3 September 2010- The First Girls’ Night: I received a donation over a year ago to purchase the Owning Up Curriculum; a publication written by Rosalind Wiseman it’s intended to empower adolescents to stand against social injustice, cruelty and bullying. I’d been waiting for the right audience to engage, and finally found it with the young girls at Pasture Valley. It’s a small, intimate group of four; they are an attentive audience and in need of trusted adults, who are not caregivers, they could talk to about matters of the heart, issues at school and dealing with age-mates. Gail was on-board, eager to assist me with classes every other Friday night, with the shared philosophy of preparing these young women to be self-confident and raise their awareness of treating each other always with kindness. Gail’s final message includes biblical scripture that ties into each lesson, given that Michelle wants a religious foundation to the evenings, and my final message is an open invitation to talk to me about anything, any time. Tonight began with an overview of what was to come, as well as introducing the circle of trust concept; what is said during these evenings is kept confidential by everyone, and everyone is free to speak. Then I brought out popcorn and nail polish allowing for open chatting and pampering, with lots of kernels scattered around my living room and among the couch cushions. I think it went well. The girls seemed receptive, and even though they didn’t respond much to Gail or my comments and questions, they talked to each other. They need a free space to do that, no matter the conversation or language used.
8 September 2010- Finishing the Holiday Program & Kids Go Back to School: With Gail’s and Mike’s help in the last week and a half of the holiday program, it gave Becca and me a bit of a breather. Gail and Mike facilitated many of the remaining lessons, allowing Becca and I to assist, as well as a needed break from micromanaging children. We were also able to meet about improving homework time. Michelle proposed we use her upstairs living space for homework, giving us and the grades 4 - 7 a dedicated homework hour and quiet space, free of the younger children. From 5 – 6pm every Monday thru Friday, Mike and I will help the grades 4 – 7 with homework and Gail will help grade 3 in the preschool. Once the resource center opens, a building project that recently began, all homework will be there. The resource center will also house a larger preschool, a computer lab and library, a large center room for gatherings and a sewing room for the Bambanani Project. Homework is much easier with a dedicated time and space. Each grade has a designated area to sit. Not having pencils and paper is no longer an excuse to not do homework or a delay in homework time. Its great having another person help every day, and the best part is it’s limited to one – 1-1/2 hours. No more 2 – 3 hour evenings!
Within the last week, a new addition to the children’s home arrived. A boy of 6 years named S’phe is now a part of Pasture Valley. He arrived with a cast on his left arm, having been removed from his homestead for that very reason. I don’t know the whole story but his caretaker was responsible, somehow, for his needing the cast. He looked terrified and overwhelmed as Michelle and Peter introduced him to the rest of the clan. Yet, I am amazed at the resiliency of the children in this country. In a matter of a few days, S’phe was actively involving himself in chores, the Holiday Program, and playing with his age-mates. He has a smile that lights his face and melts my heart, a smile he gives freely. He’s bright. He likes to copy what you draw, and he does it well; something most Swazi children struggle to do. He integrated well into preschool; Gail says he knows numbers, letters, how to write, colors, tumbling, and is picking up the concept of counting from 3 to 1. The sad thing is his arm. It was set incorrectly, and an orthopedic specialist recommended to Michelle and Peter it be reset, which means another painful recovery for him.
11 September 2010: With only a few days to go before she went back to England, Gail and I decided to take Becca to see Phophonyane Falls. Gail had heard it was easier to enter from the Orion Hotel parking lot. We left our bags, after much pleading, with the receptionist at the hotel and then set off behind the parking lot to find the falls. I knew the general direction since I was there last June w/ my family. I thought we’d run right into the falls. After walking about half an hour in the drizzle among the pine trees, we found the falls but only from a distance. There was no path that we could find, to get there, just a drop-off to the valley. The only other way was walking the 4km to the entrance, paying E40 to enter and then walking another 15 minutes beyond that to the falls. We tried to find another way in, through a private property gate but didn’t manage to get far. We noticed a vehicle parked at a residence a ways in, and decided to turn around lest we get escorted off the premises. I was willing to walk the 4km, but no one else wanted to continue in the rain. We found our way back to the hotel to collect our bags, and then walked the short distance to Tintsaba Craft Centre. We ate lunch overlooking the valley and across to mist-covered mountains. I ordered soup and tea, as I was a bit chilled. Becca thought it fitting to order fish and chips to compare to home. I think she found it was acceptable. Then Gail and I followed her through all the shops so she could buy souvenirs.
