I apologize for the gap in time between posts. I have been ill for a couple weeks so have not had the energy to write, and sleeping 12 hours a day does not make for exciting fodder for writing. Also, I will be moving to my permanent site in a few days and Internet access will be cut drastically to around once a month. Because of that, I highly suggest subscribing for email updates on the blog if you enjoy it, as it will be updated less often and will make life easier than checking every month. Finally, if anyone wants to send love from home in the form of letters or packages; my address here is:
Maggie Becker PCV
P.O. Box 2797
The first week in August we had a focus on waste management, which seems simple, but since there is no garbage collection here is very different. The best way to get rid of trash is by burning it, but I just think of all the burning plastic fumes and shudder. Peace Corps has gotten very creative with repurposing things. This is due both to a limited budget and a limited garbage disposal. Some examples from my life currently; a juice box repurposed into a wallet, a coke bottle and jam jar repurposed as a candle holder, egg cartons as fire starters, yogurt containers as Tupperware, tuna cans as a soap dish, orange bags as a dish scrubber, and pill bottles as salt and pepper shakers. I have become increasingly thrifty.
On the language and culture side of things we went to a traditional healer. Around 80% of Swaziland identifies as Christian, and most people would balk if you asked them if they consult (go to a healer). That being said, around 40% of people do consult traditional healers of some sort. This is one of those fun dichotomies in the society. Apparently, our Peace Corps trainer had a hard time even finding a healer to go see because when he asked people in our training village who in the area works as a healer, few people wanted to admit to knowing who does and would not answer him.
Seeing the healer was definitely an experience, but it seemed like more of a show than anything. That probably had to do in large part to there being 33 Americans coming in to learn about it. We all sat outside the sangoma’s house because there were too man of us to fit into the consultation room. It started as the youths from the homestead singing and dancing, which involves a lot of stomping and booty shaking. Then, the sangoma approached us while singing, dancing, and kneeling at intervals to speak to the ancestors-it was a very long entrance. The sangoma would kneel and his assistant would have to translate for him. I did not really understand how that works. He talks to the spirits, relays the message to his assistant, who then tells us, but it’s all in the same language so I did not understand what the need of a translator was. He then sat and answered our questions. Before and after speaking; the sangoma must clap to give respect to the ancestors, likewise, before addressing him a person must clap. They are allowed to marry and have a relatively normal life except, the one we spoke to told us he avoids public transport because it is awkward when the ancestors talk to him and he basically becomes possessed by the spirits while in public.
Another interesting tidbit was it is his brothers job to assist him. One of the caveats is he can not assist the sangoma while unclean, including if he’s had sex in the past day. According to the brother this has been a problem in the past. One day he went to assist the sangoma and did not tell him that he’d had sex the night before. Because of this, he assisted talking to the ancestors while unclean and was punished by them. The next day he had sores on his genitals as punishment. I do not want to pass judgement, but having sores after sex, scientifically speaking, is called an STI. If you want to blame the ancestors for giving you said STI, I can accept that, but it was not some random issue caused by angering the ancestors, it was caused by unprotected sex.
That week we also got a spa day, which was awesome. It was mostly stress management techniques, but we also got chocolate, foot soaks, and presents, so it was a pretty great day.