Saturday, April 25, 2009


This is the big sign that greets you as you enter Mbabane on the main highway. And this is how HIV education is done in churches. Really helpful.

This is my whole family (all the kids) on the steps to the main house on my homestead. I'm amazed I actually got them all to sit still for long enough to take this photo. I'm trying to collect at least 200 photos to put together into an album to give them as a gift when I leave since there is exactly one photo of the family in existence to date.

My bhutis Kwanele and Mukelo wearing sunglasses from a care package from my parents. They're pretty thug...sticker and all.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Friends, Geography and Fun at the Hospital

Sanibonani, Bekunene! Literally, that means “I see you, people of the right hand.” Weird, huh? In Swaziland, as in many countries, use of the left hand for anything (eating, waving, touching people, accepting money or gifts, etc.) is considered rude, so the people of the right are supposed to be the blessed, polite people. Good thing I’m not left-handed. (Incidentally, I think there is a disproportionate representation of lefties in the Peace Corps, just in case anyone is looking for something mundane to investigate.)

Anyway, this past week has been pretty spectacularly exciting. Over Easter weekend, Rob (another volunteer) came all the way down from HhoHho region in the north to help me draw the world. Then, on Easter Monday, my friend Chad and his friend Orion (I guess they’re both my friends now) stopped by for a visit. They’ve been traveling around Africa for a few months and, having made it from Nairobi to Cape Town a few weeks early, they had a few days to spare entertaining me. And they have a car. It was incredible how convenient it was. Wow.

After spending Monday night at a fantastic new backpackers’ lodge in Mbabane (Bambazo’s… definitely stay there if you’re coming through Mbabane), we drove down to my site to hang out with my family and my puppies for a few days. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday painting the world map at Florence, and we got everything but Antarctica done. Amazing! And I didn’t even have to do the dreaded Canada. (Seriously, look at how ridiculous the top of Canada is. You wouldn’t want to paint that either.) This week I just have to label the countries and capitals, paint Antarctica and finish the Swazi map. It’s beautiful…I’ll include more photos when it’s completely done. And if you want to challenge me to a Geography Bee, I’ll totally kick your butt.

Friday we headed up to Mlilwane Nature Reserve outside of Mbabane. We spent all of Friday perusing various craft markets for over-priced souvenirs imported from Kenya and, as usual, I bought some cool earrings. On Saturday morning, we were planning on hiking up Execution Rock, which is a huge mountain that people convicted of witchcraft used to have to climb up and jump off. Instead, we had a different kind of adventure. Orion had been feeling kind of flu-like sick for a couple of days, but it didn’t really seem like anything serious. Then, Saturday morning, the boys dragged me out of bed to accompany them to the hospital because he felt like death.

Miraculously we found the completely unmarked Mbabane Clinic, a massive private hospital just outside of Mbabane, with only one wrong turn on a one-way street. I’d never been there before, but I was really impressed. Imagine the biggest, most modern-looking, most quiet and empty doctor’s office you’ve ever been in, and add copious amounts of frosted glass windows, modern art and a big water tank that says “Don’t Drink and Drive, Drink and Thrive!” It’s basically a hospital version of Katzen Arts Center with a reception desk like a Starbucks. Anyway, after a brief examination, we learned that Orion had typhus and an infected bite of sorts. At the time we suspected the flea-ridden puppies, but upon closer consideration (and the fact that I slept on the floor with the puppies for several days and don’t have a single bite, but both Chad and Orion had bites) I’m inclined to blame South Africa. Anyway, by the end of the weekend, both Chad and Orion were on antibiotics for infected mystery bites, and I still had none. Maybe I’m just lucky.

