Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gogo is Still Sick and Meet My Friend Deli

An update of Gogo’s condition.  A few weeks back I wrote a blog about Gogo being sick and the difficulties in getting transportation for her to see a doctor.  After those initial visits, she was sent back home with an unsure diagnosis and a packet of antibiotics.  Since then, Gogo’s condition only deteriorated and Make took her back to the city hospital where she was admitted.  Gogo has been at the hospital now going on three weeks.  Being at the hospital this long with no improvement, I can only assume Gogo won’t be coming back to the homestead, so I went to the hospital to visit instead.
I took the 9:00a bus to the city arriving at 10:30a.  It is about a 15-20 minute walk to the hospital from where the bus drops me off.  On the way there, I pass the most modern mall in Swaziland, complete with a set of escalators.  Swazis are very proud of the mall and its very common for school field trips to add this mall to their list of attractions so their students can marvel at the moving steps.
Coincidentally, as I am passing the mall, I see my Make approaching me from the direction of the hospital.  She is on her way home to check on the homestead, to arrange for a tractor to come the next day, and then to plant the rest of her fields with maize.  It is planting season, and regardless of Gogo’s health, there will be a bigger issue in the fall if there is no maize.  My family, like most Swazi families is reliant on subsistence farming for survival, and Make does the bulk of the work by herself.
As we finish our short talk on the side of the road next to the mall with escalators, Make gives me directions as to how to find Gogo at the hospital, even giving me the siSwati words to ask for help.  I learn that Gogo’s name is Maggie which makes me happy for some reason.  Make doesn’t seem confident that I will be able to find her room, but she also doesn’t realize is that most people are really eager to help me (especially places where there aren’t usually white people).  So I rely on this expectation that someone will help me and don’t fret about not finding my way.
Upon entering the hospital grounds, I instantly realize that this place is bigger than an upscaled single-hall-wayed clinic that I had envisioned, but this hospital was a maze of corridors (more like covered sidewalks between buildings), a maze, a very similar feeling  to hospitals in America.  I am basing my comparisons on my first-hand knowledge of American hospitals which coincidentally can be counted on one hand (first-hand, one hand… get it!), but also my extensive knowledge of hospital tv shows.
So after being led to the female medical ward by a very accommodating nurse, who I’m sure stopped everything she was doing to walk me to the other side of the hospital, I successfully found my Auntie taking care of Gogo in the female ward.  The ward is like nothing I have seen before.  I walk into a large open room with 16 beds, about half of which were occupied.  There are curtains around to separate the room into 8 – 2 bed ‘rooms’ with only enough room to walk between the beds.  There are large open windows along the long wall.  This day was overcast and cool with intermittent showers all day and they have all the windows open.  This is a room full of sick people and probably the only room in Swaziland with every door and window open.  The people in this country are notorious for shutting the windows on public transport even on the hottest of days, but maybe the open windows here are to suppress the transmission of communicable diseases since there is a pretty high rate of tuberculosis in the country.
Auntie, Make’s sister is staying with Gogo alone now that Make had to take care of business back at the homestead.  Auntie’s responsibilities are to stay with Gogo, change her sheets daily, bathe her, feed her, and make sure she is warm and comfortable.  Meanwhile, Gogo is curled up on her bed looking thinner than ever even under the mountain of at least 5 blankets piled on top of her.  Gogo is on oxygen now and I can hear the air flowing.  It sounds like a pretty high dose from what I can tell.  Gogo has a catheter in; the pee bag is hanging off the side of the bed.  I doubt that Gogo can walk anymore.  The charts are held in a box in the center of the room, so there is nothing I can read to know her diagnosis or prognosis.
I say hello to Gogo.  It is hard to see her in this condition.  She looks so helpless, and yet there is nothing I can do to help either.  Gogo sees me, probably surprised that I visited.  All she says is “oh, intfombi yami” over and over.  My girl, my girl.”  This breaks my heart, but I am happy she still recognizes me and that hopefully, I brought a little light to her day.
When talking to Mom about my visit, she tells me that this ward-style hospital set-up is much like how American hospitals were set up in the past before it was known that having a whole bunch of sick people in one room didn’t promote health or diminish the transmission of communicable diseases very well.  This type of hospital is a relic of the past, much like cassette tapes, VCRs, $2 bills, and satellite dishes.  This hospital did have a private room section for the patients who could afford it.  The private rooms were probably more similar to the hospitals I am familiar with.  It is unfortunate though that the standard of my Gogo’s care is soley dependent on how much money she has.  If she had more money she could be in one of those private rooms instead of being immuno-compromised in a ward surrounded by a bunch of other sick people.  This isn’t just a problem unique to the third world, however, it’s just magnified here.  You know the whole -cut Medicare/Medicaid benefits because those people are lazy and we shouldn’t have to pay for them- debate.  Just because my Gogo is not wealthy doesn’t mean she should be put in a hospital room that will make her die faster.  The standard of her care should not be decided by money.  She is a person just like everyone else.
Time was ticking now.  I still had some things to do in ton before catching the afternoon bus home.  I say goodbye to Gogo and she reaches her hand out after me, “intfombi yami, intfombi yami.” “My girl, my girl.”  With a wave goodbye, I am off.  I reach the front door and ask for a toilet, I still have a long journey ahead of me.  Again I receive great hospitality.  A simple point down the hall is never sufficient.  The woman gets up from her post and walks me right to the door of the bathroom, offering to stay in case I can’t find my way back, but I politely tell her that I will figure it out.  I know you aren’t to concerned about my bladder, but this trip to the bathroom was significant to me because it was the worst part of the whole trip.  The room itself was clean enough, that wasn’t the problem.  The problem as that this bathroom had no toilet paper and no hand soap! Really!?!  This hospital is among the best health care facilities in the country and they have no soap! No soap dispenser, no soap residue on the back of the sink, no bar to hold a toilet paper roll, nothing!  And upon brief inspection of the men’s room (the door was open), the conditions were consistent, a condition I would expect at a public restroom at a state park or gas station, but not at a hospital in a country’s central city.  Great, even less attention paid to communicable disease.  Thankfully, I was leaving there.  My Gogo may not be so lucky.
The following poem, written by Delisile Simelane, a friend from my community seems to foreshadow my Gogo’s unfortunate situation.
When death comes around
He is the only one to boast
He brings rain
Rain rain rain
Rain down every one’s cheeks
Rain of sorrow, reign of despair.
When death comes around
everything comes to a halt.
Life stops, no more breathing.
laughing or crying.
Death is silence.
When death comes around
He leaves a very huge gap.
A hole of hopelessness,
A hole no one else could ever fill.
When death comes around
Peace dashes out through the window,
and immediately he enters through the door.
Death is a silence with no peace.
By:  Simelane Delisile
Delisile is 19 years old.  She dropped out of her senior year of high school when she fell pregnant.  A girl cannot remain in school while she is pregnant, and teachers even have the right to ask a girl to take a pregnancy test if they presume someone is pregnant. Anyways, Deli was at the top of her class when she was forced to drop out.  I met her about halfway through her pregnancy when she approached me to ask for money to pay for her exams even though she wasn’t finishing the classwork.  I had to let her down because I won’t help pay for anyone’s school fees or else I would be bankrupt in no time.  I told her I would help with her studying and English.  We have been friends ever since.  Now we teach an adult ed. class for people wanting to learn to read and speak English.  Deli teaches the siSwati sections and she is doing a great job.  I teach knitting/other hand crafts and supplement the English lessons.  
Deli lives on a homestead with only her father (who she calls ‘the old man’), her younger brother in Grade 4, and sister-in-law who also has a baby.  It is a small homestead by Swazi standards.  Deli’s mother is not around anymore.  I have not asked her directly, but taking this country’s statistics into consideration, HIV might have something to do with it. 
 Deli lives in a stick-and-mud hut with a grass thatched roof, no electricity, and no cell phone.  It is common for a person to have a cellphone even when they have nothing else.  Deli, however, is living with the bare essentials.  Her hut has a bed, a table for a candle, school books and Bible, and a box where she keeps her clothes, that’s it.  No crib, no toys or keepsakes from childhood, no posters on the wall that are typical of regular teenagers her age, nothing. 
I asked Deli about the father of her baby girl, Anale (means ‘enough’), 7 weeks old now.  She doesn’t have many good things to say about him.  When she told him she was pregnant, she said that he got in his car and sped off, literally leaving her in the dirt.  It hurts my heart to think about that image.  It also hurts my heart even worse that 7 weeks ago when she went to give birth, she had to travel three hours by herself on crowded public transport, while in labor, to the hospital where she was to give birth for the first time.  It was a different hospital than the one my Gogo is at, but in a smaller city, so who knows what those conditions are like.  Hopefully they had soap.  Luckily, giving birth there only cost E24 ($3USD).  I hope the saying ‘you get what you pay for’ doesn’t apply here.
 Deli has become a close friend of mine.  She is looking forward to helping me with starting a GLOW Club in my community.  She will be a leader of the group and in January she will be taking part of week-long pre-camp training session to prepare for her role as a counselor at camp in April.  This is an awesome opportunity for Deli, a smart girl in an unfortunate situation.  She already shows promise of overcoming her obstacles and can you imagine how much confidence leading at Camp with 75 girls will give her!  Please help make this reality by donating to GLOW.
 I didn’t mean to make Deli’s story an advertisement for you to donate to GLOW, I promise!  She helps me in my teaching and will help me in my GLOW project while I help her with her writing.  She brings me her poems and compositions that she writes out of her own free will.  I told her I would publish some of her writing on my blog, so here is her writing along with a bit of her back story and coincidentally, an opportunity for you to help her out.
Delisile and Anale in my house.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Please Support Our Project!!!

GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)

I have been waiting for the right time to tell you all about one of the greatest projects I am working on here in Swaziland.  It is called Girls Leading Our World (GLOW).  GLOW Swaziland envisions a nation where women and girls lead safe, healthy, and happy lives and have no limitations on their dreams.  GLOW exists to encourage, support, and inspire gender equality and female empowerment in the Kingdom of Swaziland.  GLOW creates and supports environments where young Swazi women can obtain information and acquire skills that will enable them to improve their life experience and expand opportunities for a successful and satisfying life as an African woman.

Peace Corps Volunteers around the entire country are starting GLOW Clubs for girls in the rural communities to have access to information and to empower the girls to take the reins of their own life and become the next leaders in this country.  Our biggest initiative is a week-long GLOW Camp where girls are nominated from all over the country to come together for a leadership camp.  Camp GLOW’s purpose is to provide a safe and supportive environment for girls where they can receive information and training in the areas of leadership, female health issues, self-discovery and career planning.

As a youth in America I spent summers attending soccer camps, church mission trips, camping with my parents, and later working a Girl Scout Camp.  These experiences are huge character builders that Swazi girls are not usually fortunate to have.  We are creating Camp GLOW to give this experience to Swazi girls.

For those of you who have been wondering how you could help me in my service, this is your opportunity!  You can help give this opportunity to the girls of Swaziland.  WE are in need of donations and because the U.S. dollar goes a long way over here no donation is too small. Your contribution will go directly to making Camp GLOW a successful event.

Don’t miss your chance to help this amazing project!  Of all the projects I have worked on in Swaziland, this one will have the greatest and most lasting impact and therefore we really need your help.  Your support means a lot. A lot to me and a lot to the girls whose life you will be impacting!


