Saturday, May 24, 2014

May Madness

I woke up today thrilled that I could sleep in and wouldn’t have to socialize with anyone. Instead I’ve become increasingly grumpy and annoyed by a lot of little things. It may not be the best mood to write a blog in, but I’m hoping by writing out what I’ve done lately I’ll feel a little happier and more excited about the projects that are going well.

April came and went. The only notable thing I did was visit Vusumnotfo, the place where I was for Christmas, to help a school in Piggs Peak with a computer science curriculum. Kathy, the woman who runs Vusumnotfo, started a school to send her daughter to. Now her daughter is going to college in the fall, but the school is still running strong. It has a Raspberry Pi computer lab. Originally, she wanted someone to help teach but since I live way too far away I agreed to help develop a day by day lesson plan that any teacher or volunteer could step into.

Besides the visit up north, it was a pretty boring month because school let out on the 17th just in time for a huge string of holidays. The week of Easter Sunday/Monday my host father didn’t go to work and I assume the majority of Swaziland didn’t. That Friday was flag day…apparently that’s a holiday worthy of time off. It worked in my favor because I got to spend a decent amount of time studying for the GRE (the exam you need to apply to grad schools). It’s been far too long since I’ve had to figure out the area of a circle or calculate ratios.

May has been the complete opposite of April. Of the last three weeks, I’ve spent about half of that in town doing work for Books for Africa and attending mid-service training. The Books for Africa program ships one shipping container from the U.S. to Durban, South Africa. Our BFA team expected the books to come in the last two weeks of April. We has no word as of May 1st about the shipping container. I was happily celebrating Cinco de Mayo (a Monday) with a group of volunteers in my area when we got the call that the books were in Swaziland. The tricky part about BFA is that the shipping container needs to be unloaded and books need to be distributed to schools within a three day period so we avoid late fees for returning the container and paying for extra days at the warehouse. So me and my friend Maggie, who was also helping with BFA, rushed to town Tuesday morning with only a change of clothes and the few other things we brought for our one night Cinco de Mayo celebration. It was less than ideal. Even worse, we are on our way to the warehouse when our lead BFA person calls and says we can’t unload the books because the container hasn’t been unloaded off the train. So swazi … It turned out for the better  because I got to buy my Bushfire Festival tickets (keep reading to find out more about that) and we got to go eat lunch/hang out in town. Wednesday and Thursday went pretty smoothly. We unpacked the container on Wednesday and organized the warehouse with piles of boxes by school/volunteer. Thursday all the schools picked up their books and, since my school was one of the last pick-ups, I got a free ride home! A slightly awkward one because it was the teacher who I had a slight texting problem with last year, the driver, and me squeezed in the middle, but a free ride is a free ride. Beats some of the bus rides I’ve suffered.

I arrived home bruised but happy around 6pm Thursday night. I was exhausted but I only got one day (Friday) to do my laundry and pack up for town again. Mid-service training isn’t mandatory but I signed up for two out of the three training Peace Corps offered. I didn’t have to be in town until Sunday, but I had a lot of things to get done on the internet so I went to town bright and early Saturday morning. Saturday night I had the great fortune of meeting two volunteers (although not with PC) from Pretoria in South Africa. It was nice to meet some people outside of Peace Corps and it turns out their coming back to Swaziland next weekend for the Bushfire Festival (keep reading!). Sunday through Saturday was training at the site where we spent so much time during July and August. Monday – Wednesday I had a teacher from each of my schools to learn about Grassroot Soccer. It’s a really cool program out of Cape Town that teaches about HIV using games and physical activity. Then Thursday – Friday, I had two teachers from my nearest school come to a training about positive discipline. It was a really interesting workshop. The idea of beating children in school makes many volunteers uncomfortable, but it’s what Swazis grew up with so it’s the only system they really know that “works.” The discussions about how we can change or the challenges we face in changing it were really enlightening. Finally, after breakfast on Saturday, I spent a little time in Manzini and then headed home. It felt great to be back in my own bed after two weeks of craziness!

This past week seemed just as busy as the first two, but this time I got to be in my own hut each night. Monday I went to the school to find out that the head teacher wants a library workshop on Wednesday. That stressed me out a lot. Tuesday I went to help another volunteer install programs on the computers at her school, then I got a package and some groceries in Siteki. Thanks for the care package Mom!! That afternoon, me and my counterpart were scrambling to get our schedule and topics together. Luckily, and this is the only time I’ll refer to this as lucky, World Vision had a training on Wednesday too! Imagine that, another meeting rescheduled due to World Vision. Instead, my counterpart and I used some time on Wednesday to plan our accession register for the library books! It’s a big first step towards opening!

Another exciting thing happened this week: I got my first grant proposal approved! Peace Corps, being run by the U.S. government, makes nothing easy when it comes to money for projects. It’s a somewhat cumbersome excel sheet set up. Even for only $150 USD, the smallest grant, we still have to describe every little step and detail of the project. What is this project you ask? I’m doing three small sewing circles to teach women how to make reusable/cloth sanitary pads. This is a really exciting project because it doesn’t take a lot of money and I think it has a chance of being sustainable in my community. I turned the paperwork in Friday (yesterday) when I had to go to town AGAIN for training. This training was to teach PCVs and their counterparts at the schools how to screen children for vision problems. Unfortunately, PCVs were mislead to believe that children would have access to free pairs of glasses, but that is absolutely not the case. At least with screening, children can be referred to government hospitals and have a chance at getting the help they need. And if not glasses, teachers can help students by moving them to the front of the class or in other ways.

Yesterday was my dad’s 50th birthday! I was sad I couldn’t be there to celebrate the big milestone with him but I know he understands. If it weren’t for his encouragement and support, I wouldn’t be in Swaziland at all. Instead of being sad, I look forward to him and my stepmom visiting in September!

Also, he now has a swazi birthday buddy because my host mom had a new baby boy last night! I know this is surprising to everyone stateside, but you know how if you ask a woman in the states if she’s pregnant and she’s actually not? I guess that’s just one of those cultural things. My make didn’t tell me she was pregnant and I didn’t ask because I thought she was just gaining weight. It was very clear when I came back from training that it was baby weight but before that it wasn’t so clear.

Things to watch out for in my next blog:

--Bushfire festival: this is a music festival held each year in Swaziland. It’s pretty popular from what I understand, so next weekend I’ll be sleeping in a freezing cold tent when I’m not rocking out to some cool music or shopping for souvenirs/crafts.

--TWO WEEKS TO CAPE TOWN! As you may be able to tell from the all-caps, I cannot wait to get out of Swaziland for a while. Cape Town sounds so amazing and I can actually go out after dark! There will be mountain climbing, wine drinking, island visiting, and lots more.

I suppose this helped me feel a little better about my day. My homestead is out of water in the jojo tank and I’m drinking, bathing, and washing my clothes using the filthy rain water I caught in these big 100L barrels. I pay each month to pay over a quarter of the cost so that’s why it bums me out. Many volunteers carry water from far distances, but it’s a matter of money management and feeling taken advantage of even though I know that's not my family's intent. Fingers crossed we get our jojo tank filled soon! In the meantime, I have lots of great things to look forward to. Keep reading to find out about Bushfire and Cape Town!

Book: The Invisible Man

Show: House of Cards, Season 2

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