Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Belated Thanksgiving Post!

Again, a long delay. Apologies, but so it goes.

I would like to take a moment, first and foremost, to acknowledge the people who have called me, namely Ryan Connair, Shivani Seth, and Stephanie Smith. Also, my family. Bless you all for making home a little closer even if it's still a long way off. Thanks also to everyone who sent me a birthday message / facebook thingy, it was heartening to find my inbox full of stuff I actually wanted to read for once. : )

So this is the belated thanksgiving post. What am I thankful for here in Swaziland, you ask, aside from the abovementioned friends and family? (Or, probably more accurately, thought "Oh God, don't let this be another laundry list of "Things I am Thankful For," we're not in the Third Grade anymore for crying out loud...)

1) Mango Season! It may not seem like much, but I've never encountered a mango season before, and it is rather enjoyable. The small ones that are a little bigger than an oblong baseball are the best. The really long sweet potato looking ones are inferior and mealy.

2) My friends here in the Swaz. Yeah, yeah, cut the awwwing already. They're good, really good.

3) My work has not yet totally dried up! We're hoping to start having some stakeholder (stakeholder = someone who might conceivably be interested in your project) meetings about peer educator training. We'll see how it flies.

4) Thanksgiving dinner was actually really good here, thanks largely to the offices of Aiesha Volow, a fellow PCV with an intimidating acumen for all things home-related. Her host family put me up when I, misreading a text message, showed up for the party a day early (after three khumbi rides and about 3 hours traveling, no less). They say at Staging that every Peace Corps Volunteer has a moment when they know they've "arrived." For the people who trained us, it was the time they went to the market and nobody tried to charge more than the goods were worth, the time they could walk to the post office and mail a letter without anybody making a comment. For me, it was the time I traveled three hours on three different rattletrap khumbis to show up on the wrong day, when the person I was looking for was another hour away on foot. I'm a bit ashamed to admit it, but I feel more like a real PCV now that something ridiculous like this has happened.

5) Mysteriously, I have been elected to serve on the (2-person) staff of our post newsletter, so I will be visiting the office in Mbabane regularly (once per month) to perfect the layout, harrangue staff members for articles, and other various and sundry duties. It promises to be lots of fun!

6) Faith! I've still got some. Likewise, humor.

7) I have not yet seen a poisonous snake, contracted amoebic dysentary, been involved in a khumbi crash, or any number of other unfortunate events. Hurray!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Programming woes

I need credibility around here, because people are unlikely to listen to a stranger as well as they might listen to a friend. This goes double for a sensitive topic like HIV (it is called umbulalave here, which means "the nation-killer"). Ergo, I am going to try to get a post as a science or english teacher at the local high school.

Questions and answers:
Michelle - My host family goes through my trash pretty regular-like. People stare freely, but are shy about speaking. One can't ask about sex, of course, but it's common practice to ask about family and if one is going to marry in Swaziland. "I want to marry your sister" is a very common one, as well as old people and children asking for money, as it is a cultural assumption that all white people are wealthy (middle-aged people and youth almost never do this for some reason). Conversation about the weather is polite, but it is more appropriate to be dissatisfied than happy for some reason. There seems to be no happy medium whatsoever between "Kumakata" (It's cold) and "Lilanga liyashisa" (The sun is hot). See also the response to Greg's question on greetings.

It's worth observing that white women are the subjects of a lot of unwanted attention, may God have mercy on their souls.

Greg - It would certainly be rude not to greet someone in your town if you passed them on foot. I have been called out on one occasion and questioned as to why I was did not greet someone, actually. On the other hand, it is not too bad if you just wave and go by, and you are not obligated to greet people in the cities, only in the villages. There are usually not too many people outside, and homesteads are sometimes widely spaced, so it doesn't take too terribly long, especially if you don't speak enough siSwati to have a long conversation. It also helps to walk quickly, so that people realize you are in a hurry to get somewhere. It's really pretty okay unless you're already having a bad day, at which point it becomes rather irritating : )

Jalal - I'm getting in touch with the Baha'is, but I haven't been teaching much. Frankly, I feel like an ass whenever I try to teach by opening my mouth, so my usual impulse is to shut it. I'm eager to see how I can help the Baha'is of Swaziland, but I don't think much of my past efforts to speak about the Faith.

