Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Goats like broccoli.

Several people have asked me what I’ve learned in Swaziland and I never have anything specific to answer. But this week I learned that goats, when invading a garden, choose broccoli over lettuce. They nibble on green peppers, spit out tomato leaves, devour half a rosemary bush and pick at the green onions. But they leave the broccoli eaten down to the dirt.

I woke up at 4:00am on Monday morning (this has become common…apparently my body can only sleep 12 hours a night for so long) to find that my garden had been raided overnight. Judging by the goat droppings, I knew who to blame for the munching, but I was baffled because the gate, which I KNOW I closed behind me, was still closed. And goats don’t have fingers!!! So I fumed about it all day, blaming various human and non-human creatures, and inspecting my fence to see where they could have possibly gotten in. And then Monday night, as I dashed out in the rain to get my wash off the clothesline (aka barbed wire fence) I caught them in the act! Turns out they figured out that if they push on my gate hard enough (one goat on either side) they can bend it up in the middle enough for the baby goats to sneak under in the middle. I caught them before they got in and, in the pouring rain and the dark, I reinforced it and chased the goats away. Honestly, though, after I figured out how they snuck in I was more impressed with their intelligence (well, at least trickery) than I was angry about the broccoli. Besides, now I have somewhere to plant cucumbers and watermelon. (I don’t actually know if I can grow watermelon in Swaziland, but I think I have to try just to prove to my sister, who mowed over my watermelon vines when I was 8 or so, that I CAN grow watermelon. They’ll be delicious.)

Also, I have scabies. I’m sure you don’t want to hear about it. Suffice it to say that I feel like I have razor burn over about 40% of my body, including my hands. It’s excellent. When I called the PC Medical Officer about it, she said it was a common “occupational hazard.” Okay, well I’ll take that over bilharzia, which is apparently why volunteer previously assigned to my community left after 4 months (according to the head nurse at the clinic). But just to be safe I’m never touching a child ever again (just kidding).

That’s all. I’m going to try to post some photos. Hopefully it works.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Yesterday I carried a fifty kilo bag of pig feed for 40 minutes.

So when I sat down Friday morning to write this blog, I realized that nothing incredible/shocking/surprising/etc. has happened to me this week. And I’m glad. After all, I think that’s the point of integration. I’ve finally gotten to a point where Swaziland feels like home and where the random things I do every day feel normal to me.

That said, I think it’s time that I actually feel like I’m doing something with myself. Sure, I’ve been teaching at the high school and helping Doctors Without Borders (MSF) at the clinic on Tuesdays, and directing an improvised preschool from my own house every day of the week (this week we played Simon Says A LOT)…but since none of it feels like work I really don’t feel that accomplished. (FEELING like you’re doing something is one of the more difficult parts of Peace Corps, especially for a high-energy multi-tasker like me.)

This week I looked back over a 2-year “to do” list that I wrote for myself in the hotel in Johannesburg exactly 4 months ago, and I decided to get started on it. That means that this week I started studying for the GRE (which I will be taking next year sometime, but I would like to feel prepared since I have to go all the way to South Africa to take it!), exercising, and reading like a fiend to get through my “lifetime reading” list. (Seriously, on Thursday I read over 600 pages.) And I suppose I could work on my siSwati homework (due mid-November) or my “Phase II Community Study” (also due mid-November), neither of which I’ve started yet. But yoga is just so much more fun.

The exercising part presents an interesting challenge. A few months ago I bought a jump rope and yoga mat and I’ve been using them periodically, but this week I stepped it up. The only problem is that when it’s 80 degrees in my house at night, all yoga is hot yoga. And even a “cool down” is ridiculously uncomfortable. And after about 10 minutes of cardio exercises, I feel like I’m going to pass out if I don’t open my windows/door (or lay on the cold cement floor). Since my house is on a platform I figured it would be okay, so I started opening the curtains to let the cooler evening air in while I was exercising. And it made my life infinitely easier. Except that when I paused the DVD to take my last-2-minutes-of-daylight trip to the pit latrine one evening, there was an exercise class going on outside my window, as directed by the one little boy standing on an overturned cooking pot and imitating my movements as he peered in through my window. Excellent. My life is a spectator sport. And all the spectators think I’m nuts. I also cut up a length of heavy-ish rope I bought to hang my mosquito net (which I didn’t hang because it smells like feet) into a few jump ropes for the kids to use instead of just staring at me jumping rope, but the next day I found that they had been confiscated, unbraided and used to help build a fence. Hm.

I also made some significant improvements to the dog. Even though my bhutis volunteered (reluctantly) to bathe her, I figured that someone who had bathed a dog before would probably do a more thorough job. So after we dumped the first bit of water on her and she didn’t freak out and bite anyone, I stepped in gave her a scrubbing with flea and tick shampoo while they held her down and threatened her with a stick. My family, as usual, thought I was crazy because I used warm water (they bathe in cold) and dried her with a towel afterwards (I didn’t want her to go lay down in the dirt!). And it didn’t help that I gave the dog a “necklace” (flea collar). But it seems to have worked. All this week I’ve been checking her flea colonies, which seem to have decreased from 3048 to about 15, and I haven’t found a tick on her yet. I’ve also been giving her about a cup of actual dog food every day this week (my Make literally gasped and covered her mouth with her hand the first time she saw me feed the dog) and she’s gained enough weight that her hips no longer fit through my burglar door. That doesn’t mean she’s stopped trying to come in. No, instead she comes in ¾ of the way and gets stuck and cries until I push her back out. But hopefully she’ll get the idea soon. She also MOVES now. She actually followed me about a quarter mile up to the tar road, which is about a quarter mile further than I’ve ever seen her go before. Amazing! Aside from the fact that she still only has one eye, she’s almost a normal dog now.

This week has also been extremely erratic weather-wise, which I can prove because my parents sent me an alarm clock with a thermometer on it. Wednesday morning when I woke up at 5:15am the thermometer said 89 degrees, and by the time I left for the school at 7:00 it was up to 99. Almost a hundred degrees by 7:00am!!! It was absolutely disgusting and the normally 45-minute walk took over an hour because I kept having to stop and stand in the shade. That afternoon I taught a lovely English class about thesis statement revision with an attractive amount of back sweat. Yum! Then Thursday I woke up and it was 61 degrees. What? That’s almost 40 degrees less than the previous day. How does this happen? It didn’t even rain! I’ve also noticed that a warm morning does not necessarily indicate a warm day. For example, on Friday it was 75 when I got up, but by noon the temperature was down to 60. Yeah, I don’t get it. I think I’m going to get an umbrella and carry it around with me at all times in case it rains or in case the sun is unbearable, either of which is possible on any given day here.

