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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Spring time again

November 1, 2014

It's a gray, misty morning and the fields, which are getting plowed so the maize can be planted, are happy. The seasons here all have their chores or rest periods, and things are going to get busy soon. I was in Mbabane a couple of weeks ago and the Christmas decorations were already up. So early, so soon.

Communications here are part of my 'new normal', so I forget how folks other places do it. Phone calls are 18 cents a minute, so they are limited, as you can imagine. Instead, PCV's use whatsapp, a text app that only charges for data used, which, as you can imagine, is minimal. We also text, and if we need to talk to PC staff, we call and hang up (buzz them) and they call back. We do call sometimes, but calls are short, as you can imagine. Whatsapp is also used by many local folks, which makes life a little easier.

Actually, whatsapp has its advantages. We have groups for projects (e.g., GLOW and Books for Africa), so we're all on the same page with it. Literally. And when I must write rather than talk, it gives me time to really think about what I want to communicate. The other day a page or so of processing got translated into one sentence, which I sent. Amazing stuff.

I broke down and bought a low end smart phone. Now I'm learning how to use it - quite a learning curve, and I am dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. I wonder, when I come home, what difference it will make in my life.

I think about home a lot as the holidays approach. Being here, being aware of differences in our cultures makes me more sensitive to our own beliefs and values. Things I just take for granted, usually, are up for examination and questioning. Not that I have any answers <smile>...

Someone asked me if I'm comfortable, and got a long, wordy reply. Yes/No/Both is the summary. And I ask you, Readers, the same question. Are you comfortable?

November 8

When I was a child there was a place in San Francisco called Playland, and within it a place called The Fun House. you paid your money and then had to get through some challenges to get inside, where you could stay as long as you wanted, going from one activity to another. one was a slide made of gorgeous hardwood. to get to the top you grabbed a gunny sack and climbed and climbed and climbed (at least from a child's point of view), then, with great courage, sat on the sack and went flying down. but I digress.

 One of the challenges to get inside was to find your way through a maze of mirrors. The trick was to distinguish which was a reflection of yourself and your surroundings and which was the path that would lead you forward. Life here is feeling a lot like that. I think I see the path, only to run smack dab into a wall. Then I turn and find the way was off to the side where I either hadn't noticed it or had noted it for exploration later. Or I realize that one path is blocked, but have no idea that others are cruelly closed. In frustration, I turn around and find invitations to explore. and of course, I'm going on faith that there actually is a Fun House awaiting me at the end if the maze .

hmmmm. it's a nice metaphor. there were big wooden horses that went back and forth, back and forth. fun to ride, but they didn't go anywhere - not even in a circle.
You could see the people outside while you rode, though. There was a people-sized barrel turning, turning and if you could keep up, walking up the side, getting up every time you fell, you could eventually make it through to the other side. and a big wooden disc that went around like a record player. It would revolve faster and faster. the closer you were to the center, the longer you could stay on; kids would go flying off onto the floor until just one child was left sitting in the exact center. I left a lot of skin on that floor, seeking the center... And there were bridges that rocked back and forth, side to side. and more. Many more metaphors for life.

Btw, for those of you who remember Laughing Sal, I last saw her, still laughing, on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.

November 9

Did laundry today and figure I have somewhere between 40 -50 more laundry days till I get a washing machine again. It's hard to grump when I realize that most of the folks in my community will never have one. Ditto for indoor plumbing and hot showers. Took a solar shower today, luxuriating in the gallon and a half of hot water slipping over my shoulders. Then I used the bath water as part of my laundry water. I am so appreciative of the "for granteds" we have in the States.

November10
It is the season of storms. big, not-messing-around thunder and lightning storms. The land is soaking up the moisture, the jojo tanks are filling and the fields are dark with plowing, green with newly planted maize. It's gorgeous. The air, cleansed of dust by wind and water, has an almost tangible clarity. It's beautiful here. Tractors chug up the road, hauling manure or with plow blades lifted. The cattle are supervised now, to keep them from eating the sweet new maize plants.  And they hare harnessed to a hand held plow that weeds between the rows. It takes one person to lead the two cattle, and one or two to hold the plow. The kids are writing their exams, then they will be freed for 6 weeks for the holidays and to work in the fields. It's spring time in Swaziland.

I received an email asking how I'm doing without all the things we think are so necessary. He asks great questions! Here's (most of) what I replied:

interesting question <grin>. do you mean like kitchen cabinets and indoor plumbing? or TV shows and internet? friends and family? grocery stores? hygiene products designed for Caucasian skin? a car?  paved streets and roads? washing machines and abundant clean water? a culture I understand without having to think about it? anonymity? those are the basics of what is different in a rural third world country. and probably more. they're what makes it both undeniably hard and unimaginably - I'm stuck for a word. rewarding? demanding?  intense?  they are, perhaps, the reason for growth.

with most of my givens stripped away, what's left? time for reflection. time to pay attention to what is, to try to figure it out, not on my terms, necessarily, but on my terms combined with their terms. time to look at what my beliefs and  values are in a way I haven't done since I was in my late teens and early twenties, trying to figure out what those beliefs and values are for me -   not for those who were influencing me.

I'm by nature an introvert. So I both want and need alone time, and get plenty of it here. I can walk out my door and interact with the kids on my homestead, but I can also stay inside and be relatively quiet. I read incessantly. my family tells me not to go wandering off into the hills alone, but if I can talk someone into going with me, there are some pretty places around here. and of course, I can go visit other PCV's. Means an overnight, because transport is so bad, but that's okay.

