Friday, July 18, 2008

June/July Posts

July 3, 2008, Language Training- Today was day 4 of language training. I’ve already had 3 different teachers and 3 different groups, which makes it difficult for me to continue retaining the words. Each teacher has a diverse style. My first language teacher was by far the best; she understands that sometimes we need to see it before we can comprehend it…especially considering this language is hard to pick up. There are many exceptions to the grammar which we are just supposed to accept. However, that makes it hard to know when to change the verb or noun in order for it agree w/ the other. The other frustrating things about this language: it’s only been a written language since they gained their independence from South Africa in the 70’s, which means that some words were spelled in siSwati the way they sounded- for instance, orange is li-olintji (lee o lean g); and there were lots of British and Dutch influences to words, so sometimes there is no translation- you just say the word in English w/in your siSwati sentence. There aren’t Swazi words for some things we’d like to describe. For instance, they only have names from the colors black, white, red, green and yellow and yellow is rarely used. My language class jokes that all you have to do to speak siSwati is put an e in front of a word and an i or i/y sound and you’re speaking siSwati. I’m being completely serious. I’ve heard from many people, non PC as well, that siSwati is one of the toughest languages to learn. It is coming slowly.

Beginning my journey- Friday, June 27- we arrived at Emafini Christian Center to begin basic self-health training…what we can do to minimize our risk of contracting HIV, to decreasing our chances of flu, malaria, etc., getting lots of immunizations and our malaria pills, which made me sick at first. I’ve adjusted to them but am still having very vivid, weird dreams, which is a side effect. Oh joy!

July 7, 2008- It is getting easier and easier to live w/ my host family. I’m less frustrated than I was on Friday. We moved to our host family homestead on July 4th. My make (ma-gay) aka mother came to pick me up from Ngwane College. She has 2 children- a boy (bhuti aka brother) and a girl (sisi aka sister). Her mother, whom they call gogo or grandmother is the head of the homestead; her husband died in 1985. She has 2 sons and 3 daughters. Both sons…my uncles (malume) or brothers…work away from home; they sometimes visit on the weekends. Both sisters live here as well and each has 2 children. The one just younger than my make works in a garment factory. The youngest is going to school to be a hairdresser. I said she could braid my hair when it is long enough to braid. The eldest brother’s wife lives here w/ her 3 youngest children. I believe the oldest child is away at school. The eldest brother is a teacher. The younger brother repairs tv and electronics. So that makes 9 kids on my homestead. My make basically runs the homestead; she directs all the activities, organizes and feeds everyone, as well as teaches pre-school to orphaned children.

My make was instructed to primarily speak siSwati to me. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were difficult for me. Every sentence my make said was met w/ a blank stare from me. At least now I’m beginning to recognize certain words; therefore more able to piece together the words in some semblance of recognition.

Today I cared a 10 liter bucket of water on my head from the water source- which is a black hose sticking out of the side of a hill…yes I’m confused about where it comes from but am too afraid to ask- to my homestead… a 5 minute walk. I did well until the very end. I also helped make, bobhuti & bosisi (bo is used in front of the noun when speaking of many) cut up firewood. They had gone to the forest to chop trees. Once bundled, they each carry a small bundle on their head back to the homestead where they saw it up into smaller pieces. I will go w/ them to the forest next time. Today I just got to help saw it. They use a 2-person saw. Make kept asking if I was getting tired. I think they worry that I tire easily from manual labor. I told them I grew up on a farm, where I use to help do lots of things like cooking, laundry, and outside chores. But I think Peace Corps sent them the idea that we don’t know how to do anything so they must teach us. Oh well. I just keep offering to help. The other day make asked if I knew how to sweep the floor. Yes, I said. She said, show me. So I swept the floor, and I think she was amazed. Although that was the same day she told me she would help me make my bed b/c I hadn’t done it right. I thought it looked the same afterwards! One of the first nights here she offered to help me w/ my bucket bath. YIKES! I laughed, and politely said no, I know how. But I was ready to scream inside…NO ONE is helping me bathe! I can do it myself.

