10 Common SiSwati Phrases I Hear Almost Everyday ;that would be unusual to Americans

After living in Swaziland for over a year now, here are some phrases or words I hear in my everyday life as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

“Hawu” pronounced (Howuuuu) **My personal favourite
A sign of disbelief, reacting to a what another person said or did. Example in response to a Swazi saying “they wish to go to america one day” Me: “You have to be in a plane for at least 20 hours to fly to the United States.” Swazi: “HAWU?!?! … okay I don’t want to go anymore.”

“NKhosi”, Of the King or other praise names
After a person has given something to you (can be anything from borrowing you a blanket to giving you a present) you would say Ngiyabong Nkhosi, which means thank you “of the king”. My last name here in Swaziland is Dlamini, which is a very common and royal last name. Dlamini is also the last name of the king here in Swaziland. So, the praise name for my last name is Nkhosi but other last names have different praise names to say in respect to your family name.

“Ngicela ungiphe shukela”, Please may you barrow me sugar
Almost every day I get a knock on my door with an adorable small child at the other end of the knock. This child is usually requesting to “barrow” something from me because their parent(s) need it. It could range anywhere from asking for a pencil, to watching a cartoon or a cup of rice. The difference is the word “borrowing” doesn’t mean the same as it does in American culture. If someone in the U.S. asked to barrow something I would expect it in return, but no such rule is true here in Swaziland. When someone asks to barrow rice, they will most likely eat it all 🙂

“Nigyaphila”, The response of “I’m fine”
In the native SiSwati language when you ask how someone is there are two options to answer with; Ngikona (I am here) or Ngiyaphela (I am fine). No one ever states a response other than these two. NEVER. There is no, I’m okay or I’m wonderful!.. always just “I’m fine”. This is true whether a swazi is speaking SiSwati or English.

“Uyakudla yini kudla kwe SiSwati?”, Do you cook/eat Swazi food?
When I’m meeting someone new, I tell them about myself and why I’m here. I could continue to tell them something that is obscure from the Swazi culture that I find interesting. Then the inevitable question of “Do you cook Swazi food at your house?!” always comes into the conversation. Swazi’s seem to be so interested in the fact that I have cooked porridge or rice with my family. I tell them I cook it with Gogo every week and they always burst out in a deep belly laugh. Never knew my cooking could bring such joy to people!

“Usati kakhulu SiSwati”, You are fluent in SiSwati
I get this whenever I greet someone in their mother tongue. I have the greetings down pat now and apparently that’s enough to be fluent in a language! I feel quite silly because I only said two phrases to them and I’m not a fluent speaker in SiSwati. They always continue to reassure me that I am in fact fluent speaker with no doubt in their minds, even when we have switched to english after finishing the greeting in SiSwati.

“Usidudla”, You have gotten big
I haven’t gain an enormous amount of weight here, but I am more.. plump or happy? —I like to call it, than I was in the states. Even though I eat a lot more vegetables here than I did at home, I still eat a lot more starches as well. If I wear a certain type of skirt that shows off my beautiful “happy” mid-section; I’m bound to get comments about my weight. It could start off with “Oh what happened to you Nobuhle? You are so big now!”, or they would simply say “Too much food for you Nobuhle”. Comparing this to american etiquette it is drastically different. A stranger would never comment on your figure even if you were drastically larger than the average american.

“Yini lokusebusweni?”, What is biting your face?
As of recently I had a bit of a fiasco with my acne. I got a meriena IUD placed in February of this year. Everything was fine until a few months ago when I started to get really bad pimples on my face from the change in hormones. During this time, Swazi strangers and friends alike would come up to me very concerned about the bug bites that were on my face. “What is biting you in the night?”, “The sun must be doing this to you”, or “What has happened to your face?” hahahah all I can do now is laugh, but every time I tried to explain acne to Swazi’s they didn’t understand and went back to their original conclusions of what was happening to my face. I guess Swazi’s have acne as well but the mere fact that they are black makes the zits less noticeable.

“Utowuba nemukhuhlane”, You will catch a cold!
On my homestead all the floors consist of a cement-like material. I’m always fine with sitting on the floor when we have visitors; or at the schools when I’m waiting on a teacher. I sit outside on the cement with no second thought. I’m always scolded by teachers, my Gogo or make that I will catch a cold when I sit on a surface like that. I must be wearing my shoes or be guarded by a grass mat to sit on or I will indefinitely catch a cold!

“Umshaya”, I will hit/ beat you
Now, this phrase isn’t ever directed at me because I assume they don’t know how I would take it. However, it is something I hear in everyday conversations in a variety of contexts. I can hear it in the primary school yard from a teacher to a student in the most serious manner, on public transport with two friends just messing around, or girlfriends referring to one another in casual conversation. Pretend fighting is something seen in the U.S., but beating each other is a topic of conversation that can always be heard here. Either way play beating and actual beating of children, animals, and colleges is apart of everyday life here.

