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:

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!

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