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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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. 

On the Job Training

The next morning I woke up and was sitting outside writing when my host make comes up holding a rooster, I was so happy it was a rooster because I know they are too stringy to eat so whatever she was saying it was not asking me to kill another chicken. She kept gesturing to it and asking if I liked it so I said yes, and she looked happy walked away, and slaughtered it….Apparently, some people do eat the roosters.

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How I do my cooking now

I sat with babe and make as they plucked and cooked the chicken, which is a bloody task and not my favorite. I was pleasantly surprised babe sat with us in the cooking hut, as some Swazi men think cooking is a woman’s job. We finished

cooking and ate the rooster for breakfast, which was not exactly what I was craving for breakfast, but such is life. My SSA had said she’d come and meet me at 9am to show me around the community, which in Swaziland translated to 10:30. We walked and saw the clinic, school, hair salon and little store that sells very basic staples and the tour was complete. It is a very small community. We went to the kagogo center (literally “Grandmas’ center” which serves as a community center) and I met my SSA’s business partners. I was a little confused why they were pouring peanuts into buckets, but just sat and watched. All of a sudden they said “ok let’s go catch the bus,” but I did not want to leave since I only had a day to get to know my community. I tried to explain I was supposed to talk to people and see as much as possible, but did not really have any power since I could not refuse to go and be left alone. So, we all hopped on the bus to the next biggest city and carried the peanuts to a World Vision center where you can pay to use a peanut grinder. They all set to work, each having their own task of cleaning, sorting, or organizing to prepare to make peanut butter. I just sat there uselessly and watched. It is pretty cool they just add oil and salt to the peanuts and grind it into little plastic containers. It’s sugar free, organic, and natural; everything health food stores overcharge for at home. The smell of the peanuts being ground was amazing, so overall it was not a bad day even though I did not really get to accomplish what I was supposed to during the day. That night I ate dinner with the family, and was so exhausted from barely sleeping the night before coupled with no electricity and sunset at 6pm that I fell asleep very early. With the limited transport, I had to leave at 7am the next morning which was unfortunate because I wanted to spend more time in the community and with my family.

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Making Peanut Homemade Peanut Butter

Peace Corps organizes someone from the group of volunteers that has been there a year already to host you for the last night of OJT and show you around your shopping town. I stayed with one other girl from my group and a G10 volunteer who is blessedly close to my site if I ever feel the need to speak to an American. We saw my shopping town, where we ground the peanuts, which has 2 little stores, bomake stand which sell fruits and vegetables, and a hardware store as its main amenities. Things could be worse, there’s no internet nearby, but all my basic needs are met. It was really nice being able to talk to someone who has already braved their first year and can give advice and answer questions PC staff cannot.

The next morning the 3 of us took a khumbi into Manzini where our G10 host showed us around, which was more than she had to do. It was great to get a tour of spots we might not find on our own; cheapest internet café, best coffee, post office, etc… and to get a feel for where things are. We all had lunch and headed back to the bus rank to go home.

The next couple weeks I was feeling sick whether from stress or something I ate during OJT I’m not sure. A lot of the days I just slept 12 hours, attended training, and slept some more. It was not the highlight of PST.

Gardening and Cooking

The language learning is once again stalled. All week we worked on technical training, and our language lesson we were supposed to have got cut from 2 hours to 20 mins because my teacher had to run and fix his debit card. My family is trying to speak more SiSwati to me because I’m way behind the people whose host families only speak SiSwati…WAY behind.

This was my favorite week of training so far, mostly because we got to be outside for a portion of it (I’m paler in Africa than I was in Wisconsin). We finished our garden which was crazy. The soil was basically cement so as we were digging instead of each strike with the hoe breaking up a clod of dirt, you could see exactly where it hit ad chipped away just a wee bit. It was tough work for sure. We spent half a day double digging our 2x1m garden. The coolest thing though was before we started digging we took a stick and pushed it as far as we could go into the ground to simulate the ease roots can grow down. (If they can grow down they don’t grow as horizontally and you can plant crops closer together because they don’t share as much nutrients, which is easier to weed and water, uses the land more intensively, and creates a healthier garden) Our “roots” could only go in about an inch and a half easily which means anything planted there would grow roots very wide and shallow. After double digging we tested our rots again and it could easily go almost two feet! I was a little skeptical of the process, but seeing that comparison really made it click. We planted a papaya tree, peppers, chillies, onions and beets for the kagogo center to use when they feed kids lunch. Hopefully, if people see how much you can grow on that little plot instead of the giant, weedy, untended fields they use as gardens some people in the community will want to learn how to do permagardening themselves.

