Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What NOT to do in Swaziland...

So last Friday, as usual, I spent the evening laying in bed reading because, well, there’s nothing else to do on a Friday night in Shisizwe, Swaziland. A few hours after dark, Bokhi (my family’s dog) started barking and snarling like crazy so, like a fool, I decided to investigate. I grabbed my headlamp and unlocked my door and headed out to the grassy area where Bokhi and the puppies were hiding in their little thatch house. When I got over there, Bokhi started wagging her tail violently and I didn’t see anything, so I figured she had scared away whatever she was barking at. The puppies were outside of their little hut, sitting in the grass and not making a sound, so I went over to make sure they were okay. As soon as I started to walk toward them, Bokhi freaked out and started snarling and ran up the pile of thatch about 2 feet in front of me and chased something into the bushes. I only saw the creature for a fleeting moment, but, judging by the shiny body and the crashing noise it made coming down from the tree above me, I knew it was a big snake. Not thinking clearly, I threw a rock at the snake, screamed, snatched up both of the puppies in my arms and ran back into my house panting, shaking and generally freaking out. My family came running to see what all the commotion was about and kindly informed me that I was an idiot. Apparently a huge adult black mamba, approximately 3 or 4 meters long, had been killing chickens in the area for the previous few nights. That’s cool, since that snake could have killed me. So the moral of the story is: Don’t go outside after dark in Swaziland, especially to see what the dog is barking about.

Anyway, other than making poor decisions in the dark, here’s what I’ve been doing:

The Junior Achievement Company program I’ve been teaching to high school students at Hluti Central High School is now in full swing, and I think I’m learning as much as the students are. After 4 weeks of intensive business studies classes (accounting, fixed costs and variable costs, market research, evaluating suppliers, production process, management, marketing, etc.), taught by yours truly, the 32 students in the “club” have started a company. The company, called “Juvenile Stars,” sells food items (cream doughnuts, fruit, ice cream cups and bags of Cheetoes-like things) to students and teachers at the school throughout the school day since there is no lunch provided at “lunch” time. Some of it is a logistical nightmare (see next paragraph), but it’s given me a good insight into the challenges of starting and running a business in Swaziland, which is nothing like in America. Last week, we also started weaving and selling chicken nests, which probably makes no sense to you whatsoever. Essentially, they’re like really big bird nests for chickens to lay eggs in, because if left to their own devices they’ll lay eggs in the grass where the snakes will eat them. (That’s my understanding, at least.) I’ll post a photo of the nests so you can see what I’m talking about. Anyway, sales are going really well (ice cream is amazingly popular) and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how efficiently and effectively the students have been running the company. I’m only in charge of all of the behind-the-scenes work…

And that behind-the-scenes work is the logistical nightmare I was talking about. Basically, the company “orders” things from a “supplier,” which really means that they give me a list of everything they want to buy and I have to go find it, buy it and haul it back to the school. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if I had a car…but I don’t, and Swazi public transportation is consistently inconsistent. As are all of the suppliers I have to buy from. For example, on Tuesday I went to Nhlangano to buy 2 big cases of 100 apples, but nobody in Nhlangano had apples to sell. It seems that the apple truck hadn’t delivered that week, so they told me to come back next week. Then I ordered 60 cream doughnuts from the biggest bread company in Swaziland, and by the time they go to my delivery station on Thursday they said they had sold all of them already and said that I should order more next week. I DID manage to get the ice cream I ordered…kind of. They brought me 160 cup of strawberry and vanilla swirl ice cream instead of the 160 chocolate I ordered, and they charged me E2.50 per cup instead of the E2.10 they quoted me over the phone. Then, after I was loaded down with lots of melting ice cream, I took the last seat on a kombi to the school, meaning that it would leave immediately. Good luck, right? Except, as it turns out, our kombi had a flat tire so, instead of taking us to the school it took us to the tire repair place down the road to have the tire changed. For the next 40 minutes. Fantastic! (Can you imagine if you boarded a bus in the US and then, after it was full, it went a few miles out of the way to refuel or to fix a tire or go through a car wash? Ridiculous, right?) One frustrated hour later, I made it to the school and promptly consumed my body weight in strawberry-vanilla swirl ice cream because, by God, I deserved it.

