Friday, March 4, 2011

Leaving Swaziland

I haven't completely processed leaving Swaziland. And since it was incredicly difficult for me to leave a place that became home to me, I do not have the right words to express how I feel at this time. Perhaps, in time, I will be able to express the impact of living, working and leaving Swaziland.

Right now, I'm traveling through South Africa. It's more overwheling than I thought; I think it's mostly that I haven't had much time to just be. Nonetheless, this country is beautiful, and I've seen some incredible sights. I will post pictures soon. Cheers

Sunday, January 30, 2011

November & December 2010

3 November 2010- A new line: I was in town today to get a few groceries, as well as walk Gail to and from her language tutoring. We’re not allowed to walk the road to town alone and seeing as I needed a few things and wanted the exercise, it was the perfect opportunity. As I waited for Gail to finish her study session, I encountered a young man with a line for me; it was new, nothing I’ve heard since arriving in Swaziland yet a cliché line men use in bars. He said, “I lost my phone number. Will you give me yours?” I immediately laughed, and continued my uncontrollable laughing as I passed him and continued down the street. I just couldn’t help myself. To use my mom’s terminology, it tickled me, and continued to tickle me for the next five minutes. I appreciate his brazen bravado, not something I’d have appreciated some two years ago. Yet, there’s something about Swazi machismo that is unlike any other place I’ve visited. Men here really put their ego on the line; they swallow their pride and ask a girl almost anything. To their credit, at least they try. Some days it is annoying, but some days it makes me realize how much my appearance pleases them or the sideways glance from a white girl. Mine or theirs, what’s a little ego boost now and again?!
6 November 2010- And The Rains Came: It’s the rainy season. It’s come early this year; earlier and more frequent than last year or the year before last but I’m told it use to come in October. With the rains comes the heat, which I welcome like the open arms of a mother for her child. But when it rains it is cold, the kind of cold you feel on a drizzling spring day in the Midwest; it settles into your bones and no amount of tea will warm you. The cycle with which the rain comes is generally the same. Temperatures rise a little day by day for several days, with one day warmer than the next. Then one morning you wake to a temperate day with a light breeze, and by mid-morning, like clockwork, the clouds begin to build on the horizon and slowly roll in by mid- to late afternoon. The sky unleashes its torrent, and for close to thirty minutes the outpouring is immense, crashing on my tin roof cabin in waves, bringing tree branches booming down. It generally eases to a light rain, giving some reprieve, but always with the possibility of unleashing again at least one more time throughout the day or evening. Clouds continue their low hang in the sky the rest of the day, cutting off the sun’s chances of shining through the haze. If I’m at home, I scramble to find socks, a sweater and a cup of tea to stay warm. If I’m at my office, I dream of cozying up on the couch under a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book.
Yet, with the rain comes the greening of the land, and my seven shades of green gradually appear, one after the other, until complete transformation of the landscape in December. And I’m filled with a sense of joy and contentment and lightness one only feels when they are entirely calmed, utterly peaceful, and quite satisfied.
13 November 2010- Turning jeans into a skirt: I’ve always wanted to try making a skirt from a pair of jeans. I had the perfect pair- full of rips and a hole where I could start a hem. They were not my jeans; they were a pair I found in the Peace Corps lounge, abandoned by a previous volunteer. I knew I wouldn’t feel too sad if the experiment didn’t work since I wouldn’t spend any money, just time.
All the years of watching my sisters and mom cut out patterns, sew pieces together, create a beautiful product and manage errors paid off. Having lost weight since obtaining the jeans, I didn’t need to add additional fabric to make the skirt fit, which made the fitting easier. The hardest part was getting the original leg seaming turned back seam to lay flat. After dulling my needle quite a bit with the jean material, I took to hand sewing part of the back seam. In so doing, the seam lay flatter. The final product is super cute. A well worn pair of jeans makes a comfortable jean skirt that I can dress up or down, which I think is fantastic!
Having successfully doing this on my own, I quickly grabbed other items in my wardrobe that needed help. I have several shirts with holes from my previous barbed-wire fence clothesline. On a few shirts I cut a circle or triangle around the holes then filled in the space with contrasting fabric scrapes. On a few t-shirts, I embroidered shapes around the holes in varying colors to enhance the colors to make the holes seem like part of the shirt.
I’m really enjoying reconstruction. And I’m thinking about all the clothes I had from high school and college that are still in a closet in my Mom’s basement. Looks like I’ll have a new wardrobe to reconstruct when I return, which means I can buy a fabulous and ridiculously expensive couture piece in Paris and not feel guilty. Smile.

