I met a young man on the bus the other day and he asked me, “why would you move from a 1st world country to a 3rd world? Isn’t it hard to adjust?” I had to stop and ponder the question for a moment. Sure there are many things that have been a challenge during this transition. I have discovered how important to-go cups are to me, and fancy machines with buttons that do things for you. I miss the idea of “fast food” being fast and deliverable to your doorstep. But when I really stop to think about it, there are a lot of similarities between living in Chicago and rural Swaziland…
In Chicago this is nearly an impossible task. If there isn’t a lawn mower going by 8am somewhere in the neighborhood, your employed neighbors are sure to be walking around in high heels on creaky, old floor boards, utilizing ancient plumbing that tends to sequel and listening to morning talk shows with ceaseless chatter.
Swaziland caters to families, who live a few feet from your “apartment”. You can expect them to be up with the sun, bustling around the yard with pots and pans. Livestock will squawk and cluck outside the thin walls of your house. Children will compete with endless chatter, as their feet pitter patter on the freshly packed dirt outside.
competing to get on the “EL” at 5pm monday -friday can be a brutal task. Elbows are encouraged, and slight aggression is necessary sometimes to guarantee standing room. After a Cubs game, traveling home on the train or bus means you have to be comfortable with forfeiting your personal bubble. You learn quickly to avoid drunks and holding your gag reflex when the stench of funk becomes too unbearable. Patience can be trying when waiting for transportation to arrive, but there is an app for that. With a touch of a button you can find out when the next mode of transport will be arriving.
The khombi’s have a 15 person max, which is amusing most days when you tally 20+. there are no ques at the stesh, if your not aggressive, your not getting on. End of the month can sometimes be a challenging time to get in the khombi, but as long as you get in before the gogo with the sack of grain you can secure a spot- and think “small” so you can fit 4 baby birthing hips into that back seat. If you need a few more inches, you can always open the window and lean out a little, which can also help with any unresolved BO problems. Since swaziland doesn’t have a bus tracker app, you can always utilize your nearest PCV, providing they live near you- with a text, you too can know when to expect the next bus.
SLEEPING AT NIGHT
one of your neighbors has a dog- and its not a cool one. Its probably a “yelper”, and for some reason your neighbor doesn’t notice. Another neighbor probably works nights, and doesn’t understand why blaring Keisha at 12am is a problem. On the weekends you can expect an all night serenade from the sidewalk as the drunks stumble home. Somewhere some couple is breaking up and screaming can be heard echoing through the alleys. We know this as the city lullaby.
One of your neighbors in rural africa probably has 8 dogs- half of them are probably puppies that will bark at anything. If one barks, they all bark- which means your other neighbors dogs are barking, so on and so forth. Your community is probably having a wedding somewhere, or a funeral, or a bri. Regardless there is signing and drums echoing from somewhere. After dark if screaming is heard there is no need for panic, your host bhuthi is probably just unwinding from his day by listening to his favorite gospel radio program. If you live by a road, the occasional car will fight its way through the darkness and you can catch a few lines of Akon’s newest song.
Chicago is known for its neighborhood bars, where literally everyone is your friend. There is a stash of your favorite, cheap beers behind the bar, an old TV somewhere playing some sporting event. There is a random drunk guy at the end of the bar that won’t stop using horrible pick up lines but he is buying you beers, so you don’t care. There is greasy fried foods on the menu that all sound amazing. Even if there isn’t a dance floor, girls “woo hoo!” when an old school favorite song comes on.
Every bar in swaziland is essentially a neighborhood bar. No techno lights, or fancy cocktails served in light up glasses. Just a bar, with locally brewed refreshments. There is always a drunk guy at the end of the bar proposing to you, and also probably wants you to buy them a drink. But this bar has the best food in town, burgers, pizza, fried chicken- everything you wanted! There isn’t a dance floor, but you find yourself yelping a little when a new Enrique Inglasis video comes on the TV.
in the windy city you don’t drive a car, so rain makes going outside more work that its worth. If a bus goes by and splashes a mud puddle in your direction, your day is ruined. Umbrellas don’t work, its too windy. Its much better to stay at home, put on a movie and cuddle on the couch.
Its basically an unwritten law that you don’t leave your house in the rain here. The mud is like drying cement and cakes to the bottom of your shoes. Buses don’t run. No one you know has a car. But it doesn’t matter, because anywhere worth going, no one else bothered going to either. Stay home, watch a movie and cuddle up in bed.
in the city the only place you see your friends involves 2 things: where your eating and what your drinking. Happy hours, liquid lunches, late nights at the bar. Even a movie night at your friends apartment requires a bottle of 2 buck chuck. Seeing a movie a the cinema can be an event for the whole weekend. Getting out of town is typically a camping trip to northern WI, where you can get away from cell phones and email.
