Saturday, January 28, 2012

Handicrafts, Soccer. and Youth Club

I have been meaning to blog, but I have had some computer issues.  Shopping in Swaziland is definitely different and not as fun as shopping in America, mostly because of the 2 hours of the crammed public transport on a dirt road carrying all your purchases make it feel more like a pain in the neck than a stress relief.  With that being said, however, I can find everything I need here, it just takes more effort.  So when my computer broke there is no BestBuy to take it to and no place with a hundred computers lined up ready to be compared and contrasted and then once one is chosen it can taken home that same day.  Long story, short: my old computer’s display broke and they can’t get the part in Africa, so thanks to my Mom’s and Bill’s generosity I can type today!  Also a shout out to Dad, Joy, and Ash and the Kraemer family for the care packages.  You all make me feel so special and keep me well stocked with American junk food!!
I am so happy to have a computer back, I have so much work to do.  Right now I am working on a bunch of projects.  I am working on writing a grant to fund an income generating garden project for the caregivers of the orphans and vulnerable children who are fed at my community’s 6 Neighborhood Care Points (half of my NCPs were built by a former PCV!).  My NCPs are lucky enough to still get some food donated from World Food Programme, so this garden project will help to diversify the meals and will help to create sustainability if WFP pulls out.  The income generated from selling the surplus will be put towards dishes, soap, and the caregivers’ other needs to run an effective NCP.

Outside of grant writing, I have been keeping myself busy learning how to make Swazi crafts.  A couple months ago, well before Thanksgiving, I sent e-mails out to some of the crafting shops in the country that support women’s groups in the rural areas.  I got two e-mails back almost immediately: one was a mailer domain/email address doesn’t exist..ugh and the second was very nice but said that they already support more women than they can really handle.

I got no response from the third.  I assumed it was lost in the cyber world, but I got a phone call the week after being home from my Mozambique vacation about 3 weeks ago from Tintsaba Crafts.  They wanted to meet boMake Craft group!  They are looking to train and take on more women so they called me!  How awesome is that!!!!

On Friday they were going to be in my Region.  They asked to me to bring some of my women to a meeting place about an hour bus ride from where we stay.  I went with 2 boMake and we arrived early since the bus schedules aren’t so reliable in the afternoon.  Have I mentioned that these are the women that taught me how to make the baskets?  They speak only siSwati and had to figure out how to teach me left-handed while they all are right-handed, pretty impressive I think.  The Tintsaba people arrived late since their meeting before ours ran late.  I was freaking out a little while waiting, what if they don’t come and every other ‘what if’ going through my head.  Anyways, they showed up an hour and half late (and we were there an hour early!)   They had the meeting speaking in siSwati.  That is the tough part of living in rural Swaziland.  My siSwati will never be good enough to understand whats going on completely.  So I only know as much as could be translated to me. 

My craft group used to work with a woman who sold the baskets in America, but more than a year ago they lost contact leaving my craft group without a market to sell to so by connecting them with Tintsaba will open a new market for them to sell to.  But there was an issue that came up.  Tintsaba alleges that the woman my boMake used to work for stole product from Tintsaba to sell in America and that issue is still unresolved which could jeopardize my boMake’s relationship with Tintsaba.  When this was translated to me my heart started to break.  I barely know how doing business works in America let alone in a 3rd world African country.  All hope is not lost, but the reps need  to speak with the owner of the shop who wasn’t at this meeting to see how they can remedy the situation that happened in the past and take on my boMake’s group.  So please keep your fingers crossed for a favorable decision for the women of my community.  Working with Tintsaba would be a great opportunity for my women!

After the meeting and another hour long crowded bus ride, standing the whole way home it was already time to head to the soccer field.  I have been spending most of my evening watching soccer practice.  Everyday more than 20 guys from my neighborhood ages ranging from late teens to late 20s have soccer practice on a field down by the river.  I played with them a couple times, only enough to show them that I know how to play.  I don’t play with them anymore.  I see it like this: I struggled to keep up with the girls when I played 10 years ago, so trying to keep up with these male African athletes now would be a joke.  I am not ashamed to admit that.. haha.  But regardless of whether I play or not these guys are my friends now and it makes me feel safer in my community with them around because I know they will look out for me.

I am telling you about my soccer team because before I went on my holiday vacation in Mozambique the Youth Club that I helped to start was planning its first event, a sports day.  The committee asked me to have my team come to a planning meeting.  I asked them and they showed up even though it was a wicked hot day and not many others came.  I was so happy!  So my Youth Club planned the Sports Day for New Year’s Eve while I would be away.  When I came home from vacation and heard a report on the event: five soccer teams, volleyball, and netball.. success!!!  My soccer team did not win, but one of my player said to me “we showed up in numbers.  We couldn’t have something you were involved with be a failure.”  My heart melted.  A lot of the time I don’t know what purpose I am serving by being here, but this made me feel so validated.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mozambique Vacation - Happy New Year Everyone!

