Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Getting (un)stranded in the Swaz

So IST officially ended on Saturday (please refer to poorly organized previous entry) and I spent about 4 hours in Manzini waiting to print photos and wasting time on the internet. In Manzini the price for 6 hours is the same as for 30 minutes in Nhlangano, and it’s WAY faster. Why would I not take advantage of that?

I finally left Manzini about half one (1:30) on a bus headed for Hluti. Since I’d never taken the bus before, I talked to the driver before getting on and made sure that it was actually going to Hluti, and to make sure it was reasonably priced. Yes, he assured me, the bus was going to Hluti for E45. Excellent. So I choose a seat next to a crazy woman who, after handing me a huge stack of free advertisement papers she had stolen from a Walgreens-type store in Manzini, proceeded to attack me with a musky-smelling perfume she was haggling for with some guy, but chose to spray all over me instead of buying. Oh, but wait, there’s more! Even though I had paid my E45 to Hluti, when we got to Siphofaneni (about halfway there), the bus driver informed me that the bus would NOT, in fact, be continuing on to Hluti, but would go to Matata and turn around and go back to Manzini. Being a Saturday, I wasn’t sure if I had any way to get from Matata to Hluti, so I got off at Siphofaneni (I’d been there before, never to Matata, so it was a little less scary) and started searching desperately for another way home.

Plan B: Take the 3:30 Malangeni bus home to Hluti. Unfortunately, because of a car accident on the one-way bridge between Siphofaneni and Hluti, that bus would never get me home before dark. Apparently a drunk man drove his car off the side of a bridge and it was hanging over the side, tangled in guard rail and blocking the whole lane, so the police had to wait for the only guy in town with a tractor to finish plowing his field to come pull the car off the bridge. This meant that the bus that normally gets into Hluti by 6:15 would probably get there by 8:00, and it gets dark by 6:45. Okay, new plan.

Plan C: Find another female PCV in the area to stay with. This is why it’s really really good to know who lives in each area of the country and why I think Peace Corps should give each volunteer a map with the other volunteers’ locations on it! Anyway, I texted Nicole (and Serena, who never got my text of desperation because of a failed network connection, stupid MTN). Nicole met me in Siphofaneni and treated me to ginger ale and a popsicle out of a plastic bag (they put juice in a tied-off plastic sack and freeze it into a popsicle-like thing…I’ll probably get giardia now, but I was thirsty and it was delicious). Unfortunately for me, though, she and the other female volunteer in the area were attending a Vegas showgirl-themed birthday/hot tub party at some guy’s house and, honestly, I was NOT in the mood for that. I don’t think I would EVER be in the mood for that, actually. Still, I went back to her house for a few minutes so she could find her silver mini-dress and red stilettos (for real…) while I raided her DVD collection for RENT, exercise DVDs and the first season of Man vs. Wild. I guess I could have stayed there alone that night—her family was very nice—but I opted for something a little less awkward.

Plan D: Find ANY another volunteer in the area. Despite the terrible MTN network connection, I managed to get ahold of a Group 6 volunteer who lives between Siphofaneni and Hluti, and since the Malangeni bus was full (as in Plan B wouldn’t have worked even had it not been for the wreck because it was already full by the time it got to Siphofaneni) I hitched a ride to his community with some woman who gave me a free magazine and a beer (there’s no open container law in Swaziland). Since I’d visited before, I easily found my way to his house. Unfortunately, though, I’m female and he’s male, which is something of a problem in Swaziland. After explaining to his Babe (father) that, no, I am NOT his wife and other things (how I ended up at his homestead, why I’m in Swaziland, how I would love to be a guest teacher at his school sometime, etc.), we made grilled cheese and tomato soup and watched 1408 (a marginally scary movie starring John Cusack) and tried to negotiate the logistics of taking a bucket bath with a guest in the house (impossible by all accounts, for the record), and waited for Sunday so I could attempt the journey home again.

All in all, it turned out alright. Except since I couldn’t manage to get a message home to my host family to tell them I was alive (curse you, MTN), my Make (mother) assumed that I had decided not to come back and was surprised and very happy to see me show up on Sunday evening after a long journey back. And I had to go all the way back to Manzini to get back to my site (because I’m dumb and missed the bus to Hluti) so instead of paying E15 to get home I paid like E65. But I made it home in one piece and all I have to show for my adventure is an inexplicably large bruise on my right knee. And my house wasn’t even flooded/infested with bats/smelly when I got home! Amazing.

