Thursday, March 19, 2009

Better Late Than Never...

Tuesday morning, when I left my house at 6:45, it was 81 degrees. By 1pm it was 63. By nightfall it was cold (I could see my breath) and rainy and I wanted nothing more than to sit around in sweatpants, eat popcorn and watch the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates. So that’s exactly what I did. (A big thanks to my sister, Erin, who burned and sent them to me.) It may be too late for it to matter, but just so you know I wouldn’t have changed my vote even if I’d seen these 6 months ago. Anyway, here’s what I learned:
1. I would probably enjoy having John McCain over for dinner.
2. South Koreans are 3” taller, on average, than North Koreans.
3. Joe Biden can’t pronounce the word “hundred.” (He says HUN-erd.) But, man, he has a nice smile. Dentures, I’m sure.
4. Sarah Palin says things like “folks,” “bless their hearts,” “Joe six-pack,” “darn sure, “dear friends,” “um,” “say it ain’t so, Joe” and “drill, baby, drill.” And she pronounces “nuclear” as “NUKE-you-luhr,” which is wrong.
5. John McCain is a “maverick.”
6. Barack Obama is really good at getting the last word in. Always.
7. John McCain is left-handed.
8. Yes, we can.

I assure you, though, that I don’t spend my whole life sitting around doing nothing. I work at least 3 hours a day. Here’s what I do with the majority of my life:

--Last Wednesday (the 11th) I bought my first batch of seedlings for the garden at the NCP (the place where they feed orphans and hungry kids in the community). I bought 100 spinach, 100 cabbage, 100 onion and 20 tomato seedlings, which the women who volunteer at the NCP had planted by Saturday morning. I told them that I’d buy them more if they could get them all planted in time, so I’m back in town today buying more seedlings (they are cut on Wednesdays and need to be planted by Saturday). Today I’m buying 100 lettuce, 100 beetroot, 100 green pepper and 100 more tomato seedlings in the hope that the kids at the NCP will get more than just boiled wheat and water (yum!) for their daily meal. And I want to thank Dan Brooks and his wife Kim for the donation that made the NCP garden possible.

--On Saturday (the 14th) I also attended a “TB Day” put on by Doctors without Borders (MSF) in the neighboring community of Sigwe. Essentially, they brought speaker system and started blasting really loud gospel music and people showed up and sat down and learned about Tuberculosis (transmission, prevention, cure, association with HIV, etc.) in anticipation of free food and goodies (handkerchief, condoms, t-shirts) afterwards. That’s how events work in Swaziland. My job was to wipe off and line up all of the 200 chairs in rows of 12 and then to help package the “sensual safety” gift bags. Simple, right? Not in Swaziland. I had a team of about 5 Swazis (adults, mind you) working with me on the chair thing, so I lined up two rows properly (7 chairs then an aisle then 5 more chairs) and instructed the people to do the same. I ended up with rows of 4 chairs, rows of 15 chairs, rows of chairs that had no leg room and then proceeded to fix them all myself while my “team” rested in the shade. Then I joined the ongoing task of the condom goodie bags. There were 250 gift bags, 250 female condoms and 250 packs of male condoms. So here’s a math problem for you: if you have 250 bags, 250 of item x and 250 of item y, how many of each item should you put in each of the bags so that 250 people get gifts? When I showed up, the women who were filling the bags were putting 2 female condoms and 4 packs of male condoms in each bag. Which makes no sense! Okay, then what do you do with the extra 125 female condoms and the extra 188 gift bags? Hide them under the table and wait for the American to come over and fix it. Oh well, at least they're trying and that's a start.

--Teaching at Florence Christian Academy is going well. I’ve finally finished revising my syllabus, which outlines all 98 lessons I’ll be teaching this year so that the administration can approve it. This week my classes are (hopefully) learning about the consequences of high-risk behavior and how to diffuse peer pressure in situations that may expose people to HIV. It’s a two-part lesson, since the school’s class periods have been shortened from an hour to only 40 minutes and you can’t do ANYTHING in a 40 minute class period. My students hate me because I make them do things like think and write and speak in front of the class, but I think they’re learning. I did get really frustrated with my Form 2 (9th grade) class on Tuesday and actually yelled at them to shut up. They immediately responded with wide eyes and a chorus of “sorry” and I didn’t hear one bit of side conversation for the rest of the class period.

--I’m also helping teach Form 5 (Grade 12) English this week. Actually I’m not helping anyone because the teacher I’m supposed to be “helping” doesn’t even bother to show up most of the time. And when he does show up at school, he is usually found watching DVDs of angry-sounding preaching and gospel music videos on the big TV in the computer lab. We’re practicing for the oral communication exam, which means I have a 10 minute directed conversation with each student (which would take half the time if the other teacher would do it too). Overall I’m impressed with their performance, but it never fails to amaze me that Swazis don’t seem to grasp the concept of gender-specific pronouns. This week I’m also going to make them write haikus. Maybe I’ll discover some creativity in Swaziland…if I can effectively explain to these students (17 of whom are older than me) what a syllable is.

