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.

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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. 

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?”

“No.”

“Do you think it might effect your relationship?”

“No.”

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

“No.”

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?

“no.”

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

“Yes.”

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

“Yes.”

“Do you want a baby?”

“no.”

“So is that a good or a bad thing?”

silence.

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.

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.

Site Announcements!

On August 3rd announcements. Each year the announcement day has a theme and this years was Hunger Games, which seems pretty fitting. We were all brought into the gym and stood in lines as our names were drawn from a bowl and our site location was announced. It was really hard sitting there waiting to hear my fate for the next two years. Finally, they called me, and I realized it did not matter that I knew the name of my site because we have no knowledge of the geography, size, or attributes of the sites. I am becoming very patient.

My Jeopardy Team during Site Announcements, the Parrots!

My Jeopardy Team during Site Announcements, the Parrots!

Once everyone had their site announcement and knew which region they were in we got to see a map of where we each are, and found out a little more about our sites. I’m not allowed to disclose my location, but I can say I am in the Lubumbo region, on a very large homestead, does not have electricity, and am very rural. I had a hard time not comparing sites. Mine is very standard as far as Peace Corps goes and I’m no worse off than I expected coming here. However, some people have electricity and a flushing toilet…it’s pretty hard not to be jealous of that.

After site announcement we have OJT(On the job training), and get to spend a night at our site and get to see a glimpse of what to expect for the next two years. Anxious does not begin to adequately describe how I was feeling. Sleepless, nauseous, and terrified are all more apt adjectives.

Peace Corps assigns us SSA’s (Site Support Agents-PC loves their acronyms) which are basically a reputable member of the community who agrees to show us around and make sure we do not make complete fools of ourselves, it’s a pretty big task. I had heard some SSA’s are great and will work on projects with you the whole 2 years while others will ditch you the second day and never be heard from again, which of course just added more angst when meeting mine. If they did not like me or I said something wrong I might have to navigate the cultural and language barriers of my new home all on my own, and no matter what my LPI said, I do not feel proficient in the language.

Luckily, my SSA is awesome. We all met our SSA’s on Monday and had a brief chance to talk to them, and, of course, listen to more Peace Corps rules. We were sent out with our SSA’s Tuesday morning so they could show us how to get to our sites, but instructed to pay attention as we’d be making the return trip alone. After all the coddling and over protectiveness I felt like a little bird being pushed out of the nest; it’s a pretty big leap from not being allowed to go to the grocery store without supervision to commuting from a brand new place by yourself on public transport in a country where you hardly speak the language.

Tuesday morning we set out from our training center a mix of SSA’s, PCV’s, and staff and slowly dispersed into khumbis, cars, and busses. Sonia, my SSA< and I took a khumbi to Manzini, where all Swazi transport runs through, and I peppered her with questions about my new home, family, house, and community. My site is very rural so there’s no khumbis, and only 1 bus a day I can take to it because we are not allowed to be off our homesteads after dark, and the other bus that goes to my community arrives after sunset. The bright side is there’s two busses that leave mon-sat so if I over sleep the first one (likely) I have a second chance. Because we had our most exciting/anxiety-inducing day so far; site limited transport we spent the rest of the morning killing time in Manzini until the bus came. I bought some groceries for my new family because it’s culturally expected, and more so because I really wanted them to like me, and got a small tour of the bus rank, shops, etc… from Sonia.

Finally, we got on the bus to ensure we would have a seat. In case the anticipation was not killing me already, it was an hour and a half before the bus left. In the mean time I was proposed to 3 times, bought a newspaper from one of the vendors who walk in and out of all the busses with their goods, and had time to explain Sonia was not my future sister-in-law; because that was the only reason the older ladies could think for me being on the bus with her. The bus ride took a couple hours of bumping along. My community is not on a tar road so half way through the trip we turned off onto gravel. That was when I realized how far out I would be staying.

