Friday, April 4, 2014

While I was away ... Term One Came and Went

It seems like as soon as I made a New Years’ resolution to update my blog more fate told me I had to give up my computer for a month. The first week of February, as I finished watching Star Wars IV, I noticed my laptop cord wasn’t actually charging anymore. So I scoured all of Mbabane (the capital) in search of an adapter or a universal adapter set I could use. Lucky me, my netbook has an incredibly small charging pin and the charger runs on a higher voltage than the typical laptop charger. Thus began a month without a computer and I can honestly say it wasn’t as bad as I imagined.

The months of February and March have been “busy” in a way. I’ve settled into a solid routine and I’ve met more and more people to work with. Here’s a glimpse into my average week for Term 1 of school here in Swaziland (which closes April 17th).

Monday – I work with the preschool nearest to my homestead. I don’t actually do much to change their routine but I try and bring one new song or game to teach them each week. There are only seven students so I like that I can learn all their names and that each student gets the attention s/he needs. However, if it rains the preschool tends not to meet. The mud gets pretty intense along the roads.

Tuesdays – This is Health Club day for the primary school closest to my homestead. This is a group of students from grades 1-7 who come and participate in activities relating to their health. Before I came, I think this largely meant learning about oral hygiene, washing your school uniforms, early pregnancy, and alcohol abuse. These are all important topics but I’m trying to introduce the cause of most teenage issues: peer pressure and self-esteem. Slowly but surely, we are including different lessons that show students how to respond to those problems.

Wednesdays – This is Health Club day for a new school I’ve discovered. In early February, I was introduced to a primary school and a preschool that are about 5km from my homestead. When I first started going there I walked both ways, but now that I have the transport schedule down I’m less inclined to walk 10km for obvious reasons. This school was a little late in starting up their health club and is significantly less organized about it. This makes it difficult for me to plan and it has caused some serious frustration, but the teachers are all young and very nice so it’ll get better over time.

Thursdays – This is a day that I generally keep open for meetings although that doesn’t always work out. There is an HIV support group I’ve been trying to meet with but they meet on Tuesdays when I have health club.
Fridays – These past two months it feels like I’ve been in Mbabane nearly every weekend. On one hand, this is fantastic because I get showers and all the pizza and ice cream a girl could ask for but, on the other hand,  I also spend all my living allowance on food and lodging. Now Fridays have become my GRE study days. Yikes….

In other news:

I’ve planned a trip to Cape Town, South Africa for June during the week of my birthday. I’m so excited for the trip despite the fact that I take the GRE the day before my birthday. Mozambique was a good vacation, but Cape Town is a whole new type of vacation. There are tons of museums, beaches, markets, sports games, botanical gardens, and hikes up table mountain.

I’m working with a young man in my area to put together a business planning workshop. When I came to Swaziland, I expected people to ask me for money and food. I still face that question, but even more difficult is when people ask “What can you help me with?” That is hard to answer because Swazi people do have good ideas and some are willing to work hard to start a business or seek out education to reach their goals. I joined Peace Corps because they don’t just hand money out and leave, so I’m hoping over time I can work with all the people that have asked for help starting their chicken farming business or their car wash by doing this workshop.

Libraries galore! Another project most of you are aware of (and some of you helped fund) is the library projects at both my primary schools. Unfortunately, I didn’t apply for Books for Africa with the primary school furthest from my homestead because I didn’t know they existed. The good news is they have already started a building a library building. They’re about halfway finished. Which is interesting because they have no books and no sources for books. Meanwhile, my closest school will be receiving ~1000 books in the first week of May and still has no proper shelving for the project. It isn’t that the headteacher doesn’t care about the library. In fact, the four teachers on my library planning team and the headteacher are all very serious about making this library functional. They want to do a full day of training with all the teachers and come up with a solid system for using the books effectively.

Something I didn’t know in January when I wrote to update you all is how long it would take for schools to simply get paid. Free education is a new concept here in Swaziland. Over the past decade they have been cutting school fees for grades 1 through 6. This year grade six became free, last year it was up to grade five. So instead of families paying fees on day one, the school has to wait for a check from the government. This has taken until the final week of March for my schools. That’s a whole term in which teachers’ contracts weren’t finalized so they couldn’t teach, the school couldn’t afford their electricity, and feeding programs were cut so the poorest of students came to school without breakfast and didn’t get the one meal that got them through their school day. That being said, the government somehow finagled a way to provide new desks for our school. How does this related to the library you ask? Well the old desks will now become our new, temporary shelving. This is all the headteacher’s idea and I think she does really well working with what she has. Am I mildly disappointed we don’t have a more permanent structure? Of course, but at least the books won’t sit in a box until the end of time.

