Thursday, July 30, 2009

Losing friends and painting things

You know how you can tell when you’re halfway through your Peace Corps service? Half of your friends will be replaced with complete strangers. It’s kind of traumatic, really. Some people use alcohol to cope with such losses. I paint.

Here’s a brief summary of my life since the 17th:
--My closest Group 5 volunteer, Deja, completed her Peace Corps service and returned to the US, leaving a giant hole in my life. We had a big going away night out for her, but didn’t end up going to the place with the lights under the floor because somebody had gotten stabbed there the previous night and for some reason nobody else wanted to go. Instead we went to this club called Café de Flore, which I really like except that nobody can pronounce it properly. There’s an accent on the last “e,” meaning that it should be pronounced “Floor-ay.” But everyone calls it “Café de Floor,” which is not correct. If you’re going to ignore accents, at least be consistent and call it “Caff de Floor” because you might as well be completely wrong. Anyway, it was fun.

--I also lost my Norwegian friend, Linda, to the great beyond. She was only here for 5 weeks, but hopefully she’ll be coming back at least to visit before I leave. She introduced me to Michele and Peter at Pasture Valley Farm/Children’s Home, which I’m very grateful for, and agreed with me wholeheartedly about the pronunciation of Café de Flore.

--On the 25th, we had the July meeting of the Shiselweni Region Youth Support group. The topic for the month was “finding your talent,” which was a lesson on how not everyone is good at everything, but everyone is good at something. We put it in the context of how you shouldn’t drop out of school just because you’re bad at math, but you should try harder in the subjects you ARE good at. To demonstrate, each of the facilitators (me, Jaclyn and Jenn) picked two talents to demonstrate and to have each of the kids try. Jenn taught them two yoga poses and a headstand, which I can’t do. Jaclyn showed them how good she is at drawing and dancing, but I was the only one to join in with the dancing and everyone else just stared at us. Then I taught them how to sing “I Like to Eat Apples and Bananas” and made them all sing with me and then I showed off how strong I was by lifting 8 of them at the same time (two on my legs, one on my shoulders, one on my back, two on my hips and two I lifted with my arms). And then I was sore for days. Then we took the papers from our drawing and made paper airplanes, which we raced. Nobody really won because it was really windy and the planes kept going behind us, but it was a good time.

--I’ve been hanging out at Pasture Valley a bit these past few weeks. Michele and Peter have opened the new orphanage and taken in the first four boys, but there are plans to remodel and clean up the house before it reaches its full capacity of ten. We’re also turning one of the previous bedrooms into a pre-school, which will serve the handful of kids who aren’t yet in school. So far, Linda, Jenn and I have stripped the wallpaper off the walls and painted three of the walls yellow. Then we ran out of paint, so I’m going to do the last wall a light blue color, despite Linda objecting to the use of the colors of Sweden. Then we’ll be painting the letters of the alphabet with a corresponding picture (A for apple, B for banana, etc, as inspired by the preschool we visited in Lamu, which I would post a photo of except my computer crashed and I lost those photos) and the numbers 1-10 and colors and shapes. Then, hopefully, we can get a small chalkboard or dry erase board or something. I’m pretty excited about it.

--After I finish the maps at Florence (they’re almost done, I just need a new marker to finish the borders between countries!), I’ll also be painting a world map and Swazi map at Pasture Valley because, well, I like painting. I find it relaxing. Except the part where I have a crowd of Swazi school children standing a foot behind me, keeping a running commentary on my every move.

--In other news, I’m getting increasingly irritated by two conversations I am CONSTANTLY having with Swazis. (1) When I sit on the ground or put my bag on the ground or do anything related to the ground, people tell me I’m getting dirty. Duh. I know that. If I’m sitting in the dirt, I expect to get dirty. I obviously just don’t care. Dirt brushes off, people. Much more easily, in fact, than the irritation caused by you telling me something that is so obvious. (2) Today a man told me that I was so fat I had to be at least 35. A few weeks ago, a woman told me I was getting so fat even my nose was getting bigger. Really, Swaziland? First of all, weight is not an indication of age. Second, on any given kombi I am NOT the fattest person. Third, I’ve LOST weight since I’ve been here. Seriously though, I get comments all the time like “you are so big, I guess you don’t share your food” or “you must be eating well because you are so fat.” Yes, I know I’m not malnourished. Thanks.

