Friday, February 24, 2012

Posts that didn't get written

siSwati: How difficult can it be? English spoken here—softly. God is listening—with difficulty.

Culture shock one: Breasts are for nursing. When nature calls, step to the side of the path.

Culture shock two: African People Time. Do Africans not wear watches because they are on African Time, or are they on African Time because they don’t wear watches?

The news from Swaziland: Two terrible tabloids telling tall tales and teasing trash.

Crime and corruption: It’s the economy, stupid. “That’s how it is”.

The rights of Swazi citizens: Non-existent

Group 8:
38 of us “stage” in Atlanta; one leaves the next day. One leaves after two weeks of PST. Nine of us are ‘seniors’ of which six are RPCVs (7% of PC 50<). One (RPCV senior) is AD’d after PST; another (RPCV senior) leaves shortly (ET or AD?) Two girls are given ADs (the ‘Delta award’) and we ET. And Howard (another‘senior’) ETs to marry his Swazi sweetheart.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Occasionally I thought of hosting an “American” evening for our Swazi friends but, of course, it never happened because the resources (good meat, familiar dishes, condiments, sauces) were not available. In many respects, we were fish out of water, so we did our best at “learning to swim in Swaziland”. Arriving home, we were eager to tell of our adventures, but usually found our audience had a very short attention span when the subject was ‘eSwati’. Now, after a month back home, we are experiencing reverse culture awareness. Here are a few examples:

We can hear and we understand the spoken language. Early after our return, we had lunch at a Mexican restaurant and the waitress greeted us with, “Hola!” We were both speechless for a moment searching for the proper response, trying to avoid either ‘hello’ or ‘sawubona’. We have found that we do miss the friendly, smiling greeting of the Swazi. When we start a conversation with servers, with ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’, expecting a response elicits odd looks from them.

Things are simply ‘not quite right’. The seasons are reversed again and the sun has found its rightful course skirting the southern sky.

After first setting foot in America, I was impressed with the use of mirrors. Frequently, I can see my whole body reflected, rather than just my chin.

Shopping is over the top. Leaving a hard-found, little display of greeting cards in SD, we found a 75-foot aisle, brightly lighted, with cards on both sides in our local Safeway; the produce section is a gigantic work of art; and the selections are mind boggling. No Swazi could comprehend two adjacent shops, one specializing in black and white, the other in ‘just pink’. Getting all the ‘plastic’ back has been an experience; the Costco card, the Safeway card, the QFC card, the…… and then trying to remember how to use them is a challenge.

At home, we marvel at the washer/dryer, the dishwasher, and the microwave, each of them saving us hours. We now take for granted, hot, running water.

We’re still adjusting to the traffic, and we’ve noticed all those ‘senior citizens’ out and about. And one last thing; sorry, but the American is certainly a sloppy dresser

Highlights of our first year in Siteki
• Successful “nesting,” turning our apartment into home
• Becoming friends with the Swazi’s that we work with on a frequent basis
• Being accepted in our work place
• The library and map project at the school
• Providing a safe haven for other PCVs who need some “posh corps” time.
• Christmas giving/party at the Neighborhood Care Points
• Acceptance and love from the kids at the school, many of them becoming well known personalities to us
• Vacations in Cape Town and St. Lucia
• Ability to volunteer without being proficient in SiSwati
• Learning sign language
• SKYPING with loved ones at home, seeing Evelyn within 14 hours of her birth.
• Opportunity to learn a new culture and see our own culture from a different perspective
• Sharing our adventure with one another… and with our blog readers.

“ Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” Dr. Seuss

Before, after, and detail pictures of "the Map Project".

(Double click to enlarge.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Debbie wanted to be home by Aug 24 to prepare for Evelyn’s baptism on Aug 28. Initially, we planned to tell PC of our plans to ET on Aug 22, but we didn’t feel comfortable cutting it so close. In stages, the date was pushed back to the 15th, a Monday; then realizing that the 72 hour countdown was more effective over a weekend, she decided to make her call on Friday, Aug 12. Not knowing when the clock would begin ticking, she called late afternoon on Thursday, hoping to fly out on Monday.

Our driver promptly picked us up at 10 Friday morning, whisked us to Mbabane where we were given a fistful of paperwork to be completed, we saw our PCMO for a while and were taken to a dentist’s office for a complete checkup and then overnighted at a backpacker. We were able to complete an interview and do our homework and finalize banking (ridiculous red tape—Swazi style) over the weekend and even took the time to visit Swazi friends (Tim and Gloria) in their home. Monday, we ran the checklist including exit interviews and returning materials, then tripped over the only glitch in the process: Gary had to be driven all the way back to Siteki (in the rain) to close the account with the electric company (getting a signature) and return to Mbabane. Otherwise, everything was efficiently organized; the 72 hour countdown seems designed to accommodate the deposit of three poops.

Monday, we learned that Libby would be replacing us at the School for the Deaf and enjoyed a pleasant evening visiting with her.

