Sunday, September 5, 2010

July & August 2010

30 June 2010- My last day continued: The third party was with my family. In addition to telling them good-bye we were celebrating Zandile’s birthday. Sitting in the living room, Make opened with a prayer of thanks; she said no harm came to her homestead or to her children while I was living there. She said God made that happen. God had blessed her with another daughter, and because of it we lived safely together. Machawe, Mcolici, Nomdumiso and Zandile each thanked me for staying with them, and wished me safe travels. The girls each added they were happy to stay with a sisi who shared with them. Then they broke into prayer, each offering their needs and gratitudes out loud to Inkhosi yami—my God; I sat watching them, struggling with tears. I looked, really looked, at each person, saying my own silent prayer of thanks for each member of my Swazi family, for the gratitude I felt for them, for having them be part ofmy life.
We sang happy birthday and shared apple cake for Zandile’s birthday. The kids left unceremoniously to prepare Make’s dinner plate, then share their meal together in the kitchen hut. I sat with Make for several minutes as she ate her dinner. I said good night to her, and then walked to the kitchen house to offer nilala kahle (good rest) to bosisi and bobhuti. I promised to be up in time to see them off to school.
I walked back to my hut, made tea and looked around my empty walls as I sipped. It was no longer my space, the little cement hut. The makeshift closet I made from branches and a large plastic bag hung empty from the ceiling with fishing line. The walls, stripped of their pictures, letters and cards, were bare, and once again showed their water marks and bug stains. My things were packed and stacked haphazardly in one corner of the room. The kitchen items I intended to leave were strewn on the top of the plastic table from Deja, which set in the center of the room out of place. The floor, swept and washed earlier in the day, had dried with a streak-free semi-gloss shine and was considerably cleaner than the day I moved in.
I was feeling a mix of thanks for the four walls’ kindness, as well as relief that I was done with them. Yet I offered them appreciation for being a good space for me. There were many times I despised those four walls: for their unsuccessful retention of heat on winter evenings; for their failure to remain cool on hot summer days; for their proclivity to allowing rain to seep in; for their ability to mold; for their gift of crumbling after heavy rains or high winds; for allowing large spiders and snakes to enter; and finally for permitting noises to ooze in, making me think bats, dogs, chickens, cattle, goats, and people were just inside my door. Nevertheless, I grew quite fond of those four fickle walls, even running to them for sanctuary, for a sense of familiar, when nothing else seemed right. Surprising what brings one joy, frustration, calm, or anxiety, and how, ironically, it can be the same thing.
1 July 2010- Moving to Pasture Valley: I left Mahlalini on a grey, drizzly morning around half past ten. Make and her granddaughter kept me company for several hours as I waited for the PC driver, and thank goodness for their company. The driver was to arrive at 9, but he was an hour late. Part of me wanted to delay my departure; the other part just wanted to get it over, like taking off a band-aide, better to pull it off quickly then to prolong the pain.
I intended to leave Make with an equipped place in case she decided to rent, so I left my bed and bedding for the house along with the mini stove and fridge. I also left the table, two chairs, all my dishes and cooking utensils, and a stackable organizer tray. Make seemed very pleased with all I was leaving. She had plans already for the fridge, determined to replace the old freezer in her bedroom with my fridge.
Once the driver arrived, Make and her granddaughter helped me carry things to the truck as the driver loaded. It was full, as I had many things for my project I needed to transplant to Pasture Valley and two-100 liter water barrels I was returning to Peace Corps. I ended up holding one plant on my lap and put one between my feet.
The drive was quick and relatively quiet. I tried small talk at first but had trouble talking over the lump in my throat. Sprinkles of rain were intermittent, and I said a silent plea that it would hold off until I unpacked. For once, the weather complied. Jenn greeted us on the porch; having moved in a month earlier she helped us unpack in short order.
I began settling in immediately, as the sky unloaded as well. I needed to unpack and begin feeling at home right away, otherwise some boxes would never be unpacked. My work was to begin the following day, and I knew I’d feel better with most of my things in place and some semblance of order before embarking on days that would keep me busy from sunup to sundown.
The day, unfortunately, came and went with the rapidity of a load of laundry; but with Jenn’s company, and my bedroom intact, I felt better about leaving my home away from home. We settled down for the evening with Jenn’s veggie noodle soup, two glasses of beers and a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother.