November 25

I am more than 2/3 of the way through my service. Another volunteer said that if I thought time was going slowly to try to remember what I did last week. Uh.... Right! Some of me longs for home, and some of me just wants to savor my time here, warts and all.

The kids are writing exams, and in between they have free time to relax and/or to study. If I hang out, some of them come to talk with me, which is way cool. Some ask about the States, others want to talk about whatever is on their minds. This is the best part of being here. I was talking with Wandile, the young man with questions we can't answer, about facts and truth, and he said, "Facts are a fraction of truth." Oh yeah!

I will get to teach the same group next year.  They will be seniors, and I plan to push them hard to participate and to start thinking about what they want to get out of this last year of schooling, what direction they see themselves going, and what tools they will need to get there. The guest speakers we had were really successful, and I hope to invite more to talk about HIV, testing and counseling, and the myths and stigma that can go along with the whole topic.

One of the students wants to start a non-school based club, and has asked me to help her get it started. There's such a strong need for guidance for some of these kids who find themselves in no-win situations. I hope that this will materialize.

It's almost Thanksgiving, and I wish warm friends, good food, laughter, hugs, love and a time for reflecting on all there is appreciate.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

School Daze

October 3, 2014

Had a GREAT day yesterday - co-taught a session on preventing teen pregnancy with one of my classes. We covered the physical stuff, but there's so much more- the whole emotional/peer pressure/poverty pressure etc. side. With HIV so prevalent here, it can make the decisions literally life and death. Knowing my limitations, due to knowledge of topic and culture, and the limits of knowledge (my co-teacher told the class they could get pregnant from sperm on a toilet seat) and of trust (she is a teacher... with a switch) I got permission to invite some HIV information NGO (non-governmental organization) speakers. I told the kids, and one (the one who keeps asking questions none of us can answer) asked if the guest speakers could stay for 2 periods rather than one. Okayed. So with some finagling and such they arrived yesterday. We introduced the speakers, divided the group into males and females, and left them to it.

I poked my head in a couple of times. The girls were laughing that woman laugh - the one we only share with other women that comes from all the way deep inside. The boys were solemn and intent. The facilitators had to kick the kids out for break. At the end, other kids came asking the speakers to talk with their classes (they had to go). I caught a lift back to town with them, and got a contact high! They said the kids were really open and that the wanted them to come back. I asked if they were able to cover some of the really hard topics, like what if the girls are pressured by their parents to have sex for money, or because they are the oldest, with no parent present, and feel they need to buy food for the others. Or their boyfriends say, if you really loved me... They said yes, they talked about those things. Judging from the students’ faces, it was really good.

I wish I could say, oh, yeah, I planned this. The truth is that I didn't - it was almost a last minute thought, finding someone the kids could talk with, based on the level of trust they extended when we did the first class, illustrated in the questions they asked. My stumble technique style of decision making works really well here in Swaziland, where being responsive works much better than trying to convince others my way is best. But I still feel a bit like luck, or Universe or something is at work. Maybe it's the magic that helps me get things done - the one where things seem overwhelming, but I just keep plugging away and then, suddenly - it's done.

(Thanks, Sueji, for telling me this is blog material <grin>).

American heritage realization:
Walking back to site today, listening to a song about how Superman never took any money for what he did. Yesterday, listening to an HCN (host country national) talk about a project he was doing I heard him say that he didn't get paid for it. Twice, he worked that into the conversation. And that he was really happy that he was able to do it. My initial thought was - um - did you notice that I'm a volunteer? As in, not getting paid? But then I realized that volunteering is a part of American culture - and it is not a given here. Sharing here is much more personal, done usually for extended family, and, I think, sometimes more because it expected than because it is done willingly. I found pride in that very American value.

And no wonder - look at the role models - at least from my generation. Start with Superman and extending to all the super heroes, doing the right thing because - because it IS right. The super-rich used to have a sense of noblesse oblige - giving to those less fortunate. Never mind that they got rich standing on the backs of those same folks - there were grants to make a better world... Support for higher education - And the cartoons... Definitely not high tech - the animated characters would face overwhelming obstacles, and, to classical music, try again and again, no matter how many times they fell or were squashed (and we laughed, knowing they would be fine and get up and try again). What messages did we learn?

It's so easy to focus on the things that we wanted to change - and so easy to miss those things that were positive and shaped me in ways which somehow escape my awareness. When they float to the surface, I am proud of the quiet heroes in my childhood.

October 16, 2014

Tonight I was working on a survey for my classes, listening to a Strauss waltz - I noticed some percussion I'd never heard before - sounded really good, fit in well, but... unexpected. Realized it was thunder. Gifts.

Normals are subtly changing. Here are some... Depending on when I walk home from school, I find primary and/or pre-school kids walking with me. My siSwati is still not up to having a discussion, but that doesn't get in the way of smiles, laughter - and playing. I start with little hops, kicks, turns. Then it's their turn to lead - we clap, jump, laugh and keep walking. Sometimes the littles hang onto my hands. The kids often walk long distances to school - more than the mile one way I walk. Even the pre-schoolers walk without adults. No one seems to think this is odd, and in the morning it looks like a river of kids walking up the hill to school.