The other part of this week’s focus is cooking healthy by encouraging small steps to change the swazi diet which consist usually of a giant helping of starch (rice or maize meal), maybe some meat that’s been heavily salted, and MAYBE if you’re really fancy a teeny tiny side of oily salty spinach. So Thursday we were tasked with locally sourcing a traditional Swazi meal and making it healthier. If you were to make a salad for you family they wouldn’t eat it (my family thinks I’m crazy for buying vegetables more than starch). So in my group we decided to make chicken without all the oil and aromat (lovely salt and MSG flavoring they put on everything), spinach, onions, mushrooms, and a small side of mashed potatoes instead of 80% of the plate being starch. Not super healthy, but the point is to make something close enough to their food they’d want to make it themselves. It was not a good experience.

The day before cooking we walked around our village and the next one over randomly bothering people to buy their vegetables (none of which are in season) because we obviously don’t have a garden. Our teacher said he’d buy a chicken f rom his host family and we would meet up the next day to cook. We met at 9am to make lunch ready by 1pm. I was all excited to cook, but then my teacher showed up with a chicken in a grocery bag. Not chicken pieces….a live chicken in a bag…because that’s normal. I was under the impression he was killing it the night before, but he wanted us to kill it our selves. I’m not a vegetarian, I know my meat was once an adorable happy animal, but that doesn’t mean I want to look it in the eye before eating it.

We took the chicken, a knife and a bowl into the yard, and so began the most traumatizing 5 minutes of my life. My teacher took the chicken out of the bag and although its feet were tied it could still flap its wing, squawk and otherwise make its displeasure known. My teacher tried to get me to hold it while he slit the throat but I couldn’t. I felt so bad, that chicken knew what was up and it was fighting for its life. Thankfully Matt held the chicken while our teacher held the knife. He had to hold the wings down, the legs up, and tilt it so the blood would drain instead of getting into the meat. At this point I was feeling pretty silly for not just holding it, it didn’t look that bad. Then he slit the throat, and I became a vegetarian. Blood spilt out of the neck, but not as much as I would have expected. That was not fun, but not so bad. Then, the bird DID NOT DIE. It kept right on kicking, flapping, and visibly breathing for at least 4 mins as the blood switched from a stream to a geyser. The blood started spurting out spraying Matt’s pants and staining them, but he couldn’t let go because it would run away headless. He had to stand there as the bird kept twitching and heaving until the life ran out of it. Poor guy was visibly upset and tearing up, I started gagging, and my teacher thought it was hilarious. What a great way to start the morning. Plucking the chicken was equally disgusting. Really the whole process was a lesson in why I value modern grocery stores that do all the dirty stuff for me.

After being thoroughly traumatized we spent the next couple hours cooking everything, trying to flavor it without salt and make it taste good. We finally finished 3 plus ours later and served it to the family and us. I thought it was delicious, we boiled the chicken with lemon and chive and onions instead of just adding salt and oil, and I really thought they would like it. Well ‘ll never know and neither will the family because before they even tried it, while I wasn’t looking, they poured aromat on everything! After all that work they didn’t even end up trying our healthier food. It was a huge let down.

The other days we’ve had more training and more of the same. Today we all had a cooking competition in our groups because starting this week our families are not feeding us anymore, and a lot of people don’t know how to cook I guess. It was one of the better days we’ve had so far, although the morning was tense because a bunch of people missed the bus home yesterday and were none to happy.

Today after dinner my family and I were sitting around and they asked me in Nicki Minaj’s body is real….I’m not an expert, but okay I’m American I’ll field this one. She says it’s real, some people think she had butt implants…moving on right? NOPE! Apparently my brother is convinced that Nicki MInaj is fake and has no ear which is why she wears wigs, the real Beyonce died in a car crash long ago and the one we see is actually the devil, Rihanna, JayZ and Kanye West are all devil worshippers (as proven by the run this town video because they wore bandannas), the list goes on. I was shocked. My family is super cool and modern compared to most of the other families, so I was not expecting that AT ALL. I knew my brother is pretty religious, but didn’t know he doesn’t  listen to rap music because they’re all Satanists. All my sisis at least don’t believe it, but there’s apparently a two part documentary on all the “facts” (coincidences) that prove this. So next week on my one day off this month I will be watching a documentary on all the sneaky ways American hip hop artists encourage Satanism. Oh, and going to church with the family first, of course. I’m still shocked by our conversation. No matter what I said, or tried to explain my brother was convinced he’s right. I asked how a fake Beyonce could have a kid, but apparently there’s no pregnancy photo so it doesn’t prove anything. YIKES. If anyone has suggestions on how to explain this all let me know. I told him a lot of those people are actually Christian and spiritual, but he was having none of it. So yeah, I learn things about America here I would never have known otherwise.

