Tuesday, October 13, 2009

And then there was one...

Despite the fact that I’d gone to bed around 6:30 on Saturday night (seriously), when the door-pounding started around 7:30 on Sunday morning, I ignored it for a full 5 minutes. But my brothers were persistent. They boys alternated actual, open-handed pounding with the Swazi knock, which involves a hand motion similar to knocking, but instead of making contact with the door they just say “knock,” pronouncing the “c” as a click. (It’s strange.) And then they said “Bokhi ufile,” which catapulted me out of bed immediately.

After the stillborn birth on Monday morning, she’d been kind of mopey. She’d been taking care of Puppy Face, but not really eating, and she wasn’t anywhere near as attentive to the puppy as she’d been to Eliza and Maggie. Then, when I came home on Wednesday, the puppy was gone. Then Thursday, Bokhi was gone. She’d disappeared before, but never for more than a day or two, so when she hadn’t returned by Saturday afternoon I’d accepted that she probably wasn’t coming back.

Until Sunday morning. When the boys woke up, Bokhi was lying outside my door in the pouring rain. Dead. (“Bokhi ufile” means “Bokhi has died.”) I’m not sure how she ended up there, but I think somebody brought her body home in the middle of the night for me to find, and they took her collar and her “My Name is Bokhi” tag as their reward. I didn’t mind, though, I was just glad to have her home.

The boys and I took turns digging a grave for her, which Mkhulu (Grandpa) thought was crazy. In Swaziland, babies under the age of 6 months aren’t even given a funeral, since they’re not seen as human until they go through a ceremony held at 6 months. If a human baby doesn’t even deserve a funeral, it’s just ridiculous to give a dog a burial ceremony. But she was MY dog…

After the boys had had enough of my silly American affection for canines, Eliza and I said our good-byes and laid over the grave a big, flat stone with “BOKHI” painted on it in thick black letters. It’s sad (and, yes, I did cry this time, which my host family thought was nuts), but I know she had a long life (she was older than my 9-year-old bhuti) and I gave her a full year of American-style love, pampering and leftovers. She was a fantastic dog, she gave me Eliza and she kept me company in my first few months here when the language barrier was too much for me and I was desperate for a non-judgmental friend.

So, since the last time I wrote a blog, my dog population has decreased from three to one. And that one, Eliza, is having a pretty good time being an only dog. She’s 7 months (and 3 days) old now and has grown into a great guard dog, a relatively well-behaved pet and a relentless wannabe friend of the cat, Patrick, despite the fact that Patrick only shows love with his claws.

In other news, the Hluti Central High School Junior Achievement Company (the business studies after school program I did from February to June) has made it in the top 10 of all schools in the country. That means that, despite the fact that we had our last meeting on June 11, we have been given the honor of remembering everything we did half a year ago and giving a lengthy presentation to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, USAID and other sponsors this coming Saturday. They want the club to put together a PowerPoint presentation for the sponsors, which is funny considering most of my class has absolutely no clue how to even turn on a computer. I tried to explain the concept of a PowerPoint to them, but explaining the concept of a projector is only slightly easier than explaining the Internet, which is impossible.

How do you define the Internet? It’s an imaginary place where people can communicate with each other, buy stuff, do research and a million other things, and you get to it through your computer. It exists, but you can’t see it. It costs, but you don’t actually GET anything. It’s like explaining love, which, incidentally, was the topic of my Life Skills classes last week. The class was “Love v. Lust: Recognizing Acts of Love” and basically it was a big group-work brainstorming session on how to show love. The whole purpose of the lesson is for students to list ways they show love to their parents, siblings, friends and boyfriends/girlfriends, and then to realize that there are a whole bunch of ways to show love OTHER THAN having sex with someone. (In every single class, the students listed “have sex” as a way to show love to a boyfriend or girlfriend.) We talked about lust and how it didn’t mean love, and how somebody who actually loves you will never ask you to do something you don’t want to do.

The lesson went really well in all my classes, but I was a bit horrified at some of the responses. In almost every class, the first answer I got to complete the sentence was “I know somebody loves me when…” was “…they give me sweets” or “…they give me money.” Under every category and in every class (4 classes total), students said that you can tell somebody loves you because they give you gifts. Hm.

