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.

A Sad Puppy Post

In my training village a couple homesteads over there were puppies, and I bought one before I left. My tishela had offered to take her while I moved in etc, and he would drive her to me. Well, that never exactly worked out so I had to ask a couple weeks in a row if I could pick her up. Finally, after a lot of harassing him he agreed to bring Daisy to Manzini for me and I arranged transport from there with a neighbor. I met some friends in Manzini and our teacher came to meet us. He gets there and does not have the dog. After all of the hassle and prodding to get MY dog I was a little frustrated. I had to give him cab fare to go back to his house and get her and bring her back later in the day because he didn’t want to bring her on the bus. Instead of waiting he brings her back immediately and I spent the rest of the day walking around with a dog in a box. Luckily my friends watched her while I went to get rope and made a leash, which she hated. We waited in a park for my neighbor to be done working and she seemed really overwhelmed and not her usual boisterous self, but finally we got her home and all set up in my room.

The next morning Daisy slept all day, and I thought it was just adjustment to the new surroundings. I was finally moving that day so the guy came to move the burglar bars and I waited outside. As we were sitting there I noticed Daisy was wheezing a little so I called my friend who used to work at a vet’s office and tried to ask my babe if there is a vet or someone who could look at her. Being a Sunday, there were no busses out of town that day. While I was trying to use my poor siSwati to communicate I needed help, Daisy died. It’s pretty lonely living where you can hardly communicate with most people so I had been so excited to finally get her back, and it was devastating. I had no idea how to tell my babe, or what to do with a dead puppy in the middle of nowhere. I felt utterly helpless. Had I been in the US or even in Manzini I could have found someone to look at her, and maybe fix it. That was the first time I realized how stranded people are in my community. I lost my dog, but there are also no emergency services for people. I don’t know what I would do if it had been a child sick on a Sunday instead of a pet. I sometimes forget because we as Peace Corps volunteer have insanely comprehensive health care while here, everyone else that lives with me has issues I will never face no matter how long I live here.

The only saving grace of that day was I moved to my new house that afternoon so I actually got to sleep, and didn’t have to stay in the room Daisy died in. My family was so nice and supportive about everything, even if I can’t speak siSwati that well, it was comforting. They helped me move my things into the new house and I distracted myself with unpacking and organizing everything.

Daisy

The Quiet Life

Swazi campaign posters

Swazi campaign posters

My next couple days were spent moving furniture in my house, then moving it again, and moving it again. I have no concept of space and could not figure out the best place for things just by looking. My babe’s sister (so my host aunt?) was visiting the homestead so I got to spend one of the cold days inside with everyone ,drinking Swazi tea, different from other tea because it is so saturated with sugar there’s a good inch of un-dissolved granules when you finish, and nodding vigorously whenever I heard my name. I figured out later the event was to bless the new house my family is building, I had assumed it was a birthday. It was quite the production for a strip of land; later in the day a large group of men from the community came over to see the land, or maybe help bless it, I am clearly soaking in the culture here.

I got to see sorghum being ground by hand when I went to sit with my family. Both of my makes had large flat stones they were using to grind the grain into a powder, and somehow the whole process gives off the smell of freshly baked bread. When I am not playing Tetris with my furniture or sitting with my family I read, a lot. I’m not entirely sure if it’s possible to read too much, but if it has not been achieved yet I may be the first to over-read.

The hours drag by here, but the days fly. I stopped wearing my watch in my house because I check it too frequently, but every time I look at the date I cannot believe how quickly it is going. Day 1, week 1, month 1 have all snuck past without fanfare. I started a compost pile and quickly learned mountains of thorns will not detract hungry goats. Throwing rocks does, but only temporarily.

Side note: I was able to switch houses on the same homestead.  While my new house still has its bugs and other “minor” issues, it is certainly an upgrade!

