Holidays

11-24-11

Slapsgiving

It’s turkey day! And I have to admit I’m a tiny bit homesick today. It could be the fact that I’m thousands of miles from home, missing my special kitchen duties, and my aunt Darlene’s famous cheesy potatoes or that i’ve spent a week away from my swazi home, sitting in peace corps workshops with 30 (and now 69) other peace corps volunteers bursting with a never ending supply of energy. Although, I’m missing the chaos of my families thanksgiving dinner with the bustle of loud children running through the house and an epic display of American food, all is not lost.

I spent the holiday with the American community of Swaziland at the home of the US Ambassador. Swaziland PCV are lucky in many ways; especially because this country is so small, making it easy for all us to come together. Ambassador Irving hosted 70+ peace corps volunteers, the entire peace corps staff, embassy, and a few other american stranglers– about 150 people total (including 4 small children, which was a bit of a change to my normal festivities). He started the evening with the reading of president Obama’s Thanksgiving proclamation- even in Africa, Obama’s words can still make me tear up. I couldn’t help to sniffle, and then sob by the end of the speech. Its an amazing thing being in the peace corps. There are challenges, and around the holidays there’s no doubt you miss your family, however I think the tears came from a happy place. I feel very lucky to be here, and this week, talking with other volunteers I realize I haven’t been this happy since Kenya. This is what I was meant to do- and I’m proud that i’ve finally figured it out, even if I haven’t worked out all the details of “what’s next” quite yet.

Anyway….the food was amazing, all prepared semi-pot-luck style. PCV unfortunately were in class all week, so sadly I did not get to help in the kitchen- not for lack of trying though. I did manage to assist in clean up, showing off my waitress skills as I trucked arm loads of dirty dishes to the kitchen staff. (I’m pretty sure our country director (my boss) now thinks I’m nuts because I was so excited to do this) It made it feel a little like home. (*side note: my family functions are amazing, busy and consist of a full kitchen of women bustling as one big beehive. Table is cleared, and everyone assigns themselves a task- doing dishes, dividing left overs, breaking down the monstrous dinner table. No one really talks, or instructs- it just gets done. It may be my favorite part of the entire holiday.)

this week is officially the longest i’ve been away from my swazi home, and I have to admit, I miss my hut a tish. I left my house early on friday morning to meet up with a couple friends at a backpackers in town. We spent the night just the 3 of us, chating about swazi politics and convincing anyone that sat near us, that although PC isn’t for everyone, we kind of love it. Saturday was the first day of IST, which is just a fancy way to say we are officially volunteers off prohibition, and they want to tell us more stuff. Always more stuff. Its amazing how much “stuff” they can tell us actually.

All week, from 7am-6pm we were in class. Highlights included: importance of breastfeeding, male circumcision (soka uncobe campaign is HUGE here), resource fair with all NGO’s in country, grant writing, HIV stigma and general prevention, deadly snakes in Africa… basically a LOT of power pts. etc etc etc. The more interesting parts of the week were: several peoples computers were stolen (while we were in a class talking about “staying true to our charater” and wearing hats shaped like animals- this was more humorous to us all the next day lol), 2 PCV became ill with typhoid and had to go to the hospital (they were fine by the next day), by day 2 everyone was having tum issues because we were eating so much food (3 FULL meals a day- we live off peanut butter sandwich, so this was a shock to our guts)
we have gone out “socializing” 6 of 7 days (I often think PC is the sorority I never joined), we celebrated a good friends bday by going to a REAL restaurant called “Rambla’s”, and I enjoyed the most delicious calamari on the planet, we fit 28 people into 1 khombi and then got a ticket at our destination by the police (khombis are the size of a small van- with a 15 person max- so this is impressive), and best of all I was voted to be one of 7 PSN (peer support network) for our group. This last part is pretty awesome. PSN represents our group for the new rookies (who will be here in 7 months!), helps train them, gets to visit people at site and help keep all the other volunteers motivated, enthusiastic and in general…sane. I’m pretty excited that I was nominated for this position and can’t wait to get started.

We have one more half day of class tomorrow, followed by a softball game in which the PC will take on the american embassy. I will be sticking around for one more night at the backpackers with a big chunk of PCV’s just to torture myself a little more with socializing, before returning to the safe, quiet, solitude of my hut.

I checked the other day and I have 324 people subscribed to this blog. SUSCRIBED! That doesn’t even include the random people reading it, every month. I know I don’t know who you all are, but I think its amazing so many people are interested in my life in Swaziland/PC. To make things more interesting for anyone reading, if you have any questions, comments, or curiosities in general please leave me a comment and I will try my best to answer in following blogs. I have already received some interesting questions/commentary from the video I posted a few weeks ago- and a sequel is in the works. If you have anything specific you want to see, let me know and i’ll try my best to cut it in!