Perhaps this explains why I’m constantly asked for gifts. Everybody is just testing me to see if I love them. Today, in a span of 4 hours, I was asked for the following things (I kept track):
A bag of chips
A loaf of bread
A bottle of Fanta orange
Sweets (candy)
My necklace
The dress I was wearing (when I leave)
Kombi fare (twice)
My phone number
Money to pay for a girl’s hospital bills
Transport to take said girl to the hospital
A dog
“Breast spray” to make a girl’s breasts look like those of a virgin
To purchase a life-size chicken made entirely of yarn
A donation of economics books to the high school
Money to rebuild a house that had caught fire
Money to pay for school fees (twice)
Money to pay for a student to re-take an exam he’d failed
An E1,500 cell phone (3 times the price of mine) and airtime

That’s all for now. I just finished a fantastic book (which I started before I even left for Swaziland) called “Nine Hills to Nambonkaha” by Sarah Erdman. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cote d’Ivoire from 1998-2000 (I think) and she writes about all of the amazing, frustrating, educational, life-changing experiences she has over those two years. It’s really well-written and an easy read (if sad at times) and a lot of the analysis she gives of barriers to development, the role of international aid, the mystery of traditional beliefs and the challenges of being an American in Africa apply 100% to my experience here in Swaziland, even though I’m 20 countries and a decade away from where she served. If you’re considering Peace Corps or you just want to know more about the experience, I definitely recommend the book. It’s, hands down, the best account of PCV experiences I’ve read (and, trust me, I’ve read a lot). Eliza really liked it, too. She thought the back cover was particularly tasty.

I've been teaching the boys on my homestead how to use a camera, which is nervewracking to say the least. I live in constant fear that they'll drop it, which sometimes they do, but I make them fasten the loop around their wrists for back-up. Swazis seem to be extra un-coordinated with expensive things like cell phones, cameras, radios, etc. Anyway, this is the first photo my bhuti Kwanele took, and I rather like it. Please note the mud everywhere. That's what Swaziland looks like during rainy season.

This is the homestead after 3 days of rain. My floor is brown. It's supposed to be light gray. It's disgusting. I've completely given up on trying to keep mud out of my house because, between the dog and the kids, it's impossible.

Kwanele playing dominoes. They can't get the word "dominoes" so they keep calling them "dice". We've been practicing math stuff with them (basic addition mostly) and then building towers and knocking them over. Good, clean fun. Well, it would be clean fun except that you get muddy from just being in my house.

A cow. Standing in a puddle. I take my camera along on all my long walks to the clinic and the school and it makes the walk seem more like an adventure. Most mornings, I see the family that lives nearest to this puddle drawing water from it. To drink. Despite the fact that cows stand (and do other things) in it. Gross. This is why people die of diarrhea in Africa.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Putting things in perspective

When Swazis want to say hello to someone but can’t afford to call them, they do this thing called “buzzing.” Since you don’t get charged for a call unless the other person picks up, they call, let it ring once, and hang up before anyone answers. Personally, I find it extremely annoying. Especially when it starts at 5:30 am (which it does pretty often) and doesn’t end unless I buzz back, which I am opposed to on principle. Swazis do it because they want to show the buzz-ee that they care, but all it shows me is that the world doesn’t want me to sleep past 6am. Ever.

(Swazis don’t sleep late, ever, either. There’s this commercial for the morning show on Swazi radio where the DJ says, “It’s 6:00am and if you’re still in bed, shame on you.” Really?)

Thus, at 5:30am on Sunday, as usual, I was struggling to sleep through the incessant buzzing from my host family. I assumed they were eager for me to get home (I was house- and dog-sitting for a woman in Nhlangano) so they could play with the toys in my house, or that they wanted me to pick up some groceries in town, neither of which seems particularly urgent before 6am on a Sunday. When I finally got up (at about 6:30—I slept late), I tried in vain to call them back, so I just gave up. Then, after a 45 minute kombi ride and a 15 minute walk, I was greeted by a flock of children running full-speed toward me. They were racing to be the first to tell me the good news…

Apparently, while the girls were busy making breakfast (at 5:30 on a Sunday), they noticed Bokhi acting strangely and, sure enough, they watched her deliver her third puppy of the year (Maggie and Eliza were born on March 10). She’s an adorable, whiney little black pup with a white patch on her chest, just like her mom. I took the obligatory photos and hung out in the chicken coop, where they’d set up camp, until I was confident that Eliza wasn’t going to eat, pounce on or otherwise break the baby, then left them alone for the afternoon.

Then, Monday morning when I went in to check on my three girls, I saw two little feet sticking out of Bokhi’s behind. Another puppy? 24 hours later? I postponed my plans to go to the school (like a responsible Swazi teacher) and hung out in the chicken coop with the dogs (very un-Swazi) to see what was going on.