There’s a lot of people I’ve met and meetings I’ve held and frustrations I’ve faced that I didn’t write about here because y’all don’t want to read a novel every time you visit my blog, but hopefully you enjoy a little glimpse into what I’ve been doing for the past two months when my blog went silent.

Books: A gazillion books….because I had no computer to watch tv on for a month.
Currently it is: The Shackled Continent: Africa’s Past, Present and Future by Robert Guest (I highly recommend this book for anyone who considers Africa a lost cause)

Show: Homeland Season 2, Suits Season 3 (finally!)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sweaty Seasons Greeting from Swaziland!

It’s a new year but it certainly didn’t feel like the holiday season for me without snow! Granted I don’t miss digging my car out of the snow. You’ve probably been wondering what the heck happened to my blog. I’ve been slacking. There are a few noteworthy things that have happened in December and January.

First, I had a training the first week of December and this time I got to bring a community member (a counterpart as Peace Corps calls them). I brought my Rural Health Motivator (RHM) because I’m hoping to work with her a lot in the community. We have some ideas to start an HIV support group and I want to work with Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs). We were in Matsapha for three days learning about the steps we should take to ensure our projects are successful. It was long and stressful for both of us but I’m really happy we got to do it. Unfortunately, my RHM had to leave a little early on the third day because her son was in the hospital! He’s fine now but still it worried me. I’m glad she was able to leave early and take care of him. Also fun fact: her son and I have the same birthday (June 11th)!

Second, I thought I’d have a hard time being away from home for Christmas for the first time in my entire life. It was hard to be away from family, but I had a great Christmas here in Swaziland. There is an organization called Vusumnotfo run by a former Peace Corps Volunteer. She served here and stayed her whole life. Now she and her daughter live in Ngonini. She runs this organization which does preschool teacher trainings and some permagardening work. About 20 PCVs and some other friends from the area got together and ate two AMAZING, DELICIOUS turkeys. There were tons of side dishes from all of us who attended. Tons of mashed potatoes which are my favorite! We also got to watch movies on the projector. All in all it was a great way to spend Christmas and I got to see the northern region of Swaziland which is beautiful. On Christmas day my dad called and I got to talk to my grandma, my brother, and my aunt. I hadn’t heard their voices in forever! As much as I wish I could be home with family for Christmas, I still had a great Christmas in Swaziland.

Third, New Years Eve in Swaziland is a real party at House on Fire. If you google House on Fire, you’ll see they are a music venue of sorts. They threw a big NYE party. I spent two nights in town at Sundowners and went to that. A group of volunteers went to Tofo, Mozambique but the prices were about double the normal prices to stay in Mozambique during NYE so I didn’t go. Also I finally got packages from home! Two from my mom and one from a friend! Getting my mom’s packages home from the office proved to be a bit challenging but I made it. Unfortunately, I did get stranded at the Siteki bus rank on the 2nd but it meant I got to spend the night at another PCV’s house in Siteki. She has a shower and a flushing toilet so I wasn’t too sad about getting stranded.

Last but not least, last week I went to Mozambique! I spend five days in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. The first night we had a group of 12 since 6 of the volunteers were going to Tofo in the morning. We went to a restaurant on the beach called Centaurio (spelling?). I found that I really like 2M which is a beer made in Mozambique. Of course…it’s not sold in Swaziland. Then the following day we went across the bay to Catembe and walked down the beach. We found a little place for lunch. The beach was really dirty so we planned on going to Inhaca island for our beach day. More on that later. Then we found this amazing mall! Everything a girl could want and all the food I could hope for. Whodathunk it was built by a drug lord wanted by the United States!?! Filipe is a friend of a friend from Wells College and he told us that fun tidbit. He also took us out that night to Mira Mar another restaurant on the beach in a different area of the city. It was great food but the bill turned into a bit of hell. Math is hard…esp with 8 people eating. Regardless we got it figured out and some of our group wanted to go out dancing. This also turned into a bit of  a mess. We had to go in two groups because of the whole one car deal. We tried to go to a place but it cost too much to get in and apparently flip flops aren’t club wear in Maputo (as if it matters what shoes we wear). So we called it a night and went back to Fatimas. Ohhh yes I meant to mention where we stayed.

