November 4, 2009- Final Exams: My 6th graders take final exams; I just found out today. They begin next week, so my time with them is finished. I’m actually a little sad. Had I known in advance, I would have tried to do more recycled art projects with them. We were going to make bugs out of egg cartons and styrofoam and plant a jacaranda seed in decorated tin cans. Oh well. The BBC Plant Earth series was a hit, so I’m glad they were able to watch two episodes. In addition, we were able to string their handmade paper beads with plastics ones—left from a Group 5’er—which was a huge treat for them. Nonetheless, I was hoping to teach a few more lessons about recycling, to hammer that concept home; alas, it is left undone. I do plan to give each student an Earth Day activities book before terms ends, something to take home, read and remember.
November 6, 2009- Steroid Injection in my Foot: Long story short, my PCMO believes I have chronic tendonitis due to scar tissue build-up from previous stress fractures. After consulting the orthopedic doctor at the Mbabane Clinic, both recommended a cortisone injection in my foot to decrease the inflammation. According to Peace Corps, this is the next level of conservative measures, and if it’s successful I should get another in 3 months. So I agreed since I’m desperate for something to work. The doctor warned me that there’s a 10% chance it will not work, as it doesn’t work for everyone. I’m also supposed to refrain from a lot of walking for two weeks. Then I’m allowed to test my foot with small walking/running sessions. While injecting me, the doctor suggested I take up another exercise, like biking. The doctor should see my site.
November 11, 2009- My 16th Fatty Comment: My Make believes my butt and hips are becoming bigger and bigger, and I’m guessing that makes me more and more her daughter since Swazi’s consider weight gain a sign of happiness and an acceptance of them as your family. I keep telling her I am the same shape as the day I came, maybe even more toned but that I am very happy to be here. Yet lately, every time I wear my sarong or a pair of pants, she comments on my shape, in particular my thighs; I’m guessing she associates it to me not running. I used to defend myself because it’s not an easy thing to hear as frequently as I do. Now I just shake my head and walk away. There is no convincing her, and I cannot handle her saying it twice in a row.
November 12, 2009- Writing a poem on a rainy day:
November 12, 2009
It’s been raining since noon. I
occupy myself with a sentimental story,
then a sentimental comedy-
this makes me want a cigarette.
I smoke it as a storm rolls in;
thunder, lightning, and rain
barrage my hut.
I light incense to cover the smell of smoke
and continue smoking by my back window,
watching the rain thrash the corn.
I wonder how close lightning could strike
without striking me. I dare it with reckless
haughtiness. “How close will you come?” I taunt.
Does it know I could strike back too?
This evening seems like a cigarette smoking
evening. The rain beckons the smoke.
Slowly the past begins beckoning my thoughts,
and as I meditate on each inhale, it forces
me to recall the past.
I long for company; yet I am alone
in my solitude- always alone
-making my desire to know the
potential all that much greater.
With each lightning strike I feel the need to know become more
unbearable, and I reach out
only to be struck.
This evening is suited for smoking
cigarettes and drinking wine.
Stormy weather seems to beckon in me
thoughts of the past; melancholy rolls in,
and I long for company.
November 14, 2009- Writing an article for SoJo: Two elected volunteers edit our monthly newsletter for staff and volunteers, The Swazi So Journal, affectionately dubbed SoJo. The volunteers serve a 1-year term, then the new group votes in two new volunteers from their group. Our group decided to require 4 - 5 random volunteers each month to submit articles to fill the newsletter pages; staff are required to submit monthly. Articles range from volunteer projects, vacation spots worthy of volunteer time and money, book reviews, recipes, funny or interesting stories about our communities, and sometimes how to make something from scratch, like a rug from plastic bags. I submitted an article a few months ago on the benefits of yoga and basic meditation. I included an easy to begin meditation guide.
The editors are always looking for submissions; and since our group is phasing out as the main contributors, I decided to submit another article before year-end. It follows below.