She and Gail ventured on to the homestead Gail and Mike resided during training for a real Swazi experience, and I headed to Mbabane to see Jaclyn. Jaclyn had been invited to a party, and I obliged to go along. We ended up playing Guitar Hero all night, which was quite surreal. I managed to figure out the bass guitar but the whole night felt too western, and within an hour of playing I was ready to do something else or just go to sleep. A fellow volunteer joked that I was just getting too old and should go home to watch ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns. Jackass; as if that’s my era! In actuality it struck me as odd to participate in something that felt so gluttonous, and not at all a developing world activity I’ve grown accustom to enjoying.
13 September 2010- Becca Leaves for Uni: Tomorrow Becca leaves Pasture Valley to head back to England. She is going back to begin her first year of university where she’ll study child psychology. This evening we had a going-away party for her at the children’s home. The house mothers practiced several songs w/ the preschool children as well as the older children. Becca was showered with 5 songs complete with actions and many gifts to remember Swaziland. She arrived less than two months ago, and yet she felt her connection to Swaziland stronger than she realized was possible. She made many promises to return, indicating several times she could not imagine never seeing the children again or exploring more of Swaziland and South Africa. After getting to know her, I don’t believe her promises of returning are empty ones.
17 September 2010- Teaching Mbangweni Group to make palm & banana leaf earrings: Today I taught our second Bambanani group to assemble earrings using the banana and palm leaf beads they’d made the following week. In addition to assembling with glass beads, we used wild melon, nasturtium and tree seeds in-between the palm or banana leaf beads, which are either circular or square in shape. The result is quite lovely, and the women thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Their assembly skills are fairly creative; I needed to help only a few with picking the right sized beads and assembly. I asked them to make two pairs, allowing them to keep one for themselves; we bought the other pair. They were delighted, to say the least.
19 September 2010- Tutoring Phindile: My friend Phindile, from my first community, is working on her Master’s degree. She has a paper due in a few weeks, and asked me to meet her in town to her help her clarify certain concepts with which she was struggling. I happily agreed since it had been a while since I’d seen her, and I do enjoy tutoring adults. We sat in a run-down park on the edge of town on a bench under a weeping willow tree, shading ourselves from the heat of the day. After we finished talking about each question she needed to answer in her paper, we chatted about Mahlalini, my friends at Edwaleni School and her students. In particular I wanted to know about my sisi Zandile, and how her studies were progressing. Phindile told me Zandile wrote an essay about me. I was shocked. “She did?” I asked. “Yes,” said Phindile, “the assignment was to write about the person you love the most. Zandile wrote about Thandeka, her sisi, whom she loves the most in the world.” We were walking back toward the center of town, and I briefly stopped unable to move or process what Phindile just said. I looked at her. “Zandile wrote about me?” I asked in an excited whisper, hoping my voice wouldn’t squeak from the lump in my throat. “Yes,” Phindile said, “She loves you too much.” Well what do you know about that? The shy girl who seemed less than pleased the day I arrived, some two years later, wrote her essay about me. My sweet little sisi.
The preschoolers come to visit: Several times a week, Phiwa, Bongkosi, and Buhle visit my cabin; Nothando and S’phe are only occasional visitors. They see me watering or weeding my flowers and want to help. Or they come to use my toilet. Or they come to tattle on each other. Sometimes they scour my kitchen for treats. Sometimes, they exercise with me. Sometimes I get out paper and colors and we sit on the floor drawing shapes. Usually they ask to draw on my dry erase board, and frequently veer off the board to my fridge door. They love to wash their hands with the purple soap I keep in the soap dish in the bathroom, and ask to use the toilet so they can wash their hands. They like to touch the touch lamp next to my couch. I never mind their long-term company or breeze-in, breeze-out visits; it’s the highlight of any day.
1 – 2 October 2010- The Homecoming & The Funeral: Last week Make called to tell me that Babe died in a fire. He was living near his farm in the Lubombo region, and the fire destroyed part of the house. Make’s children and Babe’s neighbors believe it was an intentionally set fire, that foul play was involved. They are pressing for an investigation. I’m not sure if one will be conducted. When they found his body, his legs were bound, and most of his upper body, free from binding, sustained the most damage. Make could barely talk on the phone, only telling me that he died and that the funeral would be the following weekend. I heard the full story from Princess, Make’s daughter-in-law and my favorite “sister-in-law.” At the time of the night vigil and funeral, her second born was a few weeks old. She was not required to work much, as she was still nursing, so I sat with her the afternoon I arrived for the night vigil. She recounted the gruesome story bit by bit. Occasionally interrupted with howls from her son, she pacified him with her breast, not shy to nurse in front on me, and then picked up the story where she’d left off. Throughout the story I was obliged to show my remorse with exclamations of “How!” or “Shame!” It wasn’t an act, though. I really did feel sorrow—for Make, her children, and Babe’s siblings.
