Saturday, July 16, 2011

Boom!

Hey Hey!

Well its been a busy few months in the Swaz. May and June were full of work and not a lot of play, but we all need a health dose of that every once in a while… especially those of us who don’t do so much of the work part anymore. ; )

Well my big health project is mostly over. It went decently well and I am happy with everything. Of course, it wasn’t without its challenges, but we got through! Our first community workshops happened to coincide with wind, rain and cold cold cold weather. It was unfortunate, but we had about 40-50 people show up despite the conditions so I would call it a success. The next week’s trainings had to be postponed as our RHMs who were leading the trainings were called to a meeting at inkhundla (like city hall). So we pushed the trainings back a week, which meant that they would have to do a session without me because I would be on vacation with my Mom and Dad that week, which, in the effort of being sustainable, worked out just as well that I wasn’t there. So we had our second set of community trainings just before Mom and Dad arrived. It was perfect timing in the end.

And on that note, MOM AND DAD CAME!! : ) It was awesome! So great to see them, hug them, and show them my life. It was so nice to have someone back home see and understand what my life is like here. It seems so natural and normal to me now; its weird that no one back in America knows, really, what I am seeing and doing. But now at least two people have! Ha. After some difficulties at the car rental place and encountering kakhulu road construction, they finally arrived in the Swaz as dusk was approaching. But thanks to one of my awesome sisis, Samu, who was pumping water and saw their car and confused faces, they were guided safely to my homestead where I was huddled around the wood burning stove, eagerly awaiting their arrival. After lots of hugs, some tears, and introductions of my American family to my Swazi family, it was surprising to realize that it really didn’t seem like it had been almost exactly one year to the day that I had seen them. But it had! Due to the impending darkness, and the long, dark, gravel road to Nhlangano where their hotel was, we decided it best to stay the night in my hut and attempt the trek in the morning. So Mom and Dad were able to experience the #hutlife. We spent the next day around my community, doing various things in preparation for the last community training the next week. We ground maize, carted chairs to the other side of the mountain, and Mom and Dad were quite the thing to see for the school children on their way home from school – I definitely don’t get that many waves on my way home anymore. We also made a pit stop at the home of the indvuna (headman) of our community, to introduce them. Unfortunately, he was not home, but fortunately his wife was. After, semi preparing them for the event (men have to take off their hats at the gate of umphakatsi – his homestead), they proceeded to pull out a grass mat and a stool – the grass mat for me, my mom and my counterpart, Khosi, the stool for my dad. Just a bit of African culture for the Americans. Make Indvuna then began to fawn over Mom, saying she was so beautiful and “ngitsandza wena” – I like you! We spent the next few days touring the Swaz, meeting my friends, and buying fun things before heading for a much needed vacation in St. Lucia, South Africa. We had a great 5 days there, seeing many, many hippos (much to Mom’s chagrin), including a hippo and croc boat tour in the Lake St. Lucia Estuary, and then, obviously, a safari in the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Reserve (when in Africa, right?) where we got entirely too close to some lions right off the bat. Like I mean ENTIRELY too close. And when he wouldn’t stop growling and looking our way and other safari trucks pulled up and blocked us in, and closest to the lion, I was a little more than nervous… and I was three people in! He would eat Dad first. But we made it out alive and saw four of the big five (quick! Can you name them??) so it was a success. We then headed up to Cape Vidal for our last day and enjoyed more time on the Indian Ocean, before we headed back up to the Swaz. But not before I drove, obviously! We aren’t allowed to drive in Swaziland or MoƧambique because of their lack of public ambulances and roadside assistance. But South Africa has those, so driving was a go! After having been in Africa for a year, driving on the left side of the road and on the right side of the car was not the part that worried me… but the driving in general did. But after a year, it comes back like riding a bike, except, you know, on the other side of the road. It was, however, incredibly stressful as the roads were one lane each way, with an 80 mph speed limit, lots of trucks and very aggressive passers. After a few hours, I handed over the keys to Dad and took my seat back as navigator. We then spent one last day in the Swaz together at an awesome lodge in the Mlilwane Game Reserve, walking around the park, feeding bush babies at dusk, and enjoying a much needed Swazi meal by the fire. At the end of my vacations, I always find myself craving the rice, stew, chicken, cole slaw, beetroot, and chakalaka meal that I have come to know and love as the Swazi Take-Away, so I savored every bit of it and enjoyed the last of my days with my parents for a year and a half.

As sad as I was to see them go, yes there were more tears – though not as many as the first goodbyes a year ago, I was ready to get back to my friends, meet the new group of volunteers, and eventually, get back to my hut. I spent the next few days with a friend in town before our annual Fourth of July/meet the new volunteers party. It was incredibly fun to see all my friends again; I had been so busy at site the last few months, I hadn’t seen any of them since the end of April when I got back from Cape Town. This was also my first time to meet our new volunteers, including THREE Minnesotans! : ) I’m happy our Minnesota constituency is increasing, or as Eric says, Canada is taking over. We now have people from St. Cloud, Shoreview, Eden Prairie, and of course Tonka Town. I am excited to spend a few days over the next few weeks helping with the education/life skills portion of their training, and of course getting to know them as the year progresses!

