Beginning of March- Beware the Ides of March: Why ‘Beware the Ides of March’? Really? I recall the line from Shakespeare’s play Caesar, where Caesar is warned about things to come. But worry only creates stress, usually if it’s unnecessary worry. Sometimes as volunteers, we get caught up in worries regarding our worth or effectiveness, especially as service draws to an end. We wonder, have we done enough? It’s a relentless question with never an easy answer, sometimes with no answer at all. I find I can get caught up in the question or the answer or both on occasion, and I then struggle to suppress my ego once I realize that I will forever ask questions and forever seek answers. That cyclical questions and seeking answers are constant. What really matters is what I do in between time. So in an effort to quiet my ego and leave something for my community, I decided to paint.
My plans for 2010 in my community involved helping improve the 4 functioning NCP’s. Neighborhood Care Points or NCP’s have been charged with the task of starting preschool, in order to provide OVC’s (Orphan &/or Vulnerable Children) some foundation before entering primary school. Most NCP workers are volunteers with limited education themselves. Many didn’t know where to begin. Last August and September I organized First Aid Kits and basic training for each NCP worker, at the same time assessing their preschool start-up needs. Essentially they needed everything but I’m not a miracle worker. So I decided to give them something I was physically capable of: painting curriculum on their walls. Two of the four NCP’s have actual structures, so I sought permission and planned out objects for each wall. At both NCP’s I painted the alphabet with an object corresponding to each letter, numbers with circles to represent the amount of each number, shapes, colors, and a healthy eating food chart. I also added a tree and a sun at one; at the other I painted the rainbow to represent colors and the phrase: “Rise and Give God Glory” in yellow and orange. My intention for putting curriculum on the walls was twofold: first, if no one was teaching on a given day, as least the children could learn by looking; and two, if a volunteer wasn’t sure what she could teach she would simply refer to the walls. I think the first goal was accomplished, if nothing else. Each day I painted, children lingered near the entrance or close behind me. I heard their hushed voices, naming each object and counting numbers. It was sweet.
March 9, 2010- As I Was Walking to the NCP: On the path to one NCP there is a Jehovah’s Witness church. Today a few members milled outside the gate, looking as if they just finished a meeting. They were excited to see me, as I’ve discovered many people in neighboring communities are since they do not see me on a regular basis. Little did I know they were even more excited to see me today. I greeted them with the obligatory greetings. As I did, a young man of maybe 21 approached with a flyer he was eager to share with me. He said, “My sister, I have something very important to share with you. Take it and please read it.” I read the title: Comfort for the depressed. Suppressing my giggles, I thanked him with a smile and continued along my way shaking my head. I knew I looked tired, as I had to walk about 4km with six liters of paint since the connecting bus never came. Did he think I was depressed because of it? I don’t know but it was worth a laugh. Sadly, I accidently spilled paint on the flyer so I never read the message waiting inside.
March 17-18, 2010- Happy St. Patrick’s Day & Mourning my Chief: This morning my make came from the chief’s homestead wailing and saying “Nkosi yami. Nkosi yami!” (my God, my God). I heard screams from the chief’s homestead earlier, and thought my make was causing trouble since she went to discuss an issue with the chief’s wife. It turns out my chief died. He’d been in and out of the hospital since January. I was told he was getting better. But this morning make told me he’d been in Pretoria, SA the last few weeks. I found out later that he contracted meningitis. He’d gone to Pretoria for surgery but either didn’t survive surgery or it didn’t work. A person can suffer from meningitis in advanced stages of HIV, but I’m unaware if he was positive.
The following day I accompanied the primary and high school teachers to mourn with the family. Men stay outside the main house, sitting around the fire or on porches of secondary houses. Women cover their heads with scarves or hats and approach the main house singing a song of sorrow. They remove their shoes at the entrance, and then enter by crawling or crouching to a space on the floor where they sit and continue to sing. After several minutes of singing, they stop and begin praying out loud. Once they finish, a representative or two from the group offer a prayer or speech of sorrow to the family. If other people approach the house singing, the group inside stops what they are doing and picks up the song of those entering. Then out-loud prayers begin again. Once the group has offered what they can, the family thanks the group for coming. Then the group begins their leaving song, and slowly, one by one, they stand, bent, to leave. This continues all day, and sometimes during the night; the family receives mourners whenever they come. Those who stay all day to mourn, usually relatives, are fed; extended family members bake and cook constantly from the first mourning day until after the funeral. Mourning days occur from the time the death is announced until the night vigil. Depending on how far away family members live, mourning could be a week or more since the night vigil doesn’t begin until all immediate family members are present.
