Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Training days: life in rural Swaziland

Emma's words, posted by Emma's mom..................

Ok, so I have copy and pasted a bunch of questions from everyone’s emails so that I can make sure I answer everything and that everyone gets all the info. So this is an incredibly long email. I will have time (motivation?) to write to each and every one of you individually when I get a phone (hopefully). I am trying to save up to get an Iphone, which is crazy because I would  never have had one at home! Here it offers the best communication options.
Before I get to the questions, I will let you know what has been going on today. I just (that’s a swazi ‘just’; really it was like an hour ago) got back from town where I had to buy my first round of groceries. Those of you who have moved can attest to how crazy that trip can be for anyone, buying the staples, sugar, salt, etc. and real groceries to have food for the next 2-3 weeks all at once. Well if you can imagine it, it was even crazier here. I had to carry all of that stuff… of course I got a gigantic bomake (Bo- Ma-Gay) bag to carry everything all together, except for my purse and one reusable grocery bag that I always carry with me. Now, when I say this bomake bag is gigantic I am not exaggerating. It is about 10 inches deep 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, it’s big. My bag was not totally full, but close. As we were walking to the bus rank (think dusty, with lots of old VW and Toyota vans, and a ton of people surrounded by market stands), my bomake bag broke. Yep, leave it to me. My bag was the only one to break. So then I was wrestling this gigantic bag all the way to the Khumbi (koombi, the buses they drive around here). It really wasn’t that bad, but it was a ‘yep, I’m still me in Africa’ moment. In the khumbi, though, I had to sit with my bomake bag on my lap. I don’t think that my bum has ever been that numb. It’s about a 30-45 minute ride and we had to sit at the rank for a while because 9-10 of us with overflowing grocery bags wasn’t a full enough khumbi for our driver. He wanted to meet full capacity with 15 people!!!!!!! These are the kind of buses that have fold up seats so that there ends up being no aisle, and everyone has to get out to let one person out… Yeah.
Anyway, here are some exciting things that I got at the stores in Nhlangano (n-a kind of hissing sound made in your cheeks-lawn-ga-no): bakery fresh bread that they put out on racks for the masses to swarm over while it is still warm, I may have over indulged with 2 loaves, and believe it or not wheat is cheaper than white at 5.50 emalengeni. I also got tomatoes, onions, olive oil (49 emalengeni, another splurge), flour and yeast to make emafethi (see my blog), potatos, carrots, apples, bananas, rice, lentils, beans, oats, and a few other things.
As we are supposed to begin to cook for ourselves this coming Sunday (check the date when I wrote this, Fri 6/24/11, as I don’t know when I will be able to post), we have to prove that we can cook. So, we are having a cooking competition tomorrow. We are grouped together in random groups, which is nice because I am with a bunch of people that I don’t get to see very often, including my good friend Ginger (she brought an ice cream maker, so obviously we are making ice cream!). All the groups have to make an appetizer, entrĂ©e, and dessert, one of those things needs to be a fresh fruit of veggie (we have to prove that we know how to safely wash those things here [15 minutes in 1 tbs bleach/1 gal water and then rinse with treated water]), and we have to cook at least one thing from the cook book they have provided us with. My group is making caramelized apples wrapped in bacon as an appetizer. It was going to be dates wrapped in bacon but we couldn’t find dates today. For the main course we are cooking grilled curry chicken and veggies (peppers, onions, pineapple, tomatos, pineapple?) and then all of that in a lettuce wrap with avocado. Yum, right? For dessert we are making ice cream with a fruit salad. If you can’t tell from that menu we have been eating a lot of carbs lately.
Now for your questions:
Are you over the shock of this new country? It’s hard to say really. I am pretty used to things like bucket bathing and no electricity (even though being used to it doesn’t make it suck less), water is a constant struggle which is a bummer, but just another thing that has to be done (luckily my host make [ma-gay, mom] will always help me out if I really need it). But then there are things like men being seen as the most important always, which is shocking every time I witness something little. For example, in the US you usually don’t realize that when you are walking on a crowded sidewalk, or a full aisle of a store, both parties (men and women) work to negotiate the space. Here, if the woman doesn’t move fast enough to get out a man’s way, he will physically push her out of the way. Now, part of this is that we were in a really big town where space was frequently an issue, and for the most part we (PC trainees) were wandering around a little lost looking the whole time. I can imagine it was a little frustrating on the part of the Swazi’s too. This is also a male dominated culture. So, if a bunch of ladies are walking with 1 man and another man approaches the group, he will speak only to the man. I guess the PC is right when they say the physical things are easier to get used to than some of the cultural differences. I am actually getting used to seeing bugs EVERYWHERE and not being too grossed out.
