Friday, July 23, 2010

We're Going to the Casino... For the Internet. : )

First of all, thanks SO much to everyone for the cards!! All the other volunteers are super jealous because I’ve gotten a bunch letters so far… I tell them my family is awesome! : ) (And yes Gramma I got all 3 of yours.) Using my California math, I am figuring it takes the anticipated 2 ½ to 3 weeks for a letter to get here.

It’s hard to believe it July is almost over and I’ve been in Africa for a month (25 more to go for those keeping score at home)! But at the same time – home, Atlanta and the 16-hour plane ride seem like years ago. Africa continues to be amazing. Everyday when I look up at the roof of my hut or step outside and see the mountains or look out the window of the khumbi I think, I still can’t believe I’m in Africa! It is so surreal! I am writing this on my computer quickly before my battery dies because I don’t know when I’ll get to charge it again. It is raining for the first time since the day we got to Swaziland. And by raining I mean drizzling.< And apparently if there is any amount of precipitation the electricity goes out, hence the dead battery.< So I’ve got to type quickly and eat dinner by candlelight then put this on a flash drive for when we go to the near by hotel this weekend to use their HIGH SPEED Internet! : ) It’ll be the first time I’ll be able to have any reliable internet to check Facebook/email/Twitter in a month so I’m pretty excited. Things are moving quickly here. This week was evaluations and interviews with the CD and the APCDs for site placement questions! I think I did all right on my evaluations. SiSwati went okay and I was able to fumble through for 11 minutes, but everyone did either okay or badly so I am keeping up with everyone. I have never wanted to speak French so much in my life because if it isn’t English I am speaking then it has always been French so that is what wants to come out. And I certainly know a lot more French than siSwati. It’s hard! My technical training exam did not go very well, but talking to everyone else, I seem to have gotten all the tough questions that no one else would have been able to answer either. But I passed, and I got 100% on the cultural, medical, and skills tests like putting together my water filter and assembling a stove. In my site placement interview, I told them about who I would like to work with, where I would like to work, and in what environment. I told them I would love to work with pregnant women doing PMTCT education and/or with youth in a school or a youth HIV support group. I also told them I was from Minnesota so I would prefer a cooler site. Then they asked what we wanted most: to have electricity, be close to water, or be near transportation. I said I wanted to be near transportation, so we’ll see on Tuesday where I get placed Then next week we meet our counterpart that we will be working with for the next two years and head to “On the Job Training” the next week! In celebration of our evaluations being over, we are going on a field trip to a game reserve tomorrow! : ) We are very excited to see some African animals! I am told there are no lions though, but because of that we are able to hike around so I’ll try to get some good pics.

We picked out cell phones on Thursday and are picking them up in Mbabane on Monday so I’ll let you know the deal is with that when I know more. I got a Nokia 2700, if that means anything to anyone. I got it because Nokia has the most reliable Internet here, it has Bluetooth as well as a plug to plug into my computer for Internet, and it has more storage space. Also, it was all very overwhelming and everyone else was getting it, so I did too.< I don’t know exactly how the whole phone situation will work out but I do know that if someone calls me it is free for me and Skype calls are apparently cheaper than any long distance calling card or anything, so Skype me! : )< And apparently volunteers use Facebook as their main communication, to home and to each other, because using the internet on their phones requires less airtime than calling each other. Not sure how exactly that works, but like I said I’ll let you know more when I know.