For Christmas/New Years/Boxing Day (those are the holidays we get the day off from PC without having to use vacation days) we’re planning a trip to Mozambique. We’ll spend a day or 2 in Maputo (the capital) and then head up to Tofo, a beautiful beach community about 8 hours North of Maputo. It’s the same trip I made with Lori over Easter Break when we were studying in Durban, but this trip will be completely different since we’re traveling en masse. It should be a good time and I’m really looking forward to being able to wear a swimsuit (or even pants) without everyone thinking I’m a skank since you really can’t do things like that in Swaziland. And I’m going to eat copious amounts of matapa (or “mablahblah” as my family says), the national dish of Mozambique made with collared greens, crabs, peanuts and coconut rice. Delicious! (My dad says it tastes like shrimp and peanut butter, but I happen to like shrimp and peanut butter.)

As a final thought, I was reading a book the other day (historical fiction of sorts) and it was talking about life in the US circa the Great Depression. And I started to think about how terrible it would be to live in a place with no jobs and widespread poverty where most people live paycheck to paycheck, hand to mouth, in a place with poor sanitation and crowded living conditions, where deaths from easily preventable diseases are expected, and with a high birth rate due to conservative beliefs about family planning. If you add HIV/AIDS, that sounds like Swaziland.

That’s all. Don’t forget to vote (especially if you’re a Democrat).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I haven't smelled so nice in months.

So this weekend Serena, Brittany and I went to Mbabane and stayed at the NICEST place in the entire country. If you're in Swaziland looking for somewhere to stay, go to Red Berry B&B because it's amazing. We had a fantastic dinner (curry prawns!), and watched National Geographic Channel all night (a thing about plane crashes, something about snakes), and SHOWERED and blow-dried our hair and straightened it, and ate a fantastic breakfast of assorted meats. DELICIOUS. It's sad what I consier luxury these days. (But, for serious, there was an electric blanket on my bed!)

Now I'm off to be by myself in my hut with Denise Austin exercise DVDs and a box full of candy, which I think balance each other nicely.

And we're talking about going to Mozambique for Christmas, which will be fun.

That's all.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I am a chicken murderer. And also an English teacher, I guess. (And a writer of excessively long blogs…sorry.)

Well, I’m at least an accomplice to murder. The whole buying, killing, plucking, cooking, eating a chicken thing was quite an experience, but from now on I think I’ll opt for anonymous meat. Once was interesting, though. I bought the chicken in town (on the last day I posted a blog) for 26 Emalangeni (about $4), then took it on an hour-long bus ride home in a box made for a tea pot. On the way home the chicken peed in the box so that when I was climbing over two people to get out of the bus (people don’t move for you to get past them, you climb over them) I quite enthusiastically (but accidentally) flung the chicken out of the bottom of the pee-soaked box. She landed about 4 feet outside the bus and was completely stunned by her sudden freedom, which me and some guy at the bus stop promptly ended by stuffing her back in the box. She didn’t enjoy this, which was obvious by the squawking the whole way home. Naturally, on that 20 minute walk we struck up a conversation (I’m going crazy) and I decided I wouldn’t kill her but instead I’d keep her for eggs or something, but then my family informed me she was about 6 weeks old and I’d be waiting forever for eggs, but having to feed her in the meantime. So yeah, I decided to stop calling her Roberta (rule #1 of slaughtering your own food: don’t name the animals) and I appealed to my sisi to teach me what to do with her. She laughed (they ALL laughed…my 3 and 5-year-old siblings had more of a clue than me) and put some water on to boil over some logs in the kitchen.

I didn’t technically slit the chicken’s throat, but I helped hold it while the blood squirted all over the ground (the kids promptly buried the blood with dirt) and then I assisted in the plucking of the bird and the slaughtering of the bird and, later, in the cooking of the bird. I had never seen the inside of a chicken before and it was a pretty interesting experience. There are things that Swazis eat (like the stomach and intestines) that I don’t even think you can BUY in America. (I mean, we have to make dog food out of something…) Seeing them meticulously cleaning the edible parts of a chicken made me realize how wasteful and gluttonous Americans must seem to the rest of the world. At a restaurant in the US you can order a half chicken for a one-person meal, but here a whole chicken feeds all 13 people on my homestead. Anyway, I now know what a gizzard is and where it comes from, and I know how big a chicken heart is and how to empty the intestines and how to pull the skin off the feet (like a glove). In exchange for teaching me how to kill/pluck/slaughter the chicken, I gave my family half the chicken (I’m only one person and I don’t have a fridge!) and all of the innards that I wouldn’t know what to do with, and the head and the feet (yes, they eat the head). I figure that repays them for feeding me for the 3 days I was here over OJT, during which I probably consumed half a chicken. And those assorted innards, I’m sure, but I’m going to pretend not. The whole experience reminded me of the time Lori and I bought “Supa Chunk” chicken in South Africa, only to find later that it was a bag of frozen leftover parts (like 9 chicken necks) that you’re supposed to put in soup. I guess that’s what they meant by “supa,” but we just thought they were advertising exceptional chicken.

Anyway, I roasted Roberta in the oven covered in honey, mustard, olive oil, garlic and diced green apples. That’s basically everything I had food-wise, but it turned out to be really delicious and while I was eating it I wasn’t sad at all about her fate. She had creepy little eyes anyway.

Later that night, though, I had a really sad experience that I still don’t know how to deal with. Boca (the dog) was happy because I’d given her the stomach contents of the chicken (yum, half-digested grass!) and she knew I’d give her the bones, so she was waiting outside my door as I finished my dinner. I tossed the bones outside through the burglar door and then I heard her crying, so I immediately jumped up to see what was going on. My neighbor girl, Hlengiwe, a 5-year-old who weighs 22 pounds (I have a scale), was fighting the dog for the bones. Despite the fact that they were covered in dirt and had been licked by the dog, she broke the bones open and ate whatever (marrow?) was inside, and ate the knobby cartilage parts at the joints and the spine (yeah, my family insisted I cook it). Make (mother) then came out of the main house and said something like “that one, she’s always hungry,” after which I snuck her into my house and gave her half of the chicken breast that I’d been saving for later.

The next night I was making grilled cheese for myself for dinner and she was sitting on the step outside my house sobbing. I finally went out and picked her up and asked her what was wrong (“Unani?”) and she said she was hungry. Since there were four little kids outside (her 2 brothers, her and one of my brothers), I cut my sandwich into 4 squares and gave each one of them one. Because of the way gender roles work, and because of the hierarchy of age, her two brothers took about ¾ of the piece I’d given her, which I imagine is exactly what happens at every meal because she’s the youngest and the only girl. Every night while the other kids are coloring in my house she falls asleep in a ball on the floor, and last night I offered to carry her home because she’d been asleep for about 2 hours by the time I kicked everyone out. At their homestead, before heading off to bed they went into the kitchen to see if there was any food for them since all they’d had for dinner was the quarter of grilled cheese, but there wasn’t any. “Kute kudla namuhla.” There isn’t any dinner today. Since then, I’ve she’s come begging my Make for food and she’s been caught stealing and eating raw radishes out of the garden. It’s really sad to be hit so hard by the reality of the crisis here.

