All you’ve got to do is decide to go and the hardest part is over.
– Tony Wheeler
Staging June 23rd: After a sweet goodbye from our very favorite people, our parents we took two flights to make it to Philadelphia. After a whirlwind of introductions, information, and a parmesan chicken famous phili-style sub, we became overcome with excitement and nerves. Labeled as the married couple we meet many wonderful people that will become our friends over the next 2 years.
Travel June 24th/25th: After an hour and a half of sleep we awoke at 2:00 am in order to catch a bus too JFK airport. Arriving entirely too early we waited as a group to check in, then waited as a group some more to get on the plane that would take us to Johannesburg in just a mere 15 hours. Plenty of sleep on the plane was gotten by Grace while plenty of movies were watched by Sean. In the arrival area we were met by current Peace Corps Volunteers and staff. Slaughtering the SiSwati language we introduced ourselves and returned to the seated position for a 5 hour bus ride. We walked across the Swaziland border which was pretty neat, and arrived at the SIMPA training compound around 5:00 pm. A welcoming party helped us unload our bags and find our rooms (pictured below) and we were instructed that there would be more instructions after breakfast in the morning. It is our first night in Swaziland and are excited to begin.
Training Day 1, June 26th: Today marked the first day of training for us! We woke up at 7:30am to get to breakfast at 8am. We are really spoiled here at SIMPA because the meals are great and the portions are huge. The nicer you are to the ladies behind the little buffet line the more they heap onto your plate. After we consumed our breakfast burgers (yes they were actually burgers but no complaints here) we went to a Peace Corps in Swaziland lecture given by Steve Driehaus our country director. It focused on Peace Corps’ history here and a brief section on Swaziland’s history as well. The next section was on Safety and Security given by M.V., his name is actually really hard to pronounce because he’s Swazi so he goes by M.V. for motor vehicle he says. M.V. is a 5th degree black belt that used to compete internationally for Swaziland so we feel pretty safe. Steve calls him a “walking badass” and it looks to be true enough. After M.V.’s session we broke for lunch and returning our lunch we all got our new kindles! The Peace Corps uses kindles because they don’t want to hand out the 103 documents that are pre-loaded to the kindle. Thus, we each got a brand new kindle complete with data network compatibilities and touch screen. Pretty cool stuff that is ours to keep! Also, the Peace Corps has their own library of books that is up to 10,000 copies at the moment so we shouldn’t ever get to bored. The final training of the day was how to assemble our Peace Corps issued ceramic filter. They are fairly simple and will filter about 3 liters I think. Swaziland has sishtosomyosis (spelling?) in the water though so we will learn soon how to bleach or boil then filter. After the sessions were over Grace and I both got through our medical interviews (we have boring medical histories) and we each got our first round of malaria medicine. They start everyone on doxycycline for two weeks before we pick what we want but due to my medical history I asked for 2 weeks of malarone, which I got no problem. After that Grace and I parted ways and I played capture the flag with a large portion of the team and Grace went to relax for a bit before we all went to dinner. Post-dinner there was a bonfire with smores and an impromptu talent show so we had a lot of fun. Once the party died down though we called it a night which is what I think we’ll do now!
Saturday June 27th: It is interesting to me that we all have already lost track of time. Today is Saturday? Not truly understanding what day we all thought it should be, it was still a revelation. Today was long, full of information, and fun of course. While working on our language skills it is very obvious that Grace will have to work harder than Sean and Sean could easily choose to work less hard than Grace. I am sure that language will come up excessively in the next 10 weeks (the training time period) so I will digress for now. With a walk around the SIMPA campus and a game of soccer before dinner we continue to enjoy the company of our new friends, fellow emavolontiya kaPeace Corps (Peace Corps volunteers). Although it should not surprise me, it still does, how close people can become when placed together in an unfamiliar place. There are good people here. We cannot wait to meet even more.
