Thursday, July 30, 2015

...teaches reciprocally.

"It's not what you are that holds you back, it's what you think you are not." 

Monday, July 27th: First, happy birthday Grandma Jane! We sure do love you. Today was a fairly relaxed day. It was a village day, and contrary to our recent trend, the weather was actually nice for a village day. It seems that 90% of rainy days here are village days. Not today however! We started, per usual, with language before heading to our village training site for a culture session on death and mourning. It was a little somber as could be expected, but the mourning process here is important and could effect our lives as volunteers should somebody on our homestead or apart of our family pass away. After the cultural session we went for our final permagardening practicuum. Having already laid out the berms and retention holes, all that was left was to dig (kughuba) the beds for planting. Due to the amount of volunteers willing to help the beds naturally didn't turn out as expected, ours were a little skinnier than the one meter mark. After the beds were formed and the soil amended with manure, ash, and charcoal, we were ready to plant our seeds and seedlings. First, we learned about crop rotation and companion planting, which can get quite complicated, and then we planted. Finally, with a finished garden, we broke for the day. We also received our LPI scores at the end of the day with neither Grace nor I doing well. We were frustrated and have a plan for the next LPI to ensure we are tested fairly, but for now we are pushing it out of our minds. We returned home and went on a chore accomplishing spree, burning trash, doing laundry, and cleaning our floor. We then ventured up the road to buy some tomatoes and cabbage (20 tomatoes and a cabbage for $1.50, not bad). We made some wonderful veggie burgers for dinner and we are settling in for a movie, so I’ll end here for the evening!

Tuesday, July 28th: We ate bean burgers again tonight, because well, Sean made them so excellently last night that I wanted them again tonight. A girl could get use to all this wonderful cooking you know? Anyways, that was the end of our night. So as for today, we were taught how to teach. A long story, about a day worth of not so interesting stories, short, we are now expected to teach a class at the high school on Thursday. With an entire day of planning tomorrow it will be interesting what our group decides to teach about, I guess you will know soon enough! When we arrived home Sean collected all of our dry laundry and I found myself in a political conversation with Simiso about Democrats and Republicans. She watched Obama’s speech in Ethiopia this afternoon. Walking back inside I told Sean that I need to be better versed in order to speak with Simiso again. We spent some time studying and I will remind you again how much I enjoyed my dinner. That is honestly all that I have, pretty weak huh? End note: Ryan, happy 28th birthday to you! Hope it was wonderful!

Wednesday, July 29th: Life never stops here in rural Africa, although it usually slows down for you. There's always, always, always something to be doing that needs done. It’s usually something involving water, fetching water, refilling filters, dumping waste water, etc., and those three somethings are in fact daily necessities for Grace and I. Then there's the dishes that must be hand-washed after every meal, laundry day (more specifically underwear day done inside and clothing day done outside), cleaning day, grocery day, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes there are obscure somethings that need done, such as dumping the pee bucket or disposing of alcohol containers, these somethings require a little extra care and subtle execution. With all of this to be done though, life here will occasionally throw you a curveball. Like today. Today we caught a curveball. Today, for one of the first times since we arrived in Sihhohhweni, we had nothing to do for about 2 hours. It was slightly disorienting. You see due to a rather lax day of language and presentation preparation (tomorrow we will teach 30ish 12-20yr olds about self-esteem at the local high school), we were able to get laundry and other water tasks accomplished during lunch, before finishing training elsewhere in the village. Typically, we must rush home after training to accomplish what needs done before dark at around 5:30. Today, however, due to the previously mentioned circumstances, we had about 2 hours of free time from 3:30 to 5:30. Unsure of what to do with ourselves we simply returned home. After talking with babe and make for awhile about babe’s health, babe has been quite sick lately with what we assume are ulcers, we still had an hour and a half to kill before dinner. Bosisi betfu (our sisters) were napping, so we settled in to our couches and contemplated what to do with this curveball we just caught. We settled on baking chocolate cookies in the frying pan, yes, Grace fielded this curveball perfectly. It was interesting to me though, that “free-time” was a little disorienting. There is no TV to relax by, no cold beverage for out on the porch, no walk to go get milkshakes, and no bike path to cruise along. I suppose it just makes me thankful all over again for the opportunities I had in the U.S. and the friend and partner I have here now. In conclusion, when you're surprised by unplanned downtime just remember to field that curveball gracefully, let life come to you, and don't turn down baking chocolate cookies, because that something is probably the exact something you were supposed to do. How’s that for a disorienting conclusion? Time to eat our cookies. 

