I open my eyes in the morning and think “emakata” (It’s cold!). Its usually cold enough that I see my breath in the morning! I lift up my mosquito net and scurry across the concrete floor to grab my phone. I turn my phone off airplane mode and collect all the messages from the states that I missed while I was asleep and you all were out and about. I then greet my sisi before she walks to the school (about a 30min walk to the primary school), sometimes I walk with her. I come back home, make breakfast and sit with my gogo (grandmother). I have lots of family around and mostly all my mothers and gogo sew. This is what occupies their days, they then go to the local market in Mankyane to sell the clothes. They made me a great sailor looking t-shirt last week! I sit with them through lunch, chatting about the children and who didn’t want to get up this morning. They speak all in SiSwati so I can only be vocal for about 10% of the conversation. Trying to grab the meaning of what they are talking about and trying to practice my own language. For lunch we have pap or rice with a veggie (lettuce, cabbage salad, or diced tomatoes & green pepper), sometimes inyama (meat) but it’s rare. In the afternoon I tidy my room and start the preparations for my dinner. Late afternoon I am outside spending time with my younger brothers and sisters, playing with the soccer ball & kite my parents sent, climbing trees and learning their kid games of “Coca-Cola” or African jump rope.This is my favorite time of day as the sun is setting over the mountains and the children’s laughter is continuous. I finish up my dinner and usually bring a portion in for my family to try whatever I have cooked. They have tired tuna noodle casserole, carrot bake, curried noodles, or just my simple vegetable soups. I go into my hut when it gets dark, usually 7:30pm, and spend the rest of the time reading, dancing (my form of exercise right now) or talking with family back home till my bed time of 9pm! So that’s my day, I visit each school and the gardens in my community about once a week too. I helped harvest 400 cabbages the other day with my uncle or babe!
Some could say “wow she’s not doing a whole lot”, and the answer is yes I’m not doing much yet but each day I meet someone new and hear more and more about the community. This is about integrating yourself to the Swazi lifestyle and the people of Velezizweni. I have to understand the lifestyle and the people before I make programs or projects to try to empower them or improve their lifestyle. “Meeting them where they’re at”, as my social worker self would say.
Why am I here if I’m not doing a whole lot right now?
As the Peace Corps country director of Swaziland states, “We are here to build the capacity of the human spirit” –Steve Driehaus. Which is another vague concept, but that’s exactly what I have found Peace Corps to be as I have been figuring it out for myself. It seems so abstract because we don’t have numbers and check lists of items we need to accomplish in our two years here. We have a framework that focuses on HIV prevention and gender empowerment, but it does not what exactly you need to do to accomplish those topics. Thus, why each Peace Corps experience is vastly different from country to country and person to person.
We serve 88 different communities here in Swaziland, as there are 88 different volunteers in country. Each volunteer comes with different skill sets and ideas to combat the problems each community faces. We don’t have hard numbers proving we prevented __% of females or males from contracting HIV by our condom distribution boxes or however many people didn’t get sick this year because of our hand washing workshops. We cannot get strict numbers like other nonprofits or NGO’s because that’s not the way Peace Corps approach to development operates. It’s not the numbers that matter, it’s about people helping people. Peace Corps is overwhelmingly beautiful in that aspect. We volunteers are teaching everyday as we talk to other Swazi’s about our lives and the knowledge we have acquired. PCV’s and Swazi’s are both learners and teachers as we go through our service. We plant seeds in people’s minds that can either flourish or stay put until a later date.We hope we can see impact by the time our service is over, but we may not. Not seeing our projects in a cause and then effect relationship is something that will be difficult at the end of the day. In the states we had hard numbers and statistics to tell us what we were doing was really making an impact in the lives of others. Peace Corps volunteers can do pre-tests and post-tests in educational settings, but this does not encompass everything a Peace Corps volunteer does and has to offer.