Old House

Old House

New House

New House

I got to go on another shopping trip and bought supplies for further home improvement. I may have hand sized tarantulas and hoards of ants in my room, but I am determined to make it homey. I managed to gerry-rig a makeshift closet from a plank I sawed (by hand!) and some rope hanging from the rafters. Along with my new found adult qualities I now wake up between 4-4:30 am…without an alarm. I understand for most people that is not impressive, but considering I have a propensity to sleep in as late as possible at home, even with an alarm, I consider it an achievement. I’ve started using this time to workout which is nice, but when it’s only 6am and babe sees me red faced and sweaty I have to learn a new vocab word-exercising. As in, I am not sick, I am exercising, in my house, which swazis have never heard of. They may think I am just naturally the color of a beet in the morning.

This is my handcrafted closet contraption.  I am very proud of my skills. My handcrafted closet

The Training Wheels Off

 

I expected moving to our training sites all on the same day with our poorly packed things to be mayhem, but was pleasantly surprised that it all went off without a hitch. We all had to have our things ready in the respective cars by 8am. They split us up geographically so I was with my friends Becca and Rachel in one car with a Peace Corps driver, a second car with most of our luggage followed behind us caravan style. We said our goodbyes which were not that sad since the country is so small geographically it is relatively easy to see friends, but there was definite anxiety in the air about moving to our sites for good. We stopped to get groceries and waited in traffic for a while since our moving day also happened to be concurrent with the reed dance, one of Swaziland’s largest events.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

My site is furthest geographically so we started by dropping me off first. I was really anxious because there had been some confusion on which house I would be living in on the homestead, and because I was getting dropped off in the middle of a foreign country to live with people I could barely communicate with, the latter probably contributed more to the anxiety. We pulled up to the homestead and immediately the PC car was surrounded by a hoard of young children all clearly very excited to see us. My host father and some of the older sisters came and with all the helping hands my things were placed into my new house in no time. The house I was staying in was a bit of an adjustment from what I am used to from the US, sunlight coming through places other than windows was unexpected. Standing there with no bed, furniture, water, or anything else a house I am used to has was incredibly overwhelming. I said goodbye to Rachel and Becca a little teary eyed at the prospect of them driving away and leaving me alone for the night. Luckily, my host family was all there so I did not have time to feel sorry for myself.

My first night was spent settling in, unpacking, organizing, and trying to find the essentials from the bulk of my luggage. Since I did not have a bed, my family lent me a foam mat to sleep on where I was able to commune with all the bugs in my house on their level of the floor that first night. I draped cloth over the bars on my windows for make shift curtains since, not shockingly, all of the little kids were very interested in the new white girl on the homestead, and even when I closed the door picked up the habit of peering through my windows and not understanding my siswati when I asked them to stop. The next day I literally sat watching the kids watch me for over an hour. It quickly became clear I need to think of things to fill my time. I have never had 24 hours in a day completely unplanned, seven days a week.

After waking up sore Saturday I decided the first priority was to buy a bed. I planned to take a bus to the nearest town, buy a bed, and hire someone to drive myself and the bed back. I walked to the bus stop only getting lost once, which I was pretty proud of, and waited. An hour later the bus still had not arrived. I tried to ask the two women also standing waiting if the bus was coming, but even if they understood my broken siswati, I could not understand their answer. Finally a car passed down the road and they ran out to hitchhike motioning for me to come with, getting out in English “no busses”. I later learned it was because of the holiday there were no busses. That was a bit of a predicament as Peace Corps forbids us from hitchhiking. After an hour of waiting in the sweltering sun I had to walk back to my house, and since there is never transport on Sundays and Monday was a holiday, to wait until Tuesday to buy a bed. Dropping us lacking the essentials on a Friday afternoon with no transport for three days was not the best laid planned.

Feeling a little dejected, I walked to my ssa’s house to say hello and speak to someone in English. After a lot of confusion I figured out the housing situation was that the house I wanted to move into had not been approved by Peace Corps, although my family wanted me in it, so I was in the current house until something changed. That at least was a glimmer of hope that it was still possible to move. My current house hosted a number of lovely tarantulas that allowed me to bond  with my host sister by asking her to help me kill. I spent the next couple days settling in, cleaning, starting a compost pile, and waiting to be able to leave to buy furniture.

My homestead for the next two years.

My homestead for the next two years.

