Close to the End

I’m sorry for the delay in writing. I’ve been very busy. Also, my computer was broken for 3 months. Mostly though, I am bad at excuses and forgot to blog. I’m not sure that one blog post can sum up months of my life, but I’m going to attempt it.

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My sister and I on Safari

Since my last post I have done a lot of things. I studied for the GMAT. I went on an amazing vacation with my sister. A new group of volunteer came to Swaziland. I really did go without a computer for 3 months. We had lots of trainings for our GLOW program. I organized a workshop to train 29 new librarians for schools receiving books form our Books for Swaziland program. I got really home sick. I started using home to mean my community here. We had 2 successful GLOW camps for over 100 Swazi girls. Our BFA books came and were distributed. I’m now done working on any committees outside of my community. We had a workshop in my community about gardening and nutrition. At that workshop we gave out seeds to 94 OVCs, and it felt amazing. I got over being homesick and started being nostalgic for Swaziland. My best friend from college visited and we had an amazing time. I took a trip to Durban and got robbed, twice. Group 11 had our Close of Service (COS) conference. I found out I am leaving Swaziland August 13. While I would like to say I would go back and write individual blogs about all of those events, I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.

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DSC_2124 Group 11 Close of Service Conference

I have 38   days left in Swaziland and am a constant ball of emotions. Some days I think about America, seeing friends and family, hot showers, and 24 hour everything and August does not feel close enough. Other days I watch a sunrise, go to work, or my family brings me a plate of food because I ran out of gas to cook with (yesterday) and cannot imagine leaving this place. When you travel for too long you end up with two homes. The great part is you have double the love, support, and memories. The downside is you are always away from at least one of your homes. I have tried not to think too much about leaving, but as everything wraps up, and volunteers from my group start leaving in a week, It has become unavoidable.

I could sum up my Peace Corps experience thus far with a lot of clichés you have all heard before, but instead I’ll say this.

Has it given me the best days of my life? Yes

Has it given me some of the worst days too? Yes

Was it a challenge? Absolutely

If I could go back would I still do it? Every. Single. Time.

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Overcoming Disappointment

As I have started working more, I should not have been surprised when I had my first work disappointment. My primary school was approved for the Books for Africa project to get a library at a significantly reduced cost, and they have to pay a small portion of the fees to make sure they are invested in the project. I had suggested we fundraise for the cost, but my head teacher assured me he could pay the fee out of the school fees. Well, as the deadline approached I went to the school repeatedly trying to get the check, and they did not have it. Since the deadline is not something I control, when the school missed the deadline they are no longer qualified for the project. It is disappointing for any number of reasons, but not at all unusual.

Any development work here, especially following the Peace Corps approach is sometimes frustratingly slow.  Besides the differences culturally in definitions such as “on time” or “professional”, there are other barriers as well. The reason my school did not have money from school fees yet is because the government, which now covers fees for grades 1-6, had not yet paid the schools. For the first couple weeks of the term there was no electricity in the school. Obviously, paying teachers salaries takes priority over creating a library.

While this is a problem, there is an underlying problem I noticed the day before the check was due. When I explained, for the umpteenth time, that if the check were late there would be no books, my head teacher seemed slightly skeptical if that would hold true. There is little accountability from some development organizations so it is not entirely surprising our deadline seemed flexible. Secondly, the community having to put in any effort to receive aid is rare, especially in Swaziland. That is not to say they do not need or deserve the assistance, but rather they rarely have to work for it. My head teacher asked me why the US government could not just pay the fee for them when I said we would not have a library this year. While I was annoyed because I had explained repeatedly it’s not so much about the money as making sure the community is committed to the project; I also understand where they are coming from. When other organizations will give away assistance for free, there is little incentive to work with an organization that requires buy-in for the same or similar services.

While I firmly believe in Peace Corps’ approach to development; that combined with a legacy of other organizations in the community can make it much harder to do my job. I was disappointed the project I was most excited for is not going to happen, and sometimes it makes it very hard to feel accomplished. During training the medical unit showed us a chart of the average PCV’s emotions during service. We are currently in a low period according to the chart, and a lot of my friends’ texts, and it is easy to see why. Now that we are starting to do real work we are also starting to see real failures.

I thought I’d post a random picture of me and my friends hiking since my project didn’t work out!