Follow the link to  DONATE TO GLOW!!!
It is preferred to donate via the internet since there is no time delay.  However, if you want, I can make the (snail) mail version available to you.  Send me an e-mail and let me know if you would rather donate that way. My e-mail is
And if you need extra incentive, charitable contributions to the Peace Corps are tax-deductible under section 170(c)1 of the Internal Revenue Code! (Awesome, I know!)
Click to DONATE TO GLOW!!!
Come on! Now its really time to DONATE TO GLOW!!! If you ever thought of sending a care package, this is your opportunity to support me in my service.
HERE IS THE OFFICIAL LETTER (because I am a poor PCV and can't send it to all of you):

Kelly Tooley

Peace Corps Swaziland

P.O. Box 2797

Mbabane, H100

Swaziland, AFRICA

 Dear all of my family, friends and blog readers:

As you know I am currently serving with the Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Swaziland in Sub Sahara Africa. The purpose of this letter is to tell you about an exciting project that I am working on and to offer you an opportunity to help if you can.

 The project is a gender empowerment effort known as Project GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). This will be the second year of GLOW’s existence in Swaziland and its premier activity will be a five day leadership camp for teenage girls scheduled for the April school vacation. Through a Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) partial funds are available to support the camp, however it is the role of those of us who will design and lead the camp to obtain matching funds from friends and family back home.

Camp GLOW’s purpose is to provide a safe and supportive environment for girls where they can receive information and training in the areas of leadership, female health issues, self-discovery and career planning. The camp will nurture exploration of personalities, individual talents and will fortify the resolve of young woman to break out of stereotypes and behaviors that hinder their success and happiness. Girls that attend Camp GLOW will be expected to return to their schools and communities and initiate GLOW Clubs and to share the information and skills that they have acquired.

 Because the U.S. dollar goes a long way over here no donation is too small. Your contribution will go directly to Camp GLOW and will most likely be applied to providing meals for the campers and for providing transportation to and from the camp location. Follow the link to DONATE TO GLOW to find more information about the project. I may also have a list of in kind contribution items that would also help us a great deal (but I don't have that list ready yet).

On behalf of all of the GLOW girls, campers and volunteers, I thank you in advance for anything that you can do to help us empower females and improve the lives of all who live in this small, but incredibly special, nation of Swaziland.

Kelly and The GLOW Team

Click to DONATE TO GLOW!!! 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Gogo is sick.

My Gogo (grandma) is well into her 80s, surpassing even America's life
expectancy. At one point not too long ago, life expectancy in
Swaziland was only 32.6 years (but now it hovers around the 48-49 year
range). Her years have more than doubled that 32 year bar and come
close to doubling the current rate, but those years have definitely
taken their toll on her health. When she stands her back is hunched
over as she grips her walking stick. It takes obvious effort for her
just to lift her head to say hello in the morning (in siSwati, of
course). Her walk is better described as a shuffle as she moves
around the homestead finding the next shady spot, hiding from the
relentless Swazi sun. Once I saw her fall when her shoe caught on a
rock. Her body is so fragile, she was lucky she didn't break any

Meanwhile, I am a 24 year old healthy American with a life expectancy
around 79 and I just finished a week-long visit to town for my
mid-service medical check-up. We get tested for everything in the
book, get a mental health evaluation, and a dentist check-up. The US
Government is really looking out for us volunteers, but the Swazis we
live among are not so lucky. If they get sick they just stay home and
sleep until they recover. There is no such thing as a check-up here
for a normal Swazi person and I have clinic right in my community so
it's not like they have to travel forever to get there. Mothers go
to the clinic to get immunizations for their babies and ARVs (HIV
meds) are distributed there, but access to healthcare here is not made
easy, especially for people who need it the most, the sick people.
Sick people are generally old and immobile or have waited so long to
get treatment that they are now too weak for traveling.

When I arrived home from my check-up, I found that my Gogo was sick
with some kind of respiratory infection. I can hear fluid in her
lungs, like asthma when she walks. She doesn't walk very well even
when she is healthy and now it is difficult for her to breathe. I can
go to the clinic like it's no big issue, and I actually crossed the
whole country to get to my appointments, but I am neither sick nor old
which makes that kind of traveling much much easier.
My Make (mom) decided to take Gogo to the hospital in the city rather
than our clinic here in the community. At the hospital Gogo can
receive more extensive care, the care that she probably needs.
However, getting to the hospital is no easy task. Make doesn't have
a car and for Gogo to use public transport at her age and condition is
simply out of the question. Make has to find someone with a car and
arrange to get Gogo to the hospital. But people are always busy with
their own lives. It took three days to arrange a ride and even the
morning of the arrangement, Make was unsure whether the man would
actually show up. When she called his phone in the morning, he was
busy fetching water from the river and who knows how long that could
take. He eventually did show up, just three hours late! They did
some tests, ran some blood, and then sent her home.

The next week, Gogo is still not any better. I can still hear
asthma-like sounds in her respiration. One of the days she became
confused and came to my door thinking it was her house. Make wants
to take her to the clinic again, not the one in the city, just the one
about 10km from here. Transport is an issue again, but so is the time
of year. It is planting season now, and Make is busy preparing the
fields for this year's maize crop. Sustenance farming is how people
survive here, so even though Gogo is sick and should probably see a
doctor, people are coming to help Make put in the maize seeds for the
I called a friend who is a teacher at the school next to the clinic.
She has a car, so I asked her if she could take Gogo and Make to the
clinic. To be honest, I took this woman's number and befriended her
specifically because she has a car and if I ever thought there was a
security risk or emergency she could get me somewhere safe. She is a
really nice person, and I am sure I would have been friends with her
without her car, but it did add incentive.

Anyways, this friend was able to take Gogo to the clinic. Gogo got
some more medicine, they checked the results of the previous tests,
they said she didn't need an x-ray, and they sent her home. I am not
quite sure how Make got Gogo back home in the middle of the day since
my teacher friend was still in school. All I know is what I saw.
Make and Gogo returned from the clinic as I was leaving to go teach a
class of my own. Gogo was in a wheel barrow as a neighbor pushed her
from the bus station back to home. A wheel barrow! I know I do my
fair share of complaining about living life in Swaziland, but life is
rough here, especially for elderly and sickly. I am glad I don't have
to be here when I am old. I don't want to have to wait for days to
get to the clinic, given medicines that don't work, and then pushed
home is a wheel barrow! Yet another reason I am happy to be American.
It is times like these I am extra happy to have won the birth lottery
by being born in America.