It is a tough schedule they have us on here at PST, with class 8-4, Monday-Saturday and Sunday being laundry (it takes the whole morning, at least, when you have to wash everything by hand…) and shopping in town day. We usually have about 2 hours at the end of each day before the sun goes down and we have to be home; and when it takes a half hour to walk to other volunteer’s homesteads, there isn’t a lot of time to hang out with people after class, which is too bad.< Fortunately, I have 5 people within a 5 minute walk of my homestead and another 5-10 within a 20 minute walk of my place, so I can see them for a bit after class. The days are starting to get longer here, but the sun still sets at about 5:45 The rest of the night is spent making dinner, studying siSwati (sometimes…), and cleaning my hut and the dishes before bed at about 9 (though yesterday, I’m ashamed to say I was in bed at 7:45…). It is definitely a very different schedule than I had just a month ago. We’ve started cooking for ourselves as opposed to having our host families cook us our meals. I’ve eaten more eggs, peanut butter sandwiches and oranges these past few weeks than I think I’ve eaten in years. They’re nice because they don’t require water (which is a precious resource when it takes so long to prepare) and don’t need to be decontaminated. Rice and beans are also quickly becoming a favorite. I’m going to start digging into the cookbook that the Peace Corps gave us to find some more things to practice cooking. I think during Integration (our first 3 months at our permanent site) I will be doing a lot of experimental cooking, which will be fun. If anyone has some quick, easy and delicious recipes they would like to share, I would love to hear them! My Make does not trust that I am able to cook for myself and has begun sending my Sisi to check up on me at dinnertime, look at what I made and insist I make more. She’s pretty close to making me just come into the house for dinner because she doesn’t think I eat enough. I just don’t eat the obnoxious Swazi amount! The other day they came in with a whole plate full of lipalishi (Pap) for me to eat with my whole can of beans and whole can of mixed veggies they had me heat up. Fortunately, I bought Tupperware and was able to have dinner and put it into two Tupperware containers for lunch and dinner the next day. Too much food!! My sisi told me yesterday that they want to send me back to America big or “fit” as they call it here. Also, when we describing ourselves in our language class, our teacher said she was "mkuhlu " (big) and said “Don’t be offended Setta, but you are "uncama" (slim)” and we all giggled and told her we would never be offended if she said we were "uncama." Just another chance for some cross-cultural exchanges! I am also eager to try turning my stove into an oven and baking cookies or something. I learned the trick during our cooking class last Saturday and have been craving chocolate chip cookies ever since.< The hardest part about baking chocolate chip cookies here though is finding chocolate chips, so they may have to be some other kind of cookie…
We are half way done with Pre-Service Training. The weeks are full of Technical Training (like mapping the community), Language (as usual-but I’m still pretty bad), and Medical lectures (Infectious Diseases and How to Avoid Them, Malaria, and First Aid). We also had a lecture by doctors from the Baylor Clinic and a field trip to a Traditional Healer (who was thoroughly upset when he found out when that we weren’t giving them money-even though it was explained to them many times) and a modern Swazi clinic. It is interesting to hear the different ways that each is trying to combat HIV/AIDS in this country. For the most part, it seems that modern Traditional Healers are encouraging people to get tested and take their ARVs, but there are more in the rural areas that are against it. And the modern clinics and NGOs are so overwhelmed, with too many patients and not enough doctors. It is tough to see, but encouraging to see the doctors and nurses that are working tirelessly to fight this disease.
After a month, people in the community have finally gotten used to seeing us around. They don’t just stare back at us when we greet them with “Sawubona!” like they used to; now they counter with an “Ungubani ligama lakho?” (What is your name?) or “Uyaphi? Ubuyaphi?” (Where are you going? Where are you coming from?).Swaziland is like small town meets Minnesota Nice on steroids. Saying “Hello! How are you?” is a HUGE thing here, and everyone asks who you are and where you are going because they know everyone in the community and we definitely don’t look like we are from the community. The kids also love to practice the English they learn in school with us. It’s nice to actually have a conversation with them now, but it is definitely not helping me learn siSwati. The other day, on the way back from Eric’s house, a whole field of teenagers playing soccer stopped us. After asking if we knew Rihanna, R. Kelly and, upon hearing my real name, Alicia Keys, they asked us “Why are you here in Swaziland? Why are you not in South Africa?” assuming we are just tourists on vacation. Seizing the opportunity, we explained that we are learning siSwati and about their culture because we are going to be living here for two years and mentioned that we are here to teach people about HIV/AIDS (Ngifundza kuba livoluntiya. Ngitosebenta nge HIV/AIDS.) and we encountered a response that we had heard we might get. They all said, “Well, we already know everything about HIV.” Apparently a big problem volunteers are facing out in the field is over saturation, and we just got our first glimpse of it. Then you just have to wonder, what is the problem? If the youth here in Swaziland are so over saturated with information about HIV/AIDS, why do the rates of infection here continue to be the worst in the world? If they are being educated in schools then why is 26% of the country, 49% of the women in their 20s and 45% of men in their 30s, HIV+? They obviously know how HIV is transmitted and how to prevent it, but something is not getting through in terms of behavioral change.

We are starting to learn about methods to conduct community assessments to determine the needs of the community we are going to be living in, from questionnaires to interviews, maybe clues to needs will come through in those, in terms of gender empowerment and male engagement for behavioral change.
That’s all for now, ncesi this was a long one. Hope all is well at home, at RD, at the U, at the rink... I miss you all!! Love you all!

Love, Megan (or Setta as I’m known here – honestly if we didn’t have each other to call us by our real names I might not even answer to Megan anymore…)

PS: Happy 21st Birthdays to Mike and to Gina! I am sad I can’t be there to celebrate with my besties but have GREAT days guys!! I’ll be thinking about you! : ) I sent you birthday letters but they probably will be late – It’s hard to remember 3 weeks in advance!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Flashdrives and Bucket Baths...

Hi All!!

I am sorry for the lack of updates I have been giving, I had no idea what to expect for the Internet situation when we came into town last week. And it turns out it was pretty bad. I spent 12 of my 15 minutes trying to load Facebook, then the last 3 frantically trying to update my blog. I finally figured it out for this week though… FLASH DRIVES! : ) I am writing this on my laptop and will upload it using my handy-dandy RTI flash drive! Problem: Solved!

