December 13, 2008: Peep Show- I am constantly scrutinized with every move I make, so I choose to be fairly conservative when I dress every morning. Breasts don’t matter much here—they are functional not sexualized—so I wear tank tops without much thought. However, showing thighs is a no-no. I get starred at all the time while running because I wear my yoga pants. It’s enough of a deterrent to cause me to wear skirts or dresses during the week. I do, on occasion, wear pants or jeans in my community but I always make sure they are clean and presentable.
Earlier today, make saw me in leggings. On weekends my dress is generally very casual: jeans, leggings, yoga pants. Wanting to go to the sitolo (store) I wrapped a lihhiya around my waste to conceal my form-fitting leggings. Make was sitting on her porch. I announced my plans, as I’ve become accustomed to doing. She asked if I’d get her airtime. As she handed me money to buy airtime, she lifted up my lihhiya. I had no time to react, partly because I wasn’t sure what was happening and mostly because I was in shock. “Oh,” she said, “I am making sure you had something underneath.” Um, yes! Bosisi and bobhuti got a show, however, since they were watching the exchange. I walked away like nothing out of the ordinary happened. But as I recounted the incident on my way back from the sitolo, I couldn’t stop laughing. I’ll be 33 next week, which my make knows; yet she insists on “taking care of me” as if I’m still a child. In her defense, she stopped me committing a faux pas yesterday. I wore jeans to the clinic, something I only do when I’m feeling lazy or tired and lacking imagination. Afterward, I planned to go to the umphakatsi to help my counterpart register children for World Vision aid. I forgot that most community members think it’s in poor taste to wear pants on umphakatsi grounds, even though the chief is indifferent. Luckily, make was there for a meeting. She stopped me halfway up the hill, offering me a scarf to wrap around my waist, and quietly scolding me for wearing pants to the umphakatsi. The learning curve is continual…well my learning curve is in the Swaz.
December 14, 2008: Fudge Fiasco- I seem to have a problem making candy, the one and only thing I seem to have a problem baking/making. A few years ago I substituted honey for sugar when making fudge. Not a good idea. Needless to say, it was ultra sweet, and I didn’t keep it around for long. I think…I know, I don’t have the patience for candy making unless there are few steps and substituting is okay. I just know this about myself; I’m not a rule follower, instruction follower or direction follower. I’m resigned to not making candy, and I’m okay with that because I make other things really well. But this morning I was missing family, home, and Christmas preparations. And I got a hankering for fudge. So I thought I’d try the recipe in the PC cookbook. It called for marshmallows in place of mallow crème, a substitution I was skeptical about. Turns out I should have been more concerned with my choice of sugar. I used cane sugar, a coarsely granulated brown sugar; the other types of sugar they sell in the store are ultra-refined white sugar and powered sugar. I’m trying to keep my healthy eating habits here, but I guess I should have bought the ultra-refined white sugar because it would have melted during the cooking process. So my fudge is more the consistency of a caramel and really crunchy because the sugar didn’t melt. It doesn’t taste bad, but it’s just not that good. Oh well. Live and learn. Throw it out and try again next year…maybe.
December 18, 2008: Christmas parties and going away parties- Our Country Director is being transferred to Ethiopia. She’s flying there with her family next week to start working with the newly arrived trainees and staff. We’ll get a new CD in March. At her going away party on Tuesday, she opened her house to all current volunteers and staff if they are planning to travel through Ethiopia. I just might take her up on that offered; it could be part of my COS tour of Africa.
We had another going away party later that evening. My friend and fellow volunteer, Vanessa went back to Ohio. Even though her host family was friendly and inviting, the community and her counterpart were not. I told her I wished I didn’t like her so much. The longer I’m here, the harder it is to watch people leave. She was very happy with her decision, and excited to see her family and friends for Christmas. So I’m happy for her, but am sad at the same time.
Tuesday night we also had a Christmas party with some Group 5 volunteers. Everyone brought one sweet and one salty dish. We played Christmas music. Some people participated in a gift exchange. We toasted each other, Vanessa’s departure and upcoming holiday trips.
