Monday, June 27, 2011


Debbie update: Tests were 'normal' except for elevated blood pressure. She is feeling better and headaches have dissipated. Hoping for Wednesday release if blood pressure subsides.

When first we came to campus, we were prepared only with ‘hello’, ‘how are you?, and ‘I am fine’. As I was being introduced to all the classes, I noticed many of the students making a common sign [hook your first finger over the tip of your nose] which means mlungu (white person), (because we have long, pointed noses). Much later, I was given my sign name [open N to my receding hair line], probably the closest, politically correct thing to calling me “baldy”. It could have been worse: All these kids are fascinated with mlungu body hair and my dewlap, and they frequently pat my arm hair (even my legs if in shorts), and my ‘buddies’ have been known to flip my dewlap. (Perhaps nobody lives long enough here to develop a dewlap.) The most recent sign of familiarity with me is when they walk me across campus, some will mimic my stance and stride in exaggeration. Some of our girl PCV visitors are surprised when they get a boob pat-down, too. But I digress.

I have a sign tutor; she works on ‘African time’ and was out for over a month recuperating. Nevertheless, I now have a vocabulary of maybe 500 signs. I proudly reported to PC that I had given a five minute ‘talk’ to staff one day and our APCD apparently reported that I had given a ten minute talk in sign; I was later congratulated on my 15 minute talk. Anyway, the subject of my talk was misunderstanding a student who had signed something to me which I didn’t understand. He had asked to go to the toilet using Swazi Sign Language (SSL). So I asked my counterpart (present at that time), Why didn’t he use [“toilet” in American Sign Language (ASL)]? After a brief pause, she said, “That means ‘sex’”—which explained the blank look on some of my student’s faces earlier. So the point of my talk to staff was questioning the use of SSL when using ASL would be more universal and would afford them all kinds of instructive publications and teaching aids. But, alas, it seems my argument fell on deaf ears.

The frustration of time in the library sometimes has me talking out loud to myself and, self-consciously, I’ll shout, “Did anybody hear me?” There is a feeling of relief when I look around and all heads remain down and nobody is looking at me.

The kids are eager teachers when I’ve asked for help, but I get variants from them, so I refer to my tutor to get the ‘standard’. Even then, I notice staff frequently arguing on how something is signed. To that end, I was conversing with a friend and missed his train of thought, so I responded with a long sequence of random, wild motions, even flipping my fingers behind my knees and over my head. After a moment of surprise, he and several around us were laughing hard at my command of the language. Our conversations are rudimentary, but the point is made. When one of ‘my girls’ pointed to my ‘runner’s toenail’, I signed [sick-from-running]. She responded with a heartfelt [sorry].

I recently gathered together several Dr. Seuss books and put them into a ‘browser box’ (librarian talk) with several other ‘fun to read’ books. But then I thought, what is it that makes reading Dr. Seuss so enjoyable? For us, it’s the rhyming sounds and rhythms—but these kids have heard no sounds so can’t relate a sound to marks on a page. I’ll leave you to consider what Dr. Seuss means to the deaf. Until next time, this is Gary, signing off.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


First of all, an update on Debbie: After coming home and feeling miserable, she was driven back to the Mbabane Clinic today and will be resting at 'Gloria's', waiting for the results of multiple tests. I'll update you when we learn something. Meanwhile, the following was written earlier this week in anticipation of this date.

One year ago today, we left Atlanta for our Peace Corps service (answering John Kennedy’s “…ask what you can do for your country”). The next day we found ourselves in a new culture, and after a full year of exposure we have become accustomed or inured to many sights or cultural practices that we couldn’t predict. They were of interest to begin with, but now, these are a few things we find ourselves taking for granted because we see them every day:

