January 28-30, 2010- Introducing Jenn & Vic to Pasture Valley: Since Justine, Jaclyn and I mostly talk non-stop about the incredible children’s home we volunteer at, more volunteers in our group are interested in what really makes this place wonderful. Jenn is considering extending her time, and since I’ve praised this haven in the country, she was curious. Jenn and Vic live in the HhoHho region so the trek was long to the Shiselweni, about 5 hours, but both were eager for a weekend away on the farm.
The majority of times we stay with Michelle and Peter, Michelle either makes us yummy lunches or hearty, home cooked dinners. Yes, we are volunteers with limited resources, so the home cooked meal is welcome, and so delicious. However, our Midwest upbringings (Justine grew up in Kansas, Jaclyn in Iowa…yeah, the Shis crew are also Midwest girls) require us to either work for said meals or reciprocate in some way; we’re happy doing either as a trip to the farm is like going home for each of us in some way.
Since we were bringing 2 extra mouths to feed, Justine and I decided we would provide dinner that evening. We prepared orange chicken & spicy orange tofu, lettuce salad and steamed green beans for Michelle and Peter and their kids, as well as for ourselves. Michelle and Peter’s kids were not impressed with orange chicken even though they were required to taste a little. However the rest of us enjoyed heartily, and gladly reached for seconds. Wine accompanied the meal, as well as lively conversation, first about Victoria and Jenn’s hometowns then about the work they are doing in their community. Inevitably the conversation turns to HIV, as Michelle and Peter are eager to learn as much as possible; several of the children are positive and being informed caregivers is a goal.
On Friday morning Jenn and Justine accompanied me to the preschool to help me teach. Michelle asked if I could give at least one day each week to teaching preschool. The woman she hired was asked to leave the first week of class since she wasn’t following Michelle’s instructions; the woman seemed more concerned with cleaning than teaching, leaving the children sitting alone in the preschool room. Michelle’s philosophy is learning through creative play, and even though I have limited experience teaching preschool I can play. There are blocks, puzzle pieces, sing-a-long cd’s, colors and paints, play dough, books, and the curriculum we painted on the walls. It’s a bit of a stretch for me, as my sister Sharon confirmed to me on the phone when I told her. But I’m doing what I can until Michelle finds another teacher. There are only 4 students; two boys and two girls between the ages of 3 – 6. Four is manageable for me, for now.
February 3, 2010- Presenting the Craft Proposal: Michelle scheduled a meeting with the Board of Directors for the children’s home. We are eager to begin the craft project as a pilot program at Pasture Valley; if it works on a small scale here then we will take it to other communities in the Shiselweni region, eventually increasing to 100 women participating in making crafts. We’re applied for funding through a U.S. Embassy Women in Development grant; they are currently reviewing applications. In the meantime, we’re seeking seed money to begin the project; we want the women to be making quality products to sell by the time World Cup fever arrives in June. Justine presented the overview of the project we are calling Bambani Sandla or hands taking hold together, hands grasping together. I presented the craft ideas and showed samples of items Justine and I are experimenting with—paper and fabric beads strung as necklaces and earrings, mobiles using paper and fabric beads and other recycled materials, paper mache and handbags. We received positive feedback from the Board and approval to begin the project. I’m excited and anxious. I really believe in this income generating project because it’s not only about a steady income for vulnerable woman but also a social outlet and support group. Along with providing ongoing skills training, we will offer weekly workshops focusing on women’s health issues and general life issues. Once a month we plan to bring in a professional speaker to talk about more sensitive topics or those out of our expertise. The project’s vision is to foster a supportive community among the women while providing them useful life skills and a sense of purpose. It’s a lot of work to undertake so I’m anxious about getting the details right and implementing each facet. Nonetheless, I’m excited as well. To be part of the dream for a better tomorrow so these women may envision a future is humbling.
