October 12, 2008- 3 Stories. Story #1: Things that go bump in the night- Or in my case things that scavenge in your garbage at night. I stayed up late last night, watching a movie on my laptop. After reading a bit, I fell asleep around 12:15 am. I woke shortly by commotion outside my window. I thought it was the pigs or chickens rooting around…or my newly acquired “pets”- the geckos I’m choosing to ignore, “allowing” them to occupy my hut b/c they eat spiders and bugs and require little care as pets. So I drift back to sleep only to wake several minutes later to noise outside my front door. It sounded like something trying to get in. I remember locking the door, so I should be fine. It’s probably just the chickens or pigs. Honestly! Go back to sleep….But it sounds like something’s inside my hut, it’s so loud. I convince myself its outside and pass out again; I’m too tired to deal with it presently. Forty-five minutes later I wake to noise in my “kitchen.” Something’s going through my trash! Oh shit. I wonder if it’s a mouse. Oh how could a mouse crawl through the netting on my window? There is an opening in the net for me to reach the handle on the window; but are mice that smart?! I grabbed my cell phone; it has a flash light. I turn it on but can’t see anything. The noise has stopped. I have to check it out this time b/c I know something’s in my hut. I carefully slip on my flip flops and quickly glide across the room to turn on the light. I still don’t see anything. I grab my broom, my only weapon, and walk slowly toward my trash bag to investigate closer. There’s some garbage on the floor, and what’s that other thing on the floor? A dropping. A rather large dropping. Mice don’t leave droppings that large, I tell myself. That looks like a dropping from a rabbit, which can only mean that I’m not dealing with a mouse. I try hard to keep the other vermin word from popping into my head, and instead set about cleaning up the mess. I discover more droppings in various corners of the kitchen and behind my food containers. I mentally pat myself on the back for my foresight in purchasing food bins with lids! I still don’t see anything, and I can’t hear anything anymore. So I stand in silence, thinking that if I’m quiet it might come out of its hiding place. I stand still for 30 minutes. Okay. This is ridiculous. It knows I’m hunting it. I decide to bang on everything in my hut with my broom then look behind it to draw out “the mouse.” As I’m checking the last corner, I hear something near my bed. The only place I haven’t checked. Is it possible for a “mouse” to go between the head of the bed and the wall? Seems like a tight squeeze. I survey the very small gap b/w the wall and my box spring. Hmmm….yes it might be possible for a “mouse” to squeeze into that gap. Do I pull the bed away from the wall and look behind it? It’s the only place I haven’t checked, so it must be there. I think about this for about 5 minutes. Will I be fast enough to catch it before it bolts? Is my broom menacing enough to kill a “mouse?” I can’t wake anyone up for help. It’s 2:30 in the morning. If I walk outside right now, the dogs will bark their heads up, but it won’t guarantee anyone will get up; the dogs bark their heads off every night! If I try walking to where my bobhuti sleep, the dogs will mostly likely follow me, and will definitely hassle me. I gotta do this myself. So I slowly pull the bed away from the wall, grab my broom and quietly walk to the head of the bed to look. OMG! It’s a BIG grey rat huddled near my bed. Crap. Crap. Crap. What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? It only took me 5 seconds to react, and I made a decision without thinking, almost on instinct. I rammed the bed against the wall with all my might. Then I pulled the bed away from the wall and did it again. I heard some movement and a small noise. It’s not dead yet. Damn! So I pulled the bed away from the wall one more time and slammed it flush with the wall. My heart was racing uncontrollably. Breath. Wait. Listen. Silence. I’m afraid to move the bed to check on the rat (I cringe as I type that word) in case I’ve just stunned it or pissed it off and it decides to retaliate. So I decide to wait it out. It’s 2:45 am. I don’t dare go to sleep in case the thing starts moving. So I stand in ready position. If I hear more movement, I’ll repeat my battle techniques. I’ll move that bed again without second thought! I mean business. But I grow weary by 3 am, and close my eyes to rest them. Funny how shutting down one sensory organ will heighten others. My ears perk up at the slightest noise. It’s 3:05 am. What time does my homestead begin to stir? Usually around 5:30 am during the week. But what about on the weekends? 