Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Beginning of the End

November 9, 2014

It has been a little over a month since my parents came to visit and I really thought that time would slow to a crawl. Instead it seems like time is slipping away. I have nine months left in Swaziland. For those of you who are looking for an exact date, I can’t give one but one of my best friends is getting married in Maine on August 8th and you can bet I’ll be home for that. Nine months feels like so much time but it really isn’t any time at all.

Reusable Sanitary Pads

Some may remember I wrote about this reusable sanitary project in some previous posts. I had great success with the adult women in my community. Most of them told others about this new type of pad and even taught another person how to make them. Fortunately and unfortunately, I only used about half of my grant money for the four workshops so I had to find a way to spend the rest. I thought teaching about these cloth pads at my primary schools would be the perfect addition to the project. So I taught over 200 grade six and grade seven students how to sew these pads. I even taught the boys. It was mildly infuriating to hear some of the boys say we were making them dumber by teaching them how to sew a product for women, but for the most part the boys didn’t mind. I haven’t done any follow up to see if the girls use the pads so I can’t speak to its successfulness. News about that will be coming soon. Either way it is my most successful project and it feels great to be finished with it.

Library Project

My first library project is taking far longer than it should. We are so close to opening it is disappointing I can’t get any help. I had high hopes because when I was on vacation with my parents in September the teachers made a huge push and got almost all the books registered and stamped. They began labeling the books with stickers but got confused. But that was the last help I’ve gotten beside one hour two weeks ago.

I really wanted this project to be finished so the grade seven students could at least see the library up and running before they move on to high school next year. It doesn’t look like that will happen. It’s pretty disappointing because it should have been finished two weeks ago. We are at the point where students can help us. The grade sevens left at 10:30am one morning after exams. With six or seven of those students, we could have finished in three or four days. Despite many disappointments about the delayed openings, I’m very happy to report that an additional grant from Peace Corps got us 12 beautiful shelving units. There is potential for this to be an excellent library. Once it’s open we will get a real sense of how well it’ll be utilized.

And it’ll open just in time for me to start library number two with my far school…

Being a Resource

I felt really great a couple weeks ago when one of my teachers asked me to help her with an assignment. She was asked to get people’s views on how allowing abortion has affected the youth in South Africa. I couldn’t offer any insight into South Africa’s situation but I offered some insights about abortion in the United States. It’s a sensitive subject so I had to tread carefully, but I’m really touched my teacher thought of me. It’s one of those important times where I get to share something about culture in the United States and I learn about cultural reactions to sensitive topics here in Swaziland.

A Wedding

I got a chance to attend a traditional Swazi wedding last weekend and it was an interesting ceremony. The wedding took place at the umphakatsi (chief’s homestead) because it was one of his sons getting married. Weddings here are a whole weekend event. Friday night, my bhuti (brother) stayed up with the family until the bridal party arrived at midnight. He didn’t get to bed until about 5am Saturday morning. Once the bridal party is welcomed Friday night, they rest and then Saturday is day of dancing! I went to the umphakatsi around 1pm with my sisi (sister) and two bhutis. My make (mother) was already there because she helped cook and prepare all morning. Around 2:30pm the women in the bridal party began dancing. Eventually the women from the groom’s family began dancing. The dances have meanings and I understood some of them. One of the most interesting was towards the end when the women from the bride’s family did a dance that was a way of saying goodbye to the bride as they give her to the groom’s family. It’s hard to explain here but I have many photos and videos. I guess that’s also how I became the unofficial photographer! I took photos for people and they asked me to print them in Manzini to sell. I ended up heading home around 6pm since the dancing was done and the amount of drunk men were becoming increasingly obnoxious.

Sunday was sort of a bust unfortunately. My host siblings and I walked over at 10am. Again my make was already there helping cook and prepare. The kids and I found a place to sit and play Uno (Thanks for the cards Dad and Vikki!). There was a small group of young guys who started hovering and asking questions. They wouldn’t leave me alone. Luckily my 10 year old sisi is so much smarter than I give her credit for. Make asked her to get something from the house so she had me walk back with her. We returned to the umphakatsi and found a new place to hang out for a little while but the ceremony was starting so luckily we didn’t have to wait long.

This ceremony is the bride’s family presenting blankets and grass mats to the groom’s family. It’s a long process and it was hot. My make brought an umbrella to block the sun. As I was holding it to protect her and the baby from the sun, one of the guys from before pushed his way in to hold the umbrella and tried to use that as an excuse to stand literally up against my body. Gross. So I moved away. My sisi (again so much smarter than I gave her credit for) told him she wanted the umbrella. He wasn’t going to give it to her so I told him it’s her umbrella so give it to her. Then they proceeded to sit behind me and take pictures of me with their cell phones as if I were a zoo specimen. I didn’t really pay attention but my sisi again told them to stop pictures. They said they would beat her (I should clarify they say that a lot here usually it’s just a joke). I’m so glad I didn’t hear that because joking or not I would have lost my patience entirely. Regardless, I watched the second part of the ceremony where they make up the new bed for the married couple and they lay in it (yes it’s as awkward as it sounds). Then I left. I’m disappointed that a group of 19 and 20 something guys ruined this cultural event for me, but I love my sisi for defending my honor so fiercely all day.

Graduate School

I’ve successfully completed three graduate school applications for programs in International Development. I’ve applied to Tufts University, George Washington University, and Johns Hopkins SAIS program. I have four more schools to apply to. By December I will have word from Tufts and Johns Hopkins. I’m excited and anxious to hear back from schools so I can begin planning my return to the states. Keep an eye out for updates.

Book: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Show: Gilmore Girls (Season 7)

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