So its a week later and Gogo is still sick and getting weaker but she
is a tough woman. How else could she have lasted this long, right?

On a seperate note, I just wanted to take some time to thank you for your continued support in reading my blog updates.  Also don't forget to check out my fellow Swazi voluteer blogs with link on the right side of this page.  ---->

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

3 blogs in 1 - Durban Vacation

September 10, 2012
The second half of our vacation was pretty wet, but it didn’t spoil our time since we spent a lot of time in shops.  And it was good news because not only was it raining in Durban, but it was also raining in Swaziland!  For those of you keeping up with my blog know how a good rain can lift my spirits.  When I arrived back to my hut I was busy for at least an hour filling all my containers, so now I have more than 300 liters of water which will last me a long time and probably more than enough time since the rainy season is almost here.  When the rain stopped, and the sun came out on Sunday it was just the most gorgeous spring day.  The air was so fresh and light, the kind of weather that just breeds good moods.  Coming up this week I am in town for my Mid-Service medical check-up.

September 8, 2012

Vacation Highlights
Durban Vacation
Stephanie and I left from Mbabane, capitol of Swaziland at 6:30a for Manzini, the Swaziland travel hub.  We were off on our week long vacation to Durban, South Africa’s 3rd largest city and the largest port on Africa’s east coast.  Seven hours on a khumbi with my back pack on my lap and we had arrived in Durban, dropped in the middle of the city without any idea of where to go next.  After asking some locals where we could find a taxi, they put us on a khumbi.  After lots of confusion and super friendly staff at a shoe store, they put us on the right transport to the place we were staying.  After settling in, we proceeded to the beach a few blocks away for dinner as the moon rose over the Indian Ocean.  My first impression of Durban was that it had a great uniquely African atmosphere and genuinely friendly/helpful people and some crazy fast khumbi drivers.
We arrived on Thursday and spent all of Friday on the beach (and good thing we did since it was overcast and on and off showers for the rest of the week).  We had brunch at a restaurant along the boardwalk where we got overly excited about them having bagels on the menu.  We grilled the waiter to make sure it was a proper American-style bagel.  He apologized for never having been to America, but he assured us that it was bread with a whole in the middle which made me laugh at the things we miss about American culture.   Shortly after we both ordered our bagels he came back with the bad news that there was only one bagel left!  I let Steph have it.  I was sad but we had a good laugh about it.  Friday night we headed to Florida Road, the hip suburb of Durban for sushi and a bottle of wine!
Saturday we moved to a new hostel near Florida Road called Gibela, the top-notch hostel in Durban.  It is beautiful, clean, and quaint.  We spent the day touring Durban’s Indian district.  At lunch we were served by the owner of the restaurant who specially prepared his signature seafood curry and naan.
at the Botanical Gardens in Durban
Thankfully with good weather on Sunday we were able to relax at the beautiful Botanical Gardens with a picnic.  On the walk home we stopped at a cafĂ© for tea and awesome desserts.  On Monday we visited an art museum, the Natural History Museum, and the largest Mosque on the Southern Hemisphere.  We ate Durban’s famous dish called Bunny Chow.  They take a ¼ loaf of bread take out the middle, add curry, and replace the bread on top.  Very tasty!
Botanical Gardens in Durban
On Tuesday we moved to a final hostel that was closer to the beach and from there we went to the Casino located up on the beach.  I put 50 Rand into a slot machine.  I got it up to 115R, but just as quickly it went back down to 50R again.  We saw the movie Total Recall in the Casino’s movie theater which was pretty good and only about $4 USD!  It is about a future World where this man has his memory replaced and he goes on to figure out that he is the key to over-throwing the current political regime.  The casino was right on the beach, so after the movie, even though it was an overcast day we went to put our feet in the water and to chase some waves.  The ocean was faster than us though, so we ended up with the bottom of our jeans pretty soaked but with huge smiles on our faces.

I have wanted Subway for over a year!!

Our last day was Wednesday.  It was pretty epic!  We spent the day at the Aquarium.  We arrived early in the morning to get breakfast.  I finally got my bagel!!  They seemed confused as to why I would want cream cheese on the bagel, but they figured it out and it was so good!  We finished the morning with massages and shopping.  For lunch, I got another bagel at the same place.  Still confused about the whole bagel thing, this time they put lettuce and tomato on it along with the cream cheese.  Once I took the lettuce and tomato off it became the best bagel I have had in over a year!  We then spent the afternoon at the Aquarium and got to see the dolphin show, so cool!  And to top off and already awesome day, we ate dinner at a Tappas Bar that was on the end of a pier, so it felt like we were having our dinner in the middle of the Indian Ocean with a perfect view of Durban’s skyline lit up in the night.

Last night after dinner

Largest Mosque in the Southern Hemishpere

Beach, shopping, good food, bagels, massage, and dolphins!  I think I can call that a pretty successful vacation!