I knew from the beginning that there was a problem. I sat quietly on a polished tree stump across the room, watching Bokhi pace back and forth in the room, trying to sit uncomfortably, trying to push the baby out. An hour passed. Then another, and Bokhi had made very little progress. Finally, after Bokhi laid down on the concrete floor with a look of defeat (yes, I was reading her body language), I reached down and touched the half-born puppy’s legs. They were cold.

Naturally, I called my mother in America, at 3:00am her time. On her advice, I helped Bokhi deliver the rest of the baby as my host Gogo (grandmother) watched in horror, yelling “Phindile, put on gloves!” (She thought I could get HIV from dog blood, which I corrected later.) It was a little boy, obviously dead for hours, probably since the previous day.

And I wasn’t ridiculously upset about it, as I would have been a year ago. I’ve come to realize that nature isn’t exactly kind, and after living in a country where animals exist to serve purposes (food, rat-catching, protection, etc.), I understand that there are bigger injustices in the world. I live in the country with the highest HIV prevalence in the world, where children are often malnourished or undernourished, where preventable and treatable diseases like TB and malaria cause countless deaths every year, and it seems a little silly to cry over a stillborn puppy.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve learned in Swaziland. Not to let the little things—things which, often, I can’t change—bother me. (Not that death is insignificant, but I’ll save my mourning for someone who deserves it. This is Bokhi’s death to mourn, and she seems a little depressed. I understand.)

In other news, I have somehow managed to make myself really busy. As usual, I’ve been teaching my HIV/AIDS and Life Skills classes at Florence Christian Academy and working at the clinic, but I’ve also secured permission (I think) to paint and possibly renovate the pre-school by my house, written up a “curriculum” for an exercise club, typed up all my lesson plans for my Life Skills classes, made promises of training the teachers at Hluti Central on how to use the Life Skills curriculum I’m providing, plowed and planted a huge garden (by hand from 4am-7am before it got too hot) and started an extremely expensive borehole project for my clinic, which I hope to have funded through an extremely lengthy Peace Corps Partnership Project proposal (which you can donate to!) that I have to complete before my visitors come in November. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of all of these ventures, as well as the workshop for police that I’m trying to plan and the million other things I’m trying to do before I leave in a rapidly-approaching year.

Still, I’m not anywhere as busy as I’d be if I was in the US. I still have time to read books (“Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, about a man who does development work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which I definitely recommend), listen to East Coast Radio (right now I’m loving “Sexy Chick” by David Guetta featuring Akon), watch movies (just finished “Meet Joe Black” for the first time) and make beads. Jenn, another Shiselweni volunteer, taught me how to make beads from strips of magazine papers, like Bead for Life, and I can’t stop. It’s a great use of time and magazines, and I’m excited to possibly use my new found skill as a product for the small business program I’ve promised to teach next year (the SAYE program I did this February-June). Patrick (the cat) loves it too, mostly because he likes chomping on the strips of paper as I twirl them around the toothpick, which I don’t really appreciate.

I think that’s all for now. Happy belated birthday to Ezra, whose birthday I missed not because I forgot his birthday but because I forgot what day it was. I didn’t realize it was October until Tuesday. The 6th. I don’t know how I’m ever going to function in America.

Love from the Swaz!

Patrick is a fantastic hunter, but he really likes to play with his food. That means that sometimes, in the middle of the night, I have to get up and beat his toy rat to death so he'll eat it and stop throwing it all around the house and playing fetch with it and things. And then I wake up and there's rat blood all over my floor. Can you imagine me putting up with this a year ago?

I spared you the earlier photos of Patrick eating his victims, but for some reason I keep taking photos of it. Doesn't he look vicious? And everyone doubted that such a cute, cuddly little kitten could be a mean killing machine.

Sisi and Hle with a gigantic flower they stole from somebody's garden. For some reason, they've both stopped going to pre-school and I can't figure out why. But it means that I have friends again.

My washing machine. To wash the big blankets Peace Corps gave me, I put them in a basin of soapy water and jump on them until I'm tired, then change the water and jump on them until they're rinsed. Usually it takes 2 or 3 rinse times. Sometimes, I wash the slab of cement where I do my laundry and just pile the wet blanket on the ground and jump on it to get the water out. Then I search for somewhere to hang it to dry, which is usually the roof of the chicken coop because it knocks the fences over. Whoever purchased these blankets for us (Peace Corps) had obviously never washed their laundry by hand.

