Thursday, April 18, 2013

Club Unstoppable - Hello from some Swazi High School Students


One of my activities in my community is a club, which the students named "Club Unstoppable."  The students in the group are in Forms 1 and 2 (the American equivalent of 8th and 9th grade), and range in age from 13 to 18. They are primarily girls, but we do have a few boys who join us on occasion. The students' first language is SiSwati, and it is not until high school that they begin to learn English in earnest. Below, you'll find short introductions of the students that they wrote (I've added some notes to explain some of their references). They've also included short Siswati lessons for you:

My name is Wendy Camp. I live at Siphocosini. I do my education at Siphocosini High School. My favorite food is emasi (note: emasi is sour milk – kind of like a combination between cottage cheese and yogurt), and my favorite sport is netball (note: similar to basketball). I stay with my parents and two siblings. I was born in 23 May 1997. I was born at Mbabane Government hospital. I spend my time with my friends by playing and reading newspapers. I want to go to university, and when I finish school I want to be a nurse. My language, SiSwati, is very interesting. To ask someone where they are going, you say “Uyaphi?” To ask someone what their name is you ask, “Ungubani ligama lakho?” Hello is “Sawubona.”

My name is Lindokuhle Kunene. I was born by a coloured (note: She's saying that her mother is “coloured.” In Swaziland, the term coloured is used to describe someone who has one black parent and one white parent; it is not considered a “bad” label, and it was very difficult for me, as an American, to get used to). I was born at Mbabane Hospital in the year 2000. I stay with my mom, dad and siblings. I have one sister and four brothers – one of them is 9 months old, and the others have completed school. My favorite Swazi food is called tindlubu (jugo beans). I really love wearing my Swazi traditional clothes. I love creating my own poems during my spare time and I call myself the queen of poetry. When I grow up I want to be a poet. When I finish school I want to study chemical engineering, because times are tough so I can not rely on poetry for the rest of my life. Here is a poem that I wrote, I hope you enjoy it:

There will be a day where
all the terrible things happening
around us shall stop. The day where
instead of hurting each other we
will help each other. Instead of
upsetting each other we will cuddle each other.

If we can help each other
only if we can do that, if
we can help each other, only
then we help our beloved
country, the day where all the
nation shall stand up as a nation united

My name is Nonduduzo Khumalo. My favorite Swazi food is Sinkhwa Sembila (note: maize bread – it's very similar to corn bread). I stay in Siphocosini, which is situated near Mbabane, with my parents, four brothers and one sister-in-law and cousins. I was born on the 7th February in 1999. During my spare time I like to read books and also watch t.v., but mostly I like reading fairy tales. In the future, I would like to go to university and to be a nurse or a lawyer. I also want to help my community. I hope to see you all someday.

My name is Lungile Camp. My favorite Swazi food is incwacwa (note: sour porridge; it is kind of like grits, except it is fermented and sugar is usually added). I stay in Siphocosini with my parents, and I have 2 brothers and 3 sisters. I was born April 14, 1997 in Manzizni. I spend time by reading books or playing and watching television. I want to go to university someday, and when I finish I want to be a police officer or an accountant in a bank. I also wish to go to America. I have three sisters and two brothers.

My name is Temaswati Dlamini. My favorite foods are fish pie and chicken stew. I stay at Siphocosini near the river called Sithobela. I stay with my mother and father and two brothers. I was born on the 17th of March 1998. I have two brothers and one sister. I spend most of my free time studying and I refresh by listening to music. When I finish school I want to be a doctor, I would like to go to university in Russia (note: there are no medical school in Swaziland, so if you want to be a doctor you must go abroad – which is financially very difficult for most Swazis). My favorite music is R&B and Hip Hop. Nelson Mandela and Jennifer Lopez are my role models. My best artists are Beyonce, Nicky Menaje, Chris Brown and Usher. I love my culture very much. One cultural celebration is called “Incwala.”

