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|Monday, July 2nd, 2007|
|It's not an Easy Road
I’ll write one last journal entry because I don’t like to leave things hanging. I like to finish what I start, like this two years perhaps.
The dramatic ending: My Swazi family and friends including little Thandazile and I are in church on the homestead in song and dance and praise. A pristine Land Cruiser pulls up. The infamous “White Chariot”, the Peace Corps Car arrives to whisk me away. 12:30. Right on time. Church stops and the kids come out to help me load my bags. They ask me to come back in to say my final goodbyes. So I do and I cry, but I hold it together, only a tear or two. I thank them and tell them we probably won’t see each other for a long, long time. I hug my Swazi mother and Thandazile and I don’t want to let go. I don’t want to think of what will become of her when I leave. Then I get in the car, hide behind my sunglasses, and we drive away.
After 30 minutes on the bumpy dusty dirt road, we hit the paved road. It was over. From then on most of the roads I would be on would be smooth and easy. How metaphorical.
But it’s true. These past two years I’ve been a witness. I have experienced something so unreal. A way of life so raw and difficult. But, you see, I get to drive away. Without thinking twice I leave poverty and disease behind.
The problems here are so multifaceted. It is frustrating with our American minds to be confronted with a problem and two years later still have no idea how to solve it. But I only came here to experience life in a different place; life in Africa, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve seen people dying but even then, I’ve seen them live.
Life involves struggle although to many different extremes. Some of my best friends here have faced hardships I never could have imagined. Yet they go through them with grace, kindness, and love.
I think the greatest lessons in life can be learned from those who have the least.
I drove away the other day, but I can still see them standing there. In my mind they’ll stay there waving. In my mind they’ll stay alive.
|Wednesday, June 6th, 2007|
|Prime Minister Mishaps
A week before I was scheduled to leave my site, an announcement was made. The Prime Minister of Swaziland was going to come out to my village to take a tour of the community center, the very community center that we had raised the money for and worked to hard to complete. What an honor and a perfect way to sign and seal my service.
On the "big day" I walked the two miles to the community center to wait with the committee members. As soon as I arrived, only one question was on my mind, had I forgotten to turn off the flame on my gas stove? I had left in such a hurry, I couldn't recall. Was my house going to burn down? I didn't want to go out with that kind of bang. So, with the chaiman's assurance that the Prime Minister wasn't scheduled to arrive for at least another hour, I hiked back to my house, where as it turns out, the stove was off. Sigh, I had only been peranoid. So I turned right around. When I made it back to the community center, it had been completely abandoned. A flurry of swear words in two languages escaped my mouth.
Apparantly, the minute I had rounded the corner to run home, an 8 car entourage had arrived, toured, talked, questioned, praised, and whisked the community members away to a reception in town. In the 40 minutes I had been away, i had missed it all. The 3 drunk guys sprawled outside the gate attempted to explain what had happened, but the only mumbled SiSwati I could make out was, "Ncesi, bahambile," Sorry, they left. Still swearing, I turned once again to walk home. I wouldn't get the whole story until that evening when the chairman stopped by to give me the scoop.
Although I was sad to have missed the events of the day, I was happy to hear that the Prime Minister himself had promised to see that the community center would be equiped with running water and electricity in the coming weeks. The spirits of the committee members were flying high. They had been trying in vain for 10 years to get that place up and running, and at long last it was finally happening. They would finally have a place they were proud of, where they could work, sew, build, farm, sell, plan, and meet. It feels good to have lent a helping hand.
If there's one thing I've learned about living here, it's that nothing comes easily. But I've also learned something else, that if you are willing to work hard, willing to wait, and willing to believe, an idea, a dream, can become a reality. One small step, forward.
So I walked 8 miles today for nothing. So I didn't make it to the Prime Minister's party. Who cares? My Swazi friends did and they are beaming. And when i leave this place for ever, through my tears, I will be too. FOr today, I'm filled with hope. And in spite of the povery, the AIDS, the disparity, and the creeping pace of progress, I look around and see that life, yes LIFE is happening.
|Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007|
|against the wind
The fire is dying and everyone feels tired. Death at 35 is normal and leaving lost children behind. It’s just the same sad song. AIDS in Africa. Elevator music in the background.
It’s been declared a national disaster and movie stars are wearing red. I’ve spent the last two years fighting on the front lines and everyone’s just eating dinner, talking about the next funeral, as if it’s a football game.
Is it frustrating? Yes. Heartbreaking? Yes. My heart is broken and I’m ready to come home. Home where most babies that are born actually live. Home, where you don’t see skeletons walking around. Home, where kids wear shoes and have tooth brushes, and yes, most times even parents.
I’ve taught the lessons too many times to count. The four fluids. People know how it’s spread, how to protect themselves, and how treatment can prolong their lives. Yet men still rape young girls, sex is casual, everyone’s unfaithful, men refuse to wear condoms, and so many people are too afraid to test.
