Saturday, September 27, 2008

More productivity!!

So I know it’s only been 3 days since a blog entry, but I’ve done things in those three days so here’s another one.

Wednesday (when I posted the last blog) I picked up my seedlings from Nhlangano and hauled them all the way back to my site without damaging a single one! And the rosemary isn’t seedlings, but a BUSH. Did you know rosemary grows on a bush? Yeah, well it does. At least in Swaziland (where “spinach” is the generic term for anything green, including chard, lettuce, mustard greens, kale, etc.). I wasn’t able to plant on Wednesday because it was almost dark by the time I got home and I had to build a gate for my garden before I could plant anything or the goats would ravage it. And judging by how the goats that broke into my house demolished my beans, onions and bread, my whole garden would be gone in about 45 seconds.

So Thursday I got up bright and early and taught Form 4 English at the school. They have to do oral exams in English proficiency (like I had to do in siSwati) and they’re going to be practicing for the next few weeks before the actual exam in mid-October. So I had 6 separate conversations of 10 minutes each on the same topic with each student. What kind of films do you like to watch? How do they make you feel? What kind of films do you NOT like? If you had an unlimited budget, what kind of movie would you make? There were specific questions so I couldn’t ask things like “do you have a favorite actor or actress?” because they hadn’t prepared that question beforehand. So it was kind of frustrating, but now that I know what I’m doing I think it will go better next time.

Then I went to Hluti to pick up my furniture, which not surprisingly was STILL not done. But I needed to buy fence to make my gate and I had to hire a truck to transport that (I can’t take it on public transport) so I went ahead and picked up the furniture that was done: a bookshelf, a table and chairs, and a kitchen counter thing with shelves for storing food, etc. (I’m still waiting on a chest of drawers and a bench thing that I’m going to put a cheap mattress on and call a couch.) And then I painted them because they were awkwardly half-painted…as in all the horizontal surfaces were painted but the sides of the legs weren’t and the front part and things weren’t. So yeah, now they’re pretty and my house reeks of paint and my family thinks I’m a boy for painting it.

By the time I got around to the gardening thing, I only had two and a half hours of daylight left, but I decided that my seedlings deserved to be planted so I started on my gate. The opening for my gate was 1.2 meters wide, so I bought 2.5 meters of wire, folded it in half and bound it on both ends with small logs that I found lying around. I even cut them to the right size with a SAW this time! What an amazing invention. Then I used wire (which I had to buy in increments of 10 meters, but I only needed about 1 meter) to attach it on the one side so it swings, then made three little hook-and-eye type latches on the other side so it can’t be penetrated by goats and the like. It’s pretty heavy duty. And, for the record, my family recommended that I buy a ready-made gate for 280 Rand, but mine only cost 38 Rand and I even have 9 meters of wire left. I’m pretty cool.

The whole time I was building my gate all the kids in my family were standing around watching me curiously, so I decided to put them to work when it got to planting. They fetched water for me from the tanks, then got the trenches wet enough that I could dig the holes. Then I picked out the best seedlings and dug holes and placed each seedling in one of the holes. All the little kids (ages 3, 4, 8, 11) then followed after me and filled in the holes with dirt, made sure the roots were covered and patted them down. And then the 8-year-old watered all of them. It was pretty impressive to see how much they know about gardening. I don’t think I know a single 4-year-old in the US who knows what a green pepper seedling looks like. The only seedling my 4-year-old bhuti couldn’t identify was broccoli, but my Make didn’t know what that was either so it’s just a Swazi thing I guess. But they were ridiculously helpful and, as always, adorable. And I learned that the 4-year-old boy’s name is Mukelo, but they call him MK so every time I say “okay” he answers because I guess my “o” sounds like an “m.” I’m figuring this out, little by little. I paid them approximately 4 gummy worms per hour.

The whole time we were planting the goats were eagerly eyeing the seedlings, but this morning I woke up and they’re all still intact so I guess my fence is adequate. I planted 10 tomato plants, 12 lettuce, 7 green pepper, 7 green beans, 7 broccoli, 1 rosemary bush, 6 basil plants, 6 cilantro plants, and started a seed bed for chili peppers and celery. And with any luck I’ll be able to feed myself in approximately 50-90 days, depending on the vegetable. Excellent. I’ve promised the rest of the seedlings to my family, but since Babe is gone and gardening is a man’s job, I think they’re probably going to die before they get planted. We’ll see.

Oh, and I had another fun pig-related experience this week. Have you ever heard the demonic growls and screams that a pig makes on a regular basis? Imagine what it sounds like when they’re being butchered! Apparently the chopping block is the flat bit of land right behind my house, so I watched the whole thing out my window because, well, it was so loud I couldn’t just pretend it wasn’t happening. So our pig population has been halved. Unfortunately the big mean pig is the one we still have. Stupid pig.