February 9-10, 2010- Cleaning the Shed at Pasture Valley: In order to implement the craft project, we need a space large enough to hold at least 20 women and work areas for each craft. Peter acquiesced, giving up ¼ of his storage shed for a workspace; I’m not sure he was really keen on the idea of giving up space but supports the project 100%. Justine set to cleaning, along with the children’s help on Tuesday afternoon. Michelle asked me to attend a Standards meeting given by the Ministry of Social Welfare on Tuesday morning. The Ministry is trying to lay standards in place for children’s homes throughout Swaziland, and is asking for feedback from existing homes or those looking to set up new homes. After attending the meeting, I’m curious how the first meeting of standards in America proceeded or perhaps unfolded, as may be the case. Many people attending the meeting believe the standards are unattainable given their limited resources, funds and/or personnel; nothing seemed unattainable to me especially if the higher standards are slowly implemented or more support is given from the Ministry in order to implement them. I’m interested in attending future meetings to witness the progress.
I left the meeting before lunch in order to catch early transport back to Nhlangano. I arrived to a somewhat organized shed and about 12 children saturated in sweat and covered in dust; it was an especially hot day and working in an enclosed shed made conditions worse. The following morning, Justine and I rose early to finish organizing and cleaning. It had rained overnight, cooling the air but not settling the dust. We worked quickly with the help of one of Peter’s staff. In the process the staff worker and I uncovered a snake, which Billy the farmhand, unceremoniously picked up by the tail with bare hands and then using the snake pole put in a bucket. We discovered later it was just a slug eater, and would not hurt a person. While I was away teaching preschool Justine found 6 rats that quickly scattered in all directions, the slowest one beaten by Peter as he tried to escape. I’m happy to have missed that, since the snake was enough for me. We finished by 12:30, just in time for a 1 o’clock braii with Peter and his staff, a going-away party for Billy.
February 22, 2010- Keeping Tallies: Since September 2008 until today I’ve been keeping track of the number of times I’ve been asked certain things or told certain things or done certain things. I thought, at first, it would be an interesting experiment or contribute to an anthropological study I was planning of my time in Swaziland. I decided to keep track of the number of marriage proposals I received, the number of times people offered me their babies, how many snakes wondered into my hut, the number of times people told me I was getting fat and the number of books I’ve read since my arrival. It was sort of comical at first, perhaps even a badge of honor for enduring certain things. But as time went on, I begrudgingly tallied marriage proposals and fatty comments. As mentioned in previous blogs, the fat comments have increased with my level of happiness in being here but have taken a toll on my self-esteem and body image. I sadly and sometimes angrily tallied baby offers, forgetting to remember why bogogo (grannies) were offering me their grandchildren. After mentioning this to my Shis crew, they asked why I continued to tally things that upset me. Good question. I had to ask myself that question several times. Am I just a glutton for punishment? No, I’m not. It’s ridiculous to me to be in a situation where you constantly punish yourself; I’m not in to S&M. Am I really going to conduct an anthropological study around my response/reaction to marriage proposals or my decreased self-esteem due to fat comments? Chances are, an anthropological study would focus on why Swazi men propose at will or why Swazi women comment on weigh. Do I think tallying snake encounters in my hut will keep them from entering? Probably not. But given my distain and fear for snakes, I endured their presence and successfully rid my hut of them. I feel proud, even confident, of my abilities to tolerate each encounter, and endure the anguish of hut living. So while some tallying was good for my ego, my ego fought many others. Since I’m trying to quiet my ego, I’ve decided to discontinue all tallying except for one—the number of books I read. It serves as my challenge to read more instead of watching movies in the evening. So, without further ado, here are the tallies for September 2008 to present: Marriage Proposals: 21, the fifth one w/ an offer of 30 cows; Snakes: 3; Baby Offers: 11; Fatty Comments: 21; Books: 22. I think it’s interesting that the number of fat comments and the number of marriage offers are the same. Is that coincidence or is my perceived weight gain, which also means I’m happy, an indication of increase attractiveness as a wife and mother? Because if I’m happy to be here, and I continue to ‘gain weigh’ then surely I’d want to marry a Swazi man and stay here for life? The jury is out and will remain out since I’m weary of talking about my weight, and I don’t want to increase a man’s interest by chatting him up about marriage. I will merely continue to think the numbers are interesting and purely coincidental.
February 23, 2010- A Letter to Jacy: Just read your letter while sitting at an outdoor café. I happily eat warm bread and drink ginger ale. It’s not as romantic as it sounds. The bread was a whole loaf from the grocery store that I have to break off and the ginger ale is called Stoney’s Ginger Brew—ginger ale on crack…it’s that strong!
