Sunday, February 22, 2009

Topless Group 2 PCV sets unrealistic expectations for Swazi men

Yeah, that’s what the headline SHOULD have said. Below I’ve retyped an article printed in the Swazi Times (national, state-run newspaper). I’ve put all the important parts in bold so you can skip the rest if you want. All grammatical errors and odd phrasing are original, but Word has corrected the spelling (journalism is pretty sub-par here). You’ll have to Google it if you want the photos because it’s too pornographic for Blogger to let me post them. First, definition of terms:

--“Teka” (pronounced TAY-guh) is the first traditional ceremony of marriage. A woman who has gone through it has been “tekaed.” The ceremony involves being topless, not smiling, standing in a cattle kraal while older women tell you that marriage is hell and then performing rituals to prove that you’re capable of being subservient to your husband.

--An “Umlungu” is a white person. Originally it was derogatory (like the “n” word in the US) but now it’s used widely in place of my name. Example: “I love you, Umlungu.” Or “Hey Umlungu, give me sweets.”

--A “Zionist” is a member of a conservative sect of Christianity in Swaziland (not the same as in the US). There are different types of Zionists in Swaziland, but most speak in tongues, believe in faith healing, don’t eat pork and have really long church services where they wear uniforms, chant and sometimes bite/hit one another. (We’re not supposed to go to Zionist services.)

Umlungu from America Tekaed by Shy Zionist
By Lucky Tsabedze (Swazi Times, 7 February 2009; pg 1, 3)

MANZINI—A Zionist construction worker tekaed an American woman. The Zionist met Brenda Emelia Grabau at Bhawhini area, near Makayane in 2006. Calvin Kunene was at Bhawyini as a labourer for Anzo Constructions, a Matsapha based company.
“We were at Bhawyini as the construction company I worked for was building a house at Nyatsini Seconadary school. I worked as a bhucudaka, my duty was to make concrete mixture,” said the shy Kunene.
Kunene said he wanted to talk to Brenda when his eyes fell on her but he was scared to convey his feelings, something he described as part of the courting process. Apart from that, he says the skin colour sent shivers down his spine.
Kunene said he made acquaintance with Brenda, but the intention to ask Brenda out was not strong though he secretly harboured the thought.
“It happens that a male will want to talk to a girl about dating her but fear holds you back. It was the same thing with me,” said Kunene. “Then I took chances this one time when we met, it was more like a joke when I said it (I love you). She was friendly so that made it easy to talk to her. We begun to be friends and that is how we grew closer to each other,” said Kunene.
Kunene said the friendship continued until a stage when Brenda’s commitment made him believe they were more than friends. Brenda pleasantly surprised him when she visited Kunene’s sick father at the Mankayane Government hospital where he was admitted. “That took me by surprise,” he recalls.
“I could see that the friendship between us was strong, and was in fact getting even stronger. IT got to a point when my father died, that proved to be a turning point for me and Brenda. She traveled to my home, and was with me throughout the time of bereavement. She was cooking and that must have been a shock to some mourners because they didn’t partake in the cooking. She was the busiest!” said the proud husband.
The relationship has brought to life a child.

WHOA! Obviously, bi-racial marriage is rare in Swaziland. Even more rare is cross-cultural marriage. Bi-racial, cross-cultural TRADITIONAL marriage is absolutely unheard of. I guess it’s not a big deal except that (1) Brenda was a PCV in Group 2 who never informed Peace Corps that she was pregnant and just showed up to her Close of Service conference 7 months in, and (2) she’s pictured about 10” tall on the front page of the newspaper TOPLESS, exposing her enormous breasts and fantastic tan lines. Also, I don’t really understand how an American woman (particularly the liberal-minded type that usually joins the Peace Corps) could be okay with being described as “an official wife” of a Swazi man, as in one of the photo captions, rather than “the wife.” Does he plan on taking more wives? (The teka ceremony is usually only performed when the husband wishes to take more than one wife.) There are plenty of well-educated, progressive men in Swaziland who I could see a PCV marrying, but I can’t imagine that the Zionist family of a rural Swazi construction worker would be terribly progressive. Anyway, I guess I can’t judge because I don’t know actually know them, but I’m surprised. The cultural barrier, especially in traditional marriages, would be too much for me. But more power to them, I guess…and their daughter (Gretta) is adorable!

For completely selfish reasons, though, the article irks me. Since it was printed last week I’ve been approached by a number of men in my community who now have renewed hope that I will marry or at least have sex with them. Thanks for that. We PCVs joked about writing a letter to the editor informing all Swazi men that she’s the exception rather than the rule. Even if you tell me you love me (as Mr. Kunene did to Brenda) and if my skin colour “sends shivers down your spine,” I’m not interested in marrying you. In fact, if you say that to me I’ll probably lecture you on the difference between lust and love.