Happy thanksgiving everyone! I love and miss you all! SMOOCHES!

11.30.11

Home after a week and a half away from my little hut. Yes, “home” is the term I use to describe this grass roofed, 4×4 room, nestled ontop of the eastern plateau.

I was exhausted on Sunday morning when my khombi dropped me off in Tikhuba, I wanted nothing more than to lock my door, turn down my bed, crawl into my nest and sleep for enternity. My swazi family was having none of that. As I walked the 20 feet or so from my khombi stesh to my front gate, I was greeted by half the community. This 15 second walk, took nearly 30 minutes, just because there was so many people shaking my hand, hugging me, saying hello and taking my bags from my shoulder. I couldn’t stop laughing – they didn’t even know I was coming! I was walked home by a parade of people, with my little swazi sister, Bulunda attached around my waist. They wanted to know everything; but everything I told them wasn’t enough, they wanted to know more. I sat on the front stoop of my house, surrounded by my bags, until dusk talking with the ever changing crowd of people.

Eventually I did sleep away the week’s ceaseless events, and Monday awoke to the sound of my family bustling around the yard at the crack of dawn. I had to blink away the sleep for a few moments, as I remembered where I was waking up this time. But Hacheema’s rendition of the Cranberries, “dream”, his new favorite song, was echoing off the stone walls of my house. Oh yes, I am home.

I visited the clinic in the morning and sat with the nurses for most the afternoon. They commented on my new paper jewelry, I bought from another volunteer. (This PCV works with a womens group that makes beads out of magazine pages. They make beautiful jewelry; I have a collection of at least 10 pieces so far, and am planning to bring this project to my area soon. More on that to come.) I spent the rest of the afternoon talking with Babe Gwebu, my HIV TC. I love talking to this man. He always suprises me, at how comfotable he is talking about sex in this country. It took some work, but now we can talk for hours, about real challenges this country, and our communtiy specfically, is facing. This week, we talked a lot about “promises” and how he respects that I haven’t made any. This is a good thing… NGO’s are completely over saturated here, and they come in to places like the clinic, and start promising to build a new wing onto the building, or promising to get a doctor stationed at the clinic. These are not things that we need, and I appreciate (more than he knows) that he understands that, “promises” is not what i’m here for.

We also talked about the need for an in-take sheet. We have been trying for weeks to find a swazi version of this sheet, but have failed. Good thing this is something I can make! I’m hoping to start using the in-take form the first of the year, so by this time next year, we will have a really good picture of HIV in our community (and surrounding communities), as well as get an idea of sexual behaviors happening in the rual areas.

*I apoligize for people reading my blog, that have noticed a “sex theme”, I would like to take this time to warn you, this may be just the beginning.

In the states, HIV trends are tracked by sexual behaviors. Data is seperated by sexuality, gender, age, race, etc; but most importantly what kind of risky sexual behaviors you are involved in. Anal sex, vaginal sex, oral sex, number of partners, fequency of intercourse, frequency of condom use etc etc. We don’t know any of this info for people being tested in Swaziland. Really the only thing we know about the HIV spread in Swaziland, is that people are having sex. Shocker, I know. The point is, if we knew more about who, how and when we would be able to come up with a better plan to change risky behaviors to safer behaviors. Tikhuba clinic sees 100’s of patients a week. With a year of data, we could make some really good assumptions about the sexual behaviors of people in this community. And since we already know the majority of people being tested at our clinic are pregnant women, we may also be able to paint a better picture of teenage pregnancies, when people are getting pregnant, under what circumstances (ie. Abuse, violence, drug use etc). Anyway, I could continue, but I think you get the point. If the data from this intake form, can help my community, and I can get other volunteers to introduce it at their clinics- we would have a good start to a big problem.

If this is at all interesting to you, you should read “The wisdom of Whores” and “The Invisable Cure”. These are two of my favorite books, on the topic of sexual behaviors and how it can lead to a panedemic. I think I have decided I want to be a epidemiologist when I grow up… (Epidemiology is basically the study of how diseases spread in a population- typically related to sex and drugs).

AT ANY RATE…. december is going to be a busy month, so blogs may have to wait till the new year! In 2 weeks i’ll be laying on the beaches of Mozambique, enjoying christmas with a sunburn. Hoping all have lots of adventures to tell you all upon my return, including a possible snorkling mission with whale sharks!?!?! if you don’t know about whale sharks, google them! Amazing creatures! Until then, Happy Holidays!

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