Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Happy Swaziversary to me.

(That's "Swaziland" and "anniversary" smushed together. I laughed out loud in public when I thought of that. For serious.)

Two years and 4 days ago I stepped off a sleepless 23-hour trans-Atlantic flight into the familiar diesel fumes and hot metal smell of Africa and, drunk with excitement (and maybe a couple mini-bottles of red wine), boarded a luxury coach bound for the Kingdom of Swaziland. Thus began the two-year countdown leading up to…well, last Friday. Though the celebration was non-existent (I had far superior alternative plans), the self-reflection was hard to avoid. So here it is: The Second Annual Laundry List of Things I’ve Done in Swaziland.

In the past 734 days, I have…

…survived Pre-Service Training, including basic instruction in SiSwati, the addition of 35 friends to my life, and 2 months living in the living room of a family with no concept of “privacy.”

…made a reasonably comfortable home of an earwig- and bat- and rat-infested cement hut with no running water, no insulation from the weather, and unreliable electricity, and become completely accustomed to bucket baths and my pit latrine.

…survived an electrical fire, two lightening strikes, 2 minor car/kombi accidents, 1 encounter with African tick bite fever, and 2 terrible bouts of food poisoning.

…taught 62 lessons on HIV/AIDS and Life Skills, 25 English language classes, and 24 business studies classes at various high schools, plus an entrepreneurship skills workshop for sex workers and sex ed workshops to several populations of post-pubescent girls.


...celebrated 3 birthdays, 2 Christmases, 2 Thanksgivings, 2 New Years (how do I make that plural?), and at least 2 of every other holiday either alone in my hut or with relative strangers.

…redefined my concept of “walking distance” to include anywhere I can walk before finishing the liter of water in my Nalgene (roughly 15 kilometers), and my definition of “dinner” to include things like popcorn dipped in mashed avocado.

…lost count of the number of men I have seen urinating in public.

...re-learned several elementary-level skills like long division, fractions, and sentence diagramming while helping my host brothers and sisters with their homework.

…learned to read, write, speak, and understand one of the most useless and obscure languages ever with what the Peace Corps deems “advanced proficiency.”

…hosted 7 visitors from home, 15 other volunteers, and 2 friends from Mbabane in my little hovel.

...become a very experienced hitch-hiker (so far without consequences like kidnapping or death).

…spent approximately 340 hours on public transportation, not including the countless hours spent sitting in the bus rank waiting for the kombi/bus/sprinter to leave or the time spent on the side of the road waiting for the broken-down bus/kombi/sprinter to be repaired or replaced.

…counseled my pregnant host sister on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and adherence to anti-retroviral treatment, and then cried tears of joy with her when baby Mpendulo tested negative. (Undoubtedly the single happiest moment of my life.)

…sent 28 rather expensive faxes to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, each of which was neatly filed away in a file labeled “Justine Amos” and then ignored.

…spent (mostly) relaxing weeks in St.Lucia, Maputo, Tofo, Jo’burg, Cape Town, Lesotho, and countless places of interest throughout Swaziland.

…developed a completely unnatural obsession with East Coast Radio, the Big Breakfast morning show, and the evening show’s host Jane Linley-Thomas, and a fondness for the mix Top 40 crap and obscure songs from the 80’s and 90’s that ECR plays.

…facilitated 9 monthly meetings of a regional support group for HIV-positive youth and assisted in the organization of another support group for HIV-positive adults.

…counted over 100,000 co-trimoxizole (CTX), anti-retroviral therapy, ibuprofen, folic acid, and erythromycin tablets at Our Lady of Sorrows Clinic in the absence of their usual pharmacist.

…written (and had successfully funded) 3 PEPFAR grants, 1 Peace Corps Partnership proposal, and 2 other grant proposals that have been submitted to the Global Fund, UNDP, and other organizations, plus 4 newspaper articles and 1 Columns feature article on Peace Corps/Swaziland, 1 updated Life Skills manual, 2 websites, several graduate school applications, 6 trimester reports for Peace Corps, and over 100 blogs.

…been robbed on 3 separate and equally inconvenient occasions.

…painted two wall-sized world maps, 1 map of Swaziland, 4 billboards about HIV prevention and testing (so far), 2 pre-schools, and 3 versions of my hut’s interior because of mold problems (and OCD).

…developed such an automatic response to marriage proposals that if someone ever proposes to me for real I’m bound to roll my eyes and call him a liar.

…washed approximately 280 loads of laundry by hand (about 4 basins of laundry each week) and then dried them on the barbed wire fence.

…consumed 4 huge bottles of hand sanitizer and countless purse-sized ones, yet only 4 bottles of shampoo/conditioner 2-in-1 (hygiene is not a big concern here).

…lost and then promptly re-gained 7 kilos (15 pounds), and then some.

…broken/lost/had stolen 3 cameras and 3 cell phones.

…mourned the loss of friends from Group 5 and Group 6 when they completed their contracts or decided to leave early.

…entertained 7 children in my house on a regular basis with coloring books, crayons, chalk, paper airplanes, masks, music and my silly American habits.

…witnessed the birth of 4 goat kids, 13 piglets, 4 puppies and 1 calf, and the deaths of several more goats, piglets, puppies, and calves, and participated in the deaths of 3 chickens, 3 bats, 2 black mambas and countless spiders and cockroaches.

…consumed over 40 liters of peanut butter, 90 loaves of bread, 300 rooibos tea bags, 3 pounds of Jolly Ranchers, 750 Tootsie Rolls, several lifetimes worth of beef jerky, and countless bags of popcorn.