Do you have any regrets yet or is it just too new? No regrets. It has been quite a whirlwind though. Everything is in a whole different perspective. Ridiculous things happen every day to all of us and we are all learning the best ways to deal with them. The PC has put a lot of emphasis on the fact that we are in training and now is our time to make mistakes. So, we need to allow ourselves to do that.
Have you seen any wild animals? No wild animals yet. We are just entering week 3 of training, and during week 5 we will go to a wildlife reserve. And well… I guess I have seen a few things. I saw a real live chameleon in the ‘wild’ the other day. I put wild in quotes because it was on the fire wood we were using to cook dinner and it just made it out of the stove as we were putting the wood in. It was really cool. Independently moving eyes, changing colors and everything.
Are you welcomed by the folk of the town, village or community? I am very welcomed by my family. My bobhuti (bo-booty, brothers) and I are getting really close. I help them with their homework almost every night, and they help me with mine. I have been cooking with my Make (mom) every night too, though that will soon have to change because we will be responsible to cook for ourselves as mandated by the PC. I really like cooking with her, I can help her with healthy habits (though really the diets here are pretty well balanced when they can be), and she teaches me so much. In terms of the village, it is hard to say. Since we are training in big groups we kind of take over the village. Also, it is really hard to define a village. There are little stores all over, people selling things out of their homes, and neighbors are all so far away from each other (think little home on the prairie). It will be a bigger deal to integrate in our individual villages where we will probably be the only white person in the village and will be actively trying to become involved in the village instead of meeting with each other and PC staff to train.
Do you have contact with other PC personnel daily? At this time Yes, or almost. We have training on MTWRFS and we have Sundays off, but the trainees usually meet up in our villages for social time. The way it is set up now we are in 3 villages. All of the Edu Trainees (18) are in Makhonza (Ma-kone-za), and the health volunteers are spilt up between 2 villages, Khiza (kiza) and Mashekesheni (ma-sahy-guh-shenny). We all get to see each other on the days that we go to Ngwane College for our training, usually once or twice a week. On the other days we meet with our language groups, anywhere from 4-7 trainees and a Swazi thishela (tee-shay-luh, teacher). My group is the best and we have the best thishela; her name is Calile (click, uh-lee-lay), she is about my age and very modern/western and funny. And then we usually have one culture session a day where all the trainees and bothishela in each village will get together.
You have to tell me more about your .food--unless it's too gross to talk about.  I mean, don't tell me if you have to kill anything.  Ugh!  But you can tell me how you are at cooking. The food is surprisingly not that different, except the fact that the 2 favorite ingredients in every dish are salt and Aromat (MSG and salt). You can buy chicken portions and beef portions frozen or refrigerated if you like, and have a fridge, or you can kill one of your own (most homesteads have a bajillion chickens). Cows are usually only killed on special occasions because they are the biggest, most expensive form of currency here. 1 cow = about 5,000 Rand. And you have to have enough cows saved up to buy your boys’ brides (seriously, everyone does it, EVERYONE [though not always with cows, sometimes you can just give cash. It depends on what the bride’s family wants and what you have]). I am still learning about this. It doesn’t even seem that strange to me anymore, and while this practice may seem really outdated to us it does not inherently indicate that kind of marriage. Most marriages these days are for love and the wife does play an equal part in the relationship (though mostly behind closed doors). Here is a common dinner: Lipalishi (lee-puh-lee-she) maize ground into meal with water, a lot like grits but it is not liquidy it is more like a cakey consistency, chicken boiled and broth, cooked pumpkin or butternut squash. These are the staples of each meal. It is amazing what you can do with maize meal. I already have 4 recipes for it, 3 breakfast and lipalishi. So you could exchange lipalishi with rice, chicken with beans (my fave) or beef, and squash with a fresh salad (which my make and I like best), or greens. This is every meal that I have had since I’ve been here. I haven’t had to kill anything yet, and I don’t think that I would have to if I don’t want to. Sometimes we have beets, sometimes coleslaw, sometimes toast, sometimes eggs. And the plates are always HUGE. A pile of lipalishi then topped with the rest of the stuff. I am excited to be able to cook for myself. I think that I will have oats and an egg for breakfast, leftovers for lunch and a lot of rice, pasta, veggies and beans/lentils, and Meat when I can, but without electricity or a fridge it is a bit of a gamble.
