A few highlights of the first 7 months in Swaziland:
This blog entry was actually meant to be posted on the 6 month anniversary of arriving in Swaziland, obviously that didn’t happen. Since arriving there has been so much that has happened that have stood out as being very special. Here are just a handful. As this is long, I broke down the blog entry into topics so you can skip and choose what you want to read if you’re in a crunch for time or have the same short attention span as I do…which is why this post has taken a month to post.
One of the most memorable experiences I have had so far happened just before the holidays, a group of PCVs went for a 3 day hiking and camping trip in a beautiful area of Swaziland called Malalotja. In addition to the 15+ miles of hiking we did and quality time spent with my friends here, this trip makes the cut for being one of my favorites for so many reasons. This was possibly the first time in my life where I was completely cut off from civilization. We were surrounded by a beautiful mountain range and for as far as the eye could see there was not a single trace of human existence. No cell phone reception, no internet, nothing. Just the sound of beautiful birds, herds of wild zebra, wildabeast, and Impala, and the sound of several waterfalls. Nature at its purest.
While I haven’t done it yet, I am in the process of routing out a bike trip over all of Swaziland so I can see as much of it as possible. Given the country is roughly the size of New Jersey, this shouldn’t be too long of a trip. This will be reported more as it approaches.
My Swazi Family
One of the things that makes being a PCV in Swaziland so unique compared to every other country the PC serves in is that all of the volunteers live on a homestead with a family. This is because Swaziland is unique in that it is such a family based society. In every other country volunteers live on their own. Even though I live with a family I have my own hut. I’m so grateful I have my family as they have made it such an enjoyable first 6 months.
Everything from meeting them the first time to spending my first holiday season with them while away from family and friends back home, to fetching our cows together, to my family standing up for me to people they have known their entire life by telling them to never ask me for money or food again (this happens a lot). There are simply too many times that I can’t pick a favorite one or the one that is most memorable. My Swazi family has been the biggest reason I have been able to get through the hard days. As soon as I met my family I knew immediately we were going to have a special relationship. Even though babe doesn’t speak any English and my siSwati is far from fluent, you can identify humbleness a mile away and my babe is perhaps the most humble person I have ever met. In addition to being humble he has a great sense of humor. I wish I knew siSwati better because he is apparently a total jokester but does it with a straight face so I never catch it until the room busts up laughing. My babe and I have been doing a good job teaching each other our own language. The day my babe told me “sitochubekha umsebenti wetfu entsambama (we will continue our work this afternoon)…maybe” the smile on his face was priceless because he said in English the word “maybe.”
Even though I just mentioned my family, my ten year old brother gets his own shoutout. When he isn’t in school or watching the goats in the field, he spends a lot of time with me in my room. As I am typing this blog post he is in my room drawing on the floor jamming out to Sublime’s What I Got and classic ska. Adorable, shy, and most stylish dancer ever. This kid is my sidekick and always wants to do whatever I am doing whether working in the garden, weeding the fields, watching How to Train Your Dragon and countless others, playing Spot It!, playing with Pogues, or trying to ride my bike at the beginning or end of every one of my rides on a bike that his legs hardly reach over the top tube.
Pogues the Puppy
One of the many other things I love about my family is that they are one of the few families where they treat dogs well and respects that for me a dog is truly a man’s best friend. Unlike in America, many people here do not look at dogs as being pets, they very likely do not feed their dog beyond kitchen scraps. Dogs being lynched for killing chickens not only happens here but has been experienced by a fellow PCV in my group. My family is totally not the typical Swazi family. My family had a dog who gave birth to a litter of puppies the first month I have been here. Only one of the puppies survived. About 3 weeks after giving birth the momma dog was hit on the road. My family knew I loved dogs and my babe suggested we continue feeding the puppy and taught me how to milk one of our goats to give the milk to the puppy. So for the next month I milked a goat and fed the puppy. Naturally my family decided this puppy was now mine. Her name is Pogues (Irish for “kiss”). Pogues is a beautiful dog and has helped me show my family and all visitors of our homestead just how smart dogs are and why they are a man’s best friend, not simply something to guard your homestead. Pogues follows me nearly everywhere and “helps” me when working in the field or collecting the cows and comes charging at me whenever I come home. Beating dogs here is not uncommon. Even if my family did beat their dog before I arrived they do not now and make sure people know not to do so to Pogues. There have been a few times when someone struck Pogues when I was inside yet still able to hear it. Each time I have heard my make or babe tell the person to not do that againbecause”Ndoda (me) will want to beat you if you hurt his dog.”
In the School
Traditional Attire at School: One of my favorite experiences in the school I work in is when 30 students wore their traditional Swazi attire. I’ve mentioned this before but it was certainly a highlight to a very bad day (results of the elections were released that day). Our school allows students to wear their Imvunulo (trad attire) one day a week…very few if any participate in this. As appreciating one’s culture and identity is something extremely important to me, I try to demonstrate that the Swazi culture is just as important as any western culture. I wear my traditional attire every week and each week this past term a few new faces would show up in their trad attire each week. At the end of the term we had a competition to see who wore the best trad attire and was best at doing a traditional dance. As I said earlier, over 30 of the 120 students in my school participated!
In the community
Spending time with children with special needs. Given that my intended career will be to teach children with special needs and I have a love for spending time with these children, I have made it a goal of mine to spend time with a population that is greatly misunderstood, undervalued, and greatly ignored. A couple times a week I make a purpose of going to the house of a couple children in my community who are severely disabled. I have been going just to spend time with the children, and have been taking them on walks in the community pushing them in their wheelchair. Usually, several other children come with us. Oftentimes we just go by the main road and watch cars go by. Even though it is the most simple and basic thing I can do for these children I greatly enjoy seeing them smile and laugh. I have even had people who don’t even live in my community stop me when I’m in the bigger shopping towns say they saw me with a child in a wheelchair and asked about it. It has began several very good conversations about perceptions of people with disabilities.
Getting my bike. For those who know me know this absolutely would make the cut of top things here. I miss riding and racing back home a lot with my friends. At least I can keep riding a bike and hopefully get in some races while here. Having a bike has allowed me to see so many different parts of the region around me. My plan is to take a 2 week cross country bike trip throughout all of Swaziland (it’s a small country so that’s totally doable). Part of the favorite part of having a bike is that my little brother loves riding it before I leave for a ride or once I return.
Lastly, one of my favorites here has been the ability to bring together my Swazi life with my American life. My service would have been much different even two years ago if smartphones weren’t around or if apps like Whatsapp didn’t exist. I am able to communicate with both family and friends back home here, a third world country, so easily the only thing I need to consider is time zone differences. When I was studying abroad in Ireland in 2012 I could count on one hand how many times I talked to my family in the states over the course of 5 months. Here, I haven’t gone even a week without talking to my family. Even better, with smartphones, I have been able to do video calls with my family and friends back home, I have given family and friends tours of my hut and homestead; my bobhuti (brothers) have even been able to talk to my friends and family. This is something I didn’t expect at all when coming here and am so happy I can do.