23 – 26 November 2010- All Volunteer Conference & Thanksgiving: One session during the All Vol conference was directed toward the economic status of Swaziland. Although the information was interesting and good to know, the outlook for this country is bleak. Seventy percent of the population (around 1 million) is living at less than $1/day. The unemployment rate is at 40%, and government revenues are down by 60%. Eighteen percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) goes to civil service positions, of which 40% are security-related positions. Most countries have a GDP of 8% going to civil service positions. After investigating the high rate in Swaziland, the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—a division of World Bank—discovered that most of the 18% are former civil servants still collecting payment, as well as dead servant’s families who continue to collect because they neglected to tell the government that their loved one died. A pension or retirement plan is not part of this civil servant payment; pension plans that families can live on after a loved one dies are just now being obtained through funeral plans that are generally separate from employment benefits.
The IMF considers this a long-term crisis for Swaziland; they arrived in March to determine if companies in Swaziland could qualify for bail-out loans. They are recommending the government lay off 7,000 – 10,000 civil servants. The Swazi government has three options for increasing revenue. They are considering raising the sin tax—taxes on fuel, gambling, alcohol and cigarettes will likely go up in the near future. Secondly, they have discussed bringing in other vendors, for phone coverage and electricity, to increase competition. Finally, they are thinking of requiring everyone to pay income tax. Currently, collecting income tax is not enforced; people who comply pay 32% to income tax annually.
Other than this session, most of the conference didn’t pertain to me since I’m leaving soon. I did however enjoy my time with Victoria, Nancy and Allie. Nancy taught me to knit, and I’m starting with a very basic item—a scarf. Danielle sent me a package full of yoga and crochet magazines, a Time magazine and chocolates. She seems well in New Orleans. I led a best practices session, allowing the new volunteers to glean project ideas from Group 6 and 7 volunteers. I brought Bambanani Project product, and it was well received. I sold close to E1, 000. Thanksgiving was once again held at the Ambassador’s house. Many volunteers utilized the pool, but Victoria and I were happy sipping our wine poolside.
3 - 5 December 2010- Learning to Use a Pattern: I offered Gail an hour massage in exchange for helping me learn to use a pattern; no one in there right mind refuses that kind of offer. I wanted to make a pair of lounge pants from some beautiful high-quality black linen I found in Manzini for E39.99/meter ($7/yard)—a good deal considering linen in the states is over $11/yard. We started Friday evening with reading and understanding pattern-ese. Then we laid out the material, put the pattern over the top, pinned it in place, and I anxiously made my first cut into the material. I imagined it would be difficult, and we’d only have time to cut the pattern out, waiting to sew until the next day. But once I finished cutting, Gail cheerfully said, “Let’s start sewing.” I was worried about it being too late to start since Mike had already gone to bed and it was nearing 8pm. She assured me that Mike slept through anything, and that 8pm wasn’t too late, in her estimation, to begin. The only sewing machine she has at her house is the one we use for the Bambanani Project, a Singer hand-powered sewing machine. Yes, a non-electric sewing machine! Not only was I learning to sew two pieces together correctly from a pattern, I also was learning on a hand-crank machine, using one hand to hold the material while the other turned the wheel. Surprisingly, it went rather well, and rather quickly. In 30 minutes I had the pants together, and began ironing the waistband down, preparing it for the elastic. My first mistake of the evening came when I sewed the waistband with little allowance for the elastic width. I decided that was the signal for a break. I finished the waistband the following morning after devoting about an hour to ripping out the seam, and then began the process of hemming. Since I don’t have an iron I used the flat iron I use for my hair to make a nice crease, and it worked rather well. I finished hemming in short order, and then tried on the pants to see how well they fit. They were enormous, a size too large. But since I don’t know my pattern size and I’d bought extra material, we cut the pattern larger just in case. Gail assured me it was an easy fix; but it involved more seam ripping and then matching up seams correctly, which proved difficult because the leg seams were still together and keeping the material from puckering was challenging. I cut it down a size and in the end reinforced the seams which is good considering linen—I’ve come to understand—frays easily. After another fitting, I declared the pants done, and my first sewing project with a pattern, a victory. I’m really pleased with the results; they look great on and will travel well. YAH!
10 December 2010- Branding the Bambanani Project: In an effort to finish my project goals and get the Bambanani product ready for sales in the States, Michelle and I thought it a good idea to brand our product—make it recognizable and distinct from other hand-crafted jewelry. We decided that having a clasp on each necklace would ensure proper fitting, a more secure tying method and that something different. One of the members of the Dwaleni Group is a woodworker. Occasionally in his necklace designs, he incorporates wooden pieces with paper beads. It’s stunning. Today I asked him how difficult it would be to make a little wooden button to be used as a clasp. He promised to try. I didn’t give the group a choice in the branding process. I told them if we were going to be successful and compete in American markets, it was essential to having a distinct, signature piece to each item—something that says Bambanani. Gail promised to purchase a stamp with the Bambanani logo on it in order to stamp the buttons; on buttons too small for the stamp an orange “b” for Bambanani would be painted on the surface. Luckily, everyone agreed. I’m anxious to see the samples; Babe has promised to have them ready after the New Year.
18 December 2010- The Children's Christmas Play: With the efforts of Mike, Gail and I, Michelle put together a Christmas play starring the children of Pasture Valley, as well as her children. The play was a spin on the traditional Biblical Christmas story but from the perspective of the Innkeeper. Each child had a part, playing shepherds, angels, Mary & Joseph, and the Wise Men. Even the preschoolers were involved. Gail helped the preschoolers sing the opening songs, Mike ran the music and I was behind the scenes sending actors out at the right times. Michelle stood behind the audience giving cues and helping with actions for songs. Only a few people attended. It was a great dress rehearsal, though, as they were putting on the play the next day for their church and the following week on Christmas Eve for Peter’s family.
19 December 2010- My Birthday:
A few thoughts on this my 35th birthday:
-I woke this morning to find a pimple on my cheek much to my chagrin. The sign I am still “youthful” or just stress due to my week of managing children and anticipating my milestone birthday? I’m no longer an adolescent. Shouldn’t it follow that the signs of adolescence leave me by now?
-I’d been thinking about this day for several weeks—well several months, actually. In all honestly, I’ve been dreading it. Throughout my 20’s I hyped up this birthday as the one of all knowing, my epiphany. I’d be successful, with a great career, and I’d be well on my way, at the pinnacle of life where everything else gives ways to ease and happiness, and life is good. Whatever all that means to a 20-something mind, I cannot recall. What does successful mean? What does on my way mean? What does happiness look like? Those are questions that seemed much easier to answer in my 20’s. In my thirties, it feel less clear, yet I’m less concerned with them.
As I moved through my late twenties and sailed into my thirties, it’s become quite apparent that my 20-something idea of life was so very wrong. Life doesn’t suddenly become great or successful or happier. I either make it happen along the way or I don’t. The ups and downs of life will continue whether I’ve had a “successful” life event or not. It’s riding the waves that matters; it’s getting out of bed and living each that makes you alive. Unfortunately I think that silly notion of success and having it all, and being at my prime by 35 stayed in the back of my mind, slowly poisoning any possibility of enjoying my 35th without trepidation. At least until today.