3:12 am. I’ll do some Qi Gong stances to calm myself. 3:17 am. I’m too anxious to even quiet myself. 3:30 am. I have to quit look at the clock! 3:40 am. Maybe it will be okay if I sit on the edge of my bed. I gingerly sit and rest my head in my hands. I sleep off an on until 4:19 am. Then I wonder around my hut, trying to warm up. I’ve noticed the temperature seems to drop sometime between 3- 4am because I usually wake chilled around then. Maybe it would be okay to just lie on the end of my bed. I’ll be damned if I’m going to put my head on my pillow knowing that thing is somewhere below my head. I lay this way for 10 minutes; it’s too cold to get comfortable. I wonder around my hut, and sit on the edge of my bed for the next hour. I notice day is beginning to break around 5:10, 5:15 am now that summer is approaching. Once the sun crests the mountain, day officially starts here. Since summer is beginning, the sun crests the mountain now around 5:30, 5:45am. During the winter the sun rises closer to 6:15, 6:30 am. By 6 am, my sisi is awake; I debate for 5 minutes whether I should ask for her help. She’s fairly indifferent to me. But I swallow my pride and walk to the main house. I tell her I think I’ve killed a rat behind my bed but am too afraid to move my bed in case it’s still alive. She’s afraid of rats but is willing to check behind my bed for me. I ask if she has a shovel, to hit it with in case it’s not dead. She picks up a rake, taking the rake part off the handle. “Let us go and see,” she says. She seems ready; I’m not. I pull the bed slightly, and slowly, away from the wall. “Is it there?” I ask. She says she can’t see anything. Crap! Where did it go? I move the bed a little further and she says she sees it. “It’s dead,” she announces. I look. Oh yeah, it’s dead! I smashed the hell out of it. There’s blood everywhere. My sisi uses the rake handle to slide it from behind the bed, and I use the broom the sweep it out the door. Sisi then uses a plastic bag to pick it up by the tail, and throws it toward the pig trough. I would guess the body is 4-5 inches long, and the tail is 3-4 inches. Probably nothing compared to NYC rats, but that’s big enough for me! Sisi seemed un-phased by the whole progress, while I kept murmuring “oh my God” and “it’s so gross.” I thanked her twice; she just smiled. After sweeping up more droppings, I mopped up the rest of the mess with bleach water. Then I straightened my bed, and fall into a coma…but not before checking to make sure my window was closed.
October 14, 2008- Story #2. Only in Africa: Somehow I contracted scabies. My PCMO (PC Medical Officer) says it’s an occupational hazard since I work at a rural health clinic; most children have scabies. Nice. “It’s no big deal. One in every 2 volunteers will get scabies. It ain’t no thang” she says in her South Georgia accent. Ain’t no thang?! Whatever! It’s a BIG deal. I’ve been bathing with a special soap and applying a special lotion daily for a week. It started to clear by the weekend, but then I noticed more spots on Monday and today. I sent my PCMO a text message today saying it wasn’t getting better. She asked if I had boiled my clothing and bedding. Yes. I took my clothes, sheets and blankets to a Laundromat in Manzini the day after I was “diagnosed”. It cost me R80 to wash the blankets and R60 to wash all my clothes. Not bad considering the alternatives: 1.) airing everything out for 3 weeks (How would I do that?); or 2.) Boiling everything on my stovetop (Right. Imagine the amount of water I’d need to collect not to the mention the time it takes just to get my water to boiling. And what would I boil things in? My kettle?) Close contacts should be treated, she adds. Does that mean everyone who comes to the clinic? I also told her I washed my shoes with the special soap, and was applying the lotion daily. Her response: “Don’t abuse that lotion. Fleas are another possibility. Are there dogs and cats around?” Ummm. WHAT?! Normally this comment wouldn’t bother me. However, I was in the office last week to show her what I thought was a rash developing or perhaps spider bites. She saw the spots. And what does she mean by not abusing the lotion? ARGH! Needless to say, I don’t know what to do. The itching is ready to drive me to an asylum, and the discoloration left by