Thursday, May 18, 2006

Almost 1 year here!

Wow- things have gotten crazy over the past couple months. Sorry we haven't blogged much. Some fun things we've done have included: finally seeing giraffe, elephants, and zebra up close; hiking through a citronella forest (the most amazing smell!); and travelling out to Capetown& the WineLands. They were incredible adventures that really need their own blogs when we have the time.

On the work front, things have really picked up. Craig finished a big project that helped all 11 of the local Neighborhood Care Points (NCP's) get much needed supplies like paper and pencils. He doesn't feel like it was a big deal, but he helped 1000 orphans and vulnerable children... that's big. Now he's working on a water project- There's a solar pump that supplies water from the river to a garder that will feed (again) local OVCs. The pump's having some issues and he's acting as the facilitator between the pump company and the community. I don't think the company would pay much attention if not for his again, he's doing fabulous things. there are other projects he's got going-but he can blog about them when he gets a chance. (I just like to be proud about the things he isn't proud enough of himself!) :) My projects include the Girls Club and an income generating project for the local women utilizing their traditional craft skills. Both seem to be going well- but time will tell. At some point I want to let everyone know about this gerat Swazi Craft Center that folks can oreder from on-line- and the money goes directly back into the rural (and VERY needy) communities. I don't have the info on me right now though... So, that's the short of it. Another volunteer's waiting for the computer so I have run. But we are thinking of you all and will try to blog more soon!!!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Our Holidays

So, it’s been a while since we’ve blogged our trips… For the holidays (yeah, that’s 2 months ago now!) we and 3 other volunteers (Jess, Tegan & Julie) hiked part of the Wild Coast Trail in South Africa. AMAZING. We did the 6 day hike in 4 days in order to relax at the end and still be in Durban for New Year’s Eve. The Wild Coast runs along the Indian Ocean, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Craig and I agree- we don’t think we’ve ever done a more gorgeous hike. Each night we stopped in traditional Xhosa villages where tea, Xhosa home bread, and comfy mattresses awaited us. One of the more satisfying aspects of this trip was knowing that the money for our room and board went directly to the rural villages. We paid the mamas in the morning- no middleman. And our guide was a Xhosa from one of the villages we climbed through. (We actually stopped at his homestead for lunch on the first day!) The hike is very difficult to describe… it was one big sensory overload. Although the trail is coastal, it meandered away from the ocean quite frequently – affording us the experience of alpine meadows and sub-tropical indigenous forests. When you think coastal, you think flat… not so much here. Beautiful green (steep) hills rise almost immediately from the crashing waves. A lot of work, but incredible views. We could pick wild flowers for a while- then collect shells- then be high enough to see whales playing in the distance- then look up from the forested trail and see zebras grazing on the hillside. Our leg of the trail started in St. John’s Bay, and ended in Coffee Bay. We were happy to just chill in Coffee Bay for sure. At the hostel there, Craig enthusiastically learned how to make the Xhosa home bread in the traditional 3-legged, cast iron pots. It was so good!

New Year’s Eve was fun (except that I had some kind of intestinal issue- which isn’t rare.) We hung out with a bunch of other volunteers in Durban (RSA) – a really cool city south east of Swaziland with a huge East Indian population. The Indian food and spices are first rate. YUM! We were also near a movie theatre and mall… so needless to say a few of us saw the new Harry Potter, ate ice cream, and shopped. At midnight the entire city shot off fireworks- it was crazy! Not 1 or 2 displays...nope…every neighborhood and borough had some kind of exploding creation. From our backpacker on the hill above the city, the view was spectacular.

And our more recent adventure- We took our free weekend (we get 1 a month) and visited our original host family (the one you’ve seen all the photos of.) We hung out with them on Friday and Saturday, and then on our way home stopped off to visit one of the other married couples here – Des and Lewis. The 4 of us and their bhuti went geocaching (which if you don’t know about should check out at We walked about 20K total but had a GREAT time. The cache at the end wasn’t the traditional box, but instead San Bushmen Paintings! How cool is that?! Ancient artwork overlooking a beautiful gorge. I’m hoping the photos load OK, because they show better than I can describe the amazing-ness of southern Africa. Until our next blog opportunity Salani Kahle! (Stay well!)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Care Package Tips

This is for those of you who are wondering what we need/want in a care package, and the best way to send it. Honestly, anything you send us will be used- if not by us, then by our Swazi friends and neighbors. And secondly, this is not a plea for packages- although letters are always welcomed. Thanks and we hope this helps!

· Crystal Light (the water tastes kind of nasty when it gets really hot!)· Dry/grated parmesan cheese
· Tea- herbal or black
· Things for local kids – bubbles, books, markers, puzzles, games etc…
· Protein bars (ones with not too much fat)
· Newspapers, magazines, books (reading material is expensive and hard to come by) – Craig likes anything about running, technology, sustainable living, or cooking; Lauren likes things like Yoga journal, Vegetarian Times, or Mother Jones-
· Puzzles
· DVD’s
· New music (ie. Music that’s come out since June of last year)
· Photos!!
· Dried mushrooms
· Pens
· Tuna packets
· Dried apples
· Things that remind us of home (we’ve gotten maple spread, a scented sachet that smells like NH, seasonal post cards, fake snow, etc)
· A letter

Things that may not ship so well
Chocolate or candy (melts- except for peanut m&m’s which are really bad for us and Lauren has no willpower and will eat them ALL)
Thin cracker or chips (they get really rattled)
Anything with sharp edges will poke through mailers
Liquids can burst or be squashed- ziplocks usually prevent leakage