Up until today I didn’t wish to celebrate my birthday. It’s not that I feel old, and I certainly don’t believe I look old. It’s not the age part but the accomplishments part that I think was bothering me. I really did think I’d have done more things by now. I’m not sure what it was I thought I should have done by now. Perhaps it’s American society’s idea of what a 30-something should have that seeped into my brain the last few months and years, and clouded my judgment. Perhaps it’s just the anxiety of leaving Swaziland and Peace Corps, and deciding the ‘what next’ I’ve been asked so often. Perhaps it’s begin okay with not knowing what I want to do next or where I want to go and being able to explain it to loved ones. Perhaps it’s a combination of everything.
Michelle’s dad asked me how old I was turning today after Michelle said we were celebrating my birthday later, and I happily replied 35 with a smile. My roommate, shockingly asked, “You’re telling people?!” And I said, yes, I’m not afraid to tell my age. Several hours later as I’m thinking about that exchange, I’m finally having my epiphany. It’s my birthday, and I’m in celebrating it in Africa. I have the world at my fingertips. I can go anywhere from here. I am who I am and I’m free to be that woman without hesitation. And what better birthday present than to enjoy cake and ice cream with considerate co-workers and volunteers, caring employers and twenty-three beautiful smiling children. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. How lucky am I?
21 - 23 December, 2010- Hiking in Malolotja: I met Victoria and Allie about an hour’s walk into the nature reserve at one of the viewpoints. Walking in, I passed solitary blesbok eager to alert me of their presence. They would stamp their front legs, snorting in my direction several times, and then turn their backs to me, as if to say, I could care less you are here. I saw several herds of blesbok further in, a lone giraffe among a small herd of wildebeest, and birds in numbers.
After meeting up with Victoria and Allie, they took me to their campsite, another hour and a half hike into the park. We saw baboons on the way, a rare citing since baboons usually stay hidden but call out as you pass their territory. This group was playing in the trees and on the rocks of the side hill we passed. It was a joy to watch them manipulate the rough landscape in such a way that living there was easy for them. The was mostly downhill, and the day was overcast, so it was a fairly easy hike in. Their campsite was near the base of Silotfwane Mountain by the river. I set up my tent, which I borrowed from another volunteer, on a sandy patch. After we ate some lunch, we jump in the water to cool off. Victoria had a swimsuit; Allie and I, sans swimsuits, chose the bra and panty route as there was no one camping near us. The water felt refreshing and eased the sunburn I was developing on the back on my legs, arms and neck. Later Victoria and I made a little campfire to keep mosquitoes as bay, and chatted as evening approached. We went to bed early, though, as the plan was to hike Silotfwane early the next morning, a peak about 1400 meters high. I was sick during the night; I’m not sure why, so I was feeling quite lethargic in the morning. I got up anyway and started the hike with the girls. I made it to about 1200 meters, a two hour hike from camp. Once there I found a shady spot under a gnarly bush to rest; I had no energy to finish. Victoria and Allie trekked on and I took an hour nap. They yelled down from the top, “We made it!”, and I was able to capture tiny bodies with my camera. I waited another forty minutes for them to descend, listening to a herd of wildebeest call out their territory. As Victoria and Allie approached, the herd began stampeding our direction. The stampede ended as quickly as it began as the herd approached a small rise in the landscape. They turned their direction running along the grassy plateau, and then stopped, stamping and snorting until we were out of sight. Two hours later we were back at camp and I was feeling somewhat better. The river called our names and we jumped in, once again in our skivvies, to wash off the day’s dirt and sweat. We made supper early and quickly as rain threatened. By 7:30 we were in our tents to keep dry from the rain.
My tent remained surprisingly dry on the inside with only a small leak in one corner. The next morning was beautiful and sunny, the land washed clean from the all-night rain. It took two hours for the sun’s light to dry my tent and the clothes I washed the day before. I hiked out in two hours, with Victoria and Allie helping me find my way through the first 30-minute trail. I’ve never hiked into a campsite, set up camp for a few days, and then hike back out—something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m glad I had the opportunity in Swaziland with good company.
24 - 25 December 2010- Christmas: Justine was visiting Swaziland, a stopover from Tanzania on her way back to the States. She stayed with Renae and me, enjoying Christmas at Pasture Valley. Michelle and Peter hosted a braii on Christmas Eve, inviting us, Mike and Gail, the children and housemothers to enjoy with Peter’s family. After the children performed the Christmas play for everyone, Peter’s family handed out presents, and Renae and I gave the children the presents we made—crocheted bookmarks for the siSwati Bibles that were donated a few weeks ago. I also passed out the candy canes my mom sent. The children quickly opened the treats, happily sucking on the sugary sweetness, some with rivers rolling down their chins.
I gave Michelle and Peter and Gail and Mike homemade toffee and peanut clusters, grass mats to Renae and handmade jewelry to Justine. I love how quick and easy homemade and handmade become great gifts, much more personal and heartfelt than the commercial Christmas I once knew. Justine and I watched a movie in the afternoon, baking from the heat in my cabin. In the evening, we shared a bottle of wine with Mike and Gail and chatted about Peace Corps life, past and present, travel and Justine’s Swahili language training in Tanzania.
On Christmas day, Justine headed to her former homestead to spend a few days with her host family. Following more presents at Michelle and Peter’s, the children headed to church and Renae and I rushed to our cabin to make Christmas brunch. Renae made curried scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and I made cinnamon French toast topped with honey and the lemon-kumquat curd Renae made as a present for Michelle and Peter and Gail and Mike. As we ate we talked about how we normally spend Christmas, and what relatives we visit on Christmas day. I spent the entire afternoon reading. Around early evening, Renae and I went to Gail and Mike’s for an evening appetizers and card playing. I hadn’t played cards since early in my service, and I thoroughly enjoyed Hearts. I discovered I’m a much greater risk-taker now in how I play than I did growing up or even in my twenties. It doesn’t matter as long as you try, and have fun. Gail is an avid card player, and schooled Renae in the art playing cards at the right time. Playing cards and games is a family tradition with my family, especially at the holidays. It was nice to share that with one on my many Swazi families.
31 December 2010- New Year’s Eve: I met Justine in Nhlangano and we took the bus to the Valley. We were staying with a friend of hers who lives near House on Fire, always a great venue for New Year’s Eve fun. Our first stop in the itinerary was The Gables. An upper-class shopping center in the Ezulweni Valley, it now boasts a 4-screen movie theater. My first movie since beginning service, it was mediocre. However, the experience was fabulous. The too cold theater had stadium seating. The tickets were only E28 (less than $4) and small popcorn was E9 ($1.20). Such a steal compared to movie-going in the States. Afterward we joined her friend and his friends at a braii, and then headed to House on Fire for the evening’s festivities. The night’s theme was “A Ring of Fire”, a combination cowboy and circus theme, which I didn’t really understand since the night’s décor was more cowboy than circus. Clowns Without Borders performed before the opening musical group; this troupe was entirely Swazi men, and they were quite entertaining. The main band was from Durban, and they were fun to listen and dance to as well. The solo woman of the group played an amplified violin. Incredible. The DJ following the band was less than average, playing a few good songs with a mix of terrible house music. I danced, nonetheless, but ended the night early by New Year’s Eve standards. There’s only so much bad house and hip hop music I can tolerate.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pictures of my PCPP