I’m not entirely sure of the family situation since only one of the boys is going to school, and he’s in grade 5 so he’s only had 2 years of English, but I know their father is dead and their mother is extremely sick (I helped her plant some seedlings one day and she hacked like she has TB, and I ran into her at the clinic the day of the HIV-positive support group). There are 3 boys and Hlengiwe, and the first time I saw her I thought she was just a really vocal 2-year-old because she’s so small.

I know this is why I’m here—to get the NCPs (Neighborhood Care Points) functioning to provide meals for OVCs like her, amongst other things—but the task seems so overwhelming. It’s easy enough to educate HIV-negative high school students on how to stay negative, or to encourage people to get tested at the clinic, but how do I get the NCPs up and running to provide food for all the people in the community who are starving? How do we determine who is eligible for free food and who is entirely capable of growing or working for their own food? In a society where everyone is burdened with taking care of their own flock of children, how do I find bomake (mothers) willing to volunteer their time to cook for other people’s kids? Where do we get the food to cook for them? If we plant a garden (which is what I’d like to do for all the NCPs), where do we get the water in a community with a serious water shortage (as in my family is one of three homesteads with readily available water in the whole community of 1800)? I’m hoping I can work through these things with the new clerk at the Gogo Centre, but even though two people were interviewed at the beginning of the month, nobody has been chosen yet. The former clerk, Vusi, did go to the chief’s inner council meeting on Tuesday morning and lobby for expediting the process for my benefit, but without any result. Maybe it’s a good thing that they had another volunteer quit here before…they want to go out of their way to make me happy so I don’t leave! Next week I’m going to see what I can do with my limited siSwati…maybe my presence will be enough to remind them I exist and need a counterpart.

Last Friday (October 10th) I was supposed to teach at the high school, but apparently the teachers decided at their staff meeting on Wednesday that there weren’t going to be any classes. Instead, I was invited (in person, even though Mvubu has my phone number and I’m a 15 minute drive from his house) to a “party” to be held all day on Friday. Um, okay. So I showed up (fashionably late to the only thing in Swaziland that has EVER started on time) and was greeted by a sea of low-cut dresses and stilettos and provocative dancing. It turned out to be like the graduation ceremony for the Form 5 Matriculates (Seniors), which involved speeches by each of the class “presidents” (what? There’s some sort of organization at the school?), poetry reading, beatboxing, singing, dancing and chanting, which was half entertaining (the English part) and half confusing (the siSwati). Basically it was a kind of combination talent show and graduation ceremony, and the whole school (no parents) was invited. It was pretty funny, too, how between acts the MC would pick a random primary student from the crowd—usually a 8-year-old boy or something—and everyone would chant “jiava, jiava!” and he would dance to inappropriately unedited rap music (have you ever heard the unedited “Candy Shop”…at a school function?) in front of the crowd without any ounce of reservation. I think an American kid would probably cry. At one point they started chanting for ME to dance (and let me tell you, the sound of 400 kids chanting your name is pretty intimidating…) but luckily I was saved by the Form 4 boys’ choir and they forgot all about embarrassing me. They wouldn’t want to see me dance anyway. As the grand finale, the head teacher, Mr. Madlala, stood up and sang a song he wrote, accompanying himself on the guitar. It was a pretty funny sight (but very good!) and I have a whole new level of respect for him after that. Afterwards, as the honorary guest of the Form 5, I attended a luncheon with all the normal Swazi food (beet root salad, rice and gravy, carrots and mayonnaise, etc.) and fried chicken. After my whole chicken experience, I was better able to identify the oddly-shaped cuts of meat I was served, which you definitely don’t find at KFC.

Mvubu, the deputy head teacher, also took me on a short tour of the school grounds. There are 2 hostels for girls and two for boys, divided by primary and secondary school, and each houses about 40 kids, though there are more girls than boys. Quite awkwardly, he walked me through the actual bedroom part (which was just a big room with a large quantity of bunk beds or cots in it) even though some of the girls were bathing. I guess really isn’t a big deal in Swaziland, but it made me extremely uncomfortable. Then he walked me to the “water area,” which is basically a big cement swimming pool with an open top and a pump coming out of it to a single spigot a few yards away. The water coming out of the spigot looked clean enough, but I would never drink it knowing where it comes from. The pool part, because it was uncovered, had birds bathing in it, dead bugs and trash floating in it and a ring around the sides where something gross was growing. I would probably rather drink lake water, and they don’t even boil it! (Technically, I guess the rule is that if it comes from an underground spring it doesn’t need to be boiled because it’s not likely to be infested with parasites or something, but after the water from said underground spring sits in an open-air tank for who knows how long, it’s about like eating mud.) We also went to the kitchen, where they were preparing the lunch for 100 students and the teachers in a pot over a fire on the cement floor, and walked through the school’s garden, which appears to be thriving in weed production. (Apparently the school cancelled its agriculture class, which used to care for the garden, in favor of the HIV/AIDS and health class, which currently is a free period.) Anyway, it was really good to see more of the school, and I snuck in a lot of questions about the community and how the school functions in terms of providing support for OVCs in the community. And then I stole two oranges and gave them to Hlengiwe.

This week I have accomplished quite a bit in the area of teaching English, which is STILL not why I’m here. But I finished up the oral interviews, then showed both of the classes the “exemplary interview” DVD that shows what students are supposed to be doing in these exams. They did a similar interview to get into high school, and since they’re all conducted by Cambridge-trained examiners I can only assume they were just like the ones on the DVD, but they said they had never seen the DVD and that they had no idea what was expected of them until they walked into the examination room. Imagine if you had to take the SAT without any prior knowledge of the exam except that it would be in English…that’s ridiculous! So hopefully when they have to take this exam, which isn’t until about this time next year, they’ll be comfortable enough with it to do well.

Thursday (the 16th) was maybe the scariest day I’ve had in Swaziland yet. Mr. Mvubu had invited me to teach some sort of workshop on composition (essay) writing, using as examples the prompts from past exams given from 1982 to 1988 (one of the questions was “what will you remember most about 1988?”), but when I showed up in the morning at 7:30 he informed me that the King had declared it a holiday (to honor the new Prime Minister, who is actually the same PM as the old one, but he wanted to honor the first day of his new term or something) and all the teachers (except me) had taken the day off. The students, however, didn’t have the day off. So the entire “teacher” population of the high school was the Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher (he left at about 10am) and me. GREAT! So I decided to go ahead with my lesson since there was a classroom of 80 kids (some had taken the day off…) waiting for me who otherwise wouldn’t be doing anything. Unfortunately, I was given the whole morning (8am to 12:50pm) to teach and I’d only planned a 50-minute lesson, so I had to improvise…a lot. The lesson I had planned was on the structure of an introduction, which they had absolutely no clue about (Mr. Mvubu said he had tried to teach them but they got bored so he stopped). I drew a pretty Inverted Triangle Model (courtesy of Mrs. Jecheva’s Freshman Honors English!!) on a huge piece of flipchart paper and tried to explain to them the concept of an attention-getting device, thesis statement and all the stuff in between. After a fun “warm-up” exercise and a 15-minute lesson on introductions, I broke them into 10 groups of 8 and the prompt “What can you do to keep your body healthy?” This whole group work thing is completely foreign to them, since they’re only lectured at, and you should have seen the horror on their faces when I later had each group present to the class! Anyway, over the course of about 2 hours each group figured out how to write an introduction. Three to five sentences, and it took 2 full hours. (In their defense, this was probably the first time they’ve ever worked with a group in their educational careers, and we were constantly disrupted by security guards and primary teachers coming to yell at them for talking so loudly until I explained that I was in charge and they were supposed to be talking. At one point, right before he left to go to town, a teacher came into the classroom, I thought to observe, but then began dancing in front of the class and asking everyone for candy in exchange for his dancing. Do you see how this transition from well-structured American schools is difficult for me?)

