Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ngilibhizi (nee-lee-BEE-zee)

That means “I’m busy” in siSwati, which I’ve had multiple occasions to say this week. I’ve been so refreshingly productive and, despite the fact that I fell asleep at 8 last night, I couldn’t be happier.

For starters, I had my second week of Life Skills classes and I’m really excited about the prospect for my future as a health/HIV/career guidance teacher. Turns out, it’s fun! This week I adapted the same lesson for all of my classes, but found that it wasn’t really necessary because even the 11th-graders didn’t know what the immune system was! (For real, these kids have had many years of biology in a country where an immune system-destroying disease is rampant, and they didn’t know what the immune system did! This is grievance number one I have with the education system.) Anyway, I gave a ten minute introduction to the inner and outer immune system components, then talked about macrophages, CD4s, B-cells, antibodies and T-cells and what they have to do with HIV. To demonstrate, I picked 12 kids out of the class to come up act out the different parts of the immune system and various invaders like TB, HIV, Flu and Malaria. Swazis are big on drama groups so they had a good time doing it, and by the end of the session the class knew exactly what was going on. Then we demonstrated what HIV does (it convinces Mr. CD4 to quit his job, and if he doesn’t it kills him) and how ARVs work in the body (they prevent HIV from being able to talk to Mr. CD4). Sure, it’s simplified, but it’s obviously more in-depth than what they’re getting in biology class. I also had several students approach me this week to talk to me privately about various HIV-related issues, which gives me a good insight into what they do and don’t know. Even some of the older boys asked me questions about HIV, which I was really surprised about. I’ve also gotten approval from the school and money from PEPFAR to host my HIV-related art competition at the high school, which is huge. It’s been a successful week!

I also taught Form 5 (Grade 12) English language this week because my lovely Deputy Head Teacher decided to go to Manzini to see a “preacher from America” who can cure HIV for a “donation” of 1200E. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was really adamant about paying some quack an exorbitant amount of money to give him false hope, so I agreed to teach his classes. We spent the week working on listening comprehension, which was a completely new concept to them despite the fact that a large portion of the exam they have to take to finish high school involves listening comprehension. I found a CD of 17 listening exercises in the deputy’s office and made my own worksheets out of the suggested assignments. We learned about Florence Nightingale, the Red Cross/Crescent and some guy’s travel arrangements for a trip to London. Or rather, about 40% of the class learned about those things and the rest just copied from their neighbor. We started the lesson each day with two vocab words (easy ones from the Oxford 3000 words English-learners should learn), and on Friday I gave them a simple test where they had to match the word with the definition. And they couldn’t do it. Or didn’t care to. I had two different versions of the test—one with letters A-J and one with K-T—and they so obviously copied from each other that some of the ones with the K-T test wrote the answers A-J on the answer part. It’s ridiculous! But it still didn’t help, since the average was a 40%. There were a few people who got 9 or 10 out of ten, but most got a 2 or less. Some left the whole test blank. And, honestly, what incentive do they have to try when the only grade that matters is the final exam? (Grievance number two with the educational system.) As a teacher who’s actually wants them to learn, it’s extremely frustrating for me. I could always turn in the names of the slackers to my deputy and he’d be happy to beat them all with a stick, but I personally don’t see how that helps. In fact, they beat every single student on the hand on Monday then half the kids in my class couldn’t write because their right hands were bleeding. Isn’t that counter-productive (and potentially spreading HIV)? (Grievance number three.)

I also taught my small business thing through TechnoServe on Friday, which was interesting. We had elections for all the management positions and had “report-backs” on market research assignments that not a single student completed. Okay then. Our top three final business ideas are (1) repairing desks (which the guy who’s co-facilitating with me did at his school last year, so he mentioned it to the class as an idea and they decided to copy), (2) tuck shop selling food and candy (of which there are already like 15 within walking distance of the school), and (3) painting the school (which is great if the school administration wants to pay us to do it). I’m personally rooting for number 3 because the other two are not original at all, but I have to meet with the notoriously unfriendly head teacher of the school on Monday to see what he thinks. The good news is, though, that since we now have a General Manager (Mfan’Khona Sihlengonyane is his name, which means “The boy is here” “we are beautiful” something something) I’m no longer in charge of running all the meetings! Yay! I’m just in charge of the money, and probably quality control if we end up painting (Mom has trained me well for the latter part).

