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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Salani Kahle

April 21, 2015

Home. I’ve been back a little over a month and I’m still full of awe and gratitude. Friends invited me to stay with them, and helped me through the first phases of transition – incoherence, interrupted circadian rhythms resulting in odd sleeping and eating habits, difficulty focusing, feeling overwhelmed by the smallest things. Lynda and Bill were great – using humor and patience to help me adjust.

I left Swaziland several months early. I left a part of myself there. And I brought a bit of Swaziland home with me - in whatsapp texts and facebook messages and emails with folks there. And much more, I am sure. It has been hard to write, and even now, it’s difficult to know what to say.
Much is still overwhelming – the full grocery store aisles (both sides, floor to ceiling) of breakfast cereals. So much of everything. Libraries that are well-lit and have new books and current reference books. So very many paved roads. Counter space. Remembering how to cook using my own recipe books. Forests and rivers. Spring time, Northwest style. Being connected. Sometimes I have a whatsapp, text message, email message and voice mail – all at the same time – or so it seems. Mindboggling. There’s TV, though I don’t really watch it. Streaming radio.

I visit friends – at their homes. Homes they have lived in for decades, homes they have put their love, hard work, passion, energy and time into making their own. Into expressing their own beauty. And the beauty is bone deep. What a contrast to a third world country, where only the rich have such luxury, and that resides behind walls topped with glass and protected by guards. My friends aren’t “well-to-do” by many standards – but so very rich in the splendor they have created.

People talk of traveling – and all I want to do is nest and stay here. I had all these dreams of going to see friends, maybe a road trip – but all I really want to do is stay in my own space for a while.

I have found a place to live where I open my windows and doors to hear the river, where I have “my things” from storage, a place with treasures from my life. Here, my toiletries are not in bags for the first time in so very long. I have 2, count them, 2 sinks – one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom. No more using a latrine.

And NO ROOSTERS crowing at 3:00 am. And no little kids saying, “Knock, knock. May I have a book?” No Nomile, seeing me and breaking into a run, her arms held wide, knowing I will catch her when she launches herself into my arms. No walking home from school, holding hands with 3 or 4 little kids, skipping and laughing and hustling to the side of the road to avoid traffic. No mangoes off the trees, and no church folks greeting me on their way to and from services. No calf butting Siyabonga, asking for his bottle, and no Liyana running up, purring, to be petted.

No khumbis to town – now I just drive, and oh, I do not miss the crowded busses and khumbis, the long waits, the dust and heat. But I don’t take the car for granted, and I’m much more patient with slow drivers.

I read some of my journal from before I left, and I sense a deep difference, but I don’t know how to describe it. And I am coming to terms with some of the things that were so very difficult for me while living in a culture so very different from my own. Slowly, slowly, I am working towards becoming the me I want to be.

I may start another blog – one of “my kids”, Wandile, is corresponding with me, and continuing to ask difficult questions – the ones that really make me think – and then make him articulate his ideas more clearly. I think, as I absorb and integrate what I have learned, I may want to share ideas in a blog. 

For now, I think this one is complete. Thanks for accompanying me on my journey. Salani Kahle.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Gradual Changes

