Friday, January 30, 2009


The boys on my homestead plowing the maize fields.

My neice ("mshana") receiving her food parcel after creche. All the kids who come get a small amount of food (in this case, boiled wheat, rice and water) at the end of "class." She hangs around my house a lot but I have no idea what her name is.

This is the "creche" (preschool) class at the NCP (neighborhood care point). Please note the stick in the teacher's hand.

When it rains, it pours.

And I don’t mean that in the idiomatic sense. I mean that in the “it’s raining so hard I can’t hear the last 20 minutes of Juno over the sound of rain pounding on my tin roof” kind of way. The “my cement walls have absorbed so much water all my photos are falling down because the tape won’t stick anymore” kind of way. Or the “my shoes keep getting sucked off by the mud so I think I’ll walk the last 45 minutes back home barefoot” kind of way.

Hey, at least it adds excitement to my life. Muddy, wet, soggy, mildewy excitement.

There’s been quite a bit of excitement in my life this week, actually. (Relative to previous weeks, that is.) On the 24th we had the youth support group in Nhlangano, Tuesday I worked at the clinic, I’ve had lots of paperwork to do for Peace Corps (and PEPFAR) and schools officially “opened” this week. I’ve been so busy I’ve only had time to read one book this week! Amazing.

Since I don’t really begin teaching until next week (Monday, hopefully, if I can get the Ministry of Education to give me the curriculum for Life Skills, which the Life Skills teacher at the high school has been waiting for 2 years to receive) I have mostly just been wandering around in the rain pondering GRE vocab in my head and squishing mud between my toes on my way to meetings about what I want to do with myself for the next 19 months. I did discover that out of the 65 students in Form 4 who took the examinations at the end of the year, only 6 of them passed with a 50% or higher. How could 59 of them (that’s 91% of them) get more questions WRONG than they got RIGHT? Surely that isn’t a failure on the students’ part…But no worries, they “promoted” 34 of them so they could have 2 classes of 20 in Form 5. Completely legit. (Although I DO have to say that it’s unfair to give the Mozambican students the same siSwati test as native siSwati speakers…I don’t think a single one of them got higher than a 15%...and yes I saw their results because there is no concept of confidentiality in Swaziland.)

Anyway, that’s it for me. I’m in Mbabane today to turn in paperwork (closing my PEPFAR grant), then Manzini tomorrow to be trained as a “microenterprise facilitator” with TechnoServ. I have no idea what that means, but I volunteered to help some club at Hluti High School run a small business of some sort for the next 12 weeks. I don’t even know where Hluti High School is, but apparently I’m the closest volunteer. Hm.

That’s all.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

My President Has a Last Name, It's O-B-A-M-A

In an attempt to feel productive, this past Monday (the 19th) I made the trek up to Mbabane to use the internet to research grad schools and to watch the Inauguration of the first president I’ve ever voted for. It was a nice vacation from my otherwise uneventful life.

On Tuesday night, about 20 of my fellow PCVs gathered at a “Greek restaurant” (they served Indian food) for a sports bar-style viewing of the Inauguration. We got there at about 5:00 our time (the inauguration started at 7:00 our time) to get the best seats in the house, and by 6:30 the restaurant and bar areas were PACKED with Americans of all sorts—Peace Corps Volunteers, aid workers, UN workers, MSF people, etc. And I don’t think there was a Republican in the bunch. For that demographic, I think the Inauguration is a bigger deal than the Super Bowl, so we spent the evening clapping, cheering, standing (for the oath of office) and singing (the national anthem). It was a good time. And it’s pretty funny that the oath of office that Obama took was identical to the oath we took at swear-in, except that we said “Peace Corps Volunteer” instead of “President.”