The rains are starting. The dark clouds change the quality of light, and the air, which has been hazy with dust, clears. It's as though I'm in a different place. The trees are blossoming - garish jacaranda, which drops its petals to make a soft purple carpet, and the more sedate yellow-flowered trees. At dusk, people burn the fields - to get rid of the mice (who would otherwise eat the maize seeds) as well as the weeds; the fires on the horizon are golden. Then the fields begin greening up, slow and most welcome. People are shoveling out the season's kraals (corrals) and using the manure on the fields. All done by hand - such hard work! Soon the cattle will be harnessed to plow the fields.

October 22, 2014

Every time I wonder what I’m doing here, Universe lets me know. I’m so appreciative! Hope you enjoy the photos. Happy Autumn.s

Kruger Pix and more

Friend Robbin graciously share her pictures from Kruger. She took this one of the cheetah!




And this one




Is that a grin she caught?














x

Zebras cuddling - keeping watch and keeping fly-free




This monkey has protective coloring down!


His majesty, the king

And then there's what I saw...
Are these all elephants? 


Blends right into the trees, doesn't it?



Lilac breasted rollers.They look like rainbows in flight.





Meanwhile, back on the homestead - 
The zoom out view  from the latrine. This is the part of road I walk to school every day.






Car, body by Sibusiso, wheels and steering wheel (check it out) by Siyabonga




And finally, the girls at the river, clowning around.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

August 30, 2014

Got-It-In-One quote from one of my counterparts, Nozipho,"You (volunteers) walk so much you don't even know what color your feet are."

Came back to site to find that my host family is putting in a bathroom. As earlier noted, everything here is extremely labor intensive. What is done in the States with at the very least rented equipment to dig trenches for pipes is done here with picks and shovels. Earlier this month they connected the bore hole (well) to huge jojo tanks that are on top of a building to provide gravity flow pressure and to the main house. Now they are putting in a bathroom, which means pipes for the waste water. the septic area so far is a huge square hole, as deep as a person is tall. Yesterday the goats found it and had to be lifted out. Today construction continues. Over and over the things we take for granted are shown to be just that - things we take for granted, not necessarily the way life is in many other places...

September 14, 2014

So many things running through my head to share. Where to start?

Volunteering. It's not a common concept here in Swaziland. People keep marveling at PCV's who "give up" our lives for 2 years to help them. Even from home, people say they admire what we are doing here. I feel a bit like a fraud. Yes, day-to-day living conditions here are much less convenient than at home. But - what I get in exchange is so very powerful - life changing, you might say <grin>. Just like teaching, I feel I am learning and getting in return much more than I give. I see people whose courage and determination provide motivation for me to go on. I run into cultural differences, sometimes get hurt - and I also touch lives that I may not have ever had the opportunity to touch anywhere else. I'm sick a lot, and that concerns me - hopefully can figure out what is going on with that since it also affects my attitude.      My counterpart asked me if what I am doing here is enough - I asked for clarification, and she said, 'enough to keep you here.' Yes. Things go more slowly than I would like, in unexpected directions, in unexpected everything, as a matter of fact. Sometimes I wonder...

Who's this woman
inside my skin
whose life evolves
with slips and spins?

What are her dreams?
What shapes her days?
Just who is it
Who guards the maze

Where she pursues
her truth each day?
Stumbling to
unearth the way

One thing comes clear
Though answers blur:
The guide's within
She's me; I'm her.
        9/12/14

Kruger National Game Preserve was an incredible experience. A 5 day trip, though 2 were travel days. We stayed in a campground on the Sabie River and went on game drives (several) each day. I did a bush walk (with armed guides). It was another world.  Still working on pictures. Mine need a lot of work, and Robbin will share hers. When I can, I'll post them.

One of the best parts of the trips was that we got to be our stateside selves - not PCV's carrying heavy packs and being stared at. It was glorious and much needed.

The campground at Kruger had a restaurant with outdoor seating, and a wooden walkway,  both overlooking the river. Robbin, traveling companion par excellence, and I would get our morning coffee at just light, then walk down to watch day break over the river. The quality of light would slowly sharpen to soft clarity. Animals would be grazing, strolling along and into the water. Hippos slid into the water without a splash, then blew water at each other. Buffalo drank, steenbok and impala munched grasses. Storks flew overhead in formations, a graceful line sweeping and curling across the sky. Swallows dove and swooped in an every changing airshow. Quietly we watched. Peace. One morning I opted out of the drive and sat writing in my journal and observing. A troop of baboons made a run for the condiments on the table, grabbed something and then were run off by staff. Cheeky chumps, those baboons.

One day we stopped on a drive for some lunch. The tour included a bunch of 18 and 19 year olds, mostly girls. Several girls made sandwiches and sat at a picnic table. A troop of baboons rushed them and grabbed their food. The girls ran shrieking. One male baboon then sat at the table, calmly munching his stolen meal. The girls thought that was so funny they wanted pictures, so they started walking towards him with their cameras. What do you s'pose? He felt threatened, so he rushed them again. The guides had to throw stones and brandish sticks at the troop to get them to leave. Eish!

The drives were incredible. We saw lions (at a distance), a leopard (also far away), cheetahs, uncountable elephants, zebras, giraffes, impala, buffalo, steenbok, a couple of ostriches, crocodiles, hyenas, kudus, baboons (of course), monkeys, hippos, rhinoceri (is that the plural of rhinoceros?) and lots and lots of birds including eagles, storks, vultures, canaries and spare fowl.