Other news:
We got some office supplies! Sticky-tack and a hole punch and a stapler.
Our new stapler nearly bit my hand off when I tried to load it, so we've christened it "Lambile" (Hungry). The hole punch is "Sutsi" (Full) because you have to make an effort to get it to bite.

A powerful wind blew my latrine over. The entire housing (basically a large metal box with an open bottom) fell on its side, leaving the seat exposed to the fury of the elements. The wind also drove grit under my door and through my window (which will not quite close, thanks to Peace Corps' security improvements). My family righted it the next day, but I can't help but worry if this is going to go on. My family is great and does a lot for me, like fetching water and fixing the pit latrine, and won't hear of taking money for it. I feel guilty, but I can't really do anything but give them food (because food is very difficult to politely refuse in Swaziland, one can only say "I am full, thank you").

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What I do when Not Working

Hi there, folks!

I think that we should have "Question Time" of sorts. If you are curious about anything related to Swaziland or my service here, write it in the comments to this post! I'll get back to you in my next post or privately if I can't talk about the subject in this forum.

I am still holding up okay. I have some tables now, so I am not breaking my back when I try to cook, which makes life a lot better.
EVERYONE is in the office today to vote, like half our group in Swaziland.

I read a fair amount here, but I spend more time walking, probably. My community is pretty far flung - 2 hours one way to the furthest school. The stories about volunteers sitting in their houses, doing jack shit for hours on end, are not entirely true. We have a fair amount of time to ourselves, but not quite as much as the stories tell.

I visit a large city (by which I mean town of 20,000 people) maybe every week-and-a-half or so, for internet access, research, and invisibility. This is an unbelievably small country, and everyone in my hometown either knows me or calls me "Bonkhosi" (the name of the volunteer in the next town over, because they hear about a white person in the area of that name and on seeing one, assume that they are that person). One is obliged to greet EVERYONE one encounters on the road, and to stop and talk if one is acquainted with them. It's not terribly uncomfortable most of the time, but it is slightly suffocating, and one does occasionally wish to walk around without talking to everyone, and for that, there is Manzini.

I would like to report that I have embarked on a lot of improving activities in my hut alone, but in truth, I haven't. I read occasionally, cook, and fret. I still hope to come back able to some useful stuff, but I dunno if it'll pan out; I'm hella lazy when it comes to self-improvement.

So I hope youse all are coming through the economic situation Stateside in decent form - I've been worried to hear that things are not going well. Take care of yourselves, be happy!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Prodigal Returns

Hey, gang!
Sorry about the long time between postings; everything has been crazy here (and continues to be).
In the time since I last posted, I have:
-passed a siSwati test
-been sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer
-started to teach a test class in one of the local schools
-continued investigating my community, with the help of the inimitable Mr.Dlamini. We have surveyed all but one of the NCPs (Neighborhood Care Point, a place where OVCs [Orphans and Vulnerable Children, people who have lost one or more parents to HIV or are otherwise in danger of being hungry] can go to get food and sometimes schooling)
-eaten more goat-meat, with the hair on.
-acquired furniture.
-squashed a near-infinite number of ants (hateful creatures, won't eat my cooking, only my sugar.)
-lamented that hand-washing is slowly wearing my t-shirts thin.
-learned some siSwati
-cursed my inability to learn siSwati

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Permanent Site Visit

I have just returned from visiting my permanent site in Nkamanzi, Hhohho region. I am very happy with it, the people are friendly and there seems to be lots to do. I spoke to our MP, who told me about a computer project he was very excited about; I am eager to assist him with it. I am very happy to have a project available in a field in which I am confident. Mr. Siboniso Dlamini (the manager of the local Community Centre/NERCHA office) and I spoke to the volunteers at a number of Neighborhood Care Points (NCPs), which are places where orphans and children who need meals can come to eat and sometimes to learn basic English, maths (see how British we are becoming?), and siSwati. There is a clinic that is not too far away by khumbi, and myself and we went to visit it as well, learning about the availability of HIV testing and the populations that come to be tested.