--This week I finalized plans (and permission) to paint the enormous world map on a wall in the courtyard at the high school. I’m hoping to get it finished in the 3 weeks that school is out between the first and second terms at the beginning of May, provided it stops raining by then. Tuesday I went to the woodworking teacher and asked to borrow a tape measure, and he was incredulous that I’d actually know how to use it. That’s when I decided that I would complete the map with help only from other women, so I took the tape measure and enlisted the help of the secretary to help me measure the wall while the male teachers stood around and laughed at us. Later, when I asked the Deputy Head Teacher if I could use his step-ladder to paint the top parts of the map, he asked me if I knew how to use a ladder. For real? Yes, I know how to “use” a 3-foot step-ladder. When I explained the project to another male teacher, he joked that I better have enough paint to hire a man to paint over my map when I’m done, since they don’t want an ugly map on the wall. Maybe they would trust me if they knew what a perfectionist I am. They’ll see. (Or else I’ll paint the map over break while all the students are gone and they’ll just assume I hired a man to do it.)

--Also, I FINALLY got a list of the kids who need sponsorship through Young Heroes, but unfortunately at the meeting it was written in pencil and that’s too unprofessional to give to me so I have to wait until the woman who has it copies it in pen before I can arrange things. There’s no shortage of things to wait for in Swaziland. I’m going to be so patient after this experience.

As much as I complain, I really do love my job. I find humor in how awkward and frustrating it is, and happiness in the smallest measure of success. It’s a good way to live, I think.

Other goings-on:

--Mr. Bread, one of the two bread companies in Swaziland, has introduced a new kind of brown bread. (There’s only “brown” and “white” bread, and nutritionally they’re not very different.) This new type of brown bread, called “Swazi Choice,” advertises that it has “added roughage.” Really? Why don’t just advertise that it “makes you have regular bowel movements!”

--The other day my 22-year-old neighbor came confess his love to me and found me watering my garden. We started talking about the garden and he commented that my family had obviously worked hard to give me such a nice garden. I told him that, in fact, I’d built the fence and plowed the land and planted everything, to which he replied: “Yeah, now that I look closer I can tell that it was all done by a woman.” And he wasn’t joking! Yeah, that’s my life. A warning to the married women coming in Group 7: your husband will get credit for everything you do in your community. (This is why I’m doing the map project without male help…so that a random 15-year-old boy who helps me for 10 minutes doesn’t get credit for the whole thing.) I will appreciate even the most sexist of American men after this experience.

--I’m thinking of dying my hair really, really dark brown. Maybe I wouldn’t get sexually harassed so often if I didn’t radiate whiteness. Thoughts?

--I woke up this morning to find a dead goat sitting outside my house. It’s the second time this has happened…the first one was a few weeks ago and I found him laying half inside my latrine. Nobody moved him for 2 or 3 days because they didn’t really see it as a problem, but I’m pretty sure that whatever killed him made this second now-dead goat (who was in the latrine with the dead goat) sick. Later, there was a baby goat (about a week old) sniffing around the dead goat. I tried to explain that they should move the goat so it doesn’t infect others with whatever it had, but it’s still laying there. It’s sad, too, because this is the goat I watched the birth of when I first moved here 7 months ago…the one where its sister was eaten by the pig and I was traumatized. I liked that goat! Life’s tough on the farm, especially when the farmer lacks a basic understanding of infectious diseases.

--Last Sunday was my neighbor Gladness’s birthday, so two of the kids and I and spent the early morning making two loaves of banana bread. They helped me mix in the flour and mash the bananas and everything else, but they ran out of my house when I poured in the vanilla. Okay…so I baked the bread and cut it into a million pieces so that everyone on the homestead would get a piece, but they all refused to eat it. I took the second loaf to Gladness, but she said she didn’t want it. So I asked my sisi Londiwe what was going on…apparently, the two boys helping me thought that the vanilla was “muti” and told everyone else not to eat it. Muti, in Swaziland, is a sort of witch’s potion used to curse the person who it is intended for. They believe that if you have a miscarriage, it’s because a jealous neighbor probably put muti on your doorstep. If you have a car accident, it’s because there was muti on the road and you drove over it and you and your car became cursed. If someone in your family dies mysteriously, it’s because muti summoned the spirits to kill them (this is how a lot of AIDS-related deaths are explained in rural communities where families are afraid to admit that their family has been affected by AIDS). I’m not really sure what they all thought I was trying to do to them, but I brought out the vanilla and let them smell it and I ate some of the bread myself and they all laughed. What would I gain from cursing my own family?