My first duty upon arrival was to greet Make; she was sitting in the gogo hut, the official hut for family business, making decisions or mourning. She was flanked by 30 women, all relatives to either her or Babe or women from the church. As I entered the darkened rondoval, I crouched to approach Make. She was sitting on a mound of blankets atop a foam mattress, donning the black dress and veil she would be required to wear for the next nine months. Most women are required to wear the mourning attire for three years. Since his death was an accident, the time is shortened. She motioned for me to sit next to her, pushing the women on her left away. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room, I noticed most women were lying down, no doubt resting for the long night of prayer, singing and crying. These women had been with Make most of the day, and would remain with her until the funeral ended. They were like her honor guard, helping the bereaved cope each step of the way. Make tried to tell me the story of what happened; too overcome with grief, she covered her face with her veil and cried. I hugged her several times, telling her I was sorry. Her comment, “God knows,” which was the comment most people made after I greeted them that evening. I only sat with her a short time before she ordered me to help cook. Unmarried daughters, new daughter-in-laws and granddaughters are required to cook for everyone who attends the night vigil and funeral. I helped chop vegetables for the next two hours. Once the food was ready, we served everyone starting with those in the gogo house. There was an order to who was served first, second, and then last. Each time I took a tray of plates I had to ask where to go next, as I didn’t know the order. We were allowed to eat once everyone was served but as soon as we finished we were back on our feet, collecting all the plates. Then it was time to wash dishes. By the time we finished round 1, it was close to 10:30pm. Princess found me, luckily, and told me to rest with her and her sister in the room they were staying. I gladly accepted a grass mat on the floor with an extra blanket. I dozed off and on but my sleep was fitful, at best. The sleeping youngster next to me was a wild sleeper and sporadically kicked or hit me. A band arrived shortly after 11pm and began singing upbeat gospels. Princess’ baby boy wailed until he was fed and satisfied. Sometime after 2 am I woke. I needed the pit latrine but I didn’t want to stumble through crowd to my old one; I tried to go back to sleep. Thirty minutes later, still awake, I decided to get up. I greeted one of Make’s daughters as I left the room. She told me there was a new pit latrine on this side of the homestead, and handed me toilet paper to replenish the facility. I headed in the general direction she’d motioned to, confused about this new pit latrine. It must have been built in time for this occasion since it wasn’t there when I moved. It seems a strange way to prepare for a funeral, until you think about entertaining over a hundred people.
Another round of cooking had begun around 3 am, and wanting to be useful, I began cutting more vegetables. The granddaughters were busy distributing tea and scones to mourners who were awake, a snack before the funeral began. I cut carrots for an hour to scornful looks from two boMake. Apparently I wasn’t cutting them right, but neither of them was going to tell me how they wanted them cut. I kept looking at them each time they talked about me and my funny looking carrots. Finally they caught on that I understood them, and they quit but the damage was done. After no one would tell me what to do next, I said to hell with it and went back to my grass mat for a rest. I closed my eyes for what I thought was only 5 minutes but was abruptly awakened at 5 am when the hearse arrived. The body wasn’t allowed to be at the homestead until day break when the funeral would begin. When someone dies from an accident, the body must remain outside the homestead for fear that all family members will die the same way. Most night vigils are conducted with the deceased present, so wailing is intensified. For the most part, this night vigil was quiet except for the exuberant gospel music. The funeral ceremony lasted about an hour and included eulogies made by family members, neighbors and Babe’s coworkers, as well as songs sung by the band and the family. Then the “honor guard” processed Make to a pickup that would take her to the gravesite. The rest of the crowd followed the procession. I’d found Make Nkosi towards the beginning of the funeral, and we decided to walk down the road to the mission church together. Babe’s sister took my hand as we left the homestead. A woman I’d never met knew all about me, and wanted to meet me. All formalities aside, she asked me everything under the sun about my work, my life in Swaziland and my home country. She’d been taught by an American Missionary and had fond memories of his daughter—she was reminded of her she saw me. She hung on my arm the entire walk, and continued chatting away as we approached the gravesite.