March 19-23- Walking to Ntjanini w/ Jaci & Weekend w/ the Jackson’s: Jaci and I walked from her site to Hilary and Jay Jackson’s site, about a 3 hr walk. Hilary’s birthday is 17 March, and she wanted a party. Since we left Jaci’s site at noon, we encountered hordes of school children walking home. We felt like the Piped Piper at times, since more than once we had groups of children following us, and mimicking everything we did.
Eleven people showed for Hil’s party. We grilled hotdogs and chicken. Jay made homemade vanilla ice-cream the day before. I helped Hilary make fudge brownies to eat with the ice-cream. We drank wine and beer and talked into the wee hours of the morning. The following day, most people left. Matthew and I stayed longer. It was easier for me to go to Nhlangano from their site since I had training on Monday in Nhlangano. Besides, I wanted Hil to teach me to crochet the page boy hat she made months ago and I’d coveted. We had the house to ourselves all afternoon; Jay had a youth group meeting and he took Matthew with him. It was nice to have some one-on-one time with Hil since we rarely get the chance. The hat was harder than I expected but I figured out how to back post crochet, and that’s the main stitch I needed to make the hat. I decided to borrow her book and work on it, without pressure, at my hut. We ended our afternoon with a Rodney Yee yoga cd, our favorite yogi.
The bus ride to Nhlangano was unpleasant as I got sick during the night. I’m not sure what caused it but I’m blaming the chicken. I sipped ORS (oral dehydration salts) water while Matthew distracted my nausea with engaging conversation. Once I got to Pasture Valley, I crashed out for 4 hours. I woke feeling like I’d been hit by a Mac truck, and with a fever. I took ibuprofen, drank several glasses of water, and then took a hot shower. I went to bed early. (17 April, 2010: I’ve been sick since, unfortunately. Some days I’m fine, and other days nothing I eat will settle with me. Oh Africa life! I’m not sure visiting my PCMO will do much good. I think I just need to work something out of my system, and I’d rather do that with my home remedies. The only positive is the decline of fat comments. You cannot tell someone who’s lost another 5 lbs that she’s fat!)
I woke the next morning still feeling rough but successfully trained 30 women from the Shiselweni Reformed Church Home-Based Care group to make paper beads. Justine taught basic business all morning; she and Michelle helped me inspect the quality of paper beads in the afternoon. Most of the women caught on quickly, even asking how to make smaller and larger beads. Others struggled with using a toothpick to roll paper. I showed a few who struggled to use their fingers to roll; it was still a problem. I offered encouragement, just keep trying and practicing. We dismissed at 3pm, sending them home with several magazine sheets and glue. We’re keeping our fingers crossed, hoping they produce high quality beads and bring them to the next training day.
March 25, 2010: Attending Two Mourning Services: We scheduled another bead training for the Home-Based Care group on 26 March. As it turns out, it was the same day as my chief’s night vigil. In all honesty I was glad I had another obligation. I attended the end of a night vigil once during training, and have been to other mourning days. It’s awkward, culturally; I’m never sure if I’m committing a faux paux or not. I don’t know the language well enough to sing along or pray out loud. And I just don’t quite belong. I asked make if I could bake the chief’s wife something and take it to her; perhaps even sit with her awhile. Make said it would be okay, and she would accompany me. I made oatmeal and cornmeal biscuits. We walked up the hill slowly, and I thought about what I could say to a woman who lost her husband to strange circumstances. The chief’s mother received us at the main house; her daughter in-law was in town seeing to funeral preparations. I gave the biscuits to the sister in-law of the chief with my greetings to the chief’s wife and my sympathies. Then I extended my sympathies to his mother; she hugged me so tightly I started tearing up. I sat as make sang and prayed with those in the room.