How far away is the river and how much water can you get at one time?  Do you walk there?  Maybe you should just bathe in the river.  The river is not really a river. It is a hose that comes from a sistern that catches water that runs down a mountain (hill) that would usually go into a river. The river is dry. So, my homestead is at the top of the mountain, and the ‘river’ is pretty close to the bottom of the mountain. It is pretty short on the way down and incredibly long on the way back J, I’d estimate (which means I could be WAY off) about 2.5 football fields?. I cannot ever get water for myself because you have to suck on the hose to start the siphon. You fill a tiny bucket and dump it into your bigger bucket, then suck on the hose to start the siphon again. I refuse to suck on the hose, plus according to PC I shouldn’t, it’s high risk behavior. WE do walk to the ‘river’. My bhuti sometimes brings a wheel barrow. I can carry two full 2 gallon buckets, but it is not fun, especially while I am walking next to make who has 25 liters of water balanced on her head! Luckily though she and I usually go together and that means that I have 2 full buckets of water! I wish that I could just bathe or do laundry in the river but it is seriously discouraged because of all of the things that live in rivers (bacteria and such, even ones that get in through your skin) and what frequently happens up stream in the rivers. Another bummer.
Have you met Driehaus (Peace Corps Swaziland County Director--- went to Miami and is a former congressman from Cincinnati) yet?  I have not met Driehaus yet, but we will meet him for a fourth of July event on Sunday the 3rd. I’ll let you know hoe it goes. Everyone here already knows that I really excited to meet him. They make fun of me for it.
And, let us know about a typical training day for you. Typical training day for me…. I will describe a day in the village because days spent at the college are unpredictable. I wake up at 6am…it should be 5:30 and I don’t usually get out of bed until 6:15am. It is so hard when the nights are so cold and I don’t have any heat. Then I dump my bathing water from the night before, because you can’t dump once it gets dark (it is thought that at night the ancestors walk), I usually start some water heating to bathe in the morning, this is when I really bathe, at night I usually only wash my face, feet, and hands, and some water boiling to make into drinkable water. I can fully bathe with about 2.5 liters of water. While the water is heating I pick out clothes, Iron, and get everything ready for school. Then I bathe, get dressed and go to see what Make is up to for breakfast, which is usually something ridiculous made with so much care and love that I end up eating as much of it as I can; like an egg, a lettuce, RAMA (margarine brand) sliced like cheese and Aromat sandwich, oats or Incwacwa (sour maize meal porridge, that gets sour because it is left out in water over night), and then she has started pulling this trick where I am getting ready to leave and she throws an emafethi on my plate and says ‘What about this’ so that I have to sit down and eat it because she knows how much I LOVE emafethi. Oh, and tea. Always tea. This is something that has stuck from the British; we even break from school at 10:0am for tea break. Then I walk about 10 minutes downhill to my Thishela’s house where we will have language until after tea. Then we all walk back up the hill past my homestead to a meeting area (3 minutes past my homestead on top of the hill) for culture lessons. Then around 1pm we will all have lunch (whatever we’ve packed; my Make lately has been wanting me to come home for lunch since it is so close, but I like to eat with the other trainees) sitting around outside with a few random hungry dogs that always come around. Then we will go back to thishela’s to put our language and culture lessons together to form something resembling applicable. Then I get home about 4pm. Sometimes the trainees all get together and hang out before we go home. Yesterday some of us played hearts; it was very fun. Then when I get home I have about an hour of light to sweep my hut (which every good Swazi does at least once a day), and such (homework sometimes). Then it is time to start cooking dinner with Make. After dinner, which is usually around 7:30 or 8pm we pray and do homework (if it’s not done already). After all of that I go to my hut and start to heat water to bathe and set water to boil to drink.  Sometimes when I might not actually need to boil water to drink, I do it anyway because it has been getting so cold, like tonight, and there is no heat. I usually get into bed about 9 or so. I try to stay up and read if I can. I just finished Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, it was very good. I recommend it.
