Swaziland Families

Gogo-grandmother

Mkhulu-grandfather

Babe-father

Make-mother

Sisi-sister

Bhuti-brother

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.

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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.

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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

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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

Mailing Address and More

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

Mbabane, Swaziland

H100

AFRICA

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.

My Juice Box Wallet

My Juice Box Wallet

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.

The healer talking to spirits

The healer talking to spirits

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.