Saturday, June 18, 2011

Toto, We're Not in Jersey Anymore...

June 17th, 9:30
Toto, I don't think we're in Jersey anymore. And (80's lite rock star) Toto, I don't hear the drums echoing in the night either.

I have only been in Swaziland for a short time, so my observations are limited to first impressions. Here are some basics I want to share (Yay PC goal number 3).

The parts of the country that I drove through and am now in, Highveld, is absolutely stunning. Rolling hills, big sky, free-range livestock roaming around, it is quite a contrast from Jersey. There are more stars in the sky than I have ever seen. The stark temperature contrasts in the wintertime (now) mean it can be 40 in the morning and 75 in the afternoon sun. The ground is red sand that gets blown around in the high winds typical of this region in June/July.

From everything I have heard, Swaziland is pretty modern in the capital cities. They are bustling cities with night clubs, shopping and business. Out here in the country, that's not really the case. Clearly I have electricity, but some volunteers in my village do not. I have a light bulb and an outlet in my room. We have a water tap in the yard, but some people have to haul from the river. Cell and Internet reception are probably more universal than at home, which is good news to me. As far as modernity and Swazi culture, I'd say it is similar to the US post-sexual revolution, post-Feminine Mystique. Women are becoming more empowered and gender roles are being challenged. There are career women, and new types of families aside from the traditional that are emerging. 

This is a conservative Christian nation, 90 some percent identify as Christian. I found out today my host babe is a pastor, looks like I am going to church this week! In the rural areas, which is most of the country, women wear long skirts; pants are not acceptable. Smoking and drinking are frowned upon. A woman doing so in public is assumed to be a night walker (fml). Families pray before dinner or sometimes before bed. I will probably be going to church this Sunday and I am very interested to see what that's like (and to see if I burst into flames upon entering the church). Some still practice traditional beliefs/medicine, and Group 9 gets to visit a Healer in a few weeks. 

I said in a previous post that siSwati reminds me of Italian. I speak with an Italian accent because its a very similar cadence and sounds better than an American accent. Sawu-BO-na, Bon-GIOR-no. Un-ja-ni? Como-stai? The actual phonetics are absolutely nothing like romance languages. First, there are clicks. Also, there is a sound that is similar to the first H in Hanukkah. Swati has a lot of borrowed words, which I think is cool. "I am busy" is  "ngibhizi" (or nee-busy) and pepper is "peh-pah" (phepha).This makes sense since Swaziland was once a British colony.Also there are a lot of cool onomatopoeia words, like motorcycle, which is, si-du-du-du and chicken which is un-khu-khu. Almost everyone here knows English fairly well, but PC stresses learning siSwati to better integrate and more importantly, pick up on the nuances of the culture. Also, to earn respect.  

I really like my host family. They are the most warm and welcoming people I have ever met. Everyone's situations are different, some people have very progressive families that want to talk about HIV, some have no women on the homestead, and some are traditional. I have a make (mah-gey), babe (bah-bey), 3 bhuti's (boo-ty), and 2 sisi's. There is a gogo (grandma) living on the homestead with another bhuti and I think the make has an older daughter as well living in the city. Family is the most important thing here, but not in the way we think of it. Everyone has a role to play, and none are easy. 6 year old sisi's are chopping vegetables with handle-less blades and hand-washing laundry, and bhuti's are in charge of yardwork and tending to the animals. Men and womens' roles in the house are traditional. Babe is the main authority figure and bread winner. But if there is a gogo, she has the authority. Make's work very, very hard. They are working sun up to sun down taking care of the children and the house. And being a housewife is more difficult without running water, microwaves, and washing machines. I have a lot of respect for these women. Polygamy is not that common anymore in the younger generations, but polygamy is more accepted than extramarital affairs. As I said different families are becoming accepted, single parents and even (sadly) child-headed households are seen more, due to the impact of AIDS. Its not easy to live on a homestead, there are a lot of cultural norms  I'm not used to. Like being expected to take a bucket bath twice a day. Sweeping every day. Waxing the floor every week. Swazis run a tight ship. (Gerri, you'd be perfect!)

Speaking of Make's, I am basically in make training. Everyday after classes, I join her in the kitchen next to the wood-burning stove and cook dinner. I am learning a bunch of recipes, which is good because we cook on our own in two weeks. Let me tell ya, peeling and chopping a butternut squash with a dull knife is not easy. But Its very gluten-friendly here, because maize is the staple crop, followed by sorghum. Living at the college was hard because sometimes the meals were more catered to Americans and nothing was GF to eat. Here, you eat 3 times a day so you gotta stock up at meal time. The staple meal is liphalishi, which is basically corn meal and water making something that looks like mashed potatoes and tastes good with anything on it. Umcwancwa (The C's are clicks) is sour porridge, basically sorghum and water, and a popular breakfast. It would probably benefit from some honey. Meat is eaten when available, but not too often. Avocados and mangos are widespread crops here so I am psyched for these. If only I had some cilantro seeds...Mom you were right, they do have plenty of coffee here! But also lots of tea, mostly Rooibus, and they have tea time all day. The grocery stores in town have all the basics, one (Spar) is British so it is expensive but stocked with everything. I found honey and chocolate there, aka, the essentials.

Swazis uphold appearance and cleanliness. But lets face it, American volunteers don't have the best reputation for having ironed clothes and smelling fresh. My make brought boiling water to my house twice a day to bathe at first. Here, that is a must. However, being American means that we are incredibly not used to the bacterias (good and bad) that live here, the bugs, the allergens, etc. We must boil, filter and bleach our water. It's a pain but probably better than the alternative, Bear Gyllsin' it. Hand washing is really an American thing, which is kind of an issue with food preparation and health. Sanitizer does not exist here, and mine is running low. I have not gotten sick yet, but its kind of inevitable. We are required to take malaria medication consistently, and mine gives some vivid dreams. Very vivid.

That's it for now! Hope I have begun to paint some broad strokes of culture here. I like it a lot (Lloyd Christmas voice). If you have any questions, I'd love to hear from you!


  1. Sounds great/amazing. Do you want me to send you a knife? If there is anything else you are in need of let us know. Blog post is very informative, I think I learned 10 new things.

  2. Sorghum and water is the start of a good beer, locate some yeast strain and you're there dude.

    Love the posts and keep them coming, bucket or not.