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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Michele's Latest Missive - November 7-22

November 7

Mangoes are ripening!!! Bought a couple today, and one was perfect. Peeled it and stood dripping over the table, sweet juices fulfilling fantasies. I thought of a time in Mexico when I only ate them on the beach or in a shower so I could readily wash off the sticky mess I made of myself. Ah, a bit of heaven right here.

And another snapshot: sitting in the dining hall at the training center, swallows flying in for quick tours. One lit on the open peanut butter jar and casually helped himself to some...

fines for women wearing pants in town during incwala.

November 13
Do you still feel like a fish?

Simphiwe said to me, when we were walking in Manzini, 'Everyone is staring at me because I'm walking with you.' Naw, I replied, it's because you're beautiful. "No," she insisted, "it's because you're white." Yep, I am visible, I grinned. Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a fishbowl.

The next time I saw her, a month and a tragedy later, she suddenly asked, "Do you still feel like a fish?" The funniest part is that I knew exactly what she meant!

Peace Corps says that by the time I go home and can blend in easily, I'll miss being the center of attention. I dunno - hard to imagine missing not having privacy... Something to look forward to, for sure.

November 14

I thought this blog would be about me in Africa, but it turns out to be also about Africa in me... Big storm last night, and electricity went out. Back on mid-day, out again just now. Sitting on my front cement pad to feel the cool breeze and because the kids had come from church. How humbling to have them come sit by my door. Quietly, because my SiSwati is lacking and their English is, too, because they are so young. but nice. Very nice, to just be.

came inside and took a cool bath in my washtub. by candlelight. the candle standing tall in the empty amarula bottle. dried off, put on my lihiya and climbed onto the bed to peck away at my ipad, writing this. feeling decadent. grateful for all I have. For the juxtapositions that highlight my world.

reading Cutting for Stone. it's about Ethiopia but the descriptions are not unfamiliar. In Manzini, I saw a man on hands and knees, with knee pads, thankfully, making his way down the rough cement sidewalk. No one stared. On the dirt road in front of my homestead I saw a man in a wheelchair. Not so easy in the mud or sandy dry soil on the hills that make this region so beautiful.

Sent: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 10:42 AM

I sent this as an email to Sueji, and she suggests it be part of my blog. I agree.

Dear Sueji,

How delightful to start my morning with a text from you! You asked about school - and I'll broaden that to work. Work is - strange. by that I mean that I'm always on, at least as long as I'm in my community, so though I read a lot, and do home chores, I can have someone knocking at my door
whenever. Or I can go outside and the kids will come to me. Work and my life
are sort of one most of the time. So some snapshots:

The kids rolling around on top of each other like puppies. Nomile sitting next to me, her head on my lap, falling asleep. Beke wrapping the mat I made from plastic bags around herself like a lihiya - trying to make it into a skirt. Sinethemba knocking on my door Friday afternoon and saying the hat he was supposed to crochet from plastic bags - the project assigned at least a month ago - was due on Monday. Would I help him? Sure. As we worked, I asked, what happens if you don't finish and turn it in? The teacher will beat me more than I want to be beaten, he replied matter-of-factly, crocheting away. And he finished! And got 80%! A true miracle, since it was definitely the world's messiest job. But Sunday night about 9:00 p.m. he and the other kids were at my door, asking me to help him finish it, which I did. Then I took pictures of all of them wearing the hat.

A young woman asking me to help her with biology - no book - what are the functions of the liver? pancreas? big intestine? little intestine? and by the way - what's that (pointing to my little oven/stove. It's about the size of a large toaster oven with a couple of burners on top). It's an oven and since I was making bread and it was ready to bake, I turned it on. She lives without electricity, and didn't understand how it worked. I don't know if she just had never seen such a small stove/oven, or if she didn't know about ovens at all. She touched the sides (warm, not hot) and felt the heat from the glass in  front. Sueji, she's going to be a senior in high school, and didn't know what an electric oven is. She was also interested in the refrigerator (can you explain, off the top of your head, what keeps it cold?
I mumbled something about freon gas circulating, but I really couldn't explain very well). She asked what would happen if she left the door open. In the midst of this her older sister came in - same questions. Wake up calls keep happening. This from a young woman who could talk about biology
more knowledgeably than I could.

At school I worked with the librarian to finish the grant application toBooks for Africa - if my school gets the grant, we'll get about 1,000 books! check it out here:  Then met with Gladness, the guidance counselor. Yesterday she informed me and my supervisor that she and I would be co-teaching the career classes for Form 4(there are 5 forms). Today we talked about what that might look like. I'll be helping the students with career research and assessments. Tuesday I was in Manzini and applied for a library card (no mean feat in itself), then walked around the library looking for career materials.  My heart broke. There were very few books, and those were 15 - 20 years old! The world is changing way too fast for them to be useful.  I  need to go to Mbabane, to the library there. I also need to check with the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Education, hoping to get employment projections and other information on  possible career choices. Maybe scholarship info, too.

I so miss the resources so readily available in the the states. But - bright light - one of the reasons I'm going to Mbabane is that Anne, the PC nurse, worked in Human Relations for a hospital. I'm hoping she will be able to guide me in what students need in job interviews, job seeking techniques and anything else we can come up with. Having a local resource is gold. There's another PCV who put on a job search workshop, and I'll see her at Thanksgiving and will pick her brains then. And I still want to contact the Rotary Club in Manzini and see if I can get a contact there for information and maybe mentoring. The work helping the youth groups has slowed to a snail's pace since they aren't really following through, so it's good to have many things happening.

