Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Peace (Corps) Out!

Well, the time has come... My Peace Corps service is over. My two years in Swaziland - done.

It seems like not that long ago I was finishing school and telling people I was moving to Africa in the summer. Now, here I am two years later, telling people I'm going back to America. It's crazy how quickly time passes.

Yesterday I left my community and my family. It has been an emotional, exhausting week to say the least, but by the time pick up day came, we were all ready for me to leave. I got tired of people asking me if I was happy to leave, when I was coming back, and what I would give them when I left. My family was tired of saying goodbye and thinking about what it will be like when I leave. It was sad, but it was time.

Tomorrow, I'll be "ringing out," a little ceremony we do to signify the end of our service, and I will no longer be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I will be Megan Key, RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer).

I'll be heading out on Thursday, towards Durban to learn to scuba dive before moseying my way along the coast towards Cape Town. I'll be spending the whole month of August on the beautiful beaches of South Africa, which I am very much looking forward to.

After Cape Town, it's on to Namibia, Vic Falls, Malawi, Zanzibar and Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda before heading up to Europe on Nov 2 for a few weeks in Italy, France and London before heading home on Nov 19 in time for Turkey Day!

It's a big trip coming up. One crazy venture ending and one starting. But I am excited to be making my way towards home... even though its the #LongWayHome. I'm excited to see everyone, to watch TV, to shower consistently, to eat good food and just soak up life in the land of plenty.

I will miss my time here, without a doubt. I don't think it's really hit me yet that I won't see my family again, or take a khumbi down that horrible dirt road or sit around the wood burning stove trying desperately to keep warm. I won't see my sisi's baby be born, I won't see my little kids grow up, I won't hear the girls sing at 6am while washing or my sisi's giggling together. But I'm still not sure it's hit me yet. I'm still in town, I'm just going on vacation, right?

I don't think any of this will really hit me until I lay in my bed in Minnetonka and realize this experience, this crazy adventure, is over. What will I do then?

Friday, July 27, 2012

One Last Library Picture

Here's how the library at the Primary School looks as of today, my last "working" day. Craig will continue to work with them after I'm gone, as will the new volunteer when she comes in late August.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Whew. It’s been a long and crazy second to last week in my community. Long, crazy, exhausting and emotional. And I still have a week to go.

I spent Monday in town, buying roofing materials for our library. Yes, roofing! We’re that far already. The school contributed the money for the blocks and cement and built the walls, so we’re using the money from the Kirby Simon Trust to put a roof on. I am thrilled that we were able to buy everything before I left, so I don’t have to dump it on the next volunteer!

Unfortunately, they weren’t able to deliver the materials until Wednesday, and even with that, they only delivered half of the supplies. But we’re pressing on anyway, and the timber went up on the roof today, ready for the corrugated iron on top.

I thought I would get home early on Wednesday, give my sisi time to braid my hair so I could have a sweet hair do for my retirement party on Friday. Little did I know what was actually in store for me Wednesday afternoon…

I was hanging out, playing Spider solitare (and losing), waiting for my ride home, when the Secretary came and said “Asambe, sisi! (Let’s go!) To the Home Economics building.” So I followed, with really nothing else to do, and I walked in the door to find two GIGANTIC cow heads in the sink. And that was just the first thing I noticed. There were hearts and livers and lungs spread out all over the floor, and what I later found out was a large garbage can FULL of intestines and stomachs (as you know, cows have 4). It was another one of those moments where, even after 2 years, I think “yup, I’m not in Kansas anymore…” I then proceeded to make it very clear to anyone who would listen that I DO NOT eat the insides. (My days of “all in the name of integration” are over.) We hung out while teachers came in and out, cutting up the hearts and livers and I figured I could handle this, I did want to be a doctor back in the day, and this isn’t so bad. Then some women came and they opened the big trashcan full of intestines and started to clean them, because, after all, they were full of shit. Literally.

The Secretary then said “Asambe, sisi” and I wearily followed again, not knowing what we were going to walk into next. “We are going to chop meat,” to which I thought, that I could handle. Well apparently “meat” means anything inside the cow because the next thing I know, I’m cutting intestines still full of shit and all 4 stomachs of the cow, into bite sized pieces. Awesome. You’d think after 2 years I’d learn to ask before I willingly follow someone into situations like this, but no. So I’m chopping, and I’m chopping, and I’m trying not to vomit. And finally we finish cutting all 8 buckets of guts to find, to everyone else’s delight, someone has provided us with a snack! … of cooked intestines. It’s now going on 4:30 and I’m dog tired, having planned on being home hours ago. But I put on a good face, say “no thanks!” and try to keep my eyes open and from shivering too much, as the sun has now gone down.

Unfortunately, we STILL couldn’t go home, because we were waiting for the men who had taken the REAL meat to be braai’d a half hour away to come back so they could eat too. A half hour or so later, they came back, with “red meat” for us to eat. Thank God, I thought, and I allowed myself to be dished the real Swazi braai of a huge serving of liphalishi and braai’d meat. And as I finally allow myself to eat the real meat, I can’t shake the smell of the shit filled intestines and it’s making my stomach curl. Well I finally realized it’s because I was holding the intestines in my right hand, helping the Secretary to cut the meat, then I rinsed my hand under water before I ate the braai with my right hand, as is Swazi custom. Obviously the smell (and most of the germs I bet) hadn’t gotten off of my hand and I was having all I could do to control my dry heaves, while trying to finish this huge portion I was served. So I was not paying attention when I ate, what I thought was just a fatty piece of meat. I finally realized this was NOT meat, and then noticed the curled shape of the intestines. Someone had tricked me! But I thought, at least I could say I tried it again, even if it was accidental, and I reaffirmed the fact that intestines were not for me.

