Sunday, May 29, 2011

And Here.. We.. Go!

Well it’s been a busy few weeks in rural Swaziland. Tomorrow starts the project I have been working on since January! I can’t believe that it’s already time for it to happen. Monday through Wednesday, our RHMs who are the community health volunteers (like informal nurses) are having their trainings on HIV/AIDS one day, TB the next, then basic care and hygiene, family planning and circumcision the next day. Then next weeks starts our three weeks of community training sessions that the RHMs will teach. The past few weeks, the RHMs have been conducting surveys of the community to see what their knowledge of these topics was before the training, then we’ll do it again in September and hopefully there will be an increase in knowledge of these topics.
This past weekend was extremely busy preparing for the next few weeks of trainings. On Thursday, my counterpart and I had a marathon afternoon in town buying and printing and photocopying everything we need for the next four weeks. From 400 notebooks and pens to two thousand rand of food, we bought it all. It was crazy. On Friday afternoon we went on a chicken scouting adventure (Ali, you might want to skip this part). We picked out five chickens for the RHM training lunches and told the Make we would come back tomorrow to buy them before a few of the RHMs came to kill and clean them the next afternoon. As we were leaving, my counterpart said there was a good chance she would have to go into town tomorrow and could I handle the buying and carrying and oversee the killing and cleaning tomorrow by myself? Um, excuse me? I hesitantly agreed, because there was really no other option, and prayed she wouldn’t have to go. That whole night I kept thinking that if it were at all possible, I would call my mom and she would come down to pick me up and we’d go and buy some already killed and cut pieces of chicken from the store, and then go get a Caribou of course. But I guess there’s a time in everyone’s life where they realize they can’t just call their mom to fix the things they don’t want to do, and boy did I learn that one the hard way. Fortunately, my counterpart did not have to go to town the next day. Unfortunately, she called me at 8:30am to tell me this, as well as ask if I could buy the chickens and bring them to our kaGogo Center (across the community) by 10? Um, excuse me? Again? I mean at least I don’t have to worry about killing them, but I still couldn’t buy them from a lady whose language I don’t speak, and certainly can’t carry five chickens. So I grabbed two of my sisis and we ventured off to buy the chickens. It was awful. I’m not sure exactly how many of you have ever carried a chicken before, (Ali, you REALLY won’t want to read this), but you grab its wings and hold them behind its back together in one of your hands. So my sisis grabbed one chicken in each hand and I grabbed one, thinking, “Okay, I can do this.” Well, a few minutes down the road, I look down and see that my chicken is clearly suffocating. I don’t think they’re supposed to be carried like that for long distances. And we weren’t anywhere near where we were dropping them off. So I ask my sisis for help, who reply with “Oh yes, he’s dying.” And then a “Hey you! Why are you dying on Sethabile?” and knock another chicken against him to wake him up. Well of course its one of those things you cant stop watching and I tried to help him but there really wasn’t anything I could do. I kept shifting him from one hand to another, wondering why MINE had to die and not anyone else’s, and he’s not getting any better. And at this point I REALLY just wanted to hand him off to someone (mom?) who would fix it and so I wouldn’t have to deal with it, but my sisis were already holding two chickens. I HAD to carry this guy the rest of the way. I’ll save you the more gruesome details of his wing breaking and blood all over my hands, but lets just say I practically ran the rest of the way and dropped him as quickly as possible. He lived, just barely, until obviously he was killed. After we finally got there, I met up with my counterpart, said thank you to my sisis and headed off to the community garden for some vegetables. After a pit stop at a homestead to play with a baby and some incwancwa for breakfast (you know you’ve been here too long when you actually kind of like the sour, fermented, maize porridge breakfast), we then picked bunches of green peppers, dug out a ton of carrots and beet root, and chopped some cabbage, and hauled our hundred rand of groceries back across the fields, to our dying chickens. I was dreading this part of the day for a while and almost got sucked in to the killing when the bomake didn’t show up at first. But they came eventually, and they killed, cleaned and cut the chickens, and I bought them all fat cakes and sat around the corner. Then I grabbed my bags of cleaned chickens to throw in my family’s fridge and left as quickly as the five heavy chickens would let me.
Needless to say, I did nothing today, resting from my horrifying day yesterday, and gearing up for three weeks of trainings! Here’s hoping it all goes well! And on that note, its bedtime because tomorrow is an early day – just wanted to give you all a quick update on life. Hope you all have a great Memorial Day and eat lots of hamburgers and potato salad!