All things considered, it was a fantastic week. (I say that because I don’t have the plague.) I didn’t realize how nice it would be to have people from home come visit, but I really enjoyed a break from work. Not that I’ll be doing much work in the foreseeable future…

As I’ve said before, the Swazi educational system has been perhaps my biggest frustration in the past months, and now I have even more to add to my growing list of grievances. According to the school calendar issued by the Ministry of Education, the first term of 2009 (they go on trimesters) is supposed to end on 30 April. Apparently, at Florence Christian Academy, that means 15 April, so the school term (which began 2 weeks late) has ended a full 2 weeks early. That means that students at my school got a full month of school less than they were supposed to. And that’s only for the first term. When I asked why this was happening, the teacher I work most closely with told me all the teachers were “really busy” and that they had “too many other commitments.” Other commitments? Your JOB is a pretty big commitment, I think. What “other commitments” could you possibly have that could be more important than your job? It’s frustrating because (1) I already have my lesson plans for the whole year and now I have to cut out 2 lessons from each grade level, which I guess is one reason Swazi teachers don’t plan things, and (2) how do the teachers expect the students to take their education seriously when the teachers can’t even be bothered to take it seriously? And then the school administration wonders why so many students fail their examinations…

All that grump aside, I’m actually grateful for the break (though I could have just as easily waited 2 weeks for it). This week I’ll be attending some meetings in Mbabane about getting funding for the Shiselweni Regional Youth Support Group and hopefully turning in a final report on the grant I got from PEPFAR. And I’ll be hanging out with my recently de-wormed (that was a gross experience) puppies, who are officially 6 weeks old. I know I should be taking them for their first round of shots, but I’ve decided to take both of them to the shelter in Mbabane when they’re 10 weeks old, so I’m going to wait until then. I’ve already had a few bouts of crying on the issue (when my family said they definitely couldn’t afford to keep another dog after I leave, when I decided I’d take them to Mbabane instead of selling them to neighbors, when I tried to explain all of this to Bokhi, etc.), which is particularly awkward because crying is seen as really inappropriate in Swazi culture and everyone just kind of stared at me while I cried. Honestly, though, it will be a good thing. As much as I would love to keep them to myself or sell them to a neighbor so I could still see them and play with them, I know they would have a much better life as city dogs, guarding the walled-in houses of ex-pats and eating nutritionally-balanced kibble. I wouldn’t want them to end up half-starved, with a broken leg and missing an eye…like their mom. I will miss them immensely, though, and I’m sure I’ll make quite a scene at the animal shelter. But I still have 4 weeks…

In other news, my sisi who is pregnant apparently has no concept of time. Either that or the gestation period of Swazi women is 2 months longer than that of every other woman in the world. I guess when she said she was 7 months pregnant, she actually meant 5 because that was 2 months ago and she’s not due until June 9. So yeah, on June 9 she’s having a cesarean at Hlathikhulu Regional Medical Center, which will hopefully reduce the risk of HIV transmission from her to her baby. Technically, if a mother takes ARVs, delivers by cesarean (which eliminates contact with infected vaginal fluid and reduces contact with mother’s blood) and breastfeeds exclusively, the rate of transmission is very low. To be honest, there’s a high likelihood that her baby has already been infected because her viral load (the number of viruses per microliter of blood) was really high when she found out she was pregnant, which makes it easier for the baby to get HIV during pregnancy, but she’s been taking really good care of herself for the last 6 months and we’re all hoping for a miracle. The baby (it’s a boy) will be named Siyabonga (“Thank You Lord”) Khumalo, and she wants me to give it an American middle name. I’m leaning toward Isaiah, but I have about 6 more weeks to decide.

Also, I’m reading an incredibly sad but really interesting book right now. It’s called “What is the What” and it’s written by Dave Eggers on behalf of a Sudanese “Lost Boy” named Valentino Achak Deng. It’s a first-person narrative about his childhood, his walk from Sudan to Ethiopia in 1983 and his experiences in refugee camps before being resettled in Atlanta. It’s a really well-written book and a good read, even though some of it is really hard to read because you know it’s true. It gives a really good insight into the history of conflict in Sudan and into the lives of the refugees and, even though it makes me want to cry every 5 pages, I really strongly recommend it.

I think that’s all for now. It’s about time for me to snuggle up into my ridiculously-blanketed bed and watch “Notting Hill” for the umpteenth time because it’s cold and I don’t want to do work. It’s a good life.

Love from the Swaz!

The world. It's perdy, huh?

Here's a close-up of Africa. I'm going to draw black borders between the countries and then label countries (in all-caps) and capitals. It's pretty amazing for these kids, I think...they thought Swaziland was the world, but turns out Swaziland is like the size of a dime on this map. Whoa!

Chad and Orion painting the map. It took 2 full days of work for us to get all of the countries painted. For a while, when there were big spots of blue left unpainted, we had a lot of cool new the Great European Sea and the DRC Sea. I guess you had to be there...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Photos that wouldn't load last time...