Finally, we were able to go home, and I wandered into my homestead after 6pm, well after dark, much to the surprise of my family. I felt like I was coming home past curfew. Incase you didn’t know about my life here, I have NEVER come home after 6pm. Ever.

The next day (yesterday), as I left for school again, my sisis made sure to remind me they wanted to watch a movie so I shouldn’t come back so late. I said I would try. I spent most of the morning, typing programs for the party the next day (Surprise! You’ll be speaking!) and tests for the upcoming exams… if the teacher’s don’t continue their strikes. I thought I was going crazy because I couldn’t shake the smell of dog food all day, and Lord knows, no one buys dog food out here. Then as lunchtime rolled around, the Secretary comes in with a plate for me… liphalishi and cow stomach. I seriously had to repress the urge to vomit. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a cow stomach, but it looks like a sea urchin; one part looks like a net, another is hairy. All are gross. I politely declined, knowing there was no way I could even pretend to eat it. So she left it in the office with me, for her dinner later. Thanks for that smell all day. So I was eager to get out and help chopping vegetables. But when I got there, the only thing they needed help with was cooking the left over intestines on the fire outside. Fortunately we were outside so after I put the lid on the pot over the fire, I couldn’t smell it. We then proceeded to chop and peel butternuts (SUPER HARD!!) well into the evening again. I think I held my own with it, but I was nowhere near as fast as the other women. They kept switching my knives, thinking each was too dull, I finally told them I thought it was user error and that got quite a few laughs.

I once again got home way past dark, though this time I couldn’t just crash and spent most of the night trying to write a Thank You Speech that wouldn’t reduce me to tears. Considering I was crying writing it, I knew that was hopeless.

Today, I woke up early and practiced the siSwati phrases I had in my back pocket, ready to pull out and wow the crowd. I headed to the school, and met up with my boss, the Country Director, and the Deputy Ambassador who were also invited. We toured our library, and then hung out waiting for the party that started at 9:30… by 11 we were finally underway. It was a great party, full of dancing and singing (thankfully not by me) and lots of praises to the two retiring Mrs. Dlaminis and me. When the first person turned to me in their speech and thanked me for what I had done for the community and my eyes watered, I knew it was going to be a long day. By the fifth, I knew it was hopeless for me to think I would make it through my speech. And when Mrs. Nxumalo had the kids stand and say “GOODBYE SETHABILE!!” I was done for. After the gifts were given, it was time for my speech. I wish I could say I nailed it, but I barely made it two sentences before my voice cracked and two paragraphs before I couldn’t continue and my sisi came out of the crowd to cry with me. But I pushed on and, though it was in a voice I didn’t recognize as my own, I did nail my siSwati.

It was another long afternoon of cleaning up, but I ended it with opening my gifts with my sisis in the kitchen a few minutes ago. I got a beautiful hand woven bag and wooden hand carved tray as well as a wooden replica of my hut. I also got a towel set and a hairdryer. I gladly passed these things on to my two sisis who you would have thought had won the lottery. One has been trying to start her own little salon business and was ecstatic to have the hair dryer and the other got 6 towels! : )

All in all, it was a great week, one of those crazy, emotional ones I won’t forget. I’m eager to see what next week, my last week, has in store. But next weekend will be the real tear jerker, as I leave Monday morning. Goodbyes are so hard…

Here’s my speech from today:

Sanibonani, boNkhosi. (Hello, everyone)
Ninjani? (How are you?)
Mine Sethabile Shabalala (I am Sethabile Shabalala)
or Megan Key.
As you know, I have been here in Magubheleni for 2 years.
Sengitonivalelisa, (I have come to say goodbye)
as my time here is now over.
Ngiyabonga kakhulu kungiphatsa kahle kwenu boNkhosi. (Thank you for treating me so well.)

I have enjoyed my two years here with you, in the community and at the schools.

You have treated me well as if I were your own. It is very nice to be treated so well when you are so far from home.

You have taught me your culture, your language, and your ways of living. I think every lesson I learned, ended with “Now you will be a good ‘makoti’.” I hope someday I will and I will remember my time here.

There are so many people to thank for a great two years:

Thank you to umphakatsi, Babe Indvuna and Bucopho for letting me stay here and for your support. And thank you to my cownterparts: Khosi and Phumzile. Together with them, we were able to hold health workshops last year and start a garden at the ‘lidladla’ at Silaheni.

Thank you to everyone at the schools: Mrs. Gwebu, Mr. Ndlagamandla and all the teachers and staff. Thank you for making me feel like a part of your school community. Thank you for your interest in bettering your children’s education through reading books. Because of that we were able to receive 1000 books at the High School and begin building a library here at the Primary School. And thank you to the children for always yelling: “Sethabile! How are you?!” when I walked into the gates, making me feel welcome and loved.

Lastly, thank you to ALL the people of Magubheleni. I have enjoyed meeting you, and getting to know you. Thank you for being so warm and welcoming to me. Because of you, I will always have a home in Magubheleni, Swaziland.

Ngiyabonga kakhulu, bangani bami. (Thank you, my friends)
Inkhosi inibusise. (God bless you)
Ngiyonikhumbula njalo. (You will be with me always)
Salani kahle. (Stay well)

- 9 days –

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fighting fires

Fighting the brush fires at Kerry's... Save the tomatoes!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Let's Read Some Books! (Soon)

Here are some pictures of the library we are building at the Primary School! Thank you to the Kirby Simon Trust and the US Embassy!

When the teacher's strike calms down, I'll get pictures of our Books for Africa Library at the High School that you all so graciously donated to! Thank you Thank you!