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







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.


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.


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

Election Time in Swaziland


It is election time in Swaziland. We are thoroughly counseled not to get involved in politics here, but since it is also a cultural learning experience I allow myself to go to the community meeting where campaign speeches will be held. I will try to explain my limited knowledge of government here. There is the traditional government; the king, inner council, indvuna (chief) who all are important, but work within their own structure. There is also a parliament and locally elected positions somewhat equivalent to alderman-but for a larger geographic area. I got to see the speeches for bucopho which is a paid government position and covers a couple communities. After 2 hours of sitting on the ground in the sun the speeches started, and I understood exactly none of it. I could tell some of the candidates went for humor while others acted more serious, but beyond that I think I heard the words “water” and “”cow?”.  I also got my official introduction to the community at this meeting. After 4 hours of sitting on the hard ground in the African sun, I am sure it was a great first impression. Luckily, Sonia tried her hardest to coach me on what to do. Women are not allowed to stand during meetings (which I did NOT want to respect) so I had to kneel when speaking. They introduced me and I waved with my left hand (a new no no for me to learn), but otherwise I did not make any big cultural gaffes for once.

Since we all were given kindles, and there is a large collection of shared digital books, we have started a swaz-ebook club. Considering my current pace of reading we could probably meet every week, but for some reason others are not so enthusiastic about that idea. I have my schedule pretty set now. Wake up, work out, bucket bathe(which I am still no better at), play guitar, cook lunch, read and then spend time with my family especially the little kids. I joke Peace Corps is basically training me to be a stay at home mom, but I am not sure how much of a joke it is when it is one hundred percent true.

This week I went to the clinic, and get to start helping out there two days a week. As great as I am at my new hermit lifestyle I am very excited to have something to do again. I also dug my garden this week. Because I wanted to double dig (for better root growth) and dig swales and berms (for water catchment), digging takes 2 days before it is done. I had a nice crowd watching me who have no idea why I am digging in this weird way, but I am hoping to lead by example and try to explain all my weird hippie gardening ways.

Supply closet at the clinic

Supply closet at the clinic

Most importantly I got approval to move the burglar bars to my new house and found someone to do it! I am beyond excited, but still have to let the family pick a  way to do it.

Two days worth of digging

Two days worth of digging

My Goat Proof Garden

An American Girl With a New Years Resolution

I never thought my most meaningful relationship would be with someone born in 1961. Yet, Thursday I happily celebrated my six-month anniversary with the Peace Corps. I hit the quarter mark of my service and the new year, prompting the question “what will you resolve this year?” I find myself looking back instead of forward. The obligatory lists of resolutions and goals have been circulated across my Facebook newsfeed and for once they do not make me feel inadequate. I did not make any resolutions last year, and yet seem to have hit many common resolutions that show up on a number of lists.

2013: Live abroad-check, quit your job-check, keep a journal-checl, adopt a pet-check, change your hair-check (I tried and failed to go blonde), start working out more-check, make new friends-check, learn a new language-check, allow yourself to be selfish-check, write a real letter – check, face a fear – check, and the lists go on. Somehow, without really trying, Peace Corps has helped me accomplish a healthy portion of common goals. The past half a year (and really the months of preparation leading up to it) has given me the time to better myself that I would never have had working a 9 to 5 job in the US. This year instead of looking at deficiencies in my life I am happy to instead appreciate my accomplishments thus far. I have finally learned to focus on the check marks rather than the empty boxes.

With new friends celebrating an early Christmas

With new friends celebrating an early Christmas

If there is one lesson I have learned that I can share for the New Year; notice your own envy. When I saw everyone getting jobs after college and settling down with new relationships and apartments it made me more panicked than covetous. Instead, it was the people who had taken a year off, moved to a new country, not worrying about what people expected their career to look like that made that little pang of jealousy resonate. The most telling emotion I have found is the little green flash when you hear good news from someone. What part of what they said appeals to you, and how can you learn from that? So my resolution for this coming year is simple: be jealous. Notice what you are jealous of, congratulate that person, and learn from them. Channeling this emotion has led me to find what makes me truly happy, and appreciating people doing great things rather than resenting them has allowed me to benefit from their success. While you are doing that, help those who have a reason to be envious of you.

While I miss my family and friends at home, I could not be happier to greet 2014 here in Swaziland. So my simple advice for the new year for all of my fellow Americans back home is, if you are feeling a little jealous of those around you as the ball drops, resolve to ask how they do it.

Thankful for all the packages and letters I get from my loved ones back home

Thankful for all the packages and letters I get from my loved ones back home

Being a "deviled egg" for halloween

Being a “deviled egg” for halloween


P.S. If you want to ring in the New Year by helping create a library for my grade school to be proud of (and maybe inspire other schools jealousy?), please see the link below. We are raising money to create 30 libraries across Swaziland to promote literacy, English proficiency, and all the wonderful benefits literature has to offer. https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-645-001


One of the kids I live with who will get to use the library you can help build.

One of the kids I live with who will get to use the library you can help build.

First Trip to the Grocery and Hardware Store

Tuesday, my fifth day at site, I finally was able to go shopping. I had planned to go on my own, but Sonia stopped over and did not want me going alone. She was heading to get groceries anyway, so agreed that if I went with for that she would accompany me to the hardware store for some essentials. Considering I was going to have to give someone directions to my house, I was glad she was coming with. We went to my shopping town, and I got to see where I will be doing the majority of my grocery shopping for the next 2 years. The town itself is small with a bus stop, gas station, several hardware stores, and a grocery store. The store stocks very basic necessities, but could be worse. After exploring we took the bus back towards our community since it is cheaper to buy a bed closer to wear I live. I have never seen so many people crammed into one space before. A group of school children got on the bus, and the conductor started picking them up and moving them around like a game of Tetris to maximize the space.