How to send things
· #5 and #6 mailers (those yellow, padded envelops) can be picked up at your post office and sent out for fairly cheap. They USUALLY only take 10 days- 2 weeks to get here.
· M-Bags- these are a super cheap and nifty way to send heavy items, or a lot of stuff at once. You can get these from most post offices and they come in various sizes. The downside is that these travel SURFACE- which means 2-3 months to get here. But if you’re sending out more than can fit in a mailer, and it’s not urgent- this is a great method.
· Boxes- these cost you more and we have to pay a tax here to receive them. They also can take up to 2 months to get here…for reasons still unknown. And, they get turfed.
· DHL- for things that are super urgent only (we hope most of you wont need to use this method) it take less than 7 days BUT is crazy expensive (around $100 for a medium package!)

Addressing things:
(American name OR Swazi name: L- Titfobile Gamedze; C- MandleNkhosi Gamedze)
PO Box 355
Siphofaneni, Swaziland

On the “Customs Declaration and Dispatch Notice” you can write Educational Materials for books and whatnot; Nutritional Materials for Food; Religious Materials for anything; You don’t really need to be specific… if you are, it will probably be stolen. The value should always be around $5.00 … or again with the theft. And GOD BLESS YOU, or something to that effect is a fun way to deter anyone from opening anything.

And one last note- a friend was recently told that the US Post Office doesn’t ship to anywhere in Swaziland except the capital cities (Mbabane & Manzini.) so he couldn’t send a package to us in Siphofaneni. Which is true- generally the USPS will ship something into the main cities… but then a funny thing happens- the Swazi Postal Service sees “Siphofaneni” as the address, and sends it to us. Imagine that.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Finally Photos!

Swearing In Ceremony at the Mountain Inn in Mbabane.

Our Rondavel!

The wedding ceremony Craig attended this past fall.

Our first host family, the Dlaminis.

Lebola Bash

The day after getting back to Siphofaneni from our trip to Mozambique, we heard that a lebola ceremony would take place at our neighbor’s homestead the following weekend. During this traditional Swazi celebration, the groom pays a dowry (15 cows in this case) to buy the bride from her father. This event happens a few months before the wedding, and Swazis take this and any possible opportunity to host a big party. The weekend began on Saturday night when the cows were brought to our neighbor’s homestead. Historically, the groom would walk with the cows, at times for over 100 km over a few days, from his homestead to that of the bride. But, in recent years, the cows are often transported by truck to a place near the destination and walk the rest as part of the traditional ceremony. This time, the cows only had to walk about 1 km from the center of Siphofaneni.

We did not witness the arrival of the cows, but I did get to watch and take part in some of the second phase later in the traditional weekend. On midday Saturday, the men and some of the women gathered in the kraal, strewn with droppings, partially chewed corn stalks, and lots of fertile dirt, to witness the slaughter of two cows, one for the groom and one for the bride. I came late and did not see this killing, but from what I was told, the men used a long spear and repeatedly stabbed the cows near the heart. When I arrived, the men were busy skinning one cow. The other cow was already skinned and butchered, so I helped the guys by taking a couple of the severed legs that were hanging on the fence and put them into a wheelbarrow.

As a few of the guys continued to chop at the ribs with a hatchet and remove the inners, I turned my attention to the second cow. This cow was to be used later in a ceremonial game. The men were preparing the beast by cutting away the hide from the legs and the side of the torso, and by making slits along the edges of the skin to serve as handles. The main idea of the game was to take a long time to transport the cow from the kraal to the kagogo house (where the bride's father stays), a distance of about 100 meters. The bride’s family and friends pulled on the back of the cow and the groom’s people pulled on the front of the cow. Before the game, a man approached me and told me that because I was named Mandlenkhosi (in siSwati, power of the king) that I should pull on a horn. He tricked me into playing the game with the groom’s family rather than our neighbors, the bride’s family. The rest of the day, Babe Dlamini (the father of the bride), joked with me saying that I was a traitor and that I was supposed to pull on the tail.

The game was so much fun. We began in the kraal with about 20 people surrounding a semi-skinned cow with its head dangling. People held the horns, ears, legs, or skin. The game symbolizes the unwillingness for the bride’s family to accept the last cow because the acceptance seals the sale of the bride to the groom. The bride’s family resists giving up possession of the bride. Imagine the cow there with people pulling on all ends, the skin acting as a gurney to carry the dead cow to the house of the bride’s father. We all chanted “Lugege lugege inyama” repeatedly, as if we were deck hands raising a halyard. We carried the cow about 20 meters, pulling and retreating, slipping in wet droppings as we walked, before putting the cow down to rest and re-grip. As I pulled on the horn, the head kept twisting, as 2 men pulled on one side and one on the other, and my hands slipped. Along the way, people who could not fit around the cow would tickle members of the other team and impede their pulling. It became a laughing matter, because everyone (but me) knew that the game had only one outcome, and nobody won or lost. A few times the hide rubbed against my leg and smeared some blood on me, and on a few occasions, I fell and had to get to my feet quickly before being trampled. After about 10 minutes of pulling, we finally got to the house where the bride’s father lives. The idea of getting a large cow through the narrow door was befuddling. This cow was a bit wide. The members of the groom's team grabbed somewhere on the head or part of a leg and heaved, and the cow finally slid through the door and onto the smooth concrete floor. As I pulled, a woman gave me a big bear hug and pushed me toward the wall to keep me away from the many platters of food laid out in the center of the rondavel. I thought that she was a member of the “tail” team getting a bit carried away, but when I turned around I realized that I must have cleared the food by mere centimeters. Whoa!