Friday morning I walked myself the hour and some it takes to get to the clinic for their monthly HIV/AIDS support group. It’s sponsored to some degree by Doctors Without Borders, so they invited me, which I thought was nice. By the time it started at 10 there were about 55 people there, including all of 4 men, plus the MSF staff and the nurses from the clinic. They talked about various topics all in siSwati, but one of the MSF doctors who I worked with on Tuesday translated the important parts for me. It was an interesting glimpse of the challenges of administering anti-retroviral therapy in the country, and I learned a lot about the ways that being HIV-positive changes peoples’ lives here in Swaziland. But I think most people come for the free stuff at the end (a kilo of beans, a kilo of maize meal, one cabbage, two avocados, a tub of Vaseline, a bar of soap and a half kilo of sugar).

The two things I found really interesting were about the ARVs themselves. First, in the US if a person’s body develops a resistance to a specific ARV, doctors just switch him/her to a “second line” or “third line” (…) ARV. I guess there are 22 “lines” available in the world, but most Americans go through 4 or 5 from the time they start taking them to the time they die (according to one of the MSF doctors). In Swaziland there is only one that is widely available, so when a person develops resistance/immunity to that drug he/she just stops taking ARVs altogether and dies. For some really wealthy people there is a SECOND option which, technically, is guaranteed FREE for all Swazis. So what’s the catch? One: it has to be picked up WEEKLY from one of only a handful of clinics in the country, which is impossibly expensive for most Swazis (and what if you have a job?). But even if a person could afford the cost of transport, there’s reason number Two: it has to be refrigerated. So before the government will allow a person to begin second line drugs, the person has to prove that he/she as a fridge and has consistent electricity, which pretty much means they have to live in a city. Aren’t there other kinds of ARVs that don’t have to be refrigerated? I mean, a fridge is prohibitively expensive for ME here and I’m being paid by the US Government!

The second thing they talked about was the silica gel packets that come in the bottles of ARVs, as in most kinds of medicines. They say “Do not eat” and “Ne pas manger” (French), but most people here would only be able to read “Musa kudla” so someone asked what you’re supposed to do with them. It’s something I’ve never really thought about before, but not one of the 55 people knew what they were for, and some of them had been EATING them! (Why are they in the medicine bottle if they’re not medicine?) When the doctor told them that you absolutely CANNOT eat them, people asked if they can dissolve them in juice and drink it. No! So if anybody is reading this who manufactures silica gel packets for ARVs distributed in Swaziland, you should really consider having them marked as inedible in siSwati…or at least have a picture.

Friday afternoon I had another visit from Peace Corps and they STILL forgot to bring my packages! Boo. I was hoping to have my magazines that my parents sent for the youth HIV/AIDS club meeting on Saturday, but no such luck. But the visit was good just the same…it’s always nice to talk with someone fluent in English. And he confirmed that another volunteer WAS placed in my community at some point in the past few years (since 2002 when he started working for Peace Corps) because he knew how to get to my homestead. Hmmm.

Saturday we have the meeting in Nhlangano for the youth HIV/AIDS club, and I’m pretty excited to do some actual work. (I GUESS I’ve been doing work, but I’d like to start a similar club in my community so it will be really good to see how it works!) We’re focusing on journaling, which I guess involves cutting pictures out of Newsweek and other magazines that we have (Time, Economist, etc.) and gluing them onto paper. Fun! I also stopped at the library this morning to see if I could get a library card, but you can only check books out for a maximum of ONE WEEK, which would require me to go to town about twice as often as I do already, plus there’s a fee and I have to have a number of passport photos and have my chief sign the paper saying that I will take care of books. Um, okay. No wonder people in this country don’t read. I’m teaching an English class with less credentials!

Oh, and I’ve been at my site for exactly one month. I’m officially 4.2% of the way done. Excellent.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wow, you know how to dig a hole!

This past week I’ve amazed myself with my competence. Please allow me to brag.

So Tuesday morning I woke up bright and early and wandered out to the site of my future garden and stood there for a while visualizing the possibilities and all the work I would have to do to make it an actual garden instead of a muddy little plot of land (or a dry and dusty plot of land, depending on the day). And then I decided I was ridiculous and I should just do it already. I tracked down my Babe and told him my plans for the garden. He looked at me like I was crazy as I took a stick and drew my plans for the fence and the posts in the dirt. All he said was “you?” as he shook his head. (Yet another example of my skills being doubted!) He said that instead I should go to the school and get “some nice, strong boys” to do it for me. I assured him I was competent enough to do it and asked him for a shovel and a saw and asked where I could find wood to use as fence posts. After standing over my shoulder to make sure I knew how to dig a hole, he declared me competent (which he seemed very surprised by) and left me to my job for the afternoon.

Between 8:00am and 2:00pm I dug six holes (each about 18” deep) and put up all six posts, plowed the whole thing by hand with a hoe (and some work gloves that I brought as an afterthought but I’m SO glad I have!) and put up 15 meters of chain-link-type fence around the garden. I still need to put up a gate (which I’ll make out of four sticks and a section of fence, attached with some binding wire or a rope), but I’m so close to being done. And until I get the gate up, the pigs are hanging out in the garden, rolling around and snuffling through the wonderfully plowed dirt. I think my proudest accomplishment is that my family doesn’t have a saw or a hatchet, so I chopped all of my fence posts down to the proper height with a machete. Yes, I hacked logs as big around as my arm into two pieces with a machete. How Peace Corps of me.