In Mbabane I also met a really nice Chinese-American-Canadian who works as a Chinese-English translator for Chinese people seeking asylum in North America. She works half the year, then travels for months at a time, and somehow she ended up in Swaziland. I invited her to come stay with me for a day or two to get a feel for rural life in Swaziland (and because I was bored), so she came down to visit on Thursday. We made the public transport trek to my house, and I introduced her to the family, then we watched movies (she had a bunch and I uploaded them to my computer) until dinner time. For dinner, I’d asked my Make (mother) if she could teach us how to make “Swazi food,” so she called us into the kitchen to help with the liphalishi (maize meal, water and salt) and chicken stew (chicken, salt, onions, green peppers; we had her kill the chicken without us), all of which was delicious and EASY! My friend also brought a cake for the family, which they devoured with an enthusiasm I found almost frightening. I was a little apprehensive at first, inviting a total stranger to come stay with me for a night, but I think it made for a really interesting cultural exchange for her, me and my family. I mean, it’s not like I invited a total stranger to come live in my house for 2 years (like my host family did).

So that’s all the excitement in my life. Today (Saturday) I’m in Nhlangano for our monthly support group, which is fun. Mostly because it’s followed with copious amounts of food and an overnight visit by the girls whose buses leave before the support group ends (I have the best transport in the area, so they spend the night with me and go home on Sunday).

That’s all. I hope you’re all enjoying having a “President Obama,” and if you’re in DC and you got to go to the Inauguration, I hate you.

Love from the Swaz!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dog Drama, Inauguration and other Goings On

Sanibonani, y’all! These past few weeks have been entirely uneventful for me. Seriously, I’ve done nothing except eat candy, study for the GRE, read last resort books (like the biography of Ronald Reagan and mystery novels written for young adults) and hunt for flies with a handkerchief (because Swaziland doesn’t believe in fly swatters) in my hut. It’s a pretty boring existence, but I’m getting really good with GRE vocab…

FIRST THINGS FIRST: I've been working on getting the whole sponsorship through Young Heroes worked out. I had to talk to the clerk who had to ask the bucopho about it who had to talk to the chief who said he needed the blessing of the indvuna first and blah blah blah. So the ball's in the indvuna's court now and as soon as he gives the "spiritual go-ahead" for contacting Young Heroes, I'll be able to arrange them coming out to the community to assess need and enroll families. This is why nothing ever gets done in Swaziland, but I assure you I'm annoying enough that it will EVENTUALLY happen. Hopefully in February, but I'll definitely keep you updated.

There has been some minor dog-related drama these past 2 weeks, though. After about a week of fighting off potential suitors (me, not her) and a frantic phone call to Grandma (“she’s bleeding!”), I learned what it means for a dog to be in heat. (Since our dogs have always been spayed, I’ve never witnessed this before, and my family here didn’t know what was going on because their dogs have always been so undernourished that they didn’t go through it.) After one particularly dog-fight-filled night, I decided she needed to be quarantined. For the next week, at sundown I had to hunt down the dog and kidnap her and carry her into an old chicken coop building and, using a big piece of corrugated metal and a rock (there is no door), shut her in for the night. She seemed fine with it, but the boy dogs all protested by barking and whining loudly all night right outside my window. Until I threw rocks at them. Peace Corps would be impressed with how Swazi I’ve become.

She’s gotten pretty fat, though. I don’t know if it’s pregnancy-related, but she definitely doesn’t fit through my burglar bars anymore. On Sunday she tried to squeeze through for what I HOPE will be the last time. I came back from my garden (I have SO MANY watermelons!) to find the dog completely wedged into the bars, her hips and both back feet stuck under her and her front half frantically trying to pull herself into my house. No luck. I swung the door open (with the dog in it) and tried to push her out from the inside. No luck. After five minutes of crying dog I decided to sacrifice the remains of my sunflower oil to get her free. While my Make watched me (shaking her head the whole time), I greased the dog up like a chicken and successfully dislodged her from the burglar door. My family doesn’t know what to think of my antics, but the dog seemed pretty happy to be unstuck and covered in delicious cooking oil. And now she’s all shiny and I have no way to make popcorn.

Luckily, there is a light at the end of my tunnel of boredom. Tuesday is Inauguration(!!!!!!!!) and I’m headed up to Mbabane to watch the festivities on the satellite TV at Sunset Backpackers while wearing my Obama t-shirt. I think it’s going to make me more homesick than anything, though, since if I was in DC right now I’d be one of those millions of people in the crowd (and it would be totally worth it). I suppose I can still be happy for Obama and Democrats and the world in general, even though I’m not a part of it. After all, I cast my completely inconsequential absentee ballot in the state of Kansas!