December 19, 2008: Celebrating my birthday- It’s a day of dichotomies. Today is really hot; I’d say it’s 30 or 31 degrees Celsius. My birthday is normally cold but today I’m wearing a tank top and shorts. My mom sent me several cake mixes. I’m generally a ‘make cakes from scratch’ girl. But I want to share America’s obsession for celebrating birthdays, and since I don’t have much in the way of groceries right now the box cake is my best option. I made the butter pecan mix adding cocoa, cinnamon and chipotle chili powder and topped it with chocolate cinnamon icing. If I were in America, I’d be having dinner with friends…either in Sioux City eating sushi or in Vermillion at Mona Lisi’s. This evening I ate brie with crackers and drank two glasses of wine by myself. Since I was in Mbabane yesterday and had access to more options at the grocery store, I indulged, buying myself brie and wine. It’s not at all my ‘new normal’ grocery purchases. I had several fantastic phone calls, from friends old and new. My cousin called me this morning, which was an incredible treat. My clinic family offered heartfelt greetings, while my parents sang me happy birthday over the phone. My new PC friends sent some sweet text messages. I’m sharing a few, in their original format, mostly as a way to remember their sentiment.
From Matthew: Happy Birthday Jennifer! Hope you have a wonderful day!
From Naomi: happy birthday!!! don’t think our celebrating is all over there’s still plenty more 2 come on our little adventure : ) hope u enjoy dat delicious cake of urs. (Naomi’s birthday was December 14th, and we’re planning to celebrate a little more in Maputo!)
From Emily: Happy birthday my friend! Hope your cake comes out okay and you have a great day!
From Danielle: Happy Birthday Jenny from the Swaz! Hope you enjoyed your cake! Counting the days til the beach…
From Jaclyn: HAPPY BIRHTDAY JEN! Hope ur day is peaceful n prepares u 4 ur bday vacation! Luv u bud!
I asked my sisi and her friends how to say happy birthday in siSwati. It’s Lusuku (lou-sue-goo) Lokutalwa (low goo tal wah) Jabula (ja boo lah). Then they sang to me: ‘Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, may God bless you. Happy birthday to you’ in the same tune we sing it. I wasn’t expecting that. From what I’ve observed birthdays aren’t celebrated much less remembered. So it made me wonder if birthdays are celebrated in schools or if it’s an influence from South Africa.
One thing’s for sure, I’ll definitely remember my 33rd and 34th birthdays. I am, however, apprehensive today about approaching my 35th. In my early twenties, when I ‘knew’ oh so much, I made the statement that I’d hit my prime by 35; that I would have life figured out and be in a successful place/space and know what I wanted. And everything would go up from there. WHATEVER THAT MEANS! Maybe that’s why I’m apprehensive about 35. My twenty-something ego is sitting on my shoulder, pestering me about if I know what I want; if I’ll figure it out, if I’ll be successful, and if I can get it all done in 2 years so I can say I’ve hit my prime at 35! But what does a twenty-something really know, anyway? I thought I did. Now I’m not so sure. And maybe that’s the real issue; I was forcing something that cannot be forced. Luckily my thirty-something ego is sitting on other shoulder, in lotus pose, meditating; she says the answers will come when they are ready to come to me. I think my thirty-something Zen ego is not worried about turning 35 because she knows all will be well. And all matter of things shall be well.
A new moon teaches
deliberation and how
one gives birth to
oneself slowly. Patience
with small details makes perfect a large
work, like the universe
December 24 – 29, 2008: Spending time in a real city- If you ever get the chance to visit Maputo Mozambique, do it; you will not regret the experience. A port city, still influenced by Portuguese culture since it was occupied by the Portuguese up until mid-1970, the city rests on the Indian Ocean. Maputo boasts the freshest prawns and coconuts; an up & coming art and music scene, including an art museum, and jazz and salsa clubs; things to do for travelers on all types of budgets; and beaches, and it’s all neatly wrapped up in a city that feels like a real city. (Try living in a hut, on a homestead, in a very rural community and you’ll understand what I mean by ‘real city’.) Here are a few highlights from my trip:
*Eating fresh prawns, calamari, salmon, hako, passion fruit, pineapple, mangos, apples, coconut milk straight from the coconut, and fish samoosas from a market vendor. Food was our indulgence on this trip b/c there was variety and it was really fresh!
*Putting my feet in the ocean on Christmas Day. I put my feet in the Indian Ocean on Christmas Day! The ocean looks expansive; it’s powerful and I felt a spiritual kinship immediately. I sat of the coal black rocks lining the coast and daydreamed of owning a house on the hill behind me that overlooks the Indian Ocean.