If you scream but nobody hears you, eventually you’ll give up. If you swim up-river long enough, you’ll tire and wash away.
It’s hard to measure how effective I’ve been or if I could have done more. And it’s impossible to say what the future holds for Swaziland. Hopefully someday it will all come to pass and this society can rebuild, thrive, and grow. But as for now, it’s shades of gray. It’s still and muddy water.
A government official made a statement saying “AIDS has declared war on Swaziland. We must behave as a country at war.” Wise words, but nobody's listening, nobody’s fighting, and nothing seems to be changing. It hurts to say this, but it looks like AIDS is winning.
I had this amazing professor in college who was from Nigeria. His class was a blissful story hour for me. Each week I could sit back and listen to tales of a far off land. It wasn’t like reading the bland pages of a textbook. He was animated, racy and hilarious as he relayed first hand accounts of his life and culture in Nigeria.
What fascinated me the most was when he spoke of the strong family and community bonds. Generations of extended families living together in a compound. People rarely left home and if they did, they always returned. Everybody knew everybody else and they loved and protected each other. When the British came and colonization threatened to tear families apart, they had to fight to stay together.
America on the other hand is an extremely individualistic society. At the age of eighteen we are encouraged to go out, get an education, make a lot of money, and start a family of our own, maybe coming back to our home town every once in a while for a long holiday weekend. But it isn’t that easy. When we pack up our bags and wave goodbye to mom and dad, we don’t always realize how overwhelming it can be. Thousands of careers, thousands of universities, thousands of cities, and people, and temptations to choose from. In America, it’s easy to get lost and go unnoticed because everyone seems so worried about themselves.
My Nigerian professor pointed out that although America’s focus on individuality and freedom can lead to wealth and prosperity, it can also leave us feeling empty, lonely, inadequate, left out, and lost. He raised the question of; although Americans have the most money and the highest standards of living, are they without roots? Without a sense of community history and belonging? He raised the question leaving only our selves to answer.
Many Americans do know their roots, but I don’t I’ve heard that my last name is Lithuanian and that one of my great grandfathers was from Mongolia, but that’s all I really know. And I have a family, but they are spread across the country from California to Florida. After I moved to college my parents both moved out of the state and I realized that besides my dorm room., I didn’t have a place I considered home. Maybe my professor was right, in America we were on our own.
I could picture my professor’s African village in my head. Little barefoot children, old smiling grandmothers, stories around a fire at night. Everyone belongs, everyone knows where they came from, and tradition, ritual, and wisdom are passed down unchanged for generations. I was so enthralled with this vision of simplicity and connection that after graduation I decided I would move to Africa, to see and live this lifestyle for myself.
I ended up living in Swaziland, a tiny country in Southern Africa for two years. I lived in a secluded rural village on a homestead with a big extended family. In many ways it was like the village from my imagination. Self-sufficient, close nit, few distractions. No electricity, no shopping malls, no high expectations, or ideals. Life in that village was probably very similar to the way it was thousands of years ago.
I moved there to find out what it would be like to live in a land where people relied on each other, a place where people bloomed where they were planted instead of running off to bloom where they were offered a better job. I wanted to know what it would be like to live where everyone shared the same history and are united in every way. Where people stick together instead of inevitably drifting apart. I left home to find out what I was missing, but what I found out was I was missing home.
Not a day in Africa went by where I didn’t feel a pull in my heart. It wasn’t a pull towards a particular house or town, but towards people; my friends and family scattered as they were throughout the U.S. And I realized I did have roots however hidden and twisted and deep down they went. Perhaps they were spread over the whole world. But they were there and it took my coming to Africa to finally feel them pulling me back.
America has become such a melting pot that it’s hard to sort it all out. It can be difficult to find yourself or where you belong. But I think after coming a long way, I finally know. My home, my community, my rightful place and my roots lie directly in my mother’s eyes and my best friend’s hug, my dad’s smile and my niece’s little giggle. Connection comes through conversation and the only place we TRULY belong, is in each other’s hearts.
Life in America is different than life in Africa, there’s just no doubt about that. And life anywhere is different anywhere than it was a hundred years ago. And every family and every community is different. I could spend a lifetime naming what keeps us apart, But there is only one thing that can always bring us back. Love is the light that will lead the way home.
|Wednesday, January 10th, 2007|
|We Wish You a Kissy Musi
There were no halls to deck. No Christmas tree to rock around. And Rudolf the red nosed reindeer, I couldn't even begin to explain. Last year at easter I told my Swazi family that in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, American children believe that a rabbit comes at night and leaves them baskets full of colorful eggs and candy. You should have seen the looks of confusion which were followed by a roar of laughter. I was joking, right?
