We are a couple days in now. We have had a lot of cultural training and safety training…A LOT. However, I will meet someone from my PST host family tomorrow and still can only say hello how are you in Swati, so I am hoping we cover a lot in the language lesson tomorrow. We have heard a lot of negative cultural differences like sexual relationship differences( cross generational, multiple partners at one time, etc…), gender equality differences (it is unacceptable for women to smoke in public but not men, must address the male head of household first), and drinking (frowned upon heavily for us to, but relatively common among Swazis). I am excited to get to know some of the positive things to as we move into a community and get to speak to people one on one and see the positive things too. Also, learning the language should help a lot because they may know no English and I know next to know Swati. Apparently, we are too direct compared to their culture. You must say hi hello how are you, how’s your mom sister etc before talking to them, which is unnatural in English if you’ve just seen them an hour ago, it’s unusual to regret someone 5 times a day, but maybe having it ingrained in a different language and mindset will help.
We have also had our briefing on HIV in general and our safety from it. Definitely the most depressing day I’ve had in a long time. The prevalence rate here is the highest in the world, but hearing the statistics paired with stories at the same time is very sobering. Many households have no adult in the family so girls and boys of 14 or younger are heads of households. At that age prostitution may be the easiest or only way to feed your younger siblings. Further, often older men in a family or neighborhood are the first sexual encounter a younger girl has, not often by choice.
It’s crazy to me that in a culture that is so conservative on the surface, that frowns upon multiple sex partners, drinking, smoking, and is largely Christian there is such a persistent problem with HIV transmission. It’s even crazier to me that with such a high prevalence those that are sexually active do not take necessary precautions always.
We’ve been told that when we meet our families tomorrow they may ask about our religion and push on the subject so I am nervous because I do not know what to say, and there will be a language barrier. Similarly we’ve been told people with ask for money often and literally the clothes off your back, but it is rude to say no…..So there’s that to figure out. I expect a lot of cultural learning in the next days and weeks and am just trying my hardest to not offend anyone.
I am sitting here in the hospital in Racine with my 93 year old Mom recuperating (we hope) from a blood clot in the lung. Since I am committed to being with her for all her waking hours, there is little to do but read and talk, so your posts have been a topic of our conversation. How interesting the contrasts you are learning about. I can imagine that you will learn more in the next two years than in all your school years combined! We will follow you closely, thanks for the address too. I will share it with Austin when I see him next week in Seattle. Safe travels to you and the little guardian angel on your shoulder. 🙂
Love, Aunt Annie
Hi Maggie, glad to hear from you and that you’re safe and sound. Thanks for keeping us posted on your new adventure. Don’t worry, you’ll learn the language, and you’ll look back laughing at how you did.