I wasn’t able to see much of the graveside ceremony, one because Babe’s sister continued chatting and secondly, I wasn’t close enough to see through the crowd. I heard more prayers, and noticed Make sitting under a tent near the grave with her children and the women honor guard around her. Around the other side of the grave were the male members of the family; younger male and women onlookers are required to sit back from the gravesite or line the path on the way to the grave. The graveside ceremony last about an hour, after which Make was escorted back to the pickup. She would undergo ritual cleansing and hair plaiting performed by the honor guard who would not allow anyone to see her until they finished, several hours later. Funeral attendees made their way back to the homestead for a meal, after which people slowly trickled back to their respective homes. I caught the half past 8am bus to Nhlangano, eager to get back to Pasture Valley for a shower and a nap. Not only did I feel physically exhausted, I also felt emotionally drained, and I longed for the peace and comfort I’ve come to embrace in solitude.
3 October 2010: A poem
3 October 2010
There’s a storm brewing
It’s been building for hours. I
hear the thunder rumble, and
feel the air cool as afternoon fades to evening and
the once incessant bird chirpings give way to the sound of the wind. Then, there’s silence.
4 – 5 October 2010- Finishing the Nurses’ Housing Project: Last week the Clinic Committee called to say the contractor had finished wiring the building, installing the door and window frames, and were beginning to plaster the walls. I asked for things to be finished by the 4th so I could paint the outside of the building. And to my surprise the Clinic Committee kept the contractor and his crew on task. Hurray! I arrived the afternoon of the 4th with two Group 8 volunteers eager to do ‘real work’ as they endure their Integration period. With the help of one of the Clinic Committee members, we primed the outside wall in about 4 hours. The two G8 volunteers were amazed at the amount of people I knew and who knew me. After each person I greeted, they asked I if knew that person. Yes, I know every person I greet; maybe I don’t know them all by name but I know them. They asked if that would ever happen for them. I assured them it would. I was lucky enough to have a clinic to visit each day, so I saw most of the community daily or weekly. When we first arrived in Mahlalini, they commented at how far out of town I lived. They asked, “How far are you from the tar road? We’re really out here.” I assured them the tar road was only 20km, the same distance to town. “In all honestly, I’m not that far from town,” I told them. Had they visited Jaclyn or the Jackson’s they would have ridden the bus for over two hours. My bus ride was only 45 minutes.
We stayed at my former homestead, and Make was delighted. She had the girls make up the bed in the guesthouse for the two volunteers and I slept on a foam mattress on the floor since my hut was now occupied by the eldest son. I offered to make dinner since I brought two extra mouths with me, and no one protested. I made tuna noodle casserole and boiled pumpkin (butternut squash). A square of hazelnut chocolate—fours squares for Make—and tea for pudding (dessert). The next day we woke early to rain, much to my chagrin. The gloom hung in the air all day, but luckily it stopped raining by the time we reached the clinic. By 7:15 am we were painting again, and finished around half past one. I took pictures along the way to document our progress, and asked the staff to sign a thank-you letter I planned to send to all the supporters/funders. The half past two bus was early, and we asked them to wait for us as we quickly gathered our bags and hurriedly said our good-byes. The girls stayed with me that evening; I was offering a home-cooked meal, wine and a hot shower as a thank you for their help, an offer they couldn’t refuse.
11 October 2010- Paying the Contractor: Last week I arranged to meet the contractor and his crew at noon today. Since they hadn’t finished plastering the inside walls and floors, I wanted to wait to pay him until I made sure things were finished. When I arrived I found Babe Dlamini, Clinic Committee Treasurer, painting the inside walls, and he was nearly finished. I inspected all the things I expected to be done. Everything was done, and in good condition. Then I called all the staff together, along w/ Babe Dlamini, to witness handing over the check to the contractor. We took pictures in front on the building, and then I took a picture of the building sans people. Its cream colored walls and red tin roof looked out of place against the stark contrast of the patchy brown grass and scattered construction materials on the ground. Yet, the house is functional and inhabitable, and I’m guessing Emily Thebo (staff nurse) and her daughter will be living there before the end of the year.
28 October 2010- Hail in the Swaz: It just finished hailing, which was probably the coolest Swazi weather I’ve ever experienced. The preschool kids were with me in my cabin; they’d just finished coloring and then devoured their toasted jam bread I made them. As soon as the hail began they huddled together on the couch and covered their ears. I motioned them to my “screen door” (a burglar door with mosquito netting sewed around it) to watch the hail fall. A piece fell on my porch so I picked it up and brought it inside for them to see and touch. “Kumakhata!” they shouted. It’s cold! When it became too heavy, I pulled them away from the door, slightly closing it and herded them back to my couch. It hailed for a good 5 minutes, depositing nothing bigger than nickels all over the ground. I said a silent praise of thanks that I lived in a secure cabin with appropriate roofing. Once the rain let up, I allowed the kids back onto the porch, and then ran through the yard collecting the biggest piece for the kids to see. Of course, the first thing they wanted to do was put it in their mouth. I tried to explain hail to them, but the closest thing they knew were ice cubes. So we called them ice cubes, and they happily sucked away.