A rather noble-looking tree near Jaclyn's community. It's right across from the bus station in Mbulugwane and serves as shade for fruit sellers, a meeting place for old men and a signpost for various misspelled signs advertising services offered in the community.

This is the question box I have in the main office at the high school. Kids put questions they're too embarrassed to ask in front of the class into the box and I answer them. Most of the questions are general health questions that high school students should know, including things about yeast infections (common here because of poor hygeine), STIs, misconceptions about preventing pregnancy and things like "can I get HIV from animal blood?" I also get questions like "can you buy me a cell phone for E2500" and "do you have a husband?" I don't answer those.

Puppy Face. I call Eliza "Stupid Face" a lot, so the kids have started calling Patrick "Kitty Face," so this is Puppy Face. Until I know she's going to live and I give her an actual name.

Eliza loves me, but she really hates when I make her sit still to take pictures. She was good through the first 14 or so, but on the 15th she retaliated.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Just Photos...

Sanibonani bekunene!

This past weekend, Jenn and I helped Jaci judge a "debate" (it was just speeches in support of a topic, nothing against) about HIV prevention in schools and I took some photos. I'll write more about the event later.

This is the everyday scene at Richfield's Butchery and Restaurant in Nhlangano. If you're lucky, they carry the big frozen pigs through the dining room while you're eating. If you come to visit me, we'll be eating lunch here one day. They have AMAZING friend chicken and spicy wings and some Indian food and lots of Swazi traditional food. It's BY FAR the best place to eat in Nhlangano (even better than KFC). Besides, you never see people sawing the heads off of frozen pigs at KFC.

Jenn, Jaci and I had spring rolls for dinner. We cooked up some carrots, onions and green peppers, then wrapped the veggies into spring rolls with cold ramen noodles, peanut sauce and diced apples and tomatoes. Delicious! If anyone is sending me a care package, you should toss in some spring roll wrappers (the ones you just dip in water, not the ones for fried spring rolls) because they are delicious. Like a diet vegetarian burrito...
This is the road and the mountain in Jaci's community. It's amazingly beautiful and so scenic that the mountain in the distance (the little triangular one) is on the 100 Emalangeni bill. There's some legend about the mountain, which is why you can't climb it. Something about important people being buried there or something.

Me, Jenn and Jaci on our long walk (in the rain) from the debate on Friday. It hasn't stopped raining this past week and I'm soooooooooooo tired of being soggy!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Success Story...

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not often that I see any sort of progress being made as a result of my being in Swaziland. My role as an HIV educator is part of a long-term plan (hopefully a solution) to the HIV epidemic in Swaziland, and my primary focus here is combating the spread of the virus, but that’s not the only reason I’m here. Peace Corps has three goals and 2 of them are about cultural exchange. Again, it’s difficult to measure cultural influence, but sometimes I’m pleasantly reminded that I’m an example to other people and that, sometimes, they actually listen to me when I talk.

This is a success story.

Early Tuesday morning I went through my usual routine: a rude awakening by Patrick the Cat at 6am, a bucket bath, last-minute revisions of my lesson plans and an 80-minute walk to the local clinic, to be followed by two classes at the high school. As I passed the bus shelter on the main road, about 20 minutes into my walk, I gained an admirer. He told me I was beautiful, asked me who I was, what I was doing, where I lived, if I was married, the usual. And when I told him I was in a hurry and started to walk off, he joined me.

As we walked the rest of the way to the clinic, he asked me what made me come to Swaziland if I wasn’t getting paid. People ask me this question all the time because, in Swaziland, nobody does anything for free. In fact, that was the first thing our programming director told us when we arrived: “Don’t expect a Swazi to do something for nothing.” My usual answer is that, because I was given so many opportunities in life, I feel like it’s my responsibility to use my skills and knowledge to help people who maybe weren’t given the same opportunities as me. I say that a good Christian does things to help out other people who are in need, that if everyone gave back a little more to their communities that we would all be better off. I mention that, even if you’re not getting paid, that it makes people respect you and gives you a feeling of accomplishment. And that everything I do can and should be done by Swazis, helping each other simply for the sake of doing good. He seemed to get it, so I changed the subject.

Remembering my primary purpose in Swaziland, I asked him if he’d ever been tested for HIV. Like most people I ask, the answer was “no.” He said was too afraid of the result, but he would test if he felt sick. (Not knowing doesn’t make you any less HIV-positive!) I explained to him that HIV was so common in Swaziland that being HIV-positive was just like having any other chronic illness, like diabetes, and that HIV is easily managed if diagnosed early, but if someone waits until he is sick to get tested it will probably be too late. Since he was walking with me to the clinic anyway, I invited him to come in for free testing by the visiting nurse from MSF. He shook his head and asked me a few basic questions about HIV until we reached the clinic, at which point he turned around to make the trip back to his bus shelter hangout.

