Peace Corp Service: Check!

Today is my last day in my community. Tomorrow, early morning, I say goodbye to my sisters, grandmother and the rest of the family and neighbors. My host grandmother has told me 10+ times that she will cry on this day, but let’s see where the day takes us. I have everything packed into 1 pack, maybe weighing 30lbs and in a couple days I’ll be off on my next adventure. This so far includes the apartheid museum in Johannesburg, a stopover in Dubai, city life in Kuala Lampur and retreating to an island for some yoga in Langkawi! But enough into the future, let’s look at what I just accomplished!

So, 26 months later and I’m still here. About to leave but, Y’ALL, I made it!! I should be overjoyed, jumping up and down, yet I’m over here feeling quite numb. Numb to saying goodbye and trying to conceptualize the reality of never seeing my Swazi Grandmother again. She has cared for me like her own, now I just leave forever? It doesn’t seem right! My heart feels sad, but not in the way I was expecting to feel after two years. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I convinced myself that I was never going to leave, so I wouldn’t think of that as an option. OR maybe just that I’m so ready to leave that my emotions have gone numb and simply all I need to think about is getting myself from point A to point B. Who’s to say? I do know that I am so proud of myself. Peace Corps has been my hardest hurtle thus far in my life, physically, emotionally, and has challenged me in ways that no other place in the world could. I am grateful I pushed myself to stay, because in this second year I have really noticed change and growth within myself and within the community.

I’m happy to leave (some of) my projects standing tall. My library has everything ready for books to come (they arrive September 13th!!), my HIV support group garden has had three successful harvests to sell at market and to improve nutrition for them and their families, and lastly a brother of mine has been going to get tested every 6 months, after first getting tested at my testing events. I feel admiration for all my Swazi counterparts that have put countless hours in to help me along the way when they really could’ve had a billion excuses to not give their time. I came here as a volunteer and knew what I was getting myself into, yet the people I work with are not getting paid either and freely have given up their time to make successful projects for their community. I have paid them in pancakes, chocolate cake, photos & cards as I said goodbye this past week. There is some good news though! A new volunteer will be replacing my spot for the next two years! She will be moving into my house in about two weeks’ time. She seems excited and ready to work over the next two years and I couldn’t be happier for my family & community. I hope the best for her in her journey ahead!

For my younger Swazi friends & family, it’s not a goodbye; it’s a see you later!

“Nobuhle (my Swazi name), will the new volunteer love me in the way you do?” Temkulako my 13 year old sister & is my best friend here. She will be the hardest person to leave. 2 years of baking together, singing off pitch songs and hanging from our front yard avocado tree. She is so bright and I want to continue to help her in all things life, but it’s time to say a “see you later”. 10 years I tell her, and I’ll be back to visit her. I ask her what she will be doing when she is 23 years old. She says she will be studying at university to become a doctor or business women. Over these past two years I have tried my best to prepare her for life ahead, not that I’m even close to a life expert. I continually tell her to follow your dreams, to read and don’t stop, that a women can do anything a man can do, and to keep the childlike laughter in your everyday life even when you’re a teenager it doesn’t seem “cool”. I have taught her about more serious things too like how to properly use a condom, even though she still claims, “I don’t want a boyfriend yet”. Many teenaged girls here have sex very early, and I just want her to be prepared for whatever life throws at her.

My life will never be the same because of these last 26 months, and because of what it was like to live here. The struggle for life’s basic wants and needs, such as education, a successful career, a home to call their own, is so much harder to obtain than I ever imagined. In the US people use the phrase, “pick yourself up by the bootstraps and get to work”, maybe a few times in the states that kick in the pants can work, but in a developing/ third world country there are SO many more hoops to jump through to get to where you want to be. In Swaziland I have met hundreds of well educated, down to earth people that give their absolute all in their studies (yes Swaziland has their own university), or in their jobs (if they can find one) and still end up with next to nothing. This seems to be because of the lack of opportunities, finances, educational opportunities, and the probability that if you do have a career you might be supporting 10+ other people in your family that don’t have a job.

