Sunday, March 27, 2011


The Mbabane bus ranks; sunset on our arrival home; PCVs comparing Teva tans (I'm right foreground).

The first goal of the Peace Corps is to help people of interested countries meet their needs for trained manpower…strengthen capacity, etc. So our meeting last week was with our counterparts working on project management, capacity building, and achieving sustainability. With my background in microbiology, I have often joked that the Peace Corps would probably use me to dig latrines. Last week, with my counterpart, I learned that Siteki has suffered from drought in the winter—not enough water to flush, so she gave highest priority to digging pit latrines on the campus. We’ll see if it remains a joke. Besides the drought, she thinks it would stop the kids from ‘watering’ the row of banana trees. (Doubtful: A day doesn’t go by that I don’t see at least one guy relieving himself by the side of the road when I go out for a run.) So I’ll now be researching the construction of pit latrines.

The other highlight of the conference was a guest speaker who presented for about two hours. She was a Swazi, woman attorney, who was dynamic, articulate, enthusiastic and not afraid to speak out and say things that we are not allowed to say. She was passionate when discussing women’s rights in Swaziland (they don’t have any), and constitutional law (usurped by tradition).

I hinted in my last post that we would feel some relief from the heat and humidity while in Mbabane. Not so. We saw the thermometer hit 36. Those of you with metric experience will remember that 37=98.6. One night, we experienced one of those Swazi storms when the thunder never abated and shook our innards. The next morning we awoke to a cloudless, blue sky, with the sun poised to broil us again.

So when the conference ended, we found a kombi to take us to Ezulwini valley (tourist alley) and treated ourselves to a movie and a good meal in air conditioning. Air conditioning is very rare here. The Gables is a somewhat American style shopping mall, so new that it isn’t fully occupied, and we found a four-screen cineplex with lights, speakers, screen and chairs similar to what you might find in an American suburb. I was assigned the most comfortable chair I have sat in for nine months, had a cup holder to put my drink in, and we watched The Tourist. –in air conditioning. For E56 for the two of us (the equivalent of about $4 each). (A reminder here that 70% of this country lives on less than $1/day.) It is a good movie and we appreciated watching it on a full screen, especially when compared to watching on our 14” laptop.

After the movie, we ate at a restaurant which seemed to have been moved from the heartland of America, decorated with tipis, American bison, ‘Indian’ chiefs. Go figure. But it was good American fare finished with an “American style” brownie with soft ice cream. In air conditioning. None of which we can find in Siteki. The clientele were all mlungu. If we see another white in Siteki, we know them personally. And topping it off, we had time to shop at what must be the kingdoms’ best grocery store. We could have been in Fairwood because we found good cheeses, sauces, and spices, and even a bakery where we got a hearty multi-grain, and a calamata olive Italian bread. It was good to enjoy a day that could have taken place in America, perhaps Atlanta taking into account the heat.

So there is a brief synopsis of our week. We boarded a broken-down bus and headed for home with the Swazi noise they call ‘music’ shaking our eardrums for two hours (even with earplugs deeply implanted) completely drenched in sweat. It was good to be back.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Many of you know we have been on standfast this week because of political unrest and civil protests in Mbabane and Manzini. Civil servants, especially teachers and nurses, are upset because they haven’t been paid, and the college students want more allowance, and all are facing the threat of cutbacks; hence the call for a general strike. We have been limited to our community and restricted by no commercial travel, although we don’t feel particularly limited because we have a refrigerator and can walk into town and to our work sites. We are ‘posh corps’, but we feel for our friends who are more rural and are stuck at their homesteads. We don’t worry about our safety because the Peace Corps takes that responsibility seriously. The fiscal year ends with this month, so April is an unknown, and another demonstration is scheduled for April 12, which is the anniversary of when political parties were banned in 1973. That date comes after civil servants have missed a pay day, so it could be even more exciting. On the other hand, rest assured that nothing will happen at 10:00 a.m., any day, when everyone drops everything for tea break.

Sunday is the equinox, when day is equal to night everywhere. I remember writing that line in a previous post, which is an indication that we have been here at least six months—but who’s counting? We have noticed that the days are getting shorter and we thought they should be getting cooler, but in the past couple of weeks we have suffered from some of the hottest and most humid days we’ve known. And after the rains stopped, the clay has been baked until there is no water in it leaving over an inch of dust on top of the ground. After the work-day, we come home and strip off our sweaty clothes for something more comfortable. Our friends in the low veld tell us they go home, strip, and then lie on the concrete floor of their huts; higher is hotter.

