Traveling to any new city alone always has the seemingly daunting task of conquering their public transportation. In Australia it was the ferries that were confusing, and in San Francisco it was the Bart. Now, in a foreign country it seemed even more challenging with language misunderstandings and pushy bus conductors. My first place I had to travel alone was from the main city of Manzini to my site. At first I had no problem getting from the capital city to the closest “shopping” town, Mankayane. From there I had literally no idea where I needed to go next to get myself to my community. I walked around the bus rank looking confident, so people would think I knew exactly what I was doing. I search frantically among the vans and buses looking on the fronts of the kombi’s hoping, that one would say “Velezizweni”, the name of my community.
Kombi: 15 passenger vans, which means 15 passengers sitting and another 4 people standing in the small places you can fit your legs. These vans are usually loaded to the normal “over capacity” before leaving for their destination.
I have one bus and one kombi that run in my community once a day. The bus leaving at 6:30am and the kombi coming whenever it comes. If I miss the bus, I usually walk the side of the dirt road and see if someone in a pick-up truck will give me a “lift”. I still pay the people the same amount I would to the bus.
As I am still trying to get home that first day, the bus rank conductors are always screaming “uyaphi?” (where are you going?) or (How are youuuu?). I understand both of them, but refuse to respond as I still had the confidence to find my way on my own. These bus rank conductors, who are always men, are sometimes helpful but mostly forceful and harass you at the same time. They are pushy because they want to make the money off of your travel, so they want you on their bus or kombi. They harass you because your white or an “umlumu”, and that is seen as a “rich person” no matter how many days I have gone without showering. Being seen as a rich person that is from America, most of the time also gets you the joy of many proposals of marriage. I deal with this by mostly just ignoring them or say “Angifuni” I do not want! After all else fails and their intentions are not so laughable anymore I seek help from bomake or gogo’s. They help me tell them off and this has always done the trick for me.
To continue, After making my second round around the rank, I finally accepted that I may need to ask for help from a non-pushy make that is selling fruits. The bus rank in Mankayane is surrounded by kombis and the occasional bus, and the bomake’s sit in the middle of it all trying to sell produce. I sat down on the bench next to a whole row of them and took a deep breath.
Women come from all surrounding communities to try and make some money by selling fruits. They arrive in the morning about 7am and leave at about 5 or 6pm. They each purchased pre-wrapped produce in the small town in the morning and display the fruit or veggies on top of cardboard boxes in an orderly fashion. They try to sell these items to the people at bus rank who want easy access food as they take the commute to or from the busy cities. They sell tomatoes, green peppers, onions, potatoes, apples, carrots, and sweet breads. In Mankayane there are about 25 bomakes or gogo’s that consider this their full-time work. With the variety being limited to what they all purchase in that morning at the same place, each bomake is selling almost the same exact thing as the women next to them. I asked several women what an average day of income looks like and they said it was anywhere between 20-50 rand. This is equivalent to $2-$5 American dollars. Many of these women have searched tirelessly for jobs, but no prospects have come with the little education they have. Most of the women I talked to had to drop out of school before starting their “forms”, which is comparable to high school in the states. They had to drop out because they could not afford the school form fees. The government of Swaziland pays for kids to go to primary school, which is grades 1-7, but stops funding them after that. “Forms” is what comes after primary school. There is form 1-5 and each year the fees raise as they make it higher in their education. The average fee from the high school that is closest to me is about E2,000 ($200) per year. This is A LOT of money for teenagers with most of them having one or no parents, most likely that neither of them have a steady job.
I have become good friends with one make who sells fruits. I met her while sitting in the bus rank that first day that I was trying to find transport home. Her name is Nomatemba, which means “hope”. She lost both her parents, and two older brothers in a car accident in 2005. She was 13 at the time with one younger sister 4 years old and a brother 7 years old. At the age of 13 Nomatemba became responsible to care for her two younger siblings and to raise them. She has very little money and the money she does have goes towards food, clothes and transportation for them three. When she was 16 she had to drop out of school to try and make some money. That’s when started selling food at the bus rank. I met her because she is the one who helped me find my kombi the day I was so confused. I continue to greet her and find her every day I go to Mankayane. She liked my wallet that I made out of a fruit juice container so I told her I would teach her how to make one. I brought all the materials to the bus rank one day and showed her step-by-step how to make it, so now she can also show others. She was so happy and excited, it filled my heart with joy.