This experience has broadened my mind about the destiny of geography. Meaning, wherever your soul is placed within this world has such an impact upon how many huddles a person has to go through to become self-sufficient. The ease of obtaining self-sufficiently in your life highly depends on where and to which family you are born to.

Don’t get me wrong, although Africa has many developing countries it is the most amazing, spectacular, intimate continent that I have ever been to. Just because people in some African countries lack some opportunities that we as Americans or first world countries are so accustomed to, doesn’t mean that some Africans are lacking in anyway as humans.

Something that I’ve learned; Whenever someone refers to “Africa”, know that this continent cannot be lumped together when speaking of the people and cultures. They are 54 DIFFERENT countries in Africa with thousands of different cultures and people. Personally I see what Swaziland lacks in opportunity they make up for in richness of their people. People truly care about one another here and take time to know how you are. They have time available to them, yes maybe from the lack of opportunities, but it’s beautiful all the same.

I’m not scared of traveling, because I will not let fear stop me. I believe humans all across the world are inherently good, and we should always strive to be the best versions of ourselves. Thanks for following my journey! It has been positive, negative and all in the middle, but I am thankful for everything that came my way!

“Peace is much more than the mere absence of war. Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.” -Sargent Shriver

P.S

Look for my blog post at the end of this week to learn more about following my adventure to come!

Into the Final Strech

Sorry its been the longest since you’ve seen a new post on here. Trust me I have excuses! My best one is that lightning hit my hut and fried all my cords. So, I had no way of charging my computer for 2+ months until one arrived in the mail from my sweet mother. Thanks mom!

I’ll start with all the cliche messages of my past blogs posts about how I’m feeling… “time is flying, I love it here & I’m just so sick of peeing in a bucket” because all apply to my life still. Just so I don’t go over board with this post I’m limiting myself to three, no four topics of choice. Enjoy!

1. Projects & Future Sustainability.

  • (Girl’s empowerment club at my local High School)
    Last year I started creating a girls empowerment club with a high school teacher & student. We met once a week at the high school and talked about all things girls empowerment! We learned about setting goals, healthy relationships and “our changing bodies”. It was successful and was being well sustained by the teacher when I was unable to be there. At the beginning of this year I went back to the High School to start the club back up, but when I got there another organisation was at the school using the time slot that we used for the girls empowerment club. The organisation that was taking our place is called compassionate Swaziland, its an NGO that teaches girls life skill classes all over Swaziland. After looking over Compassionate Swaziland’s syllabus for the year we realised we went over most of the same topics. Since this was a Swazi lead NGO, I was more than happy to let them take over our teaching time & continue the good work. The girls are enjoying the new club. They give them cookies every week to keep them coming to the club. Now, the only project I have with the high school is a small pen pal operation with Hannah Vanderhorst’s class back in Denver, CO!
  • (The HIV support group garden)
    I think last time I posted I was in the process of applying for the garden grant. So- update! We got the grant approved and the project has been a success.
    RECAP— I met an HIV support group that had a successful garden three years ago, but within recent years the fencing to the garden had large gapping holes that was letting chickens, goats and even cows into their crops. I started meeting with them every week and developing a plan to try and get them new fencing. The HIV support group and I applied for a grant and it was successfully approved! We received fencing, water harvesting equipment, water storage in the form of a jojo tank, gardening tools, cement, and seedlings! Part of the grant was to have a garden workshop to learn about new gardening techniques that these women could use in the new garden. On the second weekend of December, thirty women attended the workshop. The workshop was taught by a retired agriculture university professor that stays in my community! Rain fall has been good this year & they will be reaping their first harvest in a couple of weeks!! Successful and sustainable!

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  • (Playground Completion)
    I may not know how to change a tire on a car, but I do know how to build (from scratch) a sturdy *safe* playground! It took about three months to complete my playground at my primary school, when it really should only take a couple of days. — Again a few excuses; the drill broke, then after we got that back a month later the only drill bit to make the pilot holes also broke. BUT now it is finished with children gallivanting on it everyday with the force of a hurricane. Which makes me smile a lot!