Fatimas is a hostel (called backpackers here) with a nice open kitchen and bar area. The rooms were nice enough with lockable cabinets for our stuff and bug nets. Granted the bug nets weren’t the best. Our roommates were also a strange mix….to say in the least. The first night there was an old guy who said if were weren’t all married we were in trouble (joking but still…ew). Then there was an ACTUALLY freaky guy who said he couldn’t sleep in the room the first night because he wouldn’t be able to control himself. Wtf does that mean….we will never know and I don’t want to. Luckily he left after night #1. The old guy…well he continued to scar us. One afternoon after returning from walking around the city, my friend Liz and I walked into the room to find him laying on his bed naked. We didn’t see everything but there was little left to the imagination. Nasty.

Some other landmarks we visited were an old Fort, the Saturday craft market (I got some earrings and a bag), the train station, and the Central Market. On our last day we were supposed to go to Inhaca island which is known for beautiful beaches and great swimming. Now I’m not a big fan of sand but I do love swimming. Of course we woke up Sunday to rain and thunder. I didn’t want to get stranded on an island. I don’t need my own rendition of castaway please and thanks. So we read there is a hotel on Catembe (the beach we went to day one) where we could swim because the beach was clean-ish. In my grumpy, lazy mood I didn’t bring my bathing suit because I didn’t think the rain would clear up. Of course, the rain did clear up and it got hot! We went over to Catembe Gallery Hotel to find a beautiful restaurant set out on a dock with a beautiful view of the water. Then four of our group swam and laid out. Liz and I went back to the city forgetting on Sunday everything is shut down. So we tried to go back to central market only to find it locked. Another little gem we found was a man bucket bathing naked….so bizarre. I understand it’s hot but really guys? You can wear shorts and be clothed. Us gals have to be wearing a shirt and a skirt down to our knees. The least you could do is cover your junk.

The trip to Mozambique had been a bit of a struggle because we waited three hours for the khombi to fill up and had a bit of a dispute about paying extra so they’d bring us to Fatimas when we arrived. On our way back we thought we would try the other border crossing and the transportation that had to offer. All around the Lomahasha border crossing was a much better plan. It cost me a lot less and I got home around 1pm after a little grocery shopping in Siteki.

It was a great vacation but I’m happy to be home. Now I have a week before school starts! I’m excited to get started on projects that actually relate to my service. I enjoyed sleeping in late and just traveling in December and January but I have so many ideas I can’t wait to start on. Also, thank you to all my friends and family who donated to Books for Africa/Swaziland! We reached our fundraising goal in just six weeks and my school’s application for a library was accepted! I’m so excited to start getting the library put together. Thanks to everyone at home for their support!

TV Series: Breaking Bad (Season 5)
Book: Gang Leader for a Day, Freakonomics

Monday, December 9, 2013

PSA! PC Swaziland is asking for your help!

Hey everyone!

This is a special blog post for a project I’m very excited about! As you may remember from some of my earlier blog posts I’m trying to start a library at the primary school where I’ll be working on several projects.

Imagine for a moment that someone came in and removed all the books from your house. How would you help kids learn to read? If you thought about writing, imagine that paper is so expensive you couldn’t use it. Newspapers? Imagine all the newspapers are written in English, a language you understand, but you have to pass all your school tests, exams, etc. in a foreign language. You go to school where textbooks are written in foreign language and your tests are also expected to be written in that foreign language. Those textbooks are the only books you or your child has access to.

It may seem extreme for those of us who had books all our life. I remember my first gift to my niece was a Charlie Brown Christmas book with buttons that played songs. She loved that it played music, but it was constantly forgotten about as she worked through an endless pile of books with fun pictures and sounds.  The students at my primary school don’t have any library. The only books these students have access to are the textbooks that come from the school and without any reading preparation these books are too difficult to read for many students.

So here’s what I’m asking:

I believe development should come from the community level which is why I joined Peace Corps. I will rarely ask for money from my friends, family, and communities at home because community projects should come from community means and resources. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to understand your means and resources without education. Education simply can’t continue if students cannot read.

Books for Swaziland (a partnership between Peace Corps and an organization called Books for Africa) is a nation-wide project that will bring enough books to start 30 new school and community libraries all across Swaziland. The books will be free, high-quality books from United States donors, and each organization receiving the books will be responsible to raise 1,500 rand (about $150 USD – a big amount for our schools!) to help ship the books, in addition to providing a library room, shelves, labeling supplies, and a designated librarian.

