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.

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.

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