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.