Saturday, September 4, 2010
After 2 ½ days in mBabane, the 35 of us of Group 8 were dispersed about the kingdom to our permanent sites. PC regulations prevent me from saying exactly where we are so I feel quite restricted and unable to describe some of the character of our new location. However, I’ll describe our new home.
We’ve really lucked out this time. I have been placed in a school for special needs kids, so we will be living in teachers’ quarters. We have 500 square feet including two bedrooms, sitting room, kitchen, and bathroom with running hot water (shower) and an inside flush toilet. With a little more space, this would be palatial. For comparison, none of our surrounding PCVs have running water and our nearest PCV couple lacks both running water and electricity. We expect we’ll be seeing lots of company so they all can get a good shower.
We are located in the Lubombo district not far from Mozambique. North of us, in the mid-veld, lie acres and acres (make that hectares and hectares) of sugar cane fields. We are on a higher plateau and south of us leads down to low-veld where the summer temperatures are the hottest. Sugar is the leading crop here—forestry is second. (Forestry was found south of Piggs Peak. North of Piggs Peak, where we trained in our beautiful valley, we were in the midst of orange groves.)
Now for the negatives: Our place has been vacant for a while so we have spent a full week cleaning it up. Within the next week we will paint all of the walls and ceilings. It took us nearly a week to get the electricity turned on (I ultimately had to attach a passport photo to the application) but we still don’t have hot water--but then, summer is coming. We will send photos when it is presentable enough. When finished, it will look like the first apartment after college, or if Debbie gets her way and is able to get the school to let her throw out some very used furniture and buy a little new, perhaps a step up.
We are between terms right now, so the campus is very quiet. The next term is from Sep 8 to Dec 10. I am literally a few steps away from my assignment. Debbie has many NGOs w/in the community (downtown is only a 20 minute walk away) and has another opportunity 20 minutes in the other direction. One of her first assignments will be identifying the multiple NGOs to determine what they do and how they overlap, if at all. But for now, we are in a period of integration when we are to determine the character of our community and we won’t be working on any assignments (although we’re told we represent PC 24/7).
At the end of training, we took our ‘finals’, said good-bye to our host families and moved back to the Lutheran Farmer Training Center for logistical reasons. After intense training, we found a little slack time while preparing for our permanent move, for the first time in—we couldn’t remember. I ran.
On September 23, we were bused to a public hall in Piggs Peak for our swearing in ceremony. I wore a tie and sport coat for the one occasion PC said I would need them for during our 27 months. There were chiefs, ministers, PC staff, Presidents of organizations, the U.S. Ambassador to SD, and the Prime Minister of Swaziland, and the press. The ceremony began when the Prime Minister arrived.
The President of NERCHA spoke. A couple of days earlier, a Prince had denied all modern methods of controlling HIV and said bathing is the answer. In Dr. von Wissell’s speech, he said, “If you don’t know about modern science, you should not say anything”. The Times of Swaziland quoted him under a banner headline saying “SHUT UP”, and then left out the word ‘not’, turning the meaning of the sentence totally 180 degrees.
The Ambassador and the Prime Minister each spoke (the Prime Minister in siSwati and then again doing his own translation into English). The Prime Minister had two uniformed assistants attending him. One served as a guard in military uniform, the other had a few additional ornaments in his uniform and it was his job to pull the P.M.’s chair out from behind when he stood, and place his notes on the lecturn, etc. Every time he assisted in this manner, he would step back and give a snappy Monty Python-type salute. The oath was administered by Ambassador Irving, we got our certificates and shook hands with each, and posed for pictures which were printed in the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer (p.4).
The next day, we were bused to mBabane in order to familiarize ourselves with the PC office and staff and a chance to do some shopping in the big city. Bonus: We saw the bright lights of the big city, were allowed to go out after dark, and even went out on the town to celebrate our “passage”.
A couple of weeks after training began, the Peace Corps drove us into Piggs Peak so we could replenish our provisions, and then drove us home. The census being the same both before and after, they announced that, in the future, we would be allowed to venture out on our own, as long as we went no farther than Piggs Peak to the South and never turn North out of the training center driveway. (This is the PeaceCorps: We are reminded to bathe, eat our veggies, and act nice in public. Many of us do.) Thence began our intimate knowledge of the Khumbi.
