Friday, August 20, 2010

Looking back, moving forward

Friday afternoon I boarded a kombi (mini-bus) in Nhlangano, headed to Pasture Valley Children’s Home for the weekend. It’s a 15-minute route I’ve ridden a hundred times before, in a town in which I’ve killed countless hours. But on this particular afternoon, as I drove past the big white-washed, green onion-domed mosque on the edge of town, I had a minor epiphany: I think I’m finally ready to leave Swaziland.

For several weeks I’ve been Googling pictures of white sand beaches in Zanzibar and reading other travelers’ online suggestions for hiking routes in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania and flipping through the International Health and Development brochure from Tulane, trying to get myself excited about life after the Peace Corps. But it wasn’t until I saw the parade of white-clad Muslim men entering the mosque on Friday afternoon that I was truly excited for the first time. I think it made me realize that leaving Swaziland isn’t the end of my adventure; it’s the beginning of a brand new adventure in a predominately Muslim East African country, in the region where I first fell in love with Africa, where everyone speaks the language I’ve been itching to learn for years. (A new adventure that will require me to change the title of my Blog…)

So, although I’m having a pretty hard time saying goodbye (or rather “see you in December”) to all the strangers I’ve come to call family and the all friends I’ve made in Swaziland, I realize that it’s time. Swaziland has been an incredible experience for me that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’ve changed and grown in ways I can’t even imagine, and learned more than I ever thought possible about myself and the world I live in. I’ve met some amazing people who restore my faith in humanity and come to call Swaziland “home.” I’ve had days that have dragged on like years, and months that have flown by like days, but I think that now I’ve given all I have to give, learned all I have to learn, and experienced all I have to experience in Swaziland—for now.

Well, almost. I’ve still got a few things left to do.

My main focus at this point (as for the last month) is my big water and garden project. We’re making progress, but, unfortunately, not the kind of progress that photographs well. (All the pictures I have are either of people digging holes or of them filling the holes back in.) After two consecutive weeks of work (even on Sunday, which is AMAZING for Swaziland), we have about 750 meters of water pipes buried in its half-meter deep trench, and the first of the three taps is installed. Today (Friday), the Swaziland Electricity Board is connecting our borehole to the nearest electrical source, and the big steel stand to hold the water tanks will be delivered on Monday so that the tanks can be set up and connected to the network of underground pipes. Though we’re still waiting on some fencing from the local government (they approved our proposal and promised the fence and poles by mid-August), the water part of the project will be finished by the middle of next week. Yep, by the end of the week, a couple dozen families in my community will have a brand new source of clean, safe water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Mission nearly accomplished.

Other than my big project, I’ve just got a few loose ends to tie up. I need to find a smaller paintbrush and label the names of smaller cities on the map of Swaziland I painted at the high school, and finish painting in the ABCs in the second grade classrooms at Nhlangano Central Primary School. I have to write my Description of Service (which is what I should be doing now) and my last quarterly report for Peace Corps, and send out “Thank You” notes to people who donated to my project. I have to wash and sort through all my laundry to decide what I’m taking and what I’m leaving behind, and pack up boxes to ship home. I have to buy (and somehow transport) 4 months worth of dog food for Eliza, figure out how to pay in advance for her rabies shot, and paint her name on the front of her dog house. And then say goodbyes to everyone.

Next week, after my official goodbye at the weekly community umphakhatsi meeting, Peace Corps is sending a driver to pick me and my swag up at site and take me up to Mbabane for two intense days of interviews with bosses and final medical checks and the returning of US Government property. Friday morning I have my “ringing out” ceremony, after which I’m pretty much done with Peace Corps (though they’re officially responsible for my well-being until close of business on Saturday the 28th). Then, after a couple post-PC days hanging out with my host family and Eliza, I’ll be on my way to the Jo’burg airport for cheesecake and a roasted chicken sub from Subway. Then, after Subway (which I’m actually very excited about): Zanzibar!!!

But, for the next 13 days, I’ll just smile when I drive by the mosque.

