Friday, July 18, 2008

I stole a Sudoku from the toilet

HELLO! Things here are still amazing. I'm starting to get into some sort of routine, which is nice, but as soon as that happens we always mix it up a bit and everything changes. I don't have my thoughts well-organized, but here's a bit of an update on my life.

- Shadowing was QUITE the experience. The Group 5 girl I was shadowing had two fantastic houses, one at her site in a rural community and one at Cabrini Ministries at a place called St. Phillip's. They were doing INCREDIBLE work with OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) and we managed to teach 100 kids how to play dodge ball. It was a good time and, best of all, I got to take a HOT SHOWER. That's about all I can ask for these days.

- My family uses newspaper as TP in the pit latine and the other day I found a sudoku in there and stole it. It has provided hours of amusement and it was even a "super hard" one so I keep doing it over and over and over. But I think my family figured it out and now they're collecting them for me. Oh, free fun. We have also been gathering around the wind-up radio (on my flashlight) every evening and listening to stories in SiSwati (it's like soap operas, but on the radio) so I think I'll buy a REAL radio while I'm in town today. And a ton of batteries since we don't have electricity.

- Yesterday we went and visited the umphakatsi, or head of the chiefdom (it's a place, not a person). It was SO COLD but we learned a lot about what our role will be in the community and what the kagogo centers do (Google it). Apparently in my community alone there are 580 OVCs, meaning that they have lost both parents (usually because of AIDS)...I think my homestead houses about 15 of them. But I really haven't figured that out yet. We also visited a neighborhood care point (NCP) where they provide meals for OVCs, but it wasn't functioning becuase it's all run by volunteer power and there was nobody willing to volunteer. That seems to be the general way of things here.

- I cooked a meal for my family last night! I made a pasta with a vat of penne, 8 tomatoes, 2 onions, 2 huge carrots, one chili pepper and lots of oregano and salt. They LOVED it. Honestly, Gogo (grandma) kept coming in for more and more and I'm not sure if she was feeding it to the goats or something but she seemed to genuinely like it. That in itself is a huge feat because I assumed they would hate it. I'm proud.

This week we are officially getting our stoves and pots and pans and stuff, so we're in town today to do grocery shopping. It's good to see people who speak English as a first language after spending my evenings translating from English to English. It's frustrating at times, but my SiSwati is getting better and Mandisa's English is improving as well so I generally enjoy my time at home. And it helps that I have Sudoku!

I don't know what else to say...we've just been mostly studying SiSwati and learning how to function in Swazi culture. This weekend we're all hopefully escaping to Nhlangano (that's where I am now...southern Swaziland...look at a map) to buy some box wine and hang out with each other outside of the structured outings of Peace Corps. It will be amazing!

Salani Kahle (Stay Well),

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Celine Dion, Shaving By Candlelight and Other Forms of Entertainment

Sanibonani Bonkhosi! That means "hello, everyone"...kind of. Nothing is an exact translation.

I'm currently in Manzini, which is the largest city in Swaziland with a population of about 80,000 people or something like that. We're really just passing through on our way to visit current volunteers at their sites in the rural areas. I'm staying with a volunteer from Group 5, which means that she's been here for a year, and she has ELECTRICITY! I'm SO excited I can't even describe. It's going to be like vacation.

Last Friday (4th of July!) I moved into the village of Mashekesheni (Ngihlala eMashekesheni = I stay in Mashekesheni) with the Matse family. They have dubbed me "Phindile Matse" which means "Again" or "Repeat" (they hosted a trainee last year too). The surname, Matse, means "saliva" which has something to do with some sort of king-related lore about defeating warriors with poisonous saliva. The details are lost in our English-SiSwati translation. Anyway, I'm sharing a house with bosisi wami (my sisters) and their children...I think everyone in Swaziland has a baby at the age of 16 or something because there are a million kids running around the homestead. I'm living with wife number four of five (Swazis are largely polygamous), but two and three have died so number four takes care of almost twenty kids. Babe (father) lives in Nhlangano, which is a small town about 20 minutes away, with wife number five. It's complicated, and I have yet to meet Babe, but the whole family is very nice and VERY welcoming. If they get tired of me sitting around and staring at them in confusion they sure don't show it! I have on sisi named Mandisa who is 16 (actually 10 days older than Zak) and she has been my savior through all of this. She cooks, cleans, teaches me how to fetch water (from the river), guards me when I go to the pit latrine (yes, pit latrine) at night and somehow still finds time to study. She's a GREAT student and really wants to go to University in South Africa, which her family thinks is absolutely ridiculous but I think she's got a good head on her shoulders and she can do it! She speaks near perfect English and, in addition to teaching me how to do everything like Swazis, translates for me for hours each day. She even sits down with me and helps me with my SiSwati homework. She's incredible...

