September 10, 2008- So what’s a girl to do during forced hermitage….um…I mean Integration: I arrived at my site on August 29th a little sleep-deprived and gloomy. Group 5 treated us to Mbabane’s finest night life—Malendela’s—an Irish pub (yes, an Irish pub with a not so Irish name, owned by a Brit) outside of town after Swear-in. And then, around midnight, for those who were a little more adventurous, a visit to a dance club in town. Reggae music from across the globe was the theme for the evening/early morning hours. It was so much fun to dance. All summer I’d been missing my weekly dose of Poker Alice during Friday night happy hour at Carey’s. This satisfied my craving even though some reggae is hard to dance to, especially when drawing attention from the locals—they wanted to dance with us, trying desperately to impress us with their moves. Luckily we had one guy with us, so he kept most advances at bay.I got home at 2am. My alarm went off at 6:30am. We were expected to have our stuff packed and to the pick-up point by 7am. My travel group of 4 departed around 9am. It took about 2 hours to drive from Mbabane to Mahlalini; I was the first person dropped off. The PC staff person riding with us departed my place saying “one day at a time.” Yes. Okay. I waved good-bye, watching the caravan leave the homestead, and then walked back into my madness. Dead bugs of various sorts and sizes dotted the floor, with my stuff piled on the cleanest patch. My make wasn’t home, just one of the OVC’s. She seemed indifferent to my being there. I asked for a broom to sweep out the mound of bugs. I also asked to borrow a chair so I could comb down the overabundance of cobwebs and spiders on the ceiling and in the corners. The windows were wide open, and I closed them as it was a bit chilly. I didn’t know what to do with myself much less my things. I had no storage containers or closet or wardrobe. No kitchen counter, cupboards or table and chairs. Just a bare 21 x 12 ½ foot (my own foot) room with cement floor, cinderblock and plastered walls and tin roof. While inspecting the gaps between the window and the frame and the holes developing where the walls meet the roof, I discovered 3 visitors—geckos, I think. They were the same color as the wall, so I didn’t notice them at first. As I peered closer to see what the heck was so lumpy on my wall, one moved. I jumped back, and yes, let out a little scream. I’m justified; it scared me! One scurried out the gap in the window. The other two through the holes near the ceiling. Damn! I started checking other gaps in the house. A few in every corner near the ceiling, a large one around the door because they cut the new door too small and a few gaps where tin overlapped tin. I started a list of things to buy the next day: broom and mop, weather stripping, expanding foam sealant, and of course bed, stove, and refrigerator. I am lucky enough to have electricity, and I’m not afraid to use it. To quote a Group 5 volunteer: “you’re already in Africa; it’s hard enough. You might as well live with a few familiar things to make life more bearable and homey.” Well said. Sure, some volunteers are boasting “I’m going to make it 2 years in Africa without electricity.” That’s great; more power to ya. But having electricity isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes if it’s too windy (or even just a little windy) it goes out. Sometimes when it rains it goes out. I’ve been told during lightening storms it goes out. Sometimes it just goes out for no reasonat all. All the lines run above ground, and I see lots of tree branches or plastic bags hanging from the lines most days. More culprits. I also am required to pay my host family for the amount of electricity I use, which I hear is about R75 to 100 per month. Every situation has its trade-offs. After I made my shopping list I did the next best thing I could think to do, unroll my yoga mat, put my sleeping bag on top of it, and nap for hours. This was my alternativeto calling Peace Corps, pleading them to turn around the caravan and take me back to Mbabane.