Most Swazis celebrate Christmas, but along with pretty much everything else, it's a little different than it is in America. This year my Christmas started with the roosters crowing at 6am. I baked an apple pie and a chocolate cake. Who knows when my family woke up because they had an enormous meal prepared at 10am. Rice, porridge, chicken, goat, potatoes, beets, and soup followed by dessert which included my creations plus swazi pudding and fresh peaches. What a way to start the day. Then we took the dogs into the mountains to hunt rabbits. I'm not joking. We carried big sticks to beat the snakes with. Fortunately we didnt have to use the sticks, but unfortunately we came back empty handed. Maybe all the rabbits were down in their holes getting ready for Easter. After the hunt we watched the local boys play a game in a big soccer tournament which they won, then we came home, ate more, watched the men get drunk, sang and danced a bit, and wished each other a Kissy Musi (Merry Christmas in SiSwati) and called it a night.
Besides the Christmas songs blaring all day on the radio it was unlike any Christmas I'd ever had. And yet, I have to say my heart felt more full than Santa's endless bag. I spoke with my whole American family on the phone throughout the day including my Grandmother. I felt I had the best of both worlds and before I blew out my candle that night, I thought to myself, who could ask for anything more?
|Thursday, December 28th, 2006|
As they rolled me into the operating room the surgeon asked, "Have you ever been to the theater?" Was he trying to make small talk? "Well yes, actually I was a theater major." He laughed. The theater he was referring to was the O.R. "No, it's my first time." And I was terrified. The anesthesiologist explained to me what was going to happen. He looked like and sounded like James Earl Jones. He put the gas mask over my nose and mouth and in what seemed like a heart beat I was awake again and they were rolling me back out.I started crying and saying over and over, "I'm paralyzed, What happened?, Am I ok?, I can't move, I'm paralyzed" Then I was out again and the next thing I remember I was back in the hospital bed. I opened my blurry eyes to flowers and the Peace Corps Medical Officer who assured me that no, I wasn't paralyzed and yes, the doctor had successfully removed my amoeba infested appendix. And just to clear up the rumors, so far as I know, a machete was NOT used to make the incision. I would live to see another day.
But you see, I was lucky. Peace Corps paid for me to have the surgery done at a private clinic which is up to par with most western medical facilities. On the other hand, 99% of Swazis couldn't have afforded it and would have had to go to the government hospital which looks like something out of a Stanley Kubrick film. The water supply runs out ona regular basis, there are mice and rats. The ceiling leaks and the paint is peeling off the walls. There is no privacy and you can hear the echoes of wails and cries. It is truly awful.
In fact I was talking to the cleaning lady at the place I was recovering. She said that her daughters appendix had to be taken out at the government hospital and she didn't survive. Everyone in my community was really worried about me because they assumed I was there, and too many of them have had a relative or friend die in that dismal place.
So. What? Was I lucky? Privileged? Certainly I was thankful. Maybe money can't buy happiness, but for the first time I wondered, could it buy life?
Once again it was brought to my attention that as a westerner our standards of living (and dying) are so different from people here. The average life expectancy in Swaziland is 32 years. 32 years. Part of being a volunteer is putting yourself in Swazi shoes, in poverty's shoes. But maybe it's more like simulated space travel, you get a feeling of what it's like without running the risk of exploding into a million tiny pieces. The truth is, if we were really living as Swazis, half of us would be dead.
The past few weeks have surprisingly been the most enlightening of my time here. I lost a useless appendix and a few weeks from my village, but i've gained a new eye-opening perspective. I'm even thinking about applying to grad school in public health, which was a thought that hadn't even crossed my mind before I came here. But as for now, I'm enjoying MY health and I'm so glad to be back at work. My gratitude for life and this experience are at an all time high as is my motivation. I have six months left until I move to New York City and I'm going to make the most of them. Africa is far from Broadway, but i guess now I can say I've been to the theater in Swaziland and it was quite an operation.
|Friday, October 27th, 2006|
|black and white
My job here is to teach about HIV and AIDS and i'm trying my best to do that, but i had no idea what else people in my community would expect from me.
I've been asked literally for the clothes of my back. I've been asked to build houses, churches, dams, bridges, libraries, classrooms, pay school fees, medical bills, buy cell phones, install cell phone towers, find jobs, build factories and bring electricity. There's practically not a day that goes by where i'm not asked for money, candy, magazines, something, everything.
I'm white. I'm an American. People here think I have suitcases full of money under my bed. I not only have shoes, I have 6 pairs. They think i have no problems of my own and can solve all of theirs.
When white settlers came to Africa, their intentions weren't that different from mine. They wanted to explore. Some liked this new life and stayed. I can imagine the surprise on both sides. "Look at these dark savages practically naked!" "Look at these white creatures and their big poofy dresses and funny hats!" And so colonization began. Up went the roads and schools and flushing toilets.
I asked a Swazi friend of mine the other day if she thought Swaziland was better before or after colonization and she replied, "well before the British came we didnt know we were poor."
