Saturday, August 8, 2015 going 4km down MR7.

Disclaimer: This blog post is long. Like very long. Extremely long. For those that love us too much (like way too much), well you're welcome. For those that just love us- we are sorry...this post might be one you just want skim. There is some good information but a lot of lag time between sentences - no hard feelings if you choose to skip. We are trying to decide how to go about our postings from this point forward as to make it more enjoyable and less time consuming from your very busy American schedules. We now live on Swazi time... Hence the blah blah blah I have just concocted that in turn has made this post even longer than above stated. Therefore, the upcoming posts will be better constructed and hopefully less, well lame. Anyways, here is our week.

Monday, after two medical sessions about diarrhea and common health problems as a PCV in Swaziland, we took a long, catered, lunch break. There was absolutely no reason for our lunch to be catered today. It was quite unusual, but hey, free food is good, and good free food is even better. Today was the day that we met our site support agents (SSA). These individuals are the key into our community. They are our first contact and are our advocates for projects during our next two years. Sean and I had to ask if we would have separate SSAs because there was some confusion around that. We indeed do have separate SSAs, which we feel will benefit us both greatly in the long run. I told Sean I hoped my SSAs name was easier to say than his… Of course it was not. So as I sit here typing this blog post I am taking breaks trying to get the pronunciation correct. Without diving off the deep end of our our combined 4 hours of conversation with our Ka-Langa counterparts, I will say there is much opportunity for us in many different areas. Our community has a primary school, high school, SOS Youth Village, clinic, Neighborhood Care Point, and an active umphakatsi (chief/elders). We discussed many areas of need and areas in need of motivation each of us getting excited for the possibility of change and growth over the next two years. Tomorrow we will meet our family that will host us for the next two years and in the following days walk around our community and introduce ourselves to everyone we meet. It is about to feel real, can you feel it?!

Yes it is feeling real now! Today (Tuesday) was another day amongst those that PCTs can't wait for. Today we travelled to Ka-Langa and met our permanent host family! The day started with another session with our SSAs talking about character, work ethic, preferences and the like, and then we made a plan for visiting the community. The plan that Grace and I, and our SSAs, came up with was to visit the umphakatsi and the high school the first day, and the primary school, kaGogo Centre, and the SOS Village the second day. With plan in place, we ate a wonderful catered lunch and headed to the siteshi across from the university. The travel plan for us was pretty simple. Matsapha to Manzini. Manzini to Siteki. We caught a khumbi for 5 emalangeni to Manzini which took about 15-20min. Once in Manzini we went to the mall near the bus rank so we could buy our new family some bread, rice, and biscuits to take them. It's always polite to bring something to share when you enter a new homestead. Then, with groceries in hand, we boarded a “sprinter”, or mini bus, to Siteki. We waited maybe 25min for the bus to fill and then we were on our way. The cost of the trip was 29 emalangeni because Grace’s SSA talked the conductor into a 1E discount. We realized why about 45min later when we pulled off the road at a siteshi just short of Shiteki. Low and behold, our homestead is a siteshi. I don't remember the siSwati but it translates to house with a roof made of grass. Yes, our homestead is right next to the highway and it has its own stesh which we are very pleased with. It makes travel quicker, cheaper, and easier! We crossed the road to our new homestead, and we were immediately impressed. Babe Dlamini who we met on our front porch has built all of the houses on the homestead, and all told there are six. One is still unfinished and currently serves as babe’s chicken coop. Our home is way bigger than expected and it is actually an octagon not a square as we thought. We have 3 rooms open to us and one which is locked as storage. There are nice tile floors throughout and an awesome wood slat ceiling. The bathing room is still unfinished and the walls aren't painted but babe says he has plans to finish the house by September. Completely finished or not though it is an awesome place. We took a tour of the other houses on the homestead and met some of our bosisi. Khanyisile is 37, Khetsine is 27, and Nombuso is 21. Make was away, and we are not expecting  to meet her yet because she works in the sugar industry and stays away during the week in company housing. All of the houses on the homestead are really nice, most have tile and the girls even have an indoor bathroom and a kitchen! No water though. Babe made it seem that a pipe just outside the homestead burst and resulted in a very large bill for him and no one has fixed the pipe to our understanding, so there is a jojo tank which the family pays to have filled. After our tour we sat on our porch with babe and talked politics, but he got hungry and went after the biscuits in the kitchen. In his absence, Nombuso joined us and we talked a long time about her and the family, before she insisted us on showing us the shops in Ka-Langa and buying us umbili, or roasted mealies, or roasted corn on the cob. The local shops aren't far from us, maybe a ¼ mile down the highway, and they happen to be at the main Ka-Langa siteshi which is at the junction of the Siteki highway and the highway leading to Durban, South Africa (the current front runner for our New Years trip). We got some roasted mealies from the bomake at the stesh, before checking out the shops. Not only were the roasted mealies delicious, but the shops were equally impressive with cold drinks and cheese among many other items not available in Sihhohhweni. On our way back, Bethu, 13, caught up with us. She is also one of bosisi betfu but she attends school in Big Bend and doesn't return until around 5pm every evening. When we made it back to the homestead we met Gcina, 17, who is bhuti wetfu. All told we have a large very happy family, a large very nice house, and a large very needy community that we are anxious to see tomorrow! 