In other news, we had our March meeting of the Shiselweni Regional Youth Support Group on the 28th. Since we lost our PEPFAR funding in February it’s been kind of touch-and-go with the support group, and in February we told our group of 75 that we wouldn’t be able to reimburse them for transport costs for the March meeting. Honestly, for March we were expecting an attendance of about 4 kids, but were pleasantly surprised when over 30 showed up, despite the cost to their families. (Thanks to the generosity of my parents, though, we were able to reimburse them for transport, provide them with fruit for a mid-morning snack and purchase teaching materials. Thanks a bunch!!) Our March meeting, which introduced the concept of a holistic approach to health (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social health), focused on basic nutrition. After a brief lesson on the major food groups and the importance of a balanced diet, the kids were each given a paper plate, a glue stick and a pile of food options (cut out of the magazines sent to me by my parents and Erin) to make their own example of a balanced meal. And I’m really glad that the pro-ethanol lobbies advertise so much because their ads provided me with lots of pictures of corn for the food exercise!

I’m also still teaching Life Skills at Florence, which is going well. My Form 4 (11th grade) class is ridiculously large (81 students) and they make me want to pull my hair out sometimes because I’m so outnumbered. Hopefully next week I’ll be able to split them into two sections, which means I’ll be teaching more classes but it’s totally worth it. Last week we talked about the various stages of HIV from infection to AIDS and death, pointing out that most of the symptoms of HIV don’t start until many YEARS after infection. It was something that I felt was important since many of the responses on the survey said things like “I’ll test for HIV when I feel sick.” Okay, but maybe by the time you feel sick you will have been positive for 10 years, and you will have already infected your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/kids. This week I taught about how HIV affects women specifically. There are more women than men in Swaziland living with HIV, partially because of the tradition of polygamy (men infect all of their multiple partners) and partially because men are so reluctant to take ARVs that women tend to live longer than men. In my lesson, I talked specifically about preventing mother-to-child transmission through taking ARVs, proper birthing methods and exclusive breastfeeding. I’m also taking the final entries for my HIV-related art competition, which are due on the 21st so that I can paint the winning entry on the bus shelter over the school holiday…photos to come!

Life at home is pretty much the same old, same old. The puppies are both growing at a ridiculous rate (their father was much bigger than their mother, so they honestly weigh half as much as she does and they’re only 5 weeks old!) and they’re adorable. Adorable little flea-bags. I’ve been giving them daily baths with warm water and dish soap, and they’ve gotten used to it so that now they let me bathe them for a good 3 minutes before they start screaming for their mother. And, afterwards, they smell delicious. (After the snake incident, they lived in my house for a while so the bathing was really important, but now they live in the old chicken coop behind my house so sometimes I skip their morning bath.) I’ve also repainted my house for what I HOPE will be the last time (see photo below of Gogo holding puppies in my house). I had problems with mold, so I bought special paint to keep the water out and then painted pink, teal and brown polka-dots on the walls to add some color. I promise it’s not as ugly as it sounds! My Make loved it so much she asked me to paint it in the main house, too, which I will do as soon as I have an opportunity to steal more round sponges from the pill bottles at the clinic. (I see it as “recycling,” not stealing.) Anyway, house feels like home once again and I’m not all sneezy and coughy from the nasty mold invading my walls. It’s pretty awesome.

These next few weeks should be pretty exciting. I’m hoping to finish my first (maybe only, but maybe I’ll do one at the primary school) world map at Florence High School over the term holiday (May), and I’m employing the assistance of another volunteer (Rob) and two friends from the US (Chad and Orien) so that HOPEFULLY it goes more quickly than the first few days I worked on it. I originally planned on painting it on the break between the first 1st and 2nd school terms in May, but then I got to playing with the paint and it’s so pretty that I couldn’t wait. Over the Easter weekend, Rob and I got the Swazi map entirely painted and the world map entirely drawn, so hopefully it will get done in the next few days…or at least done enough that I will stop fearing some obnoxious high schooler coming along and drawing in extra islands in the Pacific.

Chad Kistler and his friend Orien are staying with me for the week, which is going to be super exciting. We’re working on the maps for Tuesday and Wednesday (so I really COULD have taught my classes if I’d wanted to, but I took the week off so the students could work on their entries for the art competition and so I could paint my map without disruption. Then Thursday and Friday we’ll be staying at Sondzela’s at Mlilwane Nature Reserve and hiking up Executioner’s Rock and generally enjoying the wildlife of Swaziland. And the swimming pools. Sounds like a fantastic time. I’ll post photos of everything in a bit.

Anyway, that’s all for now. School is closing so I have to leave Hluti Central’s air-conditioned computer lab and brave the heat all the way home. Seriously, I come here more often than I need to just to soak up the AC. And I love every minute of it.

I hope you all had a fantastic Easter weekend. I really wanted to dye eggs, but all the eggs here are brown and it just seemed impossible. But, don’t worry, I did consume ten marshmallow eggs in celebration. Delicious.

Love from the Swaz!!

1 comment:

Erin said...

you're crazy! now i'm never going outside in the dark again!

you should post photos of the art contest entries (and the winner, of course).

206 days!