Where has the time gone?

Less than a year to go!
I’m busy these days with three distinct projects;

HIV support group grant

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The committee members for the HIV support group, working on our grant!

:I’m working with a motivated HIV support group of women to build a garden. We have written a grant together to Peace Corps Washington for E28,568, which is about $2,050 US dollars. We are asking for fencing, water collection container and pipes to harvest water off a roof from a church that is next to the garden. We would have a two-day training where a retired professor from University of Swaziland that taught agriculture will teach this group of women how to garden efficiently. We are currently waiting for the grant to get approved, if it does then we will be implementing the garden in December!
Playgrounds

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One of the towers we build for the playgrounds!

:25 playgrounds are being build by our group of volunteers in our separate communities. I have learned how to build a swing set & have built four playgrounds so far! We are building the playground in my community mid November! We are building it at the Primary school that is closest to me with over 300 kiddos! My community leadership has really taking a liking to this project and they hope to continue it over to the other 6 primary schools in my community.
Primary School Library

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Children gathered at the Primary School to watch “The Lion King”to fundraise for their Library

: Fundraising is currently underway to build shelving for the library my primary school aspires to have. We have been fundraising for almost two months now by holding talent shows, movies, no uniform days & sending out forms to the parents of the kids to donate. So far we have raised over E1,000 (about $75) for shelves. The shelves alone cost E6,800 for just the materials to build them. We have a room for the library, but it is barren with no desks, shelves or anything to make the room into a library. Step-by-step we are hoping to get there!
Others; HIV testing events committee (we are developing an easy guide on how to host one in a volunteers community), girls empowerment group is on hold currently as the high schoolers are taking exams the next two months, implementing a wellness program for Peace Corps staff members, finishing up my responsibilities as a the volunteer news paper editor as I hand it off to the new group!
—It really feels like the meat of my service right now. With the half way point behind my group and I, time has never gone faster! People said two years is too long, but for me its seeming like the perfect amount of time. I’m not ready to leave yet, my projects aren’t complete and I still love my life here. My 12-year-old sister and I have never been closer and I honestly cannot imagine leaving her in less than a year from now. It hurts to think about my life after Peace Corps, since I will be leaving these people I love here one day without a return date in mind. At the same time its exciting to think about what the next step in my life holds! I have decided to travel from close of service until christmas of next year. Just over four months of solid traveling! I made this decision because I can’t foresee another time in my life where I’ll have no debt, no distinct responsibilities (job, house, husband, baby et.), not that any of those things are in my future, but they might be. I want to take advantage of this free time in my life to explore and do what my heart obviously adores. To WANDER WANDER WANDER, meet new people, see new places, drink good coffee and live out of my backpack with my camera on my hip!

Loss

Timing is everything sometimes.
On a Monday my (Swazi) grandmother tells me her granddaughter passed away.

That Friday my Grandfather from America passed away. On Saturday, just a day later, my Swazi family and I attended the funeral for the granddaughter. We were all, together, grieving a loss of a loved one. Losing a family member from the states while abroad is a very isolating feeling. Hearing my mom on the phone, hearing her pain, made me want to get on a plane back home. Fortunately, I was surrounded by my Swazi family, where there was love, laughter and a place to feel safe. 

The story- I arrived home after a night away from my community, when my gogo came up to me and told me “Nobuhle, Tuliele has died” in SiSwati. I was caught off guard and didn’t know the appropriate response other than, I’m sorry gogo. Tuliele is my gogo’s grand daughter and a semi-frequent visitor on our homestead. The few moments after gogo told me the news, I remember that she just visited us all last week. Neighbors, family members from all around came to our homestead that week to sit and sing SiSwati mourning songs with my gogo. It was a somber time, and later that week I learned that the lady who passed had taken her own life. She left behind four children and a husband. My make told me the funeral was on Saturday and that I could join if I wanted. This was my first traditional Swazi funeral. The funeral was at another family member’s homestead, still in the community where I stay. We arrived, by car, at about 8am Saturday morning to start cooking. Over all, the aunties and I cooked four meals for over 60 people that were attending the funeral. Cooking was my main job for the entirety of the funeral that lasted for the whole day on Saturday, all night and until twelve noon on Sunday.

 When I wasn’t cooking, I spent most of the free time I had talking to this enthusiastic girl. She really wanted to understand what it was like for me to live in the United States. Her big 12 year old eyes stared at me and asked, “No really tell me what a “normal” day was like for you there?”. I was shock because that is the first time I was asked a concrete question like that; instead of the normal, “do you know Obama?” or “One day I wish to go to America, so that I will be rich”. This 12- year old girl was asking me (I think) more eye-opening questions about my life from the USA than I have been asked in my whole service here. She asked other things like, “What were classes in college like?”, “How much does a person get paid?”. I talked to her for about an hour and was so impressed by her English and her poise as a young women. My make told me a few minutes after I began my cooking job again, that this 12 year old girl was one of the children who just lost her mother to suicide. Her mom didn’t die from cancer, or a car accident, she made the decision to end her own life. I thought, How is a girl, just starting to develop into a women going to handle that? All the aunties at the funeral kept saying “she will bounce back, she’s still young”. I hope the light and curiosity stays within her, and never stops asking those good questions.