I am not truly sure what we expected for this Wednesday day, but being done with our journey at 10:30 am (a journey that started at 8:30) was not the thought we had. It was a good morning, we tried to visit the SOS Clinic but their head staff was out of town. We tried to visit the St. Paul's Primary School, but again school is out and no one was a available to talk. We did have some success at Ka-Langa High School and spoke with the head master about the history and facilities of the school. We took a quick tour and that my friends was the end of our day. We were not discouraged however, because it kind of is a little silly trying to make introductions and ask questions when we are still a month away from living here permanently. So we came back home and began to read while sitting on the only piece of furniture in our 3 room house, a twin size bed. We read all day long except for some small breaks for lunch, paperwork with Babe, meeting a boyfriend, and receiving candles from our youngest sisi when the power went out. Dinner was served around 7:00, and we spent time laughing and laughing with 3 of our bosisi who are just downright hilarious. They cooked spaghetti which was great and we drank Fanta Grape. Back at our house we…be surprised…read some more, because we honestly had nothing else to do. Current volunteers talk a lot about boredom during the integration period (which is September to December). I am beginning to take their statement more seriously. Good thing we have over 20,000 books on a thumb drive. We feel like we might need them!

Our adventure was a bit more exciting today! We learned quite quickly yesterday that today would be more of the same, so we asked if our younger sisi would show us Siteki after we went around Ka-Langa again. With that plan in place we set off to see a local garden and the KaGoGo Center. We met up with Grace's community SSA, Mfanukhona, at the SOS Village and headed to the garden, which is just across the street from SOS. The forerunner (used like foreman as best I can tell) for SOS came along as well because SOS did all the work for the family that now has the garden. It is an interesting situation that I will try to explain briefly. SOS helps local families who have OVCs living with them, among many other things. A Swazi professional soccer team needed votes to play in an upcoming tournament featuring the four most popular teams in Swaziland. Hence, the soccer team came to Ka-Langa a month ago seeking to solicit votes. They were going to work through SOS but then SOS changed their minds and had the team plant quite a large garden for the family across the street. The family has one make (widowed), and a few kids, and SOS has been helping them with their homestead. The garden has been planted for a month now but the make complained that she couldn't afford to water it, hence it has not been watered in two weeks. She said SOS has agreed to help with the water but no efforts have been produced yet. The make had quite a nice small personal garden that was doing quite well it seemed. After the garden we went up the hill to what we thought was the KaGoGo Center, but, halfway there, we met the records keeper who informed us that it was an NCP (Neighborhood Care Point) we were walking to. The functions of the two are similar, but NCPs work directly and only with OVCs, whereas the KaGoGo Center supposivly does training and education for adults as well. The NCP was a great place to visit and somewhere Grace and I will definitely return to in September to learn more about their needs. After the NCP, we went to visit the KaGoGo Center. Unfortunately, the trip was very anticlimactic. The center has been in a dilapidated state for years now, but when you ask anyone in the community if they have a center, the response is yebo. The structure is nice and solid but the problem is the roof. The makeshift truss design changes when the building opens up into more of a covered porch and the roof sagged in this section under the weight of the popular and more expensive concrete roofing tiles. We returned home content to wait til September to explore and ask more questions. Once we returned home we met up with Nombuso who took us to Siteki, our closest shopping town. Siteki is a five to ten minute khumbi ride from our driveway siteshi depending on the number of stops. It only costs E5 which is nice as well. We arrived at the hilltop Siteki and stopped for lunch first at the Siteki hotel. After lunch Nombuso took us window shopping and we visited various stores trying to get an idea of what to buy to furnish our house. The wheels are still turnin on that one. Siteki is smaller than we thought though and after visiting Shoprite (a more expensive not as nice grocery due to lack of competition) to buy some biscuits for everyone we headed to the bus rank and boarded a bus for home. Ever so conveniently we were once again dropped off right at our driveway, and we presented the biscuits to babe who was waiting for us. He sent us to rest in our house after that saying we must be tired and he must've been right because Grace took a long nap and I relaxed into a book. Something interesting happened at 5pm though. Load shedding. The past two nights from 5pm to around 8:30pm the electricity is cut off in a load shedding program via Swazi Power Company. This infuriates babe who can't understand why other house far away still have power and why they would cut the power at dinner time. I can definitely understand the timing frustration. Anyways, I know it has to do with the agreements made between SA and Swaziland because SA provides the power to much of Swaziland and they make demands quite frequently to the power companies here to regulate the electricity. Interesting stuff as babe told me a bit more but complicated and hard to understand as well. It's all good though, we ate dinner by candlelight and we are settling down for our last night here. 