September 8, 2012

I Slept With a Terrorist
We arrive to the third hostel of our vacation to Durban.  I like this one a lot.  Big open community spaces, multiple seating areas, fun decoration that is original that utilizes and is inspired by South African crafts and culture.  We stay in the dorms, rooms furnished with 3 sets of bunk beds.  Steph and I took the empty bunk, while one bunk was claimed by 2 American girls who were studying abroad in Cape Town and on the last bunk was a middle-aged Afghan man named Mohammed.  He introduced himself while sitting on the lower bunk he was occupying, unmoving from his comfort zone.  He had a bald head with a thick black beard and green eyes with a large scar over his left eye.  He seemed like a talkative guy, but I think a mixture of being tired from a day full of shopping and touring along with an unwarranted skepticism, fear, and/or prejudice led me to keep my conversation with him brief. 
The next day we woke up early.  Our plan was to spend the day at the Aquarium.   Mohammed woke up from our noise rolled over and wished us good morning and a good day.  Upon our return that night from the day’s adventures, Mohammed greeted us still in his bed where we left him in the morning.  I thought it was a bit strange.  I was appalled by my prejudiced thoughts from the day before (however brief they happened to be) since I have no right to judge a person based on the color of their skin or country and religion of their origin.  I decided that if he wanted to talk to me, it is my duty to hear what he has to say.
I asked about life in Afghanistan and he wanted to know about life in America and why we would want to come to Swaziland when we lived in the land of endless opportunity.  When I told him I am from New York his eyes grew wide as he said, “So you were there when they came down?”  As I tried to explain that there is more to New York than just the City, I was also shocked by how much more present the memory of 9/11 was to him than to me.  I didn’t automatically connect him to those terrorists from that day in the way that he connected me to the victims and somehow this made me feel like I am not a good enough American, that my emotions around this tragedy aren’t strong enough, and that my faded memory is a sign disrespect to the actual victims of the attacks.
Our experience of the war is so opposite.  While I was living a relatively sheltered life in America, not knowing any of the victims who died, Mohammed has been in the middle of the warzone in Kabul for the last 11 years since the attacks and at one point in the conversation claimed to know the terrorists aboard the planes.  He talked about how the Kabul was a mess with no water or electricity; he talked about getting shot at and about how he would go to live in the mountains.  I asked him that after all this, does he hate Americans because, let’s be honest, although America professes to be a peace loving country, guns speak louder than words (especially in Afghanistan).  One of the reasons I joined the Peace Corps was because of my objection to violence and warfare, so I wanted to learn how the war had affected his view of us.  I don’t know what I would have done had his answer been yes, but thankfully he said no, that he doesn’t believe in hate.  The Qur’an and other religious books teach about peace and loving one another and that hate is a sin.  Terrorism is against Islamic principles because God wants us to love one another.  He went on but I can’t do his words justice.
From there the conversation shifted to the problems in the Swazi government and the education system.  We talked about how the problem is not that children can’t afford school fees, but rather the teachers are not trained well enough to provide any of the students a quality education whether they can pay or not.  He was shocked that there is a 21-year-old in my 8th grade class and a 23-year-old in Steph’s 9th grade class and how having older students like this is not uncommon.  He was shocked because in Afghanistan, every boy is a soldier as soon as they can walk basically.  At 9-years-old they learn how to shoot an AK-47 and at twelve they can assemble a bomb by themselves.  He has been shot eight times including the one that created the scar over his left eye brow, and he is in constant pain which is why he is always lying in bed.  He can’t get stronger pain meds because he is not a citizen of South Africa which is a 5-year-long process, but he repeats over and over throughout the conversation that he doesn’t want to go back.
He was a member of a well off and well-connected family in Afghanistan.  He bragged that his mother owned a couple large textile plants in South Africa among other businesses; she had a fleet of cars rivaling Swazi King Mswati, and a couple houses including the penthouse of one of the large hotels on Durban’s strip.  He claimed to have been engaged to one of Osama bin Laden’s sisters and to have met bin Laden on more than one occasion.  He told me how he massacred a group of American soldiers after they made him watch as they raped his sister; 2 in the head, 2 in the stomach, and the one in the leg was able to get him in the leg as well.  He showed me the scar on his leg.  From his stories he seemed like he was always right in the middle of the fighting.  “Who were they after?” I asked.  “My family,” he said simply without any hesitation.  He told me that they tortured him for information because he didn’t want to talk to them, that after a while your body becomes numb to the torture.  Later I joked with Stephanie that they only needed to find him at a random hostel and he would probably spill anything they wanted to hear.  I didn’t want to ask too many questions though.  We were sleeping only about 10 feet from him.
The whole conversation was so bizarre.  At one point he showed me his bag of food that he had stored under his bed.  Inside it was filled with at least a dozen or more one liter cartons of juice.   He said juice like that is not available in Afghanistan so his well-connected mother paid some American soldier to have it smuggled in from South Africa.  When Mohammed received it he would bury it underground to preserve it since there was no electricity or refrigeration in Kabul.
Fact is stranger than fiction.  The whole time I kept thinking that he must be lying, but how could he keep all those lies straight and why would anyone want to fabricate this lie?  If anything, they would lie so as not to tell an American these things.  And honestly I hope it’s a lie because I don’t know what to do with all this information.  Basically, I think I just slept next to a man whose face may be on a playing card of those decks that are given to members of the Armed Services.  Eish!  Well, at least it’s a good story and I am still here to tell it!
So with 9/11 around the corner, it is so interesting to learn about other people’s perspective on America and foreign policy.  Nevertheless, I will never forget the people whose lives were lost that day and how that day has shaped the reality we live in today.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Culture is still shocking

Peace Corps has three goals we are trying to accomplish throughout our service.  The first is to provide technical assistance and  the other two have to do with cultural exchange, teaching
Swazis about America and vice versa.  It is very common to be asked the question of how you like being in Swaziland?  This is a hard question to answer.  Life in Swaziland is so much different than in the States and working for the Peace Corps is a difficult job since they send us out to rural area with only vague objectives and then expect us to figure out something worthwhile to do for two years.  Overall, Peace Corps is a really good experience even with all its challenges, the other Peace Corps Volunteers are awesome people, and I am making memories here that are going to last a life time. 