Hiking with the gals

Hiking with the gals

Beet Harvesting and Such

I went to the big garden with my make for the first time. A group of ladies all share the garden and work together to weed, water, and harvest it. It was beet season so I got to go along to harvest them. It had been cool all week, so naturally the day I agreed to walk somewhere far it was blazing hot. We met up with the neighbors who all kept telling me I needed long sleeves…in 105 degree weather. I compromised by putting on short sleeves and a hat, but really thought it’d be ok with my constant sunscreen application. The garden is a huge fenced off space that was originally funded by USAID and was surprisingly lush given that I live in a desert. I spent al morning pulling up beets, piling beets, and sorting beets. I was the only one who had brought water, and was amazed when I left to go home that I was incredibly thirsty no one else had had a sip to drink or eat for over 5 hours in the hot sun. My sunscreen did not work as planned and I ended up the same color as the beets I harvested.

There had been some protests in Swaziland and it’s marula season. When marula fruit is harvested it is turned into a strong alcohol, so there are now road blocks all over Swaziland. When I took my bus to Manzini we all were made to stop, get off the bus with our bags, individually checked, then let back on….twice, on the same road. Sometimes things here are not very practical.

Slight tan-line from beet harvesting

Slight tan-line from beet harvesting

A volunteer at a neighboring site organized a large event for World AIDS day, so I helped staff the event. I was shocked at how many people attended, and were tested at the mobile testing. I was very impressed at how successful the event was, and hope because it’s in my shopping town we can make it an annual event. The next day I went with others who had staffed the event to a country club a couple hours away. The sugar company which makes a very large profit off of the region set it up, and with a pool and air conditioning it is a god send for the summer temperatures here. I am very very happy it is nearby.

We also had our Project Design and Management workshop, which is by far the best training we have had here so far. We were allowed to bring a counterpart from our community and walked through how to choose a project based on your community, plan, and execute it. I am very excited to start more tangible work now that our integration period is over and we are allowed to start working.

A Day in the Life

A Day In the Life Since most of my days are unremarkable, I decided to document one. This is my average Tuesday; 4:00 wake up from the roosters, roll over and go back to sleep 6:00 actually wake up 6:15 get out of bed, boil water, and add water to the filter for drinking water for the day 6:30 eat breakfast of oatmeal, green tea, and an apple 7:00 yoga 8:10 take my 20l bucket to fill at the tap for water 8:30 heat water on the stove for a bath, brush teeth, wash face etc then take a bath-by bath I mean kneeling over a basin while splashing lukewarm water around 8:50 walk to charge my computer 9:00 2 more trips for water 9:15 laundry-hand wash with a bar of lye, dump the water, rinse, and hang to dry outside, repeat until everything is clean 11:00 cook lunch of rice and lentils 11:30 eat lunch and read for a little 12:00 wash dishes 12:30 walk to get my computer back 12:45 read prep material for a workshop on Friday 13:00 sit outside with my host siblings 14:00 visit my neighbor who had a baby last week 15:00 prep and pack for grass root soccer practice tomorrow 16:30 make and eat dinner of instant soup and popcorn 17:00 read in my hammock until the sun sets 17:30 suns down-in for the night 18:00 put on a movie and knit until bedtime captions: sunset on the hammock typical lunch

Some of my Swazi Family

Some of my Swazi Family

3 of my Swazi moms

2 of my Swazi moms

Swaziland Families

Gogo-grandmother

Mkhulu-grandfather

Babe-father

Make-mother

Sisi-sister

Bhuti-brother

The list above can define just about every one of the fifty some people who I live with here. I have been trying for 6 months now to figure out how I am related to some of the people on my homestead, and still have not been able to. While at home we have siblings, cousins, stepparents, adoptive parents, neighbors, and friends here the lines are much more blurred. Swazi culture in general, is much more inclusive to all relations. Your parents’ siblings’ children are your bosisi and bobhuti. The adult who takes care of you is your babe or make no matter if you are related or not. Your father’s brother is your babe too, and any woman old enough is your gogo. The culture here is less worried about how you are related and more worried that you are taken care of.

I was talking to another volunteer about my friend who takes care of her kids and her husband’s kids, who were born during his marriage to another woman. My friend’s first question was if the kids that are not biologically the woman’s children are treated differently. It’s a fair question, but I never even knew they were not all her children until I met the other woman, and was told afterwards that she was the mom of a boy I had thought was my friend’s.