Clinic Staff & Clinic Committee Rep, & Contractor w/ his assistants

Me w/ Clinic Staff; the woman on the far right will live here w/ her daughter!

The day we painted

Sept & October 2010

3 September 2010- The First Girls’ Night: I received a donation over a year ago to purchase the Owning Up Curriculum; a publication written by Rosalind Wiseman it’s intended to empower adolescents to stand against social injustice, cruelty and bullying. I’d been waiting for the right audience to engage, and finally found it with the young girls at Pasture Valley. It’s a small, intimate group of four; they are an attentive audience and in need of trusted adults, who are not caregivers, they could talk to about matters of the heart, issues at school and dealing with age-mates. Gail was on-board, eager to assist me with classes every other Friday night, with the shared philosophy of preparing these young women to be self-confident and raise their awareness of treating each other always with kindness. Gail’s final message includes biblical scripture that ties into each lesson, given that Michelle wants a religious foundation to the evenings, and my final message is an open invitation to talk to me about anything, any time. Tonight began with an overview of what was to come, as well as introducing the circle of trust concept; what is said during these evenings is kept confidential by everyone, and everyone is free to speak. Then I brought out popcorn and nail polish allowing for open chatting and pampering, with lots of kernels scattered around my living room and among the couch cushions. I think it went well. The girls seemed receptive, and even though they didn’t respond much to Gail or my comments and questions, they talked to each other. They need a free space to do that, no matter the conversation or language used.
8 September 2010- Finishing the Holiday Program & Kids Go Back to School: With Gail’s and Mike’s help in the last week and a half of the holiday program, it gave Becca and me a bit of a breather. Gail and Mike facilitated many of the remaining lessons, allowing Becca and I to assist, as well as a needed break from micromanaging children. We were also able to meet about improving homework time. Michelle proposed we use her upstairs living space for homework, giving us and the grades 4 - 7 a dedicated homework hour and quiet space, free of the younger children. From 5 – 6pm every Monday thru Friday, Mike and I will help the grades 4 – 7 with homework and Gail will help grade 3 in the preschool. Once the resource center opens, a building project that recently began, all homework will be there. The resource center will also house a larger preschool, a computer lab and library, a large center room for gatherings and a sewing room for the Bambanani Project. Homework is much easier with a dedicated time and space. Each grade has a designated area to sit. Not having pencils and paper is no longer an excuse to not do homework or a delay in homework time. Its great having another person help every day, and the best part is it’s limited to one – 1-1/2 hours. No more 2 – 3 hour evenings!
Within the last week, a new addition to the children’s home arrived. A boy of 6 years named S’phe is now a part of Pasture Valley. He arrived with a cast on his left arm, having been removed from his homestead for that very reason. I don’t know the whole story but his caretaker was responsible, somehow, for his needing the cast. He looked terrified and overwhelmed as Michelle and Peter introduced him to the rest of the clan. Yet, I am amazed at the resiliency of the children in this country. In a matter of a few days, S’phe was actively involving himself in chores, the Holiday Program, and playing with his age-mates. He has a smile that lights his face and melts my heart, a smile he gives freely. He’s bright. He likes to copy what you draw, and he does it well; something most Swazi children struggle to do. He integrated well into preschool; Gail says he knows numbers, letters, how to write, colors, tumbling, and is picking up the concept of counting from 3 to 1. The sad thing is his arm. It was set incorrectly, and an orthopedic specialist recommended to Michelle and Peter it be reset, which means another painful recovery for him.
11 September 2010: With only a few days to go before she went back to England, Gail and I decided to take Becca to see Phophonyane Falls. Gail had heard it was easier to enter from the Orion Hotel parking lot. We left our bags, after much pleading, with the receptionist at the hotel and then set off behind the parking lot to find the falls. I knew the general direction since I was there last June w/ my family. I thought we’d run right into the falls. After walking about half an hour in the drizzle among the pine trees, we found the falls but only from a distance. There was no path that we could find, to get there, just a drop-off to the valley. The only other way was walking the 4km to the entrance, paying E40 to enter and then walking another 15 minutes beyond that to the falls. We tried to find another way in, through a private property gate but didn’t manage to get far. We noticed a vehicle parked at a residence a ways in, and decided to turn around lest we get escorted off the premises. I was willing to walk the 4km, but no one else wanted to continue in the rain. We found our way back to the hotel to collect our bags, and then walked the short distance to Tintsaba Craft Centre. We ate lunch overlooking the valley and across to mist-covered mountains. I ordered soup and tea, as I was a bit chilled. Becca thought it fitting to order fish and chips to compare to home. I think she found it was acceptable. Then Gail and I followed her through all the shops so she could buy souvenirs.
She and Gail ventured on to the homestead Gail and Mike resided during training for a real Swazi experience, and I headed to Mbabane to see Jaclyn. Jaclyn had been invited to a party, and I obliged to go along. We ended up playing Guitar Hero all night, which was quite surreal. I managed to figure out the bass guitar but the whole night felt too western, and within an hour of playing I was ready to do something else or just go to sleep. A fellow volunteer joked that I was just getting too old and should go home to watch ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns. Jackass; as if that’s my era! In actuality it struck me as odd to participate in something that felt so gluttonous, and not at all a developing world activity I’ve grown accustom to enjoying.
13 September 2010- Becca Leaves for Uni: Tomorrow Becca leaves Pasture Valley to head back to England. She is going back to begin her first year of university where she’ll study child psychology. This evening we had a going-away party for her at the children’s home. The house mothers practiced several songs w/ the preschool children as well as the older children. Becca was showered with 5 songs complete with actions and many gifts to remember Swaziland. She arrived less than two months ago, and yet she felt her connection to Swaziland stronger than she realized was possible. She made many promises to return, indicating several times she could not imagine never seeing the children again or exploring more of Swaziland and South Africa. After getting to know her, I don’t believe her promises of returning are empty ones.
17 September 2010- Teaching Mbangweni Group to make palm & banana leaf earrings: Today I taught our second Bambanani group to assemble earrings using the banana and palm leaf beads they’d made the following week. In addition to assembling with glass beads, we used wild melon, nasturtium and tree seeds in-between the palm or banana leaf beads, which are either circular or square in shape. The result is quite lovely, and the women thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Their assembly skills are fairly creative; I needed to help only a few with picking the right sized beads and assembly. I asked them to make two pairs, allowing them to keep one for themselves; we bought the other pair. They were delighted, to say the least.
19 September 2010- Tutoring Phindile: My friend Phindile, from my first community, is working on her Master’s degree. She has a paper due in a few weeks, and asked me to meet her in town to her help her clarify certain concepts with which she was struggling. I happily agreed since it had been a while since I’d seen her, and I do enjoy tutoring adults. We sat in a run-down park on the edge of town on a bench under a weeping willow tree, shading ourselves from the heat of the day. After we finished talking about each question she needed to answer in her paper, we chatted about Mahlalini, my friends at Edwaleni School and her students. In particular I wanted to know about my sisi Zandile, and how her studies were progressing. Phindile told me Zandile wrote an essay about me. I was shocked. “She did?” I asked. “Yes,” said Phindile, “the assignment was to write about the person you love the most. Zandile wrote about Thandeka, her sisi, whom she loves the most in the world.” We were walking back toward the center of town, and I briefly stopped unable to move or process what Phindile just said. I looked at her. “Zandile wrote about me?” I asked in an excited whisper, hoping my voice wouldn’t squeak from the lump in my throat. “Yes,” Phindile said, “She loves you too much.” Well what do you know about that? The shy girl who seemed less than pleased the day I arrived, some two years later, wrote her essay about me. My sweet little sisi.