Safari - I looked it up - means seeking out animals in their natural habitat to film or shoot. Guess we were on safari. It seemed so - many things. One was safe. As I stood on the wooden deck overlooking the river, I felt like I was on the edge of safety, civilization - but still apart from the daily life and death struggles in front of me. I saw the beauty, the peace, the calm, not the predators who must kill to survive, nor that prey that must escape or die. It made me think about Disneyland and how whole generations of Americans want to see dangerous worlds without being in danger. I know that any of us could have done something ridiculous, like try to pet the zebras, and gotten seriously hurt. But...

Some things I learned: Kruger is bigger than Swaziland (which is about the size of New Jersey) and is fenced. The only "clearing" that has been done here has been done by the elephants uprooting trees. The Big 5 (lion, leopard, buffalo (what I think of as water buffalo), rhinoceros, and hippopotamus) are so named because they are not likely to attack humans, but if they do either the animal or the human will die. Giraffes eat 16 - 18 hours per day. Angry elephants make a terrifying sound (a sort of screaming roar). Hippos grunt. Hyena scat can be white from the bones they eat.

We saw dazzles of zebras, journeys of giraffes, clans of hyenas and troops of baboons. Dazzles have great senses of smell and journeys can see great distances, so dazzles and journeys hang out together as a symbiotic method of detecting danger as early as possible. Zebras "cuddle" - face opposite directions and place their heads on each other's backs. That allows them to see in 2 directions for danger and to use their tales to keep insects off themselves and each other.

Even the vegetation was incredible, and I saw a vine that had wound around a trunk, then grown very long while still light and thin enough to be blown up to a very high branch. Ah, life...

Vine twines
up the trunk
curls and twists
thrusts up and up

what does it seek
so high, so high?
is it alive?
Or did it die

Despite the height
The dizzying flight
To reach the branch
so close to sky?

        ~9/4/1 Kruger


As we sat in our safe vehicles, high above the rivers, looking at the hippos, eyes and noses only showing, and the crocodiles visible only by their noses, eyes and small wakes, or else in a heap on shore, I remembered that Chris Korbulic and his kayaking group would sit in small kayaks or on shore observing the same kind of scene. My understanding and admiration for their courage increased unbelievably as I imagined myself in their place, seeing those innocuous looking, potentially deadly sights. I wonder how you did it, guys...

Life here, pre-Europeans, must have required an intricate and delicate balance with nature, a dance of life and death similar to that of other animals. How does what is here now compare?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Swaziland Diary


August 5, 2014

Liyana (rain), the kitten who somehow wound up sharing my hut, brings much amusement and love. It appears to be summer again, though the nights do cool nicely. And snippets seem to be what this blog has become.

Saw my bhuti (brother) at school today. He's 8. I asked him to do something to help me. No. Perfect time to practice positive discipline. I asked our sisi to keep this to ourselves, then asked her to translate. I told him I was hurt and angry that he had not helped me, and that the next 5 times I got treats for the kids, he would get none. I think it will be effective, since he was already looking pretty sad. If I can show corporal punishment has effective alternatives, I will be happy.

Serendipity continues to bring me gifts. Exams are winding down for the students, so there's time to talk to individuals. I feel both humbled and honored, talking to these young adults. Some of them have such big dreams, such strength and determination, such talent and intelligence. So glad I get to work with them.

Traditional dress, thanks to Temlandvo
Things are still happening Swazi style - not so much planned as beshertz (sp?) - meant to be. Over and over I learn to just trust that if I show up and be present, a path will reveal itself. And it does. The stumble technique is alive and well.

Katie saved me with emergency instructions on how to cut my hair, so I took a scissors to a year and a half of growth (halfway down my back). The result is far from her artistry, but it's a passable shag that feels MUCH better and will be easier to care for.

Liyana is stalking my pen, which is stalking him under the bedspread. I do love kittens!

The group that arrived a year before us is going home, and we are becoming the "seniors". Amazing how much I actually do know! And even more amazing, how much I DON'T know <smile>. But they make me think about going home. Of course, there are the things I long for - bagels. Peet's coffee. Cabinets. A kitchen table. Counters. Indoor plumbing. A car. But there will be much that will be hard to leave. A multi-generational homestead. Being a part of the community, and greeting those I meet on the road. Waving at virtually all the vehicles on the road in my community. The smiles of the little kids, and the just-beginning trust of some of the older ones. The kindness and patience of the adults, teaching me about their culture, and the laughter shared. And so much more. I have another year, and hope I will remember to cherish it, even on the way to the latrine (which has a beautiful view from the seat when the door is left open).

These young adults are definitely into discussing the club they are organizing!

August 10

Talked more with the kids from the club we are trying to form. They asked some probing questions that I can't answer.  I ask you, Gentle Readers, to ask yourselves these questions. I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Here's an excerpt from an email to Margaret on the subject:

I think we all question whether what we're doing is "right" or "enough" or - something. But we do what we can, and it matters. It really, truly matters. Even if we just touch one other person, it matters. Sea star story, you know? I know I'm touching some lives, and it keeps me going. I had a student ask me that the other day - what keeps you going? I couldn't really answer. But i guess that's it - or a part of it, anyhow. Maybe some of it is about how we are all connected, too. I know that just by being here by doing things and believing things so fundamentally different than the way people think and do things here, I am opening some opportunities to view the world in a new way. And learning some new ways myself.18. The kid who asked me that is 18. What did I know at that age? Did I know enough to ask those kind of questions? Another asked, what brought you here? You did, I replied. I want to work with young people - you have so much potential, so many dreams...