Overall I was really pleased with how it went. Before the lesson, ideas for introductory paragraphs created the following: “Exercise, avoid intoxicating substances like drugs and alcohol, and eat a healthy diet because the Swaziland Ministry of Health recommends a lot of protein.” That’s it. That’s not even a complete sentence, let alone an introductory paragraph! After we’d talked about what a thesis is (it’s the sentence that answers the question in the prompt and tells the reader what to expect in the rest of the composition) and how to make things interesting, the groups slowly produced very basic but much improved paragraphs. For example:

“Many people in Swaziland die earlier than they should because they are not motivated to keep their bodies healthy or because they engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking and taking alcohol. However, with some simple lifestyle changes such deaths can be prevented. In order to keep your body healthy, you should exercise, eat a balanced diet and avoid intoxicating substances like drugs and alcohol.” WHOA! Look at that!

We talked about literary devices and using statistics or narratives or something, and they seemed to understand what I was talking about, but it’s difficult to start at absolutely ZERO prior knowledge of what an introduction is (as in the Deputy Head Teacher who I had to okay my lesson plan with didn’t understand what purpose an introduction served) in just a few hours. I gave them all a short homework assignment and a choice of very easy prompts, so we’ll see if they’re able to write introductions on their own. I’ve noticed when grading their homework before, though, that usually one person in the dorms does the homework and everyone else copies word for word, so I’m going to have to devise a way to deal with that, since it’s generally accepted. The more familiar I become with the Swazi education system, the more frustrated I become. It’s not that the students aren’t bright, but they’re not motivated to accomplish ANYTHING. What’s the point when none of your homework is seriously graded and the only thing that matters is the exam administered by Cambridge at the end of the year? Why even try to learn anything not on the exam? Attendance is not taken, tardiness is punished with a few lashings of an electrical tape-fortified stick, cheating is allowed, a large portion of class time is devoted to students doing their homework (which is actually spent sitting outside on a rock talking about boys, etc.) and the only curriculum they have is the exams at the end of the year. As in the 1982 examination in English language did not ask anything about symbolism, so we won’t teach it. And it’s not the fault of bad teachers or bad students, it’s the whole system! Where do you even begin? (I’d like to also add that I really appreciate the teachers I had through all the years who have given me the fantastic education that led me here and gave me perspective enough to understand what effective teaching and motivated teachers look like!)

Later (HOURS later, since I had the whole morning) we talked about outlines (which I had no idea I was going to do…), which was also a completely new concept to them. They have never taken notes, never seen an outline, never tried to write from one, never attempted to organize their thoughts, never made a list, etc. We spent about an hour trying to figure out the concept, and I think they finally got it. Or at least one person in each group finally got it because they all wrote down acceptable outlines. How do you write a composition/essay if you have no idea what you’re planning on writing about? Forget outlines, how do you write if you don’t have a thesis statement? Or an introduction?! Maybe I’ve just had amazing teachers who have emphasized the importance of having a plan, but trying to write an essay with no organization whatsoever scares me.

Also, I would like to point out how I snuck in a very Peace Corps-related lesson on health and nutrition into an English class. Groups even talked about protecting yourself from HIV/AIDS as one of the keys to maintaining good health. See, I’m doing my job.

Completely unrelated to my purpose in Swaziland, I have also witnessed a fair amount of goat sex this past week. There’s one man goat in the village (that my family knows of, at least) and he basically wanders around and impregnates all the lady goats. It’s odd, though, because you’d think that inbreeding would eventually create a problem since, you know, he’s mating with his own offspring. Maybe nearby villages rotate man goats every year on some sort of goat-swap program. And isn’t there supposed to be a mating season? One of the goats I saw him pursuing has a month old baby goat, so hasn’t she had her offspring for the year? Maybe I should ask my 5-year-old bhuti since he seems to know what’s going on around here. (Turns out, he’s 5 now. His birthday was at the end of September, but Swazis don’t celebrate birthdays so I was not informed…too bad, too, because I have a “Happy Birthday” banner and pin the tail on the donkey!)

And a few last random, entirely unrelated (except for 6 and 10) thoughts:
I find it humorous how South Africans (at least those on the radio) pronounce every car company differently than Americans. Nissan, for example, is pronounced NISS-in (as in rhymes with missin’) and Subaru is suh-BAR-oh (I thought they said Sbarro and I got excited for pizza) and Renault is like RUN-oh. In unrelated news, in Swaziland, “penis” also rhymes with “tennis.” So I now giggle every time someone says PEN-iss…like a 3rd grader.
Things I miss from America: bus schedules, Chinese food (crab rangoons), napping, washing my underwear without an audience, margaritas, frequent hand washing, and fine cheeses. Oh, and structure in my life. That would be nice.
My bhutis and sisis (brothers and sisters) think that my headlamp is the coolest thing ever, and earlier this week I came home from school in the afternoon and found the three little ones (3, 5 and 5) running around the homestead with “head torchies” made from circular pieces of aluminum (the bottom of a soda can?) strapped onto their heads with shoelaces. They were even tapping it to turn it on and off!
Peace Corps gave us this book titled “Where There is No Doctor” about basic medical care for various ailments. This is an excerpt from page 126, which also includes a section titled “Fat People,” but this is from the lower section titled “Constipation”: “If a baby is severely constipated, put a little cooking oil up the rectum (asshole). Or, if necessary, gently break up and remove the hard shit with a greased finger.” I’m not doubting the effectiveness of the method, but I can’t help but question the word choice…
It’s fun to think that the people who will be coming with Group 7 next June/July are starting to get their invitations, or at least going through the application and interview process right now. We were all overwhelmed with the level of excitement of the Group 5 people here when we showed up, but now I completely understand. I’ve not even been here for 4 months and I’m already contemplating where people will sleep when they come to visit my site during training…I can’t imagine how excited I’ll be come June of next year. (If you’re Group 7 and you’re reading this, Facebook me or something!)
Boca and I have a date with a bucket and some flea shampoo on Saturday, which should be a fun experience. The dog has never had a bath before, but I plan on rewarding her with actual dog food afterwards, and my bhutis have said they’d do it so they get bitten and not me, so that’s good. They think I’m ridiculous for wanting to bathe the dog, but they bathe the cows. Why do they bathe the cows? Because the insects bother them. I don’t see how the dog is any different.
The other day I ran into a man on my way home who knew me by name, so I walked with him for a little while. As per my earlier blog, our conversation covered the usual topics: why I’m not married, why I won’t marry him and why I won’t give him money. And then he said: “But you must have children. When I saw you from behind I knew that you had at least 3 children because I looked at your body and thought you had to be the mother of at least 3 children. You have hips as wide as the mother of 3.” Why, thank you! He even offered to do me the “favor” of fathering a child for me. If I never get hit on again in the rest of my life, I think I’ll be okay with that.
In other news, I added a can of tuna and some garlic to Kraft Mac & Cheese (sent by my wonderful parents) and it’s basically the best thing ever. How did I never discover this in college? I mean, it does smell a little like cat food, but it sure beats eating a baked potato with rosemary on it, which wouldn’t be so bad if I had some butter or something. I have made some pretty interesting concoctions, though, especially since I finally have herbs growing in my garden. That means that everything I cook tastes like rosemary, basil and cilantro. But mostly rosemary because that’s my favorite, I think.
The other night I led an impromptu exercise class for a small herd of children. We did crunches and push-ups and leg lifts and squats and stretches, and I’d like to brag that I was better at all of those things than them. Of course, they can probably carry a bucket of water on their heads and I can’t.
I want to get a dog. But I have no idea what it takes to get said hypothetical dog back to the US. Or what I’ll do with it once I get it there. And nobody seems to be able to help me with that, including the person at the embassy who deals with animal transport for diplomats. But I keep thinking about all the cuddling and English-speaking I’d do with this dog and I can’t help but lean toward just doing it and worrying about the consequences later. And it’s not like I haven’t tried…I spent all afternoon calling places trying to figure it out. I called the embassy and a “the office of the chief vet of Swaziland” and the airlines. My favorite part was when I was talking to the head of the cargo department at South African Airlines and I was asking if they transport live animals like dogs and she was quite suspicious of me. “Why do you want to know if I have a dog? Where do you live? I have a dog and he is a good guard dog. Why do you want to know if I have a dog?” Uh…okay. At that point the line got cut off. Or maybe she hung up on me. Either way I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m trying to break into her house.