Wednesday (when I posted my last blog) I ran into town to order seedlings for my garden. I ordered basil, rosemary, cilantro and broccoli seedlings, which I will pick up next week, and started a seed bed with green beans, celery and chili peppers. The nursery place stocks green peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and spinach (which is really chard or mustard greens, but they call it spinach), so I’ll have a wide variety of produce in my garden. I’m not growing carrots or potatoes because they’re so ridiculously cheap it would be a waste of planting space, which I would much rather dedicate to a variety of tomatoes. And then I got ambitious and I made some homemade wheat bread involving yeast and water and 675 grams of flour (which is approximately 5.5 cups…Thanks Brandy!) Yum. The funny part, though, was that it was too cold in my room for the dough to rise so I had to put it in the kitchen next to the enormous fire, which made it rise in about 10 minutes (which is just as well because if it had been in there for longer than 10 minutes some animal surely would have eaten it). But it turned out alright and it was delicious.

I’ve also begun my teaching this week. Accidentally. I wandered up to the school, Florence Christian Academy, on Thursday morning to say hello to the head teachers of the primary and high schools, just to let them know that I’m in the area and looking for something to do. The primary school wants me to teach HIV/AIDS-related things to the primary students every Thursday morning at an all-school assembly (ah!), but I think I can warm up to the idea. The main challenge is the drastically different levels of English proficiency in the school—a seventh grader is fluent, but a first grader doesn’t understand any English whatsoever. All classes from third grade on are taught in English, in theory, but some of the teachers secretly teach in siSwati because they’re more comfortable with it than English. So we’ll see about that.

Then I wandered to the high school where I met with the deputy head teacher and talked for what turned out to be hours. He seems like a really great guy and I’m excited to work with him because he seems really motivated and committed to educating his students on ways to avoid HIV/AIDS and pregnancy. (Pregnancy is a huge problem in the school. Out of a student body of about 200, 3 girls have “failed their pregnancy tests” this school year already. The school year began on Monday. I guess I know what kids in this community do over winter break. And if the rate of conception is any indication of the number of high school-aged kids having unprotected sex, I’ve got my work cut out for me.) We talked all about the problems of the school and the fact that during any given class period half of the school’s students are sitting in the courtyard socializing (either because there is no teacher or because they aren’t interested in learning). We visited the “computer lab,” which consists of 20 computers, most of which are about half connected and none of which have been used in recent memory. Instead, the room is used for storing the TVs that, for some reason, were donated by USAID. He runs the school “library” (there are about 100 books in it and most of them are old American textbooks, including the Econ book from my freshman year of high school with the Caterpillar Eyebrow Man) and teaches Form 4 (Junior Level) English twice a day. He invited me to come sit in on his afternoon class and be introduced to the students, which I figured was a good first step toward setting up a youth club.

So we walk into the classroom at noon and he introduces me to the class as “an unmarried young lady from America” and tells me to pick out a boy to be my “Swazi boyfriend” for the next two years. Yeah, okay. I laughed it off by saying I was too old for all of them and then took over the introduction to let the class know that I’m here to teach about HIV/AIDS and help organize events in the community and NOT to find a sixteen-year-old Swazi husband. They laughed. Good, I want them to know I’m approachable.

I was feeling pretty good about my control of the situation, and Mr. Mvubu (the teacher) took notice. He said something like, “well obviously you know how to control the crowd, so I’ll just leave it to you.” He handed me a thick stack of papers and told me to report back to him at the end of the class. WHAT???? He just walked out and left me to teach a lesson I hadn’t even looked at to a class I’d only met in a school I’ve been to once…and I’m not an English teacher! But I didn’t want them to take advantage of the situation so I acted like I knew what I was doing. I passed out the papers and taught an impromptu lesson on reading comprehension and summarization without any prior preparation. I hadn’t even read the passages we were comprehending and summarizing prior to when they were read aloud in class! But I think it went alright. I would have been a much better teacher if I had known I was going to be teaching. My “lesson” took about 40 minutes of the 50 minute class period and for the rest of it we just talked, which was a pretty good thing for me. They asked me if I knew Alicia Keyes and I asked them if they knew what four fluids contain HIV. Unfortunately the answer was “no” for both.

He asked me to come back on Monday and Thursday of this week to teach his morning class, which I don’t really want to make a habit of considering that I’m still not an English teacher. I can tutor fine, but the idea of being single-handedly responsible for the test preparation of 50 students is a bit intimidating. And I’ve learned that I’m going to always carry with me at least an hour’s worth of HIV/AIDS-related lesson plan because I never know when I’m going to happen upon a captive audience wanting me to teach them something. On Monday when I went, I took with me some surveys about HIV/AIDS and perceptions of services available in the community, which is ACTUALLY my job. I snuck them in after the lesson quite beautifully. On Thursday he’ll be introducing me to the “career guidance” teacher, who theoretically teaches about goal-setting and applying for college and those kinds of things, but I guess he has yet to teach a class and the students just take it as a “free period.” He said that since the teacher doesn’t really have any lesson plans for the class that he could probably share the class period with me and I could sneak in some “life skills” lessons since, well, that’s my job. Woo! I would be excited about a regular teaching gig. For about 25 lessons, which is all the lesson plans I have in the book Peace Corps gave me. But that’s something to do!