…read nearly 200 books and watched about as many movies, plus many seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, The Office, Sex & the City, Weeds, Heroes, The Wire, Arrested Development, Greek, Psych, 30 Rock, Flight of the Conchords, and others…some of them several times.

…come to call Swaziland “home,” to love my homestead as my “family,” and to see my site as my “community.”

And thousands of other things. Every day in Swaziland I have triumphs and failures, frustrations and minor epiphanies. I’ve grown as a person, figured out what it is I want to do with my life (to a greater degree than before, at least), and experienced something so unique and amazing that I am certain it will shape me for the rest of my life.

There’s a philosophy of Peace Corps that we all joke about that goes something like this: "Volunteers in Asia come back spiritually enlightened. Volunteers from South America come back politically aware. Volunteers from Africa come back drunk and laughing." And I think that's just about right.

(Another PCV joke: The optimist sees the glass as half full, the pessimist as half empty. The PCV looks at half a glass of water and says "Hey, I could bathe in that!" Hilarious, methinks, in a sad but very, very true way.)

Anyway, I've still got a few things to do before I can consider my Swazi experience complete. I have various work-related things to do (my partnership, painting waiting rooms), lots of paperwork and medical stuff for Peace Corps, and some exploring (namely Sibebe and Malalotja, but also a possible birthday trip to Durban?) left to do. And then I'll move somewhere else (Tanzania, USA, etc.) and begin some elaborate plan to return to this wonderful country I have come to love as my own.

For those of you wondering about my partnership project, I'm making ACTUAL progress this week. I had a meeting this morning with the big, scary head nun at Our Lady of Sorrows Mission (turns out she's really nice and I should've just talked to her ages ago), and while I was sitting in her office we made calls to borehole-drilling companies and scheduled a meeting for later in the week to do the survey and figure everything out. We're trying to finagle the budget so we can fix an old borehole (we need to change out the lead pipes for PVC pipes), dig a new borehole, set up a solar/electric water pump, build a large raised water tank out of metal, run a series of taps through the garden space, and build a stronger and more permanent fence around the garden. Some dietician just came down from Italy with her gynaecologist husband to volunteer in my community for two years (it's strange because I'M supposed to be the token white girl in the community...) and she wants to do a series of workshops on nutrition with the support group, so I guess I don't have to pay for that! And the mission is willing to cover any extra costs the project ends up having because they've kind of changed the game plan a bit, but they PROMISE we'll get moving on it this weekend. Hopefully next week I'll have some work-related photos to post.

But until then, it seems I only take pictures of signs...


The view from my bus window on my long trip back home from Mbabane. This is a typical Swazi roadside market, complete with water jugs and 50-cent haircuts and fresh produce and welders. And a "spaza phone." I'm not entirely sure what the word "spaza" means, but contextually I've decided it means "public" or "rented" because a Spaza Phone is a landline phone you pay by the minute to use. This particular one is called "Zak's Spaza Phone," which always makes me think of my brother (Zak) when I drive past it.


A sign in the Manzini bus rank. Apparently, 21 May 2011 is Judgment Day. There have already been a couple of Judgment Days in Swaziland since I've been here, but this is the best advertized.



Walking back from a workshop last week, I passed a bunch of light poles each with a little bit of permanent marker graffiti on it. Curious, I went back to the beginning of the sidewalk and started reading them in order, and they put together some sort of poem. This is the first one. "Feel it, it's here" is the slogan of the local TV station that is showing the World Cup games, and the poem was kind of a rant about how everyone thinks the World Cup is so important but even after it's gone there are still things that need to be done, things that need to be developed, things that need to be the focus of global attention. I guess it was one of those American Beauty-esque "there's so much beauty in the world" moments for me and I found something very amusing, charming even, in the writing. I took pictures of a few I passed when nobody was around to see me.


This is the last of the poles. "Ayoba" (pronounced eye-OH-buh) is a South African slang term that roughly translates as "awesome." It's used as an interjection, kind of. But for the World Cup, it's used in advertizing for the phone company MTN. My favorite use of the word is "ayobaness," but I also appreciate the phrase "it's ayoba time."

The sign at the main intersection on the edge of Manzini. The "robots" have been "faulty" for a couple of weeks now, I think. I also think that The Faulty Robots would be a great name for a punk band.

Baby Mpendulo turns 1 on Wednesday! I can't believe it! I'm in town today to buy a cake so that he can get frosting all over his face and I can take pictures like a proud first-time mom, even though technically he's not my child. I have the "Happy Birthday" streamers and hats and everything, courtesy of a care package from my parentals, ready and I fully intend to celebrate this kid's birthday with an excess of enthusiasm completely foreign to my host family. It's pretty incredible that he's still alive, honestly, and that he's still HIV-negative, and after losing two other kids before their first birthdays I think my sisi (sister) will appreciate the celebration.

Finally, the sad state of my socks. This is what happens when rats invade your house and take up residence in your sock drawer. Granted, I haven't had a rat problem since I got Patrick (the cat), but Patrick came into my life a little late to spare my favorite pair of wool socks. Sucks, too because this sock's mate is completely un-gnawed on. So I wear them anyway. It's Swaziland, nobody cares.

2 comments:

Erin said...

Happy Birthday Mpendulo!!!!! Give him a big hug and kiss for me! And his mom too, she's obviously doing a great job!

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