August 9, 2008- “OJT”, a little language lesson & election update: OJT stands for On-the-Job Training- 5 days in which to locate my permanent site, meet my counterpart aka Kagogo (ga go go) Clerk, get to know my family and visit the points of interest in my new town- Mahlalini (ma thla lean e). I think I will like my new site. My counterparts says the chief of Mahlalini use to be a senator, that he is in many ways a modernized chief, and he is very interested in developing the area. My counterpart, Mkhasibe (mm ka see bay), seems pretty motivated; although, he is new to the position. The record-keeping done by the previous clerk left little to be desired and he wants alotta help organizing it. No problem. The Kagogo Clerk is a paid position by NERCHA. When I say paid, I mean meager wages. NERCHA is an organization dedicated to education and prevention on HIV and AIDS-related issues. I cannot remember what the acronym stands for; however, it is a Swazi national organization which tries to employ the most highly motivated individuals of each chiefdom in Swaziland who are interested in helping decrease the spread of HIV and AIDS. There are 91 chiefdoms in the Shiselweni region- the region I will serve. The KaGogo Clerk organized people in the chiefdom to work with- Rural Health Motivators and Peer Educators. There are 70,000 OVC’s in Swaziland; NERCHA estimates the number will be 120,000 by 2010. The term kagogo originates from the Swazi word, gogo for grandmother. In Swazi culture the first hut built is called kaGogo, which is where family members meet and make important family decisions. These centers support community services for HIV and AIDS by providing opportunity and maintaining a space for holistic support to the community’s response on HIV and AIDS issues. There is space for meetings, food storage and catering, provision of basic care, education and counseling. The mandate from NERCHA for the KaGogo Centers is to serve as an entry point for all HIV and AIDS interventions in rural communities. I will be working one-on-one w/ the KaGogo Clerk to identify other possible income-generating projects, identify the real issues in Mahlalini and what to do about these issues, and help him maintain data on OVC’s.
My new place: The view from my new house is beautiful- mountains! There are mountains in my backyard! This area is considered mid-veld- cooler winters, and summers that don’t get hotter than 25 to 26 degrees C…. or so my new bhuti tells me. I’m not very good w/ the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit, but I think it’ll be around 85 degrees (please correct me if I’m wrong). I can handle that! My new place is not ready yet. They just repainted the walls, hung a new door and replaced the burglar bars. I brought a sleeping bag, assuming I’d sleep on the floor the next 4 nights but my new make (ma gay) aka mother insisted I sleep in a spare room. Fine with me. The floor of my new place is cement; considering it still gets pretty chilly here at night and my sleeping back is only rated to 20 degrees, a double bed off the floor sounds glorious.
My make is 60, has 7 living children- 2 have died- with many grandchildren, is a Rural Health Motivator- something very similar to a Hospice volunteer, and hosts 4 OVC’s or Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Philiswa is 7, Zandele is 13 I think, Machewe is 16, I think and Mcolisi is 19. They are very sweet and I already feel comfortable with them. Make believes the boys are too lazy, but I believe it is typical teenage behavior, unfortunately. She does keep them on their toes and expects allota work from them. But I think it is good for them. She is giving them a chance for a life- she helps pay their school fees and provides food for them to cook. That is a lot considering they are not blood related AND she is not in the best health. Make’s babe (ba bay) aka husband is staying in the Lubombo region, several hours away and only visits a few times a year. He is farming…I’m assuming sugar cane or maize. She is rarely able to visit b/c of the expense to travel there. On Monday fares will go up due to rising petrol costs. The trip from Nhlangano (nn thlan gano) to Mahlalini cost me R6.50 today; Wednesday when I travel back to my host family, the fare will be R10. For every 1 US dollar I get 6 to 7 Rand (South African currency) or 6 to 7 Emilangeni (Swaziland currency) - both are usually interchangeable. If I think about bus fare in terms of US dollars, I’m paying less than a dollar. But right now I’m living on about $30/week; once I’m done w/ training I’ll be living on $70/week. So if I travel to the nearest large town at R10 too often, I’ll deplete my allowance quickly. Plus I cannot think of my allowance in terms of dollars; I will spend too much money that way! Bread at the town markets costs R5.99. A bag of apples (12) is R13.99. Soy milk is R12.99. Cereal- just the basic Corn Flakes- is R23.99. The price of food is going up, b/c of the rising transportation costs. I’m curious what gas costs in the states. And I’m curious to see how much transportation will go up here by the time I leave.