We arrived and walked to my homestead, but there had been some confusion and my family thought I was not coming that day, so none of the adults were there. I had to wait at Sonia’s until they got back. Finally, we walked back to my homestead and I got to meet my new family. My babe (dad) herds cows and is always smiling at me although I rarely understand what he’s saying. I met my make (mom) and we all sat for a bit while Sonia did some translating for me. Make left to go prepare dinner and a lot of children came up to sit with us. Another woman came up and Sonia introduced her as my make. I knew I had already met my make so I was a little confused, but thought maybe it was an aunt I’d call make or something. Being the culturally sensitive and intelligent girl that I am, I asked how she fit into the family since I’d already met babe’s wife. She is also babe’s wife. They are polygamous and it took them spelling it out for me as wife 1 and wife 2 before I caught on. I’d like to blame the language barrier, but pretty sure I had really just blocked that part of the culture out since I had yet to meet anyone with multiple wives.

My homestead for the next two years.

My homestead for the next two years.

That night they made tea and dinner and we sat around, mostly silently on my part. I was able to communicate I was tired and they were nice enough to warm me up bath water and give me a lantern for the night. It took much longer to communicate I wanted to sleep by myself because they thought I’d be scaed and want someone with me. Swazi’s thinking I will be afraid of everything seems to be a theme here. I was staying in a different hut because the one I’ll be staying in was still being worked on so I did not get to see my new home that day, but did get to meet a lovely little lizard who spent the night crawling around the room.

It was a very overwhelming day. Realizing how far I am from a tar road was a little concerning. Seeing that there’s no grocery or even bomake stands was more concerning. Realizing just how limited my Siswati is was most concerning. I went to bed feeling really discouraged that I could barely talk to my family. By the time I laid down my head was swimming too fast to sleep much, but overall it was a very informative day.

