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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Catching Up February Posts

Michelle says Internet Access is getting harder, so I'm posting again. Enjoy!

February 3, 2014

I just have to write about the school schedule. It's unbelievably complex. Although kids go to school 5 days a week, they have 8 classes on M, T and Th, 6 classes on W and F. The classes meet at different times: M,T and Th are the same, different W and different still F. They break it up into 8 periods and 6 days. So one of the 2 classes I co-teach meets Monday this week, Wednesday next week, Thursday the week after and then skips a week. It meets different times on those different days. And, this can change if something interrupts the school and they have to cancel a class or 2. Then, instead of skipping the missed class, they just start where they left off on the school calendar.  I'm told the lower forms have 13 subjects per term, the higher ones about 8. Continuity must be a real bear!

February 6

Dirty Hippie Enterprises Lives!

Back in our starving student days we found an amazing amount of creative ways to keep expenses down and bring in a bit of income. Michael and Ben did some  VW repairs, the Food Conspiracy (bulk buying) helped us eat well for little money, the Everybody's Favorite Recipe Book was born... But it turns out, for me at least, that the greatest gift of those days is the belief system that if there's a need, there's also a creative, inexpensive solution. I once knew someone who thought the way to solve problems was to throw money at them. Not having money to throw meant developing some skills and ways of perceiving that are serving me very well here in Africa. No shelf space? Hang a line and tie utensils from that line. Need curtains? Try emahiyas (lengths of fabric). No sewing machine? That's what embroidery stitches are for.

It's not feeling things are lacking. Rather, it's that if there's a need, the first solution doesn't involve buying something already made - it's finding the materials and designing something. I like the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment, even when the result is so far from professional it's humorous. If it works...

The other cool self-discovery is that I have a built in clock. For a long time I've been able to tell myself to wake up at a certain time, and generally do it (though I set alarm clocks for really important things). But now I've found that if I decide I want to leave my hut at a given time, I walk out the door within a few minutes of that time. I usually keep an eye on the clock, but even when I don't, I check the clock on the way out and sure enough, I'm at the time I set for myself. Kind of strange and very nice. Time here is not something people pay a lot of attention to, so it's most strange that I'm able to do it. Maybe I'm getting more than my share of time karma since others aren't using theirs <grin>?

February 10

Took a few days away from site to go play - so VERY refreshing. Met Robbin and Pam other PCV's, at Hlane, a game reserve. We had one heck of a time trying to plan it, and finally just gave up and went for it. Discovered they won't let us just walk around, so we went on a tour. Since we opted to stay at Pam's, we wound up on the tour mid-day, which wasn't great for seeing animals, but was just us, which was wonderful.

Lions were sleeping, so we saw none, but the elephants, indolent in the heat, strolled into the road and on both sides of it, eating and gazing into the distance. Their ears beat slowly back and forth, chasing the bugs and flies away. Our guide backed up our vehicle, saying he had tried, 4 years ago, to pass... The elephants charged, and he learned that even if they're not IN the road, being on both sides was the same thing... They moved with such grace. We learned they eat 18 hours a day... The trees were losing the battle for life since the elephant territory was finite and their appetites are not... 

On the way to the white rhinos (kept in another area with the giraffes) we saw African Monarch butterflies and some gorgeous birds, wild flowers and even a turtle or 2.

The rhinos would put to shame camouflage experts - light and dark mud, birds on their backs, they grazed slowly across the landscape.  The birds eat the ticks and other insects, and warn the rhinos, whose eyesight is very poor, of dangers.

Then off to the ballet. The giraffes. Males and females together, the darker the color, the older the animal. They, too, had birds as symbiotes, and the birds traveled up and down their necks as the giraffes nibbled on treetops, then lowered their heads to lower branches. One youngster stared at us a while, wondering what we were. Then they strolled off.

It was such a strange feeling, knowing that we were going to their habitat, rather than having captured them and carried them off to ours. At the same time, they were in a preserve, behind fences, their natural migration patterns disturbed and the landscape feeling the effect. It wasn't exactly a zoo, but it also didn't feel - wild. Still, it was wonderful to see...