Last Saturday, I took 6 of the older kids from Pasture Valley Children’s Home with me to Nhlangano Central Primary School to paint the second grade classrooms. (Because Pasture Valley has lots of kids who will be in second grade next year.) As is standard in basically all Swazi buildings, we painted the bottom meter with a high gloss dark brown paint and painted the top part cream. I’ve also drawn in ABCs and a couple other things, which we’ll paint this Saturday to add some color and excitement to the classroom. Quite the improvement over the previous decorating scheme: dirty once-cream walls covered in muddy handprints and tiny hand-made posters.

This is the “after” picture, as seen through the burglar bars over the window at the school. It’s actually a really nice school compared to those in my school. I could have counted the number of broken windows on my fingers! Also, while cleaning paint brushes, an avocado blew out of a tree and nearly killed me. I love that falling avocados is one of the hazards of my job.

Darryn, Brandon, Laura, and I finished up all of my bus stops this week! This one, which is opposite my very first bus stop billboard at Florence Christian Academy, says, in Siswati: “You could have TB if…you have been coughing for longer than 2 weeks…you are losing weight…you are coughing blood…you have pain in your chest…you are having night sweats.” The anti-TB logo on the right is the logo of a regional TB education campaign run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), and all the artwork was done by Darryn. It’s pretty impressive.

Here’s the second bus stop we did this week. This one says: “Breast milk is healthiest! Breastfeed your baby for at least 6 months, but don’t give him any other food!” It’s a word-for-word copy from a poster in the clinic that the nurses use to teach HIV-positive women about exclusive breastfeeding. Generally speaking, it’s better for women in Swaziland, whether HIV-positive or negative, to breastfeed exclusively than to expose their kids to undernourishment (baby formula is expensive) or diarrhea (few homesteads have clean enough water). The Rubanesque baby and mother were drawn by Laura, who actually is rather artistic.

Darryn, me, Laura, and Brandon waiting for the bus to take us to Hluti for lunch after finishing the stop. We also had an audience of about 20 kids standing around, marveling at our artistic ability and begging for money and candy and things.

In the morning, Darryn and I re-painted one of the other stations I painted a few months ago. Remember my baby and the girl with no feet? The background was previously cream and the kids vandalized the crap out of it. Remembering a story on This American Life about how graffiti invites more graffiti, we re-painted it. I wanted to change it altogether and draw a picture of Jesus and a message like “Jesus hates vandalism” but Darryn, being a good Catholic, found that offensive. And I couldn’t decide what color skin Jesus should have (I’ve seen both black and white Jesuses in churches here).

Speaking of churches…This is the Apostolic Church of Christ in the Mathendele township (slum) outside of Nhlangano. It’s one of many churches along the road by the school and, while the others are very church-looking, I found this one to be the most beautiful. It was packed full of singing on Sunday morning, and I found it kind of refreshing that the congregation doesn’t need a big fancy building to worship in. A stick-and-mud building with a broken window works just as well.

And here's yet another feat of architectural brilliance: Eliza’s dog house, almost finished. I just need to put one more board over the door (I ran out of wood) and then write her name in black letters in an arc over the door. I guess I also need to find a place for it to be permanently, since right now it’s sitting in the middle of the homestead on the foundation of the kitchen that blew over in October of last year.

Last week a mother goat got killed by a speeding maize delivery truck and left behind a week-old baby, which my family adopted and tried to keep alive. Unfortunately for the goat but fortunately for Eliza, it died. My family thinks I’m ridiculous because I’m always taking pictures of the gross stuff Eliza drags around. And maybe I am.

The “TB Suspect Register” at the clinic. While I realize there’s nothing funny about TB testing, I find it amusing that they refer to people who may have TB as “TB Suspects.” Is it a crime to have tuberculosis?
Anyway, that's all for now.
Love from the Swaz!!!

1 comment:

Erin said...

I'm so excited for you, and sad at the same time. But more excited that you're coming home soon!