SiSwati classes are going VERY well. In our village, there are 13 umlungu (white people) and we have class for about 6 hours each day, sometimes more. Then I go home to my homestead and light a candle and study my SiSwati homework, often with Mandisa's help. Then the other kids (there are 32 kids that belong to my Babe, but only about 20 of them are around all the time and some of them live elsewhere with their own families) come in and laugh at my attempts to speak SiSwati and try to trick me into saying inappropriate things in SiSwati. It's a good game. After I'm done studying I head to the kitchen where the wood-burning stove is and everyone gathers around to keep warm. It HONESTLY gets cold here. I thought they were lying, but cold is COLD when it's absolutely inescapable. My room is like a fridge. Lately we've been playing a game where someone will say, "Umlumgu, [insert SiSwati word here]" and then I have to guess what that word means and they either congratulate me or laugh. Apparently everything I say is funny...

We also listen to the radio at night on the "English" channel. They play mostly CDs of bad American music. The first night we listened to the same Marvin Gaye songs on repeat for hours, and on Saturday night we had a pretty satisfying Celine Dion jam session. I was rocking out to "Because you Loved Me" and "The Power of Love", and they sang along to humor me I think. I think that may be the highlight of my life so far.

Last night I embarked on the incredible challenge that is shaving in a bucket. I won't go into the details, but let's just say that bucket bathing is a humbling experience in itself and it's even more complicated when you're doing it in your bedroom and trying not to splash everywhere! It took so long that my sisi actually came and knocked on my door to see if I was okay, at which point I had to explain what shaving was. "Why would you want your legs to feel smooth?" I don't know, Mandisa. Angiva. It's even more fun when they ask me what a "sorority" is and if God thinks it is okay that American women "take" alcohol. Uh...

I think the most important lesson I have learned so far is not to look into the pit latrine with a flashlight. Trust me, you DON'T want to know what is in there. Don't do it. But yesterday my family (umdeni wami) bought some latrine deoderizer so now it smells like a fresh spring breeze!

Also, there's a dog on my homestead and we've finally made friends after about 2 days of me sneaking it food. They don't really feed their guard dogs because there is plenty of stuff for them to scavenge (like the chicks and the eggs out of the chicken coop). OH, we also have 7 geese on our homestead and they like to chase people. There's one guy who's a real jerk and he chases all the umlungu when they come over to visit. And we have about 20 cows and 5 or 6 goats and some unknown number of really really noisy chickens.

I'm sorry I'm just rambling here, but my life is kind of a jumble of interesting tidbits and it's hard to get them all in order!!

I also am REALLY really glad I brought a Frisbee. It has been quite entertaining trying to explain how to play Ultimate to a group of 10-year-old boys who speak no English. My life is one big game of charades. And to make it even better, we play in the cattle kraal (where the cows live) so we're ankle-deep in cow pies. Yum. I'm SO glad I brought hand sanitizer.

On that note, here's the list of things you should pack if you're doing Peace Corps/going to Africa ever:
Headlamp-This has saved my life.
Leathermand-SO useful...
Vegetable peeler-My family thinks it is made of magic.
Hand sanitizer-Enough said.
Leggings-It's COLD and there are no fashion police in Africa
UNO-I play Uno like it's my job.

If anyone wants to send me a care package (not that you need to), I would love a big bottle of hand sanitizer with a pump, some Crystal Light to go packs, a French Tip pen (they come in a pack made by Sally Hansen), Boggle or ANY OTHER GAME that requires minimal explanation. Good examples are Trouble, Sorry, decks of cards, harmonicas (for real)...

On that note, I don't think I have anything else to say. I am having an amazing time and if I ever had any doubts about Peace Corps or about Swaziland, they are COMPLETELY gone now. I'm loving every minute of this and my group of 36 and my host family are amazing. And having Serena here is amazing too!

I love you all and miss you and you should start planning your trips to visit now! For real, I would like some beach in my future. Maybe some Victoria Falls? Some Nairobi maybe?

Lots of Love from the Swaz!