January 31, 2015

It's true, the longer I'm here, the less I find to share. Still, I don't want this experience to slip away without trying to capture glimpses of life here and the gradual changes that are emerging.
I've been here more than a year and a half! And... the imperceptible work of building trust and relationships is beginning to show. As has been true from the beginning, I think the most effective work I'm doing is not what I set out to do, but what emerges - one on one relationships, demonstrating the power of networking, and, perhaps most important of all, learning from the people here. Rachel Naomi Remen has several articles online about the difference between serving and helping. Serving, she says, is working together, where both (or all) parties learn together. It is sustainable, action between/among equals. That's what I strive to do, many time still slipping back into helping. Sigh.
But I'm pretty proud of some of "my kids". One has chosen to brave the difficulties in peer relationships that can occur by standing out, being accomplished. He is starting a poetry club at school and is publishing his poetry on a facebook page. Another student who almost left school because of lack of funds managed to get her fees paid, her living situation straightened out and had the 6th highest scores in her class. Both the girls I'm mentoring did fine on their exams and will be finishing high school this year. No mean feat at a school with an excellent reputation in Swaziland. One is going to start a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) club in our community.
I'm building friendships with a couple of women here - something that I value, and which allows me to be open about things that I don't normally share, and in return, to hear confidences I think they don't normally share. I do that via email with friends stateside, but I am beginning to realize how very much I miss the in person side of that. They are such strong, amazing women. 
And I am seeing, as the facades - mine and those of the people around me - fade, some of the very real faces of poverty. It's not that I didn't see them at first - more, I think, that I'm seeing the longer term effects of the poverty, the patriarchal culture, on individuals. Much more powerful that way. And, maybe worst of all, I'm recognizing how much of the same kinds of situations exist in the US - they are just ever so much easier to avoid seeing...
So school is starting again, and things are picking up. I'm going out of country for 10 days, and looking forward with great anticipation to being in a country where I'm outside the fishbowl -where no one will know whence I come until I speak. And best of all, I'm meeting family - I'll be with someone who has known me all my life. Ah, the things to cherish rather than take for granted...
And, of course, a few glimpses of my world, as written to an awesome RPCV who returned home last August:
Just in case you are missing the Swaz - here are some "pictures": looked out my window this morning. Here's Babe, dressed in a 3/4 length bathrobe, flipflops, carrying an umbrella and tp - headed for the latrine. At the top of the rise above the river, stopping to turn around, seeing the water flowing high over the cement bridge, and the school children standing on the other side, staring at the rushing river. Evicting the cricket, locking the butler door, but leaving the wooden door open, and going to bed. A few minutes later, evicting the same damn cricket, who had hopped back in under the door. Sliding in the mud on the way to the stesh, but not really minding, since the jojo tanks were getting really low and there's still no water at the community tap. The female dogs gaunt from feeding the puppies, but the puppies roly-poly. The hills green with maize and beans. Ripe mangoes and bopopo (papayas) and lichees. Heat. Dust. Cramped khumbis. Precarious busses. Laughter, golden moon, and seeing things I haven't seen before, even after a year and a half here. But don't forget washing dishes in a basin, arguing with the network and no noisy washing machine <smile>
The loud squawking of chickens being chased - and then the pile of feathers being discarded.
The ubiquitous (and hated) roosters crowing in the middle of the night.
Children laughing.
Music from the all night prayer vigil at church - this one for the youth of the community and to find the funds to finish rebuilding the church that blew down last year (they have been holding church in a large canvas tent).

February 3, 2015

A friend wrote and asked how I have changed. Hmmmm. here's some of what I wrote:
I think friendships mean more to me than I realized. I take for granted that in hard times I'll have support, assistance and non-judgmental feedback. What a given, what a gift!
I keep coming up with the same lessons, each time a bit more intensely. That the poverty and injustices and atrocities I see here also occur in the US - I just don't have to see them every day. That I really don't know very much about life or - much of anything. Rachel Naomi Remen talks about the difference between helping and service - helping is one strong assisting one weaker. Service is mutual benefit between 2 equals. I want to serve, and discover that if the other person doesn't see me that way, it's really HARD. And helping is an easy trap to fall into - familiar. And I really don't have all that much wisdom - and wonder what I'm doing messing about in people's lives. Lots of self-doubt... How do I help others reach the dreams THEY dream when they look to me to guide their dreams? How do I NOT take on that role - rather insist they find their own dreams. How do I open doors and help them look without letting my own beliefs color what I point out for them to see? It's almost like that quantum physics tenet that when we observe something, we change it - we can't erase our influence - but who's to say my influence is positive? Whatever my intentions? Any thoughts you have on this are GREATLY appreciated!
So - I muddle on and hope I'm doing it right and questioning so very much. 
Now I'm waiting for a plane in Johannesburg. Walking around the airport, marveling at what I see. Haagen Dazs ice cream. Lots of white faces. Shirts, beards, many different languages. Hauw! Makes me wonder what it's going to be like in another 6 months when the plane I board heads west, west, west.