More members of the club
Still, that doesn't really answer what keeps me going. Somehow, though no answers emerge, there are related things. Rachel Naomi Remen wrote about a workshop she conducted. She asked the participants to imagine putting all of their troubles and sorrows into a box and placing that box in the center of the room. Then she asked them to take a box from the center - either their own or someone else's. She said everyone elected to keep their own... Pretty powerful statement.

What keeps me going? Day to day? in the hard times? good times? Is it my raison d'ĂȘtre? My belief in Universe/Great Spirit/Highest Good? Working with kids, I've begun thinking answers to hard questions come in 2 vague categories: The "easy" or "right" or obvious answers - and the real, underlying questions that make the stated question hard. I don't even have an easy answer... But it's mulling. Stay tuned <grin>.




August 22, 2014

excerpt from an email to a young woman who is about to go home with the incredibly hard-earned title, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

Sure enjoyed our visit yesterday. And talking about religion/spiritual beliefs sparked some ideas to share.

You talked about how K and T have such different ideas about what religion means, even though both have strong faith. Realized that those of us who don't consider ourselves religious have, nonetheless, grown in our - spirituality, for want of another word. It's so hard to write about this topic since none of the words I know fit what I mean...

Anyhow, I think that as PCV's we come to third world countries and experience, day to day, the differences in our realities from those of our Host Country Nationals. On a variety of levels, conscious and not-so-conscious, we ask - Why? And I think we get a lot of answers, and maybe even more questions. But it leads, somehow invariably, back to that basic, underlying, unanswerable Why?

The only thing that seems to make sense is that - we don't get to know. And unknowables of that degree lead to spiritual/religious/that-concept-I-have-no-word-for beliefs. Why do I get such privilege? Why am I here - physically and philosophically? Why do things happen the way they do?

So, what they don't tell us in the recruiting process (separation of church and state?) is that we will be coming face to face with metaphysical, philosophical, spiritual questions. Our beliefs and values are going to arise and require attention. We get to choose how/if we will attend to them, but they will arise. And because the nature of the program (usually) allows time for introspection and reflection, and because we don't wind up here without some basic beliefs and values about helping others, the chances are good that we will make unexpected discoveries. And, as with everything else in PCV service, those discoveries will be individual and different for each of us, even when we share, discuss and bounce ideas off of each other.

Actually, it's pretty cool. Nice to have the impetus? stimulus? whatever - to revisit and examine such values that lie so deep and are a part of the foundation of our actions without really being a conscious part of our lives.

So - first time I've tried to put this into words, and I think I will go back at some point to see if these are ideas I believe or if they need to be revisited and revised. I'd love your feedback if you so choose.


August 23

Seems as though I'm writing this blog in emails, then deciding to share. This is from an email to Mary.

At the stesh
I think the impact I have is strongest one-on-one. It's the individual contacts that hold the greatest power. I'm mentoring a couple of high school girls, and I think it matters to them. I'm working with a group of kids who want to start a club. I hope I've introduced a viable fundraising idea for getting books for the primary school library, etc. It doesn't happen the way I expect - but the way it does happen works. Maybe I'm just helping people see what is possible. Empowering is such a strange word - we all have the power - it's just if and how we choose to recognize and use it. so I think my greatest impact has to do with breaking a hole in what people think about their world.

I'm white and older. Ergo, I don't do daily chores. Then they see me doing my own shopping, cleaning, laundry, water hauling. What? I don't use corporal punishment. What do I do? Dunno, but it works. I treat pets, other animals and small children with respect. I think girls are smart. I ask young people their opinions and then LISTEN and act on them. Wait, that's not the way the world is. And if that's not the way the world is, then what else is different?

There are careers that are not visible. Not everyone needs to be a doctor, nurse, teacher, policeman or soldier. What? And so forth.

I love that you make me think, Mary. And I strive to make others think, look at possibilities. Maybe change what they think are walls into barriers that can be maneuvered around.

August 24

A huge thank you to my Blog Angel, Maggie Lynch, who makes it possible for y'all to be reading this blog.  Stay tuned for a report on Kruger Game Preserve. I go in less than 2 weeks!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Stream of Consciousness Is Flowing

June 24, 2014

When I think of Swaziland, I discover that nothing can be planned, but Universe sends me what I need. Today I was running late. There is no water at the tap, and I wanted to wash my hair and was running out of clean clothes. So I saved my bath and shampoo water and washed the most important clothes, which took a bit of time. I wanted to catch my Form 4A students at break, and was cutting it pretty fine when I started the mile walk to school. I'd just made it down the path to the road when a truck went by. As always, I waved, and they stopped an offered me a ride. YES! Thank you! When I got out, they asked if I could help in their neighboring community. Sorry, but what I can do is help you contact the Peace Corps to request a volunteer.

So - I made it to school on time, and maybe another community will get a volunteer. Somehow it's the Swazi way. Often unplanned, but - it seems to work. The other thing that is happening is that people are beginning to trust me enough to talk about things below the surface. We talk about saving, about a different way than feast or famine. We talk about family, about things that matter beyond school. It is such an honor and joy to share - from both sides.

Friday I will have been here a year. Hardly seems possible, but there it is. I've been in my community about 10 months. While some of me longs for home, some of me will miss the people here in a way that I can't even imagine...

July 7

More about the feast or famine school of budgeting. There are some books written about the difference between the approach to money in the West and here; here's my take.