Ncobile, one of my students at Hluti Central High School, teaching all of us how to weave grass chicken nests. I'm a terrible chicken nest weaver.

Two kids at the water pump in my community. When the borehole on my homestead goes dry, this is where we (or, more accurately, my sisi) get water. It's about a 20 minute walk from my house, but I'm allowed to use the one at the chief's homestead, which is about a 2 minute walk.

Me and Eliza. She's the more obnoxious one of the two puppies. Maggie behaves and likes being cuddled, but Eliza barks and growls and likes to pull my hair.

Mkelo and Kwanele drawing themselves on the floor of my house. I recently discovered that sidewalk chalk is really fun on my floor.

Me painting the Swazi map with Rob (he's taking the photo). The world map is done now, too, thanks to Chad and Orion who came to visit from the US and helped me finish it.

This is my favorite picture ever! This is my Gogo (Grandma) with Eliza and Maggie (Maggie has the spot on her head, Eliza's head is just one continuous black area). Note the polka dots on the wall behind her. That's the most recent re-painting of my house. It's adorable! (But not as adorable as Gogo and the pups)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What NOT to do in Swaziland...

So last Friday, as usual, I spent the evening laying in bed reading because, well, there’s nothing else to do on a Friday night in Shisizwe, Swaziland. A few hours after dark, Bokhi (my family’s dog) started barking and snarling like crazy so, like a fool, I decided to investigate. I grabbed my headlamp and unlocked my door and headed out to the grassy area where Bokhi and the puppies were hiding in their little thatch house. When I got over there, Bokhi started wagging her tail violently and I didn’t see anything, so I figured she had scared away whatever she was barking at. The puppies were outside of their little hut, sitting in the grass and not making a sound, so I went over to make sure they were okay. As soon as I started to walk toward them, Bokhi freaked out and started snarling and ran up the pile of thatch about 2 feet in front of me and chased something into the bushes. I only saw the creature for a fleeting moment, but, judging by the shiny body and the crashing noise it made coming down from the tree above me, I knew it was a big snake. Not thinking clearly, I threw a rock at the snake, screamed, snatched up both of the puppies in my arms and ran back into my house panting, shaking and generally freaking out. My family came running to see what all the commotion was about and kindly informed me that I was an idiot. Apparently a huge adult black mamba, approximately 3 or 4 meters long, had been killing chickens in the area for the previous few nights. That’s cool, since that snake could have killed me. So the moral of the story is: Don’t go outside after dark in Swaziland, especially to see what the dog is barking about.

Anyway, other than making poor decisions in the dark, here’s what I’ve been doing:

The Junior Achievement Company program I’ve been teaching to high school students at Hluti Central High School is now in full swing, and I think I’m learning as much as the students are. After 4 weeks of intensive business studies classes (accounting, fixed costs and variable costs, market research, evaluating suppliers, production process, management, marketing, etc.), taught by yours truly, the 32 students in the “club” have started a company. The company, called “Juvenile Stars,” sells food items (cream doughnuts, fruit, ice cream cups and bags of Cheetoes-like things) to students and teachers at the school throughout the school day since there is no lunch provided at “lunch” time. Some of it is a logistical nightmare (see next paragraph), but it’s given me a good insight into the challenges of starting and running a business in Swaziland, which is nothing like in America. Last week, we also started weaving and selling chicken nests, which probably makes no sense to you whatsoever. Essentially, they’re like really big bird nests for chickens to lay eggs in, because if left to their own devices they’ll lay eggs in the grass where the snakes will eat them. (That’s my understanding, at least.) I’ll post a photo of the nests so you can see what I’m talking about. Anyway, sales are going really well (ice cream is amazingly popular) and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how efficiently and effectively the students have been running the company. I’m only in charge of all of the behind-the-scenes work…