Through these 30 new libraries, Books for Swaziland will reach approximately 60,000 students in the next ten years. This is nearly 6% of the total country population! Books for Swaziland will train a librarian for each school, approve a library program plan, and deliver over 1,000 quality children’s, young adult, and information books to participating organization. The result of this project will be an increase in literacy and English proficiency among students, as well as increased chances for students to obtain university admission or gainful employment. One library at a time, Books for Swaziland hopes to bring students out of poverty for a brighter, HIV-free future.

Each school/community must provide part of the shipping costs, a furnished room, and a staff member to serve as librarian. It is a hefty commitment on their end! However, the Peace Corps volunteers in Swaziland still need to raise $7232 (the rest to be covered by Peace Corps) to cover half of the cost of shipping the books to Swaziland. That’s where you come in – can you help raise money to support education in Swaziland?

I am asking family members and friends to commit to donating monetarily to this project (if you’d like to send books, I can give you the shipping address for the organization in America). If you feel strongly about helping improve the quality of education and opportunity for Swaziland students, or if you just love me and want to help me out, here are a few ideas for making donating fun and easy:

-Just go online and donate. Easy-peasy. Click here to find out about donating.

-Ask a class at school or church to fundraise. ‘Loose Change for Literacy’ is a great theme and you can compete between classrooms or between guys and girls. The winners get bragging rights, and if you are feeling generous, a party.

-Make donating to this project your end-of-year, tax deductable donation.

-Host a small event with friends and ask everyone to chip in. Maybe you bake homemade lasagna or make dozens of pancakes and charge $15 a plate, or maybe you throw a Vegas-themed party where all winnings go to libraries.

-Simply spread the word where you work, where you worship, or anywhere else you have an audience.

As always, thank you for your encouragement and support of my work in Swaziland.  Thank you for helping make that happen!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lessons Learned and What Integration Really Means

I’ve been spending a while considering what to include in my next blog post. I could be telling you how my school is doing exams so I have been watching an excessive amount of shows/movies. I could also tell you about the two weeks of training I completed in Matsapha. Instead, I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned during this indispensable “integration” period. As you read before, this is the first three months at our permanent site when volunteers are supposed to become a functioning member of their Swazi community.

When turning down a marriage proposal from the drunk man on the khombi hanging in your face, it’s best to do so with a smile and a simple no. Insults and anger rarely ever make the situation go away. So when life give you lemons….hopefully the drunk guy doesn’t make lemonade on your shoes.

Two weeks of training may feel long to a volunteer, but Swazis will assume you went all the way back to the United States…And continue to ask you why you were away for so long AND why you’re back. Those two thoughts don’t seem to fit together…Are you happy to see me or not?

Never convert the price to American dollars in your head. It’ll make you crazy…because it hurts to say 15E is too much when really it’s only $1.50 in USD.

Set your pride aside and just use a pee bucket at night. It’s just not worth a roach, rat, or snake crawling on/biting you.

Peanut butter sandwiches with bananas or apple are a perfectly acceptable dinner.

Don’t try and analyze how or why you have diarrhea (aka a poop parade). There are just too many possibilities.

Peace Corps before technology must have been …rough. I commend and applaud those who made it through without computers, kindles, cell phones, electricity in general.

Your feet will never be clean. You’ll step out of your bucket bath all proud of how clean they are. You’ll take a few steps and wonder “HOOWWW??!”

Screens on the windows are amazing but prepare to find spiders and other lovely surprises living between the screen and the glass. Approach with caution when opening your windows.

If you say you don’t want to do your insanity workout or hip hop abs because it creates more laundry, I suggest trying it pants-less. Don’t worry about chaffing, chances are you were sweating enough to prevent that problem before you even started the video.

Swazis have no idea if your hair is clean or disgusting. That’s no excuse for dreads, but it is a nice advantage if you feel lazy.

You’ll never be on time and transport will never go as you planned. There’s always a surprise in there somewhere. Hopefully it’s not pink eye from the number of butts rubbed in your face…now that aisle seat doesn’t seem as awesome huh?

Projects always seem like a good idea when you’re doing the work…Patience and learning how to convince the other party they want to help are two important PCV tools.

If you love dogs, people will think you’re hilarious and that you’re weird when you give them attention.