September 13, 2008- Running with a gaggle of girls and my first fatty comment: I started running again last week. I only run a handful of times during training so I wanted to get myself back into a routine again. There is an 8K race in Cape Town in March. There’s also a half and full marathon the next day. But I want to ease myself into the half marathon pack, so I think starting with an 8K is the way to go. A half marathon is on the agenda for 2010. On Wednesday while I was running, I happened past a group of girls playing net ball, which is similar to basketball but without the dribbling. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that but I have yet to watch a game. Fish-bowl effect fully engaged, since I was wearing running pants, running shoes, and wearing earphones, they all stared at me. I was expecting laughter and mimicked running since I got that the first day I went running. Instead they joined me. A group of 20 girls ranging from 7 to 15, I’m guessing. And they put me to shame. I tried consoling myself with the fact that they were all quite younger than me, and I had already gone ¾ of a mile. But some were running in flip flops, some in shoes too big, others in shoes too small, and still others bare foot. No one wore a pair of running shoes. No one had an iPod loaded with music to keep them going. The roads are quite rough and rocky, yet they trudged on with me. After I ran about a mile, finishing up a hill, I stopped to walk and chat with the girls. I told them my name, I was working at the clinic, and I was training for the marathon in Cape Town, trying to throw in siSwati as often as I could (Ligama lami ngu Thandeka Bhembe. Ngisebenta eDwaleni Clinic. Ngiyagijima Cape Town Marathon). They were unimpressed. I asked them about net ball. They invited me to join them. I said I didn’t know how to play but would like to watch. Alright! I got their attention. They were having a game the next afternoon. I was invited to watch. Perfect. Turning around, I said I was going to run about half a mile and then walk again. We started running, and one girl asked me if I only had one pace. Smiling, I thought about how to explain training for a marathon; I decided against it, replying yes instead. Once we got halfway up the other hill, running a little further than ½ a mile, I stopped to walk the rest of the way. The girl next to me, the same girl questioning my pace, said, “You’re too fat.” Too fat?! For what? Running?! Being told you are getting fat is generally considered a compliment in this culture. It means you are healthy, you are not sick, and you are being taken care of, i.e. have money to afford food. We were cautioned people might tell us we are fat so don’t take it personal. But I was running, and her tone wasn’t complimentary, at least not in my book. So I’m left to assume she thought I was too fat to run. My first fatty comment; oh joy. I decided to keep track of how many times someone tells me I’m fat. I’m just curious. I’m also tallying the number of marriage proposals, as well as baby offers from random people on the street, in the store or at the clinic, as in “Do you want to hold me baby? Oh, take her. You can have my baby. You want me baby. Take my baby.” Interesting isn’t it? I can’t quite wrap my head around it, although Group 5 volunteers say baby holding pleas usually lead to pick-pocketing or purse nabbing. At the clinic it’s usually bogogo requesting I take their grandchildren. I’m guessing they are raising their children’s children, and are plain tired of child-rearing. So far I’ve received five baby offers, 3 marriage proposals and 1 fatty comment. Sorry, Dad. No one has mentioned the number of cattle they are willing to trade for me; I’ll know someone is really serious when cattle number and negotiation enter conversation. A Group 5 volunteer is up to 50 head from one gentleman in her community. That’s pretty steep trading ‘round here.
September 24th 2008- A typical day in the Swaz or My “new” normal day or 20 things I do every day: 1.) During the week, I get up at 6:30 am; my alarm is set for 6:30am, but I usually wake before then. The sun begins streaming into my hut b/w 5:45 and 6am. By 6:15am, my room is bright and beginning to warm up so even if I wanted to sleep in, it’s quite difficult to do. Combine that with the fact that people on my homestead begin stirring around 5:30am, and makeis already yelling at bobhuti or bobsisi for something or another. The latest I sleep on weekends is 8 am. But honestly I don’t mind it. Wow. I can’t believeI’m admitting that. A very adamant (more like obstinate) non-morning person admitting she doesn’t mind getting up before 7am. Oh, there’s something wrong w/ me! 2.) Quick trip to the pit latrine, trying very hard to avoid everyone. Forming sentences is hard enough, but even harder in siSwati when you just wake up. I really have to thinking about my words…I sometimes say ‘thank you’ instead of ‘I am fine’ when asked how are you. Embarrassing. 