 How this traditional Swazi funeral started: The close family members most effected from the loss come to the homestead a week or so before the funeral, sometimes right after the death occurs. They all sleep in one room together on sleeping pads, mourning together day and night, until the day of burial. The funeral is a weekend event, people arrive anywhere from Friday to late morning on Saturday. Early Saturday, the men set up the large tent for the all-night vigil to be held in and dig the hole for the casket. The women, cook, clean & are always tending to those who are mourning in the large room. The guests enter in the house to the large room to greet them, cry with them and sympathize their great loss. The body arrives in the afternoon on Saturday and is set in the middle of the room where everyone is staying. At traditional Swazi funeral’s people believe the deceased body must rest a full night at home, before it is buried. Thus, why the funeral service is all throughout the night. When the night comes, dinner is served to everybody. Late night, about 10pm, the casket is opened for viewing. I tried to stay back during this process and for most of the service, as I said my own thoughts and prayers to my Grandfather who just passed. 

 The night vigil consisted of singing, drinking tea, and staying warm. At about 5am the casket with the body is brought down to the burial site. Most burials happen on the homestead in which the person lived. More singing, praying, and mourning take place there. The casket is then lowered into the ground, as men pile dirt on it and stomp the dirt down. I think that was the weirdest part for me, watching people stomp on top of the grave to pack the dirt down. The men that were doing it actually seemed to be dancing as they stomped their boots to pack down the dirt. A final prayer was said, during this all the women sit down as the men stand up. I didn’t ask why, maybe too tired to do so. Another serving of food was distributed as the people left and went home the next morning. Exhausted after being up for over 27 hours I slept the rest of the day on Sunday. In a way I felt closer to my family back home, as they were mourning, I was doing the same thing half a world away.

My sisi & the girl I talked to at the funeral laying together, looking up at the stars at 3am

HIV Testing Soccer Tournament

A few months ago I was sitting outside on my homestead, next to me was my Swazi mother (make). She was cooking some pap and chicken on the fire for dinner that evening. We were discussing her immediate family and how more than a quarter of the people on the very homestead, where I stay now, have passed away. The majority have been men and had passed away from AIDS. 
My mother in Swaziland, “Make” pronounced (MA-GAY)

 This conversation about her family members led my make to express, in her experience, how males in Swaziland are very resistant to outside help. She explained to me that rarely, if ever, males will go to a hospital or a clinic. The males try to treat the illness or injury at home first. To treat an illness or disease in rural Swaziland some families will visit the local traditional healer. At the traditional healer they receive traditional medicine or sometimes even use black magic to cure an illness. Mostly women go to the clinic if these locally sourced medicines don’t work, while the males will not seek out further treatment. 

 I’ve been told one of the main reasons men choose to not go to the clinics is because this is not seen as being a very masculine act. Traditionally, Men in Swaziland (& in many other countries) are seen as the “bread winners” or providers and take pride in being seen as emotionally & physically strong at all times. Part of these men wanting to be seen as strong, is that they will rarely ask for outside help especially when they have an illness. The males will hide themselves and sometimes progress in that illness without many people knowing. My Swazi make explains, that Swazi males going to the clinic for a check-up or treatment is seen as a weakness, an un-masculine act, by their families & society. This can also explain why there are very low HIV testing rates for males in Swaziland.

 My Swazi make has seen this barrier to health care for men in a very personal way; she lost her husband to AIDS in 2007. She stated that her husband refused to go to the clinic and that he tried to use traditional medicine to “cure” himself of what she thought to be HIV. My make knows now that there is no “cure” for HIV. 

 After being tested a positive for HIV a patient will receive anti-viral medication that works as a wonder drug to fight the virus. Taking anti-viral’s properly & consistently put’s HIV at undetectable levels in a patient. To be able to get this wonder drug one must go to the hospital or mobile clinic to first get tested, then they receive a prescription of anti-viral medication each month. Therein lies the problem, if men never go to the clinic, there is a good chance that they would never get tested & treated. Testing positive for HIV = anti-viral’s which is needed to live a long healthy life with HIV.

 Sometimes seen as a worse consequence of these men not getting tested, when positive, is the problem of spread HIV to their partners or whomever they are sleeping with. Men that don’t know their status and have HIV virus are at risk to pass it onto their partners without even knowing they are doing so. WhatsWhat’s the difference between HIV & AIDS? -Simply put a person who is HIV+ has the virus, and AIDS is when a person gets so sick that you could die from the virus . virus. From the time HIV is contracted to when it becomes AIDS is about a 10 year cycle, on average. This 10 year window is a large amount of time for males or females to pass on HIV to whom everwhomever they are having sex with. This is a sad reality in Swaziland and across the world that men’s ego gets in the way of them living a healthy life and in the long-term having a HIV free generation. —Okay, enough with the rant, but the this was the inspiration for my first project that has been completed from start to finish in Peace Corps. 