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  • (Kids can raise money for a Library!)
  • 95% of our donations for our library have come from the children who are going to be directly impacted by this library. How?! We charge very little money for a long period of time for things like movies, talent shows, concerts, and the option to not wear your uniform for the day. With this type of fundraising it takes a longggggg time, BUT shows my community that its possible to still fundraise when there is still an overwhelming amount of poverty. We have had two fundraising events a week for the past year and have about 50% of the funding for the shelves we need in the library. I’m so proud to be on the library committee with teachers who didn’t mind adding one more thing on their plate to make this library happen. To these three teachers I am extremely grateful. We are still fundraising and if your interested in helping please read forward.

2. If you want to donate to directly impact children in my community please click the link below 🙂 We are making the FIRST ever library in Velezizweni Primary School.
Click here!

 

3. Expectations of joining the Peace Corps– my thoughts

When you are deciding if you want to commit 2.5 years of your life to something, a smart person would research the hell out of it before making that choice. Common questions to come up would be “What would a normal day in the life look like?” “Where will I live?, What will I eat? Will I have electricity or running water?” Obviously moving your life to a foreign country deploys a lot of questions. PUN INTENDED. For peace corps, a lot of those questions cannot be answered as specifically as you would want them to be. This is because in Peace Corps service each continent, country, and site is VERY different from on another.

If I were to give advice to anybody wanting to join the peace corps I would say that you need to be okay with the reality of your life being one of these two different scenarios— or anywhere in-between.

1. You wake up every morning to a lot to do. You live near a town and have access to services for people in your community. You are working with NGO’s and have a strict schedule to adhere to. This “you have a lot of free time in the peace corps” does not apply to you. You work very hard for two years, just like you did in the states but the only difference maybe you may not have a shower at the end of the day. By the end of your service you can look back and see the changes and impact that you have made.

2. You wake up to no alarm, look at your iPhone calendar app and there is nothing planned for the next two weeks. The two community meetings you set up fell through because it was raining and people were feeling “too lazy” to come. You have thoughts like “I have no idea what I’m doing here & what good impact I will make”. You feel guilty when people back home say you’re “saving the world” when in reality all you did today was watch a season of the office and hung out with your host family. What you will take away from your 27 MONTHS of service is the fact that your 12 year old sister comes in your house every night to complete her homework. Her english has gotten dramatically better since you arrived. Her grades have gone up & you reward her with sweets every time she comes back home with a grade higher than 70%. You changed one Childs life for the better and thats an okay way to spend two years of your life.

A harsh reality of Peace Corps service is that you very well could make more of an “impact” with your knowledge and skill set back in the US than in your Peace Corps service.

4. The close of my Peace Corps Service & the future ahead.

It has been confirmed that my site will be replaced. This means a new volunteer will move in with my family in September and work as I did in the community of Velezizweni. Weird thought, but excited for the next person that gets to experience the love of my Gogo & the beautiful landscapes every morning.

On to the next; I close my peace corps service on August 11th, 2017! Party! This is a serious accomplishment for me these coming months will defiantly be a bitter sweet time closing up projects and saying goodbye to my Swazi home. I hope, aspire, want to come back in about 10 years. After service I will be traveling throughout south east Asia for four months until mid-December. THEN hey y’all, I’ll be home for christmas with a tan of course 🙂 From there I will be attending grad school starting in June 2018. Super excited for what the future holds and to be eating good food from August forward.

P.S. I have been enjoying writing letters as of recently, so please send me some mail! (its super cheep and a fun way to old school communicate)

Ally Young, PCV
P.O. Box 2729
Mbabane H100, Swaziland, Africa

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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.

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!

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 🙂

  

Transportation; End of Intergration; & a Small Bump in the Road

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.

Nomatemba with her wallet

RANDOM–
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

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A foot is used to start the water pour and the hard soap is under the container to protect it from rain.