the spots is unsightly. (Sob.) I wasn’t allowed work at the clinic all last week while I was trying to clear up the parasite, and I’m not sure what to do about working there this week. If I wear gloves to weigh babies at this stage in the game, the mothers will be suspicious. I’ll be that untrusting white girl. But this is where the clinic needs the most help. Catch 22. To quote the movie Blood Diamond, which I watched recently with 2 fellow volunteers, T.I.A or ‘This is Africa’. You betta believe it. Only in Africa would I be writing a blog entry on my bout with scabies…or perhaps its fleas. T.I.A. Heaven help me! T.I.A!Update: Several days after this entry, the parasite finally vacated my body. I still have discoloration from the spots; I’m hoping they eventually fade. I washed all the slings at the clinic in bleach water. The nurses support this, and agree the slings should be washed more often. I’ve offered to be in charge of that, washing them after each use if I can. I’m more careful about touching the babies I weigh. I also use my hand sanitizer after several weighs. Perhaps it’s overkill. But I’m not taking any chances. I’m not planning to repeat this experience. Side note: The day I started back at the clinic two babies hanging from their slings peed on my leg and foot, twice in a row. OMG! I bleached my leg, foot and sandal instantly!
Story # 3. Ridding demons and being saved. Hallelujah: An attendee of the Evangelical Free church, which happens to be a 5 minute walk down the road from me and the church my make attends, asked me several times to join her at mass. One Sunday morning she scolded me for doing laundry as she passed on her way to mass; laundry is meant for Saturdays. Church is the only thing that should be happening on Sundays, she informed me. Make told her I was free to do as I pleased. I’m an adult and not everyone in America attends church regularly, make explained. The woman shook her head, saying my presence is very important to the community. Yikes! Guilt trip! I said I would try to attend once. She said I shouldn’t try; I should come. Twenty to thirty people walk by the homestead to get to this church. Many people have seen me doing my laundry at church time. They smile. I smile and wave. We offer the traditional greetings. But I can tell they are wondering what in the heck I’m doing. My reluctance comes from not completely understanding the language—mass is said only in siSwati—as well as unfamiliarity with the tenets of other faiths. But the third time she asked to attend mass, I finally said yes. Third time’s a charm or was I finally broken? It is after all important to be seen attending events, right?! I enjoyed the singing. The Praise Choir voices harmonized well—but I believe all Africans are blessed with a natural singing ability. I have not heard one person sing off key, show embarrassment about their voice or hide their voice. People openly sing anywhere, spontaneously breaking out into song on a regular basis. I’ve always enjoyed music at mass. If mass were just singing would I go more often? A member of the Praise Group read the day’s reading. A member of the congregation said a few words…I don’t know what he said. Finally the minister spoke. The lady who invited me to mass interpreted for me…something about praising God every day. After the sermon, he invited the Member of Parliament, who is a church member and newly elected to Parliament for our region, to speak. He and his wife wanted to thank the parishioners for their prayers and votes. Separation of church and state? What? The Praise Choir gathered around them, singing and praising and thanking. Then the minister gave the Member of Parliament and his wife a special blessing; they joined the Praise Choir in praising and singing. Then something happened like a scene from a movie. Randomly people entered the circle. The minister placed his hands on their shoulders, slightly shaking them, half yelling, half singing something at them. I could only guess at why the people entered the circle: 1.) they wanted extra blessings; 2.) they wanted absolution for sins; or 3.) they needed healing. My interpreter is part of the Praise Choir, so I couldn’t ask her. But it truly felt like a scene from a movie—the ones where you watch a minister expel demons or miraculously heal the sick—and I was an extra. I will probably go again…to make an appearance for the sake of my acceptance into the community. I’m curious to see if circle time happens at each service or today was a special occasion.