It’ll never rain when you expect/want it to.

Don’t compare your living conditions to other volunteers. For the three people who have flushing toilets and a nicer pad than you, there are plenty who don’t have electricity, reliable transport, etc. Consider those people before you bitch and whine.

If you want an honest, straightforward answer in Swaziland, ask a child. They’re rarely worried about offending you and they don’t know yet to feed you the answer they think you want.

Applying logic during moments of frustration may cause an aneurysm. Best to just go with the flow.

Well those are Sammy’s Integration Lessons. I’m sure there are many more... but these are the essentials. Enjoy!

TV Series: The Wire
Book: Game of Thrones (finished), The Shining

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Many homesteads, a library, and a meeting

Hey I remembered to update my blog! In an effort to make these posts shorter, I’m going to try and update this more often.

The past week hasn’t been overly eventful. I think the reason Peace Corps Volunteers have to have patience is because of integration. I have no idea how volunteers did it before laptops and kindles. I would have been bored to tears by this point without them. You may wonder why the government pays for us to be here then right?

My two biggest goals at this point in my work is to get my Site Assessment Report (see my previous post) completed and an attempt to start a library by applying to Books for Africa. I went to 27 homesteads on Monday (the 7th). It was certainly a tiring day! Mondays seem to be my day to do my homestead visits with one of our Rural Health Motivators. So far I’ve visited 60 homesteads. I’m beginning to find familiar faces around town but names are difficult. Many people have the same surname so I could guess one of the common surnames (there are about five very common ones for my town) and probably get it right but I don’t want to know them just by guessing.

The library project is sadly being started from scratch. I say sadly because it means these kids have no access to books to improve their English reading and comprehension. It’s also sad because it’s going to take a serious amount of work to get a functioning library up and running. At this point we have a small, narrow room that will barely even fit the shelves. I know the school really wants this library so hopefully it’ll all work out. The next step is shelving, a budget, and the Books for Africa application.

I don’t go to the primary school every day. Tuesdays are health club days and Wednesdays I try to get a meeting about the library. This week I’ll be doing an HIV knowledge and attitudes survey with grades 5-7 to try and understand what information, myths, etc. the students already know. There haven’t been any formal discussions with the school yet but it seems as though they want to work me into the timetable (class schedule) to teach life skills. There are a few different manuals Peace Corps provided but it basically means HIV information, communication skills, relationship skills, self-esteem building, etc.

This past week I went to Simunye Country Club to celebrate the October birthdays among G11. It was a nice relaxing day but the internet didn’t work. This was sad for two reasons. I couldn’t skype with my stepsister and my niece. I also found out that PC didn’t make the automated payments they’re supposed to make from my readjustment allowance. It’s an added stress I didn’t really need. I feel broke in two countries! Yay!

If you were wondering about financial matters, I get a monthly allowance and I got a moving in allowance. I’m not actually broke, but there are still a lot of little frivolous things I buy to make my hut feel more like home or food I buy for comfort when I really don’t need it. Hopefully next month I can start saving some for a potential trip to Mozambique for the holidays. There’s a big group of volunteers who are hoping to take our first vacation over the Christmas/New Year holiday time. The US dollar and even the Swazi currency gets me pretty far there from what I understand. 

Today I went to a meeting at the umphakatsi (chief’s home). The inner council has chosen a new interim chief of sorts. The brother of the chief that passed away was chosen to take his place but by custom it’s supposed to be one of the chief’s children that follows in his footsteps. I thought perhaps the children weren’t old enough. Turns out the children are old enough but it would be improper to make them one of chief while the chief’s wives still “wear the black” (grieve). It was a short meeting but thank goodness it was today and not yesterday. I can’t figure out the weather in this country. It went from over 100 degrees yesterday to the 60s today. Obviously being from New England, I prefer the colder weather but dang it’s weird how fast it changes. Also…still no rain. I hear it should have rained a lot more by now. Hopefully we will get some soon.

I know I’ve seen other PCV blogs that list what the volunteer is reading or watching. So I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been doing in my spare time.