Oh yeah, VOTE. I’m trying, but my absentee ballot still hasn’t come. (Please note, Shawnee County Commissioner of Elections.) And I’d prefer if you’d vote for Obama, but I suppose you can vote for whoever you want as long as you vote. We’ll be celebrating (hopefully celebrating is the right word, and not mourning) the election in a few weeks from the comfort of Swaziland’s premier backpacker hostel, complete with DSTV (we think). And happy still forthcoming birthday to Tory, who is amazing and whose birthday I’m afraid I will forget so I’m going to mention it incessantly. And HI BRITTANY’S MOM! And possibly Connor’s parents, too.

Yep, that’s all. Ncesi (sorry) for making you read so much, but what else have I got to do with myself? Maybe if I had a dog…but I’ll to try to fix up the one I have before I get a new one.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Condoms? Yes, they live at the shop down the road.

So I’ve been conducting surveys at the high school regarding attitudes toward HIV/AIDS, including questions like “If you found out you were HIV-positive would you want it to remain a secret?” and “Can you get HIV from sharing a meal with someone who is HIV-positive?” One of the questions is “Do you know where to get a condom?” and I’ve had some pretty humorous answers, including the title of this blog. Another was “Yes, in the glossary at the back of the book.” I love my job.

Apparently not everyone loves the job, though. I found out that this week my two closest volunteers, with whom I used to share lunch at the fantastic Hluti CafĂ©, have decided to Early Terminate, or ET, which means that by the time you read this I will have been abandoned. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, I guess, but still. For entirely selfish reasons it stinks that they’re gone (example: they both lived on really good bus routes, which would have made it easy to access the Lubombo region), but I suppose their happiness and mental well-being are a little more important than convenient transport for me. But only a little. Either way, I wish them the best and I hope they put their pictures on Webshots or something so I can steal them. (Please note.) Yep, now we’re down to 33.

This past weekend was a nice break from, well, the rest of my life minus the weekend. (It’s not really a break from anything, since I’m not stressed and my life isn’t mundane or routine or anything, but every once in a while it’s really nice to hang out with native English speakers.) Friday I went up to Mbabane to visit Brittany (hi Brittany’s mom!), and we spent the evening watching “Notting Hill” (except the last 20 minutes because my laptop battery died and she doesn’t have electricity) and eating tuna melts and drinking cheap red wine out of a box with a hole in it so that the bag squirted all over the floor instead of in the mug (yes, mug…we’re that classy). It’s nice to see other peoples’ new homes and meet their bhutis and sisis and see their communities. And it gives me a little context for texts and stories about the grueling hike to the sitolo/school/bus stop/etc. Saturday I went to another volunteer’s house in the Lubombo region for a small birthday celebration involving a vegetable tray and French onion dip and grilled cheese sandwiches, which is pretty much the way to my heart. We watched “Labyrinth” and ate brie and crackers (!!!!) and drank all of his filtered water, then I returned home to realize how lonely it is all by myself in the Siberia of Swaziland. (Not that it’s cold, but it’s pretty isolated…measured mostly by my proximity to grocery stores selling dairy products.) I WAS pleasantly surprised to see that my garden had turned into a jungle of sorts in my absence and that my green beans finally sprouted so I can pull up those things I previously thought were green beans because, well, they were weeds. I also bought a scale in Mbabane (so that I can weigh myself in kilos, like that means anything to me), which is apparently a very rare purchase because the word got out and I’ve had neighbors knocking on my door to weigh themselves. And so far everyone weighs infinitely less than me. I also bought a bag of raisins, which my family thinks is candy. It makes me feel like a dentist on Halloween.

On Sunday night I read the entirety of “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss, which is my favorite of all the books I’ve read here. Read it. I also resolved to end this week with a sense of accomplishment. (My life too, but I’m going one step at a time here.)

Monday morning at 7am I received a lovely text from one of the teachers at the high school saying “I’m in Mbabane today, please come teach my English classes at 8 and 12.” Um, okay. I conducted my HIV attitudes surveys and talked to them about America (they thought Brazil was a state, which is why I should know all about soccer, and no I don’t know Chris Brown). It was a good time. Tuesday I got up bright and early for the hour-plus walk to the clinic to count pills with MSF and hang out. (It’s sad that my life has come to hanging out at the clinic, but they seem to have an unlimited supply of tea, bread and peanut butter!) The nurse I had previously worked with, whose name sounds like “sneak away” (Sinikiwe?) is on maternity leave or something so I was the only one counting pills. There was an American woman who I assume was a nurse and was conducting the check-ups in English (another nurse was translating), which was quite a learning experience for me since I could actually understand what she was asking and what the patients were answering. While I sat there counting pills (THOUSANDS of pills) the two nurses saw 21 patients for ARV day, some of whom were picking up medicines for their children or family members.