More personally, I live at kaDlamini (there are so many Dlaminis in Hhohho, it's like Smith except that it's the King's surname), which is a 30 minute walk up a small mountain from the khumbi station. I will have to be careful never to buy more than 20 kg worth of things, lest I should be unable to carry it up the hill. The view, however, is absolutely to die for. The community is pretty far-flung, it takes an hour and a half on foot to reach the farthest NCP. Two days ago, I ate a chunk of goat-spine (not the bone, just the meat around it) with my hands. It was quite tasty, if a little awkward to get the meat out from the spurs around the bone. My new house has no electricity and water is apparently a considerable walk through a forest.

My new family (yes, there is another. Peace Corps doesn't do much to shield us from the culture shock; this is the second time my name, family, surroundings, and duties have changed in six weeks) is nice - lots of kids (~6) and a single mom, a common-enough pattern here in Swaziland.
There is a somnambulant dog, too.

My siSwati is still exceedingly bad; I can understand only simple sentences, and only when they are phrased in the way I expect. Fortunately, everyone here loves to laugh, which makes up for some of the gaps in the conversation.

We return to Nhlangano (the name means "The Meeting," as it is where King George the whatevereth came to meet King Sobhuza the Second when Swaziland became independant) today, and continue with our training for a little while longer (i.e. we are going to cram siSwati like mad in hopes of passing the Language Proficiency Interview a week from now)

I hope you all are doing well!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

More and more.

Hi! I have been posted for the next two years to Nkamazi, a place near Pigg's Peak in the Hhohho region, which is the other side of the country from where we are now. I am super-excited to have someplace to go, and I can't wait for site visits at the end of next week.
We had practice language tests this week, too, which caused fits of nervousness and embarrasment across the board, but our group did pretty well on the whole. But a 15 minute interview in a language you didn't speak three words of a month ago is stressful, even if it's over simple things like the weather and what your parents do.

We have The Worst Flipchart Ever. It is forever falling down and skewing to the side and generally messing up. However, I connected two hoses with a leg from The Worst Flipchart Ever, so it turned out to be useful after all! We were trying to fill a tank on the other side of the yard, and had hoses that wouldn't fit together. After we boiled the ends of the two hose pieces (to expand them) the flipchart leg joined them perfectly! I reckoned it a great success, even at the cost of temporary damage to PC equipment.

Thank you all for commenting! It's very encouraging to hear from you all!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Update, week 4 close

Hi, everybody! Well, we are halfway through training now, I will be getting a site assignment next week (for two years, The Big Deal) and a cell phone the week after, so you all will be able to call (if you feel like paying an arm and a leg to Shylocke Telecom). I bitterly regret not bringing poetry with me, I find myself missing it more than most anything else.
Today, my friend (or wife, according to Khiza), Sarah and I taught Life Skills at Nhlangano Central High School. The kids were noisy, but very polite (and some older than us; Swaziland does not care what age you are for what grade you are in). They would be juniors in High School, stateside. The lesson was on how people choose to show love and a heavy plug for either not having sex or getting tested so that you and your partner can 1) Be happy if you don't have HIV 2) Get ARVs if you do 3) Promote testing and open dialogue about HIV in Swaziland.
I don't know how much of it they'll do, but I can say that nothing bad came of it, at least. We are not working yet, but we see the pandemic chiefly in the number of funerals that happen. People are not quite chatty, but I discussed HIV with a household that had just buried someone due to TB, so I am pleased that I was able to do that, and that they were willing to talk (and also to try to get me drunk, but I declined)
I have agreed to help my host brother research colleges in America; he has good marks so maybe we can wrangle a full or partial scholarship out of somebody. We will see how it goes.
There are lots of interesting small things about life here (like the all-pie fast food joint), the repeatedly failing khumbis (minibuses) (One called The Blade crapped out on us on the way up a hill. How funny is that? It was The Blade, man, and it totally bit it. The khumbi that came to get us was called The Replacement. Not even kidding.)