Somehow one part of the world developed rapidly while another part remained the same and eventually these worlds collided. Is it pity that makes people want to give? Does it make us feel righteous and nobel? And the people on the recieving end tend to take what's free. ALthough people had lived here for thousands of years with out receiving handouts, including bags of processed maize and goodwill clothes, they have suddenly become dependent on these gifts. To me, it makes sense to help those who cannot help themselves. But to help those who are perfectly capable, is to do them a great disservice. If people are given money and food for free, why on earth would they want to figure out how to get these things for themselves?
I sometimes think it would have been better if everybody just stayed where they came from. But that wouldn't have been possible. Some people, including myself, can't help but to venture out. When does exploration become exploitation and why do we feel the need to pawn off our excess, preach our religion, and fix what others never thought to be broken?
Of course, like with so many issues, it's a catch 22. The people here want what they think I have; money, extravagance, gadgets and gizmos galore, and I want them to want what the DO have; resourcefulness, self-reliance, simplicity. However, because of charity, these qualities are slowly diminishing and people are becoming lazy and corrupt.
I suppose I can't blame people for the requests they make of me. Some tourists DO come to Africa and throw candy out of their car windows and watch thte barefoot children run after it, and feel like their generosity is making the world a better place. Is it rather turning Africa into a sort of zoo? 25 cents to feed the poor children of africa... line up here.
White people will continue to come to Africa just as I have. Volunteers, Christian missionaries, business men, UN envoys, all trying to help. And i just wonder what effect are we actually having.
Even though I didn't come here intending to give material things, it continues to be expected of me. And when a young girl comes to me crying after being kicked out of school because her sick mother cant afford the fees, I can't turn her away. For $150 I'll give her another year of education. I can spare it and it's important. But what will she do next year when I'm gone? And what do I do when word gets out and 10 more girls come knocking on my door? If you give a mouse a cookie. There are big questions that can make my head spin as I drift off to sleep, and there's never an answer. I'm just trying to soak it all up and be the best person I can be.
I came here to see what life was like, and slowly I'm finding out. In Africa, it's black and white.
|Friday, October 20th, 2006|
An American chirstian group "Dream for Africa" had just come to the high school I teach at, preaching abstinence until marriage, which truly is the best way to protect yourself from HIV here. After they left, I gave my students a survey in which 70% admitted to being sexually active. So much for abstinence.
The next day I brought in 100 condoms and 2 model penises. After teaching them all the proper way to put on a condom, i divided the class into 2 teams and they raced against each other with every person having to put one on the model and take it off. Everyone was cheering and laughing and we didnt hear the knock on the door.
The headmaster entered a classroom littered with "used" condoms, 50 screaming teenagers, and me, their teacher. Apparently we were disturbing the other classes. He refused my offer to join in the race, but after reviewing the surveys agreed that teaching them about SAFE sex was important He even asked me to teach the "lesson" for the other grades, as long as we promised to keep the noise down next time. oh, what a job i have...
|Friday, September 15th, 2006|
|my newspaper article
A couple weeks ago I sent this article I wrote to the Times of Swaziland national newspaper and they printed it. Here are some of my views on the problems here.
BREAKING THROUGH SILENCE AND FEAR
Thoughts on facing HIV/AIDS in Swaziland
Every weekend we are attending funerals. Many of the funerals are for young men, women, and children rather than gogos and mukhulus. If the question of the cause of death is asked, the reply is usually, “a long illness”, “T.B.”, “A problem with the stomach”, or other such things. However, more often times than not, the cause of death is AIDS.
The experts sometimes speak of the “factors that fuel the pandemic”. Often we hear the blame being put on polygamy, multiple sex partners, and unprotected sex. Although these are certainly factors in the rapid spread of HIV, I believe there are two others, which if addressed could begin to turn this train around. They are silence and fear.
If HIV was spread by eating ligusha (a traditional swazi food), the problem would be easily solved. People are not afraid to talk about eating ligusha. We could simply stop eating ligusha. If only the answer was so simple.
The truth is, as we all know, that HIV is usually contracted through sex. And sex is nothing like eating ligusha. Sex is an intimate and private act and it’s not something we like to talk about. But these days, sex can kill. You usually can’t see HIV by looking at somebody, so we need to start speaking up.
“We need to use a condom.”
“Have you been tested?”
“I’m abstaining till marriage.”
“Are you sleeping with anybody else?”
“I have the right to protect myself.”
These words aren’t easy to say, but they can save lives.
I’ve asked people before why they won’t test for HIV and the most common answer has been, “I’m afraid.” Of course it is frightening to find out if you have HIV, but it is a fear that simply must be faced. One thing is for certain, if a person is living with HIV in Swaziland, they are not alone. According to the latest study, 42.6% of pregnant mothers tested positive. If so many are infected, why should we be ashamed? I believe that facing the fear of testing is extremely important. The choices we make that only affect us are our business, however if one chooses not to test and continue to have unprotected sex, I feel it is no different than putting a gun to somebody’s head and pulling the trigger without knowing if it is loaded or not. We must take responsibility not only for our own lives, but for each others. People are afraid to test because they don’t want to hear a death sentence. But these days, ARVs are available which can keep you immune system healthy and strong for far longer than without. However if you don’t test, you will not have access to these drugs.