October 15, 2008- Sweatin’ with the Teachers: Monday I went to the local primary school to administer a survey to several teachers regarding their knowledge and attitudes about HIV and AIDS. I also set up a time to come back the next day to survey two grade 5 and two grade 6 classes regarding their knowledge and attitudes toward HIV and AIDS. The Headmaster and Deputy Headmaster are interested in what their students know and what they don’t know about HIV. Once I compile the information, they would like me to conduct a 1-day workshop about misconceptions based on the responses to the survey. It will also help them know what information they need to reinforce in class. Each subject’s curriculum is written to include some aspect of HIV awareness. I offered to have the information to them by November; we discussed holding a workshop in January when the new term starts. While leaving the office a teacher stoped me to inquire who I am. She already knew because she admitted she sees me running past her homestead, and once she saw me on the bus. She asked me to join her exercise group. They meet Monday – Thursday after school. I excitedly reply yes! She instructed me to meet her at half past 3 in the gym. At first I thought it was an after school exercise class for kids. When I got there, she introduced me to the primary school’s secretary. An exercise club of 2! Okay. This could be good…getting to know the staff. It becomes quite apparent they want me to lead them in exercise. They ask me what we’re going to do. Hmmmm. I asked what areas they wanted to work. They want exercises to help them loose their bellies and their bye-byes aka their triceps…they don’t want their triceps jiggling when they wave bye-bye, hence their bye-byes. Cute! I told them I run 2 – 3 times a week. Are they interested in running? Sure. Easy to please. We start by walking to warm up then begin running around the perimeter of the gym; I tell them to walk whenever they need a breather. We run 10 minutes. I take a 1 minute walk break to check in with my fellow exercisers. They want to know if we’re gonna continue to run; they seem to have a ton of energy and enthusiasm. We run another 5 minutes but I don’t push them much further than that. They seem fatigued after the first minute. We walk again for another 2 minutes, and then we regroup to discuss what to do next. They ask if we’re gonna run again. Wow! No, I say. It’s not good to push the body so hard when you first begin an exercise regimen. I show them the stretches I do for my legs after running. Then it’s on to abs, mostly things I’ve picked up in yoga classes or tapes I used to use. “What else?” I ask. Oh right, the bye-byes. We go outside to collect rocks for weights. They’re not the best but they work fine for now. It’s been an hour but it seems they could last forever. They keep asking, what else? I remind them about starting slow. If they feel sore tomorrow they won’t want to exercise again. The next day we do a program I learned while living in Boulder- Quick, a 30 minute interval program; 1 minute high-intensity moves followed by 2 minute medium-to-low-intensity moves. They love it. It feels like dancing to them, and they break out into dance moves during the 2 minute intervals. I brought my laptop for music, so that helps us keep the pace and keep moving. They both tell me they have never sweated like this while exercising. Wow. Cool. I’m really enjoying leading them in exercise. What else can I teach them? I would LOVE to teach them yoga, but that might be a little much. I need to first work on getting them stretching effectively, and correctly! Is this my true calling or just a hobby? I have a feeling many things will reveal themselves to me during my time here. That’s partly what motivates me to get out of bed each morning. I know I will find clarity here, so I keep trying. My days are evening out; I do have some days I’d rather stay in bed but it is getting easier. My patience is growing. So I will wait it out. I breathe. I remain open to receive. I contemplate the possibilities. I feel gratitude for what I have and for the people in my life. I breathe. It will come.