My name is Sebenele Kunene. I'm 14 years old. I live in Sithobela near Siphocosini. I was born in Makayane in Swaziland. I stay with my family. My favorite Swazi food in incwacwa (sour porridge). I like bright colours such as pink, red, white, orange, etc.. I like fish and chips (note: chips are french fries) and I like wearing pants (note: Culturally, women are supposed to wear long skirts; while it's not against the law for women to wear pants, it is frowned upon. This is changing among young women and professional women, particularly in the cities, but in the rural areas it's still unusual to see women in pants. During the lead up to Incwala, a cultural event, a group of men travels through the country and will berate women and charge them fines if they are found wearing pants, nail polish, or if they are married and do not have have their hair covered). I was born on 9 February 1999. My mother is Thuli Mnisi and my father is Jeremiah Kunene. I have one sister and two brothers. I am the last born in my family. I spend my free time hanging out with friends. I like singing and acting. I want to go to university at limokwing or William Pitcher College to get a Bachelor of Science degree.

My name is Happiness Zwane. My favorite Swazi food is umbhidvo (note: sometimes called blackjack, it is a type of green leaf vegetable, like spinach, that grows wild. It is stewed and a little oil and seasoning are added). I also like to watch and do dancing. I stay at Mantabeni (Mhlane). I stay with my grandmother and younger brother. I was born in Mbabane government hospital. I have one brother and one sister. I spend my time by reading a lot of books. I want to go to university after high school and become a police officer. I want to tell you more about my language. In SiSwati, when you are greeting a person you say, “Sawubona. Unjani?” (Hello. How are you?) and the person will answer “”Yebo, Ngiyaphila.” (yes, I am fine). In Swaziland there are a lot of sayings, one of them is “kubona kanye kubona kabili,” which means “to see you once is to see you twice.”

My name is Thandukwazi Makhanya. My favorite food is Sinkhwa Sembila. I stay at Sithobela with my mother and three siblings (two brothers and one sister). I was born on the 20th September 1995 in Mbabane government hospital. I spend my spare time reading magazines and hanging out with my friends. I would like to be a doctor when I finish school. Here are some phrases in SiSwati: “Sawubona” Hello, “Uyaphi?” Where are you going?, “Uhlalaphi?” Where do you stay?, “Baphi batali bakho?” Where are your parents? “Uhlala nabani?” Who do you stay with?

My name is Ndalenhle Dlamini. My favorite food is maize (note: Maize is basically corn, but with a slightly starchier and milder flavor; maize is the staple food of Swaziland and is the basis of most people's diets – it is used to make porridge, both thick (for eating) and thin (for drinking), bread, and more. Pretty much every homestead grows their own maize, which they can dry and grind into maize meal to make various dishes; for the poorest families, maize meal is likely all they have to eat. Swazis also like to eat maize roasted on a fire as a snack, and all over the country it is common to see people with small fires on the side of the road, roasting and selling ears for approximately E3.00 - approx. 40 cents American). I stay at Siphocosini, with my father, mother and brother. I was born in Manzini. I spend most of my time concentrating on books. When I grow up I want to work as a judge. I want to go to Ngwane College.

My name is Zandile Nhleko. My favorite food is noodles. I stay at Sigangeni, rural area, with my mother and one sister. I was born on 7th December 1997 in Mbabane government hospital. I spend my free time reading books of different stories. I want to go to university to become an accountant. My hobbies are playing netball and table tennis.

My name is Nawazi Simelane. I am 16 years old. My favorite Swazi food is incwacwa (sour porridge). I stay at Siphocosini (Kasipete) with my mother. I was born in 1996 in Mbabane, and I have two brothers and one sister. I spend my time singing worship songs and praise the Lord. I would like to go to university and to be a nurse after school.

My name is Khayalethu Mthombi. I live at Siphocosini. I was born 9th September 1999. My favorite food is umncebal (billtong) (note: dried beef). I stay with my mother. I have two sisters and one brother – they are all older than me. I love to spend my time reading books. I want to go to university to be a teacher after school.

Thanks for taking the time to meet some of the students in our group!!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ending Integration With a Bang: Siphocosini World AIDS Day 2012


Once again it has been a while in between posts.  I would apologize, but I think I just have to come to terms with the fact that I will likely always be a sporadic blogger.  My hope is that, what I lack in frequency of posts, I'll make up for in content.  You decide!

As always, I miss all of you and I miss many things about America.  That being said, I'm very happy in Swaziland, a stunningly beautiful country where I have been fortunate to meet many amazing and welcoming people.  As I approach the end of six months in-country, it's amazing to see and feel the changes that I've experienced in so many ways.  Everyday I feel more at home, more familiar/comfortable with the language (and less self-conscious about my many mistakes), less like a spotlight is following me around everywhere I go.  I've kept myself very busy during the past few months, and have had the good fortune of successfully planning and completing my first big project already - a World AIDS Day Celebration in my community.   