Love you all and miss you tons,


Monday, May 9, 2011

Cape Town Live

Hey all!

First and foremost, a Happy Belated Mother’s Day to the best Mom in the world! : ) Miss you lots Mom and can’t wait to see you in six weeks!

Well, we obviously survived Cape Town. We have all decided that Cape Town is one of the coolest cities on Earth and I highly recommend everyone go there if you ever get a chance. Though, one of the reasons I think it is so cool is because its so far removed from other large cities like it, as opposed to large cities in Europe and the US which are not too far, even Joburg pales in comparison to Cape Town, I think anyway.

We arrived in Joburg to a trash collector’s strike. Yeah. It was gross. Trash everywhere, piled on every street corner and overflowing into the street. It was such a busy city, with the same sort of dirty old buildings we saw in Maputo, just more. You could tell what had been put in or redone specifically for the World Cup and what had obviously not been touched since at least 1960. Interesting fact about Johannesburg, it is the largest city in the world, not on a body of water. Or so I heard from someone and don’t have the internet access to check it for accuracy, so just roll with it. We made it to our hostel and promptly asked for the nearest McDonald’s. We took a cab to the mall with a young man from England who was traveling also, and when we got there we quickly parted way when he said he wanted to shop around and we said we were going to McDonald’s, yeah we’re not obviously American or anything. The mall is apparently the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, though I don’t think it was bigger than the Mall of America, and I proceeded to inform everyone of that fact. ; ) But we found McDonalds on the rooftop food court and proceeded to devour our first McDonald’s meal in ten months. After which I immediately felt sick and it only got worse over the rest of our time at the mall. But did that deter me from getting Micky D’s for the rest of the trip? Not even at all. The next day we packed up and headed out to see Johannesburg before catching our bus to Cape Town that evening. We walked to Museum Africa, which was pretty much a museum about everything and anything that had gone on in South Africa, ever. From the geology of the continent and platetechtonics to fashion and obviously the apartheid. Then, after asking some lovely large policewomen where the best place to eat was (coincidence I swear) they promptly lead us to a place that served only fried chicken, but in every way possible. (I could not make this up.) And it was delicious. We then proceeded to the South African Brewing Company brewery where we were taken on the oddest tour ever, full of mummies, movies with just pictures of water and fire, and something that looked like a scene in the Log Chute at Camp Snoopy. But the free beer at the end was obviously worth it and we got a cool glass too. We then went to our bus, which was great. It was an overnight sleepliner bus so the seats reclined and you could put your feet up and pretty soon 17 hours later we were in Cape Town!

We got there at about 2 and after finding and settling into our hostel; we promptly headed to happy hour. And I’m not even going to lie; we pretty much spent the rest of the day and night in bars drinking real drinks and beers other than Sibebe and watched soccer… that part was unavoidable.

The next day we explored the city and spent a considerable amount of time at both the bank (mine was the only one of all of us Swazis whose bank card worked) and the V & A Waterfront. I would have to say the Waterfront was probably my favorite place in Cape Town, with its boardwalk atmosphere and huge mall and all kinds of different places to eat and drink. I even had potato skins. What’s not to love??

The next day was Good Friday, aka Race Day! We got up early (though not as early as our friend running the half marathon the next day… suckers) and headed to the race. It started and ended at the University, which is at the base of Devil’s Peak, the other end of Table Mountain, aka gorgeous views. The race was so fun, though I’d call it more of a hike you had to do as fast as you could. There were parts I literally could not run because of rocks along a river or a steep steep dirt incline or tree roots all around, and parts where the trail was so narrow, only one person could go through at a time so if the person in front of you was walking, so were you, which sometimes I didn’t mind so much. But I finished feeling great, pretty much sprinting the last 4K or so, so I was pretty happy. After showers and a change of clothes, we promptly headed back to our favorite spot, the Waterfront, and celebrated our race being over.