In other news, the schools will re-open on the 27th (it’s been pushed back a week for some reason). As an American, I falsely assumed that meant that the teachers would be coming back and spending time getting settled in and looking over their rosters (to see who is new and who is repeating the grade; it’s usually 50/50) and planning things for the year. These past few days I’ve even walked up to the school (45 minutes) to see if I could find anyone to talk to about teaching Life Skills. But no. Apparently, “school starts on the 27th” means that the teachers will return on the 27th and that students will show up and sit outside all day waiting for the teachers to get settled in and ready to start the school year, which usually takes about a week. So even though “school starts on the 27th”, no learning will actually take place until February. Hm. Add that to the list of things I don’t understand (along with “Why do you spend 100R on hair extensions when your children haven’t eaten anything but corn for 4 days?” and “Why, when you are unmarried and have advanced AIDS and TB, are you 3 months pregnant?”).

That’s all. Happy Inauguration and if you’ve just gotten your invitation for Group 7, find me on Facebook!

Love from the Swaz!

This is my "kitchen" area in my house. To the right of the photo is my table and chairs. That blue thing in front of the door (you can only see the top of it) is my "bathtub." Still want to come visit?

This is my bed (obviously), complete with mosquito net, my dresser and the lovely curtains my mother made me!

Me and the Bokhmeister hiding from the rain a few months ago when she was still kind of skinny.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Random Photos

Me and Kim TRYING to get the meat out of a coconut. Mother Nature did not intend for those to be eaten.

Me and Rob after decorating Rob's Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Aside from the fact that it was 85 degrees and raining, it almost felt like Christmas!

Kids running along our march on World AIDS Day. The background is one of the many timber forests in Swaziland. Timber is the main industry in Shiselweni Region.

Me and Rob in Mozambique. It was WET!!

The kids on my homestead (Xolile, Kwanele and Mukelo) playing in the dirt to the tunes of the chicken dance, courtesy of a greeting card.

Me and Jaclyn at the World AIDS Day walk from Mahamba to Nhlangano

Mozambique, the Apocalypse, 6 month inventory and other things

HAPPY BELATED EVERYTHING! I just returned from the adventure that was our massive group trip to Mozambique, a trip which reaffirmed the fact that plans are absolutely pointless in Africa. There’s this joke about how volunteers from Asia come back spiritually enlightened, volunteers from South America come back politically aware, and volunteers from Africa come back drunk and laughing. When Group 5 first told us that we thought they were alcoholics, but after a full week of “this is my life” kind of moments, I think we finally get it…

Our adventure started out bright and early on the 23rd of December when me and 8 other volunteers set off for Maputo, an uneventful 5 hour drive from Manzini. (Trust me, after 6 months in Africa a 5 hour trip is nothing.) After settling in at our hostel in Maputo, we spent the whole afternoon wandering around the city with a not-to-scale map, marveling at the “sky scrapers” (buildings taller than 3 stories), bargaining with men selling crafts (we didn’t buy anything, we just wanted to bargain), and hunting for a movie theater (High School Musical 3 was the only one not in Portuguese…no thanks). We had falafel, we drank margaritas, we went to bed at 8:30. It was fantastic.

The next morning (Christmas Eve) we rolled out of bed at 5am to catch the “express bus” to Tofo, a beach town approximately 6-8 hours north of Maputo. Theoretically. After standing outside the bus for a full hour while the bus driver and conductor loaded the 22-seater bus with a whole sound system (we’re talking about 4 enormous speakers that go on a stage during a live performance) and a small liquor store, we crammed ourselves into the bus and finally left Maputo at 7:30am. Two hours late. And that was just the beginning. Aside from the fact that the driver seemed to have a death wish and kept passing into a blind spot at twice the speed limit (I’m not exaggerating at all), the first 2 hours of the ride weren’t so bad. Then the driver decided to make a pit stop at a gas station…and by “pit stop” I mean he dropped us all off and drove off for a little over an hour and a half to do who-knows-what. When he finally returned, we were all pretty grumpy (though I can’t say this was totally unexpected since he did EXACTLY the same thing when Lori and I made the same trip in 2007, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating) and eager to get on to Tofo. Long story short, it soon became apparent that the driver was running a side business delivering broomstick handles, PVC pipe, liquor and bags of unidentified things to the rural areas of the country, some of which weren’t exactly on the way. The last straw came when we finally pulled into Inhambane (the closest town to Tofo beach) and the driver asked us to all get off the bus so he could unload the liquor under our seats. Um, no. At this point, we’d been sitting on the bus for over 10 hours (well, over 8 I suppose considering the 2 we were stuck at the gas station) and our patience was exhausted. We refused to get up and screamed at him to drop us off at the beach first, then make his deliveries. Yes, I suppose we were those hated Angry Americans (not just us, though, there were other people on the bus too), but considering how long we’d been sitting on that bus I’d say we were being kind. (Did I mention it was also a million degrees and we were all getting one-sided sunburns through the windows?) Anyway, we finally made it to Tofo at just under 12 hours, and the first thing the staff at the hostel says was “Did you break down or something? The bus always gets here by 1.” Hm, it was 5:45pm. That’s bad even for Africa.