Early in September, my community counterpart and I began preparation on what we planned to be a small event - something to get our feet wet and to start setting the stage for bigger efforts along the way.  Our small commemoration quickly blossomed into a large and multifaceted event.  While stressful at times, I'm so happy that we achieved this success early on, as it has strengthened my relationship with my counterpart, given me visibility and credibility in my community, and given me confidence and an optimistic view of what I will be able to achieve during my service.    

I have many projects raring to go in the new year, including building a library at one of my local primary schools (which I will start bugging you all about in the very near future), and have started some wonderful conversations about potential collborations with many of you in the good ol' US of A, but for now I'm looking forward to relaxing over the holidays (including a beach trip to Mozambique over New Years - Yeeebbooo!!!).  Below is a piece I wrote about the World AIDS Day event for Peace Corps.  And please write back to me, either in the comments, via email, on facebook, via snail mail, whatever! It gives me great joy to know what is going on in your lives!  Love you all and salani kahle (stay well)!!!

On Saturday, December 1, 2012, approximately 800 Swazis, along with a few American friends, attended the first Siphocosini World AIDS Day Event in the northern Hhohho region of Swaziland. The event was a collaboration among the Siphocosini Clinic, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), and the Siphocosini KaGogo Center, and was also supported by donations from the US Embassy, NERCHA, World Food Programme (WFP), World Vision, Spar Supermarket, Pick n' Pay, and the presence of various organizations, including the Swaziland National AIDS Program, PSI, ICAP, the Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS), and Lusweti. As a result of an extensive letter-writing and pavement-pounding effort by my wonderful counterpart, Busile, and I, to our Umphakatsi (local governing council), community stake holders, government agencies and every conceivable NGO in Mbabane, the event was a collaboration among the Siphocosini Clinic, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), and the Siphocosini KaGogo Center, and was also supported by donations from the US Embassy, NERCHA, World Food Programme (WFP), World Vision, Spar Supermarket, Pick n' Pay, and the presence of various organizations, including the Swaziland National AIDS Program, PSI, ICAP, the Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS), and Lusweti. Specifically, the early and extensive buy in of EGPAF was a huge coup, as it gave us access to Swazi professionals experienced with navigating the extensive protocol involved in pulling off a Swazi event.
The day was a wonderful success, despite the fact that, on the evening before, we were unsure whether our months of hard work organizing would pay off. While Bomake (women from the community) and I camped out at our community clinic preparing the last-minute details, erecting the tents, making AIDS ribbons and food tickets, and preparing food for the large number of attendees we'd projected, the sky opened up in a massive thunderstorm that threatened to stymie our efforts. Throughout the night, the rain stopped and started – what would we do if rain kept people away? We had no contingency plan, which seemed pretty shortsighted. However, luck shined on us, even if the sun didn't, and December 1 arrived, slightly overcast and misty, but rain-free.
The event began early with an AIDS Walk, led by the drum majorettes from Siphocosini High School and Bhekephi Primary School. The 2.5-kilometer walk began at one end of the community and ended at the grounds of the clinic, where the main event took place. As the walkers arrived, they were greeted by NERCHA banners displaying the World AIDS Day 2012 theme: “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS-Related Deaths.” The celebration began with a performance by the drum majorettes followed by a welcome by the MC, Sipho, a senior nurse from the clinic. The event focused on addressing the importance of male involvement in the fight against HIV, and more specifically the male role in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission. To that end, EGPAF hosted the Swaziland army's drama group, Simomondiya, who performed a play addressing the necessity of male participation in a way that was both substantive and humorous and that had the audience, which contained people of all ages and genders, engaged and entertained. The performance was followed by breakout sessions, facilitated by professionals from EGPAF, to discuss the performance and issues, information and myths surrounding HIV and AIDS.
In addition to the residents of Siphocosini, we were joined by members of neighboring communities. We also were honored to welcome the American Ambassador to Swaziland, Makila James, who gave an inspiring speech. Throughout the day, PSI administered HIV tests at mobile testing units, while the crowd was entertained and inspired by musical, dance and poetry performances by local artists, community members and high school students; and speeches by the Hhohho Regional Health Administrator and members of the Umphakatsi, the community's traditional leadership. After being fed a delicious meal at the end of the day courtesy of food donations by WFP, Spar, Pick n' Pay, and EGPAF – and, of course, the efforts of Bomake – we wrapped up by distributing T-shirts, caps and Tom's shoes that had been donated by World Vision.
According to the World Health Organization, World AIDS Day exists to provide an opportunity for public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic and encourage progress in HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care in high prevalence countries and around the globe. With the highest HIV prevalence in the world, Swaziland benefits greatly from World AIDS Day as a tool in the battle against this epidemic, which is threatening the very existence of the Swazi people.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Integration: Part 1

