Saturday, September 4, 2010

The African adventure is under way...

Since I’ve been awful at updating this, I’ve included three entries all at once for your reading pleasure, dated according to completion. I advise starting at the bottom and working your way up. Cheers!

August 29, 2010

Kancane, kancane.
My favorite expression in siSwati has a click. Figures. The “k” really sounds like a “g” and the “c” is where my English-trained tongue performs acrobatics in order to correctly (or not so correctly) apply enough pressure on the roof of my mouth to create said-clicking sound.

It’s English translation, roughly “step by step” or “bit by bit,” happens to be one of the wisest sentiments I’ve heard since arriving in Swaziland. All throughout training, my host bhuti (brother) liked to repeat this to me, applying it to everything from building a house to learning a new language. And when it comes to spending two years in Africa teaching behavior change to help stem the spread of HIV, I’d say this expression is especially pertinent.

At this very moment, I am sitting in my permanent hut, complete with thatched roofing, in the flat, dry lowlands of the Lubombo region of Swaziland. Training has officially ended and I am now a full-fledged PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer – I swear, that acronym list is on its way), having been sworn-in August 23rd.

I’m surrounded by my suitcases, way too many buckets and basins of various sizes and bomake bags (reusable plastic shopping bags that come in a multitude of designs – some more garish than others). Not to mention my awesome new electric stove (woo for electricity!), which is sitting on the cement floor since I’m sans furniture. My parmesan cheese that will be going on my pasta tonight is in my improvised fridge (pot + cement floor = cold enough).

I’ve spent the past two days playing a variety of games with the children on my homestead that involves a lot of creativity on their part. Shoelaces tied together create a game they call 3 square: this involves jumping in between the rope and back and tends to illicit a lot of laughter on their part at my pathetic attempts. Crumpled plastic into a ball-like shape, a can and a rock create a fast-paced sport that has the middle person tapping the rock on the can as many times before the outside players can pelt them with the ball.

Then of course you have the standards: keep-away and hide-and-seek. Though these classics have quite the twist when you are trying not to trip over a chicken or run into barbed wire that is lying in the dirt. I have made my mark on their games: they absolutely loved learning the limbo and could barely contain themselves when I demonstrated.

And then there are my nightly card games of crazy 8’s. One of the kids usually come to my door, whispers “knock knock” and then sheepishly asks if I will be coming to play that night. We play tournament style and my favorite part of it is when they shout “dlala” (play) at me since I’m too slow. And as a testament to how comfortable they are getting with me, they’ve even started lightly hitting my leg to insist I put down a card immediately. This is all while sitting on a licasi (grass mat) in my family’s living room, watching WWE and trying to sit in a culturally appropriate manner, legs out straight – no crossed legs allowed, which always leads to all my lower appendages falling asleep.

As I settle in over the next couple weeks, I will begin the process of “integration.” This period of my service lasts three months and will entail making myself known to the community as their resource for all things HIV-related all the while doing an extensive assessment of their needs. I’d be lying if I said it is not a daunting task, yet I can’t help but be excited for the hot, dusty days of trudging down dirt roads towards faraway homesteads to conduct interviews. For me, this is the beginning of the real adventure.

I’m also in the process of making my hut into a home. I’m absolutely determined to paint the entire interior, which my host bhuti informs me will require 20 liters of paint. The actual painting promises to be interesting, especially given the fact that I’m positive at some point one of my lizard roommates will disturb the wet paint with the pitter patter of their tiny feet. Of course, this could be an ingenious decorating technique.

Some logistics:

-Here is my new address:

Katelyn McBurney, PCV
P.O. Box 1074
Siteki L300

I’ve also amended my contact information on the right side of the page. Don’t worry if you’ve sent something to the old addresses, they are still valid. This new P.O. box is in a town closer to my site, thus easier for me to check on a more regular basis.

-I now have internet on my phone. Message me for the number and feel free to send emails. Oddly enough, it’s incredibly easy for me to check gmail in my hut. Wonders never cease. It’s the replying that is more difficult, so don’t worry if it takes me awhile.

Love from the Swaz

July 28th, 2010

A typical morning at my training host family’s homestead:

6:45 am, somewhere in rural Swaziland.

“Thandiwe, Thandiwe!” (My siSwati name – means to be loved or beloved one)

“Yebo, make!” (Yes, mother!)

Scramble out of my bed after spending the last hour contemplating leaving its safety and warmth and lunge for the key to open the door. Fumble for a good five minutes. Finally succeed. Open door to my make who’s wearing the widest grin, most likely in response to my disheveled appearance.

“Thandiwe, I have baked you scones and fatis.”

