a black mamba (as in extremely venomous), approximately 4 or 5 feet long, and I was 2 seconds away from opening the curtains and staring it in the face. AHHHH again! And now I’m ridiculously paranoid, even though I know there’s one less snake in the neighborhood than there was on Sunday when I didn’t even think about it. Since then, I’ve snake-proofed my house (put all the things lying around into zipped bags, blocked the gap under the door with a towel, sealed all the foods that could attract the mice that attract the snakes, etc.) and I’m getting something called “Cape Aloe Crystals” that apparently keep the snakes away. And from now on I’m opening my curtains with a stick and a little kid in the room.

Other things:

--I volunteered to facilitate an after-school program teaching entrepreneurial skills to Form 3-5 (Grade 10-12) students at Hluti High School (about 10 kilometers from my house) for the next 12 weeks. It’s run by TechnoServe, a US-based NGO that teaches technical skills to youth and adults throughout the world. The program I’m facilitating is called “JA Company,” where a group of about 30 students starts a company to learn about all the details involved in the process. For 11 weeks, they run every aspect of the company, including selling shares, developing and marketing a product, a corporate responsibility project, accounting, etc. It sounds easy enough, but I wonder how frustrating it will be teaching about developing a marketable product in a country where every shop sells the exact same thing for the exact same price and nobody understands market competition. Last year, the majority of the 28 participating schools decided to make floor polish, which is exactly what every unemployed, fruit tree-less Make in the whole country tries to sell. (But you’d be surprised how much floor polish this country consumes, what with their fixation on superficial cleanliness and all.) I’ll keep you posted.

--I watched The Lion King with my family the other day and I really don’t think they were as into it as me. I guess it’s tough when you don’t understand any of the dialogue. They did understand that Rafiki is a Sangoma (traditional healer who uses divination from the ancestors to determine the sickness and cure for a patient), since there are Sangomas in our community. BUT when Disney originally made The Lion King, they produced it in English, Spanish, Swahili and ZULU, which the kids on my homestead WOULD understand. I contacted Disney about it once and they said all the Zulu copies were “in the vault” for the next 20 years (um, okay), but if anyone ever happens upon a Zulu copy of The Lion King, I’ll buy it from you. Or from Ebay. Let me know.

--I hate the term “fall pregnant.” I was helping my sisi with her Grade 7 health class homework the other day and it was about reproductive health. One of the boxes offset from the page said something like “I have chosen not to have sex before marriage because I am afraid to get an STI that will make me unable to fall pregnant some day.” “Fall pregnant” to me seems synonymous to “become a victim of pregnancy,” which isn’t exactly something you would HOPE to do some day.

--When I got my invitation to Swaziland, Peace Corps included a section detailing the kinds of moral/ethical things I would have to deal with, including the fact that homosexuality is illegal, everyone is belligerently Christian, women have no rights, and students are beat with sticks at school. Things they didn’t warn me about: dogs are beaten for no reason at all (being a dog is enough to warrant abuse) and children are treated like an annoying burden that is not to speak until spoken to and they get beaten for every little annoying thing they do. For example, on Sunday morning I was washing my laundry outside while my 4-year-old sisi, Xolile, sat on a rock and practiced counting to ten with me. When I returned from hanging the first “load” (basin-ful) on the “line” (barbed-wire fence), one of the women on the homestead was beating Xolile with a stick for annoying me while I was trying to do my laundry. I tried to intervene and explain that I wasn’t bothered by it and that Xolile hadn’t done anything wrong, but it didn’t seem to help. I was so disturbed by the scene that I finally went back into my house and closed the door until the screaming stopped. How am I supposed to deal with that?

--As excited as I am about Obama being president, I think Swazis are too optimistic about what it means for them. Swaziland, as much of Africa, has a culture of nepotism. Case in point: The king is a Dlamini, as is every Prime Minister in the history of the country and every person appointed to a political office by the king. And every time somebody tells me they want to go to America (at least twice a week) they ask me if I know anyone important who could get them into university or get them a job, since that’s how you get a job in Swaziland. So, now that an African-American is president, Swazis are absolutely sure that his first priority in life is going to be giving money to Swaziland. Please see photo, below, for further evidence that Swaziland thinks Obama is awesome.

Yeah, that’s pretty much the coolest backpack ever, mostly because Obama is, in fact, “awesome.” And Bokhi sure loves wearing it. (L to R: Kwanele, Mukelo, Xolile)

We found this guy hanging out in a puddle after a thunderstorm. He looks like something out of The Lion King.

And this is where Bokhi lives when it's raining outside. She's not a very good guard dog.

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