In other news, today I’m in town to pick up my new external hard drive (I ordered the 500GB a month ago and he called Thursday and said they had it, but it’s a 320GB and he wants to charge me the same amount) and hopefully get a new anti-virus for my computer since it’s about to die. I also got a million packages this week, which means I’ve been watching about 2 movies a day (including Girls Just Want to Have Fun, The Devil Wears Prada, Flashdance, and Legends of the Fall which is amazing) and that I’ve neglected to do basic things like dishes and bathing. But it’s okay because Brandy sent me body spray so I still smell clean! It’s been a good week.

Next week I’ll be heading up to Mbabane for a meeting with PC about the youth support group we’ve been running for the past year and some. We had our last meeting on the 21st and the NGO that had offered financial support for the year showed up to tell us that they hadn’t been able to get any money. Great! And thanks for notifying us 2 hours before we needed the money! That’s how things go when you count on Swazi organizations, unfortunately. But we’ll figure it out, hopefully by our meeting on the 28th.

That’s all for today. I’m still working on Young Heroes, I promise. Things just take forever here. Unless I’m in charge.

Love from the Swaz!

Sisi Xolile and Bokhi. Bokhi is due sometime between the 18th and 21st of March, so I've cleared the week of all other responsibilities so I can be home when the babies are born.

This is the view from my latrine. There are maize fields everywhere!

Just to scare you (Erin and Group 7) this is the basin I bathe in. Or, rather, DON'T bathe in because lately it just seems like too much work. I smell lovely. :)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Topless Group 2 PCV sets unrealistic expectations for Swazi men

Yeah, that’s what the headline SHOULD have said. Below I’ve retyped an article printed in the Swazi Times (national, state-run newspaper). I’ve put all the important parts in bold so you can skip the rest if you want. All grammatical errors and odd phrasing are original, but Word has corrected the spelling (journalism is pretty sub-par here). You’ll have to Google it if you want the photos because it’s too pornographic for Blogger to let me post them. First, definition of terms:

--“Teka” (pronounced TAY-guh) is the first traditional ceremony of marriage. A woman who has gone through it has been “tekaed.” The ceremony involves being topless, not smiling, standing in a cattle kraal while older women tell you that marriage is hell and then performing rituals to prove that you’re capable of being subservient to your husband.

--An “Umlungu” is a white person. Originally it was derogatory (like the “n” word in the US) but now it’s used widely in place of my name. Example: “I love you, Umlungu.” Or “Hey Umlungu, give me sweets.”

--A “Zionist” is a member of a conservative sect of Christianity in Swaziland (not the same as in the US). There are different types of Zionists in Swaziland, but most speak in tongues, believe in faith healing, don’t eat pork and have really long church services where they wear uniforms, chant and sometimes bite/hit one another. (We’re not supposed to go to Zionist services.)

Umlungu from America Tekaed by Shy Zionist
By Lucky Tsabedze (Swazi Times, 7 February 2009; pg 1, 3)

MANZINI—A Zionist construction worker tekaed an American woman. The Zionist met Brenda Emelia Grabau at Bhawhini area, near Makayane in 2006. Calvin Kunene was at Bhawyini as a labourer for Anzo Constructions, a Matsapha based company.
“We were at Bhawyini as the construction company I worked for was building a house at Nyatsini Seconadary school. I worked as a bhucudaka, my duty was to make concrete mixture,” said the shy Kunene.
Kunene said he wanted to talk to Brenda when his eyes fell on her but he was scared to convey his feelings, something he described as part of the courting process. Apart from that, he says the skin colour sent shivers down his spine.
Kunene said he made acquaintance with Brenda, but the intention to ask Brenda out was not strong though he secretly harboured the thought.
“It happens that a male will want to talk to a girl about dating her but fear holds you back. It was the same thing with me,” said Kunene. “Then I took chances this one time when we met, it was more like a joke when I said it (I love you). She was friendly so that made it easy to talk to her. We begun to be friends and that is how we grew closer to each other,” said Kunene.
Kunene said the friendship continued until a stage when Brenda’s commitment made him believe they were more than friends. Brenda pleasantly surprised him when she visited Kunene’s sick father at the Mankayane Government hospital where he was admitted. “That took me by surprise,” he recalls.
“I could see that the friendship between us was strong, and was in fact getting even stronger. IT got to a point when my father died, that proved to be a turning point for me and Brenda. She traveled to my home, and was with me throughout the time of bereavement. She was cooking and that must have been a shock to some mourners because they didn’t partake in the cooking. She was the busiest!” said the proud husband.
The relationship has brought to life a child.