I’ve also been helping my sisi, Londiwe, out with her Grade 6 homework for the past week. I’m really confused about my family even though I have a quite nicely illustrated family tree (drawn by Londiwe) on my wall, which I use to remember people’s names. I have siblings who are 13, 15 and 17 and for some reason they’re all in Grade 6. It’s not that uncommon for students to have their studies interrupted at some point, but I can’t imagine what would have delayed my oldest sisi’s education by five years. But I guess it makes helping with homework really easy because they’re all doing the same level of English. It’s also very frustrating, though, because the text book that they use is older than me (1984) and most of the short stories are simplified versions of the Bible or practical stories like “How to recognize dehydration” and “Caring for a snake bite.” One of the stories is called “Malaria Kills” and it says that you can get malaria from the bite of a mosquito or from taking care of a person with malaria. What?? Even in 1984 I’m pretty sure people knew that you couldn’t get malaria from touching a person with malaria. And there’s one story about AIDS that says that the best way to protect yourself from HIV is not to have a “relationship” with people who have the virus. I’m assuming it means not to have sex with them, but isn’t a friendship a kind of relationship? Unfortunately I see vague and incorrect things like that written even in recent publications here in Swaziland, especially when they’re in siSwati or directly translated from siSwati. Because Swaziland is a relatively conservative society, the language does not include words for “sex” or “sexually transmitted infection” or even “penis” (it’s called “ligwayi lagogo,” or “grandma’s cigar”), and the word for “vagina” is the same as the name for a roasted leg of lamb. So when you tell a 6th grader who sleeps in the same bed with her 3 sisters every night that you can get HIV from “kulalana” (sharing a bed with someone, the closest thing to “sex” in siSwati), it doesn’t really make sense. I guess that’s why I’m here, but I’m not exactly sure how to explain the importance of using a “cigar jacket” (condom) in relations involving grandma’s cigar and a roasted leg of lamb.

I also ran into a guy today in Hluti who does CD4 tests on Tuesdays at one of the clinics in my community. Since I’m not trained to draw blood or run CD4 tests, he invited me to come hang out with him on Tuesday and poke around the clinic a bit to see what I can help with. Maybe they’ll let me do nutrition counseling or work with the HIV/AIDS support group or play with babies or something. I’d also like to become acquainted with the Rural Health Motivators (they assist with the hygiene of families, including the cleanliness of latrines and the availability of water) and Care Facilitators (take care of orphans and people sick with AIDS) and I think the clinic is a good place to start. Fortunately my clinic is very well-organized and very well-run, which is selfishly unfortunate for me because it means they don’t really need my help. I’m hoping, though, that it will be a good way to get involved with Doctors Without Borders (they have a doctor there a few days a week) so that I can get some of their support for events I’ll want to do. So Tuesday I went to the clinic and worked with MSF (Doctors Without Borders) and counted pills all day. I found it really frustrating that we were counting out antibiotics and TB treatment and all of the nurses counting with me were ESTIMATING. How do you know if you’ve taken a full 60-day course of TB treatment if you don’t have exactly 60 pills? What if you only have 50 and you don’t finish the course but you think you do because all the pills are gone? They’re antibiotics! I guess apathy comes with being a nurse in Swaziland. I’m planning to go back Friday to help with an MSF support group, and then next Tuesday to count pills again. Or put pills in bags, as the rest of the nurses were doing. Then we’ll have tea and biscuits. I also have hopes of weaseling my way into working with Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (the national philanthropy of AEPhi…they have a big office here) and the Red Cross (they’re building a market in my community).

Anyway, last Friday (Sept 19th) was Election Day and the wife of my chief is running for parliament (MP) and having some big party or something (at the polling station) to win votes and I wasn’t allowed to go because I can’t show any political partiality. I can’t vote anyway…what does it matter? I don’t really understand politics here, though. Swaziland is an absolute monarchy, so half the parliament is appointed by the king anyway, and most people are elected, it seems, based on their surnames. In this constituency, there are three people running for MP, including the wife of my chief. And where is the polling place? At her house, of course! I wonder how “democratic” the voting can really be when ballots are cast at the home of one of the candidates. Even worse, when I was at the school on Thursday, one of the candidates (I don’t know who) was campaigning for votes among some of the high school students (many are old enough to vote because their schooling was interrupted for whatever reason, so about half of the Form 5 Seniors are older than me) by handing out pamphlets with information about the candidate and when and where to vote along with a hunk of meat. Because nothing buys loyalty in Swaziland like a fist full of beef. And I thought politicians in the US were shameless. We still don’t know who won, by the way. I don’t have any idea when we WILL, but I was told people would be sworn in by December, so for sure by December. How efficient.