Sunday June 28th: Language and culture. Today was an onslaught of language and culture. We learned 4 different clicks and several examples where the tone of a syllable in a word changes the entire word and its meaning. So if Grace says she is working really hard on it don’t think it’s because she’s not getting it. This language is very complicated and full of about 3 pages worth of sounds that are not in the English language including for example mkhw. We like to cut ourselves some slack every now and again and remind ourselves that two years from now we’re going to return with one hell of a secret language. We’re learning so much so quickly because on Tuesday we will meet our host families who we will live with for the next 10 weeks. Culturally we learned the proper way to give and take (everything with the right hand), the best way to take a bucket bath (there’s not one), where men and women can “pass water” (the answer for men is practically anywhere), what to say when we visit other homesteads (Ekhaya kaDlamini), and a variety of other things that will all come in handy for the next 10 weeks and beyond. Also, Grace and I will be staying in the village of eSihhohhweni during the 10 weeks so find us on a map! (Hint: It’s near Matsapha) It’s very small, so I don’t even know if it’s on a map but happy hunting! It’s time for us to say kuhlwile noma (or) good evening!
Monday June 29th: Namuhla Kuyabandza. Today is cold. At least it started out that way. When the sun rises the scarfs and sweaters are stripped away and the day becomes pleasantly warm (I will save my word for hot for a really hot day). After 2 hours of language and 4 pages of notes, Sean and I both walked to lunch and decided that we would really master the phrase, ngifundza siSwati kancane kancane, I’m learning siSwati little by little (yes there are those pesky clicks in the phrase). After lunch, where we think we had the famous pap (sour porridge) we went back to the classroom. Other trainings for the day included a security and safety seminar given by MV and a member of the Royal Swaziland Police Service (RSP) and a water/food sanitation overview given by the Peace Corps medical staff. I think I can speak for the both of us when saying we are excited. We are excited to meet our host family tomorrow, excited to learn more about the siSwati culture, and excited to get specific training that will allow us to live sustainably in our final community. I almost forgot! We had to “give up” one bag for the next 9 weeks of training. The bag will remain at our country director’s home while we are living with our training host family. I am currently writing while watching Sean try to stuff his backpack full of our stuff in order to accommodate all of the things that I decided that “we might need” for the upcoming months. Lala kahle (or) good night!
Tuesday June 30th: Today was the big day! We woke up and made it to breakfast at 7am where everyone’s nerves were on edge but the excitement was definitely palpable. We broke from breakfast (by the way we had breakfast burgers – if it’s not porridge in the morning it’s like leftovers from the 4th of July) and we went to our small group classrooms. I don’t think we’ve mentioned our thishela (teacher) yet, so his name is Mandla Shongwe. He has a degree in law and is currently trying to pass Swaziland’s bar exam. We think he is the head LCF (Language Culture Facilitator), and we couldn’t be any happier with him. He is awesome. Anyways, we had 2 hours of class (there are a total of 4 in the class) to review our greeting and introduction phrases before we met our host families for lunch. After class we went to a brief logistics meeting about how the rest of the day would proceed and what equipment/food should be waiting for us at our host site. Grace and I get double of almost everything (thank you tax payers) including pots and pans and sheets and blankets and all the stuff where it would be totally understandable and perhaps more logical just to give us one set, so we weren’t worried about equipment and material. Immediately following the meeting we went to the gym on the campus to meet up with our LCF’s (Mandla) who would introduce us to our host families. Mandla introduced us to our babe, Babe Shabangu, (father) amidst the chaos of the other 45 volunteers meeting their families. We tried to introduce ourselves in siSwati but babe is older and there was too much going on around us. We were able to assure him that we were 2 and we were married, because he was only expecting one! He proceeded to tell us how lucky and excited he was to have two and he called home to tell make (mother) that we were 2. We ate lunch together before boarding a khumbi (15 passenger van) and leaving for Sihhohhweni. Babe was very excited and asked if we had ever seen the cows or goats that lined the roads on the way in, it was a good distraction from the khumbi which I swear was about to drop an axle. We finally passed a pre-school and a small grocery store and we learned that the small driveway right across the road was babe’s homestead. We pulled in to a beautiful little homestead with a great view of the mountains and babe showed us our house which is separate from the rest of the family (pictured above). Our house is huge. On Swazi standards at least. It is an octagon made entirely from concrete. The floor is polished concrete and the walls are block with concrete molded shingles for the roof. We met the Shabangu family consisting of 3 sisters, Simiso 19, Nozipho 23 and Khombi 16, 1 granddaughter, Letho 3, and make Shabangu. Sisi Simiso speaks excellent English and she was very outgoing, an uncommon trait in Swaziland, so naturally she became our tour guide showing us the umthoyi (toilet), epompi (water tap), and the pig pen where two of the biggest pigs I’ve ever seen live. We ended the tour and began to set up our hut by creating a small kitchen area and bathing area, as well as a sleeping and sitting area. After we got set up we carried the massive hamper of food of which we got 2 of, to the main house to share with the family. Other than an electricity stipend from the PC the families only get the food the PC gives to the trainees. Naturally, our family was overwhelmed with the nearly 150lbs of food we brought over. It makes for a good thank you though. Nozipho cooked dinner while Grace and I talked to the other sisters and Grace has already made a fast friend of Letho who calls Grace anti Grace (Aunt), and me mhlumu Sean (uncle). Dinner was boiled chicken with vegetable stew over rice and cooked cabbage. It was delicious and we ate with the sisters while babe and make ate separately, which is common. Shortly after dinner we retired to our hut to make our bed and unpack our bags, and I must admit it finally hit me. We are here making this country our home for the next 27 months. It’s hard to imagine but while thinking about it I couldn’t stop feeling blessed. Blessed to be here with a wonderful family in the Shabangu’s. Blessed to be here with a wonderful family back home. Blessed to be here with my wonderful wife.