Kindle by Candlelight

All the days are beginning to blend together. Last week we had a lot
of hub days aka lectures and training, nothing exciting. We did,
however, get to observe a class on Tuesday and talk to students, which
was very enlightening. They split us into 3 different age groups and
groups within that. I went to the high school that one of my sisters
goes to and observed a form 4 (Junior year) with Josh who is Health
sector as well and two youth development girls. It was very different
from the states. We got there later than planned because the transport
Peace Corps hired never came (TIA). They start the morning with a
school assembly that is just all the students standing in the yard
listening to the principal, there’s no sound system or chairs.
Further, most of the information was things in America that would be
written down and given to the parents, not said once and expected to
be relayed by the kids.  We all had to stand in front of the whole
school and introduce ourselves to the students.
The principal was supposed to explain that we were there to observe
and everything should continue as normal, but that did not happen.
Instead, he told the kids to be on their best behavior because you
never know one of us might see something they like and give out a
scholarship or two or have something else to give the students….It was
really inappropriate and uncomfortable. Peace Corps is very clear on
not giving out money, gifts, etc. because of their plan for
development. It’s very different from a lot of charities that come
build a well or give some computers and leave. I felt it put us in a
weird position that the students now expected something from us when
we had nothing. It also just illustrates the mindset so many people
have that when foreigners come into the country they always come with
a gift, which creates a lack of motivation to develop the country
itself and also creates dependency. It’s frustrating that’s the
precedent here and really across Africa because it makes it harder to
help people help themselves when they’d rather you do it for them. I
guess it is good we had a chance to experience that now and start
thinking about how to respond than being singled out once we are alone
in our permanent sites.
Anyways, we observed a geography class and I will list some
observations/differences than what Americans are used to. The kids did
not respect the teacher at all, people were copying homework, texting,
talking, and otherwise not paying attention and the teacher did not
care one bit he clearly was not there to put in any effort. Only 2/3
of the class had desks, even less had books. 1 of the 42 kids had
glasses (more probably needed them but cannot afford them). There were
no supplementary materials or anything on the wall. You could pay to
not wear your uniform so it was very obvious who the wealthy kids
were. There’s a 3 or 5-year age gap within the class; some of them
were literally my age. It’s not encouraged to think outside the box.
You are taught at, not interacted with. The school uses corporal
punishment. There are no counselors for college or otherwise. There is
no trust between teachers and students so they would never confide in
a teacher. Some of the teachers just do not show up for class if they
do not feel like it.
After the lesson we got a chance split the class up boys and girls and
ask about what their average day entails. Josh and I talked to the
boys and got to hear their routines. A lot of them do chores after
school for the family(drive a khumbi, sell things, herd cattle, feed
chickens) , some play sports, watch tv, help with dishes, and study.
It’s funny because the girls schedule is way more packed because of
gender inequality they share a large burden of the household tasks,
but I would never call the boys lazy. Although they do significantly
less than the girls do, they still do way more than American students.
We also went to the umpagatsi (royal krall-think village center) and
got a chance to interview the village chief. The chief is born and
passed down through families, but it is not the oldest brother. The
family’s oldest brother becomes a counselor automatically and the
extended family elects from the remaining males who should be chief.
The chief is approved by the king and acts as his representative. Land
here is not owned but rather given by the chief of a village for use
by a family. It is all Swazi land  or owned by the kingdom
technically. Because of this, a person who wants land must ask the
chief in a rather long process if he can find him a piece of land in
the village, you don’t have to pay for the land, but you are also not
guaranteed land if trying to move to a new village. Women are not
allowed to own land because they think a single woman near married men
will be propositioned and cause strife within the village….not going
to go on a tangent but you can imagine a lot of the females in our
group challenged that idea.
Saturday we had a birthday cookout for me which was great because we
ate something other than porridge, had a half day off, got to
socialize without our bosses there, spent time outside, and had a
cider for the first time since we got here. It was really great to get
to know some of the people I hadn’t had a chance to talk to yet, and
really fun. Sunday I did laundry, cleaned my room, read a lot, and did
homework all before 11am. It’s amazing how different my schedule is
here, but even on a weekend sleeping in means 7am. I went to church
with my family because I wanted to see what it was like, and it’s such
a big part of Swazi culture I thought I should experience it. Most of
my family goes to the Apostolic church that Peace Corps uses as our
meeting place. My make went 2 hours before the rest of the family. I
went with my sisis around 11:30. The congregation sits divided by
gender. It was all in SiSwati so I just listened to the singing, which
was beautiful, and observed. Within the gender groups people also sit
according to age, except the munchkins. The gogos (grandmas) sit
together, the makes (moms) together, and then the sisis together in
the front, but the little tiny ones sit with their moms.
This week has been more uneventful training so nothing to report, but
we are going back to a school tomorrow and I’m teaching 7th graders
about puberty and hygiene…I’m terrified. I also get a phone Friday
which I’m pretty stoked about. Thursday we have our round robin
interviews, which include language and skills tests. It’s our halfway
testing and the last thing before they determine our permanent sites.
A note: my life is full of dichotomies here. Sunday we watched the
video about how awful the rap industry is and my family all thought it
was awful and, no joke, when it was done my sisters turned on a lil
wayne music video. We have satellite tv but no running water or
bathroom. Peace Corps gave us a kindle with our manuals but the
electricity was out today so I had to read it by candlelight. I feel
like I’m awash in irony.

Pre-Service Training (PST)

Disclaimer: This post was written before my Gardening and Cooking post but I haven’t been able to post until now. Enjoy 🙂

Since my last post internet has been very limited. We moved into our PST (pre-service training) host village on the 2nd. We are split up according to project into 2 villages so the health volunteers are in one, and the youth development in the other. The village is laid out on a mountain so I am a little hike up with a homestead above and below us. A couple volunteers are in nearby homesteads. I am on a homestead of 9 during the week and 12 during the weekend (a couple of my brothers work in the city and come home on weekends). My family is super great and although my make (mom) doesn’t speak English, my brothers and sisters do to varying degrees. I have my own room that is down right swanky by Peace Corps standards: read electricity and a clean floor and curtains. I cook, study, sleep, and brush my teeth within a couple feet of each other and it does not seem at all strange anymore. but it was still a big adjustment to living without running water.

The family has a big jojo tank with a hose so I have to bring my bucket and set it up then climb up a ladder to turn the tank on and off and carry the water back to my room. Any water we use has to either be boiled or let sit for 3 days to avoid parasites. So if I want to take a bath (in a bucket) or get really fancy and wash my hair I have to plan out my water accordingly. Our drinking water has to be boiled, cooled, filtered, then bleached so that whole process is at least 4 hours before you have a liter of drinkable water.