WHOA! Obviously, bi-racial marriage is rare in Swaziland. Even more rare is cross-cultural marriage. Bi-racial, cross-cultural TRADITIONAL marriage is absolutely unheard of. I guess it’s not a big deal except that (1) Brenda was a PCV in Group 2 who never informed Peace Corps that she was pregnant and just showed up to her Close of Service conference 7 months in, and (2) she’s pictured about 10” tall on the front page of the newspaper TOPLESS, exposing her enormous breasts and fantastic tan lines. Also, I don’t really understand how an American woman (particularly the liberal-minded type that usually joins the Peace Corps) could be okay with being described as “an official wife” of a Swazi man, as in one of the photo captions, rather than “the wife.” Does he plan on taking more wives? (The teka ceremony is usually only performed when the husband wishes to take more than one wife.) There are plenty of well-educated, progressive men in Swaziland who I could see a PCV marrying, but I can’t imagine that the Zionist family of a rural Swazi construction worker would be terribly progressive. Anyway, I guess I can’t judge because I don’t know actually know them, but I’m surprised. The cultural barrier, especially in traditional marriages, would be too much for me. But more power to them, I guess…and their daughter (Gretta) is adorable!

For completely selfish reasons, though, the article irks me. Since it was printed last week I’ve been approached by a number of men in my community who now have renewed hope that I will marry or at least have sex with them. Thanks for that. We PCVs joked about writing a letter to the editor informing all Swazi men that she’s the exception rather than the rule. Even if you tell me you love me (as Mr. Kunene did to Brenda) and if my skin colour “sends shivers down your spine,” I’m not interested in marrying you. In fact, if you say that to me I’ll probably lecture you on the difference between lust and love.

Anyway, in between my daily sexual harassment encounters, these past two weeks have been extremely busy and productive. It’s amazing. Here’s what’s going on in my life right now:

--I had my first two sessions of the small business program at Hluti Central High School on the 13th and 20th of Feb. TechnoServe, which sponsors the program, sent a few people down to supervise my first lesson, but they deemed me competent after 20 minutes and went home. It’s reassuring to know I at least LOOK like I know what I’m doing. The group seems fun, motivated and well-behaved, but we’re still having trouble coming up with a product we can manufacture and sell in our local communities. What do subsistence farmers in rural Swaziland buy? Floor polish, soap and candles. And unless we can make them cheaper than the factories, Make and Babe have no customer loyalty even to their own kids. Hm.

--I’m in Nhlangano on Friday and Saturday for the monthly youth support group meeting. It’s a big deal for us because for the first time it’s being funded by a Swazi organization and not PEPFAR! Yay for sustainability! We’re teaching a lesson and doing skits about overcoming obstacles to reach your goals. Hopefully it impresses the lovely donors who are coming to make sure they don’t want to back out.

--Despite the fact that I’m still don’t have the Ministry of Education’s Career Guidance curriculum, I’ve started teaching Life Skills classes at Florence. I have three classes a week (one each of 8th, 9th and 11th grades), for which the whole grade level is combined to make an enormous class of about 80 students. It’s a bit overwhelming, especially since there are more students than there are chairs and desks, but I’ll make it work. This past week, I did surveys to evaluate their baseline knowledge on HIV/AIDS, and I was surprised with some of the results. Other than the fact that one of my 11th-graders is 30, these stats surprised me:

38% of students are classified as “orphans or vulnerable children;”
12% of students are sexually active;
6% believe you can tell if a person has HIV by just looking at him/her (you can’t);
38% have a relative with HIV, yet…
38% say they would not be willing to share a meal with an HIV-positive person;
9% say it is unsafe for HIV-positive teachers to continue teaching; AND
67% say they would never buy food from an HIV-positive food vendor.