I think today was the first time I was actually shocked at the impact of HIV/AIDS on society here. One patient, a 13-year-old boy, had been on ARVs for over a year and had a rapidly decreasing CD4 count. The nurse asked him about his adherence to his ARVs which, judging by the number of leftover pills he brought in, was not very good. He admitted to her that sometimes he does not take them when he has had nothing to eat all day. It’s not that he didn’t know he should be, he literally couldn’t. And he wasn’t the only one. Later we had a young woman come in to collect ARVs for herself, her 5-year-old son and her 3-year-old daughter. She decided to get tested for HIV last year after her husband died without ever being tested, and she was shocked to find out that she and her kids were all positive. (The rate of transmission from mother to child in Swaziland is MUCH higher than it should be, considering the availability of preventative drugs. But you have to know you’re HIV-positive to know you need it. Clinics are now trying to test 100% of pregnant women, but they can’t force people to test, and besides many never visit a clinic for pre-natal care or deliver at home where the risk of transmission is much higher.) Others were collecting ARVs on behalf of a friend or relative who worked in South Africa as a domestic worker or in the mines, but who couldn’t afford to come in once a month for the check-up because they would lose their jobs if they left South Africa during the week. (I guess MSF is trying to make it possible for Swazi citizens to get ARVs at clinics in South Africa so they don’t have to travel, but since the drugs are provided for free by the government, it’s a tough sell.) It is a bit awkward, though, since my role in the community is a bit more permanent, that I be sitting in on ART distribution and interviews because many of the people who come in (and are obviously HIV-positive) have not disclosed to the community, or even to their families. Wednesday morning I saw a young man I recognized and said hello, and he made some comment about how I obviously recognized him from the ARV clinic the day before. Oops…I recognize 80% of my community for no particular reason, and I just figured that’s how I knew him. He didn’t seem upset, and instead we talked about the support group, which he decided to join yesterday. But what if someone else is uncomfortable with me knowing their status? I’m obviously not going to tell anyone, but maybe they don’t know that. And what if someone I know (like my family members) come in to the clinic to refill on a day I’m there? I really don’t think it’s appropriate for me to sit in on the “do you have diarrhea from the ARVs?” and “are you SURE there’s no way you could be pregnant?” questions if I know the person. And as I get to know the community a bit more, it’s going to be harder and harder for me to avoid everyone I know.

On Wednesday, after a morning of conducting oral interviews, I ran into town briefly for fried chicken (yum!) and to pick up my dresser, which was FINALLY done, after which I trekked back to the clinic to talk to the head nurse for an extended period of time about everything I could think of. I’d like to brag that I walked for about 4 hours today, which means that I deserve every last Tootsie Roll I ate this evening (thanks, Grandma!). The interview was pretty informal since I’ve met her on several occasions (mostly at tea), so we kind of just talked while I took notes. I certainly learned a lot, though. For example, the clinic, which has a full-time staff of 3 nurses and one cleaning lady, sees between 600 and 1000 patients a month. They test around 100 people a month, not counting pregnant women, and draw blood from between 40 and 75 people a month to run CD4 tests. I guess 15-20% of the people they test are positive, most of whom are in their early twenties (they get infected at university or after moving to the city/South Africa in search of work). I found out about a lot of the services for HIV-positive people going on in the community. For example, there are 4 community educators who do home-based care and function as the executive board for the support group. She said they wanted to start a garden for the support group, and that they have a fenced-in area to do it, but they need motivation and a water tank. That’s easy enough. They also, apparently, have an established “chicken run” (isn’t it a chicken coop? Chicken Run is a movie…) that they just need chickens for so they can breed the support group members some protein. Again, that seems easy enough. She also had some good ideas about starting a youth center to do after-school activities (sports, snacks, exercise classes, ping-pong, etc.) and starting a youth club to educate HIV/AIDS peer educators. She also tipped me off to the best place to find the community leaders (they all meet informally at a shop on Wednesday mornings) and gave me some insight into the feeding programs that, theoretically, happen at the NCPs. I think it was a really good starting point for me, and I hope to talk to the Bucopho (my old counterpart) about all of the things I now have brewing in my head. It’s nice to feel like the community needs me and to see that there are things that I actually WANT to do (ie, garden, youth club) that the community wants.

On Wednesday some people from Peace Corps came to install a lightening rod (a tall metal thing with a 3 foot long copper thing sticking off the end, attached with a zip tie) at my homestead and they brought a package for me from the Mbabane office. Yay! So I opened it excitedly and while I was ripping into it a Tic Tac fell out. An orange one. Yum. So I immediately ate it almost without tasting it, only to find out that there was no box of Tic Tacs in the package. Um, that was a Tic Tac, right?? I got a little freaked out about it and called my mother (the sender of the package) only to find out that apparently the package was pilfered at customs and some jerks took about half my Crystal Light (all but two of the blueberry white tea--my favorite!) and something metal and my Tic Tacs and possibly something else of importance, but maybe not. I feel so violated.

Thursday I went to the primary school bright and early (7am I was there) to attend Thursday morning Chapel and to introduce myself to the primary school students. I show up and I'm ushered into the back pew of the chapel (there are only 4 pews, everyone else brings their chair from their classroom) and I sit there for about 10 minutes. Then I hear the lady who is preaching saying my name, and motioning for me to come up. I figure it's time for my introduction, which I've been practicing in siSwati, so I go up. She points at her watch and tells me to be done by 8:20. Um, it's only 7:30. I think I'll be done by 7:35. So then all the teachers and staff go sit down and leave me with a chapel full of 5 to 17-year-olds (approximately 350 of them), half of whom speak decent English and half of whom are afraid of me because I'm white. I wasn't even about to wing this one, so I just talked for about 10 minutes about myself, my family, America, college, what my job is, etc. All of which I did in perfect siSwanglish. And everyone laughed. Finally I called the other teacher back up and she said something like "well we didn't bring our bibles today because Phindi was supposed to be teaching, but since I guess she didn't want to today we'll talk about how sex is a sin" and then proceeded to yell at them in true preacher style about how you go to hell if you have sex and how HIV is God's way of punishing people who have sex before marriage. Cool! And I sat in the back with this little kid named Justin who is half white (his father was a Mormon missionary, supposedly) and who only speaks English so he's about as lost as I am with everything. It was a good time. He also really enjoys the fact that we have basically the same name (it's pronounced the same to siSwati speakers).

I think my proudest accomplishment is that I took the "shortcut" to the school on Thursday morning, which literally cuts the walking time in half. I think it burns twice the calories, though, because rather than walking AROUND the enormous valley, I walked down into it and back up. I crossed one river, two streams and a dried-out river bed, and about fell on my butt on steep inclines twice. Then some Form 4 kid who obviously makes the hike twice a day caught up to me and wanted to talk. I was barely able to breathe, and he wanted to make smalltalk! I was also sweating quite unattractively, which is why I bathe when I get back from school and not before. But he did tell me that he thought I was a better teacher than the regular teacher, which is flattering. Maybe he just means better looking, but I'll take what I can get.