But I guess Election Day is a national holiday so everything—including the clinic—is closed. I asked someone what people who get sick or have emergencies do if the clinic is closed (there’s no hospital so the clinic provides emergency services and transport to the hospital in Nhlangano) and he told me “either they die or they wait until Saturday.” Duh. In honor of the holiday, I purchased the “Leonardo DiCaprio Collection” DVD featuring The Departed, Catch Me if You Can, Gangs of New York, The Man in the Iron Mask and Poison Ivy. I don’t think the last two movies work, but considering that the whole disc cost me less than $2, I think I can live with that. I can even watch them with subtitles in Indonesian, Thai or Malay if I want! Oh, bootleg DVDs.

In animal news, apparently my family has TWO dogs and they’re both named Boca. That confuses me, but I guess then it’s easy to call the dogs. And I watched another goat birth and nailed the big hog with several big rocks and quite a variety of verbal insults, which the kids in my family largely understood because they hear them on wrestling. And I think I’m going to get a slingshot. That would be fun.

Saturday I went to town (Nhlangano) for a meeting about a support group for HIV+ youth (or those affected by HIV). The meeting for the group is next Saturday and this was just the planning meeting, but it didn’t exactly go off as planned. We were supposed to have it at the Nhlangano Regional Public Library, which is supposed to be open from 9 to 1 on Saturdays, but we waited until 10 and it still wasn’t open and there were about 30 people standing outside waiting for it to open. We finally asked a security guard outside and he said “no, they’re not opening it today.” How can the public library just decide not to open when it’s supposed to be open? The other volunteers said it wasn’t the first time that had happened. And I wanted to check out some books! I’ve read 7 reputable books this week (including Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club,” which is fantastic and the Best American Short Stories of 1995) and I’m currently reading Al Franken’s “Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them.” Oh, my parents should be so proud.

Tuesday, the PCMO (PC Medical Officer) came to check my site for “medical safety” or something, which essentially means that she wanted to check that I have available water and that I know how to clean myself and my house so as not to pose any risks to my personal health. She asked questions all about my nutrition and my exercise (neither were up to par, I thought, but she gave me props for my barley-split pea-lentil-bean stews and the creative use of tuna, and I guess walking 2 hours a day counts as exercise) and we talked about alcoholism (there’s no alcohol within a 45 minutes bus ride so it’s not really a problem, even if I wanted it to be) and high-risk sexual behavior. Right, I’m an HIV/AIDS educator. One of the key things that she was checking for is a secure door (my door is currently sheltering the baby goats in the baby goat house because I still have no way to cut it down to the right size) and that food and clothes are off the floor to keep mice, scorpions and cockroaches out of my house (but I’m still waiting for the carpenter to finish all my furniture, which could be a few more weeks). She IS loaning me a drill and saw to fit my door, which I’m sure my family will think is absolutely ridiculous. Then Friday my training director will be visiting I think to check on the progress of my siSwati homework, which I haven’t yet started. But the good news is that they’ll be bringing my mail and packages from the head office. I know I have a letter from Jess, a postcard from Jerusalem (??), 5 Newsweeks and a number of packages. Finally I’ll get news about the Olympics!

I’m done now. If you want to send me a text, apparently you can send me an email and it works about 50% of the time. You can send up to 700 characters (which is 2-3 sentences) but it’s free for me to receive them so if you have to break it into a number of separate emails, do that. Anyway, just send the email to: and I’ll possibly get it. But I can’t answer you so I guess you’ll never know either way. And Skype texts or international texts from cell phones don’t work, so this is it.

Now I’m going to town to pick up my seedlings and buy 2 more meters of fence so I can make a gate, which will undoubtedly be a fun exercise in creativity. But the pre-made gates that you can just buy are over $50 and the rest of my garden has so far cost about $25, so there’s NO way I’m buying a gate. It will be fun. Hopefully I can have everything planted by Friday (I’m only one person and it’s a big garden!!) so that Musa can be impressed by my productivity. It will be nice to be able to show him what I’ve been doing, since it obviously hasn’t been studying siSwati. And I think I’m going to buy “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo” because my family really wants to watch a DVD on my computer and, even though they don’t understand English, I’m not sure that “Gangs of New York” is appropriate for children ages 4-11.

That’s all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

40/40, Animal Farm and Gender Relations

So here’s the warning: this is a long entry composed over a number of days (possibly weeks…I don’t know when I’ll be going to town next to use the internet) so just bear with me. I’ll try to make it make sense.

This year is a big one in the Swaz. It’s the 40th anniversary of independence from Britain and the 40th birthday of His Majesty King Mswati III (apparently, it’s offensive to say his name without “His Majesty” in front of it) so there was a big 40/40 celebration this year in Lobamba at some stadium. Despite being really really far away from Manzini and Lobamba, I left my village bright and early on the day of the event (Sept 6) and managed to get to the event by 9:15 traveling all by myself. It was a proud moment for me…using only siSwati I managed to find a nice older couple also heading to the 40/40 and they helped me navigate my way through the bus ranks to the stadium, then waited with me in the queue (line) until I finally met up with some other Americans. It was a good time. They even bought me some roast chicken and rice! Bekumnandzi.

