Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Well, we're here in Mbabane to write the post newsletter again. Life is not super-exciting, and we're stretching for filler as usual. We did discover a place to get a cappucino fix near the new hostel (the old place closed down due to high rent), after one of the staff stopped us in the middle of the street and hauled us in for a tour (the place is unmarked, and only about half finished by the looks of things.)

I am endeavouring to get a decent trumpet (rather challenging, I have located 3 trumpets for sale in the whole damn country), but I think I'm just going to have to make a purchase. Finding valve oil promises to be a dastardly conundrum, however. My old band director has started appearing in my dreams as a result of this trumpet idea, and it makes me more nervous than I'd like to admit. Playing trumpet in high school was kind of a terror between the bullying upperclassmen, super-competitive atmosphere, and screaming director. Playing the tuba was far superior inasmuch as even though my section was balls-to-the-wall screaming insane ("DON'T PUT THAT FUCKING SHIT DOWN ON THE CONCRETE, YOU'LL SCRATCH THE SHIT OUT OF IT! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU!!!"), at least they didn't give a damn for competition, the aforementioned screaming director, or most anything other than a good joke, a good joint, and hard liquor. I got in the way of none of those three, so we got along just fine.

Lunchtime. More later? Stay tuned.

Monday, January 5, 2009

So, we're all trickling back in from vacation. We had an epic run up to Mozambique, 12 hours to Tofo thanks to the driver running a side-business selling booze at any number of spots along the route.

It rained for four solid days, our things got soaked, mildewed, etc. Our hut was made from reeds and the water came through the walls and puddled on the inside. Justine and I went out exploring for lack of any desire at all to spend time on the beach. There were marathon Uno sessions. We met Peace Corps South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana, and Namibia, along with lots of other random mostly South African folks. The streets of the nearest town, Inhambane, ran with water a foot and a half high, and we waded through on the sidewalk, praying not to stick a foot in something deadly all the while. The storm drains gaped open, except where the water overcame them and made whirlpools in the flooded streets. It was all pretty interesting once you got used to being wet and to losing the hope of ever being dry again.

Finally the sun came out and we spent a few days in the usual beach amusments of sunning, swimming, and running before heading back to Swaziland for the New Year. There was a big contingent of PCVs at the (one) nightclub in the country. I kissed almost everyone when the clock ran out, an accomplishment of which I'm absurdly proud.

My resolutions are the same as ever. You know me.

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!