Thursday, July 30th: I was able to talk with my mom today on her 49th birthday! If you haven't met my mother all you need to know is that she is the most amazing woman I know. If you do know her, and see or talk to her, tell her again how much I love her for me! Today we taught approximately 40 high schoolers about self esteem, self value, and confidence. With a short lecture and a game our group felt energized by the experience. A fellow volunteer group followed our presentation with a presentation on verbal and nonverbal communication. They did an amazing job as well. On the bus ride to SIMPA we discussed our surprise at how much fun we had teaching the class. Our desire here is not exactly to be working directly in a school, but the experience was most certainly more enjoyable than we had previously anticipated. At SIMPA training site we had a short debrief about the morning followed by an extra long lunch break. We took our normal 1 mile stroll down to the imakethe to purchase some vegetables. We bought around 6 onions, 8 potatoes, 6 green peppers, and 10 tangerines for 40 emalangeni or 4 U.S. dollars. Back at SIMPA we had time to study, talk with friends, and sign up for a half marathon at the end of September. We are in it for the shirt, just like many other volunteers are. The next section focused on orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs). We now understand that OVCs are defined by poverty level and not specifically lack of parents or guardians. An child can be an OVC if his/her parents or adult has AIDS or lives with a grandparent. The definition is very vague and the government response is now truly just being established to combat the growing problem. 15% of households are child headed households. Free healthcare is available for OVCs but someone has to advocate for the child to be recognized as an OVC. The unemployment rate is above 40% and while primary school is “free”, high school is not. So all of this information that makes your heart feel heavy  leads me to my next point. Where we fit in. The lecturer pointed out the need for trade/technical skills. Deemed “lower class” people tend to shy away from these jobs but for OVCs in our community I know a pretty smart guy who has a masters in trade skills. Neighborhood Care Centers are available for OVCs in communities to receive free meals, however, they lack the funds to maintain supplies to feed the children. A community permagarden would provide supplies for no cost. While there is profound need in this specific population, there is also profound work to be done. And isn’t that why we came? Our plan for tonight is to teach our bosisi banana-grams. Sean will play in SiSwati while they play in English. I'm cheering for our bosisi, Sean always wins…

Sunday, July 26, 2015 one month old!

"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new"." -Socrates

In celebration of our one month (and one day because we’re late) arrival anniversary, we thought we’d explain some normalcies of our everyday life that were not so normal pre-arrival. 

Number one, buckets. Usage, let us count the ways. We fill buckets, we stack buckets, we pee in buckets, we wash in buckets, we spit in buckets, we scrap in buckets, we store in buckets, and we dump buckets. We never truly gave buckets the credit they are due until now. We will take any bucket devoid of holes and preferably with a handle. The handle might be asking too much. We possess little buckets, bigs buckets, wobbly buckets, buckets with lids, and colorful buckets. We’re just saying, we live by the bucket.  

Number two, water. We live each day off of about 8 liters of water. This 8 liters includes drinking, cooking, bathing, and dishwashing water. Oh yea, add about another liter for laundry day once a week. Just for added clarification, yes we wash our vegetables, yes we brush our teeth, and yes we drink about three cups of hot tea a day, all of which is included in the 8 liters we consume. It took a little while to get used to but we don't lack. Try it – you’ll hate it! 

Number three, the umthoyi (toilet). There is no need to flush when there is no flush. It is truly interest to find yourself having to return to a flushable toilet, to flush, due to the indoctrination of the sit, shit, stand, shut, strut. We will have bigger marital problems that the average “who left the  toilet seat up” when we return. Furthermore, it has become common to converse about toilet paper. “Did you bring some?”, “Do you have any?”, “Can I borrow some?”, “Are you out?”, “What else do you got?”. If you want friends in Swaziland, make sure you are packin’.