– Made a perma-garden and currently growing onions, cauliflower, lettuce, dill spice, lavender, and lemon grass.

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The space for my garden


after the digging was done & my little helper

 

after planting the seedlings

– 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 ❤

Tjani’s perfered sleeping position

– Taught my make how to bake the most scrumptious scones
– Learned how to polish my floors

With help from my siblings 🙂

– 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)

My hiking fam after we made it to the top!

 

to the right is Sibebe (were on top of it)

– Taught a 3rd grade classroom about America, complete with pictures of you all!

– 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.
– Libraries
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:

Nobuhle Dlamini

P.O. Box 119

Mankayane, M206 Swaziland

 

Packages are best sent to:

Ally Young, PCV

P.O Box 2729

Mbabane H100, Swaziland Africa

Tips:

  • 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.

 

the view outside my door everyday ❤


for Halloween I was a WWE wrestler!

 

trips to the Sitolo are always more fun with these ladies

 

Soon to be Peace Corps Volunteer

Growing up I didn’t want anything in particular special for myself. My expectations were low as to what was going to happen in my life. I always saw signs and posters, using the motivational quote “follow your dreams”, well what if you didn’t know what your dreams were? Then what do you follow? I didn’t seem to have overlying dreams, so I passively followed what is expected of me. Now as a senior in college, and graduating in April I’m pretty sure I have carried out what was expected of a well off 21- year old. Now going into the “real world”, I carve my own path with making my own decisions. Its not like I haven’t made my own choices up to this point, but the ramification of those choices have always been massivley less of what I have decided for myself now.

So with that said, I would like to state that I am proudly joining to serve in the Peace Corps. Throughout college I have found my love for helping people (social work), traveling (studying abroad), independence (living on my own), and an intense hunger for my life ahead of me which has led me to this decision. Here are some classic (WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, HOW) details about my Peace Corps Service:

What: I am joining the Peace Corps, a US government run program that basically deploys educated and well trained Americans to volunteer in countries that ask for assistance all around the world. I will be serving as a community health worker. Mostly working with HIV/ AIDS prevention and education, but could be doing a range of other things to do with health & communities.

Where will I be serving: I will be serving in the country of Swaziland. This country is in Africa about 3/4 surround by the country of South Africa & the other 1/4 is covered by the country of Mozambique.

Swaziland location

Swaziland is about the size of New Jersey (very small landlocked country). If you look at the country of South Africa it’s one of the two little blobs that are “floating” within the larger country. Swaziland has a population of about 1 million people. Here are some other facts about Swaziland:

-It has the highest HIV prevalence in the world

-It’s the last absolute monarchy in Africa (yes this means they have a king)

-63% of people live in poverty

-1/3 of the population is under the age of 14, with the median age being 20 for the whole country

When: I will be leaving June 23rd, 2015 and arriving back August 27th 2017! Yup, that’s 2 years & 3 months. I will be 24 years old when I come back!

Who: I will be traveling alone & do not know anybody else who has been accepted… although there are other volunteers just like me preparing to leave in June to go to Swaziland to do their service! (There are about 72 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in Swaziland in the departments of Youth Development and Health)

How: The Peace Corps has been around since 1961, sending volunteers to countries to create global understanding. The Peace Corps’ Mission is to promote world peace and friendship by helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

& last but not least WHY would I do this?!?!

My heart pounds uncontrollably & I cannot help tears of joy streaming from my face. I made it “here”. I, MYSELF made it here. I have brought myself to a place I’ve never been before, alone, and have learned so many new things. I have had this exuberent experience of traveling twice now. Once on 5/27/2013, the day before my 20th birthday in Sydney, Australia when I went on a day hike by myself on the cliffs over looking the beaches.

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Bondi to Coogee cliff hike in Sydney, Australia 2013;

Secondly this summer hiking alone on Angel island in the San Francisco Harbor.