An hour later, after counting out 2000 co-trimoxazole tablets into individual packets, I left the clinic en route to the high school. On my way, I passed my friend from the bus shelter working in the mission’s community garden. He put down his hoe and motioned me over to the fence, where he proudly told me that he had made an appointment for an HIV test in the afternoon. Until then, though, he was helping a bunch of bomake (older women) working in the community garden. He wasn’t getting paid; he had volunteered to do it just because he could. Because he didn’t have anything else to do. Because if everyone gave just a little more to their community, everyone would be better off. (Because he listened when I talked!)

What had started out as a bit of a nuisance (a man following me, as usual) turned into a great teaching opportunity, both about HIV and about cultural norms (ie, not doing anything unless you’re getting paid). No matter what he’ll know his status, and maybe he’ll go on to talk to other people about getting tested, or live to be an example of selfless giving back to the community.

It was a reminder, to me, that every moment in Swaziland is an opportunity for me to learn, to teach and to live by example. If I measure my success by personal exchanges rather than by the change in the HIV prevalence 20 years down the road, it’s easy to remember why I’m here.

In other news, there’s a bit of a public health emergency going on in Swaziland. Besides HIV, I mean. On Saturday, Jaclyn called me in a panic, asking for the phone number of the on-call doctor from the hospital (he’s a friend of mine) because her bhuti (host family brother) was seizing uncontrollably and having difficulty breathing. Then, Tuesday, the head teacher mentioned to me that 4 high school students had been taken to the hospital after seizing during class, and that many more had reported seizures and muscle spasms that impaired breathing while at home. Apparently it’s not just in Shiselweni region, either—the Mbabane newspaper apparently covered something over the weekend about medication-induced seizure fits affecting public school students throughout the country. Apparently, the Ministry of Health provided every public school in the country with de-worming medicine for the students this past week. The medicine is either in tablet form (for high schools) or is a sticky pink syrup, both of which are administered by teachers to the students at school to kill intestinal worms. It’s a worthy cause because intestinal worms can cause dangerous weight fluctuations and malnourishment, especially in a population that is largely malnourished and underweight, many with compromised immune systems. But, for the kids suffering from seizures, the de-worming medicine given to schools may be doing more harm than good, and nobody knows how long the affected kids will continue to have seizures.

They’re not really sure why this medicine, which has been used for years, is suddenly causing so many problems. It could have been a bad batch or medicine, or maybe the teachers didn’t pay enough attention to ensure that children were administered the proper amount according to their weight, or maybe this is just the first time it’s been widely reported. Regardless of why, it’s scary.

Finally, after mostly sitting around and watching DVDs for the last few months, I’ve decided I really want to get in better shape. As motivation, I’ve made arrangements with my high school to start teaching an after school exercise and health club every week. (I’m really hoping they are all in worse shape than me…I can GUARANTEE I’m more flexible and have better balance, so we’ll start with yoga.) On Wednesdays, school gets out in the late morning so that sports teams can practice. Unfortunately, because there are only 5 sports teams total (soccer, volleyball and netball for girls; soccer and volleyball for boys), that means that the great majority of the school either watches sports or goes to the bus shelter to hang out (hang out means “eat junk food, create mischief, avoid doing chores at home, get pregnant, etc.”). The school has given me a suitable space, so I’ll be teaching two classes a week—one for boys, one for girls—on exercise, nutrition and various health topics. I have DVDs for yoga, Tae-bo, cardio dance, aerobics, abs, legs, upper body exercises and proper stretching, but it I’m teaching a weekly class I want to be sure I have plenty of variety. Thus, if you have anything (DVDs, books, magazine clippings, good websites, etc.) on exercise physiology, basic nutrition or anything I could teach to my class (including other exercise routines, even if it’s just written descriptions), please send them my way (Justine.amos@gmail.com). I will be typing up some handouts for my classes on the different exercises so they can do them at home and hopefully teach other people the importance of exercise, so I don’t even need the DVDs, just an idea how to do the exercises. Ngiyabonga kakhulu! (Thank you very much!)

That’s all for now. No KFC today. That seems counterproductive if I’m trying to get in better shape.

Love from the Swaz!