And that behind-the-scenes work is the logistical nightmare I was talking about. Basically, the company “orders” things from a “supplier,” which really means that they give me a list of everything they want to buy and I have to go find it, buy it and haul it back to the school. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if I had a car…but I don’t, and Swazi public transportation is consistently inconsistent. As are all of the suppliers I have to buy from. For example, on Tuesday I went to Nhlangano to buy 2 big cases of 100 apples, but nobody in Nhlangano had apples to sell. It seems that the apple truck hadn’t delivered that week, so they told me to come back next week. Then I ordered 60 cream doughnuts from the biggest bread company in Swaziland, and by the time they go to my delivery station on Thursday they said they had sold all of them already and said that I should order more next week. I DID manage to get the ice cream I ordered…kind of. They brought me 160 cup of strawberry and vanilla swirl ice cream instead of the 160 chocolate I ordered, and they charged me E2.50 per cup instead of the E2.10 they quoted me over the phone. Then, after I was loaded down with lots of melting ice cream, I took the last seat on a kombi to the school, meaning that it would leave immediately. Good luck, right? Except, as it turns out, our kombi had a flat tire so, instead of taking us to the school it took us to the tire repair place down the road to have the tire changed. For the next 40 minutes. Fantastic! (Can you imagine if you boarded a bus in the US and then, after it was full, it went a few miles out of the way to refuel or to fix a tire or go through a car wash? Ridiculous, right?) One frustrated hour later, I made it to the school and promptly consumed my body weight in strawberry-vanilla swirl ice cream because, by God, I deserved it.

In other news, we had our March meeting of the Shiselweni Regional Youth Support Group on the 28th. Since we lost our PEPFAR funding in February it’s been kind of touch-and-go with the support group, and in February we told our group of 75 that we wouldn’t be able to reimburse them for transport costs for the March meeting. Honestly, for March we were expecting an attendance of about 4 kids, but were pleasantly surprised when over 30 showed up, despite the cost to their families. (Thanks to the generosity of my parents, though, we were able to reimburse them for transport, provide them with fruit for a mid-morning snack and purchase teaching materials. Thanks a bunch!!) Our March meeting, which introduced the concept of a holistic approach to health (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social health), focused on basic nutrition. After a brief lesson on the major food groups and the importance of a balanced diet, the kids were each given a paper plate, a glue stick and a pile of food options (cut out of the magazines sent to me by my parents and Erin) to make their own example of a balanced meal. And I’m really glad that the pro-ethanol lobbies advertise so much because their ads provided me with lots of pictures of corn for the food exercise!

I’m also still teaching Life Skills at Florence, which is going well. My Form 4 (11th grade) class is ridiculously large (81 students) and they make me want to pull my hair out sometimes because I’m so outnumbered. Hopefully next week I’ll be able to split them into two sections, which means I’ll be teaching more classes but it’s totally worth it. Last week we talked about the various stages of HIV from infection to AIDS and death, pointing out that most of the symptoms of HIV don’t start until many YEARS after infection. It was something that I felt was important since many of the responses on the survey said things like “I’ll test for HIV when I feel sick.” Okay, but maybe by the time you feel sick you will have been positive for 10 years, and you will have already infected your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/kids. This week I taught about how HIV affects women specifically. There are more women than men in Swaziland living with HIV, partially because of the tradition of polygamy (men infect all of their multiple partners) and partially because men are so reluctant to take ARVs that women tend to live longer than men. In my lesson, I talked specifically about preventing mother-to-child transmission through taking ARVs, proper birthing methods and exclusive breastfeeding. I’m also taking the final entries for my HIV-related art competition, which are due on the 21st so that I can paint the winning entry on the bus shelter over the school holiday…photos to come!

Life at home is pretty much the same old, same old. The puppies are both growing at a ridiculous rate (their father was much bigger than their mother, so they honestly weigh half as much as she does and they’re only 5 weeks old!) and they’re adorable. Adorable little flea-bags. I’ve been giving them daily baths with warm water and dish soap, and they’ve gotten used to it so that now they let me bathe them for a good 3 minutes before they start screaming for their mother. And, afterwards, they smell delicious. (After the snake incident, they lived in my house for a while so the bathing was really important, but now they live in the old chicken coop behind my house so sometimes I skip their morning bath.) I’ve also repainted my house for what I HOPE will be the last time (see photo below of Gogo holding puppies in my house). I had problems with mold, so I bought special paint to keep the water out and then painted pink, teal and brown polka-dots on the walls to add some color. I promise it’s not as ugly as it sounds! My Make loved it so much she asked me to paint it in the main house, too, which I will do as soon as I have an opportunity to steal more round sponges from the pill bottles at the clinic. (I see it as “recycling,” not stealing.) Anyway, house feels like home once again and I’m not all sneezy and coughy from the nasty mold invading my walls. It’s pretty awesome.

