Thursday, September 20, 2012

Time to Ramble On

As a total Game of Thrones nerd (it is known...), I’d like to share a quote a friend of mine reminded me of when I told her the news: As Daenerys said,"If I look back, I am lost”.

All PCVs become huge nerds. It is known.
Look back from where? Well I am on a precipice...again. I seem to end up on them a lot, probably because of my terrible sense of direction and/or lackadaisical approach to my life. About to jump into something totally foreign and new: the world of shopping malls, democracy, fireplaces, running water that is always hot, cul-de-sac’s, Cat Country 107.3, the English language…the land of Wawa (which I hope to be my first stop off the plane). I can’t even explain how exotic the quotidian changes like sitting on my deck drinking a cup of coffee and reading the Philadelphia Inquire sounds, and how commonplace picking guavas off the tree and chasing chickens off my porch is right now, but I know that won’t take long to change.
It absolutely amazes me how adaptable human beings are, and how quick we are to acclimate to new environments, to change, and make things work (maybe I have been watching too much Human Planet but still). Even, for instance, the body’s ability to heal itself, the 8 inch incision on my abdomen and the other two smaller ones are now fully closed and hopefully in time won’t resemble some pagan symbol from the next Da Vinci Code book (please pray Kerry was right by saying when it heals, it will actually improve my ability to do "the worm"). So I am sure that being Medically Evacuated from Peace Corps, while deeply saddening to the core, will inevitably work out for the best. I am at peace with the reality that I am going home, a fact that is completely out of my hands.  The one thing that absolutely breaks my heart is not being able to go back to say goodbye to my host family or to my PCV friends.

Like I said, human-beings are very adaptable when it comes to the big stuff, but it is the minutiae that for me, have always been the most nostalgia-inducing and the most hard to accept change from. Here are some of the little, random things about Swaziland that I will always appreciate and miss: eating mangos and avocados (and things I never knew the names of) off the tree, the Swazi handshake, rain on the tin roof, the insane electrical storms that irrationally prompt you to put on rubber boots, Dairymilk bar(s) after a bad day, Jazz Bar, Mozambique radio, the boys doing traditional “high kicks” every time we go out (or go anywhere), greeting every single person that you see, Pick N Pay “No Name” boxed wine, guava season, House on Fire, the random and often very deep conversations that occur on public transport, all that is encompassed by the word “Bombaso’s”, chicken stew (especially with a chicken you killed yourself), chicken dust (especially from the Rasta guy at Mahlanya), gnawing on endless stalks of sugar cane, City Jive, khumbi’s named “Latino Heat” “Shalom” and always “Jersey Queen”, not having electricity, not needing a headlamp when the moon is full, Sundays sitting outside with the family and following the shade, Babe telling funny stories around the fire, ordering the large Take-Away with pap because you are starving, "shooting the moon" during a particularly intense Hearts game, Coca-Cola with cane sugar in glass bottles, Mephaquine dreams, watching Disney movies with the kids, the kids running out to meet me when my bus brings me home, businessmen in traditional regalia but holding brief cases, Bushfire, people shunning/asking if my snake bracelet is muthi nyama (black magic), pub night, staring at Maputo’s skyline every night, praise names, bargaining my worth in cows, braii, having children play with my hair at will, my totally tricked-out hut and mural, seeing elephants, giraffes and impala on the side of the road near my shopping town, using the term “shopping town”, sharing books with my BFF at the country-club, Zahara, running into acquaintances everywhere you go because there are only 1 million people in the country…and the people themselves especially.