So the day continued with the men gathered around trays of meat and buckets of tjwala (beer), and with the women gathering around jugs of emahewu. One of our neighbors repeatedly said “I’m happy today” as he kept offering me some of his “happy juice” that he was enjoying. It was a bit funny. I had to try some, as it could only cause minimal dizziness and diarrhea or worse, so I put the 3 liter bucket to my lips and took a swig. The guys told me that the drink was made from bananas. It tasted like the bananas had sat out un-refrigerated for 3 days, and actually, they had. A while later, a second bucket arrived. One of the guys said that this brew was made from popo. I tried this one, but it was not your well-known microbrew. From that point, I decided to drink only the emahewu for rest of the day. The men continued to drink and talk for many hours more, so I decided to go home, planning to return on Sunday for what the bride's father called the "meat race".

I woke up Sunday and donned my running shoes. I was ready to make the bride’s father as proud of me as he is of his sons. Lauren and I arrived in the middle of the morning, and the men were all huddled around the big trays of fresh meat and buckets of tjwala. Babe Dlamini (the bride's father) welcomed me, inviting me to sit with the older married men. Within 3 seconds, a make noticed a Lauren near the men and shot out of somewhere to rescue her. She grabbed Lauren by the arm and took her to where the women hang out. For us to be together would be culturally wrong!

The older married men sat on nice chairs, some padded, and used a small chair in the center of the circle as a table. In the center were a jug of tjwala and a tray of freshly-coked meat. Babe had a man give me a piece of meat. After I ate it, he said in siSwati, "Udla inyama," meaning eat meat. I obliged and took another piece. He then said "Natsa," meaning drink as he pointed at the tjwala. Babe Dlamini commanded one of the other men to fill a cup with tjwala, and he insisted that I drink it all down. This was Swazi peer pressure. Babe said that I was drinking "the drink of the day." The bomake had made it specially for the weekend.

After a time with the mkhulus and older married guys, I went to the next group of younger married men. They were sitting on large concrete blocks, and some less comfortable chairs as they sat around more tjwala and meat. They offered me some more meat, as every now and again a guy would bring the meat out as it was done cooking. The guys offered me some of the tjwala, saying that this brew was made from bananas. Another beer offered to me was made from popo, evidently the two "drinks of the day." After a few minutes with the married guys, some of the younger boys called me to the fire where the meat was cooking.

The braai pit was not too elaborate. It had 2 large black cast-iron kettles with large pieces of cow meat simmering over roaring fires. Every now and then, a teenage boy would use a large stick to stir the meat and add water as needed. Next to the kettles, the young men were cooking some cow meat on a metal grill set on 4 cinder blocks, hot embers providing the heat. Before cooking, the guys cut slits in and salted the meat. Next to the braai area, the remainder of the men, unmarried, sat under a large tree, sitting on small concrete blocks, old rusty farm equipment, used wire spools, and whatever else might be lying around. They talked about soccer, life, America, and joked about people's nicknames. I really enjoyed chatting with the guys, as these are the guys who will speak to me as a peer. My age and married status means that I should hang out with the younger married men, but I am more comfortable with the younger unmarried guys.

While I was talking to the guys, my friend Mphilo tapped me on the shoulder and pointed toward the house. He said "Titfobile is dancing." I looked up and she was dancing a traditional Swazi dance as the gogos watched and sang. She was smiling as her shawl she had to cover her shoulders flapped in the wind. She wore a bandana to cover her head too, as married women must cover their head and shoulders at all ceremonies. She looked like she was having so much fun as she raised her legs and clapped behind her knees, just as the dance goes. The gogos, most of them will not remember the day so well as they share a bucket of tjwala throughout the day, always enjoy watching people dance.

After watching Lauren dance and spending a bit of time talking with the unmarried men in their teens and 20s, I rejoined the married guys. They were fun too, but they talked a lot more in siSwati, so I just listened and watched. I had to listen well as I tried to follow the conversations. The men offered me a bit more tjwala, and I emptied the cup. Lauren thought that the drink is not too acidic, but after not eating but a few pieces of meat since breakfast, and being in the hot sun, that might not matter. I was feeling a slight effect. I chatted as much as I could in siSwati with the guys, and within a few minutes, Babe Dlamini realized I was back. He had been monitoring the quality of the tjwala for a while, and he wanted me to be satisfied. He asked me in siSwati, "Ngidzakiwe yini?" meaning "Are you drunk?" The answer is one that he did not need to hear. He was going to make me drink another cup regardless. I drank the cup, after he insisted that I could not share it. As Babe Dlamini was talking with us, he looked over at his chair, and a drunk man was sitting in it. He was angered, as he was the host of the party and he would be the only man to sit in his chair. He walked over and pushed the man out saying to him passionately in siSwati. I stayed and talked with the men for a while longer, and then Babe Dlamini called me over saying, "Are you ready to race?" I was excited to race. I liked being the center of attention. When I stood up, I was a bit happy. The juice plus the excitement for the race made me just a bit giddy, and well, maybe a bit tipsy too.

