August 21, 2008- L.P.I. aka Language Practice Final: Today was our language final. YIKES! We took the mock final 3 weeks ago and it was rough. We were expected to pass it with a score of Novice Low. I passed at Novice High- a big surprise, I must say. Today we were required to pass at Intermediate Low. I think I did. We’ll either receive our results tomorrow or Monday, but honestly I don’t care. It’s over. NO MORE LANGUAGE LESSONS. And what’s better….I felt way more confident today than I did for the mock….AND I was able to have an actual conversation in siSwati! So that tells me I’ve improved. WOO HOO! And even if I didn’t pass, I would be required to take extra tutoring in Mbabane, which would just make me a better speaker…so win-win either way.
Now that I’m on this side of training, I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone. Getting through is the hard part- adjusting to a different way of living, new people, loss of autonomy, living in a fish bowl. Since I generally like everyone in my village, my transition was a bit smoother. One girl was a bit of a drama queen, and another not aware of her surroundings at all- reminds me of the stereotypical tourist who gets off the tour bus, eye to camera, noticing the sites but not the person behind her picking her pocket. On the whole, my village was great. I really love my language classmates: Jason and Erica, married, from New Jersey, Jason worked recently as an EMT, Erica with non-profits; and Margaret, a just graduated triple major from Oregon who will read anything. It was nice to find people to have intelligent conversations, yet be able to laugh at the most ridiculous or absurd situations for days. I will miss them- Erica and Jason were placed in the HhoHho region, 4 hrs north, near the South African/Mozambique borders; Margaret in the Lubombo region, a 2 ½ hr trip east and a little north. I will be sad to be so far away from them. We’ll be able to meet up in Mbabane but that means staying overnight and paying for a hostel for all of us b/c of transportation time- the time it takes to and from sites is generally different on paper than actual time. Hopefully we’ll be able to arrange something on occasion.
August 18, 2008- Fieldtrip to Montanga Museum and Cultural Village: Just northwest of Manzini is a nature reserve which boosts the only cultural village in Swaziland, complete with the traditional huts and homestead configuration. Every day around 11, 2 dozen men, women, teens and children perform traditional Swazi dance in traditional Swazi dress. They are amazing. I wish I could send you a video to watch; your jaws would drop. Most of the dances include a high kick. When I say high, I mean they get their knee to their forehead without bending forward. And the men and boys kick so high and so hard on their last kick, they usually fall on their backs. It’s truly incredible. Honestly, I’m not describing it well enough to give it full credit. Anyone visiting me who wishes to attend a performance won’t have to talk me into going back. After the hour-long performance, we took a ½ mile nature walk to the Mantanga Waterfall. It’s the clearest water I’ve seen since being here- sky blue and tempting enough to drink. An interesting note to the day: As we departed Nhlangano to start our trip, we were stopped by a random (and apparently routine) police road block just outside town. We were forced off the bus and into separate male/female lines. No one had a clue. The guys had to spread their legs and were patted down by male officers; female officers were checking women’s bags/purses. It wasn’t until our boThishela stepped off the bus that we were able to ask an explanation. Drug search. They were searching every vehicle, every person, and every bag for marijuana. Apparently it happens all the time. And according to one Thishela, you can easily get pot any day of the week, any hour of the day, from just about anyone…even gogo! And, she adds, “it’s the good stuff in Swaziland; the really good stuff…not that I would know.” But she proceeded to show us the sign you make w/ your hands- a fist w/ the right hand, grinding into the palm of the left hand- to any cab driver and he’ll know what you’re talking about. She finishes by saying, “don’t do it! You’ll get caught and get in big trouble!” It took all of my will to not laugh while she was telling us about dogga, as they call it in the Swaz, and how to get it. But alotta people sell it b/c they need money. It is illegal, but almost anyone who wants it can access it.
August 25, 2008- LPI Results: I PASSED MY LANGUAGE TEST!!! I scored an Intermediate Low score. I was hoping for an Intermediate Mid score. The reason I didn’t get that score was due to my repeating the question, my tester asked, in English before giving my answer in siSwati. I wanted to make sure I was giving the correct answer. It indicated to my tester that I wasn’t certain of the question when in fact I knew each question she asked. Oh well! Live and learn. The important thing is I passed. I also found out that everyone is required to find and hire a tutor, no matter their score, for on-going language training. We are reimbursed for the expense of hiring a tutor, which generally around R20/hr, not to exceed 40 hrs per year. I have until November to identify and hire a tutor in my community. Once school reopens, I plan to pay boThishela a visit. Luckily I have a primary and secondary school right next door.