TV Series: Game of Thrones (Season 3)
Book: Game of Thrones (Book 1) and Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Month to Make a Home - Settling In

Yikes I’m a terrible blogger! To be fair, I have equally terrible internet access. On August 29th, I was officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)! I made it through the nine weeks of training. In the meantime, lots of interesting stuff has happened which I’ve of course neglected to fill you in on. The first week I was supposed to be at my site I actually spent 10 days at site with my friend and fellow PCV, Janae. Unfortunately, my host uncle died so my family had A LOT of people here for the funeral. They asked me to stay elsewhere so they could house people in my hut. It was a good week because all that stuff they tell us about being lonely at site wasn’t so lonely when you have a friend, but it was disappointing I couldn’t unpack and get settled.
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So on September 9th, I moved to my home for two years! It’s a one room hut with a thatched roof and two windows. I do have electricity but for a few weeks all I had was a lightbulb, no outlets, so I charged my electronics in the main house. I gave you the run down on my family in my last blog. This time I’ll try to give you an idea of my town, which for safety reasons I won’t type outright. It’s a town of about 400 homesteads, we have two small stores, and two umphakatsi houses. Technically most places only have one umphakatsi but ours had a lot of wives. I live about a 20 minute walk from the main tarred road and the school is along the way so I’m close to everything that I need.
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In the five weeks since swearing in I haven’t done a lot in the way of projects. In case I forgot to explain earlier, I have three months of what PC calls “integration.” In these three months I have a set of tasks I should complete so I can do a Site Assessment Report. This report will help me shape projects and goals to fit what my community/school wants and needs. One of these projects is homestead visits where I visit each homestead. I’ve been asking some simple questions like if they have a garden, electricity, how many children, do they go to school, etc. It’s a good way to go around and get to know people. Most people I’ve visited have been receptive but some are a little suspicious and don’t really like me asking questions. I don’t blame them and hopefully over time they’ll talk to me on other occasions so they can know me better. I don’t do the visits alone. I have a really great Rural Health Motivator (RHM) who walks around with me. Bless her soul for putting up with walking around in this heat.
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The first week and a half or so I focused on getting comfortable. I bought a bed and a fridge (which couldn’t be plugged in for a while but it’s easiest to pay transport once). Then I painted my room blue and green in true Evenline fashion (Wells College…google it). I now have some tables and my mosquito net is hung so it’s really coming together to feel like a home. I’ve been trying to post photos but it’s expensive to do on my phone.
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My pit latrine has showed me the wonders my grandfather loved so much as an entomologist. We had some BIIIGGG nasty bugs in there. I spent half an hour one day walking around the toilet seat spraying Doom (bug killer). I’m sure my family thought I had lost my mind. Not entirely certain they’re wrong but who knows. We also had eight lovely pups when I arrived. Two have been sold since then but good news we are keeping two of the male puppies!! Oh I can’t wait to train them. Unfortunately that means squishing the bot fly larvae from under their skin (don’t google that one…it might make you toss your lunch). They have tons of fleas but such is the dog life around here. We have goats around all the time but they aren’t ours. They even tried to drink my laundry water while I still had clothes in the bucket. Lesson learned: do laundry indoors and guard it with your life.
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One friend from home asked me if everything tasted different here so I wanted to give a little explanation of food. Since I can’t default to my nachos or quesadillas for dinner without tortillas and salsa, I often resort to rice and beans or fried egg sandwiches. Pasta is easy to do here so that’s a huge plus. In Senegal the pasta was outrageously expensive. I also eat a lot of peanut butter and apples. The cereal options are quite limited which is so sad because otherwise I would eat that all the time. I found chicken franks that are almost like hot dogs but not quite the same. In summary, everything tastes a little different but most of it still tastes pretty darn good. And on days when I miss Cheetos, Nik Naks are SPOT ON. That’s one thing Swaziland learned to replicate exactly.
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Last weekend I went to Mbabane, the capital, and ran a 5k race. Why you ask? Because it was a good way to go see friends and do something that makes me healthier. I’m not a runner and no I don’t enjoy it but it felt good to finish. I also learned my lesson about traveling at month’s end. Just don’t. It’s awful. Payday means people have money to travel and buy stuff. There’s a saying here that tomorrow doesn’t exist, aka take advantage of everything today. Unfortunately, I’ve embraced this habit when noshing on nik naks and coke but it’s awful when traveling.
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This past week was a little tough. I’ve been a bit restless and I miss home. The two combined makes me generally grumpy. I’ll bounce back but don’t think I’ve forgotten about you back in the States. There are times when I remember certain memories or listen to a song I sang in my car to work every day before I left. It makes me miss it all, but on the other hand I’m starting a project to get a library at my school and I’ve been organizing activities for my school’s health club meetings. Slowly but surely may days seem to get a little busier and I meet new people. Another girl left at the end of September and I have to say I was a little jealous she gets to eat salsa and honey bunches of oats at home. On tough days all I have to do is play with our six puppies and it puts me in a much better place. Ahh the love of a dog! Unconditional whether I can speak Siswati or teach a class effectively!
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Hope everyone is doing well at home (except for the whole Syria shindig and US govt shutdown that’s pending)! See Swaziland does have some advantages! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or whatsapp me. I’m sure I missed some stuff about my first month at site.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On The Job! And other stories from training