I hope everything is going well with everyone! I miss you all, but I am having SUCH a great time! We are finishing week two of the nine week training session. We moved in with our host families last week. My family is great! I have a Make (mother), a Babe (father) who works in South Africa and I have yet to meet, two bosisi (sisters), and 5 bobhuti (brothers), plus a nephew, and some other cousins (I think) that float in and out during the week. Like I mentioned I have a hut! A big, round, yellow hut with a grass thatched roof. It has a huge bed and headboard, as well as a vanity and a table. I also have electricity!! We have a running joke in our group that between the limo that picked us up at the airport in ATL, the swanky hotel in the Joburg airport and now my luxurious hut, it’s more like Posh Corps than Peace Corps. We are only kidding though. We have no running water, so bucket baths and pit latrines it is! We have a long process we have to go through to get drinkable water (boil, filter, bleach!), and they provide us with a gas stove that we have to cook on. I never realized how much I relied on a microwave until I don’t have one!! Everything from frozen dinners to steaming vegetables I used to do in a microwave! My Make and Sisi are teaching me how to cook, but they think it is hilarious I don’t know how. Fortunately, no one else in the group knows how to either, so I am sure the boMake get together and talk about each of their Americans and how they don’t know how to cook…

Our whole group is living in a community called Mbasheni, between Pigg’s Peak, the town we go to for groceries and Internet, and Ngonini, where our Training Center is located. We generally take public transport, called a khumbi, to and from the center. My friend Steph and I are lucky enough to be neighbors. And thank goodness for that! All of us are spread out over about an hours walking distance, two hours from the training site. And yes, we walked it the other day. Yesterday, we finally made a very crude and hilarious map of where we all are staying and today we used it to meet up at Mike’s homestead for Sea Sea’s birthday party and learned he lives very close to Steph and me. We had “Fat Cakes” for Sea Sea’s birthday that Mike’s Make made. I don’t know what they are or how to make them, but they are delicious! I think they are just fried dough, almost like a funnel cake, but in a ball. They’re actually called Emmaphaties or something, but we call them “I’m a Fatty Cakes” because they may be the death of all of us here. My Make is teaching me how to make them tonight; right after she kills the pig that she is selling to our teacher Babe Malaza for our cooking class tomorrow. : / Good thing I didn’t name that pig… I wish they would kill the roosters instead of the pigs though. Every morning around 3am some rooster somewhere decides it is time to crow, which makes every rooster around crow. And there are a TON of roosters around. It is the most obnoxiously annoying thing ever and it wakes me up every night. A close second though is the chickens that run into our language class clucking, looking for a place to lay eggs. It is definitely a different atmosphere here in Africa!

On the topic of food, if anyone was concerned about me not eating enough here in Africa, you have NOTHING to worry about. I have honestly never eaten so much in my life! Today was the first day I actually finished what I was given, and I try my hardest to finish everyday, because it is considered rude not to. I thought at first that they just gave me a ton of food, because I was a guest or an American or whatever. But it turns out; Swazis eat a TON of food. I have tried to tell them not to give me so much, but they never listen, so I’ve stopped trying. They also eat with their hands. And by hands, I mean hand - just the right hand; doing anything with the left hand is rude. They have a dish called pap, which is like stiff mashed potatoes, that they eat with cabbage or chicken or squash or beans or anything and it’s all eaten with your right hand. It is SO hard. But I have become a pro.

I have also never gone to bed as early as I do here. I head to my hut at 7:30ish (after watching Rhythm City and Generations, South Africa soap operas, with my family) and am usually in bed by 9. The sun sets at 5:30 and we are not allowed to be out after dark, not just a Peace Corps rule, but a Swazi rule. No one goes out after dark. So when the sun sets early here in the winter, the day ends very early and 9pm feels like midnight. Plus there is a list of things you have to do in the morning before you are allowed to go to class so you have to get up early. My Make was going over it with me today at dinner: Wake up, Do dishes, Sweep kitchen, Cook breakfast, Sweep rest of house/hut, Bathe (Swazis bathe twice a day), Eat breakfast, Go to School. And we all know I don’t like getting up in the morning so since Make is making me get up early tomorrow to learn how to cook breakfast, it’s safe to assume it is 8pm and I am already in bed.

Anyway, hope everyone had a great 4th of July and celebrated my favorite holiday for me! I miss you all and love you!


Saturday, July 3, 2010


Hello All!

I have about 2 minutes left on my internet because it took 20 to load.
Just wanted to let you know I'm having a great time!! We moved in with our host families yesterday and are shopping in Pigg's Peak today.

I'll write more when I can.

Also, yes I do live in a hut. Google huts in Swaziland and you'll see mine.

Love you all!

Megan (aka Sethabile Khoza my Swazi name.)