*disclaimer I did eat the chicken because I didn’t want to waste it
to rap music because they’re all Satanists. All my sisis at least don’t believe it, but there’s apparently a two part documentary on all the “facts” (coincidences) that prove this. So next week on my one day off this month I will be watching a documentary on all the sneaky ways American hip hop artists encourage Satanism. Oh, and going to church with the family first, of course. I’m still shocked by our conversation. No matter what I said, or tried to explain my brother was convinced he’s right. I asked how a fake Beyonce could have a kid, but apparently there’s no pregnancy photo so it doesn’t prove anything. YIKES. If anyone has suggestions on how to explain this all let me know. I told him a lot of those people are actually Christian and spiritual, but he was having none of it. So yeah, I learn things about America here I would never have known otherwise.

This cutie's name is really Beyonce.  Some people in Africa do like the Pop Queen after all.

This cutie’s name is really Beyonce. Some people in Africa do like the Pop Queen after all.

Beyonce with one of our Volunteers

Beyonce with one of our Volunteers

*disclaimer I did eat the chicken because I didn’t want to waste it

beginnings

Arrived in Philly, trained for 6 hours, left at 3am for JFK. Flight was better than expected. Crappy food, small space, but I slept a lot. They made me gate check my carryon even though I said absolutely not I wont part with it but he said I couldn’t get on the plane with it (bullshit) and it’d be totally fine (double bullshit) It had everything I could not bear to lose because that’s how they told us to pack. So he took it and when I got to swaziland…they had LOST it. Not even sure if it ever made it into the cargo hold or the guy just stole it. Literally everything in that bag was the stuff I could not bear to lose, so naturally it was the bag that did not come through, and since it was my carry on did not have a luggage tag. UGGGGGH I am praying and positive thinking that it is just misplaced and will come here tomorrow undamaged with everything in it. Other than that hanging over my head like a giant black cloud, so far so good. Everyone in my group is insanely friendly. We’ve really only done medical paperwork and lugged bags all over the place. Tomorrow we have a full day though, so it seems this will be my last day of freedom for the next 9 weeks.

I’m really excited to start training, but it seems like I’m still in a holding pattern since we won’t be able to move to our villages for that entire time. Our Preservice training in Philly focused a lot on the Peace Corps mission, expectations, and feelings things like why we want to do it. Pretty sure that’s not what the next couple months will be like. Our schedule is packed with language, cultural, and technical trainings, with a healthy dose of paperwork in between.

It still all feels very surreal. We are at a training facility that’s the nicest in the country, although still pretty meh by American standards. However, having beds and running water for showers doesn’t feel very Peace Corps-y. We will move in with temporary host families on Tuesday and be with them for 2 months, so maybe then it will really sink it. It’s bed time here on my first full day in my new home, and I’m one bag down and exhausted. Hopefully things will turn around tomorrow. …..

UPDATE It’s tomorrow.

THis morning I got woken up to my roommate asking me for a rubber glove?? I’m not a morning person and was less than helpful. A few minutes later I asked why and it turned out our shower was on full blast hot water because she had turned on the hot and before turned on the cold it got too scalding for her to reach through the water to turn it off. SO it’s 6:30 am, I’m groggy, we’re in pajamas, and trying to figure out how to tun off the shower that is quickly filling the room with steam, not just the bathroom mind you, our rooms’ walls were dripping because there was so much moisture. So finally since my raincoat was in my lost bag and neither of us packed dish gloves (who would) we had to take an umbrella which I held getting our entire bathroom flooded, while we tried to turn off the water. It was raining outside and there’s no fans in the bathroom so now at 9:45 pm 16 hours later, our bathroom floor is still wet. As is the laundry we had hanging in there from yesterday. My roommate had a little burn on her hand from trying to turn it off and I got to wake  up an hour early and lie in bed.  So I’ve gotten my first couple bad experiences out of the way.

We already had one person drop out of the program and choose to fly home, yikes!!! He left after breakfast this morning, and we are now down to 5 boy and 29 girls. It makes me kind of sad someone would come through the rather grueling process of application and staging and leave a day and a half in before seeing more than the training center we are leaving 5 days later. We started health training and met all of the in country staff, had lunch, and started language lessons.

At break one of the PCVNs knocked on my door and MY BAG FINALLY ARRIVED AND NOTHING WAS MISSING. It may or may not have been the happiest moment in my entire life. Imagine losing everything sentimental and expensive all in one bag, thinking it was gone for ever…no really start making a mental list, then imagine getting it back, add a couple puppies and sunshine and you still are not at my level of joy. It was amazing. After dinner we all had a bonfire and played bannanagrams and two truths and 1 lie. So all in all and it’s been a hectic but great start.