August 25, 2013

I’m now heading into week nine of nine for training. It’s crazy that eight weeks have come and gone. The past three weeks were big weeks for us PCTs. We have been assigned our permanent sites, got to do On the  Job Training (OJT), and had our final “tests” in SiSwati/Medical/Etc. OJT was from Tuesday, August 6th to Friday, August 9th. We started the adventure by meeting our Site Support Agent (SSA) which for the Youth Development Trainees meant a head teacher or someone in the school administration. I got paired with a primary school. I was hoping to have the option to work at a high school but it looks like the high school my students go to is a WAYS away and there may already be a volunteer working there. Regardless, I’m excited to finish training and get to my community.

Here’s the skinny on where I’ll be living for two years:

I’m living on a small homestead with a Babe, Make, two boys and two girls. My 13 year old host brother, Nduduzo, will prove to be very helpful because his English is excellent. The two girls, Sinetisiwe and Bayabongwa, are 9 and 6 respectively. They were very shy and refused to talk to me so that was a little sad but I think over time they will warm up to me. Then Siniketo is the three year old. Remember how I was told there was only one child on my homestead? That’s because the other three were usually at school I think when PC visited.

There is a primary school and preschool just a ten minute walk away (maybe 15 if you drag your feet some). The preschool is run by World Vision, an international NGO, and they have also provided a lot of things to the primary school. Apparently, World Vision gave the primary school a bunch of volleyball nets and balls….so I guess I’ll be learning to play that soon? There are 15 teachers for approximately 370 students. That is about a 1 to 25 ratio so it’s not great but not bad either. Some of the projects that were mentioned during my stay were: a library, a garden, and flushing toilets (a promise I doubt World Vision will come through on). The first three months of training are supposed to be for assessment only, but I really want to work on getting a library as soon as I can. There is a program called Books for Africa that has a deadline in December for applications to receive library books. We are allowed to be working on that. The biggest challenge for my school seems to be space. We have enough buildings for the classes, but the admin building is very small and I don’t see any unused rooms that could work as a library. Again, World Vision has been promising to build some buildings so fingers crossed that they come through on some of that. Also another potential, and I say potential in slim chances terms, is a project with the Raspberry Pi computers. One volunteer in Swaziland has already initiated a project to bring these to his school. This is the  website if you’re curious about the project: http://igg.me/at/SwaziPi

During my stay I also met some key people in the local leadership. I met the Indvuna and the Bucopho. The Indvuna is the right hand man to the chief (umphakatsi) and the Bucopho is the “brains” (that’s what bucopho means in SiSwati) who helps with community projects. Sadly, our Umphakatsi was killed in a car accident last month. He left behind three wives and lots of children. I live very close to the Umphakatsi which is also an advantage because that’s where they do community meetings. I asked when they would pick a new umphakatsi but some other volunteers said their community’s umphakatsi died over 20 years ago so I doubt there will be a new one during my time. I did get to meet the wives and some of the aunts who are all related to my host family somehow. I think my host father’s father is a son of the chief’s son. Yea…you try and figure that one out. It hurts my brain sometimes when they explain family relations. Another important person I met was Make Nobella. She is one of fifteen Rural Health Motivators (RHMs) in our community. These motivators are commissioned by the King to help with health issues in rural areas where the population may not have access to a clinic. Make Nobela also explained that many of the RHMs in my community help care for families living with HIV. We walked ALLLLLL around the town (which has 400ish homesteads). I meet a lot of homesteads, saw the water dam, several boreholes (water pumps), and our Neighborhood Care Point (NCP) where the government pays to have food and care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs). Are you sick of the acronyms yet? Welcome to our world as trainees :)