August 26, 2008- Leaving Tuscany: When I arrived for training at Ngwane Teachers College the end of June, the view from our classrooms reminded me of pictures I’d seen of Tuscany- masses of tall, green trees, little houses nestled together and scattered alone the rolling hills, rugged, red roads that hugged the curvy hills and stretched endlessly, toward the horizon. One day I was dreamily looking at ‘my Tuscany,’ when Gladys- a Swazi staff member- asked what I was doing, standing all alone. Didn’t I want to have tea break with my colleagues? I said I was enjoying the view; I was secretly hiding from my fellow trainees, as I needed some ‘me’ time and wanted to imagine traveling those red roads to wherever they would take me. I told her I thought the village, the scene I saw, was beautiful. She shook her head, smiled, and said “you will get tired of looking at it”. Never, I thought. Little did I know the village I was daydreaming of as ‘my Tuscany’, was Lebovu (translates as it is red), the village I’d spend 7 weeks living in, and having a love/hate relationship with. Funny thing, that Karma!
I did travel those red roads but not far; they lead to South Africa maybe 20 km away. But we couldn’t cross the border—no independent traveling allowed during training. The dirt stained my socks, my shoes, my pant legs, and my skin. And rugged doesn’t even describe the conditions. I bought a pair of Mary Jane knock-offs to have a dresser pair of shoes. They are ruined after 6 weeks of walking those red roads. The dust from passing khombis intoxicated my nose and lungs, eventually causing an allergic reaction, which sent me to the doctor for an anti-allergy shot (her words) and a week’s worth of amoxicillin and vitamin C tabs. Those little houses nestled along the hillside where actually homesteads with cinderblock and tin-roofed or thatch-roofed huts that hold the day’s heat until the sun goes down then transform into ice boxes. Ah, my Tuscany! I did say it was love/hate. My host family—who went from overwhelming, to inquiring to the point of nosy, to tolerable, to clingy—eventually softened my heart. Yes, my make did offer to help me with my bucket bath, which still blows me away. She was adamant I sweep the kitchen floor to see if I knew how to sweep. She insisted I start a fire in the wood-burning stove when company was there to show the guests they had taught the white girl the Swazi way. She endlessly asked if I wanted to watch them butcher a chicken. No. Thanks. I’ve done that before! But every time I was away for a few days or she was gone for a few days, she said she missed me, they all missed me. And I believe she sincerely meant it. It felt nice to be missed by a family that barely knew me. Their constant concern for my health, the amount of food I was eating (or not eating), or for my studies came from their hearts, even though at times it felt smothering.
The 9 children on my homestead were my real source of joy and sometimes comfort. They began waiting for me at the gate when they knew I was arriving from school. They hung around the entrance to my hut just to watch what I was doing. They accompanied me to the water source; I was relieved most days for their help. I had yet to figure out the system of whose turn it was to get their water next. They always knew. The girls danced and sang for me once they discovered I loved music and to dance; usually dances were ones they made up, but sometimes it was traditional dances or games they learned from school. I loved they way little Temakholo said my name, and how she’d say she was fine when I said hello. She became my shadow, following me everywhere. I would take her home with me if I could; she always had a smile on her sweet round face, and a laugh shortly following the smile. The boys taught me cards- Casino Royale, Sisu (or Stomach) and their version of Crazy 8’s; they didn’t always explain very well but they had fun laughing at my mistakes and helping me make the right play. I taught them rumi and slap jack, which they loved. They were captivated by my card shuffling, calling it magic. Siyanda picked it up after a week and with my prodding that he should just keep practicing. One day after school, he ran to meet me. “Nonhlanhla, are you busy? Can we play cards? I shuffle now the way you do. I will show you.”