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Angel Island, looking over San Francisco harbor 2014;

The feeling of traveling alone has been nothing like I have experienced before. I learn more about myself, meet more people, and have the best times of my life. As I graduate college I want to go towards things that make me the happiest & traveling has done that for me. I don’t particularly want to go to grad school or get a full time job when I graduate with my Bachelors of Social Work in May, so Peace Corps just seems like the next logical option for me.

More Details…

My service will start by a three month intensive training & living with a Swazi host family. This training is to help me become fully immersed in the country’s language and culture. I will hopefully be fluent in the language of SiSwati by the time I return. After acquiring the language and cultural skills necessary to assist effectively in Swaziland, I will then be placed in a community. I don’t know where that will be until the three month training is over. After being sworn into service after the completion of training I will be assigned to a community within Swaziland, where I will live and work for two years with the local people on health related issues.

I have told my family and close friends about getting accepted and here are some typical questions that are asked right away, so I will also answer “FAQ’s” for all who are reading this.

1. Will you be safe?

Peace Corps number one priority is to keep me safe abroad. For the first 3 months that I am in the country of Swaziland I will go through intensive cultural, safety, and language training before going to my village for the two years.

2. What language do they speak?

In Swaziland they speak siSwaiti. This language is only spoken in Swaziland and I will be fluent in it before I come home… although not sure if I will ever use it again other than for a party trick 🙂

3. What if you get there and really hate it?

I am able to terminate my service early, if absolutely necessary. (In no way am I considering this), but Swaziland actually has the highest rate for ET’s (early terminations) because of the emotional stress the country has on a person. 1 in 4 people in Swaziland are HIV +, this means most likely I am going to know somebody that will die from the disease. This is awful and sad to think about. The way I think about the emotional heartache that this is going to put on me is that it’s happening either way if I’m there or not. I want to know about how people live their lives around the world and death and disease is going to be apart of the learning process. I hope I have acquired skills through my Social Work degree in mindfulness that will help me though the emotional strain.

4. Will any other Peace Corps volunteer be with me?

I will be with other peace corps volunteers for the first 3 months in training (we all do training together). Then I will be sent to a community in which I will be the only Peace Corps volunteer in that specific community. Another volunteer could be anywhere between 1 hour away or 5 hours away.

5. Are you getting paid? 

I will receive a “transitioning back home” payment of about $7,500 when I complete my service. EVERYTHING from the time I leave (airfare) to when I arrive housing, food, and allowance to when I leave is paid for by Peace Corps. So I will basically be living for free for 2+ year in exchange for my service.

6. Whats the weather like? What do they wear?

The weather will be WARM! So this is my last cold Michigan winter for 2 years! YAY! I am required to wear a below the knee length skirt throughout my time of service… which I have not one skirt right now so I guess some long skirt shopping is in order!

7. Can we visit?!

Okay… this was my parents’ first question, but I thought I would put it out there anyway. I AM allowed to have people stay with me in my “hut” and I do have vacation time (I acquire 2 days per month). So if any of you find yourself wanting to come, I would love visitors!

8. Do you get to come home at all?

Peace Corps does not provide airfare home after you arrive. The only way they do is if a close member of your family dies. I can use my own funds and my own vacation time to come home. I get two vacation days per month of service, so about 24 days of vacation each year.

9. How can we keep in contact with you?/ Will there be internet or phones?

Peace Corps requires access to internet within an hour of my site, so I will have internet access but it will be limited. I will keep up this blog as my adventure starts. Peace Corps also provides you with a phone, yet not to make international calls. The best way to keep in contact is email, Skype, & this blog.

10. Did you choose this country?

In the peace corps application you are allowed to pick three places that interest you. I did not do this, but rather chose the option of “place me where my skills are needed”, so I really was open to where ever I was placed. With my skills from volunteering in the hospital & working in health promotions right now I am glad I placed within the health sector.

Feel free to ask me any other questions! I am so excited about this opportunity and I am not nervous at all (right now), because I know this is what I want for my life! Feel free to follow my adventures going through the next three years of my life!