Later that morning make found me at the clinic. She was on her way to another mourning. She asked me to accompany her, and since she helped me this morning, I thought it only right to go with her. It turns out we were paying our respects to the mother of the peer educator in my community; his sister passed. I’m glad I attended the mourning since I know him and have had several conversations with him about life, health, HIV and education on the bus.
It was an exhausting day, to say the least. I didn’t know my chief well but saw him often and spoke with him on a few occasions. Yet, grief rushed over me both days I mourned at the chief’s house. The longer I’m here, the more people I get to know and know well. With that comes the possible death of people I might actually know or have interacted with frequently. It’s a strange feeling. One of disbelief, anger, confusion and sadness.
28 March, 2010- Freshly Ground: Freshly Ground, a South African musical group won an MTV music award sometime in early 2000. Tonight they made their second visit to Swaziland to debut the release of their 3rd album. They combine traditional South African music with jazz, blues and a little rock. In 2004 their song Doo Be Doo was #1 at the South African music awards. They give an amazingly high energy performance. Listen to their cd online. You will not be disappointed.
2 - 8 April, 2010- Lesotho: I spent the Easter weekend in Lesotho with Jaclyn, Justine and Danielle on a 3-day pony trek through the Malealea area. Lesotho is a beautifully mountainous country with purplish and greenish hued rocks. Basotho people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and quite proud of their peaceful, beautiful country. They wear wool blankets with maize motifs instead of coats. They make wonderfully delicious sourdough bread. Alongside maize, they raise sorghum. Sustainable development is actively happening; Basotho people willingly support and even initiate many of the projects and growth currently happening in Lesotho. Needless to say, I feel in love with Lesotho; mostly because of the mountains, partly because it really felt like Africa, and finally because the people don’t feel apathetic to their situations.
The pony-trek was interesting. Had I known the path we would take and the precariously narrow trails we sometimes traversed, I would have told my travel companions that I had no business being on that horse. But I am glad I tried it, and I can honestly say I would do another pony trek, but perhaps not longer than five days. My horse was quite patient with me. Jaci joked that we each got a horse to fit our personality; yes, my horse must have practiced Zen meditation and yoga at some point, maybe just to put up with other trekkers. Luckily he remained calm when two other horses fell, and remained incredibly calm each time I over-steered him. It drizzled during the first day making some rocks quite slick. My horse almost jumped a steep ravine to avoid the slippery rocks. I freaked for a moment, causing my horse stress and confusion. Luckily our guide was behind me, and led the horse down the slippery rocks. I wanted to get off and walk a while. Our guide, Mpho, said, “Sorry, miss. It will be okay.” I did get off and walk a bit, but once the mud got too sticky, I got back on my horse, and tried to remember to breath. We stayed two nights on a homestead in a little village on the side of the mountain. Our rondoval had a packed dirt floor. We cooked on a gas stove, and used candlelight to light the hut. Not unlike our experiences in Swaziland. But had I not experienced something similar I’m not sure I’d appreciate a place to rest my head or shelter from the windy mountainside as much as I did.
Grace be to God: The day we left, Michelle, from Pasture Valley Children’s Home gave us a ride to the border. She was on her way to the hospital. The baby, Gracie, wasn’t doing well, and she was going to check on her. She’d been admitted a few days earlier with pneumonia. Gracie is a 9-month old with HIV. A few weeks ago, several of the children contracted German measles aka mumps. Gracie suffered a mild case; her ARV medication helped to keep the high fevers at bay, but she was still affected since her immune system is compromised. As a result of the infection, her immune system took a dive. She’d had a 103 degree temperature for two days; Gogo gave her cool baths, thinking that would be enough. Gogo didn’t alert Michelle or Peter about Gracie’s condition; in Swazi culture, being sick is not distressing. Michelle visited late in the afternoon on the second day; after taking her temperature she rushed Gracie to the clinic immediately. They admitted her and began an IV drip. Unfortunately it was too late. Gracie’s body wasn’t strong enough to fight. She died the day before Easter. They buried her in a cemetery on the property. Her headstone, a simple wooden cross, reads: Grace be to God.