Next week, we will be in Mbabane for Peace Corps training. We should be a little cooler because it is a little higher. And at the end of the week, we plan on dallying a bit because there is now a theatre in the kingdom! Rumor has it that it has movies—in color— with sound—and perhaps popcorn! I’ll report on that once I’ve seen it. We’ll also visit the best grocery store in the kingdom so we hope to bring home cream cheese, ‘real’ parmesan cheese, and bread that is neither simply white or wheat. Life is good!

After a quick review, I think I’ve done it! I have written a post without a single parenthetical! (But now I see the exclamation points are growing in number. Damn!)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


"Oh NO! Not another hot day in Swaziland!"

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Several weeks ago, we completed plans for a trip to Cape Town, RSA, at the end of April. For reasons I won’t go into here, we will be more than ready to take a break from our Very Important Work, take off our Peace Corps hats, and be tourists. Everyone tells us Cape Town is a great place to visit and we look forward to new scenery, good food and wine, pastries and cheese; Debbie says she will have seafood at every meal. Our ‘excuse’ for this trip is a run for me on April 23 and an international fun run on the 22th we’ve each entered. The fun run is only 5k, is not chipped, and entrants wear their national colors (i.e. ‘colours’, here) and carry flags, etc. A couple other PCVs are entered in my race. The trip might not be affordable to a PCV, but when I enter my bank card to the ATM, it greets me with, “Good morning, Gary Johnson”. How easy to draw funds from over 10,000 miles away.
I didn’t run at all during Pre-service training. But soon after moving to Siteki, I began looking for good running routes. The first thing I learned was how much I stood out in both actions and appearance. Even though I got the usual Swazi greetings, I got a lot of quizzical stares and I was never totally comfortable and wanted a longer route.
I soon began using a road we had wanted to explore half way to the hospital. It is a rough, dirt road that has three or four challenging hills and a good distance. It runs behind the Good Shepherd schools so I was frequently challenged for short distances by laughing students going home and I felt like the Pied Piper. It was a different experience for me, though, because these kids could hear. There are many homesteads along this route and every time I pass one, little voices call out in English, “How. Are. Yeww?” This is occasionally preceded by, “Good morning” in clear and precise English, even though I run in the late afternoon. I’m never sure whether to answer in English or siSwati. When I answer in siSwati, sometimes I get the same “How. Are. Yew?” until I answer in English. The interesting part of this route is a neighborhood center where local maidens would gather to practice native dances wearing the (lack of) native costumes. I was always greeted with waves, big smiles, and shouts, and on a couple of occasions, proposals. I would reply in my limited siSwati that I was a tired, old, white grandpa which got a lot of laughs. I gave up this route during the rainy season (recently ended) when the creek over-flowed and the mud became too much for me, even though the locals still waded through it, dispersed the herds of goats and the occasional cow, to collect water from the pools.
So I transferred my efforts to the “tar road” that climbs the hill behind Good Shepherd Hospital. The “tar” ends at the hospital but the dirt road continues to climb for an elevation gain of over 500 feet, I estimate. It is too steep to run and I end up walking too much. But I crest in about 27 minutes and continue over the top so I can make my turn-about at the 30 minute mark and return in a total of about 55 minutes. A very rough estimation would make it about 10k and that’s the best I can do without an odometer. I get views of the hillside where we live, Mabuda Farm, and New Market.
Now, with an invitation from acquaintances at Mabuda Farm, I have begun using cow trails through the bush that allow longer distances without such severe inclines. My last run was 45 minutes down to a point overlooking the valley in a field of brown sandstone boulders almost the size of Volkswagens. The uphill return took me to a total of 96 minutes. I’ll continue stretching the distance, perhaps eventually adding on ‘hospital hill’. With the rainy season behind us, the slippery clay has baked to powdery kaolin and each footfall is in over an inch of dust. It remains hot but the days are becoming noticeably shorter. Eventually I’ll need to adjust my schedule. The good news is, my speed seems to be about the same as it was when I ran “Peachtree”, 40 years ago. The bad news is, shouldn’t I have improved in all that time?
Finally, Katie has been mentioned in this blog before; you’ve even seen pictures of her. She is a Frequent Visitor to our palace which has won her a “K” on the door (cut out from a Kellog cereal box). Katie knows how to write a blog without using parentheses; (how she does that, I don’t know, although I only see a couple of parentheticals in this post). So if you have some time and would like to see a viewpoint from a different PCV, I’ve added a link to her blog at the bottom of the left hand column.
Good running.