Friday, July 3, 2009

The Great Exercise Bike Adventure and Other Stories Involving Meat

Nothing about my life in Swaziland is “normal” as I would have defined it a year ago, but every once in a while I experience something that is so extraordinarily abnormal that it surprises even me. It all started on Friday afternoon with a delicious frozen shrimp cocktail (which I plan to repeat this weekend), fully-clothed swimming in an unheated pool and an intense game of 30 Seconds (like Taboo) in a house full of more shiny things than I’d ever seen in my whole life. Saturday I witnessed the tattooing of my friend’s entire arm, watched the Springbok-Lions game (Springboks won, of course), ate cold Big Macs brought to me from Durban by some friends, learned how to play snooker (in theory), got rear-ended by a drunk driver (nobody but the car was hurt) and got to spend the evening in the freezing cold police station filing witness reports and listening to a drunk man rant about how in 2010 all white people are going to die and black people will take over the world. (What about brown people?)

Then came the Great Exercise Bike Adventure. On Saturday, I’d met this 46-year-old Afrikaner guy named Peter who was a friend of a friend (Stephen) and was planning a trip down to my neck of the woods to finalize the purchase of a large farm first thing Monday morning. Jokingly, I asked if he wanted to transport me and my exercise bike down to Hluti on his trip. And he agreed. (Note: I usually wouldn’t agree to go on an adventure with a complete stranger, but the guy who introduced us owns the school I work at and knows me pretty well, if mostly by reputation, and I have his nephews in my classes. All the white people in this country know each other.) So, after an initial adventure trying to find the office with my limited navigational skills (I only know the kombi routes), me, Peter and Stephen loaded the bike into the back of an American-made steering-wheel-on-the-left Chevy pick-up (oddity #1) and began the journey down South. We made a pit stop at a glass factory. Then at Peter’s house in Matsapha to exchange vehicles to ANOTHER Chevy pick-up, this one with a really awesome 4x4 (a Polaris Ranger if you know what that is) loaded into the back. Then to get some breakfast. Then, because I’d never been to Matata before, we took the scenic route through the Lubombo region so that I could experience the strange but magnificent shopping center in the middle of nowhere, complete with the only WiFi coffee shop in Swaziland. Then, because it was just past 10am, it was time for another meal. And what do you eat at 10am in Swaziland? Meat, of course! We went to Nisela Game Reserve and, after a brief trip in the 4x4, had gigantic T-bone steaks for breakfast #2 (and another for take-away because I liked it so much). Then, to make a long story short, I spent the afternoon at Maloma coal mine checking diesel pumps for accurate output (they were charging for 2.8L when they only put out 2.0L) while wearing a really awesome orange vest with reflectors on it. Then, after the Chevy truck broke down repeatedly we took the 4x4 through the sites of long-lost Group 6 volunteers (I wasn’t driving and I WAS wearing a seatbelt and there were roll-bars), and through the grounds of the farm Peter was buying. After meeting up with a bunch of senior citizens, we knocked down a small forest with the 4x4 and a machete, then went on a hike through an acacia forest (BIG thorns!) for the sole purpose of destroying my jeans, flip-flops and forearms. Then, about 5 kilometers from the farm house, we broke a fan belt and had to make a lengthy hike through the mountains to fetch the previously-broken-down truck to haul the 4x4, which we had to LIFT into the back of the truck because it wouldn’t move. (Did I mention it was like 80 degrees that day?) Then Peter and Stephen drove my much-deserved exercise bike to my house, bringing to an end what was perhaps the most random day of my life.

After taking a day to recover from the aftermath of the hike through the acacia forest, the exercise bike began to transform my life. Now, I can spend my whole day watching episode after episode of Grey’s Anatomy while cycling at a very slow pace and not feel lazy! And that’s exactly what I did for most of the week. On Tuesday and Wednesday (after teaching in the mornings) I watched the first two complete seasons of Grey’s and cycled about 50 kilometers. Then I watched “The Excruciatingly Boring Case of Benjamin Button” (maybe that’s not what it’s called…) and “The Reader” and “Flashdance” and “Surf’s Up” and a bunch of other movies, averaging about 20 kilometers a day. This week I’ve cut back to a more reasonable 15k a day, but MAN I’m happy to have something to do with myself for all the hours I previously spent sitting around listening to East Coast Radio and feeling useless. Meanwhile, my family thinks I’m crazy for putting all this energy into pedaling a bike that doesn’t move. And maybe I am.

In other news, we had our June meeting of the Shiselweni Region Youth Support Group, where we focused on Flu/Cold Season. Because our translator didn’t show up, I put on a rather dramatic one-man-show about proper and improper sneezing and coughing, which involved lots of me fake-sneezing on Deja’s face. Then all the kids, with a rather scared look in their eyes, demonstrated their understanding of my lesson. Cool! Then we dragged a lady out of the pre-school to translate for us and we taught a lesson on proper nutrients to “protect the body,” including oranges and other sources of Vitamin C. Finally, I did a great demonstration on the transfer of germs by covering my hands in cooking oil and cinnamon (to represent the germs) and then shaking hands with people. Then I demonstrated how to properly wash hands (warm water and soap for at least 30 seconds), complete with a lesson on “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” so that they could sing it while they were washing. After they all demonstrated proper hand washing (and were all convinced of my insanity), we gave them oranges for a snack and played some games like duck-duck-goose, which they translate as “da-da-goosh.” A good time was had by all. And, for the first time since not having funding, we had a pretty normal turn-out of 35 kids. Maybe they’re in it for the education, after all! Funding for the Support Group is still pending, but until then all snacks are purchased by the Justine Foundation.