3.) Pour water in the kettle from my 25 liter jug and put it on the stovetop to heat. 4.) Make my bed. Yes mom, I make my bed every day. Don’t have a heart attack, please! Making my bed back home was something I did only after washing my linens. Here, I don’t want to appear slovenly in case make pops in for a visit. When we first arrived, PC staff strongly recommended we make our beds every day b/c we were guests in our host family homes; it was the polite thing to do. Also, Swazi culture has a saying: if you don’t make your bed every morning, your whole day will be messy and disorganized. A made bed = an organized day. So now I’m in the habit. Admittedly, when you cannot shut your bedroom door and forget that disheveled bed, the room looks unsightly. 4.) Listen to BBC & BBC Africa on Radio Swaziland for world news, then switch to Durban’s East Coast Radio for local and South Africa news 5.) Use boiled water to wash face and hands. 6.) Pull the day’s outfit from the closet aka suitcase. 7.) Use small hand mirror, which is stuck to the wall w/ sticky tack (they call it bostick here) to fix my face and hair. 8.) Eat breakfast. 9.) Walk to clinic, but not before greeting make and telling her I’m leaving. I sorta feel like a kid again…”Mom, I’m going to school. See ya later.” But one day she didn’t see me all day and was very worried I had gotten lost. The next morning she threatened to beat me if I didn’t tell her where I was going. She was joking….I’m pretty sure. Nonetheless, I’ve decided NOT to test the theory. If I see her at least once a day, she seems satisfied. I keep reminding myself, I’m a guest in her homestead. Act like a guest! 10.) From 8am – 10 or 10:30am, I assist one of the 2 wards with weighing. Since I offer an extra hand, the three nurses actually have time with their patients. We weigh children from newborn to 60 months, pregnant and lactating women, and people taking ART’s (anti-retroviral therapy). People taking ART’s are generally HIV positive. I say generally because sometimes clinics start women on ART’s if they suspect they’ve been exposed to HIV, in order to prevent transmitting it to their baby, either in utero or while nursing. This is before they know their status. If their test is negative, then they quit taking ART’s; if it’s positive, then early prevention is better. The chance of them living a long, healthy life is greater by taking ART’s early. All the people coming to this clinic for ART’s are HIV positive. The Ministry of Health recommends mothers bring their babies to the clinic each month, for the first 5 years, to weigh them. This gives the clinic staff and Ministry of Health information regarding the health of the baby, hopefully helping to explain decline in health or show improvements in health, encourage mothers to make healthy choices, as well as recording those who are malnourished. As an incentive to making the monthly journey to the clinic, the World FoodProgramme in conjunction w/ the Ministry of Health, offer mothers 6kg of Corn Soya Mix—a ground mixture of maize and soy protein designed to help infants/women gain weight—per child/self. Those who have malnourished children, under-weight children, and women w/ TB or who are malnourished themselves are eligible to receive this mixture. 11.) Usually around 10 or half past 10 (I’ve started saying half past and quarter past b/c that’s how Swazi’s tell time…a remnant of British control while they were still part of South Africa), I take tea break with the nurses (another remnant of the Brits). It’s an unstated mandatory tea break. Everyone does it. We had tea breaks from 10am to half past and from 3pm to half past every day during training. A welcome break from language training. Rooibos or black tea with a variety of emabiscuit (aka many biscuits…in America butter cookies or shortbread cookies) for half an hour was fabulous. I really like the idea of morning and afternoon tea break! 12.) After tea break, we go back to weighing and distributing corn soya. If there is no one to weigh after break, I help count and fill medication packets. Most clinics have their own pharmacy, of sorts. They receive bulk meds from the Ministry of Health (every public clinic in the country is run and employed by the Ministry of Health) then distribute meds to patients as needed. 13.) I usually leave the clinic around half past 12 or 1pm. My lunch time…plus the afternoons are quiet at the clinic. The clinic sees anywhere from 50 – 100 people per day, most arriving between 8am – 1pm. 14.) After lunch I may do a variety of things, depending on my mood. Since I don’t have any other projects going on right now, I mostly hide out in my hut. It’s glorious having time to myself, and a nice break from constantly being on my toes trying to speak siSwati. I have time to read books I’ve wanted to read for quite a while. Sometimes I read over my siSwati lessons. Sometimes I take a nap. Sometimes I bake something. I almost always boil water to filter. Later afternoon I reserve for exercising. Twice a week I run. Two to three times a week I practice yoga. 15.) Dinner and listen to the evening news. 16.) Evening activities. Again, this varies depending on my mood. Sometimes I read more. Sometimes I watch a movie. Sometimes I play solitaire or do a crossword puzzle. 17.) Boil water for bucket bath. 18.) Use some of the heated water to do the day’s dishes. 