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!
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