It’s really good to be home after so long away, though. And even better that it actually feels like home. Plus, now I have RENT and Man vs. Wild to watch!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

End of Camp

So it's Saturday after in-service training (IST) and I'm sitting in an internet cafe in Manzini trying to postpone my departure back to my village. For the last week I've been surrounded by all 32 of my friends and the prospect of eating and watching movies alone tonight is a little sad. Honestly though, being surrounded by people after living alone for so long is a little overwhelming so I'm not entirely dreading going home. Plus, after a week of classes on the reason I'm here (Swaziland, HIV/AIDS, education, Peace Corps, etc.) I'm feeling kind of inspired to do actual work. It was a fun week, though, complete with a jika-ma-jika (that's a show like "so you think you can dance") dance competition, haircuts for most people from the 2 amateur stylists in the group, and lots of sharing of awkward/funny stories.

I also watched the documentary "Without the King," which is officially banned in Swaziland (why did the king sit for an interview for it?). It's basically about the juxtoposition of the massive wealth of the king and royal family and the poverty of the country. It's interesting. The best part is when the princess beatboxes in the beginning. You should watch it.

This coming week we're having a big Thanksgiving celebration at one of the volunteers' houses, for which I'm preparing deviled eggs. I'm not sure how I'm going to do that without a fridge, but we'll see. Life in Swaziland is a challenge.

Also, I have a little whining to do. First, there were fleas at the place we stayed and I got bit by a bunch of them and one of the bites on my right arm swelled up into a big blister and it was gross and painful and now it's just gross. And I'm a freak because most people don't have that reaction to flea bites, apparently, as evidenced by all the other volunteers. Second, I used someone else's face wash and had a terrible allergic reaction to it and I look like a freak. But other than that it was a good week.

That's all from me. Final thought: If you want to send me something, make it photos because I really like them and my walls are naked.

Love from the Swaz! I'll post photos next week, maybe.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


So this whole week is IST (in-service training), which means that all of Group 6 is up in Manzini for the week, Sunday to Saturday. So far it's been amazing, if tiring. I didn't realize how much my attention span has deteriorated over the past few months, but sitting in a classroom for a whole 8 hours straight (even with an hour lunch break and 2 30 minute tea breaks and plenty of cookies and muffins) is exhausting! It might also be that we're only sleeping 6 hours a night instead of the usual 10. Or something. (So sorry in advance for the lack of coherence of this entry because it's not pre-written and edited!)

Most of the week we're focusing on technical aspects of Peace Corps, like how to write grant proposals or the specifics of HIV/AIDS education or how to connect with local NGOs and other resources. Today we had our first speaker panel, two women from Baylor Clinic (Baylor Univ has a big program here...amazing!) who were HIV-positive and came to talk about their experiences.

And it was heartbreakingly realistic. One woman, Nomsa, tested positive in 2003 during a routine pre-natal visit to the clinic, and when she told her husband he kicked her out of the house because he didn't want her disease in his house. So she was recently positive, unsure about how sick she was, pregnant and suddenly alone, unemployed and homeless. I can't even imagine how difficult that must have been for her. The other, Zandile (I think), tested in 2003 also after a convincing lecture from her pastor, and she later found out she was pregnant. After testing, her husband told her not to tell him because it was "her business" and he didn't care. It's frustrating to see these two women talking about their experiences, especially since I can't imagine a kind of relationship (especially with a HUSBAND) where there would be such a lack of support. I understand why people are reluctant to test...

But they talked about how being open about their status has been a positive experience and how they've learned to use it to teach other people that there is life after a positive test and that there are SO many worse things in life. Like being positive and not knowing and passing it on to a child when it's easily preventable. I really admire women like those and, while I know they exist in my community (one in particular, Nombuso), I really wish there were more like them to be a face for positive living.

In other news, it's been a fantastic week of abundant food and showers and general social interaction. We're not sure what to do with ourselves when we're constantly surrounded by people, but I'm loving every minute of it. I can't believe we've been here for 5 months already!

Also note that if you are ever talking to a group of PCVs and you say something like "the big enchalada" that nobody will be paying attention for like 10 minutes because you said "enchalada" and they're off in lala land thinking about salsa and quesadillas and mojitos.

