Thursday, April 23, 2009

Friends, Geography and Fun at the Hospital

Sanibonani, Bekunene! Literally, that means “I see you, people of the right hand.” Weird, huh? In Swaziland, as in many countries, use of the left hand for anything (eating, waving, touching people, accepting money or gifts, etc.) is considered rude, so the people of the right are supposed to be the blessed, polite people. Good thing I’m not left-handed. (Incidentally, I think there is a disproportionate representation of lefties in the Peace Corps, just in case anyone is looking for something mundane to investigate.)

Anyway, this past week has been pretty spectacularly exciting. Over Easter weekend, Rob (another volunteer) came all the way down from HhoHho region in the north to help me draw the world. Then, on Easter Monday, my friend Chad and his friend Orion (I guess they’re both my friends now) stopped by for a visit. They’ve been traveling around Africa for a few months and, having made it from Nairobi to Cape Town a few weeks early, they had a few days to spare entertaining me. And they have a car. It was incredible how convenient it was. Wow.

After spending Monday night at a fantastic new backpackers’ lodge in Mbabane (Bambazo’s… definitely stay there if you’re coming through Mbabane), we drove down to my site to hang out with my family and my puppies for a few days. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday painting the world map at Florence, and we got everything but Antarctica done. Amazing! And I didn’t even have to do the dreaded Canada. (Seriously, look at how ridiculous the top of Canada is. You wouldn’t want to paint that either.) This week I just have to label the countries and capitals, paint Antarctica and finish the Swazi map. It’s beautiful…I’ll include more photos when it’s completely done. And if you want to challenge me to a Geography Bee, I’ll totally kick your butt.

Friday we headed up to Mlilwane Nature Reserve outside of Mbabane. We spent all of Friday perusing various craft markets for over-priced souvenirs imported from Kenya and, as usual, I bought some cool earrings. On Saturday morning, we were planning on hiking up Execution Rock, which is a huge mountain that people convicted of witchcraft used to have to climb up and jump off. Instead, we had a different kind of adventure. Orion had been feeling kind of flu-like sick for a couple of days, but it didn’t really seem like anything serious. Then, Saturday morning, the boys dragged me out of bed to accompany them to the hospital because he felt like death.

Miraculously we found the completely unmarked Mbabane Clinic, a massive private hospital just outside of Mbabane, with only one wrong turn on a one-way street. I’d never been there before, but I was really impressed. Imagine the biggest, most modern-looking, most quiet and empty doctor’s office you’ve ever been in, and add copious amounts of frosted glass windows, modern art and a big water tank that says “Don’t Drink and Drive, Drink and Thrive!” It’s basically a hospital version of Katzen Arts Center with a reception desk like a Starbucks. Anyway, after a brief examination, we learned that Orion had typhus and an infected bite of sorts. At the time we suspected the flea-ridden puppies, but upon closer consideration (and the fact that I slept on the floor with the puppies for several days and don’t have a single bite, but both Chad and Orion had bites) I’m inclined to blame South Africa. Anyway, by the end of the weekend, both Chad and Orion were on antibiotics for infected mystery bites, and I still had none. Maybe I’m just lucky.

All things considered, it was a fantastic week. (I say that because I don’t have the plague.) I didn’t realize how nice it would be to have people from home come visit, but I really enjoyed a break from work. Not that I’ll be doing much work in the foreseeable future…

As I’ve said before, the Swazi educational system has been perhaps my biggest frustration in the past months, and now I have even more to add to my growing list of grievances. According to the school calendar issued by the Ministry of Education, the first term of 2009 (they go on trimesters) is supposed to end on 30 April. Apparently, at Florence Christian Academy, that means 15 April, so the school term (which began 2 weeks late) has ended a full 2 weeks early. That means that students at my school got a full month of school less than they were supposed to. And that’s only for the first term. When I asked why this was happening, the teacher I work most closely with told me all the teachers were “really busy” and that they had “too many other commitments.” Other commitments? Your JOB is a pretty big commitment, I think. What “other commitments” could you possibly have that could be more important than your job? It’s frustrating because (1) I already have my lesson plans for the whole year and now I have to cut out 2 lessons from each grade level, which I guess is one reason Swazi teachers don’t plan things, and (2) how do the teachers expect the students to take their education seriously when the teachers can’t even be bothered to take it seriously? And then the school administration wonders why so many students fail their examinations…