Number four, mirrors. Mirror mirror on the wall… Just kidding, there is no mirror to tell us who the fairest of them all is. We look rough, we don't need a mirror to tell us that. And good thing because we don't have one. We look in a mirror, on a good week, twice a week. Mirrors usually accompany indoor plumbing.  It was an interesting feeling at first rarely see ourselves, but we have grown accustomed to being less vain. The only mirror we use is honesty… “Grace, you have something stuck again in your teeth”, “Sean, push your nose hairs back inside your nose”. 

Number five, livestock. Old McDonald had a farm and we live it on it. Between Ronald and his girlfriends, the three billy goats that walk the bus route, and the King’s herd of royal cows that line both the streets and parking lots of Swaziland, we tread lightly and walk in zig zags to avoid the unavoidable. Poop. With livestock as a livelihood, we have the utmost respect for our free-range friends. If a cow is walking down the middle of a road, we step to the side. If a cow is walking down the middle of a highway, we pull to the side. Now, we even think in cow currency. Our salary combined is equal to one cow a month. If we saved all of our cows, in 17 months we could buy Alden a wife. Not a royal wife, we need better jobs for that.

Can you imagine what 2 months will bring? We know we will at least have “two cows” by then! 

Friday, July 24, 2015

...makes time for cookies and wine.

"Success is going from failure to failure with enthusiasm." -Mark Twain

Tuesday, July 21st: In celebration, or in my case languish, of our mock language proficiency exam tomorrow I shall tell you about our day in siSwati. Please, in no way should you be impressed. Tonight, while studying in the kitchen, our sixteen year old sisi remarked, “they sound like Letho”, who happens to be our 3 year old sisi. So it is clear that progress remains. Anyways, here it goes.
Ekuseni siye thishela Shongwe indlu. Sidadishe siSwati ne bangani wetfu. Sihambe eSIMPA ebhasini. Namuhla, sifundze HIV/AIDS futsi. Bese siye kaMahala kutsenga kudla. Sitsenge lubisi, ematamatisi, pele pele, shukela, ne emabhontjisi. Siye eSIMPA na sifunze na emavolontiya ka Peace Corps. Sime kugibela eSihhohhweni. eSihhohhweni sipheke irice, ne tibhuduo stirfry. Sisi Simiso ufundzise siSwati. Nyolo, siyanatsa litiya be siyadla no bake cookies. Lala kahle umdeni eMelika!
(This morning we went to teacher Shongwe's house. We studied siSwati with our friends. We went to SIMPA on the bus. Today we learned about HIV/AIDS again. And then, we went to Mahala to buy food. We bought milk, tomatoes, pepper, sugar, and beans. We went to SIMPA and studied with Peace Corps Volunteers. We waited to ride to Sihhohhweni. In Sihhohhweni we cooked rice and stir fry vegetables. Sister Simiso taught siSwati. Now, we are drinking tea and eating no bake cookies. Good night American family!)