Obviously, I won’t miss having black mambas in my front yard or sweating bullets for the entire 6 month summer because I have no fan (and am too afraid to sleep with windows open because of said snakes), or a lot of the things that made life very difficult but were a part of life. Those are the things that make Peace Corps what it is, and made me better for it. Facing fears you didn’t even know you had, putting up with extreme discomfort, inconvenience and a bus preacher while wanting nothing more than to be home or alone, being sick and having only a pit latrine in complete darkness, being out of money halfway through the month, these are rights of passage for us. Some PCV's were asked a common question "What do you get for doing Peace Corps", and though most expect a dollar amount or some lined-up job for afterwards for an answer, my friends answered jokingly, "therapy". What you get is much more abstract and that's hard for many people, even many Americans, to understand. There is no “going home” after work, you live at your work, you have to alter your behavior to match the identity that is appropriate for that. Compromise, patience, frustration, starting from scratch (again and again), learning a literal language and even harder, the cultural language, these are parts of a Peace Corps volunteer's job that constantly test your ego and break down your self-esteem. They make Peace Corps awesome and make our stories ridiculous and maybe (hopefully) even worth listening to. Who knows, maybe I can even convince people my scar is the result of fending off a puff adder or a crocodile.

"From a public health standpoint" (gosh, how many times have I annoyingly said that), I believe in the type of development work being accomplished by Peace Corps and their overall philosophy of sustainable development and capacity-building. Peace Corps invests in human capitol, relying on people building relationships and the mutual exchange of knowledge with other people, it's not about handouts or grandiose projects that are pushed through without gaining a thorough understanding of your community's inner-workings or the trust of your counterparts. I still love Public Health after being a Health Education Volunteer but can’t believe how much more I learned in my community compared to a classroom setting. Taking classes about "Traditional Healing" is nothing compared to having a sangoma for a host brother. Writing a policy paper on what a community’s health “needs”  are and how best to implement a culturally appropriate project are very different to actually living that reality and encountering challenges you never could have known existed by research alone. The beauty of Peace Corps is any American over the age of 18 can apply for it, so while my experiences feel like they have been a huge privilege, they can be a privilege to anyone that makes it through the application process, and have been for over 50 years. While I have enjoyed being a part of it all, the reason I fell in love with Peace Corps is Swaziland itself.

I will always be proud to say I am an RPCV of Swaziland and hope I can find occasions to wear my emahiya. I am already concerned I won’t be able to find mealie-meal anywhere in America, but I suppose there is always the Internet.

I am so grateful for everyone that has been a part of this journey with me, everything I have learned, and the new experiences I have had, ngiyabonga kakhulu.
Sala Kahle, eSwatini. Ntfombitanele Shongwe, OUT!

G9 crammed into one roundavel hut during training

View from Jazz Bar, Mbabane Bus Rank

The worst seat in the khumbi, back row. Probably 110 degrees that day.

Frangipani tree blooming

Make and I dancing at a wedding

My family

The gorge
First (of many) delicious PCV cooked dinners
Some of my favorites at July 4th being silly

Cooking with Make

"Jersey girls lost in the bush"

Taking a break at standard bank from all our baggage

bosisi playing with my hair

23rd Birthday = Bushfire!!!

The newest addition to Phillies Nation
My source of light/primary disposal of wine bottles

Worst day ever. Until we got some Take Away.

Team Amurrca at the PST cooking competition

Home Depot should offer this

Happy to be in Mozambique, until 600 other people got on this vehicle

End of a 5 hour dance party, Babe just gave a speech about having to wake up early for firewood and weeding and everyone is chanting "no fields, no forest" here.

Rainwater collection/Mouse trap

Malendela's. I can almost hear the angels singing.

Lion at Hlane Royal National Park

Sangoma bhuti reading my bones

Lunkha likes my headphones
Typical day breaking out into dance
Cow in a wheel barrow at Anna Mae's homestead

House on Fire fun times
If you ever called me while I was in Swaziland, this is the famous "Tree of Reception" 20 minutes down the road

View from Mambane with Dhuha's babe

Inducting the little ones to glow sticks

The large stew with pap, only cure for a very hungry or frustrating day

Swazi Times

Yet another clothes washing and BBC day

Surprise! One of my six awesome bobhuti, Don Williams or bust.

High kicks and traditional dancing time

A small but poisonous green mamba at my stesh
Danni's photo of my favorite tree outside my house

Some PCV's learning traditional dancing

Sunrise from my homestead, Maputo city lights and Indian Ocean on the horizon

My backyard

Last Random Fact of the Week: I will definitely be back to Swaziland one day.

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