--In addition to my weekly Life Skills classes, I’m planning a school-wide, HIV-themed art competition. Students will submit creative things (advertisements, poems, posters, paintings, cartoons, comic strips, etc.) with some message about preventing HIV infection or encouraging people to get tested, and a panel of teachers will choose the most effective “art” to be painted on the bus shelter outside the school. Assuming it works (I’m still trying to get definite permission from the government, who owns the bus stop, and I’m not sure who we’ll get to actually do the painting…), I think it will be a really cool project. I’ll be sure to post photos if/when it actually happens.

--In a related project, I’m going to be painting a big world map on the side of one of the buildings at the high school. For some unknown reason, it’s something that a lot of PCVs do in Swaziland, and you can always tell if a PCV has worked at a school because there’s a map on the wall. I’ll be painting mine on the wall that faces the courtyard so that students can stare at it in the morning while they listen to the daily Scripture readings. The head teacher is really excited about the project, but everyone doubts my ability to paint anything. After all, I AM a woman. If the map goes well (and if I have extra supplies), hopefully the primary school will let me paint one too. And a big thanks to Mr. Brooks and his wife who unknowingly funded this project.

--Finally, I’m in the process of getting together a committee to submit a Peace Corps Partnership Program proposal to renovate and furnish a library at the high school. The teachers have been trying to start a library for some time, and it’s a project that they’re really committed to doing. Since I first mentioned the library as a possible project for me, the school has already hired someone to repair the water damage to the room, painted the walls in a lovely high-gloss blue and gotten a donation of about 500 books from World Vision. The proposal will, hopefully, purchase materials to build shelves, tables and chairs, and other necessary items to label the books, create a shelf list (like a card catalog) and devise some organized system of checking them out. The proposal can ask for as much as $5000, but the more we get donated the more money we’ll have left to buy books! When the proposal is submitted, it will appear on the Peace Corps website and anyone (hopefully you??) can go online and donate money to it. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.

In addition to the small business program, Life Skills classes, support group, art competition and library, I’m TRYING to set up a workshop with the local police station to do an HIV awareness training for all its officers and I’m helping teach 12th grade English at Florence. And I have ambitions of writing a bi-lingual children’s book explaining the basic biology of HIV. And Bokhi will be having puppies soon. It’s a good, busy life.

That’s all for today, methinks. I have a million other things to write and I somehow have to make a dinner out of 3 potatoes, a carrot, an egg and two tablespoons of apricot chutney. Preferably without dirtying any dishes. Sometimes it’s the little things that are the most challenging parts of this experience.

Love from the Swaz!

This is the "bus shelter" I'm talking about painting. We'd use the whole rectangular flat surface inside the bus shelter.

Sisi Xolile and Mukelo playing with an umbrella on my homestead.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sugar Daddies / South Africans Hate Republicans

Thursday afternoon, after a long day of work and errands, I boarded a kombi (mini-bus) at the Nhlangano bus rank for the 45 minute ride home. After waiting 40 minutes for the kombi to fill up, an older man climbed into the last remaining seat—the one next to me—so the kombi could leave. This man, who was relatively well-dressed but stank of beer, was busy mumbling to himself, so I did my best to ignore him. After about 15 minutes of fantasizing about the chicken curry and Bar One (Milky Way) I’d bought for dinner, the drunk man turned to me and said, in very good English, “you are very beautiful.” I ignored him, so he persisted. “I want to marry you. What must I give you so you will marry me?” I showed him the fake wedding ring I wear and told him I was married, but he wasn’t deterred. “Then I will just have sex with you.” WHAT? I responded, politely, with “angifuni,” which means “I don’t want you” in siSwati, so he considered his other options. “Then you must give me one of your sisters to have sex with.” WHAT?? I was in no mood to deal with this, so I just said “no” and continued to ignore him. Meanwhile, all the other men and women in the kombi thought this whole situation was very funny, even though I was obviously getting upset by it. Then the man started rubbing my thigh with his grubby little hands and rubbing his legs up against mine. Irritated, I pulled away (as far as I could in a 15-passenger van with 22 passengers in it). Then he grabbed my stomach and said I was “fatty boom-boom” (this is a good thing in Swaziland) and that I would give him many sons. And the whole time everyone else in the kombi was watching and laughing because it wasn’t them. Thanks, everyone.

