Tuesday, July 27, 2010

June 2010

6 June 2010- My bus ride home: A man I’ve never seen before on my bus sat behind me today. He was an mkhulu, an old man, of at least 65. He was carrying a knob carry, a walking stick with a rounded end. When he saw me on the bus, he immediately wanted to talk me. He launched into the typical tirade of ‘you are beautiful’, ‘I love you’ and ‘will you marry me’ I so often hear. I laughed at first because sometimes that’s all you can do, and the easiest way to deflect unwanted attention. He was not so easily deterred. He continued saying how I would be lucky to marry him, he could satisfy me. I continued to chuckle. Then he got raunchy. He told me was a real man, a man capable of really loving me. “I love you quickly”, he said many times and I told him to stop talking to me. Then he pointed to his knob carry to indicate the size of his penis, again declaring how quickly and well he would love me. I asked him, nicely, several times to stop. I told he was being disrespectful. The others around me, mostly women, had been laughing since the exchange began. No one defended me as mkhulu continued to convince me what a man he was. Finally, I’d had enough. I scolded mkhulu, saying it was incredibly disrespectful to speak to a woman the way he was speaking to me. Then I scolded the women around me, saying it was not okay for a man to treat a woman the way he was treating me. I told them they needed to stand up for women who are being mistreated by men. They stopped laughing, looking at me with disbelief on their faces. One of the women did, however, tell mkhulu to stop talking to me, that he was being rude. He complied rather quickly, even apologizing for his behavior. I waved him away. I was too disgusted to respond. I turned me face to the window, put my headphones in my ears, put on my sunglasses and cried silently the rest of my ride home. It was the worst treatment I’d ever received from anyone, and I wasn’t sure how to reconcile it in my soul.
7 June 2010- My friend at the clinic: My friend Andile is a live wire. She’s always laughing, always telling jokes and teasing everyone, especially me. I’ve taken to calling her kuhlupa, or troublesome. She began as the expert client for MSF at my clinic; an expert clinic is one who’s positive, living a healthy life, and willing to share his/her experiences and tips on living healthy with other positive people. She recently moved up the ranks, taking a workshop several weeks ago to be a Pharmacy tech. She was quite proud of her achievements, and could hardly contain herself when she told me.
Today she was a different person. She was sullen, moving slowly between rooms, barely looking at anyone. At first all she would tell me is she wasn’t feeling well. I told her to sit by the heater and drink tea. We chatted about this and that, nothing really engaging. Finally she told me why she was so sick. She’d taken the remaining contents of her ARV bottle (anti-retroviral drugs), 43 pills—each constitute 3 different types of ARV’s in one pill. She was trying to overdose because her boyfriend beat her up the night before. She was trying to leave him since he’d invited his other two girlfriends to his house, and was insisting they all stay together. She told him to shove it, intending to leave his homestead and walk back to her mother’s place where she stays with her sisters, her three children and her sisters’ children. He wouldn’t let her leave; he beat her on her torso so bruises wouldn’t be easy to see. That night she took all her ARV’s, intending to take her life. Instead, the pills made her incredibly nauseas and achy all over. She came to work hoping the nurses would know how to help her. They called MSF; a car came around noon to take her to the MSF clinic in Nhlangano. They pumped her stomach. They started counseling, and insisted she come with one of her sisters every day for counseling and support. She restarted her ARV regime.
We rode together on the bus the following week; I was going to Baylor, she was going to counseling. I told her she was too important to too many people to let go of her life. I said her children needed a strong mother to look up to. I asked her to remain strong. She told me she left her boyfriend, and promised never to see him again. She said she realized how much her children would suffer if she weren’t around. And she loved her job with MSF; she wanted to warn others against what she did.
She was back to work a week later, back to her old tricks and with a radiant smile on her face. She had a new lease on life. She was telling everyone she was alive, and she intended to live. Every day since then, she greets me and then laughs, holding her heart saying, “I’m very happy today. My heart is very happy! I’m alive, sis Thadeka!”