Wednesday July 1st: It is hard to believe we have only been here for one week. The time passes quickly here and yet the days seem longer. I am sure they will feel even longer since we were able to experience our first daily 3:00 am wake-up call, our 4:00 am wake-up call, our 5:00 am wake-up call, and our 5:30 am wake up call. I am certain that we would have had more wake-up calls if we would have actually stayed in bed past 5:45 am. If you haven’t guessed by now, our family has many animals including chickens. This means that there are roosters, which love to cock-a-doodle-doo. I ask Simiso if she hears the roosters as she walked us to the bus station this morning. She said she did not. Maybe it will be like trains in Tennessee, I am looking forward to that learned noise immunity. We boarded a bus around 7:45 am this morning (arrival time supposed to be at 7:00 am) full of fellow PCVs. There was lots of excitement as we learned about PCVs homesteads and families. The range of amenities was surprising. Homes with indoor plumbing and flat screen TVs were mentioned. Other homes were devoid of electricity and cooking was done on an outside fire pit. We spent the first hour of the day discussion the good and the bad of the first evening with our families. As expected, volunteers had different experiences with not only amenities but language barriers and cultural misunderstandings. What a learning process this will be for all of us. We spent the remanding morning talking about the Peace Corps plan for development and our roles as Peace Corps volunteers. Much discussion focused around the simple things that are so hard for many people to do – listen, be present, walk alongside, share, and learn. We ate our packed lunches on the ground in the sunshine (me- boiled eggs, orange, and trail mix. Sean- orange, cornflakes, granola bar). We spent the remaining 2 hours talking specifically about malaria and malaria medication. While Swaziland is not a malaria prone area it is important to take anti-malaria medication if we aim to travel or if we are in a Swazi community near the border of Mozambique. Back on the bus we went with more food in hand to give to our family (it is somewhat overwhelming the amount of food we take to our homes). The bus was relatively quiet because we were all going back to the “unexpected”. What should we do when we get back? Should we stay in our room? Should we try and help with dinner? It is all very new. And new can be scary. So we are back in our room after a successful conversation with Babe, listening to Letho sing at the top of her lungs outside our home. It is almost time to prep for dinner and there was just a knock at our door. I will let you know what comes next.
We are back now, we had an amazing meal. Beef, porridge, and stewed vegetables. Nozipho is the one who cooks in the family. She is little by little letting me help. While the 2 older girls went to church with makeShabangu, and babeShabangu sat in the TV room, we spent time talking and eating with Nozipho and Letsho. They have been quieter than the rest of the family so we enjoyed getting to know them both better. Before eating we showed makeShabangu the picture book that we made of our family. OH did they love it! They recognized how blessed we were to have a large family, parents that are married, and have all of our grandparents. Even cross culturally people think I look like my mother, makeShabangu says it is all in the smile. It is very different, but so far we are truly enjoying different.