 Inspired by the discussion I had with my make, I talked with a leader in my community about bringing HIV testing to males in Velezizweni. We came up with the idea of trying to attract specifically the men to get tested with soccer! In many Aafrican countries, or world wide, football or soccer in aamerican terms is the most popular sport. In my large rural community alone we have over 12 local teams that play semi-regularly for fun. Community leadership and I came up with the idea of having a soccer tournament between four teams on Saturday’s with the focus of the event being on HIV testing. We would reciprocate this event three different Saturdays, three different locations and four new teams each weekend. The location would change, making the testing more assessableaccessible to my community at large. The men would be playing for the first prize of a goat (donated by the community leadership) & a second place prize of a brand new soccer ball. 

 I wanted this event to be easily reciprocated, so that my community was able to do this again when I am not present aka; a sustainable project! For this reason we decide to not do a grant and use all resources already found here in Swaziland. All three events were on three separate Saturdays in June. An organization called PSI (population services international) helped out immensely with this event. They provided free HIV testing, counselling, DJ & gave away over 10,000 condoms. I got the diabetes association of Swaziland abroad as well to do diabetes testing for adults and children. Many frustrations were involvked in the process of creating, maintaining, and follow-thru with the events. I tried to keep things in perspective and telling myself “all that matters is that people (especially males) get tested”. Keeping that in my mind, most of the problems I were took with a grain of salt and overall the project was a success!

  

*112 People tested for HIV in Velezizweni*

92 Males, 20 Females

8 People were Positive for HIV

82% of the people who were tested were Male

Males 10-17 = 12 Males (11% of the people who tested)

Males 17-25 = 50 Males (45% of the people who tested)

Males 25+ = 30 males (27% of the people who tested)

Females consisted of 17% of the people who tested
I couldn’t choose one, so here are my conclusions of the HIV testing events:

A Goat can encourages youth males to “Know their status”

“Bahhh know your status bro”

-Goat

My counterparts & I at the first event.

Diabetes testing!

Counterpart speaking to the crowd about the importance of HIV testing

Playing some musical chairs on the sidelines!

Group of people watching a condom demonstration

The famous prizes;

Coach of a winning team!

Final game ended in a kickoff!

What “ngiyawasha timphla tami” or doing my wash entails here in Swaziland

Ever wonder what it would be like if doing your laundry wasn’t as easy as plopping it in a machine and pressing go? Living here in Swaziland gave me no other option but to find out! Three things to know at first: this is my most dreaded chore here (because it takes the longest), adverse weather is not your friend (the wind WILL steal your clothing) & lastly you don’t get to dry your intimates on the line with everything else (too inappropriate for visitors on my homestead to be seeing my thong? .. Prob.) okay and last thing! Washers and dryers are amazing assets, so don’t be taking them for granted. 

Today was my “wash day”. I call it this because it takes up a vast majority of my day. 9am I started the process and didn’t finish hanging my clothes on the line until 2pm, and this is without the time it takes of putting the clothes away after they dry. 

I first go through my hamper and put back the clothes that don’t smell too bad, which ends up being only a few articles. I use my bathing tub to wash my clothes as it is the biggest. I procrastinate this task, so I usually do have a lot to wash. I fill the tub with my clothes & put hand washing powder on top. I carry this outside to my water tank, along with two other tubs that I use to rinse my clothes. This isn’t too far away from my hut. You can see my hut in the back of the photo.


From there I fill the bucket and churn my clothes like a washing machine. Then, I let it sit for an hour so stains will be removed with more ease. 

You know how dirty your clotheds are by the color of the water 😑


I scrub the clothes together with my hands to “clean” them.. Or at least get the smell away :). From there I rinse the clothes twice in each side bucket of water. 


Ally- this seems pretty simple what takes you so long?! .. Just think of every article of clothing you wear in a two week period, add in a lot of dirt & having to scrub them by hand. It’s not a hard task, but it is time consuming.

Lastly! Hanging them on the line to dry. I usually clean the heavier things first, such as my jeans or sweaters as they take longer to dry. In the winter the sun sets by 5pm, so I need the thick clothing on the line by at least 1pm for it to dry.

5 hours later- task completed


When I came back to the states in January for surgery, my mom washed all of my clothes I brought home. She had to wash them twice because she said they still had an “odor” to them. Could of been from the burning trash or the cows who knows… I don’t smell it anymore!