But with the new group arriving, that means its time to say goodbye to half our friends as well. The Group 7s who arrived the year before us and helped us through our first year in the Swaz have finished their service have begun their departure. It’s a sad time for sure, but we wish them safe travels and good luck in the future!! It is crazy to think that this time next year, it will be our time to leave. And as fast as this year has gone, this next one will go by even faster, to be sure.

On a completely unrelated to anything note, I saw the King yesterday! He was in Mankayane which is near to me to officially launch the national campaign for male circumcision, Soka Uncobe (Circumcision Conquers). It’s a huge campaign, largely sponsored by the US Government through PEPFAR. So there were a lot of white people at the event. Though, I thought it was a very striking example of the Peace Corps vs our other ex-pat friends, as they all sat in the tent in the VIP section and Mike, Hannah and I sat in the crowd with our Swazi friends, sticking out like a sore thumb I’m sure. But there was a lot of hyping America in everyone’s speeches and our ambassador sat next to the King and Queen, which by association (having met him and been to his house) I felt special. Ha. But with the King officially endorsing the Soka Uncobe campaign and rocking an orange bracelet, I really hope that it helps this campaign. Their goal is to have 80% of males circumcised by the end of next year, which is a HUGE goal, but would significantly help this country. Less people would contract HIV and less money would have to be spent on their ARVs. Here’s hoping.

So, anyway, what’s lined up for the next year then? Well my counterpart Khosi who I have been working on this Community Health Project with, was hired by World Vision as I returned from my vacation, which is bittersweet. I am extremely happy for her, but sad that I have lost my community counterpart. But I have lots of things to work on at the schools in the community while I wait for them to find her replacement. I am continuing with my teaching at the Primary School, moving on to HIV/AIDS, which should be interesting. The curriculum that we are given is not made for 5th and 6th Grade classes, so there is always some surprise in each lesson, having no real idea what they’ve learned and what is too advanced. Last Friday, I taught a lesson on the immune system to my 5th Graders, beginning our discussion on HIV. I started with the basic question, “What is HIV?” having no idea what exactly they knew about this disease that was running rampant in their country. I was shocked when a boy raised his hand and said “A virus that destroys your immune system.” Thinking he was just reciting the words without knowing what they meant, I then followed with “So what is the immune system?” and was again surprised when another boy said “The soldiers in your body that fight germs.” Keeping in mind that all of this was communicated and understood in their second language, I was extremely impressed. I asked where they had learned this, to which they all promptly responded: Religious Education! Of course? Well at least they’re learning it somewhere. I then proceeded to fumble through a lesson on the immune system, learning that, although the curriculum has cute little drawings of the different parts of your immune system, doesn’t mean it is understandable to young kids. But I saved it with an activity about adult elephants (immune system!) protecting a baby elephant (you!) from lions (germs!) and what happened when I (HIV!) came through and killed all the adult elephants, hoping the idea that HIV doesn’t kill people, it kills your immune system so it can’t protect you from germs, like umsheko (diarrhea!). I’m hoping to collect all my lesson plans and all the things that worked into a Life Skills curriculum for Primary School students so others don’t have to struggle through like I have. Most volunteers teach at the High School level so I think that’s why there isn’t as much material available for the younger students.

Well, I hope everyone is surviving the heat wave that I hear is parading around the States these days. Its hard to believe, but I’m sitting here writing this in my hut, wearing almost every piece of clothing I own. It is so gosh darn cold here, its unbelievable. My hut is constantly between 40˚ and 50˚, making it warm-ish (40˚) at night and freezing during the day (50˚). It probably reaches a high of 70˚ for an hour or so around 1pm, but quickly drops and is slow to rise again the next day. Today, my computer wouldn’t turn on until I set it out in the sun for an hour, and my closest volunteer got pneumonia. Welcome to Africa.

That’s all for now. Hopefully I can get some pictures up soon from St. Lucia and Cape Town, but there are lots of pictures of both on Dad and Eric/Rob’s Facebook pages, if you’re dying to see them. Otherwise, they’ll hopefully be up here soon!

Lots of love!

Megan

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Kute Gas

Hey everyone! Sorry for the lack of updates lately and sorry this one won't be longer. We're out of electricity on the homestead so the update I planned to write upon return from vaca with Mom and Dad cannot be done. But as soon as I get to some stable electricity and internet expect a long update on life in the Swaz, including my project completion and the visit from Mom and Dad, sneak peek - lots of hippos! ;) hopefully i'll get pictures of Cape Town and St Lucia vacations up soon too. But that's all for now. Stay tuned! Lots of love, Megan