--With the oral communication practice, one of the topics is “the clothes I like to wear” so I ask students what things they like to buy, what they would never wear, what dress code is enforced by their parents, where they get their inspiration for their fashion, etc. I’ve used the topic 5 or 6 times and it always leads into a discussion of whether “trousers” are appropriate for women to wear. And I have yet to find a single student (male or female) in my class that says that women should be allowed to wear pants. One girl did say that it’s harder to get raped if you’re wearing pants, but that she was more afraid of being thought un-Christian than of being raped. And almost all of them said that it’s un-Christian for women to wear pants. What? Since when do all Christians wear skirts? Is there some 11th Commandment that I missed? “Thou shall not wear trousers.” Never mind adultery, gluttony, coveting, stealing, etc. As long as you’re wearing a skirt while you’re sleeping with your neighbor’s husband and stealing his food, you’re a good Christian. I really don’t get it.

--You would think that beliefs in things like “muti” and witchcraft would be un-Christian. In fact, I think that’s a far more obvious contradiction with Christianity than wearing pants. But not in Swaziland.

--There’s some sort of motor vehicle that the radio station I listen to refers to as a “mechanical horse.” Is that a tractor?

--Do you think I could get NPR if I had a shortwave radio? Does anybody want to send me one? If not a shortwave radio, I could definitely use some “Crest Whitening Plus Scope” with the minty fresh stripe (not the Crest Whitening Expressions; that makes my mouth hurt). Most of the toothpaste here is mentholated and/or makes my mouth taste like cough drops and/or makes my teeth feel gross. Maybe I’m too picky. Or maybe I’m just a Crest Kid.

--Lately I’ve been fantasizing about all-you-can-eat buffets. I’d kill for some free refill root beer, clam chowder (with those little hexagonal crackers), macaroni and cheese, roast beef, fried zucchini and broccoli and cheese in one sitting. With a bowl of chocolate-vanilla-swirl ice cream and gummy bears for dessert. Maybe a brownie or some banana cream pie or cherry crisp…or all three. I never thought I’d daydream about Golden Corral.

--Bokhi’s puppies (my puppies!) are 9 days old today. There are 2 survivors (I think there were 3 originally) and they’re adorable! They’re black with white feet and heads and a little bit of white on the tips of their tails. She’s still really protective of them, but she doesn’t mind if I pet them or even pick them up. I know already I’m going to have a hard time getting rid of them. The English teacher I work with at the high school said he wanted to buy one, so I said I’d give it to him on the condition that he would love it as much as I do. He laughed and told me it would be easier to just buy one from someone else. Anyway, I don’t know if they’re boys or girls or what (am I dumb or are they too young to tell?), but I’m open to name suggestions. Nothing with an “r” in it because Swazis can’t pronounce those.

This is the best picture I have of the puppies, but I'll try to sneak in and get better ones before the weekend. They're adorable!!

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I didn’t even realize it was St. Patrick’s Day until about 8pm on Tuesday, but I’d been eating bread with little green spots on it all day, so I guess I was celebrating.

That’s all for today. Most likely I’ll be back in town on Saturday for a “meeting,” which is really just an excuse to eat fried chicken and stay the night somewhere with cable TV and running water. Swaziland is amazing.


I caught Hle and Xolile hiding outside the kitchen eating stolen maize. And instead of telling on them, I snuck up and took a picture.


My neighbors coloring and playing in my house to avoid the pouring rain. The naked little boy, Lindo, is just over a year old and HIV+. His parents have managed to have 3 HIV+ children, which means that they clearly don't understand safe breastfeeding (with safe breastfeeding, the chance of transmission is 3%, with unsafe breastfeeding it's very high). This is why home-based-care and follow-up on women after birth is crucial.

4 comments:

Dad said...

Oh, Justine. Maybe your Mother and I should have spent less time talking to you about the Birds and the Bees and spent more time talking to you about Puppies. I guess you will be able to tell what sex the pups are later when you see them playing in the yard. The male will be wearing trousers and the female will be wearing a skirt.

Erin said...

Your puppies are very cute! I wouldn't want to give them away either, knowing how people treat dogs there. You should put clothes on them and let them all sleep in your bed like Kipper, your family would have a heart attack.

233 days!

Jessica D. said...

I vote don't dye your hair (I hope you haven't!). There is a very long explanation in the letter that I'm writing right now that will probably be finished tomorrow so I'll send it on Tuesday or Wednesday.

230 days!

Tyler said...

Nice work on the gospel bait by MSF. Never would have thought of that!