All that grump aside, I’m actually grateful for the break (though I could have just as easily waited 2 weeks for it). This week I’ll be attending some meetings in Mbabane about getting funding for the Shiselweni Regional Youth Support Group and hopefully turning in a final report on the grant I got from PEPFAR. And I’ll be hanging out with my recently de-wormed (that was a gross experience) puppies, who are officially 6 weeks old. I know I should be taking them for their first round of shots, but I’ve decided to take both of them to the shelter in Mbabane when they’re 10 weeks old, so I’m going to wait until then. I’ve already had a few bouts of crying on the issue (when my family said they definitely couldn’t afford to keep another dog after I leave, when I decided I’d take them to Mbabane instead of selling them to neighbors, when I tried to explain all of this to Bokhi, etc.), which is particularly awkward because crying is seen as really inappropriate in Swazi culture and everyone just kind of stared at me while I cried. Honestly, though, it will be a good thing. As much as I would love to keep them to myself or sell them to a neighbor so I could still see them and play with them, I know they would have a much better life as city dogs, guarding the walled-in houses of ex-pats and eating nutritionally-balanced kibble. I wouldn’t want them to end up half-starved, with a broken leg and missing an eye…like their mom. I will miss them immensely, though, and I’m sure I’ll make quite a scene at the animal shelter. But I still have 4 weeks…

In other news, my sisi who is pregnant apparently has no concept of time. Either that or the gestation period of Swazi women is 2 months longer than that of every other woman in the world. I guess when she said she was 7 months pregnant, she actually meant 5 because that was 2 months ago and she’s not due until June 9. So yeah, on June 9 she’s having a cesarean at Hlathikhulu Regional Medical Center, which will hopefully reduce the risk of HIV transmission from her to her baby. Technically, if a mother takes ARVs, delivers by cesarean (which eliminates contact with infected vaginal fluid and reduces contact with mother’s blood) and breastfeeds exclusively, the rate of transmission is very low. To be honest, there’s a high likelihood that her baby has already been infected because her viral load (the number of viruses per microliter of blood) was really high when she found out she was pregnant, which makes it easier for the baby to get HIV during pregnancy, but she’s been taking really good care of herself for the last 6 months and we’re all hoping for a miracle. The baby (it’s a boy) will be named Siyabonga (“Thank You Lord”) Khumalo, and she wants me to give it an American middle name. I’m leaning toward Isaiah, but I have about 6 more weeks to decide.

Also, I’m reading an incredibly sad but really interesting book right now. It’s called “What is the What” and it’s written by Dave Eggers on behalf of a Sudanese “Lost Boy” named Valentino Achak Deng. It’s a first-person narrative about his childhood, his walk from Sudan to Ethiopia in 1983 and his experiences in refugee camps before being resettled in Atlanta. It’s a really well-written book and a good read, even though some of it is really hard to read because you know it’s true. It gives a really good insight into the history of conflict in Sudan and into the lives of the refugees and, even though it makes me want to cry every 5 pages, I really strongly recommend it.

I think that’s all for now. It’s about time for me to snuggle up into my ridiculously-blanketed bed and watch “Notting Hill” for the umpteenth time because it’s cold and I don’t want to do work. It’s a good life.

Love from the Swaz!

The world. It's perdy, huh?

Here's a close-up of Africa. I'm going to draw black borders between the countries and then label countries (in all-caps) and capitals. It's pretty amazing for these kids, I think...they thought Swaziland was the world, but turns out Swaziland is like the size of a dime on this map. Whoa!

Chad and Orion painting the map. It took 2 full days of work for us to get all of the countries painted. For a while, when there were big spots of blue left unpainted, we had a lot of cool new the Great European Sea and the DRC Sea. I guess you had to be there...


Erin said...

That's a big world! It's a lot bigger than I thought it would be. I had a dream about our trip last night. In it, you convinced me to stay there with you! Notting Hill again, huh? I'm sending you more movies next week!

paulsteyne said...

saw you were in swaziland. My mom and dad were missionaries in the 60's at Florence Christian Academy. My dad changed the name from Franson something to Florence..I have no idea why though I could find out. He built many of the buildings and I spent many days wandering through the area with a pellet gun as a kid. I do know that students that attended there ended up in goverment positions. I visisted there in 1980. Have not been back since. No electricity or running water when I grew up.