Friday, November 25, 2011

IST, PSN, THNKSGVNG (and other abbreviations sans vowels)

Trees, long since shedding their leaves in a fireworks display of death and dying, are standing barren, resigned and waiting for winter. Retail wage-earners are begrudgingly clomping down to basement storage room A to lug a six foot plastic Santa replica up to the window display area before the Annual Black Friday Zombie Feast. Marketing types are at loggerheads with the design types who are arguing with R&D types over which shade of burnt sienna will really make that pumpkin spice flavoring in their new limited edition Eggnog Pumpkin Spice Milkshake “pop" and say bam! Suckas! It’s artificial pumpkin spice time!

I really miss fall/winter. As you are tastefully bundling (or layering) in muted colors in response to the dropping temperatures and blank, expansive grey skies, I am laying on the concrete floor of my hut wishing I had a kiddie pool full of ice water I could float in. Yes, it is getting hot here in Mpaka. I guess I never really accounted for the existential dislocation that comes with inverting hemispheres. I guess I never really believed people when they said it would get hot here. But it is. Kakhulu.

Luckily, Addy and I earned a reprieve with a week-long Integrated Service Training in the beautiful Highveld capitol city of Mbane. It has been foggy and cool every day. A very nice break. The training itself has been very helpful. We have had time to debrief on our first three months of service, learn about how Peace Corps funding works for projects, network and meet NGOs operating in Swaziland and learn alternatives to corporal punishment (still very prevalent in Swaziland). Plus, all of our meals are provided. We have been eating like Members of Parliament.

During IST we had elections for PSN (Peer Support Network) which acts as a kind of support group for the incoming group (G10) and leadership for current Group 9 Volunteers. Addy was nominated and was elected into PSN. She was also elected to be the co-vice president of GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) group that runs and oversee GLOW related activities with other volunteers in SD. Ryan was nominated and elected to write/edit the SOJO (SoJournal), Peace Corps Swaziland's monthly newsletter/publication.

We spent Thanksgiving engorging our already enlarged stomachs on home made, traditional Thanksgiving food at the U.S Ambassador's House with all PCV's in country, embassy staff and others in the American community in SD. Classy.

Prior to our trip up to Mbane, things at site have really been going well for us. Addy’s Health Club soldiers on despite testing that is occurring at Malindza High School. She is also working with the Refugee Camp to start our first PC project, a trash clean up/hygiene workshop at the Camp. More on that to come.

Mpaka Railway School has been testing all week, as a result I have found myself with more time on my hands than usual. With that I have been reading a lot, a lot.  I would strongly recommend The Invisible Cure by Helen Epstein for anyone who has ever wondered why Africa was hit so hard by HIV/AIDS. You will get an idea of the prevention philosophy and struggles we face in working in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention. Second, I would highly recommend Paul Farmer’s Infections and Inequalities which covers everything from public health, epidemiology and anthropology in an attempt to understand the struggle the poor face when it comes to adequate health care and health epidemics.

Grade 7 had their last day/graduation ceremony from Mpaka Railway on Friday. The day was filled with speeches, dancing, dramas and TONS of food. I am proud of my Grade 7 class and wish them the best of luck in Secondary School.

During one of the speeches I had one of the proudest moments of my life. A few weeks ago I designed a lesson called “adjective basketball” to help them prepare for their exams. In the lesson the students were handed adjectives of “good, bad or big” and then threw them in the corresponding “basket”. I welled up with pride as this Grade 7 class representative used the word “abysmal”, which she learned from the game, in her speech. That word isn’t even in my vocabulary. It was awesome.

I have seen other such lessons “stick” with students and it is the best feeling in the world. Hearing them refer to a concept like “gender violence” in a lesson three weeks after I introduced the topic is amazing. These kids really are the future of Swaziland. It is within their power to reverse the damage done by a disease that has robbed them of an entire generation. Good luck, bantfwana.


