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

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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

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

Training week pre-family move in

At the King's Game Reserve in Swaziland

At the King’s Game Reserve in Swaziland

We are a couple days in now. We have had a lot of cultural training and safety training…A LOT. However, I will meet someone from my PST host family tomorrow and still can only say hello how are you in Swati, so I am hoping we cover a lot in the language lesson tomorrow. We have heard a lot of negative cultural differences like sexual relationship differences( cross generational, multiple partners at one time, etc…), gender equality differences (it is unacceptable for women to smoke in public but not men, must address the male head of household first), and drinking (frowned upon heavily for us to, but relatively common among Swazis). I am excited to get to know some of the positive things to as we move into a community and get to speak to people one on one and see the positive things too. Also, learning the language should help a lot because they may know no English and I know next to know Swati. Apparently, we are too direct compared to their culture. You must say hi hello how are you, how’s your mom sister etc before talking to them, which is unnatural in English if you’ve just seen them an hour ago, it’s unusual to regret someone 5 times  a day, but maybe having it ingrained in a different language and mindset will help.

Me and some other PCV at King's Tomb

Me and some other PCV at King’s Tomb

We have also had our briefing on HIV in general and our safety from it. Definitely the most depressing day I’ve had in a long time. The prevalence rate here is the highest in the world, but hearing the statistics paired with stories at the same time is very sobering. Many households have no adult in the family so girls and boys of 14 or younger are heads of households. At that age prostitution may be the easiest or only way to feed your younger siblings. Further, often older men in a family or neighborhood are the first sexual encounter a younger girl has, not often by choice.
It’s crazy to me that in a culture that is so conservative on the surface, that frowns upon multiple sex partners, drinking, smoking, and is largely Christian there is such a persistent problem with HIV transmission. It’s even crazier to me that with such a  high prevalence those that are sexually active do not take necessary precautions always.

We’ve been told that when we meet our families tomorrow they may ask about our religion and push on the subject so I am nervous because I do not know what to say, and there will be a language barrier. Similarly we’ve been told people with ask for money often and literally the clothes off your back, but it is rude to say no…..So there’s that to figure out. I expect a lot of cultural learning in the next days and weeks and am just trying my hardest to not offend anyone.