Which town/area of Swaziland are you in? I am in the village Makhonza. The nearest town to reference is Nhlangano. To be honest, I am not even exactly sure where I am in Swaziland. Let me know when you find out. J
Are you in the training camp right now or are you in the home where you will stay for the entire time? I thought there were several weeks of training before they sent you off to where you would be living. I am in training right now. We only stayed at the college for a few days. In Swaziland they practice Community Based Training, where each volunteer stays with a volunteer host family and they meet daily in small groups, while occasionally all getting together for sessions at the college. There is one permanent placement that is near Nhlangano. We find those out on week 5, and are just starting week 3.
Should I avoid sending “convenience” foods that are overpackaged?  Should I always send bigger quantities of things so that you can share? Still anxious to find out how long things take to arrive there. Here are my current requests for packages: pens, individually wrapped candies, wipes, chohula, velveeta (any kind of cheese product), easy mac, nutella. It’s hard to say about the packaging, because trash is an issue here, but so is food storage. Selfishly I am going to say go with over packaged, but remember that I don’t have electricity. I have not received any packages yet… I don’t know why it is taking so long. I will let you know as soon as I get anything. I do know that some people have received packages already… I don’t know when those were sent. Also, please send any spices. They do have a lot here, but they are ridiculously expensive, 25 emalengeni for 1oz of Mexican spices!
Do you have a SiSwati name? I do. Every trainee gets one when they move into their homestay. Mine is not uncommon- Bongiwa (Bohng-e-way), meaning to give thanks. There are 5 volunteers with this name. It’s weird having such a common name all of the sudden. Most volunteers get another one when they move into their permanent site.
Is there a main house on your family’s homestead?  Who lives there? What are the ages and names of your brothers?  Have you been able to talk to your Gogo very much?  My homestead is very unique. The homestead is in my Make’s name, which honestly NEVER happens because usually it has to be in a man’s name. My Make is actually pretty awesome. She stays in the main house by herself, she is unmarried and has none of her own children (this also never happens, there is some story behind it all but she hasn’t wanted to talk about it. An un-married, childless woman can easily become an outcast in this society) My Make’s main house is awesome. It is packed with nice furniture and is one of the nicest I have ever seen. However, we never spend anytime in there, except in the kitchen (which you walk into). I’m not sure why. On my homestead there is my hut, which I live in half of, the other half is storage, the main house, another 2 connected huts, and Gogo’s hut. Gogo’s hut is pretty nice, it has 3 rooms (main room, bedroom, closet) but is shabbier than Make’s.  Most of my bobhuti stay in Gogo’s hut. In the main room there is a mattress that they pull down to sleep on. They are actually cousins, but Make takes care of them for her brothers and sisters, which seems weird to us but is very common here. I think that one or 2 bobhuti stay in one of the extra huts. The other extra hut Make rents out to anyone who needs a place to stay. My bobhuti are: Majahong (20), Sayatsheni (16), Phila (15), and Mvuselelo (9), then there is Sandile who is somewhere between Majahong and Saytsheni. I’m not sure about the spelling of any of these names. Majahong and Sandile are not always around. I’m not sure where they are when they are not here, but there are a ton of Semelane’s (Si-Milan) around and the kids all sort of float between homesteads. I talk with Phila and Sayatsheni a lot, I think that they are actually wishing right now that we were hanging out instead of me on the computer. I love Mvuselelo so much, but he doesn’t speak English all that well. He eats so much, always, even if he has just finished a HUGE plate, he can always eat more. He is sometimes in charge of gathering all of our cows (about 10?) by himself!!! What a 9 yr old! This brings me to talking to Gogo… My SiSwati is getting better, but it is still not great and the dialect here is different from what I am learning. In fact, we are so close to South Africa a lot of people here speak SiZulu, including my Make, which can make communication and learning a different language in school hard. I can almost never understand what Gogo is saying to me. From what I gather she recaps the last time she has seen me, says a prayer and then tells me how happy she is to see me. It is really very sweet, and she is truly incredible. I saw her across the hill the other day dragging a whole tree by herself! I was with a group of trainees when we spotted her, it was awesome. She can also recognize me as her granddaughter out of a group of white people.
I love you all!!!