Saturday, November 26, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! This is a time of the year to remember what we are thankful for in our lives, so I want to make sure that I acknowledge all of my family and friends that support me and are interested in my life in Swaziland as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I have been in Swaziland for 6 months now.  Crazy how time flies and crazy how my fellow Volunteers became like family so quickly.  Peace Corps is such a unique experience with challenges that don’t exist anywhere else or in any other job.  It’s hard to know if the experiences and difficulties I am having are ‘normal’ when nothing ever feels normal, so my colleagues have become great assets in my Swazi life.  I am thankful to have them all and I know that when we return to the States, these will be friendships for the rest of my life.  Many of them are also writing blogs so when you are bored and when I have been slacking in keeping you entertained with my African adventure and other random musings please check out their blogs because they are doing some awesome stuff here as well.
The blogs of my fellow PCVs are linked over there, enjoy! --->

New Normal

I asked Patty to send me some ideas for blog topics earlier this week.  I know a lotofpeopleenjoy reading my blogs, and I don’t want to disappoint you by not updating often enough.  When I brainstorm for blog ideas nothing jumps out as something that’s worth sharing, and actually when I arrived here brainstorming wasn’t really necessary since everything seemed so new and interesting.  The fact that I have to brainstorm for ideas now made me think of how the Swazi life is my new normal.  I am no longer taken aback by how many babies I see riding on their mother’s back held only by a bath towel or how breastfeeding in public is completely normal and it actually abnormal to see a bottle or pacifier.  I have come to expect the flies in the latrine, the smell of pigs, and how cows roam anywhere they want but know where their home is.  I refer to any white person I see as my friend, but that’s probably not too far from the truth, and this week we fit 28 PCVs plus the driver in a 15 passenger van like it was no big deal.  I also have stopped feeling lame when I am asleep by 8:30 or guilty when I wish for rain so I don’t have to go to my meeting and can just sit in my hut all day.
Patty asked me to write more about transportation, access to the healthcare system, and access to food and technology.  So here goes…
Almost nobody has a car, and if they do have a car it’s probably broken down and they are waiting til the end of the month to get the part to fix it.  They have to wait til the end of the month since if a person actually has a job or receives pension from the government they only get paid on the last Friday of the month (called ‘month-end’ here).  Anyways, back to transport.  So since no one has a car, we allrely on public transport in the form of either 15 passenger van taxis (khumbis) or buses.  I have relatively good transport where I live.  My bus stopis close by and there are buses about every hour that go to Manzini, the biggest city and khumbis that go to a smaller town.  Buses are cheaper and have more room for when I have big bags or boxes or groceries, but khumbis are faster with less stops and never have to worry about standing for 1.5hrs.  Hitchhiking is also common but against PC rules.
My community has its own health clinic, so I haven’t found transport costs to be too much of a barrier to people getting healthcare.  From what I understand, there is a 4E($.50) sort of co-pay to be seen by one of the nurses at the clinic.  On Mondays, there is focus on mother andchild health, growthcharting and immunizations.  On Tuesdays a doctor comes to give out ARVs (anti-retro virals, HIV treatment) which are FREE! to people that need them and pretty accessible throughout the country.

On to food, most homesteads here grow their own maize which they harvest, dry, and then grind into maize meal and raise their own livestock.  People eat porridge for every meal and don’t have to buy too much of their food.  There are many ways to prepare the porridge. They can make it thick or thin; sweet, sour, or salty; and mixed with other food like porridge and pumpkin.  I eat the porridge but hate eating the same food all the time, so I buy my food either from my local shop or the big grocery stores when I go into the city.  I have been eating lots of pasta, rice, eggs, potatoes, peanut butter, and fruit.  I know for a lot of people cooking is fun and creative, but for me it is a chore.  My stove heats up my already hot room making it really uncomfortable to sleep.
I hope this post gives you a little more insight on my life here.  I am doing really well and it is hard to believe, but I am already a quarter of the way done!  We justfinisheda weeklong training session with all the PCVs in the country.  It was inspiring to be with all of them and learn all of their ideas for what they are doing or have done throughout their time here.
Our training week also included a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner with the turkey and all the trimmings and I am looking forward to Christmas on the beach in Mozambique with a group of my fellow Volunteers, so I have lots to look forward to!
If you have a topic you have wanted me to write about a topic, please leave a comment, email or facebook me.  As I said at the beginning, life is normalizing so the ideas don’t naturally occur to me anymore.
Me and Bholoja, a Swazi superstar! He was performing a concert to bring awareness to World AIDS Day (Dec 1st)

Saturday, November 5, 2011


The first three months in our community is called the integration phase.  We are meant to go around our community introducing ourselves, asking questions, and figuring out what the challenges our community faces.  We are tasked to compile a report on our findings which will help us and use as a reference throughout the rest of our service.  We are only allowed one night a month to stay away from site which kind of feels like house arrest.  My counterpart has been really good at setting up meetings for me to meet with all of the groups throughout my Chiefdom.  I have met with 5 Neighborhood Care Points (the community kitchens that feed orphans/vulnerable children), 3 HIV support groups, a handicraft group, sewing group, adult literacy program, the clinic, the primary school, and development committee.  I have met the Chief, attended a couple Umphakatsi meetings (community meetings with Inner Council to the Chief), I was there for the election 25 new community police, and I go to church on a fairly regular basis.  I am supposed to go homestead to homestead with a survey, but that really hasn’t happened.  I have slacked a bit on that end, but I hope all of my other meetings will compensate.
Thankfully, house arrest, I mean integration is almost over.  It ends with an In-Service Training that will help us in the programming aspect of our service.  I am really looking forward to IST because at this point, I have identified ton of groups I could help, but I am not an ideas person as far as programming goes.  I have never been the initiator of a project and being the leader is intimidating to me.
I could sit in my room and do nothing for these two years and come back to America with a couple pictures and a few stories and everyone would be so proud of me because simply I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.  But I don’t want to leave here having done nothing.  I want at the end of these two years to have actually made a noted positive impact on my community.  I feel this huge weight on my shoulders, but it’s a weight of my own making.  I have higher expectations for myself than anyone else. 
It makes it easier when I get to talk to my fellow Volunteers and share our successes and setbacks, but this hasn’t been so easy (house arrest).  So I am really looking forward to IST to help organize my ideas, brainstorm solutions, and give me the confidence to be a catalyst for development in my community.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

So much time, so many craft projects to learn

I am a crafting machine lately. Last week I finished making my Swazi hat made out of braided reed grass. Yesterday I spent the day with a handicraft group. They taught me how to make the colorful baskets that are sold in the markets! All the while I continue knitting stuffed toys for Christmas presents. Next week I will learn to sew. One of the PC goals is to learn culture. I am counting this. Also I like turning nothing into something and my laziness into productivity. I just wish my hands worked faster!