Meeting with friends here needs the same requirements. You are meeting to eat food you don’t have to cook or drinking because you’ve been needing a beer for days. Seeing a movie here takes a few days of planning, and most likely an over night in town- a weekend plan. Staying at a friends house requires sneaking a box of wine over in a backpack to avoid the clinking suspicion. If you travel to the town, your staying over night, and if you want half price it will be in a tent. Wherever you go you can expect to have limited cell service and internet.
its been a rainy week here in Tikhuba, and my light at the end of a long, muddy tunnel has been my plans to spend the weekend in Manzini. I was going to travel to the city for Teen club on friday, and then back again on saturday to spend the day with a friend for her birthday. I woke up in the wee hours of morning on Friday, excited to learn all about TC and meet up with other volunteers. We headed to the local bakery (or our version of the “peach pit”), waiting for the volunteer I was suppose to meet to show up. I waited. Waited. Waited some more. Finally I called- and thus “ Accidental Friday” was born.
It was retarded that I ever believed Teen Club was being held on a friday… when said teens are in school. But I had coaxed myself with the idea of going to town on “friday” for so long, that reason played no part as I departed from my homestead that morning. I could attribute this error to a loss of brain cells due to inactivity- but I prefer to think that my subconscious was telling me I needed a day off.
A few other volunteers wandered into the bakery while I was contemplating what I was going to do with a whole day in the big city by myself. We decided, after our latte’s, we would venture to the Gables to see a movie. Yes, in the city you can find A latte AND A movie theater London Blvd did not live up to our expectations as great cinema- we found ourselves wishing for the Smurf movie about 10mins in BUT we were the only patrons in the theater so we had fun making fun of it out loud AND they did have a slushy machine and you better believe I got one! (interesting thing about the movie theater here… they give you assigned seats and an usher leads you to them. Also, popcorn and soda is reasonably priced and isn’t served in buckets- which is honestly just ironic).
After, we ventured to the large craft market to check out the Make handicrafts. It was a really sad place. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere, and we were the only people looking around. They had many fine crafts (family- expect some awesome swazi xmas gifts :), but overall it was just a really sad place. I kind of felt like I was at the pound- and that is a terrible thing to say, but how do you decide who to buy from, when literally 40 other people are selling the same thing, and need the money just as bad. Ideas circulating….
For dinner we dined at a South African chain restaurant, that would rival an Applebee’s- but its Native American themed? It was strange to say the least. Their biggest selling point was they had a playground for the kids- (there is a whole story on the menu about how the chief wanted his village to be able to feast in peace, so a play structure was erected so the elders wouldn’t be disturbed by the noisy children – all I could think about was how long a poor copy writer somewhere had to spend writing those 4 ridiculous paragraphs. Poor guy.) The city is a lot different then where I live out in the “bush”, as they say, things like chain restaurants with playgrounds make me mostly confused about life.
while enjoying my burger I realized it was 3:30pm! This is a problem. The Gables is 30-45 mins from Manzini. Manzini is 1 -1.5 hours from Siteki. Siteki is 1 hour from my house. The sun sets about 6pm- and when it does it is DARK. Complete blackness. The last bus leaves Manzini by 4. you also have to account for the fact that this is Swaziland, and as mentioned in previous blogs, they run on their own time system here. While still chewing the last bites of my burger, I threw money down on the table and literally ran out the door. Just my luck a Kumbi comes shortly after to take me to Manzini, and despite the fact there are at least 20 people crammed into the back, I get to sit in the front! Whoot whoot! My happiness doesn’t last long, as this particular kumbi is in no hurry. We stop to holler at some girls. We stop for gas. We stop for roasted corn. Then we stop because the 20 people in the back are suddenly 3 people- so we have to cram into another kumbi to take us the rest of the way. It’s nearing 4:30 now, and I’m watching the sun sink lower and lower. I am considering staying in town with a friend or at a hostel, but I am still a rookie PCV, and for the first 3 months we can only stay overnight somewhere 1 time a month, and I am saving mine for my friends birthday the following day. This is kind of a silly rule with glitches. It would probably be safer for me to stay over night tonight, but I technically can’t, so even though it will be dark when I get home, and I will wake up at 6am to go back to Manzini tomorrow- I will be following the rule. (its like “slow roller derby”. Your technically following the rules, but no one playing is having fun).
I arrive at the bus rank, and am worried. I’ve never seen it this empty. Eesh! I run over to where my bus is usually parked and see it pulling away. I run faster. I jump on as the bus is moving. Ok, it wasn’t moving very fast, but still- there was movement. “As long as I can get to Siteki I can get home,” I repeat to myself over and over.
We arrive in Siteki at 5mins to 6. the sun is almost set. (it was a really pretty red sunset over the valley on the drive in actually.) the bus rank is completely empty. I have never been off my homestead this late, unless I was overnight somewhere. Not going to lie, I’m a little nervous at this point. As we round the last corner, at the end of the lot, there is my kumbi about ready to leave. I can’t tell you the rare chance that MY kumbi would be there. At the Siteki bus rank you can catch a kumbi to at least 15 places. And there sits Tikhuba, like a bright, shinning beacon of hope. There is a crowd around it- reorganizing so more people can fit, but I step up and the conductor opens the front door for me. SCORE! As 50 people pile suitcases, large sacks of grain and small children on top of each other in the back, I’m chill’n in the front seat.
