Sunday, January 31, 2016

...sends an update.

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's time for a Swaziland, KaLanga, and KaDlamini update! There's been a lot happening in January as schools begin opening nationwide, so we thought it appropriate to give everyone a little update on Swaziland, our community, and our homestead.

As mentioned, January brought with it a new school year! On January 26th, schools all over the country opened for 1st term, and what a hectic opening week it has been. Many of you know that Swaziland is in the middle of one of its worst droughts in history (it's rained twice in January for a combined half hour in KaLanga, and keep in mind it's the rainy season) and it has wreaked havoc on the education system. Schools in Mbabane that normally rely on actual plumbing had to turn students away because the Hwane dam that supplies water to Swaziland’s biggest city is hovering at around 5% capacity, and to think I thought Boone Lake looked pathetic before we left…eish! In order to help schools with dry pipes, the government has been distributing 5,000-10,000 liter jojo tanks but with no plan for implementation many of them still sit empty or are not plumbed into the buildings that need water. Many schools began frantically digging out latrines for students in the absence of their usual toilets. Now in the rural communities such as ours, pit latrines and jojo tanks are commonplace so the drought has a smaller impact on the school as a whole, however for reasons not quite known (but widely speculated) the government has been unable to fund the “Zondle” program yet this year. The Zondle program provides all students with one meal during school usually rice/maize meal and beans. Now, with no food, our students simply leave every day to go home when they would normally get a small meal. The government is also struggling to keep pace with their programs that support OVCs and their education because the previous number of 78,000 OVCs has doubled to over 150,000 this year. Also, this is the first year the the Free Primary Education program catches up with the secondary schools. The FPE program, funded by the EU, resulted in an increase of students in primary school, a great thing! Yet, even with several years of awareness that these students would eventually move on to secondary school, the influx of Form 1 students this year has found many schools to be unprepared. Even our own high school went from two Form 1s to five, and they are still working on the class room that will house the additional 150 odd students. Despite all the hiccups and general chaos, PCVs country-wide are rejoicing because with the opening of schools the entire country, which has laid dormant it seems the last two months, comes to life again and projects are getting underway finally! Also, the drought, despite its historic proportions, has failed to warrant the declaration of a national disaster, although our community finally made the list of hardest hit areas, so hopefully some aid is on the way for community members.

Speaking of the community, not a whole lot has been happening lately. Our church that meets at the local high school is busy building a new building to meet in which is exciting! This past Friday a team of doctors set up shop at our primary school and stayed busy all day treating community members with various ailments and just giving check ups, which was a great event to witness. The new Inkhundla is built but we’re all waiting on the King’s schedule to open up so he can come officially open it. The Inkhundla houses the “modern” government’s community leaders aka the Member of Parliament, the Bucopho (translates to” brain” so you get the picture) etc., whilst the Umphakatsi houses the “traditional” government’s community leaders aka the Chief, Indvuna (head man), umgijimi (Chief’s runner) etc. The Umphakatsi leaders and Inkhundla leaders work together but the Umphakatsi usually has more power and controls the people while the Inkhundla has more money and controls development. Such is what I understand, and they both play a significant yet separate role in keeping the Prime Minister and King informed. Also, it is Marula season here! There are marula fruit trees all over Swaziland and round about this time of year the fruit ripens, is harvested, and subsequently turned into Marula, a local brew resembling a fruity mead. 

That brings us to news of the homestead as Babe has done his best to keep me informed of national and local happenings while sharing a mug of Marula a couple of nights this week. On the homestead, January was Make and our older Sisi’s birthday month, so Grace baked a cake and bought another to share with our family. After spending a bit of a stressful week in early January with no water except our 100 liter reserve, the jojo is full again (or rather half-full now)! 

Also, my phone has officially survived the long drop. For those of you who are bewildered the long drop means the “long drop toilet” (aka the outhouse or pit latrine among others). Here in Swaziland we enjoy many things but access to the world via the interwebs or the ever elusive 3G network (what's 4G again?) is not one of them. There are certain places on our homestead that one can find a strong enough to use Whatsapp or Opera Mini but chief and greatest among them is what I like to call the office. Yes, you guessed it, it's the long drop. Now before I go on and I get judged by all our readers for playing with fire, I bet there's a good portion of you who take your phone (or a hardcopy magazine if you have such luxuries, my phone houses all my digital books and magazines) to your own office in the states. So, I did nothing out of the ordinary, in fact, I took my phone with me to a place that is the only location on the homestead that has a reliable connection with Swaziland’s 3G network. All of America just about has an equivalent connection as my office so what’s your reasoning? Anyways, after checking my email and ensuring the blizzard hadn't buried our families according to CBSNews, I put my phone down. And then it fell down. A long drop down. Now, let me break down the anatomy of a Swazi long drop toilet. It is essentially your quintessential American outhouse. Big pit, concrete slab floor, block seat, hole in block seat and slab, block walls, and tin roof. Due to the continuance and daily use of Swazi long drops, each one also comes standard with a vent hole through the slab floor, adjacent the block seat. Now, you may find long drops with a metal duct pipe connecting this hole to a hole in the tin roof complete with a whirlybird type passive vent. Or you may not. As is the case with many rural long drops such as ours, the vent just vents into the occupied space. To continue though, my phone took a hop like a ground-rule double and performed a swan dive with such elegance (it wouldn't fit any other way) down the vent hole that I score it even now as a perfect 10. In shock and slight amazement I came to Grace to explain my stupidity and my phones current predicament. Grace handled my explanation quite well, understanding all along that such an event was an eventuality given my habits, and armed me with duct tape, a large metal spoon, two crocheting needles, a flashlight and an epic plan for retrieving my phone. I returned to the long drop tools in hand (or rather in pocket, I preferred a slight level of discretion) and set about looking for my phone. Much to my relief, my phone also executed a perfect landing, just to the side of the mountain of excrement on a plain patch of dirt. I muttered a small prayer of thanks remembering that our long drop was recently built before our arrival and so the mountain had not yet collapsed to the valley floor. It was a ways down there though and it looked up at me reflecting my face off the screen and saying, “you idiot, get me out of here”, and so I begin to duct tape my tools together forming a makeshift pole which I attached a loop of duct tape to sticky side out. From there I carefully lowered my pole through the vent and stuck the duct tape to the screen of my phone. Then pulling upward very very carefully (another drop and my phone might decide it'd rather stay on the mountain than in the valley) I was able to maneuver my prize back through the vent once again. I returned victorious to the house and proceeded to use all of the remaining Clorox wipes, thank the good creators of the OtterBox, and thank my wonderfully resourceful wife for a great plan. With that, you are all officially updated as to the going-ons of Swaziland!

Across the world we want to send a happy birthday to Sam McCord and another one to JL Collins, the big 28 and even bigger 83!  We love you both!

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