So I had no idea what I was supposed to do in the race. There was an old plastic peanut butter tub that contained some kind of meat. Later I was told that it was the cow's vagina. There were 2 teams yet again, the same as for the cow carry game. This time I played for the bride's team. Before the game started everyone from the celebration stood around the race track, a dirt strip between the front doors of 2 adjacent homesteads. Each team piled inside their house. The groom's team went into the kagogo house and our team went in the main house. We were just about to start, and Babe yelled, "Mandlenkhosi, you go first!" I had no idea what to do, but I was willing. Suddenly the groom's team ran from their house with the meat and threw it on the floor inside the main house. It was our job to block the meat, grab the container, run full speed to the other house, and slide the meat on the floor through the legs of the other team. The game continued until everyone had a chance to run with the meat. At the end of the game everyone dispersed and the party continued.

The time was then around 2:30pm, and people were getting hungry. The idea of meat was a good one, as everyone had not had any meat since the morning. The bomake had been cooking all day to feed the hundreds of people. They could cater any event anywhere! Lauren helped for a couple hours in the kitchen cooking baked chicken in the wood oven. Imagine cooking everything with wood, having to keep the fire going for hours on end! Every 10 minutes the women had to go outside to get some "cool" 80 degree air to avoid getting light-headed from the scorching temperature in the kitchen. They had so much good food: chicken, beef, spinach, pumpkin, macaroni salad, tuna salad, beetroot, rice, and the list goes on. The amount of preparation required to cook and serve the food to the people was amazing.

We stayed for a bit after we ate, feeling bad to "eat-n-run," but when we say many other people leaving, we felt that it was okay. We said goodbye to Babe Dlamini, and he held his shake for nearly a minute as he talked. He likes us a lot. On the way out we finally met the groom. I think that for the duration of the party he was probably sitting on the floor in the kagogo house talking with the other men his age. He did not get around to talk to everyone, but I assume that this is the Swazi custom. Lauren and I both left happy, looking forward to the wedding ceremony in the early part of next year.

Mozambique Adventure

We've finally been unleashed! Over Thanksgiving weekend, Craig and I went with 5 other PCVs to Mozambique.

Early Thanksgiving morning the 7 of us piled into our rented kombi (like a VW bus) and headed for the border. We entered through the border town of Goba- and neither Craig or I expected the transition from Swaz to Moz to be so sudden. The high plateau of eastern Swaziland immediately gave way to dramatic ridges and valleys. The road curved in a zigzag and the guardrails didn't seem nearly sufficient to stop us from a quick plummet. Coconut fronds replaced the Swazi reed thatch. Pastel pink and green and yellow sacks lined the road side. Their contents, a mystery. (Craig thinks they were full of charcoal and kindling.) Women carried metal, not plastic, buckets of water on their heads. Babies were no longer swaddled snuggly to mom's back, but instead reclined in a side sling. As we neared the capital city of Maputo, signs of colonization cropped up with increasing frequency. Plastered houses. Verandas. And then the Muslim influence. Beautiful mosques. Young girls with their hair covered. And of course, the most obvious- Portuguese everywhere. Portuguese language, food, and people.

What an amazing city! Not having heard much about Maputo, both of us were shocked at how HUGE it is. Actual movie theatres, restaurants, and pastry shops. A city big enough to get lost in...repeatedly. After changing money and stuffing ourselves with baked goods and gelato, we started the 10 hour journey to Tofo.

Normally, I would think 10 hours on a bumpy road in kombi would be excruciating- but the drive was actually an amazing piece of the trip. Mozambique is so incredibly different from Swaziland, and an immensely diverse country in of itself, that I think I probably stared out the window for 3 hours before I fell asleep.

We arrived in Tofo at dusk and promptly got the kombi stuck in the deep, white, beach sand. (It wasn't our fault...I saw 3 other vehicles get stuck during our stay.) Not such a fun way to arrive- but the cute huts, the breathtaking moon over the Indian Ocean, and the fully stocked bar quickly restored our vacation cheer. At about the time friends and family stateside were sitting down to turkey and stuffing (2pm there), we were chowing down seafood, talking about our favourite Thanksgiving dishes, and thinking about you all(9pm here). Later in the night, we sat on the darkened beach watching for shooting stars. It was a good thanksgiving-

On Friday, Craig and I found out about an "Ocean Safari" run by the dive shop at Bamboozi (the place we stayed.) We signed up and had an amazing snorkeling experience. The massive, yet gentle, Whale sharks were in local waters to breed. The dive shop briefed us on how to swim with them without freaking the sharks out and therefore disturbing the migratory patterns. It was incredible!!! The first one we found was a male about 5 or 6 meters long (except underwater they look even more magnified) and he let us swim with him for about 15 minutes. From the front they look like gigantic terrifying sharks...especially because they swim with their mouths wide open, teeth glaring, to suck up the plankton. (For a second the heart beats a little faster until you remember they're not carnivorous!) From the top they look like beautiful polka-dotted whales. Even though we were all swimming hard to keep up, the creature looked like it was completely still. In an imperceptible movement it turned and then was out of sight. The magnitude of its power and grace was... I really don't know how to describe it. We swam with 4 sharks total and as a fun bonus, attracted a pair of dolphins as we headed to shore. They played along side the boat, jumping and diving, and keeping up with us as we sped through the waves. This was the first time I've seen a wild dolphin! So cool.

The remaining 4 days were beautifully unscheduled and relaxing. The most effort we aspired to was going to the bar for a fresh, free coconut. Rough. We alternated playing in the waves, eating, snorkeling off the reef, eating, lying on the beach, eating, and wandering through the village market. If we walked along the beach collecting colourful shells, invariably young boys approached us selling stuff. Shell jewelry, woven bags, fresh roasted cashews, juicy fish mangoes. [A word on mangoes- fish mangoes are The Most Delicious Mangoes in the universe...and they're in season now. Their shape is kind of fishlike -hence the name- and they have all of the sweetness of a great mango but without the stringiness. Incredible.]