We checked into Bamboozi’s, the backpacker place we were staying at for the week, and immediately immersed ourselves in the ocean. Just being in the Indian Ocean almost made us forget the frustration of the previous 12 hours, but since it gets dark at around 7:30 we only had an hour or so before we had to begin the marathon eating that would become the main feature of our vacation. But considering how expensive and difficult to come by seafood is in Swaziland, I certainly wasn’t complaining!

It started raining while we slept on Christmas Eve and it didn’t stop for 4 days. And when I say “raining,” I mean it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my pre-Swaziland life. (And we were sleeping in a hut made out of reeds, which wasn’t exactly waterproof, so EVERYTHING we had got wet.) I would post some photos, but my camera was among the unfortunate casualties of the rain (other casualties included clothes that hopelessly mildewed, prescription glasses that floated away and shoes that were ripped off by the tide…on the sidewalk). No joke. The first day of the rain was pretty comical, actually. We spent the morning trying to figure out how to open a coconut (those things aren’t meant to be eaten) and in the afternoon we played Uno with Peace Corps South Africa and ate non-stop. Because nothing says “Christmas” like coconuts, torrential rain, Uno and cheese fries. We even ventured into the ocean that first afternoon, but it was raining so hard it was PAINFUL. (Also I have to say BIG THANKS to Rob’s family who sent a little Christmas tree and ornaments and things to him in a care package, which made it feel a little more like Christmas…)

On the 26th, a few of us ventured into Inhambane (pronounced in-yahm-BAH-nay) to use the ATM and hunt for a grocery store (there isn’t one) and basically kill time, and we were unwittingly caught in the worst part of the storm. Rob and I, who broke off from the larger group to peruse the market, were so wet after just walking the 3 blocks to the ATM that we decided that shelter and umbrellas were a lost cause and wandered through the city looking for the “history” that Lonely Planet talks about. (Apparently Inhambane is the oldest city in Mozambique, but we couldn’t find too many cool things to do other than a train station, some old cannons, a nice bakery and lots of shops for me to buy colorful cloth.) Still, we had a pretty good time wandering around taking ridiculous pictures of ourselves sopping wet in front of one Communist statue after another (yes, this may have contributed to the death of my camera), and after a certain point the absurdity of the scene was absolutely hilarious. We were walking (more like wading) down the street in the pouring rain, my knee-length skirt dragging in the water, past enormous whirlpools of water searching for the drains on the sides of the street. I literally had to wring myself out before entering a shop once, and after I left I heard the shopkeeper yell for his son to mop up the aftermath of my presence. It was ridiculous. And if I don’t have shisto (a waterborne parasite that attacks the liver) after that experience, I’ll be genuinely surprised.