Those of us who have been starving students know what it's like to wonder if our money will stretch to the end of the month, and to eat brown rice and veges or ramen noodles, etc. We get downright stingy and become excellent scavengers. When some money comes in, we tend to hoard it, at least for a little while. We know that if we splurge at the beginning of the month we'll be hungry at the end. Sometimes we choose to do it anyhow - but it's a choice.

Many folks here are living on subsistence incomes. But when they get paid, they spend it. I'm told it's expected that those who have, share, so putting some by becomes very difficult. But the concept of saving some for the end of the month seems foreign. Then, come the end of the month they are broke and borrowing from "Shylocks" (that's what the pay day loan places are called here. Honest!) for outrageously high interest rates. Not hard to dig themselves into a hole that way.

One person shared with me that another PCV had helped her start saving for school fees for her young child. She said it was really hard, but that she feels a sense of security for her child and herself. More and more often I am seeing the results of concepts so basic to us that they are hard to recognize, let alone challenge. Interesting times.

July 8

I no longer think it's unusual when...

- We start a faculty meeting with a hymn (beautifully sung by all) and a prayer.

At that meeting, called to introduce the idea of starting a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) club. Staff concerns included:

Girls get all the attention and leadership and empowerment activities. What about the boys? How about a BLOW club (asked with a straight face by the head teacher (principal)?   One male teacher said he'd never seen a girl in a leadership role. One man's concern was that if girls lead, won't the world fall apart?

In the end, it was agreed that the club would be a good idea. Oh YEAH!

- I look out the staff room window and see a cow or two strolling by.

- The head teacher tells us a black mamba snake (highly poisonous and fast-moving) has been seen on the driveway to school. He tells us to inform our students and suggests we all take an alternative route when leaving school.

- My host family is celebrating. A pump has been purchased and installed in the bore hole (well). We now have a tap and water on the homestead! No more depending on the community tap or hauling water from the spring and river!

- I'm starting to understand (let's be honest -on a few occasions) when Yes means No and Yes means Yes. But silence or change of subject is a definite NO!

July 27

It's really been more than a month since I've started this. I'm right on schedule - hard to write about what has become life. I'm more or less halfway through my service. The folks who have been here 2 years are going home, the new crew has arrived. Some days I wonder if what I'm doing is "enough" "right" etc. Other days I rejoice in the ways I see I am affecting how people perceive their world. I, of course, am constantly changing how I perceive mine. Those soon-to-be RPCV's (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) will have such altered realities. Gaining much - and losing much. Makes for interesting thoughts.

The time for contemplation and reflection, for being present, continues to delight me. I filter my water, and left my water bottle on the table in the the filtered sunlight. I took a drink and wrote this poem:

Layers of water
slake my thirst

Light and dark
made tangible

in the bottle
sharing sunshine and shade.

~July 19, 2014

I remember when I started this blog - I took so much care, and wanted a theme, a carefully crafted document. I think I gave that up when I arrived here, and gave in to stream-of-consciousness writing. What else will be different when I return?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Stray Thoughts From the Edge

A quote from my friend Steve, who answered succinctly for himself and, I think, for me:

Why do I try to do right? I'd say enlightened self-interest. I've tried martyrdom and it doesn't go well.

May 19

Stray thoughts from the Edge:

Can't believe I've missed this until now... I hear over and over, I'm peopled out. ready for some serious alone time at my site. It's such a given I don't even think about it. and I wonder, for all of us who need/want that so very much, how we will make sure we get it when we return to the States. It's so necessary that I don't even recognize its value. That's not it. Maybe it's just sort of become part of my reality.

May 30

Ways I know I'm acclimating. Live fenceposts are the norm - if I see fences made out of something else, I wonder why. Ditto for concertina wire around compounds. I automatically sort beans, peanuts and popcorn kernels before cooking them to get the sticks, stones and other inedibles out before cooking. Women nursing make me smile happily at the babies. If I don't get mobbed by little kids when I come home I wonder where they are and if everything is okay. Conserving water is a way of life. So is throwing my compost a couple of steps out my front door so the chickens, goats and cattle can enjoy them. Wash water goes in the same direction, after it has served at least 2 uses and only if the pineapple plants I hope will live had had enough to drink. The school schedule changes regularly, so becoming a part of the grapevine is a must. Oh, and closing the latrine door (which doesn't really close any more anyhow) is optional. The view is beautiful!

and... doing business wherever and whenever. like setting up meetings via whatsapp while riding a khombi over dusty, bumpy roads or while munching dinner. stopping what I'm doing to go play with the kids, then back to work. Or just talking with folks and finding myself picking their brains for ideas for teaching. no set work times, but it all gets done. sort of.

June 16

Just realized how long it's been since I've written here. Other PCV's said their blogs got neglected because it's hard to write about day to day life - and those things that seemed so noteworthy at first are now just - normal. Given that, when folks email me, and I start writing, lots flows out, so I'm going to try just writing here and see what emerges.

I continue to go visit the two young women, Simphiwe and Ncobile, at their boarding school. We took pictures yesterday, and it was so much fun - think I'll have to post some. I ask them about topics we are teaching in our career guidance classes.

Because logistics to visit are somewhat complicated, I write and mail letters to them. They write back and hand them to me when I'm ready to leave. It's a whole different level of communication, writing. I find all of us share much differently on paper - and I treasure their letters. I am so honored that they have chosen to allow me into their lives. I see them as the future, as what strength and courage and determination can bring.