19.) Take bucket bath. Remember hearing that old cliché excuse women used when they didn’t want to call or date a guy? “I have to wash my hair.” Well here that would be a legitimate excuse! Here I wash my hair every 3 – 4 days. Back home I never dealt with greasy hair. I do here. Gross! But it’s such a pain to wash my hair every day and take a bath. One, it takes forever to wash my hair and take a bath in the same night. Two, I cannot heat enough water to sufficiently wash my hair and my body in the same night. I have a 3 liter kettle, which is enough water to wash my hair with a little to spare. I refuse to use more electricity to heat another kettle of water. So, sadly, I plan the night I will wash my hair. It’s sorta hilarious, isn’t it?! Also, I’m challenging myself to use the least amount of water for bathing and still be clean. When I think about all the water I use to waste showering, it makes me sick. Here I can get by on 1 liter of water for bathing. 3 liters on nights I need to bath and wash my hair. It really is possible. Don’t get me wrong. I really miss standing under the shower for 15-20 minutes, letting the water beat on my tired, sore muscles. I also REALLY miss lingering baths with herbs and oils, drawing more hot water the instant I felt it begin to cool. Two guilty pleasures I will probably take back up the moment I step off the plane in America. But for now, it’s more practical to conserve. I have to haul that water from the spout to my house every few days. It’s a chore….one I don’t mind but it takes time. At least I’m building my arm muscles! 20.) Wind down. Crawl in bed anywhere from 8:30 – 9pm with a good book and read until I’m tired. I usually go to bed around 9:30 or 10pm. The other day I wrote in my journal, ‘I feel like I’ve had a “normal” day’—the PC Medical Officer visited, so I didn’t go to the clinic. After she left, I read my mail and finished a book. It felt like a day off back home, where I would sleep in late, leisurely drink coffee, read, run errands. It wasn’t quite the same as a day off back home but if you can think of the above as normal, then I finally had a normal day. And it was fantastic.
September 29, 2008- The people you meet on the way to the clinic: I met the chief on my walk to the clinic today. I thought I met him last Wednesday when I attended the umphakatsi (center of community gov’t for chiefdom) meeting. But apparently I just met the Indvuna- the headmen serving for chiefs within theirchiefdoms and of each inkhundla- a constituency area covering a number of chiefdoms. And the person I thought was chief was actually the bucopho- an elected person within the chiefdom that serves as a liaison b/w the gov’t of the chiefdom and that of the inkhundla. I had put on a nice dress, and thought long and hard about introducing myself in siSwati and what I would say to the chief and his inner-council. My counterpart introduced me toward the end of the meeting. I was sitting next to my make; she insisted I sit next to her so everyone would know she was my make. When my counterpart began introducing me, she pushed me to stand up, saying, “Stand in front of them so they can see you.” So, I was on display and the stakes were high. Do I say everything I want to say in siSwati? Of course! This is the chief after all; I must make a good impression. And so I began slowly, carefully thinking about each word: Ligama lami ngu Thandeka Bhembe. Ngiphuma eMelika. Ngisebenta eDwalini Clinic nge nalabasha nge umgcugcuteli. Ngiyafundzisa eHIV nge AIDS. Ngiyabonga. (My name is Thandeka Bhembe. I am from America. I am working at eDwalini and with youth and with Rural Health Motivators. I will teach about HIV and AIDS. Thank you.) Smile. Shakily walk back to my seat. Sit down. Big sigh. Be thankful I said everything without stumbling over the words. Oh! They are clapping! I must have done okay. Amen! Okay, keep smiling. Oh. They’re saying they are happy to meet me; happy to have me here. Say something. Ngiyabonga kakhulu. (Thank you very much.) It might sound very elementary. But to pronounce all the words accurately and still get my point across is a big deal, especially in front of the chiefdom elders and people I will be working with the next 2 years. So imagine my surprise and shock when I met the chief this morning, catching me completely off guard. I was put off at first b/c I noticed him staring at me for the longest time and then smiling at me from his truck. Oh crap, he’s getting out and walking straight toward me. Oh great. Another man coming to bother me. We greet each other but my greetings are abrupt. He asks, Ubani lo? (Who are you/what is your name?) Then he introduces himself. I’m Chief Khondlo. Oh God! My mind races as I’m trying to back step and begin exchanging niceties with THE CHIEF. Oh, it is nice to meet you! (Shit. I’m wearing jeans today.) I started working at the clinic. (I wasn’t being friendly when I first spoke to him. Did I shake his hand with my right hand correctly?) Yes, I will meet with my counterpart to identify the needs of the community. (Am I smiling enough now to make up for my curt beginning? What else can I say to redeem myself?) Yes, I’m excited to be here! (Damn! I’ve forgotten all my siSwati. I’m such a freakin’ idiot!) Luckily he doesn’t seem to notice my stupidity. I almost blew it. Lesson learned for today: don’t judge people so quickly. You just might be meeting the chief!