Friday, May 1, 2009

Swaziland: Where Nothing Makes Sense

If I were designing a tourist campaign for Swaziland, I think that would be my slogan. Because it’s true. Three examples from this week:

1. At the bank, which is supposed to be open until 3 but for some reason closed at 2:15 yesterday, you have to go to the “Teller” window to make a deposit. After I made my deposit, I wanted to check my balance, but apparently that is an issue to be taken care of at the “Enquiries” window. Thus, to make a deposit and then check your balance, you have to wait in two separate long lines. Cool!

2. This woman who teaches with me at the high school ran into me in Hluti the other day. She was asking me where to get a mammogram and pap smear, which is a little sad to begin with since this is her country and it would be good if she already knew this, but I was glad she asked me. Then she decided to demonstrate how to do a breast self-exam…except on me. In public. And for some reason that wasn’t strange…

3. I returned from town last weekend to find Bokhi's ear all bloody. When I asked my bhuti what had happened (I assumed it was a dog fight), he told me that his mother had cut it. And then he showed me that his mother had also cut a half inch slit into his ear. And his brother's. Why?

Anyway, I’m super bored now that school is out (Why did school close on the 8th of April when it was supposed to close on the 24th?). I’ve spent my week playing with/cleaning up after the most adorable puppies ever. Here’s my week, in short:

We had the April meeting of the Shiselweni Regional Youth HIV/AIDS Support Group, which was kind of sad since schools are out and only 11 kids showed up. But we had a good time anyway. We played duck-duck-goose (lidada-lidada-lihansa) and taught the kids the Hokey Pokey, then talked about expressing emotions. Since schools are out, the guy who normally brings our bag full of supplies was on holiday also, so instead of decorating our emotions (one of those “how are you feeling today?” charts with the different faces), we acted them out. Swazis don’t cry so they thought we were absolutely ridiculous, but we had a good time. I kind of like the smaller group anyway.

There’s this one boy, Gcina, in the support group who is 7 and HIV-positive. He’s been passed around from one family member to another as his family gradually dies of AIDS, but now he’s living with a 19-year-old girl who is remarkably responsible and has managed to get him on ARVs. He’s been coming to the support group as long as I’ve been in Swaziland, and he was always a sad, tired little boy with yellowed whites in his eyes and he usually passed the game time in the meeting just sitting on the picnic table. Until this month. Apparently he’s been on ARVs consistently for a few months now, and the change is so remarkable that we PCVs actually had an argument about whether it was the same Gcina. He was running around and laughing and playing and so full of energy we literally couldn’t believe it. It’s really amazing, in a country so full of HIV-induced suffering and hardship, how ARVs can change a person’s life. I teach this stuff every week, but it’s something different entirely to see it actually happen.

After the support group, my fellow Shiselweni girls and I went to another PCV’s community to attend the Miss Sandleni Pageant organized by two PCVs. There were 10 contestants who each had a personal interview with the judges, then competed in traditional attire (no swimsuits in the Swaz!), talent and formal attire events. The judges (who included Miss Swaziland, but not Mr. Swaziland because he failed to show up) chose the girl we were all rooting for, which was nice. Then afterwards we went to Jaclyn’s house and had lots of wine and spring rolls (so good!) and had our own prom with the formal attire. Then we all slept on the floor “kombi style,” which means I shared a twin bed with another girl. Welcome to the Peace Corps.

These past few days I’ve done an intensive cleaning of my house (it’s been ravaged by children and puppies), washed all of my laundry (literally, all of it) by hand, unintentionally fed Bokhi a Sam’s Club-sized block of cheese (she got really sick and now I’m omelet- and grilled cheese-less), and studied for the GRE until I honestly considered going for a run. And if you know how much I hate running, you understand how bad that is. I registered to take the GRE in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 19, so now I’m feeling really motivated to study. I’m pretty well-equipped, too. In addition to the whole Kaplan set of GRE study books, other volunteers who intended to take the GRE and then punked out donated to me the complete Princeton Review and Barron’s sets. I now have 9 discs of practice tests. If I don’t ace this test, I don’t deserve to go to Grad School.

Also, I’ve improved my relationship with my pregnant sisi. First, please don’t think I’m a terrible person for not knowing her name. In Swaziland, once a woman has a baby she is known as “Mama (Baby’s name)” and no longer her actual name. So they call her “Mama Zakhele” because that’s her son’s name. And I know that version of her name. Second, since I seem to be the only one excited about the inevitable existence of one more mouth to feed, she’s invited me to accompany her to the hospital for her cesarean on June 9 and has asked me to name the baby. His surname will be Khumalo (koo-MALL-oh), and she wants him to have a Swazi/Zulu name and an “American” name. I’ve decided on Noah for the “American” name, but Jury’s still out on the Swazi name. I’m sure there’s some Zulu database for names or something…

This weekend I’m in town to attend the “Reggae Fest,” which will either be really awesome (assuming it actually involves reggae music) or really awful (if all of the music is about praising Jesus and there are long speeches by important people in siSwati). Either way, it seems that the whole ex-pat population of Swaziland will be in attendance, so that should be fun. I enjoy hanging out with people who don’t tell me they love me and then continually pester me for my phone number. But I’m sure there will be plenty of those too.

That’s all for now. The puppies are adorable and I wish I had more pictures of them, but I can’t get them to sit still for any period of time. I can, however, get my bhuti Samkelo to capture Eliza for long enough to take a photo.

Anyway, let me know if you have any name suggestions. I’ll write again at some point in life.

Love from the Swaz!

Mkelo holding Eliza and Kwanele being a punk and refusing to smile. It's amazing that these kids are no longer deathly afraid of the puppies. Although I thought that was a bit strange to begin with...

The girls at the pagent. Number 9 (the pink dress) is my prom dress from junior year of high school.

Me holding Maggie. She's my favorite. This photo was taken by Hle, which is why I have no head.


Erin said...

your puppies are so cute! you should put them in a box and send them to me!

190 days!

Heather D. said...

Hi Justine,

I am coming to Mbabane in June to visit a friend who is a doctor at a clinic there. I would like to visit some schools (if they are even in session) and meet some teachers if I can. Do you have any contacts at any schools there?

I enjoyed looking through your blog. It sounds like an amazing experience.

dowdheather at gmail dot com