The preschoolers come to visit: Several times a week, Phiwa, Bongkosi, and Buhle visit my cabin; Nothando and S’phe are only occasional visitors. They see me watering or weeding my flowers and want to help. Or they come to use my toilet. Or they come to tattle on each other. Sometimes they scour my kitchen for treats. Sometimes, they exercise with me. Sometimes I get out paper and colors and we sit on the floor drawing shapes. Usually they ask to draw on my dry erase board, and frequently veer off the board to my fridge door. They love to wash their hands with the purple soap I keep in the soap dish in the bathroom, and ask to use the toilet so they can wash their hands. They like to touch the touch lamp next to my couch. I never mind their long-term company or breeze-in, breeze-out visits; it’s the highlight of any day.
1 – 2 October 2010- The Homecoming & The Funeral: Last week Make called to tell me that Babe died in a fire. He was living near his farm in the Lubombo region, and the fire destroyed part of the house. Make’s children and Babe’s neighbors believe it was an intentionally set fire, that foul play was involved. They are pressing for an investigation. I’m not sure if one will be conducted. When they found his body, his legs were bound, and most of his upper body, free from binding, sustained the most damage. Make could barely talk on the phone, only telling me that he died and that the funeral would be the following weekend. I heard the full story from Princess, Make’s daughter-in-law and my favorite “sister-in-law.” At the time of the night vigil and funeral, her second born was a few weeks old. She was not required to work much, as she was still nursing, so I sat with her the afternoon I arrived for the night vigil. She recounted the gruesome story bit by bit. Occasionally interrupted with howls from her son, she pacified him with her breast, not shy to nurse in front on me, and then picked up the story where she’d left off. Throughout the story I was obliged to show my remorse with exclamations of “How!” or “Shame!” It wasn’t an act, though. I really did feel sorrow—for Make, her children, and Babe’s siblings.
My first duty upon arrival was to greet Make; she was sitting in the gogo hut, the official hut for family business, making decisions or mourning. She was flanked by 30 women, all relatives to either her or Babe or women from the church. As I entered the darkened rondoval, I crouched to approach Make. She was sitting on a mound of blankets atop a foam mattress, donning the black dress and veil she would be required to wear for the next nine months. Most women are required to wear the mourning attire for three years. Since his death was an accident, the time is shortened. She motioned for me to sit next to her, pushing the women on her left away. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room, I noticed most women were lying down, no doubt resting for the long night of prayer, singing and crying. These women had been with Make most of the day, and would remain with her until the funeral ended. They were like her honor guard, helping the bereaved cope each step of the way. Make tried to tell me the story of what happened; too overcome with grief, she covered her face with her veil and cried. I hugged her several times, telling her I was sorry. Her comment, “God knows,” which was the comment most people made after I greeted them that evening. I only sat with her a short time before she ordered me to help cook. Unmarried daughters, new daughter-in-laws and granddaughters are required to cook for everyone who attends the night vigil and funeral. I helped chop vegetables for the next two hours. Once the food was ready, we served everyone starting with those in the gogo house. There was an order to who was served first, second, and then last. Each time I took a tray of plates I had to ask where to go next, as I didn’t know the order. We were allowed to eat once everyone was served but as soon as we finished we were back on our feet, collecting all the plates. Then it was time to wash dishes. By the time we finished round 1, it was close to 10:30pm. Princess found me, luckily, and told me to rest with her and her sister in the room they were staying. I gladly accepted a grass mat on the floor with an extra blanket. I dozed off and on but my sleep was fitful, at best. The sleeping youngster next to me was a wild sleeper and sporadically kicked or hit me. A band arrived shortly after 11pm and began singing upbeat gospels. Princess’ baby boy wailed until he was fed and satisfied. Sometime after 2 am I woke. I needed the pit latrine but I didn’t want to stumble through crowd to my old one; I tried to go back to sleep. Thirty minutes later, still awake, I decided to get up. I greeted one of Make’s daughters as I left the room. She told me there was a new pit latrine on this side of the homestead, and handed me toilet paper to replenish the facility. I headed in the general direction she’d motioned to, confused about this new pit latrine. It must have been built in time for this occasion since it wasn’t there when I moved. It seems a strange way to prepare for a funeral, until you think about entertaining over a hundred people.
Another round of cooking had begun around 3 am, and wanting to be useful, I began cutting more vegetables. The granddaughters were busy distributing tea and scones to mourners who were awake, a snack before the funeral began. I cut carrots for an hour to scornful looks from two boMake. Apparently I wasn’t cutting them right, but neither of them was going to tell me how they wanted them cut. I kept looking at them each time they talked about me and my funny looking carrots. Finally they caught on that I understood them, and they quit but the damage was done. After no one would tell me what to do next, I said to hell with it and went back to my grass mat for a rest. I closed my eyes for what I thought was only 5 minutes but was abruptly awakened at 5 am when the hearse arrived. The body wasn’t allowed to be at the homestead until day break when the funeral would begin. When someone dies from an accident, the body must remain outside the homestead for fear that all family members will die the same way. Most night vigils are conducted with the deceased present, so wailing is intensified. For the most part, this night vigil was quiet except for the exuberant gospel music. The funeral ceremony lasted about an hour and included eulogies made by family members, neighbors and Babe’s coworkers, as well as songs sung by the band and the family. Then the “honor guard” processed Make to a pickup that would take her to the gravesite. The rest of the crowd followed the procession. I’d found Make Nkosi towards the beginning of the funeral, and we decided to walk down the road to the mission church together. Babe’s sister took my hand as we left the homestead. A woman I’d never met knew all about me, and wanted to meet me. All formalities aside, she asked me everything under the sun about my work, my life in Swaziland and my home country. She’d been taught by an American Missionary and had fond memories of his daughter—she was reminded of her she saw me. She hung on my arm the entire walk, and continued chatting away as we approached the gravesite.
I wasn’t able to see much of the graveside ceremony, one because Babe’s sister continued chatting and secondly, I wasn’t close enough to see through the crowd. I heard more prayers, and noticed Make sitting under a tent near the grave with her children and the women honor guard around her. Around the other side of the grave were the male members of the family; younger male and women onlookers are required to sit back from the gravesite or line the path on the way to the grave. The graveside ceremony last about an hour, after which Make was escorted back to the pickup. She would undergo ritual cleansing and hair plaiting performed by the honor guard who would not allow anyone to see her until they finished, several hours later. Funeral attendees made their way back to the homestead for a meal, after which people slowly trickled back to their respective homes. I caught the half past 8am bus to Nhlangano, eager to get back to Pasture Valley for a shower and a nap. Not only did I feel physically exhausted, I also felt emotionally drained, and I longed for the peace and comfort I’ve come to embrace in solitude.