We all know by now that HIV/AIDS is a terrible problem which is devastating this country and the people we love. There is no cure, but we do know how to prevent it and manage it , and it is our duty to do exactly that. We MUST find the courage to speak out about HIV/AIDS. The problem is not going to go away on its own. If we carry on the way we have been, we will have ten funerals to go to every weekend instead of two or three. We shouldn’t be burying our children, our husbands, our wives, and our friends. The only way the AIDS statistics will begin to fall is if people stop ignoring and avoiding the issue. Let’s open up our mouths and speak the truth. Let’s open our hearts and listen with compassion and understanding. We simply can’t wait any longer. The time has come to squelch the fear and break the silence.
SPEAK UP BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.
By: Molly Pacenta, PCV
|Afterhours in Swaziland
You read the headlines: AIDS, Suffering, Death, and Disease. But when you come out to my village, that isn't what you see. They keep AIDS hidden in dark mud hut and go on with the rest of their lives. The truth of the matter is, AIDS or not, Swazis know how to party! A good Swazi shindig isn't complete without the following:
1. Cow Slaughter.
Let me tell you, you haven't tasted fresh meat until you've watched it die. Vegetarians be wary. They spear the cow in the back of the neck immediately causing it to fall. Then first thing's first, they cut of the private parts of the bull and hang them ceremoniously on the fence. Next they slice the throat and drain the blood. Then they skin it, cut off its legs, remove the waste from the stomach, and methodically dissect the rest. It's a family affair and everybody gets involved, including Peace Corps volunteers. Can I put cow skinning on my resume? Nothing goes to waste. The men even drink brain stew because they think it will make them smarter.
I'm not sure where it comes from or how they make it, but they drink it out of a clay pot, and it gets the job done. It certainly isn't kegs of natural light, but there's always plenty to go around.
3. The Night Vigil
A swazi favorite, whether it is a funeral or a clensing ceremony, you will be singing and dancing all night. And everybody is invited. 80 year old women and 5 year old children are wide awake at 3am when I am struggling to keep my eyes open. They build a giant tent and you sit in the hay and a fire is burning outside all night in case you want to warm up. It's an incredible experience to push beyond exhaustion. At Ohio University, I'll admit I stayed up a time or two to watch the sunrise, but here it's a whole different story. For one, "the bars" aren't involved and for another, it's in honor and respect of somebodies life or death. And it's the spirit that moves you. I've been brought to tears by the strength and resilience of these beautiful people who have become my friends and inspiration, who sing and dance and praise the night away under the african sky. I hope I never forget their songs.
It's funny, you would think that spending two years living in the heart of the AIDS pandemic, I would walk away with a heavy burden of grief, sadness and loss, and in some ways that will be true. Lives here are cut too short. But I think the people I've met here, even the sick, are more alive than many health Americans. Their lives, by our standards, are hard, their feet are dirty, and their clothes are torn, but their spirits are perfectly in tact. After I return, when I close my eyes, I think what I will see are the bright white smiles, not the tears. ANd as I drift off to sleep, I will know that on the other side of the world, my Swazi friends are staying up all night and going strong. In the face of adversity, we can triumph. ANd even through grief we can sing and dance. We not only can, but we should. We should never stop celebrating life, even after death. Party on Swaziland.
|Saturday, June 3rd, 2006|
I’ve got a list of things I want to accomplish in my life. Coming to Africa was on there and so was painting a mural. I figured rural Swaziland would be a perfect place to attempt painting a gigantic picture on the outside of a public building. Swazis are very forgiving people.
When I was showing the headmaster my design, he looked at me and asked, “So you’re a professional, right? You’ve done this before?” “Um,” I replied, “Yes”. And so my painting would begin.
People in my community were finally getting used to me and I was beginning to feel like one of the gang… until I started hauling cans of paint, a ladder. A level, and brushes down to the school. What is that crazy white girl doing now? Women here don’t paint! And a white woman… now who ever heard of such an absurd idea?!
I had no clue what I was doing, but I put my acting skills to work as I pretended to be “Sibongile, the professional mural painter” while the headmaster watched curiously from his office. It was nerve-racking because a mistake with house paint can be difficult to cover up. But I was extra careful to draw everything in chalk first and put the level to work on my straight lines.
When the kids came out for recess they looked at me up on that ladder in my pink skirt like they had just seen Santa Clause and his team of magical reindeer. They literally sat down on the ground and watched me instead of playing tag like usual. Now I really did feel like I was performing, in front of a very attentive audience. Actually, now that I think about it, I hope that they weren’t looking up my skirt…
And the journey home from a day of painting, was a whole different spectacle. I felt like a float in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Me, a giant balloon towering over all of these tiny little school kids marching home in their tiny little school uniforms, singing songs, carrying my bags, and all of us smiling the whole way home.