Elections- well I received clarification from my host family on elections. The King dissolves Parliament every 5 years- everyone serves a 5 year term and then if they want to be re-elected must run for office and be voted back in. During campaign time, anyone may run for election to an office. The Prime Minister is generally appointed by the King after elections are held. Those being murdered are directly involved w/ running for elections. They are not at all concerned w/ the whities (mhlolope) right now!
August 11, 2008- I’m suffering from multiple personalities: Peace Corps staff asks our Pre-Service Training (PST) host family to give us a Swazi name when we arrive at our new homestead. So I’ve been Nonhlanhla Mavimbela since July…I’m not even going to try a language lesson w/ this one. You’ll have to hear it sometime. When I heard my new name, I thought, “Great! The “hl” sound is the hardest for me to pronounce, and I have 2 in my name. Damn!” Well, now I can pronounce the “hl” sound well. Before OJT, we were told we might get a new first name from our permanent host family. I was expecting a new surname, but I thought I’d might be able to keep Nonhlanhla b/c I like the meaning- lucky. My PST family says Nonhlanhla, then lucky girl. I like that. I’m a lucky girl. So, when I asked my counterpart if I had a new name, he said no; I could use Jennifer or Nonhlanhla. Nope! My new make insisted on naming me. So now I am Thadeka (taun day ga) Bhembe (bem bay). I don’t mind b/c I like the meaning of Thadeka- the loveable one. However, it’s taken some getting use to; I don’t always recognize my name when someone is calling me. Of course, they laugh at that! If I were to go by Jennifer, I would just get called Jennifer Lopez and constantly asked if I know her. “I know who she is, but I do not know her personally” is usually met w/ a blank stare. Don’t all Americans w/ the same first name or surname know each other? Ummmm…..no. It’s taken some getting use to, this multiple identity thing…or should I say crisis? It feels like a crisis, a predicament. There definitely is a loss of identity, autonomy, anonymity in Peace Corps, at least as far as we define those words in America. I’m not thrilled about it; it’s a bit harder to be myself. I’m told I must respectfully represent a government organization. I’m told I must respectfully represent America. I must represent the notion of white person without money, who is a volunteer but just picks up, leaves my family, crosses an ocean, and lives in a new place and not for education/college, mind you. Why would I leave America, they always ask. Why do I want to help strangers? And why in God’s name would I leave my family? Well I wanted to offer my services, my knowledge, myself b/c I’ve been given so much. I want to doing something for others b/c I can, to give back to something bigger than myself. Huh?! I’ve been living on my own for 10 years. How? They always ask. By yourself? Yes. They shake their heads. And a grown woman, not married, no children. Living on her own. How?
Where do I fall into all of that? Who will I be here? Who will I become? I’m not sure. I’m still mulling it over b/c I’m still wondering why I’m here. So much of the HIV epidemic is tied into Swazi culture. This is a patriarchal, polygamist culture. If your husband/boyfriend says jump, you jump. If you are dating and want to use condoms, he questions your integrity and faithfulness. If he says he won’t get tested, she cannot talk him into it. If he forbids her to go to the clinic for testing, support or education, she cannot go. If she does and he finds out, she risks being kicked off the homestead and out of the family forever. She will be forced to leave her children behind. She will leave behind any meager possessions she might have acquired. She leaves behind security, a roof over her head, and food. She is left w/ poverty, homelessness- her family will not take her back b/c of shame, and generally no hope for income b/c of lack of education.
So some days, often every day, I vacillate between dreams of doing good work and dreams of my old/new life; the vacations I will take once I’m done w/ service and the majestic regions of Swaziland I will explore while serving; the foundation I’ll lay for future PCV’s and the foundations I’d rather be laying for myself. It is a conundrum, but it is what it is. And that’s all the insight I have right now.