3 October 2010: A poem
3 October 2010
There’s a storm brewing
around us.
It’s been building for hours. I
hear the thunder rumble, and
feel the air cool as afternoon fades to evening and
the once incessant bird chirpings give way to the sound of the wind. Then, there’s silence.

4 – 5 October 2010- Finishing the Nurses’ Housing Project: Last week the Clinic Committee called to say the contractor had finished wiring the building, installing the door and window frames, and were beginning to plaster the walls. I asked for things to be finished by the 4th so I could paint the outside of the building. And to my surprise the Clinic Committee kept the contractor and his crew on task. Hurray! I arrived the afternoon of the 4th with two Group 8 volunteers eager to do ‘real work’ as they endure their Integration period. With the help of one of the Clinic Committee members, we primed the outside wall in about 4 hours. The two G8 volunteers were amazed at the amount of people I knew and who knew me. After each person I greeted, they asked I if knew that person. Yes, I know every person I greet; maybe I don’t know them all by name but I know them. They asked if that would ever happen for them. I assured them it would. I was lucky enough to have a clinic to visit each day, so I saw most of the community daily or weekly. When we first arrived in Mahlalini, they commented at how far out of town I lived. They asked, “How far are you from the tar road? We’re really out here.” I assured them the tar road was only 20km, the same distance to town. “In all honestly, I’m not that far from town,” I told them. Had they visited Jaclyn or the Jackson’s they would have ridden the bus for over two hours. My bus ride was only 45 minutes.
We stayed at my former homestead, and Make was delighted. She had the girls make up the bed in the guesthouse for the two volunteers and I slept on a foam mattress on the floor since my hut was now occupied by the eldest son. I offered to make dinner since I brought two extra mouths with me, and no one protested. I made tuna noodle casserole and boiled pumpkin (butternut squash). A square of hazelnut chocolate—fours squares for Make—and tea for pudding (dessert). The next day we woke early to rain, much to my chagrin. The gloom hung in the air all day, but luckily it stopped raining by the time we reached the clinic. By 7:15 am we were painting again, and finished around half past one. I took pictures along the way to document our progress, and asked the staff to sign a thank-you letter I planned to send to all the supporters/funders. The half past two bus was early, and we asked them to wait for us as we quickly gathered our bags and hurriedly said our good-byes. The girls stayed with me that evening; I was offering a home-cooked meal, wine and a hot shower as a thank you for their help, an offer they couldn’t refuse.
11 October 2010- Paying the Contractor: Last week I arranged to meet the contractor and his crew at noon today. Since they hadn’t finished plastering the inside walls and floors, I wanted to wait to pay him until I made sure things were finished. When I arrived I found Babe Dlamini, Clinic Committee Treasurer, painting the inside walls, and he was nearly finished. I inspected all the things I expected to be done. Everything was done, and in good condition. Then I called all the staff together, along w/ Babe Dlamini, to witness handing over the check to the contractor. We took pictures in front on the building, and then I took a picture of the building sans people. Its cream colored walls and red tin roof looked out of place against the stark contrast of the patchy brown grass and scattered construction materials on the ground. Yet, the house is functional and inhabitable, and I’m guessing Emily Thebo (staff nurse) and her daughter will be living there before the end of the year.
28 October 2010- Hail in the Swaz: It just finished hailing, which was probably the coolest Swazi weather I’ve ever experienced. The preschool kids were with me in my cabin; they’d just finished coloring and then devoured their toasted jam bread I made them. As soon as the hail began they huddled together on the couch and covered their ears. I motioned them to my “screen door” (a burglar door with mosquito netting sewed around it) to watch the hail fall. A piece fell on my porch so I picked it up and brought it inside for them to see and touch. “Kumakhata!” they shouted. It’s cold! When it became too heavy, I pulled them away from the door, slightly closing it and herded them back to my couch. It hailed for a good 5 minutes, depositing nothing bigger than nickels all over the ground. I said a silent praise of thanks that I lived in a secure cabin with appropriate roofing. Once the rain let up, I allowed the kids back onto the porch, and then ran through the yard collecting the biggest piece for the kids to see. Of course, the first thing they wanted to do was put it in their mouth. I tried to explain hail to them, but the closest thing they knew were ice cubes. So we called them ice cubes, and they happily sucked away.
I’m getting a new roomie today. A recent graduate of Texas A&M in environmental science, I welcome her with great trepidation. My last roommate experience with my fellow PCV Jenn, was a good one but I already knew her for two years. Jenn is quite easy-going, kind-hearted and generous, a good transition roommate for me. And before Jenn, I’ve lived alone many years, of which the last two years in a rural community in rural Africa in a cement wall and tin roof hut. This volunteer was been helping at Michelle’s cousin’s game farm in South Africa the last few months; after hearing about Pasture Valley through Michelle’s cousin, she asked to come a short time to help at an orphanage. So many people come wanting an “orphanage” experience, and it’s not all what they think. She comes from such a different Africa background then I do. And even though she’s American, I suspect our feelings about Africa and life could be vastly different. To my credit, my patience had grown by leaps and bounds, by my standards, and I’m hoping that will help facilitate our living arrangement. When Michelle told me yesterday that the new volunteer had finally confirmed her arrival, she added that now I’d have company. But I’m beginning to enjoy my preschool company far more than company with most adults on most occasions. And contrary to popular belief, I’m not lonely.
29 October – 1 November 2010- Weekend Away: I spent the weekend in Mbabane for a much needed rest. I had meetings on Friday and Monday, and decided to just stay for the in-between time. It was fabulous. Victoria, Cameron and I danced Friday night away at House on Fire to a hip-hop band from Durban called Spitmonky. They were fun. On Saturday, Jaci and I hiked Sheba’s Breast, a steep mountain in the Ezulweni Valley. It was hard but it felt great to hike, exert energy, sweat and be in Jaci’s company. We sat at the top for over an hour chatting about life, the challenges and lessons we’ve learned throughout extension, how we’ve changed, what we want out of life, and what we’ll do when we go back to the States. I’m thankful for a friend like Jaci. She’s a great listener. Ever the optimist, she can find the positive in even the shittiest situation. I appreciate that perspective, at times, especially when I’m being cynical. She’s like a sister to me, and I am that for her; we offer encouragement to each other, offer advice, and offer a shoulder for crying on and supporting when one needs it.
The perfectly clear day was well suited for hiking; it was warm but not too hot and the gentle breeze gave great relief. Each time we paused to take a breath, we turned to look across the valley at the mountain range on the other side of the highway. The view is incredible, giving you a real sense of where you are and where you began. The only negative to the day was the sunburn we both received. I applied sunscreen lotion twice. But since this was my first long-term exposure to sun this spring, the sunscreen hardly mattered.
Saturday evening we ventured to two Halloween parties, Jaci dressed at Mary Poppins, Victoria as a Greek goddess, and me as Molly Ringwald. I looked mostly like an 80’s lady but I was true to Molly verbiage, telling everyone they were so affected. Jaci and I left the second party early, as we were both exhausted from the day’s hike and neither party was exciting enough to sustain our interest.
Sunday was a lazy day, and since it rained most of the day, we opted for lying in bed watching Project Runway Season 7. In the evening we had dinner at Rob and Matthew’s pad, as the G6 extenders who live in Mbabane get together every Sunday evening for family dinner night. They were kind enough to include Victoria and me in their evening this time around.
Monday morning I met with my APCD regarding my Peace Corps Partnership Project. We discussed the challenges I faced along the way, as well as the positives of the process. Then I turned in the final report complete with pictures. My APCD needs to read the narrative and approve the final report before sending it to Washington. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m finished. Amen and Halleluiah! It feels mighty good. Unfortunately, as soon as I signed the report and handed it to him, I felt ready to leave Swaziland and Peace Corps service. It was a rush of relief to finish this project as I’ve been working on it for two years. And since the Bambanani Project is in good working order, I wonder about my final three ½ months of service. What will I do with my remaining time? Couldn’t I leave early? Yet there is something, a lesson or two I need to learn, that continue to nag at me. And so, as I did in the beginning of my service I must once again question why I am here. There is something more for me, something yet to discover, and I believe the discovery needs to happen here, can only happen here. And that’s okay. In questioning, in taking time, in continuing to learn, there is clarity. And with clarity come awareness and peace of mind. So I remain open to receive the messages I need to receive from the universe. I remain open to receive. Clarity will be mine when I need it. It is my hope.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