Also, after 3 weeks of leaving increasingly frustrated messages with the GSO at the US Embassy in Swaziland, I finally got in touch with someone who had some vague idea of what it would take (money, apparently) to get a dog here and take it back to the US with me at the end of my two years, but I have to wait for someone named Riley to give me the official policy. Apparently the cheap shipping of pets courtesy of the US Government is part of the deluxe employee package, which also comes with diplomatic immunity, and I’m just not that special. In Mbabane this weekend I happened upon a book sale benefiting the Animal Welfare Society of Swaziland, which adopts abused/abandoned dogs and cats to loving homes. I’m a loving home!! I think it’s selfish of me NOT to get a dog. It’s really not practical, I guess, but at least I know a dog wouldn’t ET. There's a cat right outside the internet cafe and it's got a million little kittens and I've got some extra room in my bag...I could totally snatch one and nobody would ever notice. Instead, though, I think I'm going to go buy a live chicken and have my sisis teach me how to kill/pluck/butcher it. I asked if they would and they laughed at me because I'm 22 and I don't know how to do it. I'd be a terrible Swazi wife.

That's all.

Send me a letter and I’ll write you one back. Good deal, right?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Oh, Africa.

So, I’m learning about this gardening business as I go. For example, I learned that when you use cow manure to fertilize, that every seed the cow ate sprouts before the seeds you planted decide to. Or at least I think it’s the seeds from the cow manure because it’s had only been 3 days and it says my seeds will sprout in 7-10 days. Unfortunately I don’t know what green bean sprouts look like and they’re growing from the same spot where I put the green bean seeds, so I guess I’ll just leave them until I can figure it out. Maybe plants grow extra fast in Swaziland to compensate for the fact that everything else takes twice as long as it should. Seems logical. Or maybe I should ask my 4-year-old bhuti for help since I’m pretty sure he knows more about gardening than me.

Last Saturday I went to the youth club meeting in Nhlangano. It’s officially called the Shiselweni Regional Youth HIV/AIDS Club, and it’s open to 7 to 21-year-olds infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS. Many of the kids have lost one or both parents to AIDS, and a number of them are HIV-positive, though they may or may not know. The group has met monthly since January and has a regular attendance of at least 25, but thanks to the fantastic advertising of my fellow volunteers there were about 40 kids there, including a good number of new kids. Over the past meetings, the kids have learned about parts of the body, nutrition, the function of the immune system, emotions (love vs. lust, etc.) and how to cope with anger without violence. This week we (well, our Swazi counterparts who speak siSwati) were talking with the kids about journaling as a way to work through complicated feelings like grief and jealousy. We showed them some examples of journals and then assembled all the little kids to make journals of their own with folded paper bound by ribbon (thanks to the excellent ribbon-tying skills of yours truly). They decorated the covers with stickers, glitter, foam letters spelling their names, and pictures cut out of magazines. Unfortunately the only magazines we had were Newsweeks, so they ended up with some pretty weird decorations on their journals. Did any of you see the weird monster thing that supposedly washed up on the beach somewhere in New England? Yeah, well we had two copies of that issue, so two little kids have that on their journals. How pretty! Others ended up with pictures of Barack Obama from college, or pictures of vacuum cleaners and other foreign objects. I think my favorite was a kid who wanted us to cut out a big picture of the KKK, which we talked him out of. Instead he got a flock of sheep standing in the snow. A good trade, if you ask me.

I would also like to point out that, as much as PEPFAR is criticized for its focus on an abstinence-only approach to HIV/AIDS mitigation (which I think is ridiculous, by the way), PEPFAR provides the kids reimbursement for transport costs and helps provide basic supplies like the paper and ribbon (the Newsweeks were provided courtesy of Newsweek, apparently, who provides free subscriptions for all Peace Corps Volunteers. Or something.). As a matter of fact, a lot of the projects we do here in Swaziland are funded by PEPFAR, as Swaziland is one of the largest recipients of PEPFAR funds. I guess the government of Swaziland is working with Congress to try to get the mandate here extended on a sort of “state of emergency” basis to allow funds to support a wider variety of projects, including providing support for OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) and other means of indirect HIV/AIDS mitigation or impact relief. And that’s a step in the right direction, I think.

Sunday the carpenter who made my furniture came over to hang my new door since it takes tools that I don’t have to drill holes in a solid door. Unfortunately the door isn’t the same size as the door frame (as in the door frame isn’t exactly rectangular) so he couldn’t finish it until he could get a “plane.” I’m not entirely sure what that is. All I know is that it doesn’t have anything to do with sandpaper, which I have. (Why? Because I’m American and I like to store things I’ll never need, like sandpaper and Jell-O. And because I needed about 4 inches of it and you can only buy it in increments of 5 meters. So if you know anyone in Swaziland who needs sandpaper, I can hook them up.) He finally came back on Tuesday with his “plane” (apparently a razor blade-type thing attached to a handle that you run along an almost flat part of wood to make it smooth…like really efficient sandpaper) and put up my door, which is now quite nice.

While he was working on my door (for 5 hours) we talked a lot about a support group he belongs to that is for HIV-positive adults and child heads of household (children who are taking care of siblings because their parents have died). Apparently they have a group of about 45 people and they’re looking to start an income-generating project because many of the members are too sick to work. Last year, I guess they each donated a chicken to start a chicken-breeding and egg-selling project, but then they ran out of money to feed the chickens and they ran out of food so they each took back their one chicken and ate it. I’m hoping that maybe I can work with them to find alternative income-generating projects, or to successfully implement the chicken thing. I asked if the group was currently run by MSF or Red Cross or something and he said it was “started by the community and it’s still run by the community because the people realized that they needed organization to beat this thing.” Excellent. That’s exactly the kind of motivation we’re looking to support! And just to comment on how nice my family is, they fed him—the carpenter working on MY door—an enormous portion of maize meal porridge, rice, gravy, cabbage and BEEF. That’s a special occasion meal, and they didn’t even know him! I could understand if he was volunteering his time, but he got paid AND got meat out of the deal. My family’s so nice…

I also learned on Sunday that the dog is taking advantage of me because she knows I won’t hit her or throw rocks at her. When my door was out of commission all morning she kept coming in and I kept pushing her out with my foot and yelling at her and saying “bakushaya” (I’ll beat you!) because that’s what the other people in my family do and she goes away with her tail between her legs. But with me she just stands about 2 feet outside my house, counts to 5 and comes back in, tail wagging. And she’s right—I’m NOT going to hit her. But anyone who sees us playing this little game comes over and hits her for me. And then I feel sorry for her so I feed her and it starts all over again. I play a similar game with the baby goat, but she just comes in to sniff stuff. And I’ve learned to keep my produce out of goat’s reach.

I’ve run into my former-counterpart-turned-bucopho a few times in the past week, and he has promised that his old position will be filled in the next 2 weeks. Apparently they interviewed two people for the job and just have to choose between them and notify them. Since everything takes way longer than it should in Swaziland, that means about 2 weeks. I’ll give them until the end of October. Maybe they’ll decide to start earlier if they know the job includes a free American sidekick!