Thursday July 2nd: We got shot. We got shot twice each to be exact. We got shot once in each arm and we didn’t even get a lollipop to be even more exact. Yes, today we got our rabies and South African flu vaccines, and after word got round that I was threatening to riot if I didn’t get a lollipop, all the volunteers got lollipops from the PCMOs (Peace Corps Medical Officers). A sweet success it was. I gave mine to Letho later that afternoon. In addition to shots though we had one-on-one meetings with Steve our CD (Country Director), and our PCADS (PC Assistant Directors/Program Managers). Sibiniso is the head of Youth Development and Samu is the head of Community Health. I should be more exact though since I’m in an exact mood this evening, I did not meet with Steve as youth development will do so later in training. Steve was called away to a swanky 4th of July party at the U.S. Ambassador’s house so he was only able to meet with the CH volunteers. (Do all the acronyms get annoying? They used to with us but they’re making a lot more sense now that we use them every day) Anyway, our meetings went very well and Sibiniso expressed great interest in my construction background and would like me to talk to all the YD volunteers about my ideas for project opportunity. Samu also seemed to really like Grace and Grace’s openness to all populations depending on the community’s need is exactly what she is looking for. After we concluded meetings and shots, our group of 23 or so volunteers took our first shopping venture to Mhala. There is a large shopping complex there with several major supermarkets like Spar and Pick N’ Pay. I also saw a hardware store (Mica) and a building supply store aptly named BuildIt, so I’m ready for some home improvement projects once we get our permanent sites. Grace and I were after a few specific items including honey for our tea and PB sandwiches, a mop for our concrete floor post bathing, and an electric kettle since I plugged ours in back at SIMPA and fried it (it was only rated to 120v and Swaziland has 240v ((Yea I know right – AppState needs to take their M.S. back – I’m an idiot))). In any case, we took our list to SPAR and got most of what we needed grocery wise before we went on to Pick N’ Pay for the kettle and mop. I was slightly tempted to stop at the KFC for lunch (the only American chain in Swaziland) but it had quite a crowd, and Grace packed us great lunches earlier that morning. We returned to SIMPA feeling quite victorious and caught the YD bus back to Sihhohhweni. We surprised the Shabangu family by returning earlier than expected so we took our extra time to wash hair, prep more water for boiling and filtering, and organize our groceries. The interesting thing about life here is that there is no real downtime until after dinner, and that’s only if you work to make it that way before dinner. Well we try to make ourselves (dear goodness Ronald, our resident rooster, is already firing up…the moon is so bright here he gets confused…I don’t know whether to be sympathetic for the poor guy or tell babe that he should be next on the chopping line…its only 8:50pm for goodness sake) downtime after dinner each evening so we got everything taken care before we went to the kitchen at the main house. We were a little surprise because dinner was already made when we got there and we were able to sit down to dinner quickly with our bosisi. Nozipho learned itolo (yesterday) that Grace and I had not eaten liver before, so she thought she would introduce us. The plate was set with liver, porridge, and stewed spinach with peanut butter and tomatoes added for good taste. It was definitely a dish we had never tried before and Grace and I both ended up passing off our “leftovers” to Khombi to finish off later tonight. We gave all the family a toffee candy we got from SPAR and wished them a good night (Lala kahle) before heading back to the hut and subsequently the latrine. All in all it’s been a great day here in the Kingdom of Swaziland, hope all is well in the U.S. of A.
Friday, July 3rd: We celebrated Independence Day today. We are absolutely aware that it is not actually the day you will celebrate it, but hey, we are in Swaziland. Before we celebrated we awoke to take an early bus to SIMPA to learn about diversity. Our walk to the bus was nice today. Make and Babe Shabangu walked with us. We talked about Swazi food, God, and New York City. It was the most perfect way to start the day. At class we talked about different topics that define us, charge us, hurt us and change us. Current PCVs were there to discuss the difficulties and benefits of being different in a foreign culture. We left after class for our Country Director’s Steve’s home for a 4th of July party. Almost 100 volunteers, future, current, and now leaving, were present. Before hamburgers hotdogs and beer, the U.S. Ambassador spoke. She spoke highly of Peace Corps volunteers in Swaziland, truly involved in the efforts being made, naming specific projects and people to congratulate. I felt truly encouraged that strong relationships existed between our efforts. We had fun. We ate too much. We made new friends. All in all it was a freeing day. What better way to spend almost 4th of July? We arrived home later than normal and were welcomed immediately by our host family. They were worried and it made me smile. As we become accustom to our nightly routine of bucket bathing, filtering water, braving the latrine, and organizing life for tomorrow, it makes me smile as well. Someday soon this will seem normal and that in itself makes me happy. Happy 3rd of July!
***sorry for the lack of pictures, we have plenty but were unable to upload them***