Lesson of the post- give your washer or dryer an extra tap on the metal next time you use it 🙂 

I’m Not the Only One

“What was the craziest thing you have ever done?” This question was asked about a week ago at our mid-service training put on by Peace Corps. Each person had to write down their answer “secretly”, then the instructor would read them out as we guessed who it was. Sitting there, contemplating what my answer would be.. The first things that jump in my mind are sinking 30ft under water while suba-diving, throughly enjoying the taste of chicken intestines or running naked through the halls of a government building all seemed pretty crazy. Although, they weren’t the most insane things I’ve done in my 22 years here. The thing that far tops everything else in my life as the “craziest” is being a Peace Corps Volunteer. Being a volunteer is a whole other species of crazy that by far trumps the other nutty things I’ve done in my life. The *observed* cow poop drinking, bucket bathing, chicken killing, hitch-hiking, and a thousand proposals later… lifestyle I live now is pretty out of the ordinary from the American life I had before I became a Swazi. Cue the middle class white girl with supportive parents and a college degree in Social Work that wants to “change the world”. She never even knew how to polish her own cement floor or sweep the dirt in her homestead.

Along with the risks of living in a place outside from my comfort zone, comes rewards in the form of a dog named Tjani and the joy of meeting new people on a daily basis. Day after day the rewards greatly out weight the sacrifice in this beautiful country that I call home. 

Recently, I have been going through a low point of not feeling accomplished and becoming uncomfortable to answer the question of “what are you doing there in Swaziland?” This shouldn’t be such a daunting question to answer as this is my only job for two years. I can ramble on about the activities I’m “trying” to start, but the short answer would be I have nothing concrete to show for the 11 months of my service so far.

 This really hits deep when I have been give a lot of myself, trying my best with what I have to work with. This feeling of unachivement is emphasized when I hear about the successes of my fellow volunteers. “Don’t compare yourself to others”, YES yes I know, but it’s hard not to do so when the people you are comparing yourself to have been through all the same training as you and I really want to live up to what expectations I have set for myself.  I’ve learned its not an even playing field when it comes to successes and failures of volunteers.

What I have gained this last week from mid-service training is the fact that I’m not the only one who is feeling this discouragement of projects not working out and still trying to find the right balance of my life here. Many MANY people in my group are struggling in the same ways I am (finding motivated people, keeping a new project sustainable, or dealing with the constant harassment from men). I felt tears of frustration and happiness let go as others explained to me the exact feelings I have been experiencing. Being secluded, miles away from a support system AND not feeling accomplished for the very reason I’m here are all exuberantly frustrating. These are not fun feelings to have, but of course they are ultimately apart of my time here. Coming together with other volunteers gives you that rejoicing feeling of “I’M NOT ALONE IN THIS!” For that I am so very grateful for my fellow volunteers here. 

So, why is it so hard to get things done here, specifically in Swaziland? 

Two Swaziland volunteers from our fellow group went to Zambia for an HIV bootcamp conference where another 12 Peace Corps countries were represented. They overwhelmingly learned that Peace Corps Swaziland, is one of the few countries that doesn’t pair the volunteers with existing organizations in country. The volunteers that attended the conference explained to us that almost all other countries pair their volunteers with NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations) to work alongside with in a rural community. I have had personal experience of this when meeting other PCV’s in Madagascar & Mozambique. Partnering us with NGO’s and already existing organizations would give us direction and structure in our communities that, I feel, we somewhat lack of right now. I’m sure there is good reason for this structure specially in Swaziland, but it’s something I struggle with even after being in my 11 month of service.

New volunteers are gladly dropped into communities in hopes of creating projects that the community needs and keeping it that simple. This sounds motivational as it is very “grass roots” and we as Peace Corps volunteers do not put our agendas first, but we put the needs of the community first and foremost. Some volunteers flourish in these conditions, but it seems to be the luck of the draw who is successful in their communities and who is not. A strong determination of a successful volunteer is made by the people and the leadership in the community in which you are placed. If you find motivated hard working people, then yes you can get a lot done. Otherwise you just have to keep trying until you get traction with something meanful and well supported in the community. We have to work within the framework of Peace Corps because that is what makes our projects sub stainable after we leave. In places like Swaziland, where we not paired with NGO’s, volunteers are responsible for finding people in the community that 1.) Have project ideas. 2.) Have time to work with you on the project 3.) Are motivated to continue the project after you leave 4.) Will do all of this for FREE. Finding a person or a “counterpart” for all four of these is a jackpot, and we volunteers brag about the motivated people we find in our communities. Super volunteer said, “There are youth in my community that have created a gardening project for the children in my village who are going hungry!” *AKA jackpot*.

Every time I return to my site from a few days in town, a vacation or a training I find myself needing to take a deep breath and look at my community with a fresh heart and mind. I do this to find a new sense of motivation and make sure I don’t have a bad attitude. I always enjoy the saying “Enjoy the ride!” and I will continue to do so. 