Some of the kids in my Swazi family

Some of the kids in my Swazi family

Many young men and women here are dating two, three, or four people simultaneously, the traditional marriages mean the brothers and sisters you grow up with could easily be from a different wife, and cheating while married is common, while divorce is unheard of. The other factor is so many people who had children died before ARV’s were introduced here or have died since, and their children have been adopted into their neighbors’, aunts’, or cousins’ families.  These different mores mean when I ask how I’m related to a person who I know did not come from my babe or either of my makes I am still told it is my bhuti. In some ways this is the best outcome for all of these blended families. If you really take the time it is possible to figure out who was born to whom, but in Swaziland no one but myself and the other foreigners care.

Books for Africa

We have an annual partnership with Books for Africa, an organization that ships books to start or improve libraries around the continent. As I wrote about earlier, my school did not get books this year, but as I am on the board for my group I still got to help out in other ways. Instead of just handing out books we include a librarian workshop to train our Swazi counterparts on how to start, manage, and maintain a library. I completely took for granted the education we get at a young age not only just having a library at school, but having someone to explain fiction and nonfiction, the parts of a book, and how to find books in the library.

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Our first day of sessions the room we had reserved for 8am had a church service in it that did not end until 8:20, and by the time we set up everything were already running behind. After that snafu, everything went much smoother. We had two days on everything from cataloguing to mending spines, and at the end of it got a lot of positive feedback. It was interesting, though, our speaker spent an entire session on library rules highlighting all the way kids will mess up the library. He suggested checking backpacks for weapons before they enter the library, and ensuring girls are dressed appropriately so they don’t encourage harassment. The relationship between book borrowers here versus at home is clearly going to be different.

After our last session I ran to Mbabane where we had an embassy versus Peace Corps volleyball tournament. We did not do so well, but had a fun time. It felt like home being around Americans and playing a sport other than soccer.

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Rainy Season

I don’t have electricity in my house, but I am able to charge my electronics at a different house nearby. Usually, this is not much of a hassle, but during the rainy season their electricity is knocked out multiple times a week and can be out for a couple days at a time. Because of this my use of my computer, phone, etc. became a lot more selective in case I could not charge it for a while. The good thing about this was I caught up on a lot of reading; the bad thing was I couldn’t blog much. However, now the rains are done and I should be back on track.

In March I took a weekend trip for my friend Patty’s birthday. Eight of us were supposed to leave for our much-anticipated break early in the morning to make sure we all got seats on the khumbi to Durban. It had been raining hard for 3 days prior and I was worried my bus would not be running because of the roads. Luckily, it still was-albeit it 2 ½ hours late. I am pretty far out there so there is only the one road in and out of my community. Of course, on the day I was supposed to leave for a much-needed vacation, that road decided to flood. There is a bridge a couple feet high that runs over a trickle of a river 20 minutes from my community, but somehow with all the rain that bridge was completely covered in rushing water. I did not notice this until the bus started going towards the river and other passengers all stood up to watch. It is probably a good thing I didn’t notice though because I would have gotten off the bus and missed my trip. I genuinely thought the bus would hydroplane or get pushed off the bridge, the driver couldn’t see to begin with, by the rushing water, or somehow lead to the bus in the rapids that had formed around boulders that were usually dry except their bottom 2 inches. It was the scariest thing I have gone through in Swaziland so far, but luckily we made it across and no one was hurt, although the bus did stall one minute later. There was a large crowd on the other side of the new river because no one had been crazy enough to try and cross it, and school ended up being cancelled that day because no one could safely get to it.

Rainy Road

The “road” during rainy season

After that adrenaline filled start to my vacation, it was a relaxing weekend. The things I miss most from home are not running water or the lack of hand-sized bugs. I had missed really simple things like Thai food and spending a day window shopping. We were only there3 days so I spent my time doing everything I can’t do in Swaziland; walking around at night, shopping, meeting people who are not volunteers, and getting my haircut. We had a fun couple of days with lots of things I’d missed -tapas, Mexican, sushi,  my first margarita in 9 months, and good company too.

Tequilla, how I've missed you.

Tequila, how I’ve missed you.

On the last day some of the other girls went to the beach. None of us had phone signal so when my friend Janae and I did not see them all day we did not think much of it. We got back to the hostel and I connected to wifi to get whatsapp messages telling us they got robbed. They were at the beach and although they never left their bags alone someone managed to grab a purse with phone, ipod, glasses, rx sunglasses, credit cards, and clothes. The police were less than helpful because it happens often and the thieves are professionals who unload the stuff they can’t sell immediately. The police drove my friends home and it was a good thing we were leaving anyway. I think we all learned to leave valuables at the hostel when possible, and I will not forget to renew my travellers insurance this year.

Me and the birthday girl

Me and the birthday girl