I cannot even describe how much this pains me. I held her. I played with her. I fed her bottles. She smiled when she saw my smile. This makes no sense to me. There are days I curse humanity. I even curse the universe. I don’t understand a world that allows an innocent child to suffer; I don’t understand idly standing by, letting destruction happen without concern. Sometimes, I simply don’t understand life. And that is without a doubt the hardest part of my service, and probably something I’ll never quite grasp.
16 April, 2010- Grant update: as most of you know my revised grant was funded. I updated the budget to finish one building. Previous experience with construction would have suited me well, and helped me ask the right questions. I was unaware that the budget only included figures for roofing. It didn’t include estimates for a ceiling. I found that out once the contractor, his assistant, the Clinic Committee Treasurer and I arrived at the building store to purchase materials. The original estimates include tiles for the roof but we switched to corrugated iron and rust-resistance paint after discovering tiles were twice the cost. I asked the people at the building store to look at the floor plans, estimate the amount of materials needed for a ceiling and how much it would cost. Well over my newly estimated budget, I thought it worthwhile to know in case money appears to help install a ceiling. The entire time this was happening, the contractor was absent. We found him later at the police station; he was defending himself against a woman who’d brought a case against him, most likely a case of not finishing his work. He’s done the same thing to the Clinic Committee. They paid him a certain amount to pour the base of both houses and to begin work on the second. They paid him in full, unfortunately, and he didn’t finish everything the committee asked him to finish. I told the head nurse I didn’t trust his guy; he agreed but acquiesced with the committee’s desire to allow this contractor to finish the work. Well, my instincts were right but don’t do me much good at the moment. I will not have a problem, however, telling the committee to fire him if he doesn’t show up, continually make progress on the building or mess up. And I will not pay him until the work is completed and approved by the Ministry of Works. Oh, the lessons I learn.
20 April – 23 April, 2010- COS Conference: COS stands for Close of Service conference. Our COS conf is geared toward reflection and transition; reflecting on our service and how to transition from Swaziland back to America. We talked about our highs and lows, and our proud moments during each period of service. We discussed how to say good-bye to host families and communities, as well as how to close out projects. We learned about medical coverage after PC. We shared our plans for after service. We learned what to expect. We had a great panel of returned volunteers who are now working and living in Swaziland. Mostly Embassy people, they talked about their first trip back to America after service. How difficult it was to go to the grocery store and be inundated by all the choices. How patience was needed with the plethora of questions from family and friends. How friends and family might not understand what you experienced, and you won’t be able to explain it to them sufficiently enough for understanding. It was nice to hear their perspective on life after PC. A bit hard to know I’ll never think about America or Africa in the same way again, this could be good or bad. And what’s harder is that I’ll never be that person my friends and family use to know. Along with that, my family and friends won’t be the same either. That was a tough one to hear. I knew/know I’ve changed. But I didn’t think about not reconnecting in the same way to dear ones back home. They said to give your self time, and be patient with self and others. Something I’ve really learned to embrace while living here. On the whole, it was an enjoyable conference even though it was emotionally draining. It was a pleasure to have everyone together again, to share and reflect. We did a tying in ceremony to remind us that we are part of a community, and we’ll always be connected. We each will wear a piece of twine around our right wrist for at least 3 days; we can never cut it, rather we let it wear off or slip it off but never toss it. Great closure, even though it felt a little surreal since I’m not leaving yet. A few in our group are leaving end of May, so it was more real for them. A few leave in July and the rest in August. Six will remain; two volunteers are staying 13 months, one will stay until December, two until February and one leaves next May. I’m one of the volunteer leaving in February. 26 February is my official extension COS date. And after that? Other than traveling the rest of Africa, the only thing I know for sure is my desire to obtain a teacher’s certification in hatha yoga. I offer to lead classes at each conference/workshop we’ve had during service, and I’ve discovered that I really enjoy practicing with others and leading them, especially people new to yoga. I really believe in the sense of community and unity I feel when practicing with others, and how that sense feels more and more important as the madness of this world continues.