So after I complete this mural, I’ll have to see what’s next on my list of things I want to do in life. I think it might be scuba diving down to a sunken ship, which I just may be able to do before I return home. I’ll just have to look into it and see.
|Wednesday, May 31st, 2006|
I was walking home from a meeting when my neighbor stopped me to tell me that Thandazile was in the hospital and she was very very sick. It was tuesday and I couldn't make it to the hospital until thursday. Although I've known how sick she is and that an untimely death was inevitable, I found myself profoundly sad and worried. I had so little knowledge on her condition and didn't know if she would be alive by the time I made it to the hospital. so I guess in a way i was already starting to grieve her... not only thandazile, but also the millions of other people and children dying from this horrible disease which could have been prevented.
Usually when I am sad or upset about something, it makes me feel better to talk about it with somebody i trust, get it out of my system. But nobody on my homestead was around and I had no way to contact anyone from america because my "pay as you go" cell phone was out of minutes. I don't think I had ever felt so pitifully and helplessly alone. I didn't even have a t.v. to distract me. If you remember the poem I posted on her a while back, "if you found me torn and tattered tangled tumbled to the ground," well that was me that night.
I may be emotional, but i'm also tough. I knew that night would pass, the sun would rise, and no matter what happened, I would keep moving forward.
When I finally made it to the hospital, I was relieved to find Thandazile still alive. But she was terribly weak, all kinds of IVs feeding into her tiny veins. But she smiled and we talked and I gave her my stuffed bunny that I brought from America and she told me she was going to get better. That weekend I had plans to go to Mozambique with friends and by the time I returned, she was doing so much better. You can't imagine how happy I was. She was up walking around and laughing and we got her entire ward (at least those who could get out of bed) to play in a heated uno tournament. I can gaurantee I will remember that afternoon for the rest of my life. It was surprisingly one of my most joyful times in Swaziland. ALl of those sick kids, some of their parents, and I sitting around a table in a broken down hospital in Africa, playing cards, forgetting for a few suspended moments all of the suffering and sadness in the world.
I've been back to the hospital a couple times since then. I was finally able to get Thandazile's mother to speak with me and a nurse about HIV. She retested, this time with her mom present, and has finally started on ARVs Hopefully they will make her immune system a little stronger. Here, they call the white blood cells ema"soldiers" and she needs all the help she can get.
Thandazile fights on.
|Friday, May 5th, 2006|
|workshops and whichcraft
I set the date a month in advance. I walked miles to put up signs at all the shops surrounding my community. I spent a week making charts and graphs and posters and info packets and aids pins for everybody. I worked with a swazi counterpart who would be my interperter, to ensure that she understood the information and could translate it properly to siswati. I bought food to feed 50 people. I woke up extra early to get ready and walked with my giant bags full of food and materials to the meeting place.
And I found out the workshop would have to be cabcelled.
The chief decided at the last minute to hold a trial that day for a man convicted of witchcraft. Supposidly late one night he was caught dancing over somebodies tombstone singing chants and casting spells. So over 100 of the village's youth gathered the next night and attacked him at his own house sending him to the hospital for 3 days. The youth will rally to beat up and old witch doctor, but they wouldn't dream of getting together to do something meaningful or worthwhile. awesome. Anyhow, the trial would involve all of these boys and their families leaving them unable to attend my workshop.
After hearing the news, I lugged my enormous bags home and decided with my counterpart that I will try to hold my workshops on sundays instead. I will present at a different church every week where I am sure to have an audience, and teach them after the service. Because it's "God's day" maybe I'll have Him on my side and I won't have to compete witchcraft trials. But I can definately see why they make this service 2 years... it just might take me that long to do what I came here to do... but I'll do it.
|Thursday, April 13th, 2006|
Africa has been full of firsts for me. First time leaving the continent. First time slaughtering my own dinner. First time peeing in a bucket. First time climbing a volcano. And first time digging a garden... a trash garden.
Yeah, you heard me... a trash garden. A couple weeks ago I attended a 4 day gardening workshop. They taught a technique called trench gardening. You dig 3 foot deep trenches and fill them with animal bones (for calcium), tin cans (for iron), dead grass and cornstalks (for water retention), and chicken sh*t (for fertilization). It's hard work, but supposedly the veges look and taste a lot better and are also more nutritious due to the vitamin enriched soil. We also learned organic pest control, fence building, seed bed construction, crop rotation, and garden maintenance.
I had never done any kind of gardening before and found it wonderfully satisfying. It's got the stress relief of kickboxing and the serene mindfulness of yoga. And who knew that swingin a hoe would be such a great upper body workout?
I'm going to introduce the technique with the agriculture teacher at the primary school and have already provided them with seeds. As for the homesteads in my community, water is too scarce for most people to have a garden. But if the water project is ever completed, I would love to hold a workshop in my village. The nutrients in fresh green vegetables are invaluable, especially for people whose diets are comprised almost completely of porridge... and even more importantly for people with compromised immune systems.