A perfectly good excuse for being late for a meeting in Swaziland is “Sorry, I was feeling lazy”
I step out of my bucket bath and its usually a light color of brown. My body is always coated in a thin layer of dirt.
You have to pay 2 or 3 rand to use public restrooms.
Really liking the quote “Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”
Kids/ teenagers/ adults (the majority of people) don’t know what Google is.
There is often a preacher speaking the word of god on my public bus and people don’t view him as crazy. They sing worship songs and have basic church service on the bus.
Its nice to live the “slow” life, but I realize now how much I miss the community that I was surrounded with at home. I could go to the gym, work, internship and school all in one day. It takes up a whole entire day to complete one task, such as going grocery shopping or attending an HIV support group. I miss the feeling of being “super productive” with my days. It took me 7 hours to get home from the capital the other day, when the driving time is only 1.5 hours. It’s frustrating and my patience is always being tested, but I need to accept it as a part of this life. All other Swazi’s deal with the lack of good transportation, so I should too.
“You gave us a broken volunteer!” – Hypothetically What I Thought Velezizweni Would Say
About four weeks into training, so over two months ago, I was playing in a soccer game in one of our training communities. I got too aggressive and jumped up trying to kick the ball and landed weird on my knee. I tried getting up and knew my knee didn’t feel right. I sat for about 30min thinking after that I was fine… so I tired showing some egger children on the sidelines that were rolling around how to do a cartwheel. After that I realized my knee was not fine and I should sit down more. After a 2 hour walk home from the soccer game my knee was swollen up and I couldn’t bend it anymore.
Cut to the end of the story
I tore my ACL in the soccer game and made the hard decision to return to the states get surgery to repair it. I will be going to my home of residence around January 13th to receive the surgery. I will stay home for 45 days for recovery before returning to Swaziland. I WILL RETURN TO SWAZILAND, the medical officers here at site told me they are 99.9% confident I will be able to return. I made this decision because I do feel it’s in my best interest to get the repair done sooner than later. I am able to walk long distances with no pain, but twisting and pivoting gives me a sharp pain. My doctor told me I do run the risk of tearing my MCL if I hold off the surgery until I complete my service. I tore my ACL in the same knee 5 years ago and was able to recover in about 40 days to walking with no pain, so I hope to do the same with this surgery. I am receiving surgery from the same doctor who did my repair before. My parents are ecstatic about me coming home, but I am hesitant because I know how hard it will be to leave again. I will have to adjust all over again, which is not an easy process when it includes losing the conveniences of running water, toilets, and carpet. Dear god how I miss carpet. I will be handle what comes at me, but this is definitely a bump in the road that I didn’t expect. I will deal with it and come back to Swaziland as good as new and able lead community exercising classes! They love to dance so I’m thinking Zumba??
In the mean time I will be preparing and working as hard and fast as the slow life in Swaziland lets me. I just got done with a 10-day training called in service training. The training gave us insight on how to put together income generating projects such as making slippers or homemade Vaseline (who knew it was so easy!). We had lectures on classroom management, children health, how we report our work, how to make and run libraries, clubs and went to an NGO fair. Peace Corps coordinators are coming to our sites in the next few weeks to talk with us and our families. In about two weeks we have an all volunteer conference. This is a 2 day training where all 88 of us volunteers get together to share ideas and are updated on policy changes and such. THEN I have another training from December 1-5 where I will come with my counterpart to learn about how to set up our projects, how to apply for grants, and set goals for ourselves for the next year. I will be bring a women that is involved in a program called mothers-to-mothers in my community. She does home visits to mothers raising their children to guide them on good health practices and recourses to help them. Basically like a Social Worker 😄. The first time I met my counterpart (Zodwa), she was standing at the bus stop and I greeted her and at the end of the conversation she stated, “We are coworkers!”. I was thrilled to hear her say this because we have to find our own motivated individuals in our communities. Of all places I could of met her, it was at a bus stop while I was walking to the high school. All these trainings will be great as I shift out of “integration”, which is done in 2 weeks and move into my “action” phase of my service which goes on till the end of my service!