The next day we got up early again, this time to watch a race. We had a few friends who were running the Half, some volunteers from Lesotho and one of our fellow Swazi volunteers, and we saw them all that morning so it was great. We then decided to take advantage of the good weather we were having and hike Table Mountain. It was a good thing we did because that was the last of the sunny days for the rest of our trip. We, being very smart people, decided to head up there around 2. We took the cable car up to the top and got up there around 3:30. It was so extremely beautiful and we walked all around just taking in the view. After about an hour, we realized we better get going if we wanted to hike down. The map said it would take an hour and fifteen minutes, which would get us down to the bottom just before sunset so we could get a cab and get home. Well, no. If you’ve seen Table Mountain, it is literally a cliff. The path we took was a gorge that ran down the cliff, but it was still pretty steep and ended up taking us a good two and a half hours. I’ll spare the details, but it was way passed dark when we reached the road and called a cab. And having run a race the day before and just climbed down a mountain, my dogs were barking. So we headed back to our hostel, by way of a grocery store, and laid down and fell asleep, much to the chagrin of our friends who had just run the race and were now free to go out and celebrate.

The next day was Easter and we decided to take a trip to Cape Point. Good idea if you have a car. Bad idea because we didn’t, but how could we have known? We took the train to Simon’s Town, which I was extremely happy about because the penguins were there. Well turns out the others only had us stop there because that’s as far down that the train would take us. But I was determined to see the penguins. The train was eventful to say the least. When we were buying our tickets, the lady asked me if I wanted first class and I was so tempted to say “Lady, just because I’m white doesn’t mean I have money!” (that’s what being in the Peace Corps does to you I guess) so we bought third class tickets (apparently there is no second class?) and jumped on our train. The train looked pretty rugged, with the cracked vinyl seats and graffiti EVERYWHERE – but nice graffiti that said things like “be positive!” When they came around for our tickets, the conductor said “You should be in third class.” We said uh yup. And he said “this is first class.” I laughed pretty hard before I realized he was serious. So we got up to move to third before we were quickly informed they do not let tourists go to third class because “you WILL be robbed.” That was all I needed to hear and quickly upgraded our tickets to stay in our current “first class” seats. But we got to Simon’s Town with all of our possessions, thankfully. Unfortunately, as I said, we had no more sunny days, and not only was it not a sunny day, it was raining pretty hard, and we had no rain jackets. And it was Easter, so nothing was open. Except churches I guess, but we were more in the bar mood at this point, never mind it was 10am. We saw a sign for the tourism office, which turned out, obviously, to be closed and tried to ask how to get to the point at the Naval Museum, but got guilted into staying a while because the woman was so happy to have people there. When we finally escaped, we asked directions at a park, where we got the unfortunate news that there was no transport that day because, well, it was Easter. So we stopped at a cafĂ© to mull over our options, where I made my plea for the penguins and after warming up with some coffee, we headed down to Boulder Beach! The penguins were so cute! It was one of my favorite things we did. We walked out onto a boardwalk where you could get close to many of them, we then walked down to Boulder Beach, which was sweet in and of itself because you could climb all over these HUGE boulders and swim (if it hadn’t been freezing cold and rainy). But the best part of the beach was that the wild penguins were there too! So we were literally walking on the beach with the penguins. It was amazing. Here’s some interesting facts about these cute little guys: two pairs of penguins colonized the beach and now there are a few thousand of them, they were originally called “jackass” penguins because they sound like donkeys (its true!), and they bite. We were crawling through some boulders on the beach to get back out of the park as this was the only way, and what of course is in the small passage but a penguin. Well they’re so darn cute in a zoo, but once one is a foot from you and you know they bite with their sharp beaks, all of a sudden not so cute anymore. And these guys aren’t afraid of humans, obviously, so I had a stand off with this penguin for a minute or so before he quickly lost interest and waddled back out the other side. On our way out to grab something to eat and figure out our next move, we ran into our friends from Lesotho who were headed to the point after a quick stop to see the penguins and who had cars! So we squeezed in with them and headed south. Well, unfortunately we didn’t get to the point, we got to the gate, realized it was R80 per person to enter and the 10 Peace Corps Volunteers decided “no way” and turned around. We did stop at a different beach that was breath taking and it had a peninsula, so I say we say the point. A point anyway. We did see some baboons on our way as well on the side of the road. Here are some baboon safety tips from our visitor’s guide: slow down and stay in your car, keep doors locked and windows closed, if baboons get into your car, get out, open all doors and don’t block their exit, if your bag is taken, remain calm and don’t confront the animal, wait until it leaves and then retrieve your bag, watch out for baboons when you picnic – if they arrive, move, when hiking and carrying a backpack, be aware that baboons might rip it off, place the backpack on the ground beside you – be vigilant and try to guard the bag. Who knew?