I think by December things will slow or stop as Swazis take the whole month off. But by then integration will be over, and I can leave site for more than one night per month. I really want to visit some of the game preserves, and hope to make that happen. Maybe even a trip to South Africa. Oh, and Saturday I'm going to help out at a National AIDS Day event with some group
10 (I'm group 11) volunteers. I'll be staying with Christine, who has a shower, I hear! And there's a pool nearby, so I'm hoping to get to swim, too, before I head back home.

So that's work! And life. Time for bed soon.

November 20

This morning I noticed Sibusiso had a spot on his head missing hair. What happened? I asked, concerned that he had fallen or somehow hurt himself. Lots of embarrassed giggles, and it turns out that he was caught chewing gum in class. The teacher stuck it i his hair, all the way down to the scalp. That must have hurt, getting it cut out, I ventured. Oh yes! was the reply. None of us mentioned the embarrassment of having a patch of no hair, advertising what he had done...

November 22
50 years since President Kennedy was shot. Another PCV asked those of us old enough to remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard. We all could give amazing details of an event 50 years old. sigh. It's most strange to be in a country where that event is unknown, where Thanksgiving not only doesn't mean the world is shutting down, but where it not doesn't even appear on calendars.

My computer is in the shop, but I hope to post pix when I get it back. Thanks for putting up with my stream of consciousness writing. And you get away with no challenges. Count your blessings <grin>.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Language, Nesting and Whats and Whys

Transmitted from Michele through inconsistent Internet connections

October 16

Language. I'm not only learning SiSwazi -I'm also learning Swazi English. I'm not sure if that means British English as well. The pronunciation  and emphasis on syllables are different, the words meanings differ, and the idioms are not the same. Of course, many are obvious - the softer a for example. But other things are a bit more subtle. I often hear, "You must..." I know what is meant, that they are simply giving directions. But it's hard not to attach the subtext of American bias, as in: Who are you to tell me what I must do? And I hear, 'If ever you...' which sounds - what? discordant, I think, to my ear. Distracting, anyhow.

It's kind of fun to notice the different word, too. Pegs, not clothes pins, plaits, not braids, mattress is a sponge.

October 18

Nesting. I guess it takes a lot of forms. For me, It's food. I'm reverting back to hippie days, it seems. I'm making my own yogurt, and am thinking about turning it into some kind of soft cheese by straining it. I've made a sourdough starter, and I've been making my own bread. (No, Mary and Paul, I'm not grinding my own flour <big grin>). Seems really normal to me, until I see the incredulity on others' faces when I nonchalantly mention it and offer them a taste. It's not hard and getting good bread here is hard. On the other hand, bread is the 'go to' food here. Needless to say, my challah (well, Judi's challah) is a HUGE hit.

I'm gathering feathers to make a dream catcher and am working on a couple of mats made from plastic bags. I've bought a number of lihiyas (2 meter lengths of fabric in beautiful patterns) and have been draping them everywhere - over tables, boxes, windows (I'm working on hemming some for curtains) and even me (they wrap around and cover jeans and/or torso to make me more modest or to keep me warm). Think I may also cut one up for a scarf (I'll get my sisi to show me how to wrap it). I've even slept in one. I'll get dressed and get someone to take a pic for this blog. You folks will laugh - it's fun!

Funny what we do to bring home with us. I'd not have thought these things would bring so much comfort, but they do. Challenge: What would your comfort activities would be?

November 4

November! Are you serious? Tempus fugit...

At the training center for 10 days with all the other G11 volunteers, getting so much information I feel saturated. It's almost as though if I try to retain much more, it will all overflow and sink into the clay earth. Perhaps then G12 (the next group of volunteers) will be able to benefit from it by osmosis? Okay, okay, but I do feel as though my absorption rate is waning, though the importance of the information is not.

For Halloween we planned to drink, eat candy and watch a scary movie. Then the power went out so we opted for a panoramic view of the spectacular light show. The whole sky was alight with lightning strikes and lit up clouds. We watched the lights go out on a hill across the valley, and some of us saw a bolt hit the ground and start a fire. Somehow it's different here - maybe because we can see for such long distances - but Nature's power awes us. Later we heard that there was a great deal of damage to our training villages - some latrines were destroyed and many structures lost their roofs. What was to us a great visual show and a bit of inconvenience when the power went out was a major destructive event for others. Life. Inscrutable.

All the rain cleared the air, and the land is greening with water and Spring. The world looks washed clean, even the clouds waft around the mountain tops and look soft.

Tonight was clear, and Mark has a star map, but even though we lay on the road, still warm from the sun, we were unable to recognize any of the constellations. Not enough knowledge and too much ambient light.

November 5, 2013

Last night we had a campfire, byob, and someone brought marshmallows to toast. As I appreciatively accepted a stick and sweet, then held it over the fire, just so, I realized that here was another one of those givens: we all knew just what to do to get the perfectly toasted marshmallow. What a great thing to share with my host family for an after dinner over the cook fire coals treat.

Of course, roasting marshmallows was almost expected, worthy only of Thank You! as sharpened sticks and sweets were passed around. The theme of the night was a discussion about why we are here - framed roughly around defining our own  philosophies of international development. Interesting stuff, for sure. Designed, I think, to help us articulate our reasons for joining the PC so that when we hit bottom or reach the ends of our ropes we can remember the big picture, the why behind the what.

So I leave you with yet another challenge: What's the Why behind your What? And, having articulated it, are you happy with it? Does it still fit? I hope some of you will share your reflections, either here or in personal emails. As for me, back to class...