So we'll just have to see if I'll be able to put my new green thumbs to work.
I didn't know if i would see her again.
So you can imagine my relief when her aunt who still lives in my village tracked me down and told me she had gone to the hospital to get Thandazile's T.B. medication refilled and asked if i could bring it to her. I was given a phone number and found out where I could meet Thandazile and her mom.
The following day I took a khombi about an hour and a half and as I got off at the stop I had been told, they were waiting for me underneath an enormous tree. Even I was surprised at how happy I was to see Thandazile. She sprang up with a wonderful smile and i bent down to give her tiny delicate body a hug. She was wearing the colorful beaded necklace that we had made together in my room a few months back. She seemed healthier and happier than the last time I saw her. Even her mother who I envisioned as an evil heartless woman was quite friendly and in good spirits. Our meeting was short due to my limited siswati and their limited english, but I gave them the pills and Thandazile, all 13 years and 40 pounds of her, showed me how she had learned to write her name. I had started to teach her in the hospital waiting room back in January. She was as proud as if she had just graduated from college... and so was I. Her body is terribly weak, but her spirit is strong. SHE is a fighter.
I told them I would see them again in a month with the next refill and told them to stay well. I was a little more than surprised when Thandazile arrived at my door the following day.
I'm not sure why her mother sent her back, but I have a creeping suspicion that after seeing Thandazile and I interact, she felt like I would take care of her daughter. And although I was shamefully relieved to be rid of the responsibility, I was equally as relieved to have it back.
Thandazile lives a couple homesteads away, so I am in no way her primary caretaker. And I am realistic... I know the responsibility doesn't really belong to me and there is only so much I can and should do. But now that she is back in my village and her T.B. is getting better, we can hopefully, with the support of her homestead family, get her stared on ARVs and maybe build her immune system back up. And there is a new product called Nutra-vite that I can get her for free that is specially designed for malnourished and HIV positive children.
But probably the best thing you can give a dying kid is care, attention, laughter and love. And I've got plenty of that to spare.
|Friday, March 24th, 2006|
I wrote an entry a while back about how wonderful and strong the Swazi women that I have come to know are... now lemme tell you about the men.
Now don't get me wrong, many of them are respectful, intelligent, and good company, but most are absolutely disrespectful, rude and obnoxious.
They call it "proposing love"... I would call it soemthing different. As a woman, you can't go anywhere with out dealing with a myriad of drunks, old men, and annoying young boys asking to be your husband. It sounds flattering, but it's not... at all. And being white can sometimes make us an especially enticing target. You see, because we are from America, they think we're rich and will build them a mansion and buy them a BMW. On my Peace COrps stipend? They'd be lucky to get a value meal from KFC outta me! We've all had to figure out different ways of dealing with this inevitable problem. Some volunteers ignore it, some lecture them on women's right, and some just pelt them with obscenities. I find that if I tell them they are ugly in Siswati (umubi) theor friends start laughing and tehy blush and leave me alone. But the other day I stumbled upon a new technique which seems to be quite effective.
I was on my longest training run, somewhere between 24-26 miles. I felt pretty good for the first part, but halfway through I began developing some nasty and painful stomach problems. I had to walk for the last 3 miles or so. Somewhere around mile 22 I was in a lot of pain. My body was exhausted and something in my stomach was definately doing backflips. In the peak of my, should I venture to say agony? some gross babe asked me to be his 4th wife... and I mean he CURRENTLY has 3. The thought was so repulsive and I was alreadt feeling so sick, that instead of shouthing "Umubi!" I bent over and threw up as he was waiting for my reply. I think he got the hint.
4th Wife? I don't think so!
|Saturday, March 18th, 2006|
I went to pick up Thandazile to take her to the hospital for a check up and to refill her medication but she wasn't home. As it turns out, her mother who had been m.i.a. since I arrived in Swaziland reappeared and took Thandazile back to whatever part of the country she had been living in.
I went back to my hut and compiled some information about Thandazile's treatment including info on the importance of adherance and translated it to siswati. I explained to Thandazile's Gogo that she needed to get the information to Thandazile's mother asap and that it really meant life or death. Gogo agreed and I left.
It's been almost a month and Thandazile hasn't returned. I don't know if her mom ever recieved the information or if she is even caring for Thandazile. Part of me is very sad to think of what might be happening and I wonder if I did the right thing. Maybe I never should have taken her to the hospital in the first place. Maybe I should have found her mother and talked to her myself. But part of me is happy that at least she IS with her mom. I hope she feels loved and wanted. And I'm ashamed to admit that i'm a little relieved that the responsibilty is no longer on my shoulders. The responsibility of a dying child is quite a weight to carry.