Babies riding on the backs of their mothers/grandmothers/sisters, content in their ‘papoose’.
Women (rarely men) carrying large, heavy loads on their heads.
Boobs. (Of contrasting interest, we don’t dare expose our underwear on the clothesline, apparently considered scandalous.)
The lack of personal space; you only own the space you occupy and only for this instant.
Cows and chickens—usually encountered on our way into town.
Lizzards; cute little guys, no longer than 10-12 cm, we share our palace with, and we call them all “Lizzie”.
Cars that coast through stop signs, khumbis that speed and tailgate, and drivers who see how close they can come to pedestrians.
Driving on the left, walking on the right. I am allowed to drive in South Africa and completed almost 1,000 km without incident.
Greeting everyone you meet, but getting in return a beautiful Swazi smile.
Inconsistent, unpredictable, unreliable utilities.
Trash/debris scattered everywhere (mostly because there is no place to put it).
Everyone walks everywhere. (The penalty for noncompliance is a Khumbi ride; severe, indeed.)
We use cash for everything. Credit cards have been used only for on-line purchases.
But there are things we will never understand or become accustomed to such as ‘African time’, the presence of HIV /AIDS, poverty, political corruption or, oh yeah, ask me about riding in khumbies sometime.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Bear with me while we look at just a few more pictures that will give you a flavor of last week. (Just be thankful you don't have to sit through all of them.) This first one is a beach on the Indian Ocean where I happened upon this three legged alien creature. He gave me no trouble.

Yes, we did see hippos totally out of the water, but I thought this was a neat picture (and I'm calling the shots here).

The hippo pan at sunset

If I haven't manipulated these too much. you should be able to double click on a picture to enlarge it.

Zebra and red duiker under a full moon.

Some days Mo wasn't feeling very well, but she always had her binoculors with her and was always birding. She saw some big birds...

...and little birds.

A male impala with his harem.

A male impala who has lost a horn. Some days are like that.
Debbie didn't seem to feel as bad after seeing this.

We saw the largest warthogs we've ever seen. Notice the one in the middle has a head on both ends--quite rare even in deepest Africa.

I'm not stickin' my neck out, but I think we saw giraffe.

A view of Africa as we were climbing toward Hilltop Lodge. Magnificent valleys in grand expanses.

An impala with two Burchell's zebra, one immature.

I took 24 pictures of varying stages of the eclipse; this one is just prior to totality when the moon turned deep, blood red.

I have a few hundred more but, come to think of it, nobody asked to see even these, so this concludes my presentation. You know where to find me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Some of you (family) know that I am home alone now. For the rest of you (I actually know of one or two who read this), Debbie is being cared for at ‘Gloria’s’ in Mbabane after being diagnosed with African tick bite fever. She is on a short course of azithromycin and is feeling better already and will be home before the end of this week. The culprit is Rickettsia africae, passed by a tick. All Rickettsial diseases require a vector (the tick) and Rickettsia rickettsii is the etiological agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever which is more severe. Even if I was bit, I might not have presented symptoms because I take doxycilin prophylactically for malaria and 'doxy' is the first line of defense. Except for that…
We had a very nice time on the Elephant coast. Of course, you have to start any venture here with a khumbi ride and our first night out was very cold, but once we were on our own we had perfect days with crystal clear skies and beautiful scenery (and a total lunar eclipse as a bonus).

Find the crocodile. We saw lots of crocs and hippos this trip but I'm having trouble choosing pictures without Debbie here to help make selections.
Getting into South Africa requires you to walk across the border. First you present your passport to be checked in Swaziland; when okay'd, you get a little piece of paper to carry to the next guard who takes it and allows you into SA. The same process is then repeated on that side of the border. The scraps of paper appeared to be dropped into a waste box
Beach on Indian Ocean.
The towns in SA are African in nature with the bus ranks, make markets, and Indali stores, but they have a decided Dutch boer influence and signs of prosperity with nice neighborhoods and the prominent Dutch reformed church.

Hippo pan
We took it pretty easy the whole week because Debbie wasn't feeling well. We think she contracted African tick bite fever as much as three weeks earlier on one of our hikes. In spite of that, we had an enjoyable time, great weather, and good food.

The Indian Ocean
The town of St Lucia is between the Indian Ocean and an estuary that drains from Lake St Lucia. It is a quaint little westernized town accomodating to tourists. Monkeys greeted us on our way into town every day. We visited a crocodile center on the outskirts of town.

Lake St Lucia
We based ourselves in St Lucia for the first three days and explored the wetlands and coastal area before moving inland to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park where we 'camped' at Hillside Lodge. We cut our vacation short by one day so Debbie could have an appointment with our PCMO.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
The entire area is surrounded by a Natural World Heritage Site and is noted for its' ecological diversity.

Indian Ocean behind us.

'white' rhino

An adult male kudu.
Large spiral horns, mask, and thin stripes on flanks.

A crowded beach on the Indian Ocean.

To be continued...