Wednesday, July 22nd:  Tonight has been an awesome night! We made 75% homemade spaghetti sauce (I cheated and put in tomato paste…hence the 75%), noodles, homemade garlic bread, and not so homemade South African merlot wine. To top it all off we ate an absurd amount of lemon cream cookies (our favorite) while watching the Italian Job on our computer, thanks to our impressive collection of 250 or so odd movies. It has truly been a splendid evening, with Grace and I’s favorite sound emanating from a rainstorm on our unique roof. Yes tonight has been the best of nights, but perhaps not the best of tomorrow mornings…we shall see. 
Oh yes. Today! I forgot to talk about today! Today was the epitome of frustration and misdirection. Pardon my French, but today sucked (I only say pardon my French because I still remember as a young boy in Iowa being scolded by my great aunt and great grandmother for using such a vile word…today however it is fitting). Grace and I awoke this morning full of confidence and hisses and clicks for today was our infamous Peace Corps round robin. A day in which all of our skills and training would be put to the test in a series of 8 one-on-one interviews, including the ever-daring language proficiency interview or LPI. I don't want to dig too deep into a wound which Robertson Winery has already quelled, so I will provide you with only the most minute details about the LPI. 
For those of you unaware, the LPI is a test, mandated by our magnificent government, which seeks to evaluate Peace Corps trainees on their progress in learning the native language. In our case such a language is called siSiwati, and it is as foreign to the English-speakers tongue as Mandarin may be to a monkey’s. (Sorry monkeys) In any case however, one must score above or at the rank of intermediate low in order to serve in the Peace Corps void of any contract or extra agreement. For the purpose of this test, only 4 weeks in, the expectation is that we score somewhere around novice mid to novice high. Now, let me tell you my grievances with such a test. First of all it is a test to failure. You continually answer questions in a series of 5 topics (family, occupation, recreation, travel, and education) until you fail and must start again in a new topic. I understand the reasoning for the test structure but just because you may understand as well, please do not think that when in such a test, or when answering such questions, the level of stress or sense of failure is in any way mitigated by the fact that the test is designed around a participant’s failure. Secondly, the test is entirely in the hands of the individual tester, or interviewer. One may get a ridiculously easy interviewer, where the questions are equivalent to those practiced, or one may get a ridiculously difficult interviewer, where the questions are posed in any form except for those which you know. Unfortunately, such was the case for Grace and I. We had a ridiculously difficult interviewer. Once again, the wine has quelled the worst of our lamentations so I will not get into details, but I will say that Grace and I struggled equally, as did another trainee who is widely regarded as the best speaker in our group. Other trainees faired much better, or so they said, but LPI interviewer #8 proved to be the downfall of many a trainee today. Such is this life of ours I suppose. We are now prepared for the absolute worst in future testing, because we received such today. The interview given by the loathed #8 gave not even the slightest hint of following proper protocol for which Grace and I were well prepared and for which our grand government paid dearly for. No. Today was not the best of days, but it was not the worst of today's either. We will wait and see what tomorrow's LPI scores bring, and depending on the values, perhaps we will buy another box of wine. 

Thursday, July 23rd: Sean got a pep talk from Make Shabangu this morning. I got a pep talk at the dinner table from Make tonight since I didn't receive one this morning. It feels good to be loved so much. So our day started and ended wonderfully. The rest of the day turned out to be one of my favorites thus far. We arrived at SIMPA and broke into 4 groups in order to travel to separate health facilities today. Sean traveled to King Sobhuza II Public Health Clinic (pictured below). His experience was one of extreme interest to me and it seemed as though the government facilities are taking a wholistic approach to health with many preventative measures being free of charge. With a focus on pre/post natal care and mother to child transfer (MTCT) the clinic sees on average 200 people per day. Free contraceptives, HIV testing, and immunization are given and mobile outreach is available. I ended up at the Population Services International (PSI), so the majority of the morning I learned all about male circumcision, condom distribution, and HIV.  PSI focuses on men's health including sexual health, HIV Testing and Counseling (HTC), and male sexual and reproductive health. With a primary focus in outreach education and testing, PSI has a success rate of 64% linking HIV positive patients to treatment, well above the national average of 37%. Onsite they preform on average 60 circumcisions per day, males ages 10-70. While early infant male circumcision is allowed and encouraged in Swaziland it is still relatively new and needs more time to become the norm. The collaborative efforts between the Ministry of Health and active NGOs is very apparent and adds greatly to their success. Again, all of these services are free of charge.  Other volunteers visited MFS- Doctors Without Borders and Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS). The best part about all 4 organizations is that they are excited, willing, and ready to work with PCVs. It really can't get much better than that. With a better understanding of health facilities and health care needs in Swaziland I feel like it is beginning to really sink in. These issues will be a focus for me during the next 2 years, and I cannot wait to get started!