July & August 2010

30 June 2010- My last day continued: The third party was with my family. In addition to telling them good-bye we were celebrating Zandile’s birthday. Sitting in the living room, Make opened with a prayer of thanks; she said no harm came to her homestead or to her children while I was living there. She said God made that happen. God had blessed her with another daughter, and because of it we lived safely together. Machawe, Mcolici, Nomdumiso and Zandile each thanked me for staying with them, and wished me safe travels. The girls each added they were happy to stay with a sisi who shared with them. Then they broke into prayer, each offering their needs and gratitudes out loud to Inkhosi yami—my God; I sat watching them, struggling with tears. I looked, really looked, at each person, saying my own silent prayer of thanks for each member of my Swazi family, for the gratitude I felt for them, for having them be part ofmy life.
We sang happy birthday and shared apple cake for Zandile’s birthday. The kids left unceremoniously to prepare Make’s dinner plate, then share their meal together in the kitchen hut. I sat with Make for several minutes as she ate her dinner. I said good night to her, and then walked to the kitchen house to offer nilala kahle (good rest) to bosisi and bobhuti. I promised to be up in time to see them off to school.
I walked back to my hut, made tea and looked around my empty walls as I sipped. It was no longer my space, the little cement hut. The makeshift closet I made from branches and a large plastic bag hung empty from the ceiling with fishing line. The walls, stripped of their pictures, letters and cards, were bare, and once again showed their water marks and bug stains. My things were packed and stacked haphazardly in one corner of the room. The kitchen items I intended to leave were strewn on the top of the plastic table from Deja, which set in the center of the room out of place. The floor, swept and washed earlier in the day, had dried with a streak-free semi-gloss shine and was considerably cleaner than the day I moved in.
I was feeling a mix of thanks for the four walls’ kindness, as well as relief that I was done with them. Yet I offered them appreciation for being a good space for me. There were many times I despised those four walls: for their unsuccessful retention of heat on winter evenings; for their failure to remain cool on hot summer days; for their proclivity to allowing rain to seep in; for their ability to mold; for their gift of crumbling after heavy rains or high winds; for allowing large spiders and snakes to enter; and finally for permitting noises to ooze in, making me think bats, dogs, chickens, cattle, goats, and people were just inside my door. Nevertheless, I grew quite fond of those four fickle walls, even running to them for sanctuary, for a sense of familiar, when nothing else seemed right. Surprising what brings one joy, frustration, calm, or anxiety, and how, ironically, it can be the same thing.
1 July 2010- Moving to Pasture Valley: I left Mahlalini on a grey, drizzly morning around half past ten. Make and her granddaughter kept me company for several hours as I waited for the PC driver, and thank goodness for their company. The driver was to arrive at 9, but he was an hour late. Part of me wanted to delay my departure; the other part just wanted to get it over, like taking off a band-aide, better to pull it off quickly then to prolong the pain.
I intended to leave Make with an equipped place in case she decided to rent, so I left my bed and bedding for the house along with the mini stove and fridge. I also left the table, two chairs, all my dishes and cooking utensils, and a stackable organizer tray. Make seemed very pleased with all I was leaving. She had plans already for the fridge, determined to replace the old freezer in her bedroom with my fridge.
Once the driver arrived, Make and her granddaughter helped me carry things to the truck as the driver loaded. It was full, as I had many things for my project I needed to transplant to Pasture Valley and two-100 liter water barrels I was returning to Peace Corps. I ended up holding one plant on my lap and put one between my feet.
The drive was quick and relatively quiet. I tried small talk at first but had trouble talking over the lump in my throat. Sprinkles of rain were intermittent, and I said a silent plea that it would hold off until I unpacked. For once, the weather complied. Jenn greeted us on the porch; having moved in a month earlier she helped us unpack in short order.
I began settling in immediately, as the sky unloaded as well. I needed to unpack and begin feeling at home right away, otherwise some boxes would never be unpacked. My work was to begin the following day, and I knew I’d feel better with most of my things in place and some semblance of order before embarking on days that would keep me busy from sunup to sundown.
The day, unfortunately, came and went with the rapidity of a load of laundry; but with Jenn’s company, and my bedroom intact, I felt better about leaving my home away from home. We settled down for the evening with Jenn’s veggie noodle soup, two glasses of beers and a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother.
July 2010- Getting my Barings: I spent most of the month organizing my new office and taking inventory of the products we had currently. I also: restrung 60 necklaces; developed new products including clay made from sawdust; teaching small business to two income generating groups; teaching our second group to make beads from palm and banana leaves; saying good-bye to fellow G6 volunteers; watching lots of “How I Met Your Mother” episodes with Jenn; running and doing yoga with Jenn; making bread; teaching Jenn to cook; drinking wine; setting aside reading time before bed; cracking and roasting Macadamia nuts for the first time; and finding moments of calm in my chaotic days.
August 2010- Holiday Program, Just Surviving, and Saying So Long: August was also a quick month. I intend to go into a little more detail than I afforded you with my July happenings but blessed little. As my time is increasingly micromanaged here and occupied by 22 children who often find their way to my cabin for “visits” (the little ones are always asking to wee wee or look at my shower or open cupboard doors or ask for emasweeties), I find I have less time for myself. With the arrival of a new Group 8 couple to the farm at the end of the month, it’s my hope that my time will be less dedicated to the daily management of the children. Currently, Jenn, Becca (a 2-month volunteer from the UK) and I are also running the Holiday Program, which is intended to keep the children active during the break between trimesters. We organize a morning and afternoon activity or two to keep them engaged, learning and from fighting with each other. While its intended purpose is mostly carried out, we’ve noticed that preparing the activities are sometimes more trouble than they are worth. I’ve learned that some days no amount of planned activity will keep children engaged, quiet or from bickering. On those days, I implement exercise time on the spot. “Run to the dairy and back. On your mark, get set, go.” When they get back, I say, “Do it again!” or “Jump on one leg to the gate and back.” I must sound like a tormenter or dictator to some of you. Enforced exercise?! The audacity! How could I be so cruel? The children don’t realize I have ulterior motives in ‘exercise time’ but it’s necessary for my sanity and those of my fellow Holiday Program planners. And, they love running or doing jumping jacks, so that’s a positive, right?!