Sanibonani! (Hello!)

** A few weeks have elapsed since I wrote the below entry (on September 10), and there's much more going on. The pace is definitely picking up! I've been formally introduced to the community at a meeting of the Inner Council (local government), started volunteering 1 day a week at the local clinic, have made arrangements to start a project at the high school, and started setting up meetings with other members of the community.  I've also been invited to participate in a traditional Swazi wedding, and have been learning some traditional dance for the event.  Everyday I walk around and marvel at how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful place!

I'll write more soon...

Training ended a little over two weeks ago, and I'm in my own house now. I live in the Hhohho region - near the capital, Mbabane.  I have my own rondoval (small, round house) on the homestead of  a Swazi family.  I even have my own plot in the family garden, and will be planting this week.* I'm excited to start growing some food, and my family is eager to see what I grow (Swazi staples are maize, cabbage, spinach, onions, carrots, beets and green peppers; when I said I would be growing broccoli, basil, cilantro, etc., they had no idea what I was talking about - but they're definitely intrigued!). *UPDATE: It took me longer to get my garden started than anticipated, but finally got some stuff in the ground! So far, I'm working on runner beans, basil, strawberries, tomatoes and broccoli...

My host family is headed by a Make (mother), who is a nurse in the capital working primarily with TB patients.  Make's husband passed away a few years ago. There is also a Gogo (grandmother) on the homestead - my Make's late husband's mother. Make speaks english very well, but gogo speaks none at all - which is actually good because it should encourage me to practice SiSwati!  Make's adult daughter, Jabu, also lives on the homestead, but she works fairly far away, so she lives by her job during the week and stays at the homestead on the weekends.  Her son, Mgendulo (pronounced Ben-de-low), also lives on the homestead. He's 11 years old and awesome - he's my buddy. Also, coincidentally his Anglo name (many Swazis have both a Swazi and an Anglo name) is Maxwell (for those who don't know, that's also the name of my 11 year old nephew in the states)!  His english is really good and he's a really smart, funny, personable kid.  There is also a teenage ovc who lives on the homestead, and Make's son, who's in college in Pretoria (South Africa), has a hut here where he stays during breaks.

Mgendulo has seen pics of all of the family, and I told him he can be pen pals with the kids.  He's super excited about it, and he and I wrote letters to Ryan/Ianna/Angelica and Max today, which I'm dropping at the postoffice in a little while. Meg & Col - they will take a few weeks to get to you, but keep your eyes out for them!

Swaziland is a rural mountainous country, about the size of New Jersey, but with a population of only about 1.2 million.  There are 2 largish towns/cities (Mbabane and Manzini) and a few smaller towns/cities, but the rest of the country is pretty much farm land.  There are lots of animals here, but primarily those of the farm animal variety (eg: chickens, goats, cows, dogs, cats).  I did, however, see zebras, hippos, warthogs and crocodiles on a day trip to Mlilane Wildlife Sanctuary, which is located near my town.  Unfortunately, there are lots of snakes here, although only a few deadly varieties (none of which are in my region, thank goodness).  Also, unfortunately, Swazis favorite way of avoiding snakes is by getting rid of long grass (or any grass, really); as a result, large swatches of land are routinely set on fire.  It is not at all unsual to see a whole side of a mountain or a field up in flames.  While this practice disturbs me greatly - for many reasons, specifically the environmental harm it causes - I can't help but be in awe of the casual control Swazis have over these fires.  I was at a lecture in a church several weeks ago, and the fire came right up to the side of the building. I was nervous, but no one else was - rightfully so, since the fire was efficiently and effectively halted in time to prevent any damage at all. 