Anyways... During one of our forays to the open market we scored a beautiful oil painting. Amongst the many gorgeous batiks, a few men displayed these amazing pieces of artwork. They stiffened fabric, painted on a base coat, and then created beautiful images of Mozambique in landscapes, still life, and portrait. The one we took home, rolled up in a plastic bag, is an intriguing nude of a possibly white, possible black woman. We paid 250,000 metacais- or $10US. I felt incredible guilty bartering for art and paying so little.

After 5 full days of absolutely no work, we loaded into the kombi and headed back to Maputo. (And got stuck in the sand again on the way out.) In Maputo, we stopped for dinner at a nice beachside restaurant. Ok... so, more aptly, we wandered aimlessly around the city for an hour and a half looking for a little Thai place someone remembered from a previous visit. More than one of us (namely me) was a little edgy with hunger and exhaustion. We had a nice dinner and then realized we had to rush to the border before it closed.

Remember the curving road with the sheer drops I mentioned early? Well, it was 7:30 and our driver was slightly panicked. Curves loomed ahead in the dark and somehow the ridiculous rate of speed at which our kombi was traveling kept us stuck to the pavement...kind of like the Turkish Twist at amusement parks (The one where they spin you around REALLY fast and then drop the bottom out and the C-force keeps you stuck to the wall and when the rides over you suddenly understand why it's been dubbed the barf bucket...) At 7:53, we thankfully see the end of the curves and the lights of the border buildings.

At 7:55 we get through the gates and all jump out of the kombi and start running for the visa desk. At 7:57 we're looking incredulously at the smiling border guard who's telling us they're closed. Come back tomorrow. We open at 7am. It needs to be mentioned here, that African time is not the same as the rest of the world. If a meeting is said to start at 8am, people will start showing up between 8:30 - 9:30. And generally the meeting will start around 10 or 11. This is not a bad thing- Everyone is aware of it. So, when we were told the border was closing 3 minutes EARLY, we sincerely thought he was joking. We tried humour, cajoling, and whining. Nothing. As we sat dejected in the kombi trying to find the nearest hotel, our driver told us the guards wanted to be bribed...we figured if we couldn't find a motel we'd consider it. But luck has it, we did find a motel- of sorts. Border towns are notorious for prostitution and this one was no different. The manager had to do a little math to convert the hourly rate into the cost of an entire night... and the nudes adorning the walls were not as tasteful as the one rolled up in our bag.

After a hot, uncomfortable night spent on the floor next to the bed- we woke early and made it to the border to be 2nd in line. We got through surprisingly fast, and let out a celebratory cheer as we entered Swaziland.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

3 Months in...

I am amazed every time I think that we've been away for an entire summer and a good part of the fall in New Hampshire. It's now November, and Lauren an I have just returned from 4 days of training in the capital of Swaziland, Mbabane. We've been at our permanent site in Siphofaneni for about 3 months now, and it was time to get together with the other volunteers and talk about our varied experiences.

We are still very happy to be placed in Siphofaneni. Lauren and I enjoy watching the sunsets over the mountains and farms in the valley. The colors are breathtaking. The people are so friendly as we walk around the town, everyone says hi. They know us as the Gamedze's and laugh when we say our names. Since arriving in Siphofaneni, we've had one good rainstorm, so things have been very arid until the past few weeks. The rainy season is suposed to come soon, but we and many people who have planted maize are hoping for some rain. The recent one night of rain helped make the countryside take on a more green appearance. The landscape is showing a bit more life after a long season of drought. We enjoy watching the lightning bolts as the storms hit the highveld over the mountains that lie around Siphofaneni, especially near Nhlangano to the south. The light show spectacle is nice, but at times we find it frustrating as we look out and see rain in the mountains, but none lands on our very dry lowveld. Our counterpart, Bhanyaza, told me yesterday that last year his family was unable to harvest its maize because of the severe drought. The lack of rain affects so many people here. Across the river the hectare after hectare of sugar cane fields are continuously irrigated with the water from the river, but so many people have no water at their homesteads. This lack of equality is life here in Siphofaneni.

There's a lot going on in the center of town, bomakes (women) selling fruits and vegetables (some days they huddle under beach umbrellas to avoid the scorching sun), buses and kombis coming and going all day, cows walking amidst the traffic looking for stray banana peels to eat, large tour buses carrying camera-toting white people, trucks carrying freshly-harvested sugar cane from a nearby field, people carrying trays of food on their heads to sell, and the list goes on. Next to the gas station in Siphofaneni there is a long building that houses a bunch of shops where local women sew and sell their clothing. On some days, we see a small wooden cage of white broiler chickens for sale. Other days we see some people roasting corn over a small wood fire next to the bus rank. The fruits and vegetables that the women sell are fresh from the local farms, some from our neighbor, Babe Dlamini. He has a large farm with many varieties of vegetables. The other day, I visited his homestead. I picked out a fresh pumpkin from the field, a few green peppers, a bag of fresh green beans, and a bunch of tomatoes. Bafana, Babe Dlamini's youngest 12-year-old son, and Simpiwe, his 9-year-old grandson, climbed one of the family's mango trees to get me some fresh mangoes to take home to Lauren. They are great kids.