The café is just a collection of plastic tables and chairs set near a kiosk that sells a variety of things including the best fast cakes (little donuts) and chips (fries) w/ salt and vinegar in Nhlangano. But also sells soda, juices, candy, super glue and batteries. Of course! The owners are from Bangladesh. The one brother is cute! And very nice—he keeps eyeing me but he’s not much better than other men here—prolly has a girlfriend or wife and still flirts! Good God!
A young boy looks over my shoulder as I read, hoping to see the pics you included—creep! I gave him the evil eye, not that he noticed.
Then, 15 minutes later, as I read the Reader’s Digest from Ma & Pa, 2 teenaged boys- prolly not more than 20—sit next to me and begin professing their love. They both reek of Marula Brew—a beer made from marula nuts. It’s the season and everyone from young to old—even granny—gets wasted. We tried it when we first got here—part of a medical/cultural class—tastes like fermented yeast. Nasty! Anyway, when I said Hamba! (go) one began telling me how rich he is—has a car, and tv and fridge at home. I asked them several times to go, saying I didn’t care to talk to them. And privately I thought I cannot stand to smell you anymore—marula brew giving an even worse smell when sweated through the pores. I finally got up and walked away, to cat calls from the perpetrators, and jeers from their friends who were watching the exchange. Now, I’m sitting in KFC—yes there’s a KFC here! And I think I’m gonna eat some ice cream. Blah!
February 25, 2010- The Gila Monster: A few months ago I saw a lizard outside my window, the kind you’d see gliding across the Arizona desert, scaly and prickly. Not at all like the smooth color-changing geckos that I’ve grown accustomed to sharing my hut. He peered into my window, examining the bugs he could eat. I startled him as I moved closer to the window for a glance at the 6” creature; he quickly scampered along the side of my hut, away from my prying eyes. I’ve seen him a few more times since, each time a little bigger than the last, crawling along the walls. Once he bypassed my door. I’m glad he’s too big to fit under the gap but I still stuff rags under the door just in case. Today, as I entered my homestead I saw him perched on the side of my house. He’s a good 2 feet long now, a little longer if you include the tail, and his body has widened. When I approached, he became anxious and rapidly crawled between the space in my walls and the tin roof. So he’s living in the spaces in my roof? That explains the scratching sounds I occasionally hear; although sometimes that’s the bats that live in the roof spaces also. Oh joy! I’m looking forward to the cabin I’ll inhabit in a few short months at Pasture Valley. A non-tin roof. An indoor bathroom with shower. Hot, running water. A full-sized fridge and sink in the kitchen area. A front loading washer. A combined living room and kitchen but 2 separate bedrooms. And to top it all off, a porch—the icing on the cake, so to speak. Awwww, the little things!
February 27, 2010- Bus Ride Home, Rewiring the light fixture and Babysitting: Tomorrow marks 20 months in Swaziland but I swear no two days can ever be the same here. I went to town today; I needed a few necessities as well as a new fixture for my light bulb. At the post office I discovered a package from my dear friend Jenny filled with pictures of her beautiful children as well as coffee, chocolate, lotion and movies. All things I gladly welcome. On my bus ride home I was reading Country magazine, something my parents sent in a package. I usually read something that doesn’t take much concentration or consists of short articles while riding the bus home. Usually it’s the Nebraska Life magazine my parents gave me a subscription to or the Christian Science Monitor from my friend Julia. I never thought I’d enjoy the Nebraska Life magazine as much as I do. It’s fun to read about little out-of-the-way places I’ve never been or thought to go, or things in Omaha or Lincoln I’d forgotten exist. But now I have a mental list of places Mom and I will venture to when I return or adventures I’ll take by myself, like the dog sledding and northern lights trip to Hudson Bay in Canada I was reading about in the Country magazine.