A lesson in compassion
by Jennifer Gaspers
“Do not utter words in friendship that can be used in animosity.” –Yogi Bhajan
While thumbing through Yoga Magazine, I happened upon an article about creating connections in this busy, mad world we inhabit. The article, geared toward families with children, talks about how we take our family unit for granted, “presuming they will always be there when we need them.” Learning to create a strong relationship, mutually with conscious communication, is essential for a sense of trust among those you’re in contact with daily. This concept easily applies to life in general, but particularly to Peace Corps service. Currently we live within several ‘family units’—our homestead family, the Peace Corps family, and fellow volunteers we chose to adopt as extended family. At times, it can be quite dysfunctional, but I would rather choose the lunacy over having nothing or no one to call ‘family’ here. Therefore, my interactions with ‘family’ are most effective when performed with compassion, awareness, and humanity, especially if I wish to remain a vital member within the family unit. Partly I choose to conduct my interactions with great care because my desire for a sense of family is a selfish need. Nonetheless, shouldn’t we always take great care with those we love or interact with daily? After all, how else do we learn about others unless we are willing to actively Sit with them, listening with compassion and speaking our words with honesty and loving kindness. Below is a piece of the article in which the author gives a few tips on how to implement conscious communication. The guidelines are great suggestions for daily living, whether at home or in Swaziland. Namaste, my family.
Conscious Communication by Indra Singh (taken from Yoga Magazine)
When we communicate it is important to do our best to communicate from the heart; it takes practice and involves being aware of what you say to others before you actually say it.
Try not to speak unnecessarily. Words can have a profound effect once they have been spoken.
Treat those around you with the respect you wish to be treated with and communication will flourish between you and your family members.
Yogi Bhajan, master of kundalini yoga, created five rules for harmonious communication:
· You are communicating for a better tomorrow, not to spoil today.
· Whatever you are going to say is going to live forever and you have to live through it, therefore take care you don’t have to live through the mud of your communication.
· One wrong word said can do much more wrong than you can even imagine or even estimate.
· Words spoken are a chance for communication—don’t turn them into war.
· When you communicate you have to communicate again, don’t make the road rough.
“If you are not aware of someone else then in reality you are not aware of yourself.”
November 14 -15, 2009- Passing time during a rainy weekend:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet,
And whither then? I cannot say.
Yesterday and today, I spent most of my morning and early afternoon stringing beads. These are the paper beads I’ve been rolling since August. I had quite a pile growing, so I decided to try my hand at stringing them. I’ve strung necklaces before but this time I wanted something edgier. Studying the glass bead necklace my friend Amy made, I discovered the string is braided. I pulled out my cross-stitch floss and began braiding. I started by braiding the same colors together, then I intertwined grey-blue with grey, grey-blue with black, and grey-blue with chocolate brown. I also had some braiding cord, which I intertwined with the floss. The result was the right amount of edge for the beads I’d made. As Swazis say, bah bops or kukahle…it’s good! In two days, I made twelve necklaces, and it was so much fun. The entire time I was stringing, I was thinking of other ways to display my beads; I want to make some earrings once I find findings, and I envisioned paper bead mobiles.
Within the last few weeks, I’ve found my creative hands again, for which I am thankful; to feel inspired is a gift I welcome. After being so restless from not running, I was eager to find something equally satisfying. Making paper beads is by far more creative and better for me spiritually and emotionally but nothing compares to the physical high and mental release of running. I have another week, and then I am testing out my foot! YAH!
November 16, 2009- Unseasonable Weather: This year’s October and November weather have been much cooler than last year. Today was 13 degrees C! I can see my breath as I type; it feels like winter, and honestly compares to October nights in Nebraska or South Dakota. I’ve been wearing several layers, and socks and mitten to bed again; I lie under 2 doubled blankets. Burr!!!! The last few weeks it’s been raining every few days for 2 – 3 days at a time. When the rain comes in torrents, which is usually at least once or twice during the 2 – 3 day period, water runs under my door. Silently I thank myself for the good decision of purchasing a mop each time I use it.
Last year those kinds of rains came in January and February. I’m ready for the rainy season to be done but I must endure until March. On the up side, the countryside it greening nicely, the corn is growing well, and the flowers I planted in front of my hut are in full bloom. I planted lisela (in siSwati it means thief- they say it ‘steals’ the snakes away), a bulb plant that looks and smells very much like spring garlic with a large purple flower head and marigolds, which are blooming shades of orange- buttery orange, dark orange, and burnt orange all mixed together with pale yellow. They are supposed to keep the snakes away; so far, they are doing their job! Even though the rains bring color to Swaziland, I really hope there is reprieve in December and beginning of January when my cousin, Anne, is visiting. I meet her in Cape Town, SA on 30 December, and she flies back to America on 15 January. YAH! So I’d hate to stay in-doors the whole time; we have too much to see and explore.
