On August 3rd announcements. Each year the announcement day has a theme and this years was Hunger Games, which seems pretty fitting. We were all brought into the gym and stood in lines as our names were drawn from a bowl and our site location was announced. It was really hard sitting there waiting to hear my fate for the next two years. Finally, they called me, and I realized it did not matter that I knew the name of my site because we have no knowledge of the geography, size, or attributes of the sites. I am becoming very patient.
Once everyone had their site announcement and knew which region they were in we got to see a map of where we each are, and found out a little more about our sites. I’m not allowed to disclose my location, but I can say I am in the Lubumbo region, on a very large homestead, does not have electricity, and am very rural. I had a hard time not comparing sites. Mine is very standard as far as Peace Corps goes and I’m no worse off than I expected coming here. However, some people have electricity and a flushing toilet…it’s pretty hard not to be jealous of that.
After site announcement we have OJT(On the job training), and get to spend a night at our site and get to see a glimpse of what to expect for the next two years. Anxious does not begin to adequately describe how I was feeling. Sleepless, nauseous, and terrified are all more apt adjectives.
Peace Corps assigns us SSA’s (Site Support Agents-PC loves their acronyms) which are basically a reputable member of the community who agrees to show us around and make sure we do not make complete fools of ourselves, it’s a pretty big task. I had heard some SSA’s are great and will work on projects with you the whole 2 years while others will ditch you the second day and never be heard from again, which of course just added more angst when meeting mine. If they did not like me or I said something wrong I might have to navigate the cultural and language barriers of my new home all on my own, and no matter what my LPI said, I do not feel proficient in the language.
Luckily, my SSA is awesome. We all met our SSA’s on Monday and had a brief chance to talk to them, and, of course, listen to more Peace Corps rules. We were sent out with our SSA’s Tuesday morning so they could show us how to get to our sites, but instructed to pay attention as we’d be making the return trip alone. After all the coddling and over protectiveness I felt like a little bird being pushed out of the nest; it’s a pretty big leap from not being allowed to go to the grocery store without supervision to commuting from a brand new place by yourself on public transport in a country where you hardly speak the language.
Tuesday morning we set out from our training center a mix of SSA’s, PCV’s, and staff and slowly dispersed into khumbis, cars, and busses. Sonia, my SSA< and I took a khumbi to Manzini, where all Swazi transport runs through, and I peppered her with questions about my new home, family, house, and community. My site is very rural so there’s no khumbis, and only 1 bus a day I can take to it because we are not allowed to be off our homesteads after dark, and the other bus that goes to my community arrives after sunset. The bright side is there’s two busses that leave mon-sat so if I over sleep the first one (likely) I have a second chance. Because we had our most exciting/anxiety-inducing day so far; site limited transport we spent the rest of the morning killing time in Manzini until the bus came. I bought some groceries for my new family because it’s culturally expected, and more so because I really wanted them to like me, and got a small tour of the bus rank, shops, etc… from Sonia.
Finally, we got on the bus to ensure we would have a seat. In case the anticipation was not killing me already, it was an hour and a half before the bus left. In the mean time I was proposed to 3 times, bought a newspaper from one of the vendors who walk in and out of all the busses with their goods, and had time to explain Sonia was not my future sister-in-law; because that was the only reason the older ladies could think for me being on the bus with her. The bus ride took a couple hours of bumping along. My community is not on a tar road so half way through the trip we turned off onto gravel. That was when I realized how far out I would be staying.
We arrived and walked to my homestead, but there had been some confusion and my family thought I was not coming that day, so none of the adults were there. I had to wait at Sonia’s until they got back. Finally, we walked back to my homestead and I got to meet my new family. My babe (dad) herds cows and is always smiling at me although I rarely understand what he’s saying. I met my make (mom) and we all sat for a bit while Sonia did some translating for me. Make left to go prepare dinner and a lot of children came up to sit with us. Another woman came up and Sonia introduced her as my make. I knew I had already met my make so I was a little confused, but thought maybe it was an aunt I’d call make or something. Being the culturally sensitive and intelligent girl that I am, I asked how she fit into the family since I’d already met babe’s wife. She is also babe’s wife. They are polygamous and it took them spelling it out for me as wife 1 and wife 2 before I caught on. I’d like to blame the language barrier, but pretty sure I had really just blocked that part of the culture out since I had yet to meet anyone with multiple wives.
That night they made tea and dinner and we sat around, mostly silently on my part. I was able to communicate I was tired and they were nice enough to warm me up bath water and give me a lantern for the night. It took much longer to communicate I wanted to sleep by myself because they thought I’d be scaed and want someone with me. Swazi’s thinking I will be afraid of everything seems to be a theme here. I was staying in a different hut because the one I’ll be staying in was still being worked on so I did not get to see my new home that day, but did get to meet a lovely little lizard who spent the night crawling around the room.
It was a very overwhelming day. Realizing how far I am from a tar road was a little concerning. Seeing that there’s no grocery or even bomake stands was more concerning. Realizing just how limited my Siswati is was most concerning. I went to bed feeling really discouraged that I could barely talk to my family. By the time I laid down my head was swimming too fast to sleep much, but overall it was a very informative day.