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.

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