That's all for now.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Waterproof (a poem)

Torrential rains are only funny
When my waterproof watch
Is actually waterproof,
When I remember the poncho
Of my waterproof backpack,
When my waterproof camera case
Doesn’t soak through.

Torrential rains are only funny
When there are no dead termites
In my sopping wet hair,
When I have the foresight
To wear waterproof shoes,
When I have an umbrella
Or my waterproof jacket.

I need an umbrella.
And a new watch.
It’s 7:10 last Wednesday.


Okay, so I’m not a poet. But I AM an idiot. Turns out the poncho that makes my backpack super waterproof was in the bag the whole time and I didn’t realize it until days later, so all this could have been prevented. Except, of course, the termites. Welcome to Swaziland. (Good news, though, is that my camera dried out so it works now.)

In related news, the storm of the century, which happened Friday evening, was the scariest thing I've ever seen. It was perfectly nice outside, then there was this big roaring thunder-like thing that wasn't thunder but turned out was a HUGE (and I mean HUGE) gust of wind that actually blew the roof off my neighbor's house (yeah, HUGE). This was followed almost immediately by torrential rains (see above) that flooded my house because when it happened I was in the process of shaving down the side of my door because it had swelled and I couldn't get it closed, which means I didn't have a door handle on it and the rain and wind kept blowing it open despite the fact that there was 40 liters of water up against the door. That's how ridiculous it was. So after about 15 minutes of strong winds and rain (during which I cuddled with the dog who had taken refuge from the rain in my house, which now smells like wet dog) it stopped and the sun came out and it was like nothing had ever happened. Except that Hlengiwe's house had no roof (and her mother wasn't home so the oldest person on the homestead was 14 and they had nowhere to sleep with a roof) and my garden was a pool and my house was a swamp (I was planning on mopping the floor anyway so it wasn't really a big deal). But yeah, it was absolutely UNREAL the amount of rain that fell in about 15 minutes. And the WIND! It was incredible.

That's all. Love from the Swaz.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Best Week Ever / This is Africa / War on Bats, cont.

So when Obama said something about people “gathered around their radios in the forgotten corners of the world” listening to election results, I think he was talking about Peace Corps Swaziland. Except we were fancy enough to have a TV with satellite so we could watch CNN (at an amazing hostel for less than $10 a night)! We all (as in 28 of the 33 of us in Group 6) met up in Mbabane for the best election party ever which consisted of CNN (broadcast from London initially because of the time difference…) from about 4pm Tuesday evening to 7am Wednesday morning, pizza, beer (well, wine because I don’t drink beer) and an enormous slumber party (the kind where you don’t actually sleep). The election results didn’t actually start coming in until 2am, and Obama spoke at 6:30, at which point we were all so exhausted we were crying with joy. It was an incredible experience and I really missed being home in DC because I totally would have been one of those obnoxious people causing a ruckus outside the White House. Oh, DC…I miss you and your 93% Democratic vote. But I have to say it was pretty amazing to be surrounded entirely by liberal Democrats on a night like that and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have shared it with. Peace Corps is amazing. The next morning, still wearing my Obama ’08 shirt, I was surprised at the number of Swazis who congratulated me on my country’s good decision. I know, I’m proud. (But how did they know? It wasn’t even in the newspaper until Thursday!) And also, CNN, what was that “hologram” business? It made for really amusing Star Wars jokes. Sad, though, that Will.I.Am was officially the first man (second person, but the first one was a woman) to be “broadcast by hologram.”

In other news, I taught my first big class the Thursday after the election. Having slept only about 6 hours of the previous 72, I was pretty nervous about my competency, and I had only prepared my lesson for about an hour the night before…and the lesson was an hour long. But it all worked out in the end. I was supposed to teach grades 5-7 and another teacher was going to take the younger kids who don’t speak English, but she didn’t show up so I had grades 2-7 for a grand total of just over 200 kids. That’s how things go in Swaziland, so I wasn’t surprised, really. After the head teacher had yelled at all of them to sit down and be quiet and listen to me, I got them all out of their chairs to play a game where each child gets a card with an X, O or triangle on it and they go around and shake hands with each other for a minute and then I explain what it means. If they had an X on the card it represented an HIV-positive person. Anyone who shook hands with that person had sex with them, and if they have a triangle they used a condom but an O they didn’t. It’s pretty dramatic to see how quickly it spreads…I started out with 7 X’s originally and there were over 30 by the time they had shaken hands with others. I did have to PEPFAR-ize it a little bit so that each handshake was an “high-risk encounter” with an HIV-positive person, and the triangles “knew how to protect themselves” from HIV since I’m funded by PEPFAR and not allowed to talk about condoms and I wasn’t really comfortable talking to 2nd graders about sex. Then we did an exercise where we talked about ways that HIV is spread and ways it isn’t, and I was impressed with what they knew overall. They thought you could get HIV from a mosquito bite, but they got all of the other ones right (as in you can’t get HIV from sitting next to someone in class, playing soccer with someone, hugging someone, sharing a meal, etc.). And when we discussed how you can protect yourself one girl said “if you don’t abstain, always use a condom!” And then I made them all repeat what that girl had said since I’m not technically allowed to say that, but they’re allowed to learn from their peers. Amazing.