July 2010- Getting my Barings: I spent most of the month organizing my new office and taking inventory of the products we had currently. I also: restrung 60 necklaces; developed new products including clay made from sawdust; teaching small business to two income generating groups; teaching our second group to make beads from palm and banana leaves; saying good-bye to fellow G6 volunteers; watching lots of “How I Met Your Mother” episodes with Jenn; running and doing yoga with Jenn; making bread; teaching Jenn to cook; drinking wine; setting aside reading time before bed; cracking and roasting Macadamia nuts for the first time; and finding moments of calm in my chaotic days.
August 2010- Holiday Program, Just Surviving, and Saying So Long: August was also a quick month. I intend to go into a little more detail than I afforded you with my July happenings but blessed little. As my time is increasingly micromanaged here and occupied by 22 children who often find their way to my cabin for “visits” (the little ones are always asking to wee wee or look at my shower or open cupboard doors or ask for emasweeties), I find I have less time for myself. With the arrival of a new Group 8 couple to the farm at the end of the month, it’s my hope that my time will be less dedicated to the daily management of the children. Currently, Jenn, Becca (a 2-month volunteer from the UK) and I are also running the Holiday Program, which is intended to keep the children active during the break between trimesters. We organize a morning and afternoon activity or two to keep them engaged, learning and from fighting with each other. While its intended purpose is mostly carried out, we’ve noticed that preparing the activities are sometimes more trouble than they are worth. I’ve learned that some days no amount of planned activity will keep children engaged, quiet or from bickering. On those days, I implement exercise time on the spot. “Run to the dairy and back. On your mark, get set, go.” When they get back, I say, “Do it again!” or “Jump on one leg to the gate and back.” I must sound like a tormenter or dictator to some of you. Enforced exercise?! The audacity! How could I be so cruel? The children don’t realize I have ulterior motives in ‘exercise time’ but it’s necessary for my sanity and those of my fellow Holiday Program planners. And, they love running or doing jumping jacks, so that’s a positive, right?!
3 - 4 August- G8 Shadowing and Fighting Fires: The new couple—Gail and Mike— arrived over the weekend to shadow Chris, a Group 7 volunteer who left on Monday to return to the States to be with this wife who wasn’t recovering from an illness she contracted while in Swaziland. Over the weekend Jenn and I gave them and another volunteer from their group a tour of Nhlangano, their new shopping town. On Tuesday, I met another G8 volunteer in town after my day with Dr Piluca at Baylor. Gail was with me, and she helped me orient Emily to her new area. Emily stayed with me that night. Part of the purpose of shadowing is to talk candidly with a veteran volunteer about their service. Emily, a resident of Vermont in her late 20’s, told me all about her mountain biking experiences, her recent love of yoga, and her excitement for Peace Corps service. I believe her to be a good egg indeed. On Wednesday morning, she joined Gail and Becca in the preschool while I spent time on my project. We met at my cabin for lunch, and stood on the porch chatting with Gail and Mike, after they dropped by to see my place. We noticed a fire starting near the dam, perhaps 3 km from the farm. I immediately called Peter to alert him of the growing fire, which was quite tall and fueled by bursts of wind. As is the protocol for fires in Swaziland, alerting someone immediately, even if it’s small, is necessary. Winter is quite dry and a known fire season. With the wind, the dry grass and a careless match it’s the perfect recipe for covering large spaces in seconds. We watched for several minutes, mesmerized by the height of the flames and how rapidly they danced along the fields alighting trees along the way. I called Michelle and asked her how we could help. I wasn’t about the stand idle as the fire raged closer and closer to my wood cabin. She said to make sure the little children were with Gogo, fill as many jugs with water and help the older children to gather branches for beating out the fire. For a second, I realized that I was actually going to help put out a forest fire. And in that second I contemplated the seriousness of the situation upon me. Then I ran to set things in motion, alerting Gogo, mobilizing the older children and informing Gail, Mike, and Emily of Michelle’s instructions; they were as anxious as I was to help. I ran to my cabin and Emily helped me fill all the jugs I could find. I opened windows to lessen the impacted of blown out glass. I turned off all the outlets and unplugged everything. I looked around each room briefly to see what I could pack quickly if a needed to rush in and rush out. But the thought struck me as absurd. What could I possibly need? Nothing. I didn’t need anything. I put on my running shoes, stashed my cell phone in my jeans pocket in case I needed to call Peace Corps and ran to wet the branches that we’d use to