Anyway, I'm running out of internet time. I hope you guys are doing well (whoever reads this thing). Take care!


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hi, everybody!
We finally made it to Swaziland after an impressive 17-hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg. Some highlights:
- More mosquitoes than people boarded the plane at our one stop in Dakar, Senegal. I spent the entire time we were on the ground swatting at them. : (
- We stayed at the Southern Sun in Johannesburg, which was super-posh, but interestingly, had those weird showers with a translucent wall looking out into the room. Totally skeezy James Bond film style. Worse, you couldn't read in the bathroom after your roommate slept because the light just poured out through the wall into the room. Lame.
- The next day, we took a bus to Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland, where we stayed at Emafini Christian Centre, which is apparently in fact run by Baha'is, or so says the word on the street. It had wireless, though, which is awesome.
- A little while later, we booked it to Ngwane Teachers College, outside Nhlangano. It was about at this point that all this moving started to get REALLY IRRITATING. Training started here, which consists of daily about 2 hours of language, 2 of cross culture, and some technical or health training after lunch. They keep us pretty busy. Lunch and Dinner at Ngwane consisted of, on average:
3 kinds of starch (samp, mashed potatoes, porridge, rice, etc)
Some kind of meat stew/gravy (Swazis do not remove fat or bones, so one must be careful!)
Strangely bitter spinach.
An apple.
Not half bad, all in all.
- Finally, after a week at Ngwane we moved out to our host families, where we are now. More later; time is short and expensive at this internet cafe, which is in Manzini, where I am for volunteer shadowing. Finally, we get to see what the job is really like!! I hope everyone is doing well!


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Addendum to staging: Somehow, I became a Group Leader with (exceedingly minor) Responsibility. How did I do this? By losing a game of rock-paper-scissors. Nobody wanted to do it, and it came down to me and Danielle, so I am now acceptor of tip money, distributor of luggage-marking string, and counter of heads extraordinare. Apparently the Johannesburg airport is likely to lose approximately half our luggage, which is delightful. We are all in the process of distributing our clothes evenly to minimize the risk of losing anything crucial. Everyone is still nice, and I am using as much of the internet as I can before we lose it for a couple months. That's about it. Hope you all are well!


Everyone is really nice and there are so many (36) of us!! (I only hope they're approximately as nice after the ZOMG WE'RE GOING TO AFRICA! glow fades)
And sooo many married couples (a total of 8 people out of 36, almost a fourth of the group), totally bizarre, though they seem nice and non-insular, so that's good too.
We leave tomorrow; it seems somehow impossible that we will be across the Atlantic in 24 hours, striving under uncertain odds and unfamiliar situations to assist the people of Swaziland. I am sick of being told what sterling folks we all are for undertaking this venture; mere willingness to accept the conditions doesn't imply that we're even decent people, or that we understand said conditions.
Staging was pretty good, but it seems like it was mostly a "get to know your group" thing more than a "learn lots about Swaziland" thing. There were a fairly considerable number of the usual weird-seminar activites. We are all excited to go (even if dreading the 17 hour plane ride and subsequent non-communication). I love you all (whether you read this or not) and I wish you all the best over the next couple of months!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I said goodbye to my friend Sarah last night (she is leaving for the summer this weekend), at dinner with Ryan, Sarah, and Lauren. Every time I say goodbye to someone, the whole mad enterprise feels a little closer. A new butterfly crowds in with the others in my stomach. I'm terrifically excited, if also scared to death. Ryan and I are planning an epic roadtrip for a goodly chunk of June; we'll keep you posted on whether or not it works out!

If you want me to make up an alias for when I mention you here, let me know, and I will think up something only a little bit embarrassing to hide your identity. Policy for now is first names only. (And yes, I did spell your name wrong on purpose. You know why, I think.)

First post!!

Greetings, O Readers. My name is Robert, and I am going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland! My start day is June 23rd. I will be working in HIV/AIDS education.

View expressed in this blog are those of Robert Hamilton, not the US Government, the Peace Corps, God, Janis Joplin, or anybody else.