 It is always nice to come back to my own comfortable bed after a vacation, especially one where I spent most nights sleeping in my tent on the beach in Tofo, Moz.  I guess it could have been a lot worse, haha.  The last 10 days have been the most adventurous fantastic time of my life.  It was a vacation for the memory books!  I will give you some of the highlights.
Our vacation started on Dec 23, when half our travel group met in Manzini, Swaziland so that the next morning we could get an early start traveling to Maputo, Moz.   While in Manzini, I stopped at Baker’s Corner for a donut, the best way to start a morning, and then went off to buy my first ever bikini to celebrate 35lb weight loss since June! 
The next day’s travel to Maputo went pretty smoothly, especially considering that it was down pouring rain the whole time, that’s one way to test the water-proofing on a tent.  The tent held up, and for the most part this was the only time the whole vacation with notable rain, we had great weather!
The 8 of us spent Christmas Eve and Christmas in Maputo, the capital city.  I had to keep repeating to myself that it was Christmas.  Without family it didn’t feel very festive, but it was unforgettable nonetheless.  The first night we walked to a restaurant on the beach for drinks and the next night we spent at the bar in the hostel we were staying at.  Most of the city was closed down because it was a Sunday and Christmas, so I don’t have the most accurate impression of the city but I got to experience with good food, a bottle of wine from the duty-free shop, and among good company.
We had direct transport door-to-door from Maputo to Tofo Beach.  My friends turned the 8hr bus ride to the beach into party bus with the bottles of vodka they bought at duty-free.  My liver cannot keep up with theirs and I wasn’t taking any chances during such a long bus ride on the roads of a 3rd world country.  I was busy taking in the sites of Mozambique.  It is so different than the mountains of Swaziland.  The country is flat and huge.  Everything is so much more spread out than Swaz.  The fields look more like big commercial farms I am used to from the US instead of the subsistence farming here except that there are still women with hoes weeding the fields by hand.  Most houses in Swaziland are made from cinderblocks and a few are made from sticks, mud, and rocks; but in Moz the majority of the houses were made almost completely out of coconut branches/leaves.
Tofo Beach was a little bubble of paradise.  White sandy beaches, beautiful blue Indian Ocean, sitting on the deck reading a book, sipping fruit juice, and background noise a mixture of something like Dave Matthews Band or Jack Johnson coming from the speakers behind me and crashing waves in front of me.  Tofo is generally a quiet relaxing vacation, but it is a hotspot for New Years.  We were there long enough to experience it both ways.  The beginning of the week was really chill.  Most days we sent under a cabana in a hammock on the beach with local kids begging us to buy the bracelets they make or bread and samosas. Nights were full of drinking, dancing, chilling, concerts on the beach with coconut homebrew, ridiculousness and all kinds of trouble!
One of the days we went on an ocean safari to snorkel with whale sharks, the biggest shark in the world but they have no teeth.  However, the sharks didn’t want to come out to play, but the dolphins did!  WE got to roll backwards off the boat to swim with so many dolphins; I couldn’t count all of them!  I was swimming within 4m of them.  I got nervous at one point.  Three of them were swimming right at me.  All I saw was their huge size, the gray on top and white on bottom and I was second guessing whether it was just friendly dolphins in the water and not a scary shark with teeth!
New Year’s Eve was pure chaos and crazy partying.  Hard to believe the beach that was so peaceful a few days ago is now party central.  Dancing in sand is challenging by itself, but it is brought to a whole new level when packed in with hundreds of others.  They set up a DJ booth and a stage for live music on opposite sides of the dance sand floor.  NYE music consisted of an awesome Mozambiquan Drum band and DJs playing house music, bass blaring for the rest of the night and throughout the morning.  Every night the music was going til 5am except NYE where the party started at 10pm and lasted til 10:30am.  I went to sleep at 2:30a and woke back up at 4:30a to rejoin the party just after the sun came up.  I put my bathing suit on, watched the people who were crazy enough to still be dancing, took a nice long walk on the beach, and then came back to sit at the water with the tide rising, trying to figure out my New Year’s Resolution and to be hit on by Mozambiquan men.  At 7am I was thinking of everyone back home who was just then celebrating your New Year and hoping that yours was half as memorable as mine.
WE pulled another all-nighter the next night in order to start our journey home at 3am. I arrived in Mbabane, Swaziland around 5pm completely exhausted from a whole day of travel and khumbi drivers trying to overcharge us the whole way, but no other major incidents.
After one night in Mbabane decompressing with the other Volunteers who also happened to be there and a good night’s sleep, I am now back at my site and in my bed, so comfortable after so many days in sand!
Happy 2012 everyone!  I think it is going to take the whole year to get all the sand out of my stuff, not such a bad thing.  Here’s to a year full of many more memories!