October 16, 2008- Going to town to visit the King: King Mswati III called a meeting of his people to talk about issues most prevalent in Swaziland and issues happening world-wide that affect or will affect Swaziland. There was also speculation he would announce the appointment of the next Prime Minister. Make and I caught the 6am bus to town. There was a bus leaving Nhlangano at 7am to take people interested in attending the meeting to the King’s kraal for free (the King “foot” the bill). The meeting was to begin at 10am; I’m beginning to learn that nothing here ever starts on time. The King called for his people to begin entering the kraal at 10 am. Another volunteer and I got into line around 1:30pm; we finally entered the kraal around 3pm. By the time everyone was seated, men on the left side of where the King would sit and woman on the right, it was almost 4pm. The King didn’t begin his speech until half past 4. A woman sitting next to us, whom we befriended in line, translated the speech for us. He spoke about the pension money stolen in the Big Bend, reassuring bomake in that area he’d raise the money to replace it. He spoke about terrorist and bomb threats that were recently make by a group of people against him and Members of Parliament. Because we were only getting bits and pieces translated we didn’t get the full story on this, and were really surprised that PC didn’t alert us to bomb threats….unless of course it wasn’t quite true. He spoke about continuing to educated our youth, and charged the newly elected Members of Parliament to make sure teacher salaries were fare. He spoke about the world-wide food crisis and how Swaziland would be affected….but I’m not sure what else he said about it b/c it was lost in translation. Finally he announced the new PM, which caused uproar since he appointed a man no one was expecting. Some men got up and stormed out, causing police to guard the exits; no one is supposed to leave until the King dismissed everyone. Once he did there was a mad rush to leave, since no one had eaten all day, and there was supposedly a braii to be held directly after the King’s speech. Several bogogo fainted, most likely due to dehydration or being pushed out of the way. Jaclyn and I noticed a few interesting things about the day: 1.) The King is a celebrity. He can get his people to do anything, even wait an entire day to see him; 2.) He doesn’t prepare a speech ahead of time; he speaks off the cuff. We mused how the public and media would eat a politician alive if she/he dared that in America; and 3.) No one here either knows how or cares little for forming lines. I felt like I was at a concert in the U.S. with hundreds of wasted groupies trying to get ahead of you in line. We made our way back to the parking lot; I’d lost Make well before the speech. Luckily, a few people in my community saw me scanning bus names and hollered at me to get on their bus. That was around 5:30pm. We finally pulled out of the parking lot at 7pm, having to fight other buses and khombis to get out. I got home at quarter past 9. Was it worth it? Well I did get to see the King for the first time- the last living, ruling monarch in the world! Yeah, I guess it was worth it!
October 22, 2008- A snake in my hut: Literally, I had a snake in my hut. I can’t imagine how it got in; unless it was when I ran to the pit latrine and left my door ajar. That’s the only explanation I can think of. I keep my front windows closed. Most cracks in the walls only seem big enough for spiders and geckos to enter. Snakes can be smaller than geckos, so it is possible they come in the same way- through the cracks in the walls and the gaps in the tin roof. Sigh. Luckily he was small. I swept him out with my broom and mop. He didn’t put up much of a fight. I asked my exercise group about snakes in this area. They said they rarely see them, and none are poisonous in this area. But they did think it strange I would find one in my hut. They think the only way it could come in is under the door. Sigh. I’d really rather not deal with them. Later on in the evening I watch a gecko try to attack a LARGE spider on my wall. He missed, sending the spider scrambling to a corner. I looked for him for several minutes. I didn’t want this one get away. It’s too big, and knew I wouldn’t sleep with it roaming around. These are the nights I think, “Am I really gonna do this for 2 years? Really?!” I’m sure I could deal if the snakes and spiders and rats would just stay out!