Yesterday we talked about peer pressure. It's a huge issue for teens everywhere. They said it keeps coming back to choice - where will the choices you make take you - and having the determination and self-confidence to stick to your own goals. My question is - how? How do you step back from what you can be losing - the peer approval, friends - and pay attention to what you are risking in return for that approval? We know what we "should" do - but when it's happening, it's really hard. What tools can make it easier? I have some ideas about how to teach this - but am definitely open to any ideas anyone wants to send. I hope that if we come up with some good activities that my counterpart teacher will share and/or use them in other classes.

My views of transport have changed considerably. It's really a matter of - what? - luck? karma? timing? I still wait long times some times and catch a ride easily other times. Yesterday, walking back to the bus rank after visiting the girls I was able to flag down a khombi. the folks just sort of crushed together, and I caught a ride home. we've swooshed for others, so it' steady to accept the favor in return. Other times I've been almost thrown under the bus trying to get on. It's expected that we'll cram 4 people into seats made for 3, sitting with only one shoulder back, the other forward for someone else's shoulder. Busses are always packed, and it's just part of the trip if we have to stop to change a tire. I take a lihiya (2 meter cloth) to sit on while waiting and bring along my kindle for entertainment. It's just the way it is.

Water at the tap was available for a few days, but has disappeared again. When it comes back, I'll make multiple trips to refill my barrels. Then I'm most careful about bathing and laundry.  Life. I'm grateful to have it.

We are planning food for a GLOW training, and enlisting people to carry what we buy since we have no other way to get it to the backpackers. No biggie.

The kids on my homestead now come to my door and ask for books! I'm so delighted with that. I keep bringing some home from the school library for them. Found one on emotions - going to spend some time with that one. Even got folks to translate for me, so I can begin to talk with them about what they feel. Of course, they still want sweets, and get oranges instead.

Bread making continues, and I'm spending time with other volunteers.

It's almost winter solstice, and the new group of volunteers arrives on the same date that we did. I've been here almost a year! What changes! Time is most elastic. It feels like I've been here forever and like I just arrived. I still get horribly homesick, and I'm still in awe that I get to experience this way of life, of viewing the universe, of entering another world.

I am learning to respond to what I see. In the Four Agreements, one is to be open to outcomes, not attached to outcomes. My time here has been an education in doing this. What needs do I see? How can I help people meet those needs? I'm an outsider - how can I use that position to allow people to try new things, to explore their own ideas without fearing they will be perceived as going outside the norm? It's humbling and fascinating and fulfilling. And frustrating, at times. I so hope I will be able to bring these skills home...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

More Pictures

 In no particular order...

This is Siyabonga hanging by his feet.












And Ayanda in traditional dress celebrating the King's birthday.



















Kelsey, Jami, and I with Robbin in the back next to the Blyde River just above some amazing falls. You can see a small part of them below.


And below - dawn at my homestead.














 




















Make and Babe just after church to the right, and Simphiwe and Gogo down below.
















Autumn, Camp and Vacation

April 27, 2014

I think that there's a lot less outside world stimulation here, so the day to day things are clearer. It's easier to be present when there are fewer distractions from outside, if that makes sense. No TV, no radio, precious little news. Sunrises and sunsets delight me, more poetry getting written, watching the seasons turn, the night skies change. Water, weather, crops, kids - more important. I think I'm more in my present world... Oh - didn't realize that! Maybe that's one of the gifts of the Peace Corps - being in the time and place I'm living, not living globally... I know other PCV's pay more attention to the outside world - I just don't. Interesting!

May 4, 2014
GLOW Camp! Girls Leading Our World. An amazing week with about 78 girls, their club counselors, senior counselors, all Swazi. And guest speakers. The girls walked in, some hot, tired from long bus rides, groups of individuals. A week later, after sessions in art, team building, crafts, sexual reproductive health, looking to the future and more. Those girls were –well, sorry. GLOWing. The Human Machine (thanks, Maggie!) went really well, as did many other activities. By Friday, I taught sessions on interviewing, and asked the girls to tell me, “How are you unique?” They were able to fill a full flip chart page! But perhaps the best example of the changes came the last night. Talent show. I think every girl went up on the stage to show her talent, either individually or in groups. They stood in front of more than 70 of their peers, plus adults. And they sang, read poetry, danced, did skits. But the best was when the one young woman with some kind of physical disability made her way, alone, to the front of that room. She began to sing, a bit haltingly, and the whole room joined in. She led that song, and it swelled and filled the room with sound and caring and solidarity. At the end, she received the only standing ovation of the night. We were a cohort, a strong group, supporting each other’s strengths.
I floated out of camp totally exhausted and remembering why I’m here.

Now it is, again, the dry season. And again, the tap is dry for a reason my family does not know (despite asking). The family is hauling laundry to the river to wash (at least 1/2 mile away), though I will be able to wash here. And talking of buying water - about 400 - 450 Emalengeni per month - a VERY large amount, given the economy. Just to translate, at 450 Emalengeni, if I pay 10%, (45E) that, combined with electricity would be about 9% of my income every month. Doesn't seem like much, but... if that's for one person, and I don't have kids, so no school fees, no school uniforms, etc. And transport costs are supposed to go up 25% next month. That puts the basics of living pretty high for folks.

May 10

Just returned from my first vacation. It was grand.