When a Swazi asks me the question 'how do you like Swaziland' I answer with the simple response that everyone uses when they travel that 'oh, the people are just great here.'  Is it possible that people are great everywhere?  I have met some really awesome Swazis here, but at times I find Swazis to be rude and lacking a filter of things that are appropriate to say to each other.  This observation is probably just of our different cultures colliding, but some things I hear make my jaw drop.  For example, the other day while walking to my bus stop I stopped to chat with one of my good friends, a sweet girl that I haven't seen in a while.  I happened to be walking with a young mother and her kids.  I stopped to greet my friend, she greeted me and then greeted the Mom I was with by saying (in siSwati) "Hey fatty, you need to go to the gym and start running.  You are fat."  The woman had at least two children and wasn't much bigger than.  I was shocked by the bluntness of the comment and that the woman I was with was not offended at all and just agreed with the comment.  After I picked my jaw off the floor I told my friend that those are not things to say to others, its very insulting, and that she shouldn't say those mean things to people regardless of how big they happen to be.  I'm not sure I got through to her since she kind of just looked at me puzzled, wondering why I was questioning her for a comment that is (unfortunately) normal for them.  I am chalking this experience up to a difference in culture and not using these kinds of exchanges alter my opinion of Swaziland as a whole.  I am sure they have similar reactions when I forget and use my left hand to write, eat, and give money at the shops.

Yesterday I gave Toto, the puppy a bath.  She was confused at first when I put her in the water and when the confusion passed she hated ever second of the bath.  She was crying and barking so loud that my Make came running to see what was wrong.  After I let Toto go, she ran away from me so fast.  Before I was on her team, but now I was the enemy!  She curled up in her US Postal box/bed and was quiet for the rest of the day.  Don't worry though,  when I arrived home after being away all day she was sitting on my stoop waiting for me.  I think I am forgiven.  Toto knows the command 'Phuma!' (Out!) since she is not allowed in my room.  She is starting to learn 'Sit' and we are trying to play fetch, but she seems more interested in getting pet than the ball.

And tomorrow I start my week-long vacation in Durban, South Africa!!!  Indian ocean, here I come!!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rain rain, come back.... its another day!

I realized today that I have been in a sort of funk for the last couple of days.  It is the kind of funk that creeps up on you, so it is hard to notice it initially.  Generally, I try to avoid writing about these kind of days because by the time I get around to posting it here, the time has passed and I am back to my smiling self just to become stressed out again by family and friends who ask me if I’m feeling better now.  It seems that my biggest stress is having others worry about me.  Although  I don’t particularly like writing these posts, it is part of life as a Peace Corps Volunteer to have down times or maybe this out-of-it feeling is just a part of being human since it doesn’t take living in a 3rd world county to feel like crap from time to time.   
It took me a while to recognize the symptoms.  I stopped being interested in all of my craft projects, no desire to knit stuffed toys or crochet a mat from my stockpile of plastic bags or weave sisal baskets or my latest craft of weaving grass baskets where chickens lay their eggs (I think they are beautiful, but need to find a function for them stateside).  Then I couldn’t summon the energy to read a book, which is what I do when my hands and brain are tired of crafting.   So I turned to watching movies on my computer and by now I have watched them all multiple times.  These things have become my coping mechanisms for passing the time.  I am in my hut around 5pm every night including most Fridays and Saturdays.  Socializing at night, like at home, is not really possible here.

Chicken basket made by me completely from grass

I figured out today the cause of the stress I have been feeling: it is the lack of rain!  I have never had to deal with the unavailability of water before so I never thought about how it could affect me.   I know that America is suffering from severely high temperatures and drought these days, but I bet you aren’t worried about your shower cutting out with shampoo still in your hair.  I also doubt that you know where the closest stream is with flowing water. 

Every morning I wake up to a gray cloud-covered sky and I wonder if today is the day that the dry season will come to an end.  By 10am the clouds have burned off as we head to another scorcher of a day even though it’s still supposed to be winter.  On the windy days I hope that this wind is blowing in a wet weather pattern instead of the inevitable dust storm.  I think that the last time the wind was from the south, no rain, so now it’s from the north, so maybe?!  Nope, denied.  At night I listen closely to the sounds that are being made on top of my tin roof, rain drops? No again, just the wind moving the branches above my house.
I use between 5-10 liters of water a day for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, bathing, etc.  I was my hair about every 5 days now which takes about 4 liters.  Laundry once every 2 weeks takes around 30 liters.  My garden on the homestead died about 3 weeks ago when the tank next to it finished.
During the summer months I lived exclusively off rain water, and although it was a pretty dry summer it was still sufficient to sustain my wants andneeds.  In fact I still have some of that summer water left, but now I am using it solely as drinking water and keeping it separate from the river water.  Rain water is pure and clean while river water could be contaminated with micro-organisms, pesticides, and other gross things that I don’t want to think too much about since they are used for watering holes for the cows that pee and poop.  People bathe in the river, do their laundry in the river, and the few that own cars get them washed in the river.  If those aren’t reasons enough to justify keeping the water separate, I will always remember back to the day when I was still new in my community.  I didn’t prepare enough water for the day.  They teach us to boil and then filter our water to make it safe for drinking, but I decided that they were just being overprotective, and boy was I wrong!  I was sick for the next two days, laying on my floor in front of my fan when bodily fluids weren’t coming out either end.  Fortunately, that has been the only time I was sick like that throughout the whole year and I have only had one Cold which was over a year ago, right when I arrived this side (knock on wood, don’t want to jinx my good health for the coming year).
The water infrastructure in Swaziland is definitely lacking and ready access to clean drinking water is a definite luxury.  These are two facts I knew before coming to Swaziland but the reality of their impact seemed so abstract and hypothetical until I was actually living here for a year and having to adapt to water being a scarce resource.  The water infrastructure in my area consists of community taps along the road which remind me of camping at the RV parks.  However, the taps have not functioned since last October.  Fortunately my Make pays some guys with a tractor to take all the barrels to the river to get them filled, thankfully eliminating any physical labor on my part.  Most of my neighbors cannot afford to do this and instead have to do the work by hand (or foot or head, not sure of the right term here).  They carry 50 liter water containers either on their head (like it’s not difficult and no big deal) or they carry them with a wheelbarrow (or both at the same time) from the closet river or from the clinic which has the only working tap in the community.  It takes at least 30 minutes to walk to each of those locations from my homestead.  The clinic is halfway up a mountain so the way home would be downhill at least and the river is way down in a valley which would make the walk home horribly tiring.
Ok, here ends my rant on water.  Now you can add running hot/cold water to the list of things you are especially grateful for today as I anxiously await my next hot shower.   I can already feel the little black cloud that has been hanging over my head lifting (or looming, perhaps with some rain!).  It feels good to rant very now and then or maybe the good feeling is because NSYNC is playing on my iTunes!
In other news:  I am continuing to teach a lot of knitting to various groups around the community.  We started with cellphone bags.  Next we will move on to hats, leg warmers, and hopefully to stuffed animals which I like to make.
We had rescheduled a clean-up campaign scheduled for this week, which is postponed again.  Hopefully, third try will be the charm.
I have named the puppy that I wrote about in the last post.  My sister suggested the name Otto as an homage to my hometown, Syracuse.  After trying it out for a day or so and then my mom pointing out that Otto was a boy’s name, the name just wasn’t rolling off my tongue right.  So instead her name has transformed to Toto which is also fitting as ‘there is no place like home.’
Much needed vacation to Durban, South Africa’s 3rd largest city and right on the beach commences in 2 weeks!
That’s all for now.  The sky is looking gray… maybe rain tonight?
Probably not! L