Sunday, June 5, 2011


The first sign was when we were in South Africa and saw a hint of color in the deciduous trees. And when we returned, the temperature barely broke 80 F, which called for the Swazis to pull on their wool caps, scarves and mittens. (They are amazed that I’m still in shorts and tees.) The butter is now more solid than it has been for months and if I knew the melting point of butter, I could calibrate it and report to you the progress of autumn. The sun is setting far, far short of its’ earlier setting point and dusk is from around 5 to 5:30. But the conclusive proof is in the morning when I can get up and Debbie doesn’t say, “Looks like another hot day in Africa”. The winter solstice is only a couple of weeks away and today I installed weather stripping in our door frames to keep the cold breezes (and dust) from blowing through our palace.

The change in the season announces the end of malaria risk, so Debbie pulled our mosquito netting down as we flipped the calendar to June 1st. And on recent walks, we’ve harvested the fruits of the season; limes right off the tree (perking my gin & tonic), and avocados from a tree right here on campus. We’ve enjoyed fresh mango earlier and litchi even earlier. Local oranges are back on the market but I noticed some apples a while back (in ShopRite) that proudly wore a sticker proclaiming, “Grown in Washington State”. Running is fun again, but I’ve noticed my scarlet-red running shorts have been bleached by the African sun when they are hung to dry and are becoming a delicate pink.

It’s time to enjoy the last bit of summer and so we will be leaving for the Elephant Coast the end of this week. We’ll pick up a car in Piet Retief (with right-hand steering) and head for St. Lucia where we’ll visit a game reserve and estuary and frolic on the coast of the Indian Ocean. …A seasonal break from Very Important Work. We’ll report back right here.

I (Debbie) have been reading an excellent book on AIDS in Africa that is a very worthwhile read. It is called 28 by Stephanie Nolen and is available on Amazon. Why 28? There are 28 million children and adults with AIDS in Africa (combined populations of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles). The author gathered 28 people to tell their life stories; some with AIDS, some caring for those with AIDS, and some fighting the AIDS pandemic. Yes, the book will make you sad and/or mad at times, but it is not dry at all, and it is informative, inspiring and magnificent. For those of you who are interested in the real story of the AIDS pandemic in Africa, and what Gary and I have witnessed in our time here, it is a must read.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


We’ve been busy.

As soon as we came back from Cape Town we were delivered one thousand books for the library from Books for Africa, USA. According to the Peace Corps workshop, they need to be registered, due date slips glued in, a stock card manufactured, labeled, and inserted into the book ID envelope (which also has been manufactured and labeled by hand), and reinforced (depending on the type and condition of the book). It is very labor intensive and time consuming (not to mention elementary and boring). I’ve had the help of my
librarian-counterpart (pictured) who is a kick to work with. Debbie has spent time with us on occasion when she needs a break from writing hospital policy. Everything is done by hand because we have no typewriter or paper-cutter. I’m making an effort to color code in an attempt to facilitate student help in the future.

The other significant project is the world map. The basics went surprisingly fast and we’re working on labeling and customizing now. When completed, I’m planning to have a companion map of Swaziland on the same wall. I’m pleased with the results, so far, and hope I can keep things moving along without entering ‘African time’. The first photo is tracing the projected image (we had to wait until after dark). In the second photo, the colorists (or colourists, here) on this day in the picture are an art class with the art teacher, Phumzile (left), and Fanelo (who teaches English comp) (all deaf).
I'll update you when completed.

I’ve spent many hours on an interactive blog with an A.P.-geography class in Florida. It was set up by their teacher who was a PCV in Western Africa some time ago. It was an interesting experience—they had some good questions reminding me of conditions here which we’ve begun taking for granted.

And there’s more: I’ve been contributing a short column to our monthly newsletter for Peace Corps-Swaziland. They were looking for the wisdom of a venerable mkhulu (read old grandpa) and I seemed to fit the bill. And, fulfilling PC dictate, we each completed our trimester reports and submitted them by deadline.

And just so this isn’t all about me, Debbie faithfully puts in her time for Good Sheppard Hospital by creating policy. She reports that a 9:00 a.m. meeting was convened at 2:30 p.m. African time is the norm at her volunteer site.

Oh yeah, the fun?! Fred & Florence visited last weekend and we spent a day with them at Hlane game reserve and another day hiking Mabuda Farm. (Ask to see my pictures.) And to round out the fun, Mo and I kept our usual play date with the pre-schoolers. We'll talk more, later.