Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Holy Snake Skin!

Inspired by a Charlie Brown cartoon sent in a care package about 10 months ago, I decided to build Eliza a Snoopy-style dog house. Having never built anything in my life, I drew up an approximate building plan and headed to the hardware store for lumber, nails, a hammer, and paint. Then I realized that I only had a hack saw and, more importantly, that I had no idea how to actually build a dog house, so I let the wood sit in the corner of my house for 10 months. Until this week when I learned a very valuable lesson:

All wood piles, even those indoors, attract snakes.

While doing a thorough cleaning of my hut in preparation for leaving, I found this under my bed:

(Well, there was more to it--almost a foot long--but that was the only intact part.) Anyway, it's a snake skin. From a suspiciously black mamba-looking snake that clearly hung out in my house long enough to shed its skin. Gross AND scary. What if it was under there while I was sleeping?

So, I decided to finally build Eliza her house. I started on Saturday afternoon and I'm ALMOST done. It was quite the learning experience and I had some pretty horrible flashbacks to high school geometry class when trying to figure out how to get 90-degree angles and whatnot. It's not perfect, but it's sturdy and will protect my poor puppy from the wind and the rain after I leave and she's forced to sleep outside like an animal. To finish it off, I'm going to be painting it a glossy red (the white is just primer) and stenciling "Eliza" in block letters over the door. But, for now, this is what it looks like:

Assorted frustrations aside (ie, lack of a claw hammer, the cheap wood splitting, having no power tools, etc.), I think it was a good experience. The kids on my homestead seemed to have fun helping me (and I totally exploited their extensive experience in cutting wood!), and I enjoyed having them around. Plus I spent Sunday afternoon building in front of a bunch of old men, all of whom stared in disbelief at the crazy white girl in the skirt (yes, I was wearing a skirt) who knew how to build a house.

At the end of day one, the older boys really wanted to help with something so I let them paint a coat of primer even though the roof frame wasn't technically done. When it's finished, the inside will stay white and the outside will be red with black lettering.

My host family brothers Samkelo (l) and Kwanele (c) and our neighbor Mathedi (r) helping me cut wood. The whole operation was extremely OHSA non-compliant, but the worst injury was due to my own lack of depth perception with the hammer (I whacked my hand really hard), but there appears to be no permanent damage.

In other manual labor-related news, I also helped two women at the local neighborhood care point (NCP) plant vegetable gardens. The NCP provides lunch to orphans and vulnerable children in the community who may not otherwise have a balanced meal, and does a couple hours of pre-school each day for 20-30 kids. Understanding the need for vegetables as part of a balanced meal for these kids, the head pre-school teacher, Julia, asked if there was any way I could help them start a garden. So, last year I bought lettuce, cabbage, beetroot, spinach, onion, green pepper, and tomato plant seedlings to plant on the land around the NCP building itself, and the 5 women who rotate teaching/cooking duties made up a work schedule to ensure that the plants got watered and weeded every day. It worked alright, but this year they decided to have five individual plots so that each woman would be in charge of one specific plot. They think this will force everyone to put in an equal amount of work because if one woman is slacking, they'll be able to tell by the state of her plot. On Sunday, I helped to plow (by hand! for many hours!) one of the ladies' plots while she was busy finishing up her 30 days of post-partum forced seclusion. Then, just before sundown, we planted cabbage, beetroot, green peppers, and onions. Next week the tomatoes, lettuce, and spinach seedlings will be ready, and I'm also trying to get some fruit trees (oranges, guavas, mangoes, avocados, peaches, litchis, etc.) to start an orchard. Hopefully when I come back in December the plots will be well-tended and fruitful!

This is one of the women, Make Lushaba, planting her cabbage seedlings. They kept going on and on about how I was such a hard worker and how I was doing such a good job with the plowing, but truth be told they put me to shame. Both of the women I was working with are in their mid-30's, HIV-positive, and somewhat malnourished, and yet they kicked my butt when it came to plowing the plots. Seriously, it took me like an hour to do what they did in 20 minutes. But I kept on plowing until sundown. And I've got the blisters on my hands to prove it.

Some of the chief's kids and my fellow gardeners' kids watching me work. They were particularly amused when Eliza, my dog, helped out by digging some holes in the plot where I was working. She got tired quickly, though, and decided after a couple of holes that she'd just lay down in one and whine until I took her home. Yeah, she's spoiled.

Now I'm in Mbabane for 3 days of Close of Service medical clearance, basically to make sure that I don't leave Swaziland with any weird African diseases that Peace Corps will later be liable for. I've already had my dental appointment (no cavities!) and filled out a stack of paperwork, so now I'm waiting patiently for my doctor's appointment. Fun, fun.

So that's all for today. The garden/borehole project is coming along nicely, though I can't give any updates until Friday when I get back to my community. Sister Teresita said she'd call me if there were any problems, and so far I haven't heard from her. No news is good news, right? Here's hoping...

Love (and a few more photos) from the Swaz!

When I came to Swaziland, I was afraid of cows. Especially those with horns. Swazis made fun of me for giving them a wide berth, but I was too afraid of being kicked and/or gouged by horns to care. Two years later, I can walk through a herd of cattle without fear. In fact, that's exactly what I did after taking this photo.

The neighbor Mathedi racing his homemade wire and tin can car down the road. This is a pretty standard Swazi toy, and, honestly, it's genius. The "steering" is controlled by the stick he's holding, which is connected to a rubber band that turns the front axle, and the wheels themselves are made of old Coke cans that have been cut in half and then shoved inside each other for reinforcement. The body is made of bailing wire, I think, and sometimes they put extra decorations on them like plastic bags or playing cards. And then they race them.

And I just thought this picture was cool. Can you guess what it is? (Correct answer: the outside shells of passion fruits, quartered, floating in water I washed a paintbrush in.) It's because I take pictures like these that I end up with a thousand pictures on my camera at the end of each month, but that's the beauty of digital cameras.


Dad said...

Awesome doghouse!! Very nice job. And no serious injuries requiring stitches. Way to go!

Erin said...

What a spoiled dog!!