I did also have what was probably the most embarrassing moment of my life that morning, though. I was teaching in the chapel (and, no, I didn’t get struck by lightening and I even sang along with some of the songs in English) so I was standing on a big platform at the front of the classroom, behind a big lectern that the preacher usually uses. I was pretty conscious of where the edge of the stage was (it was about 2 feet off the ground) and managed not to fall off the front of it while I was teaching, but I didn’t realize there was a back exit off the stage with a small, well-hidden staircase going down. At the end of my lesson, after I was pretty confident I had made it through, I stepped back so they could all see the amazing posters I had stuck to the walls and I landed 2 steps down the staircase and fell into the door (luckily it didn’t open or I’d have landed outside). Great! Swazis apologize for everything, so they responded with a synchronized chorus of “I’m sorry,” which made it even more embarrassing. I tried to just move on, but I know I was glowing red.

This past week has been pretty busy, all in all. I’ve been teaching “argumentative writing” to the Form 4s, which is a completely new concept to them even though in less than a year they have to take an examination on argumentative writing. But they seem to be getting it pretty well. I’m also teaching the Thursday morning lesson at the primary school and working at the clinic with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Tuesdays, and trying frantically to get my “homework” done in time to turn it in at In-Service Training. I have about a million pages of siSwati homework due on the 16th of November and my “Phase II report” about my community, which I didn’t start until the weekend before it was due. Whoops. I also got a new Gogo Centre Clerk this past week, which means that I finally have someone to use as a translator and tour guide, but it’s a bit late for that to be very helpful. I have learned, though, that in Swaziland it takes exactly 5 weeks to choose between 2 people they interview for a job. And I was supposed to meet with him on Friday but he didn’t show up. Welcome to Swaziland.

It's so easy to forget that I'm in Swaziland when I'm going through the everyday routine of life. Somehow it seems so normal. Until, of course, something absolutely ridiculous happens to remind me. On Tuesday night, after teaching, I headed up to Brittany's site to stay the night so I could visit the office early Wednesday morning. It was a fun night--we watched all of My Best Friend's Wedding and my computer battery didn't die!. But the next morning at about 5:30 we decided to head into the office to be the first ones on the computer. Easy enough. Except it was raining. Raining like crazy and I didn't have a rain jacket or an umbrella. And that's just problem number one. After standing at the bust stop for about 30 minutes, constantly battling the flying termites (problem number two) that were trying to fly into our eyes/ears/noses/hair, and bonding over removing dead termite carcasses from each other's faces, we finally got a kombi. And the kombi drove for about 10 minutes before getting stuck in the mud at the bottom of a big hill. Great! Problem number three: We sat there in the kombi for a while until we saw that there was gasoline spewing from the bottom of the kombi (we had slid into a mud bank and bottomed-out on some rocks), at which point we booked it and decided to walk back to her site. Problem number four: biggest hill ever, in sandals, in the mud, in the pouring rain, in a skirt, carrying a heavy bag with a computer in it. We walked for about 45 minutes, nearly vertical, until finally a pick-up truck full of old women came along. We hopped in, which meant my black skirt was completely covered in mud, until we intercepted a functioning kombi. So, yes, turns out I live in Africa. Mud, rain, broke-down kombis, flying termites, barefoot hikes in a skirt up a hill, hitch-hiking in a pick-up truck. It was an adventure, to say the least. And we still made it to the office by 8:15!