Lauren and I have gotten to know the Dlamini family well. I went with the family to the traditional wedding of Babe Dlamini's brother. Babe loaned me his tradional attire, and I got to dance in front of everyone with Bafana and Simpiwe. It was so much fun... dance after dance, fresh-braai'd goat-on-a-stick, boiled cow (free-range pot roast), fresh pap, tjwala (beer), and emahewu. On many occasions, Babe has given us fresh vegetables from his fields. We made a bunch of foods and brought them to the family. One time we brought some corn bread, another time pancakes, and another time soup. Last week, I went to the Dlamini's to buy some maize for dinner. Babe Dlamini was having trouble with birds eating the maize, so he was forced to harvest the crop a few days early. He was really nice and gave us 8 extra ears of corn to go with the other veggies. Lauren and I made a tasty maize soup with some of the ears, and some of the others we gave to the kids to roast over the wood fire in our yard. Our make said "let the kids roast the corn for you," so we just gave the kids a bunch for themselves and took 2 for us to eat. The kids really enjoy sitting by the fire. Simpiwe likes to put an ear really close to the coals and eats the kernels as they pop. They all had a lot of fun with the maize. It reminded me a bit of the times I spent roasting marshmallows over a camp fire as a kid.

Well, we've done a lot so far, and we're staying busy. I've been trying to keep up with my running here, so I've been running a hilly 12km loop around the countryside every other day. On the run, I pass people cooking breakfast outside over wood fires in cast iron 3-legged pots, people (mostly women) farming in the fields, children on their way to school, grazing goats & cows, foraging chickens, a few guinea fowls, and many local birds. The birds here are wonderful. Yesterday, I saw a nectar-feeding bird with a bright orange beak, and blue and red body. It was about 4" long and was perched on a small thorny bush on the roadside. There are many new birds that are now coming out as the summer approaches. The other day, I was sitting with Bhanyaza under the Jackarunda tree in our yard, and an irridescent blue bird landed on the cactus plant in the yard that the family planted to keep way the poisonous snakes. Every day we see another beautiful bird. Next Sunday, my running will take me to Lobamba near the royal residence between Manzini and Mbabane to run in a 10km road race. That will be fun to see how I stack up to the local Swazi runners.

Some days Lauren and I bike to remote places outside our village. It's great to see the nice African bush that we see in books. It's just a 30 minute bike ride from our homestead. There's just nothing out there for miles. We see droppings from wild game, tracks, and many lizards, millipedes, and birds. A few weeks ago, we biked to the veld, a remote area that I run through on my runs, but we decided to turn left inside of my usual right. The idea was to follow the road to the river and return home. Well, we got a bit more of an adventure. The road was wide and passable by a 4x4, but it did not hook back as we had hoped. The sun was hot, as the temperatures were in the high 80's. When we came to a road, or better called a cattle path that we thought headed home we took the turn. We travelled a bit into the woods following the cow foorprints that often lead to water. I was a bit confused as to why the river was not seen, so after a while of going down this trail that passed a bunch of homesteads, we stopped at a homestead to ask for directions. There were a few guys in the yard working on a car. They are good mechanics here, as the cars are expensive and take a beating on the rough roads. Our understanding of Siswati along with pointing got us an answer. We were heading away from the river. The guy pointed us to go down a trail and follow it to the river. We turned and followed a beautiful route through the deep African bush. The trail forked and we chose to go left. The only thing missing was a wild animal to scamper across the road in front of us. We finally came to a road that we knew well. Now that I have seen that area, I'm looking forward to going back again.

Last Monday, we took another Peace Corps volunteer to a waterfall up the Lusutfu river, the biggest river in Swaziland and the one that we live on. It was so much fun. We waded up a bit of the river and ate lunch on the river bank while we watched the eagles fish in the river. The roaring of the waterfall was so relaxing. We felt like we were in paradise. After lunch, we went swimming and floated in the currents. One highlight of the trip was the chance to sit below a few powerful waterfalls and feel the water continuously pound our backs. What a massage! I even stuck my quads under the stream to loosten them up a bit after a good run the day before.

Every day we walk a lot from our homestead to the center of town about 1.5 km away. Our town has more than some villages in Swaziland. We are fortunate to have a few butcheries with their attached braai, a post office, a grocery, a few bottle shops (liquor stores), a few bars (called shabeens here), a bunch of hair cutting places, a hardware store, and a couple agriculture stores that sell seeds and irrigation stuff. Most people know us as Mandlenkhosi and Titfobile, and when we travel alone, they always ask about the whereabouts the other person. It is funny, as they assume that we should always know each other's exact location. Many locals know better, as we can ask anyone, and they'll say "she went that way."

For work, we are involved with a few projects. I am helping get clothing and other supplies for the local NCPs (neighborhood care points, places that feed the many orphans). Last week I distributed roster sheets to the 11 NCPs in our chiefdom (like a county), and I'll go to pick them up next week. I'll give the names and ages to UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) so that they might be able to get the kids clothing, blankets, and shoes.

A nice story for you... Lauren and I were helping another Peace Corps volunteer from a nearby village at the UNICEF warehouse in Siphofaneni. We looked in the back and saw 10 or so large bundles of clothes labeled "Y" for youth. After closer inspection, the clothes were all sent from the Mormon church in Utah in the US. When we were all done, we watched a local woman who helps at our local NCP drive off in the back of a pickup with a bundle of clothes beside her. After a few days, I began to see shirts around the community that read "BYU athletics" or "Utah." It's great to see the shirts that people in the US donate being worn and appreciated by the local youth.