Its now almost 8pm, and I am home. I’m amazed and a little bewildered that I made it here. BUT today was accidently awesome. An unexpected adventure, which is my favorite part of traveling. I can only imagine what this weekend will bring!
It has been an extra long week here in Swaziland. Amazing how time can both drag and go so fast isn’t it? Spent the weekend in Manzini with my friend Kelley for her bday (pictures on facebook). Sunday I met up with my friend Sophia who is a group 8 PCV, so she came the year before me. She is a part of PSN ( peer support network (PC likes its acronyms)), so she gets the pleasure of visiting many of the rookie volunteers at site, to keep us company, assess our insanity level and share with us the wealth of knowledge that comes with being a vet PCV.
Sophia stayed for 2 nights on my homestead and managed to win everyone over in a matter of seconds. Mostly because her siswati is about a million times better than mine. But it was nice having another American around for a while to go exploring with. We ventured all over my community, taking paths I was too scared to take by myself. At one point we ended up on the mountain across the river from my homestead- it was awesome to stand where I usually stare off. We talked about my adjusting and how much I love my site, and she confirmed for me that I am in a good place. After hearing stories of other volunteers I am even MORE grateful for my site placement. My swazi family is truly amazing, and my community has a wealth of resources that needs tapping. I am very happy (if anyone from the office is reading… ahem… “I am VERY happy”)
When she headed home on Tuesday I felt horrible for being so MIA in my community- even though it wasn’t really that long- I felt like I had disappeared. So wednesday I spent the day at the clinic with the HIV test counselor. What a brilliant day! There is one HIV test counselor at the clinic in my community. The clinic is the only place to get tested for a 1 hour radius, which is pretty far. He tests about 160-200 people a month! All by himself. I just think this is astounding. About 90% of people that are tested are women, 80% of those are pregnant women that are required to get tested for HIV before then can have prenatal care. I was able to sit in on a few sessions and was fascinated (even though they were all in siswati, I was able to make out the general questions and answers). Almost always the first question asked was “where is Babe?” men in swaziland do not go to the clinic very much, and they don’t have much interest in getting tested for HIV. This creates a problem for the women because if they get tested, the husband 1). assumes they are sleeping around and will most likely beat them. 2). will assume if they test positive for HIV it will be the women’s fault (even though multiple partners in swaziland goes both ways, it is generally the men who step outside a partnership)- but they will be beaten anyway. 3). if a women tests negative, by default the men think they must be neg too so there is no need to test. If is difficult to get men to test.
In the two days I shadowed at the clinic, 1 man came for a test. He had said it was his first test, but the counselor remembered testing him a month back, because he was drunk then too. This man has multiple girlfriends in swaziland and south africa, and remains unconvinced that he is HIV positive. He did 2 rapid tests and drew blood- all positive. He left saying he was going to visit the hospital in town to get tested again. The counselor, after the man left, was visibly frustrated with the man. He says this is common with men. And it worries him because among other reasons, people that go to multiple clinics to test are recording new cases of HIV all over the country each time they retest. In a small country like swaziland, this overlap can prevent the data from showing any kind of progress- which I understand can be frustrating to the few crusaders fighting this pandemic.
There was also a pregnant women that came in to receive her most recent CD4 count…63! 63! she also refused to believe she was that sick- she felt healthy. She was refusing to start ARVs, and go to the nearest hospital to start prevention for mother to child transmission. (although my clinic is large, we do not have a doctor on site. It is all nurses and certified staff. So when someone tests positive for HIV they are refereed to the nearest hospital for blood work and to start ARVs, then they can continue to come to the local clinic for monitoring and maintaining health– the hospital is a 12.50 kumbi ride away ( about the same price as a can of coke)). This women said the travel to the hospital was too much. She also said her husband had no interest in being tested, or starting his wife on ARVs. The counselor was very upset when this women left- if he smoked, I would have offered him a cigarette. It was an upsetting 15 minutes for all involved.
This is just a glimpse at the challenges we are facing here, and what is preventing swaziland from rising out of this hole. There are many cultural road blocks, that go beyond just getting people to test. Part of the problem is, the people here are SO over saturated with HIV information. From primary school they can spout out what HIV stands for, the ways to contract it, how using condoms prevents it etc etc. but their comprehensive knowledge is still lacking. Like HOW to use a condom, or WHEN to get tested (and how often). There are also other issues, which are harder to address, like women not having the opportunity to insist on using a condom.
Needless to say the last few days at the clinic have been educational. I am excited to start working with the counselor and brainstorming with him ways I can help. This weekend I will be making an HIV information sheet that includes risk reduction techniques (something that isn’t common here- its all about condoms (which no one uses)). This will be a start, with more projects to come.
Today I am taking a break from sleeping, eating, talking, breathing and living HIV challenges and walking the 20km to my nearest PVC. Hanging a mosquito net on a 15 foot, round, timbered ceiling sounds like the perfect distraction.