Tuesday, we were driven to the airport with the load of baggage we brought fourteen months ago, gifts for America replacing items left in Swaziland for various reasons. While waiting in the lounge area, we observed the royal jet and surrounding area being secured and prepared for the presence of his royal highness. But after a circuit of the red carpet, he boarded his jet without even acknowledging us.

The flight to Jo-burg is 50 minutes; we had about five hours layover to eat, shop, exchange funds (only after securing a boarding pass) and go through security three times (and a fourth for me—penalty for looking shifty); the flight to Atlanta was fifteen hours, thirty-five minutes, but not too bad because we had bulkhead seats. We got to Atlanta at sunup and spent our first US$ at a Dunkin’Donut. After almost four hours on the ground (including customs), we flew five hours across the continent through cloudless skies to SeaTac where we were greeted by three of our kids and our newest granddaughter. It has been a whirlwind of activity ever since.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What I learned in Africa

This blog is being written by guest writer, Debbie, and is an attempt to explain why we are returning to the states before we have completed our two years of service. I am writing it because it is upon my request that we leave the PC after 14 months of volunteering.
So what have I learned in Africa?
1. The problems in Africa are multi-faceted and extremely complex. Now that I have experienced Africa it seems somewhat arrogant that I thought I could make a real difference, particularly with few resources. The easy stuff, the Swazis can do for themselves. Perhaps I picked the wrong organization to affiliate with given my personality and need “to do” something specific and concrete. Realistically, my help with quality improvement at the hospital, particularly the western model being pushed on the Swazis by the Government of Swaziland, is not very relevant. I have struggled with the enormity of the issues at the hospital and my inadequacy to provide meaningful solutions. What they need is a proper building, equipment, trained staff, ventilation in the TB wards, etc. The PC would not allow me to provide direct patient care as it is not “sustainable”. For reasons that I don’t understand myself, I have been unable to put aside the enormous sadness that I see in the hospital and be content with few, tiny successes.
2. I don’t believe the opportunity cost of being away from children, grand-children, family and friends is offset by what I can accomplish in Swaziland in another year. In this first year Chris has dealt with the fog of Alzheimer’s, Zoe changed from a toddler to a little girl, Rudy grew from a pre-schooler to a scholar (Lego engineer), Evelyn was born, and Leonard turned 80. Whatever next year will bring, I want to personally live the experience. We are also aware that nothing is guaranteed in life. We would like to think that we have many, many years to enjoy family, volunteer and travel, but if in fact our time is short, we want to spend it with the people that are dearest to us. I would like to think that I always knew the value of family and friends, but there is nothing like time away to make it very real.
3. I can volunteer in the states and at the same time experience my family and friends; a win/win. It may not be as dramatic but can be as helpful and rewarding. My experience in Africa has changed my priorities. AIDS in Africa and women’s inequality will be two areas that I will explore for volunteer opportunities. I am grateful to my African experience for helping me understand these issues better. It is my hope that I can provide more value to Swaziland from the states than I could “on the ground.”
I am very grateful for this last year. I have learned things I like about myself (I can adjust to a different culture and experience) and that I don’t like about myself (big problems that I have little control over paralyze me). I have learned things I like about Swaziland (the people, Swazi smiles, beautiful country) and I don’t like about Swaziland (corrupt government, ticks, “Africa time”). The School for the Deaf has been a great place to live with amenities few PCVs have, including the positive experience of having children all around us. Gary has received a lot of satisfaction being the school librarian, learning sign language (mostly from the kids), a map project, and working with the children on a one to one basis. I am grateful for being welcomed and becoming friends with the locals and being accepted as friends by fellow, much younger, PC volunteers. I am grateful for all the love and support from family and friends back in the states (great packages too!) that made this past year possible. Mostly I am grateful for my husband, who shared this experience with me and even though he can stay in Swaziland to finish his service, has chosen to return to the states with me. It has been one hell of an adventure!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Debbie’s Shopping Day In Siteki

Any trip to town here takes careful planning. So I start my day with a hot cup of tea and make a list of what I need that I can carry back home in a backpack plus a bag on each arm. I also want to plan my route so I am taking the shortest trip back with said groceries. So off I go to the electricity store first as it is the farthest away and my hands are empty. I get there and they can’t take my money because the electricity has gone out and the computer will not work—at the electricity store (note the irony here). Okay, next stop is the gas station on the other side of town to get some cash from the one ATM in Siteki that will take the PC debit card. The ATM gives me Emalangeni. I don’t want Emalangeni; the country is falling apart and there is talk about “de-coupling” the South African Rand from the Swaziland Emalangeni. For a year this machine has given out Rands as we live so close to the border. Okay, I will use this money first and keep what Rands I do have. On to the liquor store to get a wine that Gary asked me to purchase for company tomorrow. Out of stock. I call Gary to find out what he wants to substitute. The call will not go through and my cell phone tells me the call is “out of range.” The school is less than a 30 minute walk from where I am standing. Okay, I do my best and move on to the grocery store. I really want three things, lettuce, eggplant and chicken. You guessed it, they have none of these, unless you count the chicken that comes cut up into un-identifiable pieces and often has feathers stuck on it. Okay, I will cook something else and when I leave ShopRite I go behind the bus rank and buy lettuce from the Make vegetable market. I tried to buy eggplant, too, but couldn’t remember the Swazi name for eggplant. I gave up after seeing none and neither pantomime nor English worked. We got close as they wanted to sell me a butternut squash. I go back home the long way, with groceries, and I am in luck as the electricity company now has a working computer. I take this all in stride as it is the norm here. Flexibility has become my middle name. Did you ever believe you would see the day?