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Help me name the new puppy!

As the previous group of Volunteers finishes their service and leaving Swaziland, the new group of 41 Americans are preparing to be sent throughout the country to start their service in communities similar to mine all around Swaziland, and at the same time I have transitioned from being the newbie to the veteran... Crazy! My new neighbor who will be located about 15km from me came to visit my site, we walked around talking with community members as I fielded all her questions about what its like to live and work out here as a Volunteer.

One of here questions was about pets. Now I am not a huge fan of pets since I am scared of most animals, they have fleas, and my house is too TINY for anything other than me but my Make is convinced I love animals since I don't hit them, kick them, or throw rocks at them and also I have been known to occasionally give water and food scraps to the poor things. Anyways, so I told my new neighbor that pets are nice, lots of Volunteers have them, but they aren't for me.

Life is funny here because the next day I went to town with the Trainee neighbor to show her around and do some shopping. I the evening when I came back home I found a new puppy there! Such a coincidence since my Make was not there for our conversation and then the next day I find a puppy. Even though I am not though I am not the biggest fan of animals I still think they are adorable and it hurts my heart to hear it cry when its freezing cold at night.

I made her a bed with a box from one of my care packages and the blanket I 'accidentally misplaced' right into my carry-on bag from the plane ride over here. Now I need to give her a name, so I am asking for your help! Help me name her! Suggestions for names can be submitted either as a comment here or on my facebook. All suggestions are welcome and appreciated!
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone powered by MTN Swaziland

Monday, July 16, 2012

July Projects Update

The Orphan Garden Project is starting slowly but surely.  The winter is the dry season so the ground is really hard from no rain, so the field needed to be watered first before it is plowed and cultivated.  They promised me it would be done on last Friday, so we will see… I have found that once the ball gets rolling here, its goes from 0 to 60 pretty fast.  For example, one of my friends has been asking to start a volleyball team for a while now.  They had a volleyball team here when the last volunteer lived here, but I was delaying in buying a ball.  I finally bought a ball last week, practice started on Monday and every following day,  they found a team to play in Siphofaneni the closest town for Saturday, and got a community donation for transport and food after the game.  Fast, fast, fast!
At our game on Saturday. 

In other news, we are entering the 4th week of the Teacher’s Strike.  The teachers nationwide are striking because the government has failed to uphold their contractual pay raise of 4.5% because of the lagging economy.  The fact that government officials accepted a 10% pay raise in the last year has added the fuel to this fire that has kept it burning this long and newspapers report that the end is not in sight.  Meanwhile the students continue to show up at school every day even with no hope of any meaningful instruction.  Poor kids already struggle in school as it is and now this.
Two girls I have been turoring.  I brought my computer along to let them practice their typing skills.

Lately I have been tutoring English, helping students in their last year and students wishing to re-take their exams prepare for the test.  I have also been working with a class for out of school students.  They are learning English and Siswati and I am going to teach them to knit. 

The clean-up project is also on hold until the teacher strike finishes.  The teacher strike has put a kink in a lot of plans, but I still feel busy all the time.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Swazi Weddings

I am tired of talking about marriage, but that topic here is on the list of most common topics.  It comes right after the topic of the weather.  So far I have attended 3 weddings while in Swaziland: two Western/Christian weddings and one traditional (umtismba) wedding.  I am curious in how a couple decides which one they want, but I still haven’t gotten a concrete reason yet.   From what I understand, they tell me that Christian weddings are expensive.  They must buy the ring and other jewelry, all the dresses and decorations, and enough food to feed the entire community (and the spouse’s community too which ends up seeming like half the country’s population!).  In a Christian marriage there is opportunity for divorce if there becomes a need in the future, and a Christian wedding supports monogamy.  In contrast, an umtsimba celebrates Swazi tradition, singing and dancing as they wear their Swazi attire, no expensive jewelry is exchanged, a cow is killed, but a traditional marriage doesn’t recognize divorce and the man can take as many wives as he wants.

A Swazi traditional wedding starts with the engagement which is called kuteka (koo-tay-gah).  The bride, who has spent the night at the groom’s homestead, is woken before dawn by the female members of the groom’s family.  She is taken to the kraal, the pen where the cows sleep (it’ where a lot of traditions take place).   When they are in the kraal, she stands basically naked and is forced to cry while the groom’s family sings until dawn.  If she doesn’t cry, they make her.  They might pour water on her, it’s before dawn, so she will be so cold she will want to cry (how’s that for welcome to the family!?!).  Then the bride’s family is notified and there is a meeting to discuss the bride price, the amount of cows the groom’s family must give to the bride’s family.