Can you imagine a situation like that in the US? Can you imagine that you’re sitting on a MetroBus in DC and a man old enough to be your grandfather sits down next to you and starts telling you he wants to have sex with you (or your sisters) and that you’re so fat that you’re obviously very fertile? Can you imagine all the other passengers laughing out loud as he groped you inappropriately despite your obvious irritation and shoving him away? Can you imagine a man—even one who isn’t a stranger—trying to bribe you to marry him? No, that would never happen in America. Because women have rights, people have personal boundaries and sexual harassment is strongly discouraged. In Swaziland, it happens all the time. (As in just about every time I’m alone on public transport.)

Sadly, it’s a lot more than just irritating; it’s indicative of one of the ways HIV is spread in Swaziland. If I was a 14-year-old girl whose family couldn’t afford to pay my school fees, that man probably would have offered to pay my school fees in exchange for sex. Or if I was an unemployed 19-year-old girl, he probably would have offered to buy me a cell phone or a new pair of shoes. And because this man was older (meaning he deserves respect) and because he was well-dressed (a sign of wealth), the girls probably wouldn’t say no. And it’s not jus old men and young women, either, even though that’s most common. The phenomenon of “sugar daddies” and “sugar mamas” in Swaziland is a huge problem and one that I find myself extremely frustrated by. In the US, we teach our kids not to talk to strangers. As an HIV/AIDS educator in Swaziland, I’m teaching kids not to have sex with strangers in exchange for money or other goods. But how do I convince a girl, who rightly believes that education is the ticket out of poverty but can’t afford to go to school, that it’s a better life choice for her to be poor and uneducated but still have her dignity (and immune system) intact?

In other news, I love South African radio’s analysis of US Politics. They were taking about Obama’s economic stimulus package and made some comment like “Obama is having difficulty rallying support with Republicans who, rather than spend money on useful things like rebuilding roads and improving schools, would like the package to focus on tax relief for the upper class and giving money to the executives of businesses hardest hit by the financial crisis.” Haha. Even I think that’s unfair. No wonder South Africans think Republicans are fascists.

I think that’s all. I’m looking into MPH (Masters of Public Health) programs in the US, preferably with an international focus (more like International Health with a Public Health or Humanitarian Assistance focus). I’ve looked into all the usual suspects—Emory, NYU, Berkeley, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Tulane—and I’m in love with the program at Tufts, but if you’ve got any other suggestions, let me know! My research abilities are severely limited here because of the slowness of the internet.

Oh, and I’m still working on the Young Heroes thing. I promise. Things just take forever here. Except, I suppose, the natural progression from meeting someone to proposing marriage.

Salani Kahle (Stay Well),

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Death behind the curtain, the coolest backpack ever and other things

Monday afternoon I returned home from Hluti, (where I discovered a computer and printer run off a solar panel-charged car battery where I can print things for 4R per page) to find a rather life-threatening surprise in my house. As usual, all the little kids greeted me at the entrance of my homestead and fought over my hands so they could walk me to my house. I unlocked the door and, appalled by the moldy stuffiness of my house, immediately went to open the windows while all the kids snooped through my groceries. I was reaching up to open the curtains of the second window when one of the boys started screaming “Inyoka! Inyoka!” and all the kids ran out of the house screaming. Not really sure what was going on, I followed them out and around to the side of the house. Through the window, I could see a HUGE snake wrapping itself around the burglar bars of the window I had just been standing in front of. AHHHH! Sibongile, one of the women on the homestead, immediately rushed in with a stick and beat the thing to death (it took about 10 minutes and the snake kept trying to strike her) while everyone watched the spectacle through the window. When it was finally dead and its innards were splattered around my room (on the wall, the curtains, my mosquito net, my bed, my floor, a basin-ful of clean laundry, and a stack of books) I realized how scary the situation really was. The snake was a black mamba (as in extremely venomous), approximately 4 or 5 feet long, and I was 2 seconds away from opening the curtains and staring it in the face. AHHHH again! And now I’m ridiculously paranoid, even though I know there’s one less snake in the neighborhood than there was on Sunday when I didn’t even think about it. Since then, I’ve snake-proofed my house (put all the things lying around into zipped bags, blocked the gap under the door with a towel, sealed all the foods that could attract the mice that attract the snakes, etc.) and I’m getting something called “Cape Aloe Crystals” that apparently keep the snakes away. And from now on I’m opening my curtains with a stick and a little kid in the room.