The next day we spent the whole day eating and drinking our way around the city, enjoying our last day of good food and real drinks. After dinner we headed to our favorite bar where the boys had beer to go with their Cuban cigars and I obviously had a few Cosmos. It was great. We stayed out with our favorite Lesotho-ans until it was too late to go to bed, as we all had an early exit the next day and obviously had not packed. So we stayed up all night, packed quickly and headed to the train station. As I stood on the platform waiting for the train, I almost fell over twice from falling asleep, vowing never to stay up all night again. We jumped on the train, sat down (as there were no sleeper cars available to upgrade to) and promptly passed out. Two hours later I woke up and for the first time, was not happy to see the Cape Town skyline and beautiful Table Mountain. We had pulled out of the train station and stopped just outside (so we could have a nice view while we sat there??) and had not moved in two hours. It only got worse after that, after having vowed not to stay up all night again, we did again that night as the car was too cold and uncomfortable and bright to sleep. I have honestly never been so cold, I thought we were driving through Antarctica, because definitely couldn’t be Africa. Finally, 30 hours later (five hours late) we stopped in Joburg, jumped on a khumbi, ate the take away dinner of rice, cole slaw, chacolaka, spinach and beef that we have come to know and love/hate, that day it was love, and headed back to Swaziland. I’ll spare you (mom) the racing the border gate closing story and how fast we were actually going as well as what time we finally got to our hostel. But we did, and slept like the dead that night, only waking up to Burke calling unknowingly at 10am. If it wasn’t for that, we probably would have slept past noon for the first time on this continent. We had a nice relaxing Thursday and a great goodbye party for our Country Director Eileen on Friday, before I finally got back to my good ole hut on Saturday and slept and slept and slept all weekend.

All in all it was a fantastic trip, with great friends in a great city. We are all already planning our return trips and I can’t wait to get there again soon (Sue and John??). There is so much we didn’t get to do (the point obviously, the winelands, the seals, robben island) and all we did do, I would love to do again a million times over. Minus the train in the sitter car without blankets. That was just dumb. I also cannot wait to do another trail run, or run in general. I’m planning on the Swazi Half Marathon in September and maybe the 20K Trail Run next year in Cape Town, who knows!

But now that I’m home, that means its project time! We had a meeting with our RHMs on Thursday, handed out our surveys and t-shirts from our MP (Member of Parliament). It was so exciting to get stuff going, but now there is so much that needs to be done in the next three weeks, and we still haven’t gotten our money yet, so there’s a lot of angst along with the excitement. But I’ve decided to roll with it and whatever happens happens because it never happens how you plan it to and, let’s face it, this is Africa. Things won’t happen on time, much less go how you want it to.

I’ve also gotten involved with World Food Programme and their initiative to monitor food distribution to malnourished patients at the local hospitals. I have yet to get to our local hospital so this will be a good chance to help out and to get involved. They also have a program monitoring the NCPs (care points for orphans) that they deliver food to. Unfortunately they aren’t the ones who give food to my NCPs so that isn’t something I am involved in with them, but it gave me some ideas and after June when this project is over, I hope to see where our NCP monitoring is at and see what we can improve on that. Another volunteer has set up a system of taking measurements of the children at the NCPs each month to monitor them for malnutrition, which seems easy enough and can be linked up with NCP monitoring. So lots of activities and ideas in the pot, we’ll see what actually comes to fruition. Right now though, the Health Project has full control of my thoughts.

Whew, ncesini, this was a long one. But its nice to finally have something to update on, I feel like I’ve been slacking a bit lately, but things were a bit boring for a while when we were just waiting of funding to get things going. But its picking up now which is good. And we’re already into May, which means next month will be a year! Can you believe it?? Neither can I.

Well I think that’s all I have, but not before it’s time for my Happy Birthday section…

mkay I think just about all of my family has a birthday in May, so at the risk of leaving anyone out I’m just going to say a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY and you all know who you are. ; )

Also a big CONGRATS to ALLLLLL my friends and family graduating!!! I wish I could be there to celebrate with you all, high school or college, I am most definitely at your grad party in spirit. Most specifically to my little bro, I know you technically finished a few months ago, but congrats bud, and good luck in college this week!!

Miss you all and love you tons!

Love, Megan