Friday, July 24th: What a way to round out the work week! Today we had the privilege of seeing and speaking with a sangoma or traditional healer. Sangoma’s have been around since the pre-Swaziland days, and their power and healing efforts are still sought after and respected today. Swaziland is a very magical place, when the Dlamini clan first united all the other clans they were only able to do so because they had superior magic. The current King and Queen Mother are both keepers of this same magic, and it awards them great power. Nonetheless, the Swazi people all have varying thoughts on magic, and because of these beliefs and concurrent doubts, sangomas can be found throughout the country curing Swazi’s of all curses and ailments save HIV/AIDS, which the sangoma we talked to said he cannot do. He sends them to hospitals instead. If you've got bad juju though, he’s your guy. Anyways, it was fascinating to see the sangoma’s dance and hear him yell (pretty sure I can call it yelling…) as he called his ancestors into his body and removed himself. You see, sangomas’ powers come from their family’s ancestors which the sangoma calls into his body. He is powerless without the ancestors, and his everyday life is largely dictated by what the ancestors want. The sangoma we visited is quite popular as we regularly hear the beating of drums and chanting at all times day and night. After the sangoma greeted us all through the ancestors and the ancestors blessed us and gave us luck, he released his ancestors and called back his spirit with more dancing and yelling. He then answered a few of our groups questions before returning to his indlu and we went on our way. It was very cold and rainy today so we were all in a pretty big hurry to get out of there and out of the elements. Post sangoma visit, we returned home with a few volunteers following, for a little belated birthday party for a volunteer that we have grown to love. In honor of the occasion I went to the sitolo and bought four different local beers to share with everyone. It was quite an interesting visit to the sitolo to say the least as I tried to both explain what I wanted and why I wanted it. No matter though, I rode the wave of laughter right out of the store all the way back home where our guests were thrilled to receive such a treat. Grace made no bake cookies and popcorn and we spent the rest of the afternoon just enjoying our friendship and hanging out. There are quite a few fans of tiny houses and western North Carolina in our little group, so perhaps we will return to the area with a few PCVs in tow. It was a blast and this weekend is set to be even better as we pack for a two day Peace Corps excursion to the Ezulwini Valley near Mbabane. In store are visits to King Sobhuza’s memorial, the national museum, a cultural village, and a game park with an overnight stay at Legends Backpackers, where we hope hot showers await!

Monday, July 20, 2015

...wins some and loses some.

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow'". -Mary Anne Radmacher

Saturday, July 18th: Everyday in Africa requires a mission. Not like a top secret mission or anything but an important mission none the less, or that's how I like to think of it. Most days require water missions, some days require food missions, other days require latrine missions. Such is life here. You skip a mission for a nice relaxing nap and before you know it your laundry mission is hell. Today's mission however, was a fun mission. Today we went on a food mission (we ran out of wine and eggs, oh and not having a sponge gets really annoying) that involved our first public transportation mission. I was a little nervous. Grace was really excited about the sponges. And so our mission began. 
We got up at 8:00am enjoying our off day and sleeping in a bit, but by 8:30am I was out on a water mission asking our sisi, Simiso, all sorts of questions that would be pertinent to the success of our food/public transport mission later that day. I was informed that the cost of the bus ride was 6 emalangeni and it would drop us off at a siteshi near SIMPA that we were familiar with and which left us with a brief twenty minute walk to Spar, our target for our food mission.  The bus would come to the sitolo in Sihhohhweni at 11am so we had plenty of time to get ready and practice some siSwati as well. In the middle of our study session there was a knock on the door, Simiso had come to our door to inform us that her older brother, Nkhosingiphile (Ngiphile for short), would be leaving for his home in the south at 10am, and that he and his wife would be happy to drive us into Mahhala. We readily accepted the offer and planned to just take the bus back home upon completion of the food mission. So yes…we may have cheated a little, or a lot, depending on how you feel about 50%. We didn’t care though, we were happy to share the ride and talk about the weather. Ngiphile is sure that he would die in a Tennessee winter. Once we arrived in town we walked to Spar to gather up what we needed and browse a little since the bus home wouldn't depart until 1pm and it was about 10:45am. We left Spar very successfully and we even managed to snag a couple candy bars for our bosisi. We headed back to the main shopping complex where we stopped in for lunch at Galito’s. After lunch, with plenty of spare bus change on hand, we walked to the siteshi about 20min away. We arrived at the stop at 12:30pm and settled in to wait for our bus. Simiso had advised us to ask the Swazi's at the siteshi if any of them were going to Sihhohhweni, and then simply fall in with them. However, having already cheated a little and having displaced all the locals from the community bus a few days ago when our private one broke down, we were confident that we could pick out our bus when it came. Sure enough an hour later, and after Grace had time to study all the siSwati verbs we know, our bus came and we heard the conductor shout eSihhohhweni. We boarded the bus confidently and then fumbled our way to the rear to take a seat, backpacks and grocery bags intact. We were wondering when and if we were going to have to pay when about halfway home the conductor rose and starting collecting money. He made his way smoothly down the aisle asking what seemed like random people to pay random amounts of money. This guy ten emalangeni, that guy 8 emalangeni, this lady 9 emalangeni…we were just about to go digging for our wallets when he made it to us and Grace asked “Malini?” or “how much?”. He said 6 emalangeni a piece. We paid no problem and then started an interesting discussion amongst ourselves because we could not see any sort of system that would allow the conductor to know who paid and who didn't and who owed how much from one stop and who owed how much from the next. Not a single complaint arose from any of the passengers however so we resided to let our discussion subside and continue on in peace. Also because if you don't focus on the road for too long you tend to get sick. After half an hour we arrived at the sitolo in Sihhohhweni and we exited the bus, successfully completing our 3rd mission of the day. We found our family both relieved and proud that we had navigated the Swaziland bus system by ourselves and efficiently, as our entire trip only took about 3 and a half hours. We studied a bit and Grace went on a laundry mission, which I later joined, before we used the feta cheese we acquired during our food mission to make skillet pizzas for dinner. They were delicious. However, now we’re all missioned out, and I'm beginning to smell cinnamon apples for dessert so…over and out from Swaziland.
Oh wait, I suppose I have to go on a bathing mission…