*Preparing Christmas dinner with 7 other ladies from completely different backgrounds (2nd generation Korean, Mexican, Vietnamese and Italian, and several half-breeds), enjoying conversation about family traditions, and throwing together a very ethnically mixed meal that tasted fabulously.
*Eating gelado (not misspelled, that’s how they spell it in Moz) almost every day and not feeling one bit guilty.
*Finding my way around a city I’ve never been to, sometimes without a map…it was liberating and exciting to find my way, or get lost and then find my way!
*Walking in a city at night, something we’re not allowed to do in Swaziland.
*Drinking pina coladas and sangria with fresh fruit, any time, anywhere.
*Playing in the Indian Ocean while it rained; the water was really warm and the rain was kinda cold but it felt great. The beach and water were dirty; people litter everywhere. But I imagine at one time the yellowy-white sand was sparkling white and the grayish water was crystal clear blue.
*Realizing that many people travel to Mozambique during the holidays, and that perhaps booking a hotel on the island we wanted to visit before we got there would have been a good idea. This is the reason we left early. The islands and everything in Tofu were booked through New Year’s Eve. I got us to Maputo and asked others to worry about the rest. But when you travel with 7 other people, all with different personalities and interests, you never know what might or might not happen.
*Shopping in a proper supermarket with LOTS of choices.
*Going to an ultra hip club called Dolce Vita, and feeling considerably under-dressed even though I was wearing a pencil skirt, low-cut top and heels. It was fun nonetheless, and the drinks came with pineapple garnish and little umbrellas!
*Listening to some of the girls tell a story about a lady that followed them along the water front. They named her Crazy Boob Lady as she wasn’t wearing a shirt and apparently her breasts were quite odd looking. They had plenty of time to study her since she ran after them for several blocks yelling in Portuguese and attempting to throw mud at them. Onlookers laughed but no one tried to stop the lady. They still have no idea what she wanted or was saying to them. Naomi speaks some Portuguese but couldn’t understand her words.
*Naomi translating everything for us. She speaks Spanish fluently and some Portuguese; she was a Godsend.
December 31, 2008: New Year’s Eve in the Swaz- I celebrated New Year’s Eve with most of Group 6 and some Group 5 volunteers at House on Fire, a club/concert hall/bar near Malkerns. The theme was The Cheezy Mexican Fiesta. They had surprisingly good Mexican food but no margaritas, which everyone found bizarre. Tequila shots were available but I decided to stay clear of them. Tequila makes me a little too sassy, and I didn’t think that was a good idea with a huge crowd.
The featured band, Hot Water, is from Capetown South Africa and their music is fantastic. They use acoustic guitar, percussion, keyboard, gongs and drums, bass, and harmonica with the occasional didgeridoo and tabla to create a fun upbeat alternative rock/ethnic world music sound. We had a blast dancing but I think I’ve forgotten how to dance in heels. I had that mastered in Vermillion, dancing to Poker Alice. Boo hoo! Guess I’ll need to practice in my hut.
I bought their cd; it makes me happy and I can’t help smile while listening. Their biggest hit, Bush Fire, opens with these lyrics: “There’s a bushfire raging outside my house. There’s a bushfire raging inside my life. Deep burning anger has come into my heart. I decide not to break things ‘cause I’ve done that before and it doesn’t work.” Check out their website, if you’re interested in listening: www.hotwatermusic.co.za. You won’t be disappointed.
And that was my New Year’s Eve. I was back to our guest house by 2am, helped a very drunk girl to bed, and then tried to sleep off 2008.
2009 begins my full year in the Swaz. I have mixed emotions. I have lots of projects and activities I want to start. Will I find motivated people in the community to help me accomplish what the community wants? I want to teach Life Skills in grades 5 and 6, and career guidance to high school students. Will I be able to impart wisdom, direction or clarity? Will anyone be receptive? I don’t make typical New Year’s resolutions. My “resolutions” tend to be things that are personal growth resolutions. Last year my resolution was being able to vocalize in order to tell others my needs. The year before it was doing things that made me happy and feel satisfied; I traveled a lot, and reevaluated my relationship with yoga. This year, in light of my current situation, I think my “resolution” will involve cultivating patience—something I have a really had time doing—and letting what will be, be. I will try to embrace the art of not knowing.
My wish for you in 2009 is to feel true joy. My wish for you is to cultivate something you struggle with in your life. My wish for you is peace. Here’s to 2009! May it hold many wonderful surprises.