Anyway, the day’s festivities, in true Swazi style, involved a lot of sitting out in the hot sun waiting for things to happen. There were a couple thousand young maidens in their umhlanga attire (Google it, but probably not at work), lots of men with beer bellies in traditional attire (topless for both men and women) and a good number of important people from Africa at the event. In attendance were the presidents of Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, Namibia, Madagascar and ZIMBABWE. Yeah, that’s right. Mugabe came to the party. And the worst part is that he was introduced after a long list of other leaders that nobody really clapped for, and when his name was announced everyone cheered and whistled and was generally very supportive. Um, okay. He was wearing big, dark sunglasses and he kind of looked like Kanye West or something. And next to the King he looked very small. But maybe that’s because I was only seeing him through the zoom on some British guy’s camera…

So there was dancing and singing and a marching band (emasoldiers, which is also what you call CD4 cells) and the King spoke for what seemed like forever (in English, then somebody translated to siSwati…does he speak siSwati????) and some other people spoke and then there was more dancing. But we all got hungry and bored because the only part in English was the king speaking so we left at like 2:30 and headed into Mbabane for pizza and ice cream. (KFC currently has this thing called the “brownie avalanche” which consists of an absurd number of fudge brownies and vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. It’s basically worth the trip to Mbabane by itself.) Then we went to a braai (cook-out) for one of the Group 5 PCVs who will be heading home this week and stayed overnight in Mbabane. I got to cuddle with two dogs (Jess and Nelly), play bocce ball, figure out how to sneak through an electric fence without getting shocked (the Frisbee went over the fence) and I woke up with a cat sleeping on my back, which really freaked me out. A good time was had by all.

Other than that, I’ve just been hanging out at my site and settling into my new house. These first three months I’m supposed to be doing research of sorts and getting to know my community. “Integrating,” they call it. But, unfortunately or fortunately, my counterpart Vusi was elected Bucopho which means that he’s now the liaison between our village and parliament so he’s not around to translate and introduce me to people. I talked to a few other people about it and I’m pretty much just supposed to wander on my own and figure stuff out, so I’ve been playing soccer with the kids on my homestead, painting my house ( walls were much more absorbent than I anticipated), gardening (mostly contemplating and budgeting for gardening), shopping and studying siSwati. And doing Sudokus. Lots of Sudokus. School starts again on the 15th so I’ll hopefully have more to do then, but we’ll see what actually happens. I DID have one private tutoring session with a Form 3 student (sophomore in high school) who is preparing for the equivalent of the SAT and needs help with English composition. I wish I had kept all of those seemingly unnecessary handouts from Mrs. Jecheva and Mrs. Davis on how to write papers with TS-CD-CM-CM-CD-CM-CM and the inverted triangle introductions. (If you went to WRHS, you know what I’m talking about). Anyway, if anyone has them and wants to send them to me, that’d be great.

I did get to meet the Deputy Police Commander, Mr. Zwane, the other day. Four of us in the region gathered at Hluti to meet with him and he decided he wanted all of us to know where each person lived so we drove around in the back of a pick-up (called a “bakkie” here, from the English word “buggy”) to each person’s site and I got REALLY sunburned, despite the fact that I was wearing sunscreen. Stupid African sun. Since then Mr. Zwane has called me twice to check on me and make sure nobody is harassing me and he came by one afternoon with the police commander (whose name I forget) to introduce us. At least if I have an emergency I know they know where to find me.

Last week in town I bought the “Julia Roberts Collection” DVD featuring bootleg Pretty Woman, Mona Lisa Smile, Erin Brockovich, Sleeping with the Enemy (bad movie!), My Best Friend’s Wedding and Notting Hill. All in widescreen and with closed captions in Indonesian (no joke)! I watched four movies today, despite the fact that I could barely hear over the pouring rain on my tin roof. They say the rainy season begins in October and I’m not looking forward to it considering that this is the “dry season” and it’s still pretty wet out. I guess I shouldn’t complain—there’s been eight years of drought plaguing this country and any amount of rain is good. But yeah, when it rains I just sit around and watch movies.

The most important aspect of my laziness, I think, is the wonderful new addition to my house known as ELECTRICITY! I woke up the other day to the frightening sound of my Babe and bhuti crawling on my roof trying to get the cord through the space between the cement wall and the tin roof into my house. So now I have one plug (it’s just an extension cord run from the main house) and I bought a surge protector so I don’t kill my computer (the power frequently goes on and off here) and one of those work light things with the extension cord and the hook on the top. I don’t know what they’re called, but that’s what I have for a light now. And let me tell you that 15 watts of energy efficient light REALLY makes a difference. There are three more hours in every day now that I can stay up after dark, and I can read without wearing a headlamp. It’s amazing. I even baked some banana bread for my family today in appreciation, now that my oven finally works. Well, that and I think my rotting bananas were attracting bats.