Sunday, July 19th: I really dislike body day. For those who have forgotten, Sean and I rotate between hair day and body day in order to maintain some form of hygiene and cleanliness. Don't get me wrong, I am super happy to have the ability to try and stay clean. But my opinion of body day is just that, just a  try. In order to bath you technically need soap and water, which I have. Space and containment of water is what I am lacking. Usually I end up with left over soap or patches of dirt on my body. This change of pace is a definite change of character for me, being an overly clean freak. I try to compensate for my every other day fail of body day. We have “house shoes”, as in I make Sean wear different shoes in the house as to not track mud in or bring muddy feet into the bed. I bought wet wipes yesterday. What a great purchase, yet I'm afraid they will be all gone soon. I have a “dishwasher”, meaning I dedicated a pot to put other dirty pots in. I have a hand washing station, expectations for teeth cleanliness, and a smell test for shirts wore more than once. Often I have jokingly told my mother, from who I inherited this over-awareness, that cleanliness is an illusion. I am finding more and more that is in fact true. So body night will continue, because falsifying cleanliness will save my sanity. 

Monday, July 20th: There’s no way around it…today has been a rough day. It wasn't rough because we had a long day of lectures on the history of Swaziland, behavior change, and culture. It wasn't rough because it was abnormally hot at lunch time when we went running. It wasn’t even rough because Khombi, our 16yr old sisi, caught me buying a beer after dark at the sitolo (it's for cooking *wink). Today was rough because we had our first Peace Corps trainee ET. For those of you who don’t know, ET stands for early termination and it is rarely talked about in the Peace Corps society but it is something that occurs with every group of volunteers. It was rough because we are all family now, we all look out for each other, and we all pick each other up when one is down. This particular family member we all thought was one of our strongest. A vibrant, poetic, uplifting individual with a hearty smile and a big heart. It shocked us all that he left, but nobody would ever dare blame him for it. We just wanted to say goodbye and farewell, good luck in all things, and thank you for being a part of our family. It was a rough day because we lost a dear friend, a brother in our Peace Corps family. As Grace and I sit here solemnly reflecting and thinking of our friend, and of those closest to our mutual brother, it's hard not to be down. We knew that an ET was inevitable during our service, and I'll go so far as to say that there were others strugglingly more outwardly than he, but we didn't know what impact it would have. It serves as a reminder to us all of the commitment we are making, and the gravity of it all. We all have things that pull us home, but we all have hearts that keep us here. We listen to both sides of this metaphorical coin, neither side ever being wrong. 

With love to our families be it McCord, Collins, Shabangu, or Peace Corps,

Sean and Grace

Friday, July 17, 2015 the same... But different.