The Khumbi is simply a van or mini-bus used by everyone for public transportation, privately owned. We soon became adept at using them in our limited area. A ride to the training center was about ten minutes and cost E4; to Piggs Peak, 30-45 minutes, E13. The driver collected the fare after stopping for us to exit. We even got used to having everyone chuckle at our SiSwati when we called for our stop. (Our LCF insists that it is because they are surprised and pleased at our pronunciation, but it never fails to bring a smile. For us, we call out, “’stash’ eMpompini”.) The difficult part was learning the Swazi culture or etiquette of riding. Swazis have a very limited idea of personal space. In a check-out line, this means that if you leave enough space to hold your groceries between you and the person ahead of you, someone will jump into line there wondering why you’re dallying. In a Khumbi, it means that a vehicle designed to hold 14 will haul 19, or perhaps 14 plus a couple of 200 kg bags of rice and a couple of cages of chickens (which boMake are bringing home from market and have been carrying on their heads). And the consistency in all khumbis is the music! It is limited to two genres, gospel or rap, (both in SiSwati), and it comes to you at full volume. This is assured by placing a speaker above each row of seats.
There you have the basics. Jump ahead to the end of our OJT experience. The two of us and two other trainees who will be our neighbors got up early to get the first Khumbi out of Siteki. The one hour ride to Manzini was tolerable because I inserted ear plugs—deep. The bus ranks in Manzini resemble a bazaar except made up of hundreds of khumbis and buses at all angles, and the spaces between them filled with mingling people, salesmen selling airtime, and variations of marketers. We found our transfer Khumbi and the four of us took the three seats in the row behind the driver holding our book bags and backpacks on our laps. The music was loud enough to sterilize the interior of the cabin so I inserted my earplugs—deeper. We were introduced to a new position in the Manzini ranks, a ‘loader’ who stood inches away from my seat and shouted unintelligible sounds in my ear every few seconds. I think he was announcing the destination, but his other duty seemed to be to fill any space not already occupied. He especially took pride in finding places under the seats and above the driver. I never determined the number of passengers because I was so packed in, I couldn’t turn my head. We sat, suffering, for so long that some passengers got off (requiring anybody seated in front of them to reposition), but they were immediately replaced by another. Meanwhile, the exhaust fumes were filling any otherwise unoccupied spaces. Finally, the driver appeared again and then another personage, the ‘conductor’, who had no place to sit, so he assumed a position in the door-well adjacent to my seat. His duty was to collect fares while en route, so he was constantly bumping me and rubbing various body parts against me in order to tend to his chores. Finally, the ‘loader’ closed the door causing the ‘conductor’ to squeeze into my space, and we inched our way out of the ranks, the populace slowly parting before us much as the Red Sea did before Moses. On occasion, the conductor would position himself so that I could see that the door had not sealed and road dirt was blowing in on me. I assume the sound waves from the speakers had burst the seals so the door never shut. The remainder of the body was held together by chewing gum and baling wire. The four of us rode without speaking for the full 98 minute ride because any utterances were swallowed by the sound system. Finally, we got to our transfer point in Buhleni, peeled out of our seats like taking sardines from the tin, swaggered to the Khumbi destined for Piggs Peak and took our seats for the remaining 35 minutes of our journey—along with a dozen other passengers. To get around Swaziland, add many passengers and repeat.
Never ask when the Khumbi is leaving. The Khumbi is leaving when it is full.
Our rondeval is a hexagon about 18’ across with three windows. One window looks at the jojo, the next looks past the khumbi shed (see below) “up the hill” toward our latrine. On the other side, the window looks down across the valley to the hills—where we’ve heard home brew is made.
It is furnished with a bed and a small table and one chair. Our gas hot plate sat on the table which left us with only a few inches of surface area. We immediately claimed the chair as our desk and borrowed a few cement blocks from our host to put our hot plate on. Now the table is our kitchen. Next to that we’ve put down two large garbage bags to put our clothes on. The bed is on a window-less wall, and then the door facing north (toward the sun). A single light bulb in the center means that any work you do is in your shadow.