I’m getting a new roomie today. A recent graduate of Texas A&M in environmental science, I welcome her with great trepidation. My last roommate experience with my fellow PCV Jenn, was a good one but I already knew her for two years. Jenn is quite easy-going, kind-hearted and generous, a good transition roommate for me. And before Jenn, I’ve lived alone many years, of which the last two years in a rural community in rural Africa in a cement wall and tin roof hut. This volunteer was been helping at Michelle’s cousin’s game farm in South Africa the last few months; after hearing about Pasture Valley through Michelle’s cousin, she asked to come a short time to help at an orphanage. So many people come wanting an “orphanage” experience, and it’s not all what they think. She comes from such a different Africa background then I do. And even though she’s American, I suspect our feelings about Africa and life could be vastly different. To my credit, my patience had grown by leaps and bounds, by my standards, and I’m hoping that will help facilitate our living arrangement. When Michelle told me yesterday that the new volunteer had finally confirmed her arrival, she added that now I’d have company. But I’m beginning to enjoy my preschool company far more than company with most adults on most occasions. And contrary to popular belief, I’m not lonely.
29 October – 1 November 2010- Weekend Away: I spent the weekend in Mbabane for a much needed rest. I had meetings on Friday and Monday, and decided to just stay for the in-between time. It was fabulous. Victoria, Cameron and I danced Friday night away at House on Fire to a hip-hop band from Durban called Spitmonky. They were fun. On Saturday, Jaci and I hiked Sheba’s Breast, a steep mountain in the Ezulweni Valley. It was hard but it felt great to hike, exert energy, sweat and be in Jaci’s company. We sat at the top for over an hour chatting about life, the challenges and lessons we’ve learned throughout extension, how we’ve changed, what we want out of life, and what we’ll do when we go back to the States. I’m thankful for a friend like Jaci. She’s a great listener. Ever the optimist, she can find the positive in even the shittiest situation. I appreciate that perspective, at times, especially when I’m being cynical. She’s like a sister to me, and I am that for her; we offer encouragement to each other, offer advice, and offer a shoulder for crying on and supporting when one needs it.
The perfectly clear day was well suited for hiking; it was warm but not too hot and the gentle breeze gave great relief. Each time we paused to take a breath, we turned to look across the valley at the mountain range on the other side of the highway. The view is incredible, giving you a real sense of where you are and where you began. The only negative to the day was the sunburn we both received. I applied sunscreen lotion twice. But since this was my first long-term exposure to sun this spring, the sunscreen hardly mattered.
Saturday evening we ventured to two Halloween parties, Jaci dressed at Mary Poppins, Victoria as a Greek goddess, and me as Molly Ringwald. I looked mostly like an 80’s lady but I was true to Molly verbiage, telling everyone they were so affected. Jaci and I left the second party early, as we were both exhausted from the day’s hike and neither party was exciting enough to sustain our interest.
Sunday was a lazy day, and since it rained most of the day, we opted for lying in bed watching Project Runway Season 7. In the evening we had dinner at Rob and Matthew’s pad, as the G6 extenders who live in Mbabane get together every Sunday evening for family dinner night. They were kind enough to include Victoria and me in their evening this time around.
Monday morning I met with my APCD regarding my Peace Corps Partnership Project. We discussed the challenges I faced along the way, as well as the positives of the process. Then I turned in the final report complete with pictures. My APCD needs to read the narrative and approve the final report before sending it to Washington. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m finished. Amen and Halleluiah! It feels mighty good. Unfortunately, as soon as I signed the report and handed it to him, I felt ready to leave Swaziland and Peace Corps service. It was a rush of relief to finish this project as I’ve been working on it for two years. And since the Bambanani Project is in good working order, I wonder about my final three ½ months of service. What will I do with my remaining time? Couldn’t I leave early? Yet there is something, a lesson or two I need to learn, that continue to nag at me. And so, as I did in the beginning of my service I must once again question why I am here. There is something more for me, something yet to discover, and I believe the discovery needs to happen here, can only happen here. And that’s okay. In questioning, in taking time, in continuing to learn, there is clarity. And with clarity come awareness and peace of mind. So I remain open to receive the messages I need to receive from the universe. I remain open to receive. Clarity will be mine when I need it. It is my hope.