Other things:

--I volunteered to facilitate an after-school program teaching entrepreneurial skills to Form 3-5 (Grade 10-12) students at Hluti High School (about 10 kilometers from my house) for the next 12 weeks. It’s run by TechnoServe, a US-based NGO that teaches technical skills to youth and adults throughout the world. The program I’m facilitating is called “JA Company,” where a group of about 30 students starts a company to learn about all the details involved in the process. For 11 weeks, they run every aspect of the company, including selling shares, developing and marketing a product, a corporate responsibility project, accounting, etc. It sounds easy enough, but I wonder how frustrating it will be teaching about developing a marketable product in a country where every shop sells the exact same thing for the exact same price and nobody understands market competition. Last year, the majority of the 28 participating schools decided to make floor polish, which is exactly what every unemployed, fruit tree-less Make in the whole country tries to sell. (But you’d be surprised how much floor polish this country consumes, what with their fixation on superficial cleanliness and all.) I’ll keep you posted.

--I watched The Lion King with my family the other day and I really don’t think they were as into it as me. I guess it’s tough when you don’t understand any of the dialogue. They did understand that Rafiki is a Sangoma (traditional healer who uses divination from the ancestors to determine the sickness and cure for a patient), since there are Sangomas in our community. BUT when Disney originally made The Lion King, they produced it in English, Spanish, Swahili and ZULU, which the kids on my homestead WOULD understand. I contacted Disney about it once and they said all the Zulu copies were “in the vault” for the next 20 years (um, okay), but if anyone ever happens upon a Zulu copy of The Lion King, I’ll buy it from you. Or from Ebay. Let me know.

--I hate the term “fall pregnant.” I was helping my sisi with her Grade 7 health class homework the other day and it was about reproductive health. One of the boxes offset from the page said something like “I have chosen not to have sex before marriage because I am afraid to get an STI that will make me unable to fall pregnant some day.” “Fall pregnant” to me seems synonymous to “become a victim of pregnancy,” which isn’t exactly something you would HOPE to do some day.

--When I got my invitation to Swaziland, Peace Corps included a section detailing the kinds of moral/ethical things I would have to deal with, including the fact that homosexuality is illegal, everyone is belligerently Christian, women have no rights, and students are beat with sticks at school. Things they didn’t warn me about: dogs are beaten for no reason at all (being a dog is enough to warrant abuse) and children are treated like an annoying burden that is not to speak until spoken to and they get beaten for every little annoying thing they do. For example, on Sunday morning I was washing my laundry outside while my 4-year-old sisi, Xolile, sat on a rock and practiced counting to ten with me. When I returned from hanging the first “load” (basin-ful) on the “line” (barbed-wire fence), one of the women on the homestead was beating Xolile with a stick for annoying me while I was trying to do my laundry. I tried to intervene and explain that I wasn’t bothered by it and that Xolile hadn’t done anything wrong, but it didn’t seem to help. I was so disturbed by the scene that I finally went back into my house and closed the door until the screaming stopped. How am I supposed to deal with that?

--As excited as I am about Obama being president, I think Swazis are too optimistic about what it means for them. Swaziland, as much of Africa, has a culture of nepotism. Case in point: The king is a Dlamini, as is every Prime Minister in the history of the country and every person appointed to a political office by the king. And every time somebody tells me they want to go to America (at least twice a week) they ask me if I know anyone important who could get them into university or get them a job, since that’s how you get a job in Swaziland. So, now that an African-American is president, Swazis are absolutely sure that his first priority in life is going to be giving money to Swaziland. Please see photo, below, for further evidence that Swaziland thinks Obama is awesome.

Yeah, that’s pretty much the coolest backpack ever, mostly because Obama is, in fact, “awesome.” And Bokhi sure loves wearing it. (L to R: Kwanele, Mukelo, Xolile)

We found this guy hanging out in a puddle after a thunderstorm. He looks like something out of The Lion King.

And this is where Bokhi lives when it's raining outside. She's not a very good guard dog.