Another project for me is working with the local youth groups. I've found about 4 different groups, and there may be more. One of the groups had a big concert last weekend. The group of about 12 high school kids hired a DJ, and had local kids dance on a stage made from pallets and plywood. They charged 3 emalengeni (about $0.40) for the kids to enter. At the peak of the show there were about 100 people in an area about the size of a tennis court in the shopping complex. A few weeks ago, the kids held a carwash and used the proceeds to buy food for some local needy people.

We are also working with the youth and the local people on the new Youth/Community Center that will/should be built in the center of Siphofaneni in early 2006. The Swaziland National Youth Club (SNYC) and another group have allocated money to build the center, and they have supposedly approved the site, but we are told no more by the SNYC in Mbabane. There is abit of a disconnect between the local people and the government. Lauren and I will try to get furnishings for the center. I am trying to get all the youtrh groups together in December to talk with the project manager from SNYC about the plans. Once built, we'll help with some projects that use the center.

Lauren is helping weigh babies and fill prescriptions at the clinic on Tuesday morning. During this time, I am tutored by my counterpart, Bhanyaza, in Siswati. I am getting better, but I have to study more. "Ngitsandza kugijima" means I like to run in English. Some words are easy like car (imoto), or motorcycle (sidododo, sounds like an engine), or likati (cat). Others are not so intuitive like indlu (house) or imbhuti (goat) or inkhomo (cow). So enough of that Siswati lesson.

Lauren and I are helping out with a local HIV/AIDS support group too. Siphofaneni is holding a large awareness campaign that will begin on Nov 18th. On that day, a handful of locals who are living positive lives will speak publicly and share their stories. Their goal is to reduce the stigma against positive people. Many of the people are ashamed to come out publicly. Two of the members of this support group are related to our family, and they live at the adjacent homestead to ours.

During the past months, I've been to a few Swazi meetings, the topic being water. Water in Siphofaneni is, for the most part, only found in the river than runs through the center of the town, dividing it in half. People with money have been able to pump water for irrigating gardens or drinking, but many others must resort to wheeling 25 liter jugs in a wheelbarrow from the homestead to the river and back. This is quite a laborious task. So a few years ago, the British government and a Catholic charity paid to dig a borehole (a well) and install an electric pump and all the necessary pipes to distrubute drinking water to within a few hundred meters of each homestead on our side of the river. Well all sounds great, but this is Swaziland. Somehow, only a few months after the system was up and running, nearly half of the taps stopped working, so a bunch of people stopped paying for water. The end result was that the water association could not pay the electric bill, so the electric company turned off the electricity to the pump. The cause of the loss of water is still a mystery. Recently I have heard that the broken pipe has been fixed. Nobody can agree that the broken pipe is the cause, or why the pipe broke in the first place. The meetings have been held for many hours under a tree at a neighborhood market to discuss how to pay the electric bill and fix the water. The end result was to collect R20 from each homestead to pay off the bill, but some homesteads have no money. We'll see what the outcome is soon.

A month or so ago, the Swaziland government announced a 1 billion emalengeni (about $6.5 million USD) fund to finance projects for small enterprise. The idea is to provide loans at 15% to people with no money and minimal business background to alleviate unemployment. Then in order to get funding they have to prepare a business plan, but many people don't know how, and they can't afford to use the services of a professional. So you can see where this leads... Many Swazis are apathetic and accept their destiny, while there are a few who are willing to try their luck. A few weeks later, a branch of the Swaziland government has announced a new finding: the local poultry processor (Swaziland Pountry Processors, or SPP) will buy 10,000 chickens/day from local farmers. They assert that because of the recent outbreak of the bird flu in southern Africa, Swaziland could greatly increase its export of chickens. So some local people got excited and started looking into the feasibility of getting a loan from the E1 billion fund to start a poultry project. Today, I attended a day-long seminar run by a local businessman. He had a bunch of people interested in joining an association to sell chickens to SPP. I sat all day in a room as people copied into their notebooks the words that the man wrote on the chalkboard. This was a great meeting on how to prepare a business plan, but I think that a local subsistence farmer is not capable of building a structure large enough to house 1000 chickens, when each bird requiring 1 sq meter. Every time I hear about these government plans I see the benefits of socialism. I pondered the thought "would it make sense for the government to erect a building for E10 million to house 10,000+ chickens and then hire 500 locals." This would significantly reduce the unemployment rate in Siphofaneni that might exceed 50% today.

Yesterday, we were invited to spend our Thansgiving at a beach in Mozambique called Tofu. A few group 2 volunteers plan to go from Thursday through Tuesday and stay in a backpackers lodge called bamboozi near the water. We'll be leaving on Thursday at 6:30 from Siteki to begin an 11 hour journey to Mozambique. Tomorrow we'll go to the Mozambique embassy in Mbabane to get our visa's. We're so excited to spend our thanksgiving at one of the top 10 beaches in Africa.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Settling into Siphofaneni

October 19th?! It doesn’t really seem possible that in less than two weeks we’ll be heading to our 3-month IST (In service Training) and our probationary period will end. Our Integrative “Lockdown” has been interesting, but it will be nice to have a little more freedom. For those of you who haven’t heard our whining, Peace Corps enforces a policy that during the first 3 months, and last 3 months of service, volunteers are expected to remain strictly at their sites. This rule has been both infuriating and amazing. The obvious reason for the policy is so that we fully integrate with our community and let go of the western ideological sandbags we all carry. During the overwhelmingness of culture shock, homesickness, and just plain feeling like a stupid asshole ALL THE TIME… it definitely seems easier to go hang out with other Americans in a main city. But being forced to stay in our community means teaching new Swazi friends how to make chocolate fudge cake, hanging out and sucking down icies on a HOT, low veld afternoon, and finding hidden waterfalls. Really… there’s no question, the more difficult is by far the most rewarding.