Friday, November 4, 2011


My freckles have always been somewhat of a burden.  Not really for me per say, I have always been comfortable with them and felt they add somewhat of a “flare” – or something.  Growing up my Uncle Al use to joke that when I was young a large group of ants came in while I was sleeping, pooped on me, and now I have freckles.  Being that I was completely immature and loved toilet talk, I thought it was funny and somewhat believable.  As I got older people use to ask me things such as, “Have you always had so many freckles?” Once I was interested in wearing make-up, mall attendants would have an extremely hard time trying to find a foundation that would cover up about 5 tones of skin color that come up from all my different freckles.  When I realized that all they were doing was trying to cover up my freckles, and not my pimples, I decided foundation wasn’t really necessary. And recently I realized that my freckles, not ever seen in Sub-Saharan Africa, was disconcerting to many. 

At first it was just people telling me that I must carry an umbrella because the sun was so hot.  This is not uncommon, as many people carry umbrellas and wear long sleeved shirts to keep safe from the sun.  Then my host sister asked me if I was feeling well, and that I was getting much too dark.  “By the time you leave here, you are going to look like one of us!” Then, the bombshell – My host sister asked me if she touched my skin if she would get dots.  I was confused, knowing that I didn’t have any sort of rash or infectious disease on my skin.  Then she asked me why I had all these dots on my skin, and if I was going to be okay.  I have never laughed so hard in my life! All of the females on my homestead had a discussion prior to this confrontation about my freckles, what they thought they were, and if I was going to be okay.  I calmed them by telling them that freckles are completely natural, I have had them all of my life, and they are not contagious. I also explained to them that I had sunscreen, I wore it everyday, and that protects me from the sun.  I knew they believed me because they spent the next five minutes rubbing my arm to see if they could feel my freckles. PS – The females on my homestead are ages 27 and up, these are not children. 

The month of October went by quickly.  I cannot believe that we have been living in Swaziland for 5 months already, although there have been moments where time has stood still (Six hours at any community event is 5 hours too long.)  Although for most of you November means hot drinks, snowfall and sweaters, right now Ryan and I are sitting in 105 degree heat! (Don’t feel too bad for us, we also have access to free wifi, a trampoline and a pool)

Come November 19th Ryan and I will be attending training in Mbabane and will officially be off of what some volunteers lovingly call solitary confinement.  For the first three months at site we are only allowed one night away a month, which is a lot more isolating than it sounds.  Luckily, it is almost over, and Ryan and I are celebrating! Ryan’s brother, Dallin, will be coming to visit December 19th, and we will travel through South Africa and Swaziland, where we are hoping he can stomach the slaughtering of a cow, and then Ryan and I will be going on a vacation on an island off of Mozambique! I have always wanted to travel around the world, and this gives us the perfect opportunity to do it, and to do it very cheaply. 

Ryan and I have been busy wrapping up with integration and starting to get some ideas rolling for projects.  Unfortunately, we are stifled due to integration and cannot actually start projects that require any sort of funding until December, which is conveniently when the whole country shuts down to celebrate the King, Christmas, New Years, and summer. Although when we first got here we were cursing the lack of efficiency and the fact that even doing a simple task such as dishes takes an hour +, we are starting to really enjoy the slower pace of life and making the most out of it.  We have started a flowerbed, a garden, read a lot, and go on walks. Luckily, the rainy season has begun, and even the hot lowveld where we live is starting to green. 

We also have adopted a new kitty! I have been feeling pretty maternal here, and to everyone’s disappointment, instead of getting myself knocked up, we just adopted a cat instead.  Her name is Sipokobuso (Ghostface), and she is adorable.  We hope that when she gets a little older she will deter lizards, snakes, spiders, etc. from coming into our home.  She is adorable and we are happy to have her. Our main chore for right now is keeping her away from the dogs, who I am afraid will try to eat her the first chance they get.  For that reason she is an indoor only kitty for now. 

I hope that you all enjoyed Halloween, and know that for Thanksgiving we are very grateful to have all of you in our lives.