As I read Country, the young woman next to me looked over my shoulder at the pictures. She was mesmerized, so I showed her a picture of a snow covered forest in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Then I flipped to the beginning and took her through each page, looking at the beauty and wonder of the United States during winter. Each picture of snow caught her breath, and she asked if it was the sea each time. I tried to explain snow to her, and they she realized she’d read about the white stuff in her social studies book in school. To read about something and then to see or experience it are very different things, which was apparent in our exchange. The bus conductor approached for the fare, so I lay the magazine on my lap to pay. She eyed it several times then lightly picked it up to look at the pictures more closely while I fumbled with money. She opened it to the beginning and started to read the first article. She asked me to pronounce a county in Minnesota, one with a very Native American sounding name. She read on. I realized I was have a cross-cultural experience right then, and since I’d read most of the articles already I decided she should take the magazine with her. I took the recipes from the middle, since lately I have a slight obsession with new recipes, and then handed it back to her. She smiled. At the next stop she got off, clutching the magazine to her chest, and as the bus pulled away, I saw her walking home looking at the next article and smiling. I couldn’t help myself; I smiled for her as the bus round the next corner.
Once I got home I put my groceries away then set upon my next task. Rewiring the light fixture. I needed to replace the part that holds the bulb in since both notches broke off, and once the bulb heats it fall out or explodes, leaving scattered glass scattered all over my floor. I cut the power in the main house. Then using my trusty multi-purpose leatherman knock-off from Jarrod I disconnected the old fixture and rewired the new one in place. And I did it right.
I walked back to the main house to switch on the power. Machawe joked that now I was an electrical engineer. I laughed. Hardly. He was occupying the new OVC Make brought home two weeks ago. While visiting Babe on her last trip, a neighbor begged her to take her son since she couldn’t feed him. Make finally relented after many pleas. He’s a shy five year old named Khayelethu but his nickname is something meaning lazy because he was a lazy baby. I’m not sure how Make will manage to keep him well fed or healthy considering she’s feeding four other OVC’s.
Leaving the four in charge of him, she left some time after I did to visit a relative and would not return until the following day. I was busy going through my package so I didn’t notice Zandele, Nomdumiso or Machawe leave. After some time, Khayelethu came to my door, shyly. “Wentani?” I asked (what are you doing?). No answer. “Uyafuna icolor?” (would you like to color?). A mumble. “Angiva?” I ask (I don’t understand/hear). Then he begins speaking quickly in siSwati and tears stream down his face. I don’t understand anything he’s saying but my heart aches for him. I ask him where Zandele and Nomdumiso have gone. I pick out a few words I understand from his crying speech and gather that they’ve gone to do work somewhere. The same goes for Machawe. What about Mcolisi? He points to the house where the boys stay but I conclude that Mcolisi isn’t around either. We walk around the homestead to see if Mcolisi is around. I don’t see him. Asambe (let’s go) I say, and we walk to the soccer pitch to see if anyone there. Nope. I ask Zandele’s friend if she’s seen them. She says the three have gone to take some maize to be ground; she hasn’t seen Mcolosi. We go back to my hut, and I tell him ngena (come in); siyadlala (we are playing.) I let him color while I bake granola. Then I break out the play dough and I teach him to make shapes, numbers, and snakes for close to an hour. He lies down on the grass mat that’s in front of my bed. “Udziniwe?” I ask (are you tired?). Yebo. I imagine him falling asleep on my mat then waking up an hour later hungry, yet the kids aren’t back so there’s no way to get into the main house to get him food. Then what? So I ask if he’s hungry. Ulambile? Yebo. So I boil water for tea, wash some grapes and give him an oatmeal biscuit I made the other day. He begins to gobble the biscuit, and I tell him to eat slowly several times. Small bites. He finally complies. I show him to eat the grapes, and spit the seeds in the bowl; he was just spitting them out on the floor or throwing them across the room. I forgot how messily five year olds eat. Biscuit crumbs are everywhere, and slurped teaspoons of tea drop to the grass mat. I take a breath and try to cultivate patience. Caphela! Careful, I say as he sips the tea. Eventually Zandele and Nomdumiso make their way home. I’m upset with them, and ask for the details. Mcolisi was left with the task of watching him. He’s the most irresponsible, selfish boy I’ve met here. Why did they pick him? I told the girls I wasn’t mad at them, just upset that a 5 year old was left alone. They told me Make would take care of the matter when she gets home; she would beat Mcolisi. I said I wanted to beat him. They laugh at me. I’m half serious. Mcolisi makes his way home sometime after dark, so I haven’t told him how disappointed I am by his actions.