“And you don’t stop. And you don’t quit.” –Michael Franti
10 June 2010- Visiting the NCP’s: During the month of May and throughout June my intension was to finish visiting my NCP’s. A few angels from back home sent me school supplies throughout the year and with the money I received from Holy Family I added to what friends and family sent me. I was able to take loads of school supplies to each of my NCP’s including coloring books, pencils, colors, pencil sharpeners, story books, flash cards, note paper, molding clay, colored pencils, water colors and paint brushes. I distributed the items to two NCP’s in May, and finished the third today. I took my counterpart with me today. The last time I went to the Mthombe NCP was in November, and I wasn’t sure if I’d remember the convoluted route. And last time we encounter some pretty fierce dogs; I didn’t want to cross that homestead alone.
This NCP is lucky to have a full-time preschool teacher, and she gladly accepted my hand painted posters of colors, shapes, numbers and songs as the NCP couldn’t afford pre-printed laminated posters. I taught a few lessons with her using the posters, and then I taught them a few songs. They loved the itsy bitsy spider, but had a hard time with the finger motions. They sang me a few songs, including an American Christmas carol which threw me for a minute. As the children ate their meal and my counterpart and I enjoyed tea and biscuits from the teacher, I couldn’t help but observe how happy the children seemed. The structure they were in had a dirt floor; the Council of Churches supported the construction of this new NCP and they were waiting for funds to buy more cement. The walls were finished but the window weren’t fully installed. And there was no electricity. Yet the children had real desks and chairs. They received a daily meal. And they had a teacher educated as a preschool teacher. They were learning. And they smiled. What more is there?
16 June 2010- Items Stolen from Building Materials: Eight of the twelve fascia boards were taken from the clinic grounds. I’m not exactly sure what they are, but I do know fascia boards are essential to finishing the roof. No one at the clinic, including the night watchman, was sure how long the boards were missing. But they waited a week to tell me about the theft, fearing my wrath. They involved local police, who were supposed to interview everyone involved. I’m not sure if that happened. The Clinic Committee assured me that they would find the thief and recover the boards. I shook my head yes, and inside I was thinking the idea of finding the boards was absurd. They are long gone, and so it the thief.
Funny enough, I wasn’t too upset when I found out. I should say, I was galled but this happening seemed like standard practice for Swaziland. I almost expected it.
19 June 2010- World Cup Soccer: I attended the New Zealand vs. Italy game with Jenn, Kathy—former PCV from the 80’s—and her daughter. It ended in a draw, one to one. The Italians fans, albeit passionate from beginning to end, were crestfallen their team didn’t win. The New Zealanders, aka Kiwis, were attending the game for only the second time in the history of World Cup play. Some of their players didn’t play on professional teams. They were ecstatic about the draw. We sat near the goal post in row five, close enough to see faces. The New Zealand victory dance after their first goal happened right in front of us. I am now a soccer fan. I’m not sure if it’s the World Cup fever, seeing a live game or finally understanding the rules of the game. Whatever it is, I got da feevah….and what a fun feevah it is!
25 June 2010- My (2nd to last) Official Function in my Community: I visited the Madulini NCP today. It’s a 20 minute walk through a forest and over a river from the siteshi (bus station). I didn’t mind. The weather was beautiful for a winter day. The sun was shining. The wind was mild. The air crisp. And the landscape spectacular. The forest is mostly evergreens, and seeing the bright green trees contrasting with the dirt-red paths and browning grass is wonderfully and strangely comforting. I noticed the change from summer to fall more prominently this year than last. It felt like a Midwest autumn. As I crossed the river and walked up the hill, forest gave way to gently rolling hills and grasses. Cattle were grazing in a nearby field. The grasses they ate, once close to shoulder height, were now barely coming to my knees.
My friend Jane, the main volunteer at this NCP, and her granddaughter were waiting for me near the entrance of the gate. They were resting on the ground, propped up against the wire fence surrounding the NCP. She was delighted to receive the rest of the school supplies, and I should her how to use each item. Then I gave her an article on how to build school desks and chairs from plastic water and soda bottles, as well as tin cans and aluminum cans. Since they don’t have chairs or tables for the children, she promised to start saving her rubbish and ask neighbors to do the same. Then I told her I was moving the Nhlangano. She didn’t want me to leave, but didn’t plead like so many others. She simply asked me to visit again before I go back to America, to bring her a few books because she loves to read before bed, and to leave her with a picture of me with her. She would put the last thing I say to her on a piece of paper above the picture and look at it daily. The only thing I could think to say to that was okay. And somehow I must manage to do just that. I’ve always been touched by Jane. She’s a rare positive deviant. She’s not afraid to speak her mind. She’s a hard worker for her family and her community. I wished so many times I lived closer to Madulini so I could visit her and the NCP more often.