The rain finally started to let up on Friday night, at least enough that we could have a legitimate night out at the one bar on the beach. Dino’s is a restaurant/bar thing that after 10 pm turns into a night club of sorts, complete with disco ball and rhythmically flashing lights. We went there Friday and Saturday nights, then spent Sunday night at Fatima’s, another backpackers, watching a live band with Peace Corps Namibia. It was a good time. Come Sunday afternoon, the weather was absolutely perfect for the beach, and we had 2 full days of swimming and sunbathing before we left for Maputo on Tuesday morning. (We also spent another few hours in a much less wet Inhambane, gorging ourselves on pesto pizza and mozzarella sticks at a little cafĂ©.) Tuesday, after everyone else had left early to go back to Swaziland (they started leaving Sunday because of the weather), Rob and I went back to Maputo for the day, which was nice. We met up with Peace Corps Malawi and Botswana, and talked to two aid workers living in Zimbabwe, which makes my life seem tame by comparison. We also had our clothes, all of which were soaking wet and moldy from the rains in Tofo, laundered at what has to be the most expensive Laundromat in the world (it was $27 for one load, wash and dry, and they stapled papers to every article of clothing I gave them, but it was literally the ONLY dryer we could find in the city). On our way back to Swaziland on Wednesday, I spent the rest of my Meticais (the Mozambican currency) on bootleg CDs, including “best of Enrique Iglesias, 1995-2008” and some mixed CDs featuring “Kiss Bown” (Chris Brown), “Maliaah Carei” (Mariah Carey) and “Rock sete” (Roxette). I even convinced the kombi driver to play them the whole 5 hour ride back to Manzini. Excellent.

For New Years a huge group of us went to House On Fire, the one “night club” in Swaziland, for the “Cheesy Mexican Fiesta” New Years party. To quote the flyer: “My cousin says to bring your inlaws and outlaws. Banditos, sling on a sombrero, dust off your poncho and unleash your inner mustache!...Other cousin says we can’t end the year without a donkey race. Arriba, arriba!” Despite the political incorrectness of the whole thing, it was nice to have “Mexican food” (as close as we’ll be getting here) and to play with sparklers and to get a champagne shower at midnight (the whole dance floor got sprayed from above). It was a good time. And we stayed out so late we got to walk home (to where another volunteer is house-sitting for the holidays) at sunrise! It was a nice end to vacation.

So, all things considered, I had a fabulous vacation and great holidays. It was wet and mildewy, frustrating and sunburny, but fun. And now I have a million pieces of Mozambican cloth (about 20 meters, actually) that I intend to turn into a quilt, not because I need one but because it would fill up lots of my empty afternoons. And it’s nice to be home, even though it appears that my house was a fly breeding ground in my absence. But, hey, this is Africa and you have to learn how to laugh about it (as you’re sitting under your mosquito net in the middle of the day trying to minimize the number of flies crawling on your face). It’s amazing how different my life is now from just 6 months ago…

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for just over 6 months, both because it’s flown by and because it feels like I’ve been here for a lifetime. Here’s what I’ve done since June 23, 2008:
--Adopted a new Swazi name and a new Swazi family;
--Learned a sufficient amount of siSwati, how to use public transportation, how to bathe in a bucket, how to live without running water and consistent electricity, how to be a woman in Swaziland, how to live alone, how to survive on Crystal Light and popcorn, and countless bits of trivia about South African rugby and cricket (thank you East Coast Radio);
--Taught English and Life Skills at Florence Christian Academy;
--Survived scabies, a nasty flea bite and 3 bee stings in the butt (I sat on them…);
--Witnessed the birth of goats and pigs (and the death of one of those goats);
--Rehabilitated a mangy, starving, one-eyed dog (and indirectly contributed to her impregnation);
--Read 38 novels and countless magazines, and wrote a novella of my own (this blog);
--Fenced in, plowed, planted and maintained a vegetable/herb garden;
--Redefined my concepts of hygiene, productiveness and normalcy;
--Completed 204 Sudokus, not counting the ones from newspapers;
--Killed 4 bats, 1 scorpion and 1 camera (twice);
--Listened to more Luther Vandross, Westlife, Dolly Parton and UB40 than ever before; and
--Made lots of new friends, including 35 fellow PCVs and a good number of small children.

6 months down, 20 to go.

I hope you all had fabulous holidays and birthdays (Damian, Erin, my fabulous Mother) and breaks from work/school, etc. In Swaziland, the holidays don’t end until the 12th so I’m bored out of my mind reading, studying for the GRE, hunting for bats (it’s not hard…I found one INSIDE my mosquito net on Thursday), not bathing, eating popcorn and taking 6 hour heat- and boredom-induced naps. It’s a tough life.

Love from the Swaz!