A few days before I left, I was showered with gifts. Gogo gave me a grass mat w/ a thin purple design throughout. I received a traditional wrap (laheya) w/ the Swazi flag and beaded necklace from Babe Lomkhulu and his wife, Lungile. Lungile immediately tied the laheya around me and pronounced that I was now a Swazi woman. She said she loved me the morning I left. She hugged me; I wanted to cry. I only choked out a ‘love you too’ and a quick good bye- I couldn’t look back. I felt a real kinship with her and have a special place in my heart for her children- Temakholo and Mehluko. I perceived Lungile received some education and understood the world, at least a little. She wanted to know how the world really worked, from my perspective. She wanted to understand a different way of doing things, and was happy to listen to my stories of home. And finally a traditional wrap w/ King Mswati III from make. The night before I left, my make brought a chicken to my door. “This is for you”, she said. “Gogo says you must take it on your journey to your new place.” Oh my God. The whole chicken?! Then she offeredto cook it for me since I’d already packed my stove. She wanted to leave it whole after cooking, wrap it in plastic bags, then newspaper, so it would keep during my travel, and I could eat well on the journey and my first few days at my new place. I tried to explain that we were going to the capital for 3 days first, and I wouldn’t be at my site for 4 days. I offered them half the chicken, saying I would take as much as would fit in my 3 food storage containers. Once the chicken was cooked and I was summoned to collect it, I found make had also prepared dumplings. So I took 3 pieces of chicken, carefully avoiding the head, and 3 dumplings to go w/ my pieces of chicken.
So I left ‘my Tuscany’ with 3 pieces of chicken, 3 dumplings, and a loaded backpack with gifts, book, and clothes and headed to the siteshi (bus stop) with my make, Margaret, Serena and her make, and 7 or 8 kids in tow- from my family and Serena’s family. Make was very worried about my containers of chicken, and insisted put the bag in my backpack once we got to the siteshi. Other trainees came with bosisi or make. They all waited w/ us at the siteshi until our khombi arrived- it was late. It was always late. Once it came we said our good-byes, piled into the khombi and it headed on down the road, like a bat outta hell, which is usual. When I looked back, I couldn’t see any of the family members standing at the siteshi. They were already walking back home to start the day’s work.
August 28, 2008- Swearing in: Group 6’s swearing-in ceremony took place at the Ambassador to Swaziland’s residence in Mbabane. The ceremony drew some important dignitaries—the Ambassador, of course, the director of NERCHA (National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS) and soon to be ‘boss’, Swaziland’s Country Director, and the most important dignitary—one of the first wives of King Mswati III—Inkhosikati Make LaMatsebula. Because of her presence, 1 local news channel and 2 local paper crews covered the event. She is an amazing woman. Having been taught by a Peace Corps volunteer when PC was here in the 80’s doing education work, she holds of soft spot in her heart for volunteers. She is the official patron to Peace Corps from the royal family. Her speech was well written, witty and succinct. She spoke from the heart about her nation’s struggle with a terrible pandemic, and urged the Ambassador to approve new Peace Corps groups each year. The NERCHA director, who had a British accent and I’m assuming is a white Swazi, opened his speech by asking us what the hell we were doing in Peace Corps. He followed by saying this was a scary job. Weren’t we afraid? Um, if we weren’t before, we are now! His point- this wasn’t going to be an easy ride. Peace Corps life might be different than it was 20 years ago but the work is the same- physically, mentally and emotionally grueling. He was glad we were there to do the job. The Inkhosikati’s and the NERCHA director’s unabashed, to-the-point speech were by far the highlight of the ceremony. A close second was the amazing buffet prepared for us after we took official oath and became Peace Corps Volunteers, not just mere trainees. A great mix of Swazi and American food, I was happy eating and not spending over an hour to prepare a meal on a handigas stove.
So I’m now an official volunteer. What does that mean? Well I have 3 months of “Integration” to figure that out, to formulate my plan of action, so to speak. Some call Integration the 3 hardest months you’ll spend in service, somewhat harder than training. Harder than training? Shit! Some say it’s a time to explore your community, learn about the people and their needs, free from the constant watch of staff and without the assistance from other volunteers. Okay. That sounds tolerable. I’ve also heard it referred to as force hermitage, which cracked me up at first. But considering we are only allowed to leave our site for one overnight visit a month until November and we’re not allowed to congregate in large droves in any one place, forced hermitage sounds about right. What’s a girl to do?