Even without a counterpart I think I’m integrating alright. I mean, my silk-blend Ann Taylor cardigan is drying over the barbed wire fence as I write this. If that’s not integrating into Swazi culture, I don’t know what is. Honestly I couldn’t think of a worse place to dry clothes…it makes holes in clothes and it rusts. At least it gives me things to do in the evenings after I do laundry, and I’m getting pretty good at patching up barbed-wire holes. I have grand plans to build a clothesline for myself, but I think the more immediate plan is just to not do laundry.

I taught 6 English classes at the high school this week, which consisted entirely of oral exams in English. I was originally given 3 topics to discuss (films, jobs in healthcare and sports) with all 80 students in Form 4 (I talk to them for 3-5 minutes about their interests, then decide on a topic to give them for the graded part of the exam, which we talk about for 10 minutes or so). But on Monday I had 3 students in a row tell me that they were interested in science and wanted to be doctors, meaning that they’d memorized or practiced a good conversation for the “working in healthcare” topic. I was bored with it, so I gave the third boy the “sports” topic and he said something like “I think you gave me the wrong topic—I don’t know how to talk about this one.” So I asked the teacher for all the topics he had so I could mix it up a bit more. At this point I have a stock of about 10 topics, but a lot of them are completely irrelevant to Swazi school children. (They’re from Cambridge University and intended for non-native English speakers testing into British schools.) Some of the inappropriate topics include clothes shopping (most kids have a school uniform and another outfit), noise pollution (I don’t think they mean roosters), family vacations (I’ve seen more of Swaziland than most of these students and most have never left the country, unless they’re refugees from Mozambique or Zimbabwe, in which case they probably don’t vacation much) and the technological revolution’s impact on the workplace (most of these kids have no employed family members, and they’ve probably never used a computer so it’s impossible to have a 10 minute discussion about the impact of the internet). One of the topics, which I used only once, was about telling lies, which asks us to discuss situations in which it is okay to lie and when it is not. The student I was talking to told me “I am Christian and I believe that even talking about lying is a sin.” Excellent…that conversation lasted a painful 3 minutes, during which I learned when you should be honest (always) and what happens if you are not (damnation). But I have learned a significant amount about the students and about Swaziland through the conversations. Like over half of the students board at the school, and of those who live in the area and are “dayschoolers,” only about half of them live with their families (the other half live with family friends). Some of them have talked openly about the impact of HIV/AIDS on their families when we start talking about what they do in their free time. I would never expect an answer of “I don’t have much free time because I’m taking care of all my younger siblings since our parents died” or “I don’t visit my family over holidays because they all died of AIDS,” but I’ve definitely had all of those answers. And it’s so normal in this society that it scares me.

In related sad news, apparently my babe’s sister died on Thursday after a long battle with an unspecified illness (AIDS?), leaving behind her 3 young children who are currently coloring in my room (they’re staying with us, I guess). My babe returned early from South Africa to make arrangements for the funeral this Sunday and I offered him my condolences, but he said something like “it’s nature, and if we mourned every time someone in our family died we’d always be crying.” And it’s true. Of the 8 children currently in my house (they’re wallpapering my room with the pictures they’re coloring), all of them have lost at least one parent and three have lost both. It’s terrible, I know, but I guess at a certain point you just get used to it.

On a much less serious note, I am getting used to the constant barrage of sexual harassment and marriage proposals that have become my everyday life here. When I meet a new person, regardless of age or gender, my first encounter usually involves confusion over my name (no, your REAL name), amazement at the fact that I’ll be here for 2 years, a request for money/candy/sponsorship for school and an inquiry into whether I’m married or not. If the person is male and between the ages of 14 and 60, he then proposes marriage to me. I’ve started telling people that I’m married and my husband is in America (can somebody male please come visit me so I can prove this?) and they insist that I can still sleep with them and my husband will never know. At this point I get annoyed and tell them a firm “no” or “angifuni” (I don’t want it/you) and they begin to confess their love to me. Right. I think my first lesson as a Life Skills teacher (which will be in January) will be distinguishing love from lust. Maybe next time I’ll tell them “yes” and see what happens. At least that would be a new conversation.

So right now my house looks like a preschool classroom. My sister Erin sent me three coloring books—Sesame Street, Thomas the Tank Engine and Mickey Mouse—and I currently have about 25 coloring pages on my walls, courtesy of my bhutis and sisis and the neighbors. The past week we’ve been hanging out in my house for a bit every evening, either coloring pictures or reading through magazines (or looking at the pictures, as the case may be), working on homework or playing cards, and I’ve developed a pretty good relationship with them. Sure, they stare at me awkwardly when I start belting out Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” along with the radio, but I don’t mind. And one of my bhutis, MK, even dances for me when I sing. It keeps me sane. (At least according to Peace Corps standards, which is certifiably nuts in the real world.) And if they’re judging me, they’re doing it in siSwati so I don’t understand it anyway.

Thursday night my sisi, Londiwe, came home with her English workbook to show me. We had been working on a number of short writing exercises throughout the week, and I’d been really impressed with her work ethic. And it clearly paid off. She got a check (check means correct) on every single exercise for the week, which was a first for her and she was so proud to show it off to ANYONE who would look. And I SWEAR I wasn’t giving her the answers, just talking her through to the right ones. In exchange she’s been helping me with siSwati and she taught me how to find the area of a triangle because I’m terrible at geometry. Earlier in the week she spent 45 minutes at my table writing a 1-page composition, which she wanted me to edit. The topic of the composition was “My Favorite Person” and she wrote about me, which was really flattering. In very proper English she talked about how I help her with English homework, how I like to eat Jungle Oats (a breakfast food), how I always remind them to brush their teeth and how I like dogs. It was really sweet!!

Thursday I also had the pleasure of visiting the library at the high school. It’s a pretty big building, so I had high hopes, but the room consisted of one bookshelf full of dusty books, a stack of gospel choir books and two construction workers taking a tea break from their finishing of the English lab. I’d say there were probably 200 books in there, but I’d also bet that 198 of them were older than me. The walls need to be painted badly, except for the one with a giant impala painted on it (what??), and the floor shows evidence of past water damage (that’s a problem), but the place is easily accessible and large enough to function as a library at some point. Hopefully that will happen while I’m here, but we’ll see.

That’s all I have for now. I’m heading up to Mbabane this weekend to go to the office and pick up packages (please???) and visit some other volunteers. And I have a new address!!! My very own PO Box. I AM somebody! So if you want to send letters or packages, send them to:

Justine Amos (or “Phindile Simelane”)
US Peace Corps
PO Box 158
Hluti S409
Swaziland, AFRICA

Oh, and HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY EZRA! And HAPPY early BIRTHDAY to my fantastic little, Tory, since I don’t know if I’ll have internet access again before her b-day. (And YAY for the Alpha Lambdas, too, who are super cute.)

That’s all for real now. Salani Kahle.