My community is located in the highveld (high in the mountains), and is very beautiful and green.  Swaziland is home to the largest (or one of the largest) man made forest(s) in the world, and I live near that forest.  Timber is a big industry here, and many people in my community work in the timber mills.  Well, I say many, but that's relative.  The unemployment rate in the country is approaching 50%, which makes the US unemployment rate look like nothing.  Because I live so close to the capital, the average income in my area is a little higher than in other regions, and there are more professionals around me. That being said, Swazis are still overall extremely poor.  Swaziland is considered a middle income country, but that's only because the tiny percentage of wealthy here are extremely wealthy, and so they skew the statistics.  However, since 80% of the land in Swaziland is Swazi Nation land (belongs to the government, as opposed to title deed land), the poor here at least have places to live and land to farm on.  There are still major issues with food security, but generally not homelessness.

It gets a little cold in the evenings, because we're still at the end of winter, but overall it's pretty hot and sunny. There are some issues with water access in my community - we're near a river, but the levels were very low because it hadn't rained for approximately 6 months, so the water couldn't reach the pipes that bring the water from the river into my community. As a result, I had to walk with a large container and a wheel barrow to a community tap about a 5-10 minute walk from my house to collect water.  I'm pretty pathetic pushing my water home, when you see the Swazi ladies carrying these enormous, heavy water containers on their heads! It's pretty awesome.  However, we had several days of rain last week which raised the water level of the river and filled the large Jojo water tank on the homestead, so, for now at least, I have access to water from a tap on the property.  It's amazing the things we take for granted in the US.  I also have to boil, filter and bleach my water, and wash my clothes by hand. You get used to this stuff pretty quickly, though - but it is very time consuming and labor intensive.

People overall have been welcoming and friendly.  They are not, however, used to seeing white people outside of the big cities, and so my presence is very conspicuous.  They are especially not used to white people speaking (or trying to speak :) SiSwati, and so they laugh alot when I greet them in their language.  The laughter is generally a result of their pleasure and surprise, but it does get a little tiring having people stare at you and laugh at you all the time :) . 

This period of my service is referred to as integration, and therefore my primary job right now is simply getting out into the community and meeting people.  I've met many people already who are interested in working with me, and I see exciting things on the horizon!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Preparing for Departure....


According to my usual methods, I have procrastinated until the very last minute in setting up this blog, so it will be a little light on details.  In short, in just under three days, I will be heading to Swaziland in Southern Africa, where I will live for the next 26 months as a Peace Corps HIV/AIDS volunteer.

The past few weeks here have been wonderful and overwhelming - I've spent time with my family, celebrated my youngest nephew's first birthday, seen one of my closest friends get married, visited with friends I see far too infrequently.  I'm aware every day how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful, amazing people in my life.  Which, of course, makes it much, much harder to leave for the next two years.

Ultimately, however, I'm more excited than I can explain about this next part of my life.  I want to list all of the info about Swaziland that I've accumulated over the past few months for you, but, as stated above, I'm running short on time and still have lots to do before heading to staging on Tuesday afternoon.  But, the beauty of modern technology means all you have to do is type "Swaziland" into your favorite search engine, and off you go!  You'll find out pretty quickly that Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV in the world at approximately 26%, with recent statistics indicating that over 50% of pregnant women are infected.  You'll find that laws still exist and are enforced that make it illegal for women to own property, despite the fact that these laws are unconstitutional according to the Swazi Constitution adopted in 2005.  You'll find that Swaziland is the last true monarchy in Africa, with a king who not only reigns, but rules - and that political parties are illegal.

You'll also find a vibrant, beautiful and ancient culture, with passionate activists and artists, strong family bonds and amazing strength in the face of terrible poverty and disease.  Although I'm sure the next couple of years will present their share, and more, of challenges, I can't wait until Swaziland becomes more than just words on a page, and I hope to use this blog to bring some of my experiences to you.  I don't know yet what internet access will be like, so I don't know how often I'll be able to post updates, but I'll do my best.

In case you're interested, here's my mailing address for the first few months.  If and when it changes, I'll let you know:

PCV/Catherine Reilly
Peace Corps Swaziland
Box 2797
Mbabane H100

*Just an FYI, making "Africa" large and visible is very important, as it is apparently very common for packages to be sent to Switzerland instead of Swaziland. Oh, US Postal Service - what am I gonna do with you...