Yes, we have the luxury of electricity. To use it, we have to disconnect our chest refrigerator so we can use the receptacle and match our appliances to the proper adaptor. We usually have three adaptors going while using any appliance so that they grow to about 17 cm high.
After the first week, our hosts called PC as we had nothing to sit on, and the next day there were two hard, plastic chairs for us the next day. It seems we rarely use the chairs because we are on our feet fetching and boiling our water, washing clothes, dishes, etc. When all is done, we usually fall into bed—not to sleep, but to keep warm while studying.
The nights are dark and quiet for the most part, punctuated at random, unexpected times by a raucous rooster crow. At sunrise, we hear the murmurs of hens surrounding our rondeval and then a rooster will pierce our morning somnolence. Next, in sequence, are the two khumbis (owned by our host) that start up inches away from our window. After startup, they turn on the music LOUD while they clean out the previous day’s dirt. We’ve still been reluctant to get up because the overnight temperature has fallen into the 40s on occasion, in our room. Then we start another day by heating water for our morning ablutions, and another day begins unfolding.
Our host family is most gracious. They have four boys and are hard working people who laugh easily. Make (mother) knows less SiSwati than her husband and two older boys. She makes up for it with her ability to pantomime. She would be a great charade partner. The two younger boys (6 and 3) have very few toys but are happy and occupy themselves easily. The other day we joined them pushing old tires around the yard. We couldn’t keep up! Gary has taught them how to play with a Frisbee that we will leave with them.
(How many PCV blogs have started this way?)
PreService Training finds us 22 km north of Piggs Peak (check your map) in a village known as eMbosheni. Our first week was at Lutheran Farmers Training Center at nGonini and we continue to meet as a whole there. Otherwise we break into several small groups in our community for language study. We are in a valley of orange groves with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Our group is spread around the community in a large area, but our homestead is the nearest to the training center, about 5 km. Perhaps we were placed here because age has some privileges. Walking to class takes about 50 minutes; walking home is uphill and in the heat of the afternoon takes about 65 minutes. There is a “one stop” grocer on the way so occasionally we make the trek with grocery bags. And occasionally we will flag a khumbi for a ride (E8.00).
We celebrated the 4th of July at the center with mid-day finger food and two large decorated cakes prefaced by an address by the U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland
After our first week at the training center, we moved to our own rondeval on our host family’s homestead. It is typical Swazi: six sided, about 20 feet across, gas burning hotplate, three windows, but no closet or anything to hang our clothes on. The latrine is about 20’ away and the jojo is about 20’. We get our water from the jojo and boil it for most purposes and filter and bleach it for drinking and food prep. It takes a lot of time and energy just managing the water. (And how many of you have done your wash by hand?) After a full day of classes we come home and need to start boiling water. We are lucky to have electricity—a few don’t. (Another advantage of our age?) We have one 75 watt bulb hanging from the center of the room and a chest refrigerator. To use my razor or charge the computer, we disconnect the refrigerator and change adapters—then try to remember to plug in the refrigerator again with its proper adapter. At times, it has been hard, but we’re learning to live with it. Our host family has been very gracious. Plentiful hot, running water to wash our hands is coveted.
One of our continuing concerns is waking up to a cold room. It is winter here and during a cold front, one morning we woke up to 43 degrees F in our room. Lesson learned: we take our bucket baths in the evening. Most days, the temperature rises into the mid 70s and the big sky is cloudless and deep blue—CAVU.
We have just finished “mid-terms” and that is a great weight off our shoulders. The language is very complex and probably the subject of a blog of its own. Learning it is difficult enough, but the presentation is as drinking from a fire hose. On meeting our host Make (maw-gay), I wanted to enquire how many children she had and used the word malini, exhibiting my best siSwati. I couldn’t understand why I got a blank stare until our LCF explained that malini is only used for money. Apparently I had asked how much her children cost. Blame it on the language, but probably not quite culturally correct either.
With “mid-terms” out of the way, we will take a quick break on Sunday when we will go to visit a game reserve (and hope to find American food and hot running water). Later in the week, we expect to learn of our permanent site placement and address, and we’ll also be getting our cell ‘phones. Once we are at permanent site, blogging will be simpler (I hope). We’ll bring you up to date at that time.