Went with 3 other PCV's - 2 will be going home in July/August, the other has another year+ (like me). It's such a matter of perspective. The 2 who are completing their second year were thinking about going home the other one and I were thinking about another year here. The two folks returning did all of our planning. They found an amazing backpackers (hostel) online called Joy River. Look it up on FB.

Transport, as I know you've figured out by now, is really sketchy. I'm thinking you'll be looking online at the places I name here, so won't try to describe distances. But... we left Kelsey's at 5:15amto catch the khombi to Manzini, and arrived by 6:15 or so. Then waited till 9:30 for the khombi to Nelspruit to fill up. 1:00 found us in South Africa, and we had rented the car by 1:30. CAR!!! First private vehicle since we got here. Only slightly lost in town, found great food, went shopping for groceries, walked out into deep dusk. A couple of hours later we arrived at Joy River Backpackers (we'd call it hostel). We only got lost a few times, and it was all tar road until we turned off onto the track. Apt description. Narrow dirt road, rutted and dusty. We bumped along and then our headlights found - Jesus? Really? Well - could have been. Actually, it was Heston, the owner, with longish hair, sandals, wrapped in a blanket and accompanied by a couple of dogs. He directed us well, then helped by bouncing along at a trot, waving his flashlight wildly.

The quarters he had given us were - unique. Heston directed us to a carport of wood and tin, then showed us where we were to stay. he apologized for it being rustic, and - I guess it was. But to our eyes, accustomed to  living in one or two room huts with no running water, no indoor bathrooms, no kitchen sinks... We were in heaven and told him so. There was even a bathtub (if you didn't mind the rusty water) and a shower. And the sound of the Joy River to lull us to sleep. Bathroom was made of stones, and the tub emptied into a trough which went around the shower. There was space for a fire outside and they made us probably the best pizza we'd ever had, using arugula and lavender! but that was later.

We walked to Joy River in the morning, and allowed the peace and joy and quiet of the world to surround and soothe us. Sat next to a little drop/pool/drop riffle, just watching. Guess I was meditating, watching/listening/experiencing the water dropping over the rocks into a hole, the drops filling with air, bubbling, incorporating light into the mix, ever-changing, moving but not in a straight line, altered, but the same.

Spent a whole day in that place of bliss, of quiet joy, that fragile place I never want to leave, but which cannot be summoned nor sustained. And wrote this poem:

I wake to the river
Swirling in my heart
Sunlight sweeping softly
through my dreams

Chill of stones beneath me
Under foreign skies
Water dancing
music know to all

Listen in the moment
Feel the flow of time
Balance on the precipice
So uniquely mine
        Yours
                Ours
                        Divine.

                                ~Michele
                                5/7/14
                                Joy River, South Africa

We hiked, wandered along waterfalls, walked through savannah then slipped into jungly forest.

Our first walk was to the Potholes. First the Blyde River, flat, flat, dropping dramatically down into carved canyons, pot holes (of course), waterfalls and more falls and more flat rocks and bridges. Then up to hike what we thought would be about 8 km. But...

We walked through savannah, then dropped into the woods, steep, steep. And then the two in the lead stopped, began walking back towards us:  we were warned off by baboons! They growled and warned, patrolled, one on the ground, one in the trees, and let us know we were not welcome. We tried going forward. The warnings increased. One, who has worked with horses, is most tuned in to animal behavior, was totally spooked, and though the rest of us were too blind to truly understand, we hesitated a bit, then trusted her, and backed away, then left. Walked quite a while, sat next to a creek to eat lunch and decide whether to try again, hoping they had left. Nope. Not only had they not left, they were approaching with warning growls. Decision made! We high tailed it out of there.

Later, we asked locals and they all assured us, not there was not problem. But when we got back to Swaziland and internet connections, we found that what we did was absolutely correct, and that the baboons were protecting something - territory, mothers, whatever - and could have charged and hurt us. Another reinforcement of trusting intuition.

The next day we drove to sites we found on the internet. For the record, siyamanga! They are lying! Nothing was as described, but some of it was pretty and we did laugh a whole lot about it.  If you ask any of us about "The Pinnacle" be prepared for gales of laughter.

We were saddened by the miles and miles and miles of tree farms. Rows of pine trees being grown for paper. You know that they are deeply damaging the land with single crop planting. And it was like driving through a giant zoo (rather than game preserve). They clear cut to harvest the trees. It was hard.

Overall, the trip was glorious. We travelled well together, sharing quiet as well as conversation, calm and that something that either is or is not present in groups. I'm so grateful to have found such a group.

May 11
Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day to all you mom's, both physically and emotionally/spiritually/acting as. I think that covers all the women I know.

When my body is tired, my mind wanders all over the place. This coming week I'm going to a training on positive discipline/classroom management with 2 teachers from my school. The question has arisen for me: What makes us do the "right" thing? I asked my host family, wanting it to be a personal, not rhetorical, question. Make was not too interested, and Babe generalized it. He said that our actions are designed to protect our territory. If we are aggressive and people fear us, we can do whatever we like within out territory and no one will challenge us. Makes sense - that we carve out some territory for ourselves, then our actions protect it.

But I didn't get an answer, so I pose it to you: What makes you do what you believe is right? You, individually, not you as people in general.  I'm not sure how I would answer that question. I'll work on it, but don't want to let you off the hook by providing a possible answer.

Some of what I've been thinking is that Skinner's behavior modification theories were designed to answer that question. But I think it's much more complex than that, that there are many answers to the question, and all are intertwined and pieces of a larger whole. I look forward to reading comments or emails in response...