beat out the fire. Mike and Emily ran with me through the field to our first stop, while Gail remained with Gogo to wet the grass around the children’s homes and continue filling buckets. I had no idea how intense a grass fire could be. Immediately, my face reddened and my lips and forehead felt on fire. I had to hold my breath as I beat the fire back on itself. I could only send two or three blows to the fire before I had to back away from the intensity and catch my breath. We managed to put it out, leaving smoldering grass patches. My adrenaline kicked in as we turned toward the farm and Michelle and Peter’s house. The fire had split, and another section was raging behind us. We took off through the field; I couldn’t help myself, I ran at top speed, dodging dirt clods and scrambling under fences. The water truck had finally made its way to the interior of the farm having taken three attempts to put out the fire that turned away from my cabin toward the forest behind my house. As we stamped out mini fires here and there, a huge gust of wind came up sending the flames whirling up into a tornado cloud of fire at least 10 feet high. As tornados sometimes do, it whirled out of control in all directions consuming everything in its wake. We all started running away from it as fast as we could; it was on our tails and I could feel it’s force at my back as I made my way up the hill in the opposite direction. Michelle yelled for Sandile to move the truck, as he was in a daze watching the tornado of fire. Luckily he moved quickly, and then several workers blasted the fire with the water hose which was attached to a large tank and used a generator to propel the water. Neighbors and workers from the local saw mill arrived, having put out the fire in the forest, and with their help the rest of the fire was out in minutes. An hour and 20 minutes had passed but it seemed like four hours. We stood with Michelle looking at the aftermath, the damage a careless few inflicted on many. My lips felt burnt, and my shoulders and arms ached from beating branches to the ground. I slowly walked back to my cabin, sending our Safety and Security Officer a text message to inform him of what had happened and to say I broke in the new volunteers. As Emily and I sat in my kitchen living room pondering our experience, I ate a piece of bread I’d left in the oven, the rest of the lunch I wasn’t able to finish. Neither of us could think of anything to say except, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that just happened!!!” I briefly mentioned how at times I felt a little scared and freaked out, but at the same time compelled to continue by a force greater than me. She agreed.
7 August- Recycling Day: The City Council of Mbabane launched a campaign of waste management, recycling, reuse, and waste reduction awareness as part of their efforts to clean up the city and empower locals to keep their city clean. The Department of Waste Management headed the launch, taking the initiative into three local schools as a pilot program. Due to its success, they decided to take the program to the entire city of Mbabane. I met the Head of the Department of Waste Management through a Finnish volunteer working with the City Council. I met the Finnish volunteer at a backpacker’s lodge I frequently stay while in Mbabane. She was telling me about the initiative, and I told her about the reuse work I was doing with my income-generating project. We both decided we could be of use to each other. I offered to teach basic business and marketing to the income-generating group they wanted to start, as well as a few reuse ideas they could turn into profitable items. She said the City Council would be willing to let me scavenge their recycling bins for items for the Bambanani Project. It was a win-win situation. As part of the deal, I was asked to display the Bambanani items at their launch day, as well as give a speech about my project and how important reuse is to the project, as well as everyone in Swaziland and the world. The day was ill-attended, but my speech went well and we managed to sell several hundred rands worth of product.
28 August- Official Two Year Anniversary & Adieu to Jenn & Justine: Today marks my official two year anniversary with Peace Corps since two years ago today I swore in as a volunteer. It also marks the official start of my extension. The day before, Jenn and Justine closed their service in a special ceremony called ringing out, and we celebrated with dinner at Malendela’s and listening to Bhalotja, a local musician at House on Fire. These ladies are the last two of our group to leave; the final six of us are extenders. Quite a strange feeling to be among the last of your group, especially considering those who extend essentially have “real” jobs which no longer affords much free time or casual visits to fellow volunteers. It’s the end of an era, so to speak. The extenders will trickle out here and there, quietly and unassumingly as attention is rightly directed towards groups 7 and 8. And while everyone supposes the old-timers, G6, will leave gently, their mark will be heavy upon Swaziland, just as was it before them and just as it will continue to be after them.

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