I decided to walk home, a trip that took me close to three hours. But I didn’t mind. I knew it would be difficult to catch a bus, and I’ve always wanted to walk that road. The peaks in and around my community are quite impressive and I wanted to breath them in. Mostly I wanted time to reflect. As I walked I thought about the two years in my community. The people I met. The projects I tackled. The projects I didn’t tackle. The relationships I created and the relationships others created with me. I had a family and friends, and I believe I was as much apart of the community as any foreigner could possibly be after two years.
I felt a little low about being finished with things in my community, and at the same time I felt quite content. My proudest accomplishments were ones involving relationships, creating and working to sustain friendships. In my estimation, there is nothing more significant than connecting with another human being on a level that is pure and true.
26 June 2010- Umphakatsi Meeting: I intended to say good-bye to the inner-council at their meeting today. My counterpart told me two weeks in advance. Pretty good planning for Swaziland. I should have known it was too good to be true. The meeting never happened. By the time the Indvuna (liaison to chief) and Buchopo (liaison b/w inner-council & community) arrived I’d been waiting an hour and 30 minutes. They decided after another 30 minutes of waiting that not enough members were present to conduct a meeting so they postponed it. I asked my counterpart what I should do since I was leaving the community the following week; I wanted to follow protocol. He told Indvuna and Buchopo that I had news. He said I could address them, so I relayed my plans and departure date. Both were very surprised I was leaving. I reminded them my contract was for two years, as well as telling them I would visit frequently since I needed to finish the clinic housing. After several siyabonga kakhulu (thank you’s), they continued the conversation they were having before like I wasn’t there.
28 June 2010- Packing Up: Two years ago today, I arrived in country. Since then, it’s been one hell of a rollercoaster ride, with many unexpected twists and turns. As I take letters, cards and pictures off my walls and pack them away, I think back two years ago when I was packing, preparing to leave family and friends for the unknown, exciting and anxiety producing adventure awaiting me with Peace Corps. I am transported there again as I pack; I’m leaving my Swazi family and friends for Pasture Valley where I’ll be joining a new family unit but with a completely different definition of family. This new adventure is somewhat unknown, anxiety-provoking and riddled with special challenges. What strikes me is how upsetting it is leaving my Swazi family; how similar it was to leaving my real family, and how I have a feeling of not wanting to go. Quite an unexpected turn of events! I’m struggling with how to reconcile all these feelings in a constructive way, so I may move forward and transition more smoothly than I did two years ago.
What I’ve learned since that first day in country is this: You can find family anywhere. New relationships may flourish if you make an effort with people willing to make an effort with you. Acquaintances are easy to come by; true friendship takes time and some toil, and with friends who will soon be old friends, it is also effortless.
30 June 2010: My Last Day in the Community: As usual, I went to the clinic this morning. When I got there everyone was abuzz, rushing to finish their clients on time. I assumed it was due to having tea break with me. I told a few people I was bringing treats to have with tea time. As it turns out, they had a braii planned for me. As soon as the last client had received his medication, the nurses were preparing the chicken and lipalishi and the ward clerk and registrar were sweeping and mopping the floors. Chicken pieces were loaded with seasonings and grilled outside on a braii stand. Nurse Phiri brought a cabbage salad and chocolate cake. Before we ate, she gave a speech of thanks that had me tearing up in seconds. It suddenly dawned on me that the clinic staff was my second family during my service. I told them they keep me here when I wanted to leave. When I first arrived, I started the joke, “If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry” in response to a question one of them asked me. We often used the phrase throughout my time here. I mentioned it again today, thanking them for making me laugh when I really wanted to cry.
I rushed home to my second party of the day. I promised to cook Nomy and Phindile lunch. They were impressed with the potato soup with avocado garnish, and mentally took down the recipe. Then we ate apple cake, drank tea and chatted about visiting each other in town. As Phindile stood to leave, she embraced me with a hug reminiscent of the hug my mom gave me when I left. I took my breath away. After I walked them to the gate, I went back to my house, sat in my camp chair and cried.

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