These next few weeks should be pretty exciting. I’m hoping to finish my first (maybe only, but maybe I’ll do one at the primary school) world map at Florence High School over the term holiday (May), and I’m employing the assistance of another volunteer (Rob) and two friends from the US (Chad and Orien) so that HOPEFULLY it goes more quickly than the first few days I worked on it. I originally planned on painting it on the break between the first 1st and 2nd school terms in May, but then I got to playing with the paint and it’s so pretty that I couldn’t wait. Over the Easter weekend, Rob and I got the Swazi map entirely painted and the world map entirely drawn, so hopefully it will get done in the next few days…or at least done enough that I will stop fearing some obnoxious high schooler coming along and drawing in extra islands in the Pacific.

Chad Kistler and his friend Orien are staying with me for the week, which is going to be super exciting. We’re working on the maps for Tuesday and Wednesday (so I really COULD have taught my classes if I’d wanted to, but I took the week off so the students could work on their entries for the art competition and so I could paint my map without disruption. Then Thursday and Friday we’ll be staying at Sondzela’s at Mlilwane Nature Reserve and hiking up Executioner’s Rock and generally enjoying the wildlife of Swaziland. And the swimming pools. Sounds like a fantastic time. I’ll post photos of everything in a bit.

Anyway, that’s all for now. School is closing so I have to leave Hluti Central’s air-conditioned computer lab and brave the heat all the way home. Seriously, I come here more often than I need to just to soak up the AC. And I love every minute of it.

I hope you all had a fantastic Easter weekend. I really wanted to dye eggs, but all the eggs here are brown and it just seemed impossible. But, don’t worry, I did consume ten marshmallow eggs in celebration. Delicious.

Love from the Swaz!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

I have nothing to say today

because there was a system error with my flash drive and the computer at the internet cafe deleted my blog and all of the adorable pictures of puppies that were saved on it. And nobody at the internet cafe seems to be concerned about it even though it deleted my whole SD card full of photos. Thanks, Swaziland!

This weekend I'm working on my world and Swazi maps at Florence and perhaps I'll be back at the internet sometime next week. But not this internet cafe since obviously something is very wrong with their computers.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I guess I'm Swazi Now...

After a long trek up from Nhlangano and a fruitless search for cheap box wine in Manzini, I boarded a kombi (mini-bus) to Milwane Game Reserve for a much-needed weekend of R&R. As usual, it was ridiculously hot (about 90) and I was carrying a huge amount of unnecessarily heavy bags and sweating profusely (that’s just what I do). I was sitting on the kombi enjoying a 20 cent fried egg sandwich purchased from some woman with a plastic sack full of fried eggs when my meal was interrupted by something scuttling up my leg. I couldn’t see my feet because of the huge bag sitting in my lap, so I just ignored it…until about 20 seconds later when all of the critter’s friends decided to join him. I made quite a scene throwing my bag off my lap and into the seat next to me, only to discover that there were like 10 nasty little cockroaches running up my legs! And for some CRAZY reason, I was relieved. I thought "Oh good, they're just cockroaches!" and went on ignoring them. WHAT? A few months ago when I was killing cockroaches in my family's kitchen, my sisi said to me the same thing, and I thought she was crazy. So either I'm crazy or I'm Swazi...

Anyway, I have limited time at the internet today so I'll write again on Saturday or something. In the meantime, enjoy the photos!

Love from the Swaz!

This is Peter the (female) ostrich at Sondzela's Backpackers over the weekend. She was coming over for a nice cool drink out of the pool. Yes, I live in Africa.

My Bhuti Kwanele climbed up the guava tree to get me some of the biggest, juiciest guavas from the top. If you come visit any time between March and April, you can have all-you-can-eat guavas. (Or any other time you'll have mangoes, bananas or avocados...)

Here's Bokhi's puppies (who I am calling Mario and Luigi even though Swazis can't say those names...). They're 3 weeks and 1 day old and they're adorable. Except that they have fleas, but tonight they get flea baths in dishsoap! Mmmmm...adorable with a lemony fresh scent!