Sunday, July 31, 2011


We begin our tour in Mbabane with a view from the U.S. Ambassador's front porch. (Gloria's is about three blocks away.) 57% of the wealth of the nation is held by the richest 20% of the population (perhaps most of them named Dlamini). The king has personal wealth of about US$200 million and I recently heard (unsubstantiated) that tibiyo (the wealth of the kingdom from colonial days) is nearly E70 billion. The king controls tibiyo. Corruption drains away E80 million each and every month. The poorest 20% has 4% of the nations wealth.
Siteki is perhaps rather unusual because it is the administrative center for the Lubombo region so there is much government housing such as this. Minor officials and civil servants live in government housing; also teachers, but not as grand as this. We go by here every time we go into town. Siteki is now dark because the city couldn't afford to pay the electric bill for street lights.

A photo of our next door neighbors taken from our front door. Only 3% of the total population is over 65. The life span is shorter than 32 years.
Another example of the financial crisis here; the FDMA (an agency equivalent to the US FEMA) had a budget of E55 million two years ago; this year the budget is E14 million but they aren't sure they will be able to support that.

A homestead in the fertile Mahamba valley. 76% of the population is rural, 24% urban.

This is a homestead south of us in the Shizelweni region. An extended family will live here; rondavels for sleeping, a common 'kitchen'. 47% of the nation exhibit clinical malnutrition.

A stick and wattle in the lowveld. 70% of Swazis are subsistance farmers; 70% live below the poverty level.

A homestead in the lowveld. The traditional rondavel and updated block hut.

Traditional style, with thatched roof, but modernized by using 'concrete' block (which crumbles like sand), a beautiful front door (a door!), and note the satellite dish.

Gogo in front of her stick & wattle on Hannah's homestead.

This is Hannah's homestead--her rondavel is on the right without water or electricity. Do you understand why a visit to our palace is worth the trip in a khumbi?

Each of the king's 13 wives has her own palace as does the widows of Siphuza II, all widely scattered around the kingdom, and all enjoy amenities such as chauffeured cars and expense accounts--at public expense.

Inside our palace on a Friday night.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

from the July 30 The Economist

..THE government has run out of cash, and no one seems willing to lend it any without radical reforms which Mswati III, Swaziland’s king, seems loth even to consider. But the pressure is mounting. Civil servants, faced with wage cuts of 10%, are threatening to strike. Schools, deprived of state subsidies, may have to close. In a country with the world’s highest incidence of HIV/AIDS, clinics are running out of antiretroviral drugs for want of funds. Government suppliers, owed millions of dollars in arrears, have begun to demand cash on delivery, which the government cannot produce. The 43-year-old king has even cancelled this year’s celebrations to mark his 25 years on the throne.

This is the worst crisis that little Swaziland, locked into the north-east corner of South Africa, has suffered since independence from Britain in 1968. Most of its revenue comes from a regional customs union dominated by South Africa. But last year, thanks to an economic slowdown, this income, really a disguised subsidy, fell by almost two-thirds. As government spending usually accounts for nearly half of Swaziland’s GDP, this has clobbered the economy. Thousands of businesses went bust as the government slashed spending. Unemployment rose sharply, with some 40% of working-age people already without jobs. Of Swaziland’s 1.2m people, nearly three-quarters live on less than $2 a day.

Earlier this year the World Bank offered to help bail the country out—on condition of certain reforms. The government agreed to halve its budget deficit with tax rises and austerity measures, including public-sector job losses. As it has met almost none of these conditions, international loans have been withheld. Because it is not a democracy, Swaziland fails to qualify for budget aid from donors such as the European Union. So the king has had to go cap in hand to his rich neighbour, South Africa.

As a Zulu traditionalist and polygamist like the king, President Jacob Zuma might have been willing quietly to oblige. Moreover, he is formally engaged to one of Mswati’s nieces. But the pro-democracy uprising in the Arab world has increased the pressure on Mr Zuma, at home and abroad, to treat despots in his own part of the globe more sternly.

His own political future may even depend on it. In the run-up to next year’s conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), held every five years, when all the party’s leaders come up for re-election, he is anxious to keep on side such powerful critics as the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the ANC Youth League, both of which strongly support Swaziland’s pro-democracy movement.

Swazi opposition leaders, who see the economic crisis as a blessing in disguise, have begged Mr Zuma not to hand their embattled monarch any cash unless he promises sweeping democratic as well as fiscal reforms. At a meeting with the king in mid-July, he is understood to have laid down some minimal conditions, including a modicum of political reforms, in return for the $220m-300m Swaziland is believed to have requested. With his back to the wall, the king is pondering his options.