Before I came here to Swaziland, “Serving in the Peace Corps” was such a broad and exciting idea. What I set out to do is simply see how people on the other side of the world lived their day-to-day lives. Having the knowledge of how they live will help me in trying to improve their lives. Now I have a little more tangible idea of what we as volunteers do and how Peace Corps outlines development.
We live our lives in the communities we serve, mostly 24 hours a day 7 days a week and 365 days of the year. Rarely do you find another organization that lives in the communities they support abroad. I uniquely can offer my hut as a place to come cry and talk after my sisi has had a long day at school. I provide a wealth of knowledge of cooking/ baking different meals Swazi’s have never heard of but are willing to try (i.e. Kale chips, they love ‘em J). I can educate on new perma-gardening techniques that can be used for home gardens in homesteads that have very scarce water resources. I am a motivated individual in a community that can provide insight and resources into projects and issues that the community has at hand. They’re so many positives to living in the communities you serve, it opens up so many more doors.
Some of my possible projects for Velezizweni include:
-Creating a community map-outlining resources such as water access and produce that is available for purchase to community members.
-Leading educational sessions on perma-gardening. There are two big gardens and multiple neighborhood care points I can teach good agriculture practices close to their home.
-Making locally grown vegetables available to kids through school lunches. Everyday kids here get a free lunch of rice and beans, everyday rice and beans. Since there is such a great resource of gardens in my community I would like to establish a way to get farmers to give some of their produce at a low cost to the schools.
Pictures are the two largest gardens in my community. The top one was set up by world vision Australia and the second was set up by Swazi’s in 1965!
-Starting a GLOW club at the primary and high school. I want to start a group that will empower girl youth in the community. Gender inequality towards females is very apparent in Swaziland.
-Setting up a library at the primary school. For this to happen I need to find and clear out a place in the school and apply through books for Africa to try and get funding. I know a lot of people from home want to help with this one. I will definitely keep you updated! Thanks for the support.
I need to find counterparts for each of these projects. I need to meet motivated individuals from the community who want to work alongside with me in these projects. It is very important to find a counterpart because this will be the person to continue the clubs and support for the library’s after my service is over. I don’t have all the answers, but I am accepting that I maybe the most capable to help in my community to motivate and empower individuals to accomplish positive impact.
I was checking out of a store the other day when I did the SiSwati greeting to the Swazi cashier. The cashier told me “When you speak your language it goes to my head, but when you speak my mother tongue it goes to my heart”. This is close to a quote from Nelson Mandela. Learning SiSwati is a very big part of integration process also. The language is another thing I am focusing on with my time.
Us volunteers walk around our villages greeting Swazi’s in their traditional language. I usually always get a smile and a “Hawu?!” which is a sign of disbelief that you know their mother language. Below is an example greeting, SiSwati to English translation, with an elder in my community.
Me: “Sawubona, Nkosi” (Hello with honor)
Babe: “Yebo, Sisi” (Yes Sister)
Me: “Unjani, Babe” (How are you, father?)
Babe: “Ngiyapela Sisi” (I am fine)
Me: “Ngiyapela nami” (I am fine too)
Swazi’s use this greeting 90% of the time when meeting someone for the first time in the day. This greeting used before asking for things we need/ want. In the Swazi culture you ask how the person before anything else.I live with my Swazi family in a rural part of the country. I get to see family dynamics and gender roles very clearly every day. I see the mass of children walking to school and get to hear what my sisi is learning in the 7th grade. I learn how people here make their living and what they eat for dinner at night. Swazi people are big boned and strong working bodies, they are a beautiful nation. I get to learn about a lifestyle so different from my own, yet still catching the glimpses of similarities. A lot of people feel bad for the people of Africa, but not many people get to experience the deep beauty of living in rural Swaziland, Africa. I feel blessed to be considered my Swazi mother’s “eldest” daughter and that I’m worth so many cows no man could marry me J. I feel so unbelievably welcomed into a family half way across the world and it’s so heartwarming.
Love you from Swaziland!
“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand” –Chinese Proverb