I have a few issues with this whole ceremony.  Firstly, I believe that it condones premarital sex.  I know, I know, almost no one stays a virgin until marriage these days. But I am living in a country with the highest HIV rate in the world and tradition says that in order for a woman to get married she must sleep at the groom’s home, then woken from his bed, and when she is outside she is naked.  So from that I am assuming that there wasn’t just sleep happening during the night.  Not only does this country have the highest HIV rate in the world, but there also isn’t great access to condoms, and I’m not sure the girls even know what birth control is until well after their sexual debut, let alone have the resources to access it.  And women equality and empowerment… ha, what’s that?  My second issue with this tradition is the crying.  I guess it is supposed to symbolize how she must lose her family because now she belongs to the groom’s family. I love my family too much to ever lose them and weddings/engagements are supposed to be happy days and not days to symbolize grief and loss.  My last issue is that a bride price implies ownership, so as an independent, free-thinking woman I cannot agree.

The wedding itself, umtsimba, was great fun though!  It is a cultural event with everyone in their traditional clothes, singing and dancing to their traditional songs.  I am sure there was a lot of drinking of the traditional brew which would be a lot of fun except I don’t drink with Swazis in order to better protect my own safety.  However, I did join in on the dancing and no one seemed to mind my horrible rhythm.  The biggest negative of the whole ceremony was that everyone looked beautiful, everyone except that is, for the bride!  The bride wears a big feather headdress that covers her face like a veil, except ugly!   She wears little balloons of cow intestine in her hair and an apron of goatskin over her traditional clothes.  On my wedding day I hope to look the most beautiful I will ever be.  Unfortunately, a traditional Swazi cannot say the same.
Umtsimba - Swazi Bride pictured on the right

This weekend, I attended a Western style wedding.  One of my neighbors who also attends the church I go to got married on Saturday.  It was held at the Primary School’s hall where two weeks ago I was teaching over 120 6th graders how to knit scarves.  Now the room was transformed to a wedding hall and even more overcrowded than it is during school hours.  But as all weddings seem to do, it started late, so the choir from my church kept us well entertained with their gospel songs.  Finally the wedding party arrives and begins the ceremony with a choreographed dance down the aisle.  The flower girls came first, throwing candy at the crowd and suddenly I am having flashbacks 4th of July parades after the fire trucks pass throwing candy to the children.  It is amazing how fast a group of mature adults become petty and childish.  I thought they were going to jump over each other and the toddlers in their way just for few pieces of penny candies.  The candy doesn’t even taste that good anyways. 

After the flower girls, then it’s the bridal party’s turn, more than two dozen people in all!  If I had a bridal party that big there would be no one to sit in the audience!  They had the opportunity to show off their moves in a choreographed Electric Slide-type dance that just couldn’t wait for the reception to be done.  Three steps forward, one to the right, some weird hand movements, two steps back, awkwardly get their faces as close as they can as if they will kiss, oh wait, but then they fake us out and repeat the dance down the entire aisle all the while with a stone-face look on their face.  The groom enters in the front door after the procession finishes.  He bravely wears a white suit, bravely, because nothing here stays white for long here.  Finally the moment we were all waiting for, the bride enters with her father.  She looks absolutely gorgeous, prettier than I have ever seen her look!  They reach the front and the father hands off his daughter just like would happen in America.  It seemed like what would happen in America until the father turned around, waved at the crowd, and then exited the way he came in.  I turned to the teacher sitting next to me and asked “Where is he going?  Isn’t he going stay and watch his daughter?”  She simply said “He left, so I don’t think so.”  Many parts of the wedding were overdramatized and exaggerated.  I attribute that to the TV they watch here which consists of Soap Operas like Days of Our Lives and WWE wrestling.  Can’t get much more dramatic than those shows.

Another highlight that seemed strange to me was when it came time to show the symbol of oneness, of two becoming one.  In America it is common to take the fire from two separate candles and together light a 3rd candle or some other variation of this.  But here they choose to use Coke products, mixing Sprite and Orange Fanta!  I have seen that done at both Christian weddings I have attended here and it made me laugh both times.
The HUGE wedding party!

The best part of the wedding is in the transitions between speakers.  Swazis are gifted in leading congregations in songs, so whenever a speaker finishes their speech they automatically begin a song which is then backed up by the choir and then entire congregation.  It is beautiful and a small detail that is spontaneous and natural for them, but it really adds something for me and also gives the next presenter time to get in their place to start the next part of the program.

Actually most of the ceremony is similar to America except it lacks the sense of sophistication or appreciation that this couple is entering the next stage in life.  I got the feeling that most of the people were just attending for the free food that was promised following the wedding, but maybe my impression had to do with the overcrowding in the room, the length of the ceremony as it went on and on, and people losing patience.  When the ceremony finally finished mass chaos ensued as people lined up for food, ate their food, and went on their way. 

My Swazi mom
I was left wanting more.  I am accustomed to having the formal reception after the wedding, where the real fun takes place!  I wanted to dance and celebrate with the couple and all of my friends in the community.  Instead I was home by 6pm and in the mood to dance, so I improvised having a solo dance party in my hut!  I turned my music turned as loud as it could go and jammed out.  I invited my sisis and bhuti to join, but they seemed content laughing at me and playing with my iPod.

Sometimes I wonder which wedding I would want if I were a Swazi woman.  Thank God I am not because I prefer neither of them as I have seen them.  I love the cultural aspect of the Umtismba but couldn’t deal with the disparity women face here or the horrible costume the bride wears during the ceremony.  Whereas the Christian wedding tries to mimic American weddings but don’t do them justice.