I also had an eye-opening experience this week “shadowing” a woman who works as an “expert client” at the clinic and is on the executive board of the support group. Her name is Nombuso and she’s in her mid-20s and is, amazingly, unmarried. Still, she has a daughter of her own (welcome to Swaziland…) and is raising the numerous children of her 3 brothers, all of whom have died of HIV/AIDS in the past few years (and her mother died this year of breast cancer, so it’s just her and all the kids). She’s become a good friend of mine because she speaks English and is interested in involving me in her work, which I really appreciate. So last week she took me to one of the NCPs (Neighborhood Care Points) where they teach “pre-school” to the kids for a few hours a day and, in exchange for enthusiastic singing of “head-and-shoulders-knees-and-toes” they get a meal. When I visited, the meal was boiled split peas and salt with boiled wheat, which was prepared much like oats. Ew. En route to the NCP we stopped by two homesteads to check on homebound patients. The first was a 43-year-old widow who had no children of her own but who was raising two children of relatives who had died of HIV/AIDS. She had fallen down and broken her leg, which the clinic had put in a cement cast so she could walk on it because she couldn’t afford the expensive crutches or hospital visit. Then we stopped in and saw an 80-year-old gogo (grandmother) who was literally wasting away in her bed. She probably weighed 80 pounds and was about 2% conscious because she had gone over a week without food. She had never been tested for HIV, but all of the other women in the family were HIV-positive so she may have contracted the virus taking care of a family member, which would explain her rapid wasting. But because she is so old, she decided she would rather die than consume the family’s limited stock of food. It’s pretty overwhelming to see the impact of HIV/AIDS and food shortage in that way, and even worse to see that Nombuso was not even surprised. Examples like that are pretty common.

Back on the homefront, I think I may have won the War on Bats. Last week I was talking to some drunk guy sitting next to me on a kombi and he suggested that I stuff wet newspaper in the cracks between the wall and the ceiling to keep the bats out, so I improvised with wet typing paper, newspaper and a few colored-on pages of a coloring book. I did it on Saturday and, as of Tuesday, I have not had a bat and there is no bat poop in my house. It may be a bit early to declare victory, but at least I have a game plan now. The bats have been replaced by another critter problem, though, as I discovered Monday that the largest spider in the world is living under my bed. Seriously, he was about the size of my palm and really hairy and brown and, in all likelihood, poisonous. I tried to kill him a number of times, then decided that ignoring him is probably the best idea.

From the 16th to 21st of November Group 6 has what is called In-Service Training (IST). We’re all meeting in Manzini to learn more about HIV/AIDS from doctors from Baylor University and to learn the logistics of applying for grants and such. Our previous training focused on acculturation to Swaziland and on language training, and this second training focuses on the more technical aspects of what it means to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. It will be amazing for all of us to be together again and I’m excited to actually be able to begin work in my community. And if I’m lucky, when I get back home I’ll actually have vegetables in my garden! (I have a tomato now, but it’s still green so I’m sure it will be eaten while I’m gone at IST…bad timing on my part. And the first of my lettuce is almost ready.)

Also, I planted a papaya tree. Apparently they bear fruit within a few months of being planted. Aside from the fact that papayas are gross (they smell like feet and taste like nothing), I’m excited about my first fruit tree.

I’m hosting my first slumber party this Saturday (really a dinner party, but since dinner happens after dark, everyone will stay the night). It’ll be fun. I’m going to bake like crazy in an attempt to lure visitors to my house in the future. I’m thinking chocolate chip cookies, brownies and apple crisp. Yum! Add to that some homemade pasta sauce (store-bought pasta) and a nice salad made with homegrown vegetables (at least the lettuce)…delicious! Not to mention that I have East Coast Radio…

Things I love about Swaziland: chutney-flavored processed cheese, which makes great grilled cheese sandwiches that I eat for all 3 meals a day until the cheese is gone; being able to nap for 4 hours on a Thursday afternoon without it interfering with work; the sun-bleaching of my hair from my long walks every day; working with 99% Democrats; the fact that it’s cool after the sun goes down so it’s never too hot to sleep; my bhutis and sisis, who are very generous with their hugs; making my own Raisin Bran from a bag of raisins and a box of bran flakes, which means I can put even more than two scoops in every box; and being so well-known in my community that even on a kombi from Nhlangano I always know someone.

Final thought: I have a new cell phone with a South African number so I can receive incoming text messages. The number (from the US) is 011 27 79 668 7818. So yeah, text me and make me happy. There’s probably a 60% chance I’ll get it.