PST is kind of like being a kid again. I don’t know how to do anything correctly. (Cooking rice over a wood fire outside, cleaning my clothes by hand, washing my stoop, speaking the language)Everyone worries about you; my family sends my brother with me when I hike if it’s at dusk because they are afraid of me getting lost or attacked. We have to ask permission to leave our village on the one day a week we do have off from training, and we have a curfew the other days.

Fourth of July we got a break the second half of the day and got to go to the country director’s house for a cook out. Meeting the other group of current volunteers was awesome, but we had to leave 1 1/2 hours after arriving so we could be back before dark. My adult status has dwindled drastically.

Celebrating the 4th of July

Celebrating the 4th of July

We are getting a lot of technical and language training, half the time in the village and the other half at our training center. We train 6 days a week 7am-3 or 4 pm and cannot leave the house after its dark out (around 6pm). That was the biggest adjustment so far, lack of free time and lack of socializing. We are not allowed to get phones until we’re halfway through PST. At night I get home, haul and boil my water before it’s too dark, try to help with dinner (which is always turned down), do my language homework, eat dinner with my family, bathe and go to sleep.

This past weekend was fun though. We had a mini sleepover at my house and even though our Saturday night getting wild meant staying up until 11:30, that was a treat. Sunday was our first day off and one of the guy’s birthdays so we surprised him and organized a trip into town for lunch. This week we have to work Sunday so there’s no day off.

Everyone is very religious here, Friday night one of the churches had an all night mass, and a lot of the families go 3 or 4 times a week. You can hear the church near me tues thurs fri sun singing after dark. It’s a big part of the culture so I am trying to go with my family if I can next week.

Everyone has been super friendly. Yesterday I was walking to class in the morning and my friend Josh’s make yelled out to me and walked to the road to give me an avocado just because. Today we went for a walk during language and were learning the SiSwati word for everything we saw and one of the makes we walked past talked to us and gave us 3 brimming full bags of avocadoes from her trees….I don’t know what it is about me that screams give me avocados but I’m the only one it’s happened to in my village, and that was the 4th person to give me them. I currently have 12 GIANT avocadoes sitting with my food waiting to ripen. It’s awesome.

Two of the families in the village just had puppies and I am trying to get one for my permanent site. We aren’t allowed to have pets during PST, but I’m hoping I can reserve one and take it with me when we move to our permanent sites. One of the gogos (grandmas) who lives by me who I usually say hi to on my way to class said I could buy one for 20E aka $2 US. There’s also a litter of bigger dogs that’s 6 weeks old my teacher knows the owner of which are absolutely adorable, that I am trying to get because a bigger dog would be better protection. He said I might be able to get one for free because people here do not really keep dogs like we do. So yeah, avocadoes are free, puppies are super cheap, and I’m really happy.

This week’s schedule is built around nutrition and farming so we went to the chief’s kral l Monday which has a community center and are working there all week. We made a compost pile yesterday and spent all morning gathering the materials and putting it together…this morning it was half knocked over and eaten because cows here ruin everything and roam free in winter. So our composting efforts didn’t start so well. Today we started plotting the garden we are making for them. We walked the property and learned about placement considerations, water management, and other considerations. We found a spot and are now mid way into plotting our garden. We dug swales today and dug the initial digging of the garden and walkways. I’m getting pretty good at hoeing. Thursday we will do the second dig and finish it up. I love all of the agriculture lessons, and am really excited to start a garden at my permanent site.

Other random things:

I have looked outside to find cows outside my bedroom window multiple times,

chickens are everywhere here including pecking at my door and the roosters crow from 11pm-7am at least once an hour, my Swazi name my family gave me is Gugu which means precious J, outhouses are gross, if you run for exercise here they think you are crazy, I’ve learned I cannot cook Swazi food well (yet), hand washing all your clothes for a week takes approximately 2 hours, I miss pants, Getting up at 5:30am is no longer painful (but the morning cold still is), My SiSwati pronunciation is slowly improving-yesterday our teacher was so happy because “his students were saying things that you could actually understand” , I’m not a fan of powdered milk, One person eating 3 a day still cannot finish a bag of oranges before they start going bad, paved roads are underrated.

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

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.