October 31, 2008- Bitch on the bus turned Goddess at the B&B: Taking public transport is interesting and different every time I take it. It’s usually not much fun b/c it’s perpetually overcrowded, reeks of sweat, and takes forever to get anywhere. It’s worse when you’re sick. I got sick last Thursday night (October 27), either from something I ate or from the sick kids at the clinic. Nausea and major runs. There is a sense of dignity lost when you can’t even make it to the pit latrine to be sick. I could only stomach water w/ ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts); everything I tried to eat—plain rice or toast—didn’t stay with me. So after 4 days of this, my make was very worried and asked a nurse from the clinic to check on me. The nurse insisted I call PC to get a doctor appointment. I called the PCMO, who I talked to several times over the weekend b/c we’re supposed to alert her with any medical issue. I told her I wasn’t any better, and that I was on my way to the office. She would wait for me. It would take me 3 hours to get there; I was not looking forward to this trip. When I board buses I try to look for 2 open seats near the front; most of the time people will not sit by the white girl unless it’s the only seat available or if a guy decides he wants to flirt with me or harass me. There weren’t any open 2-seaters this time, but there was a 3-seater, with only one person sitting in the row and he was sitting in the aisle seat. Perfect. I would take the window seat and sleep all the way to Mbabane. Before I could sit down, the teenager behind him began yelling at me to sit next to him. He wanted to talk to me. I tried to ignore him but he kept insisting I sit next to him. I said no, thank you, and slid past the guy in the aisle seat. The kid kept yelling at me, peering over the seat to talk to me. I asked him to leave me alone; I was sick and didn’t want to talk. He yelled, “I don’t want to have sex with you, I just want to talk.” OMG! I repeated that I didn’t want to talk. He made his way into the aisle, leaning over the man in the first seat to yell his desire to talk to me. Then he weaseled his way past the man to sit in the middle seat. “I just want to talk to you, to be your friend,” he pleaded. I tried to be nice at first, explaining in siSwati that I was sick and didn’t want to talk. He offered me his drink; it would make me better. I refused. I took a drink of my ORS water, and he tried to grab it from me to drink from it. Then the niceties went away. I raised me voice to him, saying I was sick, he couldn’t have my water, I didn’t want his drink, and I wanted to be left alone! He didn’t budge. I pushed him out of his seat, insisting he leave. He stood his ground. I stood up and said if he didn’t move I would move to a different seat. Finally he got it. I think he was drunk, as most harassers on buses are. He sat back down in his seat but shortly after the bus started he asked to get off. I think I heard a few sighs of relief. By the time I got to Mbabane it was 5:30pm. The PCMO took some blood, my temp, bp, and weight. (I lost 7 lbs.) She wanted me to stay overnight and gave me some meds to take before bed. A PC driver took me to the B&B where most sickly volunteers get to stay. I had a single room w/ my own bathroom! A real bathroom w/ toilet, sink and SHOWER! I took a shower immediately, and felt almost human. The meds I took knocked me out around 8pm; I was out until 5:30 the next morning. I stayed two nights; the PCMO wanted to make sure I could tolerate solid foods before releasing me to site. I showered twice, watched the news almost continuously, and read in the beautiful gardens. I felt like I was on vacation. I felt pampered. It was glorious. My blood work came back normal, so it must have been something I ate (I attended a braii a few days before I got sick) or from a kid at the clinic. A week later, I’m still low energy and don’t have much of an appetite. I did start wearing gloves at the clinic. The nurses weren’t excited about it, but they support me b/c they appreciate my help.
I really think that’s enough for one month; hell it’s good for two or three! To be quite honest, it almost broke me. I started off the month with two friends leaving PC; I took it pretty hard b/c I was very close to one of them. It’s inevitable that 10% of any given PC group world-wide will early terminate. The rate for PC Swaziland is 50%. Three have left so far, and it’s incredibly discouraging to think of more people leaving, especially after making strong connections. I have a pact with one volunteer, Emily from Boston. As a way to get us through to the end, we have a plan to do it in style. Leaving only a month and ½ early (which doesn’t penalize us and gets me home by the end of August 2010), we’re going to vacation in Thailand and then make our way back to Africa to see a few countries…we have yet to decide one which ones…as a way to celebrate 2 years! She volunteered in Thailand, and wants to visit her favorite places. I just wanna see the world! It’s the only foresight I allow myself. Otherwise it’s one week at a time, one month ahead. It’s too overwhelming to look at the 2-year picture. It’s much more doable in segments.