Another picture of my homestead

Another picture of my homestead

Last Day of Training

      After a couple more weeks of lectures and our final Round Robin exams, it was time to leave our training host families. I felt especially bad leaving, since I had not seen my family for a couple days when I was sick. Peace Corps put on a nice family appreciation lunch the day before we left, and that night my family and I had a dinner to say goodbye. You would think packing would have been easy considering I only brought two bags to Swaziland, but you would be wrong. With the added additions of a stove, buckets, cooking supplies, bedding, and other miscellaneous items I accrued during the 2 months packing was a disaster. With no boxes to put anything in I ended up heaping large quantities of items into my wash basin and buckets and then securing it all, rather precariously, with an excessive amount of duct tape.

            Peace Corps had given us our marching orders and planned to pick us up in geographical order. First our things would be picked up in a van, then we would be in a separate vehicle, and we would arrive with our luggage at our training facility for lunch. I was told to be ready by 9am. Knowing how well transport has gone so far in my service I had low expectation and assumed, being in the second group, they would not be more than an hour or so behind since we all live within walking distance of each other. That morning I also had to go and get my puppy ,Daisy,I was buying from a neighbor. My teacher had agreed to keep her at his house for a while and then drive her to my permanent site once I was settled in. I walked over to get the dog and walked her to where my teacher’s ride was waiting.  My teacher had to get a couple more of his things so I sat in the car with Daisy and waited for him to be ready feeling very grateful I would not have to return and get her in a bus or khumbi.  Then, my teacher bring a big plastic bag over, the smart man doesn’t want her peeing in the car. I get ready to lay out the plastic on the floor, when instead he puts my puppy into the bag, ties it with just her head sticking out, and says they’re ready. No, you are not ready my dog cannot move and is clearly frightened which, if anything, is going to increase the chance of her peeing in the car. I had forgotten how different Swazis view dogs. I actually had to argue that a dog should not be tied up like a chicken and left in the back of the car. It was one of the more ludicrous conversations I have ever had, how do you explain that to someone who does not see a dog as a pet? They left and I walked back to my house with a rather uneasy feeling about how differently she would be treated in a Swazi house than the way I would like her to be.

 I put all of my things outside the house, gave the key to my host sister as she was leaving for work, and waited.  At 11:15 (over 2 hours late) a truck finally pulls up to my homestead. We loaded all of my bags into the bed of the pick up and I was told a vehicle would be there shortly to drive me back. I waited another 90 minutes before walking to the closest volunteer’s Moira, who luckily also was still waiting with her things so they could pick us both up in one, hopefully quicker, trip. It is a good thing I did so because at one o’clock, 4 hours after the time I was told, we finally saw a car coming to her house. It pulled up and in it was Mandla, and LCF, all of his stuff, and the driver. We had to rearrange to fit all of Moira’s things and then re-rearrange to fit the 2 of us in the back. Apparently, the driver had not been told to pick me up so was not expecting to fit all of us. As we were driving it came out we were the last ones and everyone and everyone’s things was already waiting at the training center. We were the last trip, I was not on the schedule to be picked up, they forgot about me. Apparently my last name Becker and my friend’s first name Becca sound enough alike that they thought I had already been picked up because “Becca was already picked up”. I did get a lovely sun burn from my unanticipated day waiting outside to remind me not to expect anything to happen in a timely fashion here. We arrived when the rest of our group was finishing lunch and had to rush to eat before our next training session.

 Our last couple days of training were the best. We were all reunited, could socialize after dark, had hot showers, and did not have to cook for ourselves. Our Medical officer did her review as a jeopardy game that ended with ice cream and Tuesday night we all pitched in for a wine and chocolate social as a last hurrah.  Wednesday we were given a day to explore Mbabane with PSIN (peer support) as our guides. We were shown around the city and the Peace Corps office and had time to do some shopping. Thursday was our big day to swear in officially, and reminded me a lot of prom. We got ready together, all looked dressier than any of us had seen each other, and took tons and tons of pictures. They bussed us all to a hotel near Mbabane where the event was held. It was a very well done ceremony, and after we had all sworn in officially was followed by a nice meal. That night we all planned to go out even though we were leaving for our permanent sites early the next morning. We had a fun night at a bar where most of G10 (the group that’s been here a year already) met up with us. I tried to leave at a responsible time and get some sleep for another day of moving.