It's Friday and we had a fun day today. We left our homestead around 9:00 am to catch a khumbi to a homestead of our fellow volunteers. After taking a 10 minute Khumbi ride we made It to their home and asked an excessive amount of questions. We had decided previously in the week to go into Manzini so they could show us the town and provide even more answers to our never ending questions. Hitching is a common mode of transport in the land of Swaziland. Everyone does it. So we did to! It didn't take us much time to flag down a truck to take us into town. An older man was driving and the four of us piled into his cab. After two errands, stopping by his mothers and purchasing firewood, we said goodbye to our good driver and began to explore Manzini. It is a relatively busy town with markets everywhere. We visited a few places in which we would buy supplies and where the best vegetables were located. It was definitely nice to walk around with people who know the city. It seemed overwhelming at first but now we feel more confident about traveling through the area. We bought some groceries and boarded a bus (no hitching in the dusk) back home. After a great meal of curry chicken and rice we asked a few less questions and drank some tea before heading off to bed. Back to our home in Sihhohhweni tomorrow.

It's Saturday and today we travelled back to Sihhohhweni, but we did it in quite the interesting way. Grace and I had planned to make today into an early anniversary date by going out for a good lunch somewhere, and it just so happened that the volunteers we stayed with were heading to Mbabane today for a kickball game. We figured we could find a good lunch in Mbabane so we decided to travel together. After eating some wonderful banana pancakes with peanut butter, we left the homestead hoping to travel cheap and quick via the quickest and cheapest transport in Swaziland, hitching. We flagged down a van going to Manzini and we arrived at our destination 15 min faster than any khumbi could have taken us. We walked to the Manzini bus rank to catch a khumbi to Mahhala because hitching north out of Manzini is quite difficult we were told. At the bus rank we hopped in a khumbi that took us to Mahhala for 5 emalangeni, and then we were able to flag down the first car we saw which took us to the turn off for the Ezulwini Valley. From there, we flagged down a truck which we hopped in the back of and rode all the way to Mbabane, where we took a selfie with the driver. All told, we made it to Mbabane faster and for about 95 emalangeni less than what we could have! Not bad. Not bad at all. Once in Mbabane we split from the other volunteers and headed to get spices for the chilli we promised to make our family tonight, and then we went on to lunch at Thyme Café. Thyme Café is an awesome little place located right next to a Pick N’ Pay in Mbabane. Grace and I got really good americanos and panini’s for less than $17 tip and all. Not bad. Not bad at all. After lunch we did our grocery shopping at Pick N’ Pay and then picked up an ice cream cone at KFC before heading to the bus rank. We haven't learned the hitching spot in Mbabane yet so we just got in a khumbi and went straight to Mahhala. A vegetable stand, SIMPA, and a bumpy ride later we were back in Sihhohhweni, telling Simiso and Make all about trip! We unpacked and rested for a bit before cooking chilli for the whole family, including some family that came in during school break. Well, we did chilli and rice because one it's easier to serve chilli on a plate that way, and two, Swazi’s don't eat just stews or just chilli. It is always over something, usually rice or pap. We were relieved when it turned out to be a big hit with the whole family! Not bad. Not bad at all. We played a couple games of banana-grams afterwards and now we’re closing in on bedtime. Overall, today and this past week have been a great experience for Grace and I. We know where we’re going, we know who we’re living with, and we know a few places we could plug in as volunteers. As a bonus, we know the best places to shop in Manzini, the cheapest and fastest way to travel, and the best places to get coffee in Mbabane. All in all it hasn't been a bad week. Not bad at all.

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