Africa - Swaziland - seems a land of intense contrasts. We made our way back to Pam's, up to the top of a plateau, then through Siteki, a dusty town that somehow feels - not sure of the word. Uninviting. Pam has a kitten who made off with our hearts. What a bold little guy, full of love and life.

The next day we walked to a backpackers (hostel) that is also a working farm. We strolled through fields and trees, marveling at the rich greens, redolent with lush vegetation, stopped to talk with the horses and to pet our escort of dogs. The afternoon was decadent in and by the pool, the air just warm enough to be comfortable. What contrast to town, a short walk away. I felt wrapped in luxury, even though the room we shared had bunk beds and a bathroom out the door and down the porch. The beauty, lush vegetation, quiet and glorious views made it luxurious. It was so very far removed from our daily life on homesteads.

Robbin said walking with me was great - no one accosted her with marriage proposals (and other less savory ones as well). I think I could be a successful duenna. Age is respected here, and I've had only a couple of untoward things said to me. Hard to remember the difficulties the younger volunteers face.

Today it was back to reality. Refreshed, a little sleepy and slow. Tomorrow there'll be plenty to do.

February 15

A few more glimpses of life, then I'll post this.

Perspectives. I think I've written ad naseum of transport. But what it can mean... Everyone is aware that missing a bus can mean hours till the next arrives, so the drivers watch for people running and wait for them. No one on the busses complain - it could be any of us dashing down the road next time. A few days ago I saw a woman running towards the bus with a fabric-wrapped something balanced perfectly on her head, despite her running. She gave it to the conductor, then headed back down the road to encourage the other woman with her, who was pushing a full and obviously heavy wheel barrow as fast as she could. Passengers just smiled and laughed, admiring the mad dashes. Now that's community!

Dinner last night to celebrate Babe's two sons (not twins, 2 weeks apart) turning 40. I sat with the extended family, and felt comfortable, remembering how at first I didn't know names and even less about the youngsters who bear those names. The 2 1/2 year olds fell asleep on the floor and slept through the thoughts and prayers. The other kids were quiet and well-behaved, sitting on the floor, smiling and everyone ate with their hands. We had goat, raised here, slaughtered that day, and cooked until tender and tasty, pap, rice and birthday cake.

Animal and insect deportation continues. Found a frog hopping around, deported some humungous cockroaches, a few spiders and whatever else finds its way in. Discovered another bat in the hut, and tried to lure it out with light. It decided to exit the way it entered - in the space between the roof and the top of the wall. Not a large space, but not a large bat. I like insect-eating critters, but don't really want to share living quarters with something dive-bombing my head...

So life here continues to teach me and teach me. Chipped a tooth, and at the dentist's office asked him questions about when he hires people so I can take the information back to my community. I'm shameless, it seems, when gathering resources and information. I've decided that trying to organize workshops will be more work than they are worth. Instead, I want to meet with a small cadre of people who are interested in job seeking skills and who are willing to share whatever information they learn from the meetings. I hope this informal way will work, as since it's not a workshop I won't be as likely to have to fight non-involvement. The first meeting is planned for March 1, a Saturday, and several people have been invited. We'll see how it goes.

A big challenge is that people want to be polite, so often they tell me what they think I want to hear rather than what they really think or want. I'm working on ways to encourage them to tell me what they really think, to communicate that their thoughts and beliefs are way more valuable than agreeing with me. It's a cultural difference, so it will be an ongoing mutual learning experience. I keep reiterating that I will be leaving in less than 2 years, and I want to leave knowledge and resources to help them achieve their goals - not mine. The process is helping me see that in my own relationships, the times friends and I have been able to be open and honest is because we have established trust over a long time. It's something that will continue to be cherished and developed.

I am learning so very much from my time here! Surprising lessons that humble me and make me appreciate how very strong, sweet and special you, the people in my life, are. Thanks!