3 - 4 August- G8 Shadowing and Fighting Fires: The new couple—Gail and Mike— arrived over the weekend to shadow Chris, a Group 7 volunteer who left on Monday to return to the States to be with this wife who wasn’t recovering from an illness she contracted while in Swaziland. Over the weekend Jenn and I gave them and another volunteer from their group a tour of Nhlangano, their new shopping town. On Tuesday, I met another G8 volunteer in town after my day with Dr Piluca at Baylor. Gail was with me, and she helped me orient Emily to her new area. Emily stayed with me that night. Part of the purpose of shadowing is to talk candidly with a veteran volunteer about their service. Emily, a resident of Vermont in her late 20’s, told me all about her mountain biking experiences, her recent love of yoga, and her excitement for Peace Corps service. I believe her to be a good egg indeed. On Wednesday morning, she joined Gail and Becca in the preschool while I spent time on my project. We met at my cabin for lunch, and stood on the porch chatting with Gail and Mike, after they dropped by to see my place. We noticed a fire starting near the dam, perhaps 3 km from the farm. I immediately called Peter to alert him of the growing fire, which was quite tall and fueled by bursts of wind. As is the protocol for fires in Swaziland, alerting someone immediately, even if it’s small, is necessary. Winter is quite dry and a known fire season. With the wind, the dry grass and a careless match it’s the perfect recipe for covering large spaces in seconds. We watched for several minutes, mesmerized by the height of the flames and how rapidly they danced along the fields alighting trees along the way. I called Michelle and asked her how we could help. I wasn’t about the stand idle as the fire raged closer and closer to my wood cabin. She said to make sure the little children were with Gogo, fill as many jugs with water and help the older children to gather branches for beating out the fire. For a second, I realized that I was actually going to help put out a forest fire. And in that second I contemplated the seriousness of the situation upon me. Then I ran to set things in motion, alerting Gogo, mobilizing the older children and informing Gail, Mike, and Emily of Michelle’s instructions; they were as anxious as I was to help. I ran to my cabin and Emily helped me fill all the jugs I could find. I opened windows to lessen the impacted of blown out glass. I turned off all the outlets and unplugged everything. I looked around each room briefly to see what I could pack quickly if a needed to rush in and rush out. But the thought struck me as absurd. What could I possibly need? Nothing. I didn’t need anything. I put on my running shoes, stashed my cell phone in my jeans pocket in case I needed to call Peace Corps and ran to wet the branches that we’d use to beat out the fire. Mike and Emily ran with me through the field to our first stop, while Gail remained with Gogo to wet the grass around the children’s homes and continue filling buckets. I had no idea how intense a grass fire could be. Immediately, my face reddened and my lips and forehead felt on fire. I had to hold my breath as I beat the fire back on itself. I could only send two or three blows to the fire before I had to back away from the intensity and catch my breath. We managed to put it out, leaving smoldering grass patches. My adrenaline kicked in as we turned toward the farm and Michelle and Peter’s house. The fire had split, and another section was raging behind us. We took off through the field; I couldn’t help myself, I ran at top speed, dodging dirt clods and scrambling under fences. The water truck had finally made its way to the interior of the farm having taken three attempts to put out the fire that turned away from my cabin toward the forest behind my house. As we stamped out mini fires here and there, a huge gust of wind came up sending the flames whirling up into a tornado cloud of fire at least 10 feet high. As tornados sometimes do, it whirled out of control in all directions consuming everything in its wake. We all started running away from it as fast as we could; it was on our tails and I could feel it’s force at my back as I made my way up the hill in the opposite direction. Michelle yelled for Sandile to move the truck, as he was in a daze watching the tornado of fire. Luckily he moved quickly, and then several workers blasted the fire with the water hose which was attached to a large tank and used a generator to propel the water. Neighbors and workers from the local saw mill arrived, having put out the fire in the forest, and with their help the rest of the fire was out in minutes. An hour and 20 minutes had passed but it seemed like four hours. We stood with Michelle looking at the aftermath, the damage a careless few inflicted on many. My lips felt burnt, and my shoulders and arms ached from beating branches to the ground. I slowly walked back to my cabin, sending our Safety and Security Officer a text message to inform him of what had happened and to say I broke in the new volunteers. As Emily and I sat in my kitchen living room pondering our experience, I ate a piece of bread I’d left in the oven, the rest of the lunch I wasn’t able to finish. Neither of us could think of anything to say except, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that just happened!!!” I briefly mentioned how at times I felt a little scared and freaked out, but at the same time compelled to continue by a force greater than me. She agreed.
7 August- Recycling Day: The City Council of Mbabane launched a campaign of waste management, recycling, reuse, and waste reduction awareness as part of their efforts to clean up the city and empower locals to keep their city clean. The Department of Waste Management headed the launch, taking the initiative into three local schools as a pilot program. Due to its success, they decided to take the program to the entire city of Mbabane. I met the Head of the Department of Waste Management through a Finnish volunteer working with the City Council. I met the Finnish volunteer at a backpacker’s lodge I frequently stay while in Mbabane. She was telling me about the initiative, and I told her about the reuse work I was doing with my income-generating project. We both decided we could be of use to each other. I offered to teach basic business and marketing to the income-generating group they wanted to start, as well as a few reuse ideas they could turn into profitable items. She said the City Council would be willing to let me scavenge their recycling bins for items for the Bambanani Project. It was a win-win situation. As part of the deal, I was asked to display the Bambanani items at their launch day, as well as give a speech about my project and how important reuse is to the project, as well as everyone in Swaziland and the world. The day was ill-attended, but my speech went well and we managed to sell several hundred rands worth of product.
28 August- Official Two Year Anniversary & Adieu to Jenn & Justine: Today marks my official two year anniversary with Peace Corps since two years ago today I swore in as a volunteer. It also marks the official start of my extension. The day before, Jenn and Justine closed their service in a special ceremony called ringing out, and we celebrated with dinner at Malendela’s and listening to Bhalotja, a local musician at House on Fire. These ladies are the last two of our group to leave; the final six of us are extenders. Quite a strange feeling to be among the last of your group, especially considering those who extend essentially have “real” jobs which no longer affords much free time or casual visits to fellow volunteers. It’s the end of an era, so to speak. The extenders will trickle out here and there, quietly and unassumingly as attention is rightly directed towards groups 7 and 8. And while everyone supposes the old-timers, G6, will leave gently, their mark will be heavy upon Swaziland, just as was it before them and just as it will continue to be after them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My new place, July 2010

My new "family" The children, their 2 housemothers, Peter, Michelle & their children, & Justine, a fellow volunteer. This pic was taken in Jan.

View of Peter & Michelle's house and extra house for volunteers

Children's Home

My view

Front of my cabin

My bedroom


Living Room