It's out of my control now and all I can do is pray for Thandazile and the millions of others... for peace... for love... and for a cure to this devastating heartbreaking disease.
|Thursday, March 9th, 2006|
|Will Gets His Wallet Stollen
One fo my favorite fellow volunteers, WILL, got his wallet stollen. We're gunna start a club. But his story is way more exciting than mine was. It made me laugh so I thought some of you might enjoy it. (Don't show this one to grandma!)
Quoting William Trese, PCV
This past weekend I killed my free weekend visiting Chantal in Pretoria. It was a great weekend, but my problem was that I left Pretoria.
I had wanted to find transport from Pretoria to Mbabane, but there wasn't any. After being bounced around from bus rank to bus rank, I was told that I needed to get a kombi at the Jo'burg bus rank. So here I am trying to find the right kombi to take me back to the Land of Swaz, when some jerks decide they're going to assault me and take my wallet.
One thing led to another and here's yours truly being strangled by one fine fellow while the other decides that he can't get into my back pocket fast enough and efficient enough, so what does he do? Rips my jeans... almost down to the crook of my knee.
But I showed them. Oh, you bet I did! For once in my life smoking, I thought, paid off for me. While screaming "Help! Help me!" under the last few precious breadths I had, my little black lungs decided that they wanted some air (or another drag of my cigarette, I'm not really sure). Me being fairly weak, I knew I was not going to be able to get Thuggy McThuggerson's arm from around my neck, so I burned him. Ouch! Thuggy only let up temporally for me to belt out a few more good "HELP!"s. Then he tightened his grip again. Jerk! Does he know how expensive cigarettes are!?!
But by this time Robby McRipstheirpants had finished up and it was time for them to go shopping which sometimes is cathartic, I know. Epically after being burned. Those for whom we had preformed, an audience of about 20-30, didn't even clap after wards. People, I'll tell ya! It's not like they had to pay for this, the least I could have gotten was around of applause.
Feeling pretty low and a bit shaky from my brief encounter, I decide, I should try to get back to Swaziland. I walk into the bus rank with my rear end a-hangin' out and, whoo boy!, good thing I had underwear on that day, because there were people getting another free show (no one applauded for this one either).
As luck would have it, I ran out of air time to try to call Peace Corps, but good thing I got a text through and our Medical Officer. Like a speeding carrot, she called our Safety and Security man to get in touch with me. There was a friendly man who spoke to Mfanafhuti and arranged for me to get back to Swaziland on a full kombi. Lucky for me, he had a stool. It was about 6"x6" and metal; I haven't used something that comfortable since I had to use toilet paper for a pillow in July! Good thing the trip was only three hours long.
Mfanafhuti met me at the boarder and paid the driver for my pleasant ride back to Swaziland. I thanked those in the kombi who were oh so kind to me. I gave a granny back the 20 Rand that she gave me, thanked the woman who offered to get me spring water or bread and gave a hearty handshake to the man that offered me a full-sized pillow (why he had a pillow of this magnitude is beyond me!) to use on top of my stool.
I realized a few things after this incident:
1) put my money in my underwear (unless I wear my ripped jeans)
2) smoking can be helpful to your health
3) bring more pants when traveling
4) I should have been stabbed, being burnt with a cigarette hurts!
5) put funny substances in your wallet that will make people regret taking it (scabs, dirty tampons, samples of syphilis, erotic photos of extremely fat people, bloody razor blades, foreign worthless currency, etc.)
6) people buy you drinks after a traumatic experience. (mental note: make t-shirt that says, "steal my wallet, I'm thirsty!")
7) people still largely suck
I'm more interesting now.
PS: if anyone has decent tips on applying to grad school for MSW, let me know."
|Tuesday, February 14th, 2006|
Today the khombi broke down. No suprise there. But the way the drivers manage to temporarily fix the problem time and time again will never cease to amaze me. Today after the breakdown, the driver (my favorite, Babe Jele who saved deriks life after he was sprayed in the eyes by the cobra and who always wears a fantastic straw cowboy hat) consulted with some other babes on the khombi, tinkered with a few things, then they manually turned the khombi backwards, jump started it as it rolled down the hill, and we continued to drive two miles into town... in reverse. hmmmmmmmm.
|Thursday, February 2nd, 2006|
|by Justine Spisak
My friend, Justine wrote this in her journal during our training. She read it to me and I thought it was honest and beautiful. I sent it to a few of you in letters, and with her permission I'm posting it on here. Enjoy.
"...the rest was blackness and stars magically suspended and I thought about how everything is actually the same, but it takes on a certain surreality when you tack on that tiny prepositional phrase... "in Africa". I am looking at the sky... in Africa. I am sitting by a fire... in Africa. I am drawing faces with a family... in Africa. And although what I do is so deep and heavy bland... there is a sweeping entirely consuming grandiosity to these things. And the stripped down bareness of it all makes my heart skip and my mind race. But now the skipping and racing only take my body as far as tomorrow. There is nowhere to go but the homestead next door."