And the bats are just part of my animal problem. Basically I live on a farm. We have hogs, goats, cows, chickens and one very loud rooster who never sleeps. The Monday after I moved in I heard some commotion outside and stuck my head out the door to see a mama goat having babies, which I took lots of pictures of from my door. My family thought I was a bit nuts because, well, they’ve seen this so much that it’s not exciting for them anymore, but nonetheless I continued to “shoot” the event. There were two babies, a brown and white one and a black one, and they were SO CUTE! So I decided to leave them alone and I walked back into my hut and locked my burglar door for the night. Then I heard a horrible screaming sound and I looked outside and, long story short, I learned that hogs eat baby goats. They are also not deterred by Nerf footballs, but once I got out of my house and hit her with rocks she (the big 400-pound hog) ran away squealing. The one baby was unhurt because the mama goat was positioned to protect her, but the other one was seriously injured and as of writing (Sept 11) was still alive but probably not for much longer. It was sad, really, and now I’m pretty afraid of the stupid hogs because I’ve seen how disgusting and violent they can be. (Now, though, I’ve befriended the little brown and white one which I decided to call Norma and she even lets me pet her. When I wake up in the morning she’s sitting out on my doorstep waiting for me, like a dog. But then there’s also the dog. We’re friends too because I won’t let my Babe kill her despite the fact that she’s very old and doesn’t do anything but sit around.)

The morning after the night of the stupid hog my Make led me out into the maize field (unplanted now) where the stupid hog was laying in the grass writhing in pain. My first thought was “good, you stupid hog, I hope you die” (I was hoping for a punctured bowel or something, the result of eating a bony baby goat) but then I realized that it was actually giving birth, which is basically the opposite of dying. I watched the first 7 be born and got to cut one of the umbilical cords and the babies are SO CUTE. There were 13, but a week later there are 12, which apparently is really good for hogs who usually kill/eat/sit on their babies. Anyway, my Make wanted me to “shoot” the pigs, which means take pictures of them, and I did because the babies are cute. But I hate their mother. I tell her that every day, too. And my family thinks I’m crazy…I talk to the pigs (“Suka, pig, I don’t like you”) and the goats (“Hey Mrs. Goat, how are the kids?”) and the dog (we mostly talk about fleas, but sometimes I ask her to escort me to the latrine) and the bats (“not tonight, bats, go away…I’ve got a broom!”) and the chickens (“excuse me, chickens”). I pretend they understand my English because nobody else in my family does, that’s for sure. (Although they understand more English than they let on…but I guess we’re even because I do that with siSwati, too.)

I also showed my family my computer after I got electricity. They don’t really understand the concept of a computer (except my two sisis who are in high school) so I told them it’s like a TV but it only plays movies and music and it holds pictures. But we looked through pictures of my life (all the ones on this computer) and tried to explain what a windmill was (they understand because they mill their maize by hand every morning) and why the dog was wearing hats and sitting on the couch and how even though all white people look the same we are not, in fact, all sisters. I’ve had this conversation so many times. And then I showed them that I could type on it and I think I’m going to try to help my sisis with typing because it’s a coveted skill here in Swaziland. (The lady at the internet cafĂ© once offered me an hour of free internet for every hour of typing instruction I could give her, and internet is a precious commodity!) And for my sharing of computer they invited me into the house to watch Sunday afternoon WWE Raw. Great! I haven’t watched TV in months and you sit me down for 2 hours of wrestling? Why can’t we export Sex & The City or something?

And now for the most hilarious exchange I’ve had so far in Swaziland. We were watching wrestling and some lady (Mickie James, I think…I’m ashamed I know her name) came out and she’s wearing this skin tight leotard thing that her large, artificial breasts are about to jump out of and her hair is all tussled she’s wearing too much makeup and she looks, well, like a bimbo. And my sisi says “oh, Americans are so beautiful!” to which I reply “Americans don’t really look like that.” And she says, “but YOU do!” Who knew I was so voluptuous and shiny.

Life here is interesting, to say the least. It’s unpredictable and routine, boring and overwhelming, easy and painful. There are things I’m starting to understand and things I don’t yet know I DON’T understand. But all things considered I’m thrilled to be here and I love every minute of it (except when there are bats flying around in my room because then I’m shrieking too much to enjoy Swaziland). In moving here, I prepared myself to have to adjust to things like using a pit latrine instead of a toilet, to using candles instead of lights, to eating weird foods and not having the luxury of things like Milano cookies (or raspberry milanos, or mint milanos…), to walking everywhere instead of taking the bus and to inhaling large amounts of dust all the while. But surprisingly, those have been the easiest things to get used to.

The difficult adjustments are much more abstract. For example, because of the possibility of unknown creatures on the homestead, it’s not really advisable to go out to the latrine after dark. This means that you either can’t pee from 6 to 6, or you have to use the “pee bucket.” I haven’t yet christened the bucket, but I’ve also been going to bed shortly after dark…now that I have electricity I think it will be more of a challenge. I’m also adjusting to the weather actually having an impact on my life. In the US, if it rains that just means you get to wear fun boots, but here that means you can’t do laundry or the kombis aren’t running regularly so you can’t get back from town if you decide to go, or there will be an inordinate amount of lizards in the latrine. And who knew that fruits and vegetables had a SEASON? Apparently onions are a winter crop, which means that during the months that you have tomatoes you don’t have onions. No wonder Swazis don’t eat pasta. This is all very new to me. And my family absolutely does not understand the concept of animals as pets. Animals exist either to provide protection (dogs) or to provide foot (goats, pigs, chickens, etc.) and nothing else. Animals are NOT allowed in or near the house, and if they come begging for food they are usually hit with rocks. They find it very amusing when I let the dog have the peels of my carrots or the crumbs from my bread, and they’re especially amused when I walk around the homestead with a banana peel searching for a goat or a pig to feed it to. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure what cats are for.

