The opinions expressed are mine and do not reflect the positions of the Peace Corps or the US government.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Kids and Laundry

September 11, 2013

Didn’t realize it was 9-11 till I wrote the date. Not something of note here.

Kids. There’s an ever-changing number of kids here, as they go off to visit relatives, or return from visits or just come over to play. Monday I think I was the only adult here with about 7 little ones ranging in age from 2-13. All played together. One of the games involved rolling tires around the big house, laughing loudly. Then races, 2 at a time, with the other kids first yelling, “on you mark, get ready, get set, GO!!!” then cheering wildly for one of the racers. The 13 year old often let the littler ones win. One youngster had bike tire rim that he raced with a stick. He was good, too! Later the littlest ones went off for some indecipherable game involving baskets and lots of giggles.

When the adults returned, it was time to go get water from the tap. The kids put 5 gallon buckets in a wheelbarrow and trekked off to the tap. I needed water, too, and went along with my own wheelbarrow. The kids took turns riding and pushing on the way. Lots of kids at the tap, with lots of laughter and mock-chases. I turned around to find the 2 year old had followed us. I loaded my water jugs and the kids loaded theirs, and we started off. I went faster, so when I headed back for my second trip, I found Beke, the 2 year old, had hitched a ride with the 80 pounds of water jugs on the kids’ wheelbarrow!

These kids are kind to each other, and everyone works, even the littlest ones, who carry washtubs of corncobs for the outdoor kitchen to be used as fuel.

Outside. There’s a cement drain under a huge jojo tank around the corner from my hut. I empty my wastewater there (except the thunder bucket, which of course goes to the latrine). Crumbs and compost go out the door and over the fence to the chickens and goats, unless it goes into a pan for the dogs. Most mornings Linda (that’s a he) sweeps the dirt with a broom made of branches and cleans up the detritus from the previous day. It’s becoming my new normal.

14 September 2013

Saturday. The whole family did laundry throughout the day. We started with Sibhamu and I doing a couple of water runs (one apiece, then 2 loads for her). At first it was just the two of us working next to each other. What is it about women working together? That kitchen closeness that draws us together and somehow evokes – what? trust? deeper conversations? Not sure, just enjoyed it. Make joined us, and more SiSwati entered the conversation. Babe joined us, and soon it was all SiSwati, and I was still there, but alone. What an amazing transformation! What makes us include/exclude others? What creates/dissipates that sense of closeness? Not at all sure..

The week was really busy. Can’t believe I’ve been here for 2 weeks.  On Wednesday I was introduced to the community, and those who weren’t at the meeting come up and introduce themselves. I’m not hard to spot <grin>, and try to be available. People seem to want help (read hope?). If they are willing to follow through, I think together there is a lot we can accomplish. And as people begin talking of their dreams, there’s a kind of magic that happens. I am trying hard not to get in over my head – there are so many directions I could go. At the least, I can help get resources for those areas beyond my knowledge. Many people want to start small businesses, and I can help them access training about what that means, though I don’t know how to do it myself.

And I’ve started working with the guidance counselor at the high school.  We’re brainstorming ways to motivate kids, to help them understand the importance of school, to find and encourage the ways they shine. Any input cheerfully accepted.
And it looks like I’ll be able to work with the school librarian to apply for a grant to get books for the library. All in all, lots going on!

Sunday. Woke to bird songs accompanying the roosters. The feedback I’ve received about these scattered glimpses has been positive, so I’ve decided to continue, rather than try to make them better and thus delay. Thanks for your patience with my scribbles, and for the comments and emails, which are always most welcome!

Sala kathle (stay well).

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pictures !!!

Michele asked me to post these pictures as she was unable to get them loaded. I love ALL of them!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

First Week at My Homestead

7 September 2013

A week and a day at my homestead, and I think the operative concept is that things don't exactly turn out as I expect. Or something.

I wanted to go for a walk, so asked my Sisi to show me a loop route. We wound up visiting neighbors instead. Which was fine, actually, but not what I thought we'd do. One homestead has no electricity and all three buildings are made of hardened mud. A woman carrying a baby came out and welcomed us. In her yard were an avocado tree, a mango tree, and a berry tree (yep - berries grow on trees here!), a grinder for maize and HUGE succulent tree. Water was a ditch running along the hillside - no mean feat it this time of very dry weather.

At another homestead, the people were grinding maize. I asked if I could try it, and the elders (who looked younger than I) had to approve first. They did, and I did, much to the amusement of everyone watching. It's hard work! As we left, I asked if the young adults were in high school. No - lots of kids and not enough money for school fees.

Up the hill we went, and at the next homestead a young man said he wanted help to start a piggery. It's a dream. He also asked about getting training so he can sew. We stayed there a while, and the people across the road came to join us. One young woman just finished high school and is getting ready for the university. The other is in Form 4 (a junior), and saw me when I visited the school a few weeks ago. She said she's going to bring me some "sour milk" tomorrow. I hope she does.