Love from the Swaz!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Welcome to the Bat Cave

So I had a pretty uneventful Halloween. Until 2:44am Saturday morning. This whole week I’ve been sleeping on my floor because I’m afraid my bed will re-infect me with scabies, and at 2:44 I woke up to the sound of screaming bats. I’m used to the chirp of the bats, but apparently they do this more breathy distress call thing that sounds like a guinea fowl (that probably doesn’t help you at all), so it woke me up. It was completely dark in my room (a storm had killed the electricity so the outside lights weren’t on) but I could still make out a small black figure moving about a foot from the head of my “bed” on the floor. Thinking it was a mouse I reluctantly fished for my flashlight, making a lot of noise in hopes of scaring it away. But it didn’t move…

As soon as I shined my light on it and realized it was a bat, it stopped moving. I suppose it was trying to play dead, but maybe it was as scared as me…I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing, too! After staring at it for a minute and freaking out about what to do next, I realized it was STUCK to the cement floor and it could only move one of its wings, which is why it was screaming and why all the other bats were freaking out too. Apparently it had flown into the sticky fly strip I have hanging from the ceiling in the “kitchen” and, though it managed to get free, it landed on its back stuck to the cement floor. Not really sure what to do, I took a small dish-washing basin and turned it upside-down over it and put the 10 pound anvil doorstop on top of it. And the screaming stopped. So I scooted my bed a few feet over on the floor and went back to sleep. (It’s amazing what I have come to consider “normal” in the past few months…) I’d also like to take this moment to claim at least a little bit of credit for “catching” the bat, since I’m sure my chasing him around with a broom at 2am probably created some level of confusion that led to the flying into the fly strip. (And, yes, running around the house with a broom at 2am fits this revised definition of “normal.”)

It was pretty funny the next morning, though, trying to explain to my Make (mother) my problem, since I really wasn’t sure what to do with it and I was absolutely incapable of explaining in siSwati why I had a bat under a washing basin on my floor. It still chirped when I tapped on the basin, and I wasn’t about to kill it myself and all the boys on the homestead were already gone by the time I got up. So Make came in and tried to scoot it out to the doorstep while I stood by with the broom to play Bat Ball if it miraculously got away. Well the little critter sneaked out and I ended up having to stomp on it in my flip-flops, which was scary but it made a quite gratifying crunching noise. And then the dog ate it, which I think is a bad idea but I guess that’s the standard procedure for dead bat disposal.

So Happy Halloween! That was scarier than any haunted house I’ve ever visited. Sunday, with a new resolve to rid my house of bats, I hunted down a ladder (aka a bunch of sticks tied together so that you can climb up them) and made a bucket full of cement-like mud and tried to fill in all the holes on the outside of my house. But, alas, I woke up Monday morning with bat poo all over my house so I obviously failed. But I’m not going to give up just yet! My family thinks I’m crazy, I’m sure…but what’s new?

On Monday the students in my Form 4 (Grade 11) English class turned in their first full compositions for me, and I now know that I never ever want to be a teacher. Some of them really got it and turned in fantastic compositions, but some of them still can’t tell the difference between a complete sentence and an incomplete sentence, or when I say they need to write a 5 sentence introduction they turn in something like: “I like my mother. I like my mother because she loves me. She pays my school fees. She feeds me and provides me with shelter. I love my mother.” Yes, that’s 5 sentences, but not exactly what I was looking for. And not exactly what I’ve been teaching for the last 2 weeks. Come on! You’ve done this in class! So it’s frustrating, and I know that part of the class is ready to move on to “argumentative writing” (I’ll be good at that) and part of the class needs to go back and review the difference between a question and a statement. How do I teach without leaving part of the class completely bored and the other completely confused? Hmmm…a challenge.

I also learned that Swazis believe that if a woman takes birth control pills before she has children that her first born will be born deaf and mute and that everyone will know that she was taking birth control and, therefore, that she had sex before marriage. I guess that explains why so many girls in Form 3 have babies. See, I would think that having a baby in high school would make people assume you had pre-martial sex… Completely unrelated, Swazis also believe that thunder makes meat rot. Which I suppose is true if said thunder is part of a thunder storm that causes the electricity to go out, which causes everything in the fridge, including the meat, to rot. Then, yes, thunder causes meat to rot. But I’m SURE thunder causes electricity and cell phone reception to die.