Things I have done so far:
– Intentional relationship building with the key decision makers, principles of primary and high school and community members in Velezizweni
– Made a tippy-tap for my homestead so we can wash our hands after we get out of the latrine
– Made a perma-garden and currently growing onions, cauliflower, lettuce, dill spice, lavender, and lemon grass.
– On the high school library committee, which are actively trying to remove the food storage from the library. Dry bean and rice bags are blocking all the books in the library.
– Called the police on a women’s boyfriend that took a 3-month old baby away from its nursing mother
-Advocated for kids to be in school even when they could not pay a fee for a party coming up in celebration of a retiring teacher.
– Adopted a dog named Tjani ❤
– Learned how to polish my floors – Taught 3 HIV support groups how to do the Macarena
-Registared 3 kids to get sponcered by world vision Australia
– Got voted in as the SOJO editor (the Peace Corps magazine for Swaziland
– Climbed Sibebe rock (World’s 2nd largest exposed granite rock)
– Wrote a 10 page paper on my community and turned it into peace corps
– Smiled a lot
Things I want to do:
– Establish a Neighborhood Care Point (NCP) in my surrounding area
o NCP’s are a very basic need for rural and urban communities alike. NCP’s provide a place for children to go who are not yet in primary school. The children receive a meal at the NCP each day at noon. My community is very large, so there are 4 NCP’s currently but the closest one in walking distance is about 3 hours away. I would like to use an existing structure at a place called the kagogo center to have space for cooking for a place for the children to play when they have no where else to go.
– Create Swazi Diabetic/ high blood pressure/ HIV cookbook
o Swazi’s have a very limited pallet when it comes to food. A main dish in Swaziland consists of pap or lipalishi topped with a meat and gravy. On the side they have beet root salad or squash mash. They can change it up by having rice or samp as a base. Their meals do not differ much from this. I got the idea of making a Swazi cook book when my family was very interested in what I was baking. I was letting them try pizza, pasta bakes, and sones. I have taught my family how to bake and they have recently renovated an old oven (that uses firewood to keep hot) and started to bake themselves. My extended family here is more than willing to try new foods that can improve their health. I have gathered a group of 10 other volunteers that are interested in helping me develop this cookbook by sharing healthy recipes. I want this cook book to be simple healthy recipes that can be made with locally sourced foods. I am partnering with the Diabetes association of Swaziland and a dietician at my local hospital to put this cook book together!
My end goal would be to apply for a grant to have copies printed out for Swazis who would like to utilize this resource. I want to give these cookbooks out to people in my community struggling with HIV, high BP, and diabetes.
– Velezizweni Communnication board and HIV
o Good communications between community council members, schools and just community members is hard to come by. Most people in Velezizweni do not have access to internet (no email), texting or calling. When information needs to be spread to parents its sent by word of mouth from the children. When the community wants to hold a meeting it is announced over and over on the radio that week. Many people when I ask them what a challenge is in Velezizweni, is the problem of communication. I would like to create a communication board for the community at the most commonly used bus stop. This board will be used for communication about meetings, important school information and when the next mobile clinic will be in town. I also want to make this HIV focused by making a question box attached to the board that people can submit questions they have on HIV. I will gather the questions each week and post the answers on the board.
o Primary School- As a new council comes in next year to the Primary school, I need to convince them that some of the schools budget would be best spent on creating a library space. This would be shelves and a secure space for books. After those are in order, I can apply for books for Africa next year where we can be supplied with 1,000 books. I know lots of people from home would like to help too!
o High School- I am currently on the library committee at the High School trying to coordinate the large mass of food that is in front of the book shelves. We have reorganized the books in the library, but still need the cooperation of the head mistress to move the food before the library can become functional.
– Also: smile a lot more
Thanks guys, sorry I haven’t updated in along time I have been dealing a lot with appointments for my knee and the slowness of Swaziland life. Please, if you’re curious about anything here food, jobs, weather! Please feel free to ask!
Update on mailing address:
Letters are best sent to:
P.O. Box 119
Mankayane, M206 Swaziland
Packages are best sent to:
Ally Young, PCV
P.O Box 2729
Mbabane H100, Swaziland Africa
- Always put “air mail” on letter or package
- Include a list of items sent in package
- Always put a low value on the customs form when filling it out
- For letters Nobuhle is my siswati name so members of my community will know to give the letters to me.