Everyone is most curious about me. When I came back, there was a meeting here, and I went and introduced myself. One woman wants to start her own business growing and selling sweet potatoes. She, too, asked about America. Are there places where people don't have electricity? Yes. Where do they get their water? Most have water. Yes, but where do they get it from? Rivers? I was a bit stymied. Pumps, I answered. Most have wells - er, bore holes - and some kind of pump. The questions surprise me and I find them hard to answer...

Starting a business seems to be a popular idea, and I wonder what resources I can bring to help people get started? They need business plans, loans, and in some cases, reality checks, I think.

I went to a meeting of a youth group. After sitting through over an hour of SiSwati, while they conducted their business, I spoke for about 5 minutes. Not sure if I should mention that it would be a sign of respect to either let the guest speaker go first or ask her to arrive later. A good question for my Peace Corps contact.

I will meet with the community leaders next Wednesday, then hopefully will start visiting homesteads, doing a census and getting a feel for what people see as community needs. In the meantime, I'll go to the high school on Monday and talk with the guidance counselor about maybe teaching skills identification and with the librarian about working on a grant for more books. Lots to do, for sure!

I was typing this and my sisi came to say there is water at the tap! There's not been water for over a week. Many homesteads had to fetch drinking water from a spring that is maybe a quarter mile down a very steep hillside. Here, we have tanks with stored water from last year's rainy season, but it's for drinking only. To wash clothes and to clean, they drove a truck to the river. Peace Corps tells us not to use river water - it contains shistosomes - a parasite that enters through the skin. So I dropped everything and at dusk she and I went to haul water from the tap that is down the way and across the road (maybe 1/4 mile round trip) to fill my 100 liter water barrel and the water supply for the house. I pushed a (borrowed) wheelbarrow with 50 liters and she carried a full 5 gallon bucket on her head. We made 2 trips. I'm so excited! Tomorrow I can wash clothes (not using used bath water) as well as scrub the floor. It's amazing what delights me.

While we were getting water from the public tap, a car pulled up and asked me what I was doing. Getting water. No, what was I doing? Oh, I'm a Peace Corps volunteer. How long will you be here? 2 years. 2 years???? Yebo. Here? On this homestead. Yebo. He looked incredulous. When he drove off, my sisi told me that people think white people don't do things like haul water. White people are all rich and don't do the things everyone else does. We both laughed.

So I made dinner, and throwing the scraps to the chickens, admired the new moon. I steamed some very fresh Swiss chard and took some to the main house to share. Folks here like to cut their veges into tiny pieces and then cook them till they are limp and mushy. This was limp, but still had some texture. I poured rice vinegar over it and feasted on my portion. And dessert was some fresh papaya. The fruits and veges here are so fresh and flavorful! Can't wait for the mangoes to ripen.

You are getting stream of consciousness writing here - it's just that I want to share while the new is still new and not normal. So forgive my scattered approach and enjoy the peek into another world.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ekhaya Kitsi Kukangwane (I am now of Swaziland)

Sunday morning I sat outside my hut and people came to talk to me. Umnandzi. It’s nice. It’s a good way to meet the community: they’re curious about me and I want to get to know them.
My thoughts are all over the map. Literally. No nice, cogent, well-thought out post here – rather observations that, like my life, appear and intrigue.

Questions. People ask questions that, to me, feel intensely personal. Why didn’t you go to church today? Are you married? Do you have children? Why not? Why are you doing this work? Are you Christian? How big is your family? Our culture teaches that we should answer questions, but I’m learning that just because a question is asked doesn’t obligate me to answer it. I am getting more adept at avoiding or not answering, but it’s hard. And of course, I can ask personal questions in return.

It’s starting to be spring, the end of winter and the dry season. The rivers (we would call them creeks, at this level) are very low, drying up. The community tap is not working. This homestead has a storage tank, but others are not so fortunate. Yesterday a young man, Melusi, a grandson who lives across the road, came to talk to me. He had seen me at the high school when I was here a couple of weeks ago and was curious. He showed me where others go to get water. It’s maybe 1⁄4 mile down a steep path (think San Francisco’s Lombard Street, or Ashland’s steep streets) to a small pool of water. If people aren’t careful, the pool gets cloudy with sediment. They fill 5 gallon buckets (that’s 40 pounds of water) then carry them back. The young women put the containers on their heads; the young men just lug them along. Teens at work...

Amazing how creative that made me in terms of water conservation. Managed to bathe in about 1⁄2 gallon of water (maybe a bit more) – solar shower works! Wahoo! and only a minor leak. Use the bath water to wash out the dish water basin and both to wash the thunder bucket. Laundry and floor will have to wait.

Melusi walked with me, unwilling, I suspect, to allow me to walk alone. ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ he asked, and was surprised, I think, by my ‘No’. He showed me a type of rock he found; he discovered it because it was heavier, for its size, than other rocks of the same size. It’s magnetic. He wants to be a scientist; he’s definitely observant enough!

All over the map. Yes, one of the things I want to do is a community mapping. Partly because I want to find places to walk, and partly because it will tell me a lot about how people view their community. I’ve lots to do. Tomorrow, for sure.