February 9, 2015 - Jerusalem, Day 6

Israel! What a different place to be. It is a land of contrasts, history, many cultures and peoples, whistling winds, art work. And hope. Hope.

Visited Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum. The horrors were so great I could not shed the tears that saturated me. Just when I thought there was no way out of that darkness, I came to the hall of heroes - the Resistance movements, the individuals, those who knew, in their hearts, what was right, and did it. Rays of light and hope, despite the despair. Walked through the original monument - tall sandstone columns with the names of whole villages that were decimated, standing peaceful, paths winding through them, in the cool winter sun. And I know that if I ever wonder - why Israel? the answer will lie at Yad Vashem - the answer will be, Never Again!
And it makes me wonder - what is Home? What does home mean? I pose the questin to you - not the easy answer - think it through. I'll be interested in hearing your responses.

From the museum to the Hadassah hospital. Through security to get in. Into the room with 12 stained glass windows of the 12  tribes of Israel, made by Chagall.  One got damaged in a sniper attack. Chagall repaired it, leaving the bullet hole as a reminder. It is a room of great peace, the light constantly changing what is visible. 
Then to the children's cancer room. It is light and welcoming. And in the elevator we saw an orthodox Jewish man with his daughter standing close to an Arab woman with her daughter. The mix of fear and hope, the reality of the tragedy of cancer, bridges the impersonal cultural and political differences. And how ironic that the desperate struggle for hope, the life-threatening illness, is what unites them. It was a statement woven from Yad Vashem somehow. 

Then to the Bat Ami women's center, a place for survivors of domestic violence. Again, the services reach across the cultures, just as the situations do. Just as in the states, the staff is dedicated, overworked and underfunded. Again - a mix of hope and darkness.

The next day we toured the old city. Old City. With Jewish, Christian, Arab and German quarters. Each so very distinct in atmosphere, sounds, smells and life. But the buildings are the same age - very, very old, streets narrow and winding, many not large enough for vehicles, though people live here. Tours in all languages, some focusing on one religion, some on another. The history very much alive. This area is part of the Fertile Crescent, part of the only route to and from the north and the East to Africa. It was politically necessary to conquering armies, and it shows in the wars, the never-ending wars.

We visited the West Wall (Wailing Wall), and today we will go into the tunnels beneath it.

On Saturday, Amit and his sweetheart took us to Masada - a high desert stronghold where almost 1,000 Jews took refuge from the Romans when they refused to bow down to the Roman emperor and to pay taxes. They fled to the stronghold, the Romans in pursuit. They held out for more than 8 months, then the Romans burned the last of their defenses at sundown. They knew that the next day they would be made slaves, and worse. 2 women and 5 children hid - the rest chose to allow themselves to be killed by their families, the last person committed suicide. They had chosen freedom. When the Romans arrived, theirs was a hollow victory.

Then, on the way back, we stopped to float in the Dead Sea. Pretty amazing amount of flotation! The Dead Sea is receding, rapidly, as water from the Jordan River is being diverted for irrigation. And then a GREAT dinner at a funky little restaurant - authentic Middle Eastern food.

Other observations:

Saturday is the sabbath, and shabbas begins on Friday afternoon. That means everything stops, including public transportation.

The wall between Palestinian and Israeli Jerusalem is literally that - a wall.

Driving, there are many checkpoints. Safety is ever-present.

It appears to me that all of the (18-20 year old) soldiers are thin and eating, eating, eating. They, smile, laugh, and carry their weapons casually, but carefully, in their hands. That visibility, that presence of weapons of protection and death, unhidden, proclaim safety.

There are so many complexities here. Lots of different levels of religious observance, political influence from religions, artists and businesses and sandstone everywhere. The history seeps into the modern, the tourists and locals and life with the realities of still very present battles. It appears to this tourist a land of great contrasts.