July 12- Returned from my 2 day shadowing experience this afternoon. I shadowed Maggie who works in the Siphoweni (sp?) region in a town called Lukhetseni. She visits a clinic once a week to help them distribute ARV’s- Anti Retrovirals- but her primary job is helping the 2 sisters at Cabrini Mission- an hr khombi (taxi van) ride from her homestead. She works in the hostel aka orphanage directing activities for the children staying there. It was great to see the work she is doing, but even better to chat about life in the Swaz and life in Peace Corps. Justine- the girl who shadowed w/ me- and I asked her to NOT sugar coat things. Our staff has been conveniently leaving out information from our training. For instance, Swazis are not a communal society like we were told. We were also told they are the friendliest people in Africa. Well, they are superficially friendly, with fierce competition b/w chiefdoms and sometimes even homesteads. The king does not serve his people; they serve him. And they are even less of a communal culture than Americans. I’m not sure if my family is the exception- there isn’t a lot of real concern shown or displaces of affection exhibited but they seem genuinely concerned w/ the overall welfare of each other. And when I arrived home after being gone 2 days, my make said everyone was missing me. So I need to do a little more observing. My frustration is that I’m getting 2 stories, and I’m trying to decipher the truth.

They are also not telling us the truth about events surrounding the dissolve of parliament and the upcoming elections, which are scheduled to take place in about 60 days. There have been demonstrations and some murders surrounding the politics of those involved in the elections- the people murdered- about 6- are directly involved in the elections. I am safe, but would like to know the honest truth about the areas around me. Are they safe? Please do not be alarmed. I AM SAFE.

More about shadowing- being petted. The children at Cabrini Mission were very excited to have 3 white women in their presence…more light hair to pet, jewelry to scrutinize and white skin to kiss. Yes, I was kissed on the arm…I think the little girl wanted to know what it felt like….she did it twice. Smile. Something else interesting- the children drew themselves to us immediately. They only knew us as Maggie’s new friends but it didn’t take long for them to sit in our laps, pet our hair, hang on our arms. It seemed to me they were craving human touch.

July 14th- Being sick and the cockroach on my stove. I started feeling sick last night. My family asked me to cook the cans of tuna they received from PC (Peace Corps dropped off 3 week’s worth of food to help our families feed us). So I decided to make tuna rice casserole. I sautéed onions, added hard boiled eggs, milk and tuna- I didn’t have a lot to work with. I heated then added it to the rice they had kindly precooked for me. Then they made another pot of rice to add to it, completely diluting the rest of the ingredients. Oh well. After I heaped everyone’s bowl full, my make brought me cooked spinach to add to the bowls, and then cooked butternut squash! And after I added that, they brought me a chicken leg they saved for me from lunch. I thought I was cooking supper?! My plate of food was enormous! And I don’t think they really liked the casserole. The children gobbled it down like they do any food they are given- I think, sadly, they are perpetually hungry. My make and her bosisi said the food was nice and thanked me twice. But the look on their face when there were eating it was not one of enjoyment. It was prolly similar to my first sour porridge experience….. I will choke this down as best I can w/ a neutral face! So needless to say I went to bed feeling sicker to my stomach, and woke this morning feeling very yucky. I didn’t eat much all day and my teacher aka thishela was very concerned about me b/c I took a nap during lunch. He insisted I call the Medical Officer. She didn’t seem concerned. After class Jarrod, Jaclyn and Melissa came to my place to make lasagna. I actually felt hungry when we were preparing it, so I think I’m over the worst. We took it to Serena’s place and all Village C aka Lebovu (it is reb\d; bovu is red) shared their dinners together. When I came home to clean up the mess I found a cockroach on my gas stove. YUCK! I’ve seen others in my hut and I have to get over that fact that they will invade a space w/out discretion, but it’s so gross to actually come across them in your space…esp. on your cookware!


jcf said...

oh girl! i miss you so much! glad to hear from you, finally...starting to wonder if you REALLY went to Swazi or not! jk. sending you stuff this weekend. be well and be happy. you are amazing! love you! xoxo jace.

Flying Tomato said...

I miss you too!

I am writing you a letter--had to find tracing paper b/c I couldn't find airmail stationery anywhere! Guess it's preferred to send e-mail where everyone can do their spying w/out leaving tracks.

My goodness! The world these days!

It will get better. We will make it better. A little at a time.

Pat said...

Reading your notes, I was reminded of how long it took me to realize that Swazi culture does not value "directness" in conversation. Politeness and being agreeable is much more valued. So I had to learn to reframe my way of asking questions or attempting to get information I needed. And I often wondered how my "American directness" was viewed by them...confusing to them was probably the least of the challenges in talking with me! I know that I put my foot in my mouth at least once a day :-)

I'm not sure I would agree that Swazi culture is not communal. I'll be interested in hearing more about this as your experience continues. Didn't get your photos but you will probably figure out a way to make that possible. Go slow. Be open (I know you are or you wouldn't have made this trip in the first place) and keep writing.
In Peace,
Pat Johnson

Ceason said...

Hey! We got your letter and hope you got mine!
It is so good to hear that you are doing better. Can't wait to see pics, but no hurry.
Reno was great! I'll write another letter when I get back from the HILLS.
Sending lots of Love!