So, what ARE we doing for work and fun here? “Work” currently, is a floundering attempt at grasping onto anything interesting (or even remotely linked to HIV/AIDS) and then attaching ourselves to the people involved, all the while trying not to look too pathetic or desperate for anything to do. OK…well, we may have given up on the ‘trying not to look pathetic’ part- nobody’s buying it.

Craig is recruiting kids for a local youth group. I’m volunteering at the clinic. And we’ve both just joined an HIV “stakeholders” steering committee that’s planning an HIV/AIDS Awareness campaign for next month. Aside from that, we have tons of possible mini projects that range from starting a science club… to getting supplies for rural (free) soccer clubs… to mediating NCP communication with UNICEF… there are SO many areas of need.

Learning the culture is also part of our work. Our si-Swati is improving at a land-snail’s pace. We each now have 2 days of language tutoring. In some ways, having tutors is even harder because we get all excited that we’ve “mastered” something and then go out to use our new skill, only to realize we still can’t understand a damn thing. At least we provide Swazis with a great source of entertainment. Between the two of us we’ve been to 2 purification ceremonies (one year after a woman is widowed she comes out of mourning with this celebration), 1 wedding, 1 Lebola ceremony, (when the man puts a downpayment of cattle on his fiancée) and 2 funerals. Although these are sometimes difficult to understand completely, attending events is such a great way to bond with our community.

And for fun- there is so much! We spend a day a week exploring the area we live in- Madlenya. It’s mostly wide-open, beautiful, African bush. Free-standing rock formations… wild honey bee hives… aloe and other medicinal plants… caves where soldiers hide during wars… constant traces of impala, monkeys, and hyena… fruiting trees… colourful lizard & birds… and our favourite- the waterfalls. Either on foot or bike, we head out -usually with our friend Bhanyaza- and just wander around absorbing everything he shows us. At the end of the day we return tired, a little sunburned, and completely refreshed. It’s awesome. Craig spends a lot of time with the neighborhood boys, and I’m often with the girls and moms. Craig’s been running almost everyday, and is accumulating a small posse of boys who “don’t run” (but can easily maintain an 8 minute-mile for 4 miles… some barefoot.) I’m excited to have a group of about six girls who visit to draw and chat some afternoons in our hut.

So, life continues. We’ll be able to travel around the country a little more, and will keep you all updated on those adventures. Hopefully, now that we have regular internet (regular, meaning: somewhat available) we’ll be able to tell so many of the everyday stories I’m sure we’ve forgotten to write.

Hope you’re all well- we’d love to hear your stories. And if any of you are thinking- hmm… I wonder if I could plan a visit? - Please do! We’d love to share this experience with you.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Moving In

So. . . Craig and I have completed training and are now offically Peace Corps Volunteers. (PCVs) Our group of 33 trainees only lost one person during the rigors of training- we're a strong group. Two weeks ago Craig and I moved into our new house. We're living in a small village called Siphofaneni [Spo-fan-any] located in the central, low veld, of Swaziland. The lowveld is HOT and absolutely beautiful. Our house is actually a one-room, round hut called a rondaveld/rondaval. We have a thatched roof which keeps the place cool and smells wonderful especially when it rains. We are also lucky enough to have electricity and the homestead we live on has a truck to get water from the local treatment plant. The largest river in the country, the Lusutfu, runs through Siphofaneni and is only a 5 minute walk from the house. We are up on a terraced hillside overlooking the river valley- sunsets are breathtaking.

We've been busy settling in, learning the community, and making friends. Swazis are extremely friendly and welcoming. Pretty much everyone knows us within a 2-mile radius of the house and we've received more produce than we can eat as gifts. We visit one house and get a grapefruit. Another a bag of maize. Another a bunch of avocados. All fresh and all delicious.

So far prospective projects look like this: helping part of the village get better access to clean water; hooking local NCP's (Neighborhood Care Points where orphans go for food and school) up with UNICEF for blankets, chalk, clothes, books, and paper...; working with my new friend Samu (who is 14 and brilliant) to start a girls club; weighing babies at the clinic; shadowing RHMs (Rural Health Motivators- women who volunteer all of their time to going around taking care of folks with AIDS who are too weak to take care of themselves or their families) to see how we can help them, help people better; conducting a community census. I think that's most of our ideas- some may happen and some may not. But in just 2 weeks, we're starting to get an idea of HOW MUCH work can be done. Siphofaneni is extremely mobilized- people are already doing a LOT- so it will be interesting to see how we fit in.

Right now, I'm typing from an inet cafe in Manzini. I probably will only come into the city a couple times a months to check emails and do some shopping for hard-to-find items. Craig and I are also addicted to the HUGE open market that is here every Thursday. It's incredible! Folks from all over come in with their wares- batiks, produce, fabrics, cell phones, steel wool, furniture... there is so much. We will bring any of you who come to visit!

We hope everyone is well- we will try to email when we can. We love letters! Our new address is: PO Box 355, Siphofaneni, Swaziland, Africa. No zip or anything. Let us know how you're doing, what you're up to, or who's wearing the worst clothes in LA. : )