So now it is late afternoon, and we are leaving tonight. A last day in the Old City, walking in the tunnels under the Western Wall. Amazing travel through history, as we walked on ruins built on ruins to the side opposite the sunlit side. A Bedouin who owns a shop invited us to break bread with him, and we ate the best falafals either of us ever tasted, plus hummus, salad, pita and great conversation. The Bedouins are nomads, some of one religion, some of another, who struggle to keep their culture intact as national borders closed and curtailed their chosen lifestyle. Interesting talks, and a glimpse of some gorgeous carpets, shawls, clothes for celebrations and ceremonies. A gift of a glimpse into another world.

Now we prepare to re-enter our own worlds: one to California and one to Swaziland. It will be many hours of flight, and we will arrive a little disoriented from travel between such different worlds, lack of sleep, different languages and whatever it is that makes up such change. We are going home. Have you figured out what home means to you yet?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pictures and Perspectives

December 10, 2014

December. Amazing. Some family came to visit last week. It was GLORIOUS! There were so many "best parts" that I can't prioritize them. Here's my best shot:
        Getting to spend time with family from home - being the me they know and I know - not the PCV me. Sharing memories of other family, experiences from long ago, seeing our history in each other's faces and gestures. Experiencing those connections that have ben absent from my life since I've been here. And building new memories to share.
        The sheer joy of having them take the time to come see what my life is like here - an knowing when I return home and say something, they will understand, having experienced it, in a way that will bring me - I'm not sure what, but it will be good.
        Trying to see my world through their eyes. As predicted, my hut is much nicer than they expected. I'm not sure what you, kind readers, imagine...
        And they brought me Peet's coffee!!! I'll love them forever <giggle>! And a keyboard so I can write this blog. And many more goodies that I will appreciate each time I use them - many of them food.
        They had a long journey getting here, so we spent a couple of nights at Mabuda Farm, a working organic farm/B and B/backpackers. It's located on a plateau near Steki, and our veranda overlooked an arroyo stretching down to the low veld below. It's green and lush and quiet, full of bird calls and frog songs.

December 28, 2014
        The year is coming to an end, it's storming, and once again I want to stitch together the crazy quilt of poetry, ideas, and things that fill my days that wind up being my reality these days. I always wait a bit too long to start, of course.
        I spent Christmas out of the fishbowl, alone (by choice), wandering through gardens, along trails, on rocks overlooking the low veld and by a lily pond. Replenishing my soul. Here are some things I wrote:

"...struggling for a way to untangle the me I want to be from the me I had become <before I came here>."

"Fear is a warning. Not a barrier. It's how we interpret what causes fear that guides our steps. And sometimes, trying to avoid what evokes the fear can create much, much more danger."

"Time to allow the softness of acceptance."

Water lily blooms
their roots in mud, leaves afloat,
Sway, faces to sun.

What will life be bringing
When I go home and see
That though I'm not in Swaziland
Forever it's in me?

        Yesterday I invited the kids on my homestead to go for a walk down to the creek where folks wash clothes. Nomile said yes, Siyabonga and Asanda said they'd find us there. Off we went. It's so pretty there, and Nomile was playing in the water. Siyabonga and Asanda arrived and asked if I wanted to go downstream. Sure! We went rock scrambling and bush whacking downstream, then upstream. I did easily as well as the 7 year old <grin>. Siyabonga, the 14 year old self-appointed guide, helped the girls over boulders and crawling through just big enough spaces between those boulders. He showed me a leaf that holds water without absorbing it - a perfect cup or rain hat. He climbed a tree and brought us back berries to share. He showed me where, when the water is not muddy, we could find fish, and pointed out a small crab. He was grand. At the end, he went to watch the cattle and goats and the girls and I came back to the homestead, sweaty and happy. Oh YES!

January, 2015

And as a bonus... a few pictures. Bonnie, the lion pictures are for you <grin>.

Pictures from Hlane Game Preserve


 Oh ho hum.
All right, I've had enough! Time for you t leave.
Land crab kindly allows me to take its picture at Mabuda

The 60's live...

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.

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?


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.

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?