In other news, I also repainted my house for the third time in as many months. Either I need to paint my walls dark brown or get over my OCD…nothing is ever clean in Swaziland! But I painted the walls cream (with the rest of the paint leftover from paint job number 2) and then got black paint to paint “baseboards” around the bottom of the walls (so that the mop doesn’t leave gross brown marks on the wall) and a triangle-shaped border around the door to cover up dirty little kid/carpenter who put my door up handprints. Personally I think it’s pretty fancy. I’ll try to upload some photos of my house so you can see where/how I live (after my linens are out of quarantine so and I have my new curtains), but I promise you it’s nicer than what you’re picturing right now. To be honest, I’m not really roughing it. (Except, of course, when I’m making an elaborate pasta dish for dinner and it starts thundering and the power goes out when my food is half-cooked and the cell phone network is down so I can’t even text anyone to complain about it. It’s a tough life.)

I’ve also successfully (I hope) killed all the scabies in my house, which required washing all of my clothes, washing, boiling and quarantining my linens, sleeping on the floor for a week, and bathing myself twice daily with soap that made me smell like rotten eggs and Lysol. Apparently sulfur kills them, which is not surprising because it made me pretty nauseous. But the important thing is that I’m scabies-free (I think) so I’m allowed to see other people and have visitors now. As soon as I get rid of the bats, that is.

Also, word on the street is that there’s an education group coming next year with Group 7. Apparently there will be the normal 35-ish people doing HIV/AIDS and an additional 7 or so coming as high school teachers. It’s funny, really, since a lot of us HIV/AIDS educators are high school teachers, too, but it’s encouraging to see that the program is expanding despite budget constraints at Peace Corps. We must be doing something right! It’s also exciting to think that I’ll have 42 new friends instead of just 35! Pathetic, I know, but for real…

Some final thoughts…

Things that drive me nuts about Swaziland: When I’m at the internet cafĂ©, paying by the minute for internet, and a Swazi guy sits down next to me and proceeds to propose to me for the entire 45 minutes I’m there, going on and on about his 7 children (it means he’s fertile) and his wealth (he owns a grocery store) and his past modeling career (which ended before I was born). Yeah, I don’t really want to date/marry a 47-year-old man, and in no way did I indicate otherwise. Then he told me that I was rude and that I must be crazy because “all those Simelanes are off in the head” (that’s my surname here). Um, okay. Other things I don’t like: bats, scabies, lack of margaritas and Life cereal, difficulty of getting enough calcium and the related and equally terrible powdered milk, etc.

Things I really like about Swaziland: Goats, especially baby goats, and even more especially when said baby goats sneeze; babies and small children who wave to me and say “bye bye” and “I’m fine” because that’s all the English they know; peach-granadilla yogurt, which doesn’t make me sick even if I haven’t refrigerated it for 2 days; the family’s dog, Boca (Boka?), who I’ve started calling “The Undertaker” because my bhutis love wrestling and would never hit The Undertaker; the fact that dog food here is called “dog chunks,” which seems vaguely cannibalistic; never having to vacuum; washing my clothes by hand, which gives me a great sense of accomplishment and is FREE; East Coast Radio (FM 95.6), which I listen to for about 15 hours a day; hitch-hiking in a place where it’s absolutely normal; having ample time to read, write this blog, study for the GRE, walk aimlessly, play Frisbee, etc.; boerwors (big sausages) and biltong (jerky). I am endlessly amused by Swaziland, to say the least.

AND if you’ve received your invitation to be in Group 7 for Swaziland, you should accept it. It’s a tough post (high mortality, frustrating school systems and transportation, drought, no margaritas), but all things considered it’s a really good place to be (supportive staff, proximity to other volunteers, really nice people, relatively easy language and fantastic language training, a currency pegged to the Rand, good living conditions) and, overall, Swaziland is really supportive of Peace Corps. Plus, I’d say, the Group 6 people who you’d be joining are pretty cool, too. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me ( or find me on Facebook.

FINALLY, if you’re an AEPhi, look in the next edition of Columns for an article about me and Serena here in Swaziland. I miss you girls and I’m so sad I’m not there to meet the Alpha Lambdas!! (And Happy Birthday to Tory, the most amazing little in the whole world…this is really the last time I’m going to be at the internet before her birthday!)

That’s all for real, now. Love from the Swaz!