Anyway, in between my daily sexual harassment encounters, these past two weeks have been extremely busy and productive. It’s amazing. Here’s what’s going on in my life right now:

--I had my first two sessions of the small business program at Hluti Central High School on the 13th and 20th of Feb. TechnoServe, which sponsors the program, sent a few people down to supervise my first lesson, but they deemed me competent after 20 minutes and went home. It’s reassuring to know I at least LOOK like I know what I’m doing. The group seems fun, motivated and well-behaved, but we’re still having trouble coming up with a product we can manufacture and sell in our local communities. What do subsistence farmers in rural Swaziland buy? Floor polish, soap and candles. And unless we can make them cheaper than the factories, Make and Babe have no customer loyalty even to their own kids. Hm.

--I’m in Nhlangano on Friday and Saturday for the monthly youth support group meeting. It’s a big deal for us because for the first time it’s being funded by a Swazi organization and not PEPFAR! Yay for sustainability! We’re teaching a lesson and doing skits about overcoming obstacles to reach your goals. Hopefully it impresses the lovely donors who are coming to make sure they don’t want to back out.

--Despite the fact that I’m still don’t have the Ministry of Education’s Career Guidance curriculum, I’ve started teaching Life Skills classes at Florence. I have three classes a week (one each of 8th, 9th and 11th grades), for which the whole grade level is combined to make an enormous class of about 80 students. It’s a bit overwhelming, especially since there are more students than there are chairs and desks, but I’ll make it work. This past week, I did surveys to evaluate their baseline knowledge on HIV/AIDS, and I was surprised with some of the results. Other than the fact that one of my 11th-graders is 30, these stats surprised me:

38% of students are classified as “orphans or vulnerable children;”
12% of students are sexually active;
6% believe you can tell if a person has HIV by just looking at him/her (you can’t);
38% have a relative with HIV, yet…
38% say they would not be willing to share a meal with an HIV-positive person;
9% say it is unsafe for HIV-positive teachers to continue teaching; AND
67% say they would never buy food from an HIV-positive food vendor.

--In addition to my weekly Life Skills classes, I’m planning a school-wide, HIV-themed art competition. Students will submit creative things (advertisements, poems, posters, paintings, cartoons, comic strips, etc.) with some message about preventing HIV infection or encouraging people to get tested, and a panel of teachers will choose the most effective “art” to be painted on the bus shelter outside the school. Assuming it works (I’m still trying to get definite permission from the government, who owns the bus stop, and I’m not sure who we’ll get to actually do the painting…), I think it will be a really cool project. I’ll be sure to post photos if/when it actually happens.

--In a related project, I’m going to be painting a big world map on the side of one of the buildings at the high school. For some unknown reason, it’s something that a lot of PCVs do in Swaziland, and you can always tell if a PCV has worked at a school because there’s a map on the wall. I’ll be painting mine on the wall that faces the courtyard so that students can stare at it in the morning while they listen to the daily Scripture readings. The head teacher is really excited about the project, but everyone doubts my ability to paint anything. After all, I AM a woman. If the map goes well (and if I have extra supplies), hopefully the primary school will let me paint one too. And a big thanks to Mr. Brooks and his wife who unknowingly funded this project.

--Finally, I’m in the process of getting together a committee to submit a Peace Corps Partnership Program proposal to renovate and furnish a library at the high school. The teachers have been trying to start a library for some time, and it’s a project that they’re really committed to doing. Since I first mentioned the library as a possible project for me, the school has already hired someone to repair the water damage to the room, painted the walls in a lovely high-gloss blue and gotten a donation of about 500 books from World Vision. The proposal will, hopefully, purchase materials to build shelves, tables and chairs, and other necessary items to label the books, create a shelf list (like a card catalog) and devise some organized system of checking them out. The proposal can ask for as much as $5000, but the more we get donated the more money we’ll have left to buy books! When the proposal is submitted, it will appear on the Peace Corps website and anyone (hopefully you??) can go online and donate money to it. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.

In addition to the small business program, Life Skills classes, support group, art competition and library, I’m TRYING to set up a workshop with the local police station to do an HIV awareness training for all its officers and I’m helping teach 12th grade English at Florence. And I have ambitions of writing a bi-lingual children’s book explaining the basic biology of HIV. And Bokhi will be having puppies soon. It’s a good, busy life.

That’s all for today, methinks. I have a million other things to write and I somehow have to make a dinner out of 3 potatoes, a carrot, an egg and two tablespoons of apricot chutney. Preferably without dirtying any dishes. Sometimes it’s the little things that are the most challenging parts of this experience.

Love from the Swaz!
Justine/Phindile


This is the "bus shelter" I'm talking about painting. We'd use the whole rectangular flat surface inside the bus shelter.


Sisi Xolile and Mukelo playing with an umbrella on my homestead.

4 comments:

Jessica D. said...

Here's the link to the story that Justine re-typed: http://www.times.co.sz/index.php?news=5261

Erin said...

1. that's the strangest news story I've ever read
2. you're waaaay too ambitious
3. 256 days!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Justine and Serena, I am the mother of an AEPhi at Indiana University. I read about you in the AEPhi Columns, Winter 2009.

I want to compliment both of you for your courageous endeavor as Peace Corps volunteers in Swaziland - and - for your amazing spirit that must sustain you there!! You not only make your parents proud (who must be nervous every minute that you are gone!) but also your AEPhi sisters.

Good luck to both of you!!
Best wishes, Leslie Aranoff-Hirschman (my daughter is Halley Hirschman, a junior)

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