In terms of things I can just complain about, I do really miss dairy products. I’m convinced there’s no way to make a glass of powdered milk without swallowing a big chunk of wet nastiness at the end. Ick. And I feel a bit nauseous every time I have it. Maybe it’s just a mental thing. I DID buy cheese the other day and I figured it would last a few days unrefrigerated but then it was over 100 degrees in the afternoon and it made itself into cheese sauce and I made myself an omelet, grilled cheese and popcorn (which I dipped in the cheese) for dinner. Twenty four slices in one day! But on a more serious note…

By far the MOST frustrating thing to adjust to, though, is the distinctly defined and drastically different gender roles here in Swaziland. Most women in Swaziland don’t work. Their husbands are the breadwinners and, subsequently, are allowed to be philanderers too. (Polygamy is not only legal in Swaziland, it is common and very much accepted.) From a very young age, it is the girls/women who fetch the water, wash and iron the clothes, gather firewood, light the fire and cook, do the gardening and tend to most of the animals. The boys/men chop the firewood once it’s gathered by the girls, herd the cattle around if they don’t come back home in time and then they sit and watch TV or listen to the radio while their sisters/mothers cook. And if money is tight and a family can’t afford to educate all their kids, they’ll almost certainly educate an unmotivated boy over an eager-to-learn girl. Naturally, it is always the woman who is infertile, and if a man dies of AIDS it is obviously his wife who infected him (even though he’s the one who probably brought the infection to the marriage.) It KILLS me! And even though I know these attitudes exist, it never ceases to surprise me because I’ve never been told I couldn’t do something just because I’m a girl. For example, apparently painting is a man’s job, but I know I’m perfectly capable of doing it. The first day I was painting (the second time) two high school aged boys showed up at my door at 8am because they had been told by my family that I needed a boy to paint for me and that since I wasn’t married I was trying to do it myself. I sent them away. Then later that day I got a call from Mr. Zwane, the deputy police commander, who said he heard I was “trying to paint.” And he said to me something to the effect of: “but you must know that girls cannot paint! I would hate to be the man you call to clean up your mess after you are done doing what you are calling painting!” Great. (The next time he stopped by I invited him in to see my painting, which actually looks quite nice if I may say so myself. He said maybe next time.) I also faced much opposition when I was buying fencing and a hoe for my garden. At the hardware store they didn’t even think I could CARRY the fence (it weighed maybe 10 pounds), and I ran into another volunteer’s counterpart outside who asked me questions about what I was carrying. “What are those for? YOUR garden? Who will you hire to build the fence? Who will you hire to plant the seeds and do the weeding?” Actually, I can do those things myself, which I guess is surprising. On my last trip to the hardware store I bought a towel rack and the salesman kept insisting I needed to buy a screwdriver and I told him I had one at home. “Oh, you mean you have a husband and HE has one, I get it.” No, I mean I HAVE ONE. And on multiple occasions high school aged boys from the community have made comments like “oh, I see you are playing like a little boy” when I’m playing Frisbee or something. Obviously I’m a woman so I should be cooking or sewing or tending to the needs of a man. It makes me think of women in Victorian times or something that you see in movies who faint any time she encounters bad news or a difficult decision. Yes, I’m wearing a skirt, but I am actually capable of doing everything a 22-year-old man can do. (In fact, today I used the metal file on my Leatherman to fix the window in my house that Peace Corps told me to hire someone to fix, and now it closes beautifully. Even they doubt my handiness.)

I mean, in this culture I’m not really a woman either. My sisi (who is 35 or something, I guess) asked me how old I am and when I answered “22” she said, “No! If you were 22 you would have many little ones running around!” So I’m a neuter. In a skirt. Painting but not bearing children. It’s all very confusing.

Anyway, I skipped lunch for wrestling so I’m going to make a tuna casserole or something for dinner. And then I’m going to eat the whole thing because I don’t have a fridge. (The other day I made a banana cream pie, but I had to eat the whole thing because the cream was spoiling in the heat…I see how people get fat in the Peace Corps.) And my Make just dropped off a big basin full of vegetables and herbs, including fennel. And when I asked her what it was (to see what fennel is in siSwati) she looked at me like I was stupid and said “greens.” Okay, but I know fennel when I see it, and I’m going to cook something fancy and abundant for me, myself, and maybe (secretly) the dog. We’re friends.

That was long. Love from the Swaz. Come visit.
--P.S. (those are my new initials)

Oh! If you want to call me, my number is (from the US): 011-268-660-7042 I can’t receive international or Skype texts, but you can call whenever you want. It would be a welcome interruption from talking to myself.