--Also, my school has already dismissed for the term. Three weeks early. They’re supposed to be in session until the 14th of August, but they dismissed last week, which means I have nothing to do. But last term they dismissed a whole month early, so I guess this is an improvement. It’s not just my school, though, which is the frightening part. I honestly don’t know when Swazi school children learn things.

And, because my brain isn’t really up to making cohesive thoughts, here’s a look at my future:

--This weekend is Bushfire Music Festival, which is an annual music event held at House on Fire to benefit a local organization. This year, proceeds will go to Young Heroes, an organization that I have TRIED to work with in the past to get scholarships for primary students whose parents can’t afford school fees. Hopefully after Bushfire they’ll have more resources to work with and they can sponsor a few kids in my community. Either way, it should be a good time. But it’s also my last opportunity to party with Nicole in the Swaz, which is pretty sad. Monday there will be yet another hole in my world.

--Despite the fact that I’ve been excited for Bushfire for the past year, I still couldn’t find the guts to say “no” to my boss when she asked me to take part in an event in the very north of the country on Saturday morning. After 7 or so weeks of training, the new trainees are FINALLY getting their permanent site placements on Saturday morning, and me and two other volunteers will be presenting their sites to them. It’s supposed to be creative (last year, we were given boarding passes and fake passports for the places where we were going and then escorted to our destinations on a giant map by a volunteer dressed as a flight attendant), so we’re giving out “free trips” to an “exotic destination” within Swaziland. We’re making a brochure with info from the Lonely Planet and then including photos of homesteads and stuff and then tailoring each one to the name of the community and the region. Then, I think we’ll make them luggage tags that list their permanent residence in the community where they’re going. It’s kind of frightening, though, to think of my Peace Corps service as 730 days and 729 nights in Shisizwe, Swaziland.

--It might actually be scarier to think that I’m more than half-way through those 730 days, though. The GRE is rapidly approaching on the 19th of August, which is forcing me to think about my future in the real world. Grad school! Ahhhhhhhhh!

--Also, Bokhi is in heat again and, short of barricading her inside my house while I’m gone, I’m not sure how to prevent her from getting pregnant. Not good. I see more puppies in my future. But this time I’m NOT keeping any of them. One devil dog is enough.

That’s all for now. I have an article to write for the Peace Corps journal for Swaziland, which is due tomorrow and I haven’t started yet. And I have to pack for my impending journey to Pasture Valley/the office/training/Bushfire/town. It’s going to be a fantastic week.

Love from the Swaz!

My family! Baby Mpendulo, Make Sibongile and my bosisi (sisters) Zandile and Londiwe. They were all camping out on the grass mat to avoid cooking dinner.

The paper airplane contest at the Support Group meeting. Our attendance this month was only 11 because we don't have money to reimburse transport, but we're submitting all sorts of proposals to try to get our funding back. (Except that I have now lost the most recent copy of the proposal because my computer sucks.)

This is what happens to anything left on the floor in my house.

My sisi Londiwe braiding my Gogo's (Grandma's) hair outside the kitchen. She has really short dreads, but she always keeps her hair covered up because she's married so this is basically the first time I've ever seen her hair.

Image and Anele watched me from their seats on the ladder. Every time I accidentally chipped away some cement instead of the wallpaper, they said "oooh, make will beat you!" But she didn't. So ha.

Image and Sandile (one of the new boys) were trying to help me remove the wallpaper from the wall. They did a surprisingly good job, too, and managed not to chop their fingers off with the putty knife.

1 comment:

Erin said...

100 days!!!!
(ha ha! I beat you to it, Jess!)