*Project Progression*

“Velezizweni presents: HIV TESTING & SPORTS DAY”

A soon to be success story? I hope so 🙂

My two counterparts and I will be hosting three HIV testing events disguised as “sports days” to attract youth aged 12-32 (as this is the most vulnerable age for men and women). My community is large, so we are having the events on three consecutive Saturdays in June in three different “hot spots” in my community that have sports grounds (big open fields). Local soccer teams will be playing for the prize of a goat at each tournament. HIV testing will be free and available at each event along with HIV counseling and condom demonstrations. My hope is that if the free testing is available, and most importantly accessible, that the youth & adults will seize the opportunity to get tested. I have also contacted 5 outside organizations that have resources in Swaziland to join in on the event and promote their organization to my community. So, let the games (& testing) BEGIN!

NCP/ Preschool Construction

A person in the leadership council in Velezizweni brought in two Bomake for a meeting with me. They said they have been struggling with completing a preschool structure that is really needed in the village. I am starting to help them by writing a grant through Peace Corps with them to complete the construction. I’m excited because these are people who are already motivated and want to work with me!

GLOW

My fantastic GLOW club is on hold currently as my student helper is facing disaplinary action from the High School. SO will be trying to find a new person to work with.

-I’ll try to keep updating more! It’s my birthday this weekend & there is the biggest Southern Africa music festival in Swaziland this weekend! Over 20,000 people are traveling to Swaziland for the event. Lots of other PCV’s from other countries will also be joining us, so it will be a good time 🙂

I’ve officially been surfing in Hawaii, Australia, and Madagascar all before I turned 23. One could say I’ve lived a pretty good life! 

Thanks everyone for the love and support

“The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn’t even think to ask” – Jeff Johnson 

To the land of Lemurs and Baobabas

Madagascar;

I started my journey at 5:15am taking a Kombi from my community to the main town of Manzini. From there I traveled to South Africa on public transport. It’s about a 5 hour ride to the main airport in Johanusburg. I met up with the other 7 Peace Corps volunteers I went on this journey with to then board another plane to Kenya. Then finally landing on the island country of Madagascar. 

First impressions: 

This country has very little American influence and unlike any country I’ve been to before. It definitely didn’t seem like I was in Africa anymore; more like in Asian country with European influences (most people spoke & street signs were in French). The people of Madagascar are called Malagasy people and most speak two languages; French and Malagasy. French is taught in all schools since the country was colonized by the French. There was political unrest in the country until 2009 to what degree of this in unsure. One thing that was very apparent was the concentration of people in the communities and cities we passed through. We drove for a minimum of 4 hours each of the 11 days. Dip and diving though curvy rural roads and about every 30min we would run into dense villages of people, then back to grassy countryside of no development. There is one paved road that guided us through most of the country where we were joined with semi trucks and a lot of bikes. Malagasy people always seemed to be out and about; working in their rice or veggie fields or engaging in a friendly foosball game and you could alway find someone growing, harvesting, drying or eatting rice. The small villages seemed to have very little development but the happiness of the people was easily seen.

The ground seemed to be with very fertile with lush crops. We ran into a “movie on the lawn” in one village we passed through. The villages seemed to have a very community feel, where everybody knows everybody. Each person has their job and each job goes towards the common good of the community. As a volunteer I know that it’s easy to see the good at first glance, but I’m sure the communities have their own struggles as the Swazi’s do. 

What we did:

-Hiked through a volcanic lake

  
-Walked through two national forests one was a RAIN forest… Forgot my rain coat sadly. Both were reserves and saw 6 of the nations different species of lemur

   

lemur!

 
– watched demonstrations of local craft

– Saw baobaba avenue and watched the sunset

   
   – Canoed to three different lemur islands to feed them bananas

  
– Viewed a mammal exhibit that shows all the different types of spiders, geckos, frogs, snakes, and camilliions that exists in Madagascar. 

 

common tree found in northern part of the country

 
– explored the beaches of Mahambo 

  

  

– had a Malagasy native message

– volcanic sand body exfoliation (for free!)

– surfed & body boarded with locals (now I have been surfing in Hawaii, Australia, & Madagascar!)

– ate my to my hearts content traditional Malagasy food; duck, duck liver, pig ear, zebo, steak, pizza (which is amazing there), Malagasy DARK chocolate, and a lot of rice.

  
I’m so happy I had the opportunity to travel here and learn all about Madagascar with some wonderful people. 

 

dancing , singing, feeling wonderful

  
  

until next time with these lovely people

 

My Peace Corps Med Evac Experience  

I tore my ACL about a month into my Peace Corps service. I was med evacted 5 months after I tore it partly because the med officers at post didn’t belive something was actually wrong with my knee and a bigger reason was because I wanted to finish my integration before I left for this significant amount of time. I was flown to my home of record for 45 days, recovered, and successfully returned my post. Peace corps paid for my flights, surgery, physical therapy, a good knee brace and a daily stipend of $35 USD. MANY people, blogs and doctors told me there was a very good chance I wouldn’t be able to recover in 45 days but I’m happy to say it’s possible. Everyone’s healing and posts are different, but I just wanted to put a success story out there so when PCV’s nervously google “ACL tear in Peace Corps” there can be a positive outlook.

