Saturday, July 16, 2011

Is There a Traditional Healer App?

Tim chillin and watching the sunrise


Matt made a friend
It's Thursday night, and I am very ngijabula because I am eating stir fry veggies and rice noodles. Noodles. Those are like crack to us wheatards. Where did I find rice noodles in this part of the world, you ask? What an appropriate segway.

This past Sunday, Peace Corps took us on a little field trip. We headed up to Hhohho, which is the country's Northwest and absolutely gorgeous. Our first stop was at a backpackers hostel/game reserve. By game reserve, I mean some trails where you could see monkeys, zebras, ostriches, and wild boars. And hippos. But those were behind a fence…like in the Cape May Zoo. Compared to neighboring South Africa, Swaziland has little game, since it has lost much of those areas to South Africa over the years. And PC is not exactly gonna splurge on a safari for us. But it was still awesome to walk out of your hostel and see zebras. We did get ourselves kinda lost but made it back by sunset, no thanks to European tourists pointing us in the wrong direction. Damn you Claude.

Later on, we ate the best Swazi food I have ever had (washed down with the worst wine I have ever had). The place is really nice, Sondzela, (keep in mind I am a hostel aficionado, don't expect the 4 Seasons). There was room to hang out and play pool/ping pong, sit around a fire, and best of all, SHOWER. The thing about that is, if you want hot water, you better be up at the buttcrack of dawn and take no prisoners. Showers trump sleep.

We were all extraordinarily cranky on the bus which took us to several cultural attractions. Museums suck with a hangover, I know this from attending college in DC, and I was also glutened which sucks the fun out of everything. The highlight of the day was definitely Ezulwini where we to see some traditional dancing and waterfalls. It is like the Colonial Williamsburg of Swaziland. Evidently, the men used to smoke marijuana in a special area before going hunting…I guess that ensured they'd be motivated to catch dinner. I take that back, the highlight was receiving our cellphones and two unexpected packages from Whitney and Stacy. You have no idea how amazing it feels to get American love when you least expect it, thank you! Both the jerky and chocolate are gone. But were very much enjoyed, and shared.

 After a harrowing but immensely beautiful journey on the bus, we get to the college where we spent a few days learning about permaculture and sustainable gardening. It was a really useful and interesting workshop and I even feel hopeful I can keep a few plants alive. Hopefully even a whole garden. The woman who instructed us has been in Swaziland since her service in the 80's, is wicked cool and has done a ton of great things for the area since being there. She gave us a new perspective for sure. The thing about permaculture is that its designed to be extremely low cost, low maintenance and simple. Sounds like its up my alley, but we will see how my little mint and basil clippings go.

Lastly, today, we had a visit from a traditional healer. Now, I have taken Public Health classes about traditional medicine, sat down with a Scantron and was tested on them. But actually seeing and asking a traditional healer questions was pretty baller. The dichotomy of Swazi health, and many countries that are becoming westernized, is that "modern" medicine and traditional practices almost always butt heads. There are local politics, hundreds of years of tradition and generations of societal norms that come into play. To sit someone from rural wherever down in a Western clinic, who may or may not be literate, and tell them: "you are HIV positive, please read/sign this consent form, you also have TB, take your ARV's x amount of times per day and come back every week for TB treatments" is probably going to be ineffective. Not to mention the proximity of clinics to rural areas is very limited. Then there is the trust thing. Are you going to trust the inyanga your mother and grandmother went to in your little community or the foreigner in a lab coat who wants to take blood from you? However Swaziland is rapidly westernizing, and is a society in flux. The traditional healer we talked to was funded by an organization that trains them to recognize HIV and TB. Her practice is right next to a western clinic where she refers her clients to if she believes they have something she cannot treat. Tinyanga like her are establishing a bridge between two cultures in the name of health, but not all healers are like that. It will be interesting to see the situation where I am placed.

On the way home today, we stopped in Mbabane. It was our first glimpse of the big city of Swaziland and we were like kids in a candy store, or rather, Americans in a state-of-the-art grocery store. It was nice, and we all picked up some things we won't find in our town, like rice noodles and good cheese!

Random Swazi fact: Facebook is free on phones here, and is probably my best mode of communication, followed by email. Send me messages to stay in touch or get my number and call on Skype or Google Voice for very cheap. I'd love to chat!

Also…if the paragraph on traditional healing vs. modern medicine is at all interesting to you, I highly recommend the book, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down". And the South African film "Yesterday" accurately depicts the culture and scenery in this region and gives some perspective on what its like to be HIV positive in a rural community. It's good, Netflix it.

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