The sun shone through my window, so bright in the morning I though for a moment I had slept until noon. I can’t remember when the dogs stopped barking, the roasters stopped their ceaseless crowing or when the people outside my thin stone walls began their morning activities. Pots clanking, chickens clucking as they feast on dry maize- I sometimes forget I’m in the middle of nowhere. With my eyes closed, I could easily be in a bustling metropolis, full of buses, taxis and crowds of people rushing to get somewhere important. But as I lay in my bed, staring at the thatch roof through the tiny holes of the mosquito net, I know I am in Africa. More than Africa, I am in a tiny kingdom lost somewhere in the southern hemisphere, confused as a speck of dust on the map. I am teetering on the edge of a dusty, rocky cliff; on top of a plateau, surrounded by mountains and hidden by banana trees. From my misshapen, uneven front door I can see past the mountains, across the entire country of Swaziland to South Africa to the West. I can feel the faint ocean breeze from the east, traveling the few miles across the border of Mozambique. At 7am I can already feel the red dust collecting on my sticky skin. How did this place become home? How did these people speaking to me in another language become my family? Everything here reminds me of America in the most ironic way, and I can’t stop myself from reflecting on life. I imagine the Peace Corps is a lot like rehab.
Everyday I wake up struggling to do something productive, and lately I have been waiting for my counterpart to wake up and feel the same way. Yesterday I realized I’m not the type of person that waits for anyone to get things done. I could feel the transformation taking place within myself and I set out on my own to accomplish something- I had an amazing day.
It started by my little sister Bulunda knocking on my door, as she often does when its almost noon and I still haven’t shown myself to the outside world. “Zethu! Show your face, I want to know you are OK.” she says to me. I usually open my door, smashing my face playfully against the screen, chat for a moment and return to my self-created cave. But today I opened the door and let her inside. We decided to bake lemon muffins (2 dozen of them) and sang at the top of our lungs to Sean Kingston. It wasn’t long before the neighborhood kids came over to watch a movie. We watched Ratatouille. I love watching movies with the kids here, they have never seen any of the movies I show, so when we watch a movie about a rat cooking, they gasp and cover their little eyes. It makes movies you’ve seen a thousand times, brand new.
My 19year old neighbor, Zanelle came over later and we chatted about friends, shopping and food. She has the most unique style and often says we are twins because we are both so stylish. I love talking with her- she is the most confident swazi teen I have ever met.
As dusk approached I noticed Make by the kitchen building stacking firewood (basically the remains of burnt trees and large branches), her face covered in ash and sweat trickling down her face. She had been at the bottom of the mountain all day cutting and hauling the wood, pile by pile up the hill. There was still a good size pile left so I followed after her. When we reached the pile she handed me a patheticly small stick and told me to hamba. Clearly she does not know how many times I have moved into (and out of) the top floor apartment. I start collecting a few medium to large sticks, balance them on both my shoulders and begin to climb back up the steep hill. By the first round I am covered in black soot. Make calls me Sena (which is a a WWF wrester my little brother idolizes)– and starts handing me bigger sticks. About an hour later we have one last round to carry up the hill, so we take a break sitting on the side of the hill, watching the sunset over the mountains across the river. We are dirty, sweating, smeared with black soot- I am so happy- I feel like a part of the family.
As a reward for our hard work Make says we can pick papaya from the trees in the yard. Bulunda is the only one that can climb the rickety ladder, made from twigs and thin wire. She grabs a few and I stand below catching them (or trying my best to). Everyone is laughing, smiling, joking- even though we are filthy. It made it hard to go back to my room, even if a warm bath was waiting for me. It wasn’t long before Bulunda came to my door; “Sena! Make made you food!”. I opened the door and receive the largest bowl of piping hot pumpkin I have ever seen. It was amazing.
Its days like this, that make being so far away, worth it.
something has happened this week. I’m not sure how to explain it, or when exactly I happened, but everything is starting to come together. To explain a little, the last month has been frustrating to say the least. If you have been reading my blogs you may notice that I say “ tomorrow my counterpart is going to _______, I’m really excited!” well… take everytime I said that, and insert reality. 9 ½ times out of 10 my counterpart canceled, didn’t show up, or rescheduled. I have spent the better part of the month designing my community assessment, which I hope will someday have really awesome, impressive information about my community in it…
this week I officially gave up on said counterpart and became my own 🙂 here is what I have been doing.
1. a few weeks ago I started talking to a guy at the Inkudla (basically the secertary of state office). His name is Patrick and teaches religious studies at the local high school. He told me stories about a Peace Corps volunteer who taught HIM, in high school and how this teacher inspired him to be anything that he wanted to be. I have since ran into Patrick several times, and we started talking about ways we could work together. School has just started and they will be making plans for a Health Club soon. HIV is a huge problem in Tikhuba, where I live, and it has left a large OVC (orphans and vunerable children) community, so the Health Club reenforces life skills kids need to work through tough times- and also gives them an outlett to just talk to an adult about problems they are facing. Through Patrick, I have been introduced to several teachers and the principal at the high school- and plan to work with them much more throughout the year- maybe even teach a few classess from time to time.
2. Did you know there was a Kagogo Center across the street? Because I didn’t… until yesterday. A Kagogo center is a resource center for OVC’s. They were started by NERCHA, as a community point, that could be easily accessed and utilized to help children. They are also used as a preschool in many cases, and NERCHA provides enough food for a lunch of pourage and bean stew for the children, which in many cases is the only meal the kids will have. I spent most of the day with them yesterday and had so much fun. There are 32 kids in this preschool, and 3 teachers (who are unpaid). The kids learn english, siswati, colors, numbers, shapes, nutrition etc. It is amazing how smart these little nuggets are, epecially since they range in age from 1-6! They were so happy to show off their skills for me, and I took loads of pictures! They want to seperate the older kids from the younger ones, and teach a second class- so I may volunteer to teach a few days a week. They also don’t have many supplies, or tools to teach in the class and that will be a project of mine for the future. I’m thinking murals… yeah for painting!
3. Clinic time. I’ve mentioned before that i’ve been working at the clinic in the pharmacy a couple times a week. I am still doing this, and getting to know the staff. They are so friendly and receptive! I have printed up a survey for the nurses this week, and hope to gain some insight from professionals, on the health concerns of this community. If it all goes well, this information will be essential to creating projects in Tikhuba for the next 2 years!
4. Friday I will be going to Teen Club. TC happens the first friday of the month, and is exclusively for HIV+ teens. The point of the club is to allow these teens to feel like teens. Even though this country is drowing in HIV, the stigma still remains and as we all know- kids are brutal! So TC is a place for them to talk to other teens who understand where they are coming from. There are games, activities, information available and people to talk to. I am very excited to attend my first event and see Teen club in action!
I’m very excited about all of these potiential projects and ventures- and even happier that its finally all coming together. When our group was first assembled we had 40 people. We are now at 34. Everyone has left for different reasons, but all of us can say that this is challenging. Its the little victories that keep you motivated. (and if that doesn’t work, we find a friend and go to the pub to watch a VH1 lil wanye marathon. Happy birthday lil wanye!)