   
    Anywho..

My life has been a bit hectic the last few months. On January 11th I arrived home and got my surgery within 17 hours. From there I had PT three times a week and unlimited care from my lovely parents. I got back to site just over three weeks ago and my first thought was “why did I want to come back so badly?”. All though recovery there was not a single doubt in my mind that I was coming back. All I wanted when I was home was to be back in Swaziland and when I arrived back it was definitely a shock to my system. My parents babied me for 6 whole weeks and now I had to take care of myself again?! How dare them! 

After 50 HOURS of traveling.. A Peace Corps driver picked me up from the Swaziland airport (yes there is one!). We pulled into my family’s homestead just as they were slaughtering a cow for a funeral. Something I wouldn’t in a million years see in Michigan. I don’t know if I had culture shock but I didn’t do much of anything for the first three days except for sleep. I missed my family after being in such close quarters with them. Even though I lived here for 6 months prior going home leaving really did skrew with my emotions and made me question why I was here. From that I have found new motivation and new ideas for my community. 

I have my dog Tjani back and I still absolutely hate doing my own laundry. My projects are coming along; little by little. 

I traveled to Tofo, Mozambique for New Years and in a few days I’ll be leaving for Madagascar!     

 

Tofo

 

London for a 12 hour layover back to Swaziland

   

First time suba diving!

 

Don’t get too excited

Its hard to write and explain what my life is like here. Thus, why its hard to write blogs about my life here. No one can understand it unless your actually here living it. Meetings get canceled because its raining or people feel “too lazy to come”. I get frustrated and still have to find motivation to work and remember why I’m here. I don’t want this to sound like I’m unhappy here, because it’s quite the opposite. Its just a different life here and I’m continuing to adapted to the challenges that wouldn’t occur in the states. I take it day-by-day and accept whatever happens here as an adventure. I have some successes, 40 girls coming to my girls empowerment meeting and discuss menstruation and pregnacy, but also many disappointments. I want to see so much happen in the two years I’m here but the most change I will see will be with the people I interact with daily. My family; my sisters english has improved immensely since I have been here. She has read the professor and the housekeeper and she’s only 11 with english being her second language. I have to take that as a success. My big projects, which involve more people working together, are basically at a standstill. I push for meetings, to get quotes on services for my grants, but the lack of time or motivation from my counterparts severely slows the process. I could take this as my own fault too of being away for surgery, who knows but I’m still pushing. As a volunteer I am suppose to increase the skills of the local people and I won’t be doing that if I complete the grant and project on my own. Which, I am so tempted to do because then I would finally see some physical results.  Without the local community people involved in the projects, the project would then most likely fail. Rather than get down on myself about my big projects not moving forward I try and focus on good days motivating a high school student towards college and helping them with their writing or my 30 something year old counterpart going back to school to get her certificate.

All in all, peace corps is time consuming. Not in the way of being busy all the time but in the way that change and development takes time and persistence; way more than two years that I’m giving. So, for the people who said when I was leaving for service that two years was too long, its not nearly long enough. I will serve my country and complete my service, but I’m just realising more and more to focus on the small victories and keep stepping towards the big ones. Thanks for all who support me in this endeavour and will keep updates coming 🙂

Month Six in Peace Corps

It’s officially been 6 months since I left for the Peace Corps, so here is six random things that are going on in my life here in Swaziland!

#1. The Inner Council is in jail  

One problem I have been having in my community is that the elected inner council members were unavailable for the past 2 weeks. The inner council are the people who I need to report before I start my projects. So you can see this has been a problem. For these past two weeks the eight inner council members were in jail for tearing down a building that was not approved by them. This has proved to be a challenge for me, as I wanted to start some projects before the holiday season was among us. Now, Christmas is two days away and still no progress.

#2. Three (NCP) Neighborhood Care Point visits

About a week ago, I got to visit three care points located in my community. It took me and my site support agent 3 hours to walk each way, so even though they are in my community they are not a close walk! These care points serve over 150 orphaned and vulnerable children. These children receive a free hot meal at 10am every day except for Sundays. Usually there are 5 adult present at the NCP who are the volunteer caregivers. Four of the adults cook the food, while the one teaches the children an educational lesson in SiSwati. Two out of the three care points I visited have no shelter and cook literally in an open field with a cast-iron pot under a small fire. The one with “shelter” has just a large overarching tree that can at least provide shade for the children and caregivers. I want to improve the conditions of these existing care points as well as create a care point in proximity to where I stay with a garden. I will complete this by writing a grants through Peace Corps to try and obtain funding. Visiting these care points was an eye opening experience for me that made me more determined than ever. The leaders in my community talk to me about how much people in Velezizweni especially the children are suffering and don’t have food or proper clothing. Going to these NCP’s was the just another one of the times I saw it firsthand. These kids that have no power over their unfortunate circumstances, yet always have so much joy inside of them. The happiness from the kids is contagious and I took so much joy home with me that day. I want to try and give some back by improving quality of shelter and food resources the care points.