Then on Thursday, every volunteer got to visit a PCV from group 10 who have been here a year. The volunteer I stayed with lives in Simunye which is a very nice town funded by the Sugar Corporation. Luckily, knock on wood, transportation has been more successful for me in Swaziland than it EVER was in Senegal. Also less holes in the floorboards. It took me about an hour walking from home, waiting for a khombi, and driving to Siteki (my shopping town). Then another 30 minutes to Simunye. I even met Kelsey (a fellow trainee) on the khombi. Small world in this tiny country ( The bus rank is outside this lovely shopping plaza and next to the LOVELY OASIS of the Simunye Country Club. Just imagine a nice resort. They have a big pool, a kiddie pool, a playground, tennis courts, basketball courts, free wifi, fantastic pizza, and everything else a girl could want. This is where I’ll go when I just can’t take the heat any longer. If I haven’t mentioned this yet, PC thought it’d be hilarious to place the gal from New England in the hottest part of Swaziland. I’ll probably melt into a pool of molten human like Alex Mack. Anywho, Taylor (the G10 volunteer) showed us around the plaza and had us drop our stuff off at her apartment. She doesn’t have a host family because she’s in a bigger town. We then got to see the high school where she does most of her work. It’s a pretty nice school compared to what I’ve seen but someone once said don’t compare in Peace Corps. It’s a bad mindset to start with and to carry. The haves and have nots so to speak.

Then we went to the country club and had dinner. Their pizza is ….whew it’s priceless. I love cheese and pizza and cheese. YUMMMM! We also got to meet Taylor’s host mom (even though she doesn’t live with the family it’s still nice to have an ally in the community). Interestingly enough, her husband works for the water company that supplies water to Lubombo region (where I’m living). She was able to help me with some information about the water situation at my home.

On the way home, of course I got harassed by a drunk man on the bus. We were on the bus at 8am by the way. We were heading from Simunye to Manzini and this guy sat near me. I figured if I just ignored him nothing would happen. That’s just not the way the world works for me. He tried to talk to me. I told him I’m married and I don’t like him. I got pretty mad but tried to keep my cool. Then he stood up and tried to lean over my seat. I was ready to kick him in the balls but luckily my friend Hyomi stood up and started yelling at him. The bus conductor was quick to help us. The guy sat back down and just stared at me the rest of the way. Yippee! We got to Manzini safely and got to do a little shopping FINALLY.

The following week didn’t really have anything notable so I’ll just move on to this past week (August 18 – August 24th). This past week was by far the most stressful since I’ve been in country. It all started on Monday. I was having a bad day because I had a nasty cough and I just really missed home. My homestead didn’t have water for like three days so when I got home I realized I was all out of water. My Gogo explained how she had to go somewhere to get the water and did a lot of work for it. I respect that entirely. I only took half a bucket figuring I wouldn’t need much. I did however have laundry that had been soaking for a day and a half at this point so it needed to get rinsed. As I’m hanging out my laundry, it seems Gogo and the other woman on my homestead are laughing at me because that’s what I decided to “waste” my water on. It wasn’t like they were trying to be mean. They thought I couldn’t understand SiSwati but I understood enough. It was just a little cultural misunderstanding but at the end of a bad day it felt like crap to be laughed at. Then came our final testing day. Remember that list of tests from week five? Well we repeat all of those during week eight to make sure we know what we need to know. So I went into Thursday feeling really good about my SiSwati test. I had been interviewed by two teachers the day before and understood everything even if I couldn’t make up a good response. Bam! Thursday morning my SiSwati test was first and I totally bombed it. Now, I don’t like to blame the tester…that just seems like a cop out, but really she was awful and I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. I would ask her to repeat something and she’d repeat it three different ways and confuse me. Then she would give an example and it usually ended up being the answer I would have given. On top of the already stressful week and missing home, this just pushed me over the edge. It was a bad day needless to say and it only seemed to get worse.

The following day was host family appreciation day and I had offered to put together a slideshow of photos for the group. I didn’t have any photos with my family because I’m just not the best picture taker. I never think to whip out my camera. So I felt pressure to get a photo with them and get this presentation together when all I wanted to do was sleep and cry because my day hadn’t gone well. Luckily I pulled it all together and made it through the day Friday with a little help from a package from my mom (REESES CUPS!!!). I’m back on track and we move back to our training center tomorrow. Yay for showers and food made for me!! It was a long week, but I’m sad to leave my host family because I’ve become so comfortable with them. It’s hard to balance the excitement of getting to my permanent site with the sadness of leaving my new “comfort zone” so to speak. I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of things in there but that’s what I get for blogging once a month…oops! Until next time!