November 22 – 30, 2009- All Volunteer Conference, Thanksgiving at the Ambassador’s house, Oliver Mtukudzi, Hiking to Waterfalls and Eating Grapes on Public Transport: My group joined the newly released-from-seclusion group 7s for an All Volunteer conference. Most of the information was geared toward the new group, unfortunately. However, the sessions on male circumcision and behavior change were interesting. For instance, being circumcised reduces a male’s changes of contracting or spreading HIV by 60%. It doesn’t mean that people should discontinue using condoms; it just means it increases a male’s chances, and in turn his partner’s chances, of being safer during sexual intercourse. Of course, the best part of the conference was being with my fellow G6ers. We are just that great of a group; we all get along, genuinely like each other, and never want for conversation. I also enjoyed starting my day with yoga, showering each morning, eating three meals a day that I didn’t have to cook or clean up after, and close proximity to some night life.
Thanksgiving dinner was hosted by the Ambassador at his rather lavish house with pool and a view of the hills of Mbabane…yes your tax dollars are going to good use. We enjoyed all the traditional food items—home-grown turkeys from the Jackson’s homestead, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, sage stuffing, mixed greens and pumpkin pie—as well as new-to-some editions—veggie lasagna, cranberry & nut stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and chocolate cake. There was even an impromptu game of football after food digested. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, this is my home-away-from-home family. While I’m not close to everyone the way I am with some, I am glad to call them family. And I’m happy I had them to share a day of thanks.
I stayed in town for the weekend. I heard about a concert by a well-known African musician, and about the Mbabane Hiking Club excursion. I couldn’t miss either. Oliver Mtukudzi, a musician from Zimbabwe, is in his late 70’s and still rockin’ as if he’s 20. His music is a mix of traditional African with a little rock and a little rhythm and blues. He played for three hours, and Victoria, Jenn, Marloes and I danced the night away. It was well worth the ticket price, and the venue was great- I love House on Fire.
The following day Marloes (a volunteer from Norway working with an NGO run by a former PC volunteer from the 80’s) and I joined the Mbabane Hiking Club in their trek to the famed waterfalls near Mbuluzi. It was mostly a downhill hike to the falls. Knowing the way out would be mostly uphill didn’t deter us, though, especially considering the splendor of the falls. Called the Three Waterfalls because there are three tiers, they flow into a small pool after rushing over the last tier. I cursed myself for my broken camera, although I’m not sure I could quite capture the magnificence of the fall’s beauty; even so, Marloes has promised me copies.
Before I headed home the following day, after two spontaneous meetings, I stopped at the Spar in Manzini since I knew there were more grocery options there than at my Spar. I found a bag of mixed green and purple grapes, a large handful of each for E16. I splurged. I haven’t eaten a grape in so long, my mouth water as soon as I spied them; everything else paled in comparison. I decided I was worth E16! I felt decadent, though, as I ate them one-by-one on the bus ride home, slowly savoring the texture and delighting in the juices as I watched the seven shades of green reappear on the landscape. The man next to me longingly eyed each grape as I popped them in my mouth. I feel a pang of guilt for about a second, and then went back to languidly eating them. The perfect breakfast, in my book.
My euphoria lasted until I walked into my hut. It smelled like a musty locker room, and I quickly discovered my walls were wet and moldy in places. I set to cleaning immediately. It took me a little over 3 hours to clean. Some pictures met their demise. Many bugs were swept out. I even had to burn my pillows; they were propped against the wall, and mold had grown through the mosquito net, through the pillowcases to the pillows. They were moldy to the core. Luckily, it hadn’t reached the blankets. Water even reached my grass mat, somehow, and it too was moldy in places. I let it hang in the sun after shaking it out. I took a nap following the ‘spring-cleaning’, since I felt dejected and exhausted. I woke an hour later to the voices of my bosisi and bhuti. I joined them on the lawn, and soon after, we practiced some dance moves, which has become an evening ritual of late. They were happy to see me, saying there were missing me. They laughed at my dance moves, and I said I was missing them. I felt less melancholy. Once again, I was home.