 

NCP #1 with tree “shelter”

  

NCP #2

 

NCP #3

   

#3. Velezizweni Walking Group

Over the past years I found a love for running and I didn’t plan on stoppping when I arrived in Swaziland. So, when my Make on my homestead asked if I could go running with her one day I was devastated. I wanted to so badly, but on account of my ACL being torn I knew I had to say no. About a week after she asked me it occurred to me that I just told someone that wanted to exercise that “no I can’t”. As a health volunteer I was frustrated with myself, so I asked if she wanted to do the second best thing instead of running and that was to go on walk! At first it was just my Make and I. About four days into walking every day in the evening, people in my community started to notice us and ask what we were up to. As the days went on this walking group has grown to as high as 20 people! (15 of them being childrenJ) So, now every day at about 5:30pm when the air has cooled down we take an hour walk down the dirt road towards the river. Some days it dwindles down t only 3 of us walking, but if I can increase the physical activity of an adult of child for one day a week I am a happy volunteer! What has been even more exciting is when I leave for a night away my make says she still goes walking without me. It’s a small accomplishment, but I’m super proud of my small walking group!

     

The young kids take off running because we are too slow

  

#4. The Odd Opportunity of 45 days in Michigan!

I never knew my service in Peace Corps would include a 45-day all-expenses paid trip home complete with an ACL surgery, but I’m rolling with it. I arrive home on the 12th of January and within 27 hours of being home I will have had 2 pre-surgical appointments and my actual ACL surgery complete! So, the remaining 43 days of my medical evacuation can be used for physical therapy to guarantee my complete recovery. I am using this opportunity in the states to also share my experience thus far by doing presentations with Lowell High School, Grand Valley State University, and a soon to be peace corps volunteer coming to Swaziland in June! I will post dates and times as they are confirmed. I also hope to collect resources for my existing projects, like my walking group by getting pedometers so my group can track how much exercise they are getting on a daily basis. If you would like to donate pedometers any other health related item please message me below. Also I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends A LOT! Bring on the white snow and people I’m coming to Michigan!

#5. The Swaziland Drought Crisis

**WARNING graphic image below

About three weeks ago I went to visit my fellow PCV, Allyn who is in the low-veld of the country in a village called Nkameni. Living in the low-veld she experiences less rain and hotter temperatures than I do in the middle-veld. While visiting her we took a walk through her community; not only did I notice how hot it was (because I couldn’t stop sweating), but I also noticed how there was plainly no green grass. She said she didn’t remember the last time it has rained in her village and explained how the people and animals are suffering. Continuing on our walk around the village we made a discovery that showed both of us just how truly bad the drought was. We walked into a large hole in the ground where it looked like a lake would have been. It was full of crusty drying mud and two cows fighting for their lives. Their ribs protruded from their bodies. I was shocked when I saw these cow and thought for sure they were dead, but upon getting closer there were signs of life was from the slight movement of the cow breathing. We ran over to the closest bobhuti who were playing soccer and they explained to us that the cows were simply starving to death and there was nothing we could do. 

Cow in Swaziland starving to dealth because of the drought

  I was so shocked and thought how have I not heard of how bad this drought really was until I had to see it for myself? After researching I learned, over 50,000 cattle have died in Swaziland this year because of the drought. The heavy rain that is expected around this time of year has still not started. Main cities here are down to less than 3 weeks water supply and Peace Corps have described to us volunteers a plan of consolidation if this drought continues to get worse. The rainy season in Swaziland usually lasts from mid-October until January, and the country didn’t get start heavy rain until about a week ago and it is mid-December. This drought is heavily hurting the 70% of families here who rely on their own crops for food to survive. Without rain families cannot plant their maize. My family was able to plow their fields this week, but unable to plant because more rain is needed to do so. I’m just hoping the rain will come and be able to feed all the families in Swaziland, that’s what I’m praying for.

 #6. Thoughts Six-Months into Service

“No matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the hurt you want to heal” – “If I Should Have a Daughter”  (Poem by Sarah Kay)

I see projects I want to start every day, I have grand ideas of HIV testing concerts that will get people to know their status, and maybe that will happen, but one thing I have learned in my six months here is to start small. I have started by building strong relationships that are going to help people in my community.  In learning who people are you also learn what strengths they have to give. Someone who you think is sluggish and unmotivated at first greeting could later be asking for your assistance in starting a girl’s empowerment club. People seem to show interest when you also want to listen to them. Volunteers can bring a new idea, or a work-ethic that a Swaziland might not have seen before. I know I have a purpose here when I see a person who is unmotivated become motivated towards a cause or project that they may not have had curiosity towards before. When I can truly show someone in Velezizweni that my sole purpose here is to better their community, they usually also want to help me in that process. In all as a volunteer it is frustrating, embarrassing and transportation always tests your patience, but what you get from this experience is so much more than what you give.

  

So happy 🙂