We arrived at the hardware store closest to me and went in. I had a grand selection of two beds to choose from, hard or hard and lumpy. I chose hard. I also got some nails, rope, fencing, and a couple other basics before we left. It was amusing that the store clerks all tried to help me find stuff, although they did not speak English, and I did not know the words in siswati. It was basically me wandering around aimlessly with Sonia and two of the workers pointing out stuff they thought I might need. We hired a man with a pick up truck to drive us and my purchases back to my house. I later found out it was a very good thing Sonia came with me because while my ride cost 90E ($9), most of my friends were charged upwards of 300E. It’s pretty easy to guess we would not know a fair price, and some people were taken advantage of.

After getting settled in I figured out I could move houses but would have to pay to move the burglar bars from one house to the new one. Seeing as we are given enough to live at the level of the people in our communities I was not looking forward to seeing how big of a chunk that would take from my bank account. After unpacking fully I spent a lot of time just sitting with my family. A couple of my host brothers and sisters speak English because of school, but none of the adults do. A lot of my nights are spent making wild hand motions to try to get a point across or just listening to words I do not understand.


Teaching Life Lessons to 7th Graders

One of the most enlightening activities during PST was teaching life skills at the local primary school. The teaching style in many Swazi schools is very different than in America. First, corporal punishment is still used. Second, students are taught to repeat back what the teacher says, not think for themselves. For example; if there is a lesson on bacteria the teacher would say (very simplified)“bacteria are small organisms” The children will repeat “bacteria are small organism”. Then, the teacher will say “bacteria are small _____” and the children will respond “organisms”. In some schools children are hit for wrong answers which can not be encouraging to try and answer. All of this leads to a lack of children feeling as free to express themselves or their opinions as we are used to in America.

Peace Corps once again split the volunteers into small groups and let us design a lesson plan, this time at least the subject was not puberty. We could choose from any of the lessons in our “life skills” manuals-a series of lessons designed to foster self esteem, healthy relationships, good decision making, and ultimately hopes these tools will prevent bad decisions later on. The book is about 150 pages, at least, and a comprehensive tool which emphasizes all the lessons are needed to have healthy children in all aspects of their lives. We were given 1 hour with the kids.

My group chose to do a decision making exercise because it can help in so many aspects of life and teaches about consequences as well as taking responsibility for your choices. I thought this would be a pretty easy self explanatory lesson, but, as always, I quickly realized I know nothing. We started with our explanation of ways to make a decision, people that are good to ask advice, not ignoring a problem etc… then did a big group example of a decision and had the class talk out what they would do. So far, so good. After, we split into smaller groups to do the same exercise with more difficult scenarios. I had nine 7th graders in my group and our scenario was; you are waiting to have sex until marriage. Your boyfriend says you will get married, but wants to have sex now. Okay group, what do you do? (keep in mind we’d spent 40 mins discussing how to consider consequences, ask advice, think of different options, and make good decision). One of the boys says “I’d just have sex”. I take him as a smart alec, and ask how he came to the decision.

“everyone does it.”

“Did you consider possible consequences?”


“Do you think it might effect your relationship?”


“Do you think some people only SAY they want to get married so you’ll have sex?”


I decided the kid was trying to look cool and back tracked to have the group think over the steps to making the decision. The group came up with possible consequences of pregnancy, stis, HIV, your boyfriend leaving you after, you not being ready emotionally(that one was my suggestion because no one considered it). The pros list was “it feels good, and you love your boyfriend.” The group decided you could consult a friend, sibling, pastor, or parent for advice. I was feeling way better that the rest of the group understood the activity; they all comprehended you have to think through big decisions like this, right? Apparently not. Just to be clear, I asked “So, now that we’ve thought through everything-who would have sex in this situation?” Every. Single. Group. Member. raised their hand. In my little group of SEVENTH graders 100% would choose to have sex. I asked if their answer would change if I said the situation was not talking about the future, but at their current age; no defectors. I then asked if they would at least wear a condom? All said yes, so there’s that at least. At this point one of our LCFs (Peace Corps teachers of siSwati and Swazi culture) had wandered over and was listening to me, looking a little amused and horrified. I wondered if it was a language thing, so I had him translate the question as a last ditch effort, they still maintained unanimity.

Unsure of how to proceed, I tried to decipher why they all felt it was ok to have sex so early and hoped I’d be able to dissuade at least one of them. The students blamed the media for making them want to have sex, and Generations. Quick sidebar: Generations is a show without an equivalent in the US. It is a nightly soap opera that is watched by almost anyone with a tv. In America, there may be 2 or 3 shows competing for viewing in primetime, and some households have multiple tvs so as to avoid the conflict of missing someone’s’ show. Not here. Young and old, anyone with a tv can tell you the current story line of Generations-it is an absolute phenomenon. I asked if people on Generations ever have consequences?


“really? Do they ever have babies they did not plan?”


“Do people ever fight or break up because of sex?”


“Do you want a baby?”


“So is that a good or a bad thing?”


I was feeling a little better, at least they were not arguing sex does not have drawbacks. I asked why their generation is different, did they think their parents had sex at their age?. I went on talking about pregnancy, and efficacy of condoms not being 100%, emotional toll of sex too young, and had Mandla translate just to be sure. They were all nodding and I finally felt that they understood what I was saying. I asked again if anyone wanted to rethink their answers, and knew I’d changed 9 young lives forever….nope. They all would still have sex. After everything I had just said, one boys response to my exasperation was “but it just looks fun”. Touché, you horny delinquent, touché. ,

I guess you really do need all the life skills lessons together for them to work. I hope the idea of thinking about you actions sunk in at least a little bit, but who knows. Another failed attempt at teaching down, and I continue to learn from my mistakes.