Sunday, April 28, 2013

HIV Workshop complete.. Up next: Camp GLOW!

Whew… It feels so good to be finished with the HIV Workshop I planned
for one of the HIV Support groups in my community. This project
started many months ago when my community counterpart and I started
the grant writing process. I know now that I really dislike writing
grants because of the wordiness and formulating proper goals,
objectives, and monitoring and evaluation techniques… ugh, it hurts my
head just remembering.

Since then, when the grant was accepted, I sought the help of the
nurses at my local clinic to facilitate the sessions during the
workshop. They were the perfect people to help me since they know the
question people are wanting answered, the myths that need dispelling,
and most importantly, they can speak siSwati.

The Workshop took place on Friday, so my week was full of buying food,
coordinating final details for the event, and overcoming any of the
setbacks that presented themselves. When Friday came, the big day, I
was up early in order to prepare everything. Of course, nothing ever
happens without its complications. I was so happy to see the women,
who had arrived early to cook our lunch, were already busy cooking
when I arrived and the nurses showed up right on time. The problem
was that the Support Group we had been preparing to present to were
nowhere to be found!! Even my counterpart hadn't arrived on time! I
was so embarrassed and stressed because my guest speakers who took
time out of their regular jobs were just sitting there, what a waste
of their time. This stress I was feeling is an American character
trait that I have not seemed to lose in my two years of being here…
timeliness and respect for other's time.

Two hours late, the participants arrived, and we finally began. The
nurses spoke about HIV transmission, tuberculosis co-infection, the
importance of taking ARVs properly, diabetes, hypertension, and
nutrition. The workshop was done completely in siSwati therefore I am
not exactly sure what was being said but the participants were really
involved and asking a lot of questions. I suggested that the nurses
each talk for 30 minutes, but Swazis know how to talk and each nurse
spoke for at least 45 minutes or more (which really surprised me
because of our late start). At the end of the day, the participants
were really happy and glad to have heard new information. I think
they were really pleased to hear new topics about diseases that aren't
just HIV because although HIV is a huge killer here in Swaziland,
people are tired of hearing about it time and time again.

Thankful that the workshop is over and generally successful, I am now
looking forward to a week full of GLOW! My next blog post will be
about Camp GLOW which is finally here! I leave my community tomorrow
with one of the counselors we trained in January and 3 girls. The
camp is a week long and I look forward to letting you all know how it
went at the end of the week. Once again, thanks to everyone who
supported GLOW and helped make it possible! GLOW is sure to be a
highlight of my Peace Corps Service.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Malolotja Easter Camping Trip

It was only one year ago that my mom and sister were here in Swaziland visiting me.  Whoever said time goes fast lied.  Last year seems like a distant memory with everything else going on.  Last year I spent my Easter weekend on a game reserve searching for elephants, rhinos, and giraffes, then a night in my hut, and another night in the beautiful Mountain Inn resort.
This year was a bit different.  I spent my weekend with 11 other Peace Corps Volunteers hiking and camping in the mountains of the Malolotja Nature Reserve, a nature reserve northwest of the capitol city.  In preparation for the trip, I knew that this was going to be the toughest camping trip I have ever done, the type of camping where you have to carry everything for the weekend in your backpack: tent, sleeping bag, food, pots, pans, water purifiers, toilet paper.  Where we were going there was no kitchen, we would cook on an open fire; no shelter, we must bring our own tents; and no toilet, we must dig our own hole.

The group hiking in to Malolotja

Upon arriving to Malolotja, the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, rolling mountain covered in grass dotted with small trees and bushes and small rock outcroppings.  We were excited, but nervously anticipating the hike to the bottom.  Our packs were heavy with food and supplies. 
The hike took 4 ½ hours.  I was sore in places I haven’t felt since soccer tryouts back in high school.  Our campsite was a small clearing next to a river with a sheer rock face on the opposite river bank.  We popped our tents, started a fire, and took time to relax after such a long hike.  At this point I was very thankful for my Girl Scout training.  Popping tents and cooking on open fires seems like no big deal to me anymore.
My Girl Scout training at work: starting the fire to make coffee for everyone.
The next day we spent at the waterfall that was a 10-minute walk down river.  I wish I knew more adjectives for breathtaking, but everything was just so beautiful.  A few of us climbed down the rock face to go swimming.  I swam under the waterfall.  There was space between the rock and the water.  We could look up and see the sun shining through.  The water falling down sparkled like diamonds.

At the top of the waterfall.

There was a scary part when another group of hikers came long.  They were on their way down to come swimming.  One girl was overconfident, walking too fast, and too close to the edge.  She slipped and fell off the edge into the waterfall.  She was a bit shaken but completely uninjured when she emerged.
Huge bonfire!
We left the next morning, a day early, scared of the changing weather conditions.  It was another 4 ½ hour hike up to get out.  It was as tiring mentally as it was physically.  I kept doubting myself whether I could finish.  My lungs were burning, my muscles were sore, and my pack although lighter than before still felt heavy.
Exhausted on the hike out
The trip, although very difficult, was a very good experience.  I really enjoyed spending time with my fellow Volunteers.  With just over 100 days left in Swaziland I am trying to take in every experience and memory I can, making every moment count.  And now as the pain in my muscles fades away, so does the memory of the how difficult the hike was making me believe that I could do it again if I wanted.  Now what is left is the memory of the good times I shared down in that valley with my friends.
Update:  Last month, I wrote that I wanted to extend my service for another year, but the opportunity I was looking for has not presented itself.  So I have made the decision to not extend.  I will finish my service with the rest of my group and I will be home by August.  At that point I will work on what my next step will be.
Also, Camp GLOW preparations are in full effect.  Camp will begin April 29.  I am also preparing for an HIV workshop in my community to benefit HIV positive members of my community to help them live a healthier Positive lifestyle.  So here I am wrapping up my projects and not taking any day for granted.