After the Support Group meeting, we all headed back to Make Simelane’s house on the outskirts of Nhlangano for a braai, which is where people get together and drink beer and eat meat. Except Make Simelane and her husband are both pastors, so we drank Crystal Light instead. All of the volunteers in the Shiselweni Region were invited, and we spent the afternoon preparing a million fantastic side dishes: potato salad, pasta salad, cole slaw, vegetable platter with ranch dip, homemade tortilla chips, guacamole, Doritos, homemade salsa, peanut butter cookies, apple crisp, fudge, etc. Then, thanks to my one prior meat grilling experience, I was nominated to be in charge of the meat, which had been soaking up sweet chili sauce all day in the fridge. We had a million chicken pieces, 7 huge steaks and a large quantity of boerwors (like bratwurst except 4 feet long), all of which I cooked to perfection while everyone else sat on the warm couch and watched the Springboks beat the British and Irish Lions (rugby). And let me say, nothing ruins a plan to wear the same clothes for 3 days like the strong scent of wood smoke. Haha. All things considered, it was a pretty fantastic feast. Almost of Thanksgiving proportions. And then, since I spent my weekly budget on meat, I spent the rest of the week eating things like hardboiled eggs, cinnamon toast and mayonnaise sandwiches. I think I might have a heart attack.

But, have no fear: I have every intention of single-handedly consuming 60 previously frozen shrimp on Friday evening to compensate. I may even dip them in the cheese sauce the “shrimp cocktail” includes. Seriously, cheese sauce.

This weekend should be pretty fantastic, though. Friday afternoon I’m heading to Manzini for a meeting, then to Mbabane for the evening. After I’m finished with my shrimp, we’ll be going out for one last hurrah with Deja before she leaves us for the real world. Then Saturday morning we’re heading up to Pigg’s Peak, Home of All Africa Poker (that’s their slogan), to meet all the new Group 7 Volunteers. From the few volunteers who have met them I’ve learned a few details. There are 33 of them, including 7 married couples and lots of people who are retired and in their mid-60s. Apparently they’re really experienced in health, really motivated to help people and really excited about being in Swaziland. And that’s about the extent of what I know until the braai on Saturday. It seems kind of wrong to have a Swazi-style braai to celebrate American Independence Day. Maybe if I opt out of the maize meal porridge I can convince myself that I’m in America.

Other than that, my work continues as usual. This week I taught my Form 2 and Form 4 students about the “Holistic Approach to HIV Treatment,” which includes spiritual, physical, general, social and psychological health. First, we looked through newspaper classifieds for traditional healers, herbalists, Chinese healers and various other ads promising a “treatment” or “cure” for HIV. In the three classes I taught, only one boy was adamant that traditional healers could “cure” HIV, but by the end he conceded that they could only provide “treatment,” and that ARVs are still important even if you’re visiting a traditional healer. It helped that on Monday there was an article published in the Swazi Times talking about how a number of traditional healers promising treatment or cures for HIV were actually crushing up ARV tablets and mixing them with their concoctions, potentially causing ARV-resistance among those infected with HIV in Swaziland. Not a good thing. We also talked about how false promises of “cures” for HIV may cause people who have been “cured” to engage in high-risk behavior. Now if, during HIV Jeopardy next month, anyone says that there IS a cure for HIV, I’ll be disappointed.

Lastly, I want to respond to a comment made on a previous entry asking about my qualifications for teaching in Swaziland, which is a question that people here ask me all the time. The situation involving teachers in Swazi schools is pretty complex, as there is both a surplus of teachers in the country and a shortage of them teaching in schools. As the comment stated, there ARE hundreds of out-of-work teachers in this country who could benefit from teaching in the schools where I teach. But the other side of that argument is that there are shortages of teachers in most rural schools, including both Florence Christian Academy and Hluti Central High School, because the schools and the Ministry of Education can’t afford to hire enough teachers to fill the gaps. If I didn’t teach the classes I teach, they wouldn’t be taught at all. My classes at Florence are taught during a period previously belonging to a woman who is on maternity leave until further notice (at least until next school year), but because the school already paid her for the whole year they can’t afford to hire anyone else to take her classes. Right now her Form 1 literature class isn’t being taught at all, and if I wasn’t there to teach the students would have one more open period in the week. At Hluti Central High School, I teach a business studies program that I’ve been specially trained to facilitate by an organization called School Aged Youth Entrepreneurship, or SAYE, and the majority of it is team-taught with another teacher from the school. My Life Skills classes, which focus on HIV/AIDS and health education, I have also been trained to teach. During my 3-month Peace Corps training I had intensive classes on teaching methodology, classroom management and lesson planning, as well as content-specific and Swazi schools-specific things, and I did teaching practicals at two different Nhlangano-area schools with a trained teacher sitting in the back criticizing my instruction. I also have had all my lesson plans pre-approved by the school’s administration so that they know what I’m teaching and I know that they approve of my teaching methods. I understand the frustration that comes from me teaching classes at schools in Swaziland when I’m not technically a “teacher,” but I’m trained as a “HIV/AIDS educator” (which is what I do in my Life Skills class) and as a “SAYE Facilitator” (which is what I do in my business studies classes). Sometimes, people ask me things like “don’t you think that Swazi students deserve REAL teachers?” And I absolutely do. But in the absence of a “real” teacher, I think an HIV/AIDS educator is a suitable option.

Anyway, I think that’s all for now. I have a large quantity of other things to do today, assuming my electricity stays on (not likely).

Love from the Swaz!!

1 comment:

Erin said...

Wow! I can't wait for an adventure like that.

124 days!