Holds up large Tupperware full of Swazi baked goods, numbering close to 10. Fatis, or emafati, are fried dough balls and the bane of PCT’s waistlines.

“Make, too many! I will sell some at school.”

Booming laughter.

“Okay, Thandiwe. Ngyibonga sisi! (Thank you, sister!) I give you more.” Leaves and brings back 9 more. Now I have 19. And a huge Tupperware to carry on the khombi.

Another day begins in Africa.

July 18th, 2010

First lie of Peace Corps: you will need an alarm clock. First fun fact about rural Swaziland: There are a lot of roosters. They begin their ongoing death-like wail anywhere from the moment I choose to burrow into my sleeping bag (9 is now late) until the moment I struggle out of the folds of my ill-hung mosquito net to greet my cockroach roommates (6 is standard). Lesson: I will never be late for class and I now scowl at the Corn Flakes box with its smiling rooster mascot as I endeavor to eat enough so that my malaria meds don’t play havoc on my insides. Welcome to Africa.

Training has been a whirlwind of trying to keep up with everything from siSwati homework to figuring out a system of life lived out of buckets. Bucket bathing. Dish buckets. Clean water buckets. Small buckets. Large buckets. Basins. Bane of my existence. It’s all about a system. And learning how to reconsider cleanliness, a common discussion amongst my fellow PCT’s (Peace Corps Trainees. Note on the acronyms: look for an upcoming list since I now apparently talk in coded government speak). Pretty sure my feet will always have a small film of red dirt on them after two years of walking around in African dust, despite my new feet soaking nightly routine.

I still wake up every morning and have to remind myself where I am. The nearby road sounds as if I could be back in my apartment on East Main in Canton. And then I open my eyes and see my one-room concrete house with a corrugated tin roof that serves as the occasional running track for rats. Or least that’s what I believe wakes me up at all hours of the night. I’m waiting for the day their incessant scratching gets through the tin and concrete and my cockroaches have new friends.

My homestead is by the road, so my walk to the khombi stop in the morning is barely 10 minutes. Of course it’s a total toss up when a khombi will actually pass. The transportation in Swaziland entails these large vans (khombis) that can fit usually around 15 people. Though that number is negotiable and can often include feathered passengers. There’s generally no set schedule and it’s an art to pick the right spot, otherwise you and your groceries may be squished into the far back. The fun part comes when you yell “Stash” and have to maneuver yourself out of these sardine cans on wheels.

I'm still learning how to exit without a) hitting my head on the speakers that blare everything from techno to Michael Jackson to gospel, b) tripping over my long, flowing peasant skirts (I’m discovering my inner flower child), or c) hitting my fellow passengers with my always over packed backpack. As with everything here, it’s a learning process.

Every day I can’t help but appreciate the small reminders of why I’m being infected with a growing love of this place. Whether it is taking a moment to breath in the morning mist as I make the morning trip to the latrine or standing next to my host sisi (sister) as we watch the rubbish pile smolder while the last rays of sun disappear over the nearby South African mountains. It can be as simple as my host make’s (mother’s) incredible booming laugh while she is kindly, but quite firmly, telling my fellow PCT friend to get home before “the Swazi boys” emerge to cause trouble.

I even love how confusing a seemingly simple conversation about dinner can be when trying to bridge the English-siSwati barrier. How Swazis burst into good-hearted laughter at my attempts to greet and introduce myself in a language that, by my count, has far too many words that require that elusive click. I’ve determined that Chaco and watch tan lines compliment an already dubious fashion statement of hippie skirts and mismatched T-shirts. And lo and behold, Swazis have an equivalent to “oy vey” – the always humorous “ish.”

For even though it has been just over a month, I’m already growing sad to leave my training host family for the newness of my permanent site. At the end of August I will move to the hottest, driest part of Swaziland to begin the three month process of integration. No longer will I exist in this bubble of training, but I will be thrust into the reality of living alone in a culture I am only just beginning to grasp.

I will be faced, more than ever, with the challenges that will be sure to test me during this two year-long odyssey: the gender disparity in Swaziland and its impact on my ability to work as a Western female in a male-dominated, semi-traditional society. And of course, the ever-present scrooge of HIV/AIDS, whose insidious nature infects all aspects of life here.

But I know that there is room for laughter. In fact, there has to be. The doubt and uncertainty that goes with the territory of development work is and has to be counteracted by the hilarity of those moments of trial-and-error so far that have made me wish for a witness: my first bucket bathing experience (fail), my first can-opening attempt with a knife by candlelight (success), and my first run-in with a herd of cattle blocking my gate (frustrating – especially after I clapped at them to move and they barely acknowledged my presence).

Stay tuned.

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