"I make myself rich by making my wants few."
-Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, July 15th: Today started out behind. We were supposed to catch a bus at 7:00 am to SIMPA Campus. But long story short our bus was broken so we ended up on the community bus and stole all of the residences’ seats. Those damn Americans. Arriving at 9:00 am we began the day discussing sexual assault and reporting. I honestly feel like the Peace Corps Swaziland staff is well versed and well equipped for any type of violence against volunteers. I know after class others felt the same. Next, we spent time discussing mental health and ways to prevent stress, depression, and anxiety. Our post has two female doctors. They are truly wonderful and we can honestly say again that we feel safe in their care. After a short lunch of oranges and peanut butter and banana sandwiches we returned to talk about sexual reproduction and sex education in Swaziland. This, to me, did not hit far from home. Southern culture is seemingly similar to Swazi's reaction to sex. They don’t talk about it and no one is doing it. With an outlandishly high teenage pregnancy rate, teaching abstinence is clearly not the key. With an extremely high HIV/AIDS rate in Swaziland, government facilities would have to bend as well in order to see numbers decrease. Now off of my soap box, we made it home with the intention of cooking donuts and huevos rancheros. Clearly it was successful (this is where you look at the pictures below and clap)! We also got two tables from the Peace Corps which means we are now prepping and cooking on a table and not on the floor. So all in all a very productive night! Hope all is well with you.

Thursday, July 16th: There isn't much to report today. We had language this morning where we learned how to talk about our education and travel experience, so we have now rounded out the first half of our language proficiency interview (introduction, work, education, hobbies, and travel). We also learned the 14 adjectives in the siSwati language…yes there are only 14, all other adjectives as we know in the English language are called relatives and they are treated completely different than adjectives. It was an interesting contrast in our two languages but I think we have grasped the concept, now it's all about practice! After language we were carted away to SIMPA via our normal bus, thankfully no mechanical issues today. We had a session before lunch on gender equality and women empowerment which brought up some startling statistics, and unfortunately this is an issue in Swaziland that seems to be making very little headway. There are several devoted groups though working on gender equality and it seems that the progress made has been monumental even if not necessarily far-reaching. During lunch, Grace went for a run and I went down the road towards Mahhala to get us some vegetables from one of the sipaza stands selling such. On my way back from picking up some spinach, green peppers, and apples I stopped and got “chicken dust” from a roadside brie. Chicken dust is just chicken “dusted” with a variety of spices and then barbecued on a homemade grill. The chicken is then served with lipalishi or pap as it's also known, and it makes for quite a delicious lunch. Our post lunch session was a cultural one focusing on religion and the Peace Corps. We learned the background of Christianity in Swaziland and it was quite interesting but I don't think I'll ever finish this post if I attempt to cover such a subject in detail as we learned today. Long story short, Swaziland is a Christian nation with very strong ties to its traditional past, which makes Grace and I all the more elated to have found a church like the one we go to with our family. After the session we returned home to start prepping Ryan’s Infamous Butternut Stew (a fellow G13 trainee). Considering neither of us have ever cooked with butternut, what we ended up was a definite win. The stew was amazing and our bosisi thought so as well because we took the pot over to share at dinner. Grace and I both really love being able to share things with our umdeni at dinner. That was the close of our day though, we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Friday, July 17th: Happy 28th wedding anniversary mom and dad! Hope it is a good day. I love you super duper and so glad that you were married so so so long ago so you could have three totally awesome children, me being the most awesome of course! Back to me. Today was a good day. First, let me say, you know you are in rural Africa (Swaziland to be exact) when your husband rips his shirt on a bag full of  cow manure and your first thought is, “Yes! I can totally turn that into a dish towel now”! Yes, that was the highlight of my day. Except for the veggie omelet Sean made me this morning. That was pretty amazing. Anyways, today we put into practice what we learned about permagardening. Tarah and James Ingram, a young married PCV couple walked us through the process of building a permagarden. The whole process really amped us up to build our own garden at our permanent sight, so watch out people who come to visit, we will put you to work! During this hands on learning process is the time when Sean ripped a hole in his shirt. Small, but unrepairable. We reuse everything – hence my above statement. I would post a picture of our garden, but we still have work to do. So instead I will post a picture of the compost pile we built. A little less cool, but very helpful, this compost pile is made of natural items. Only plant life, because food scraps attract animals. Clever huh? I need to mention another aspect of the day. The wind. There was apparently a “wind storm” last night that scared a lot of volunteers. After living in Boone, North Carolina very little regarding cold or wind can affect our lives. However, I will end with a picture of my dirty dirty feet. You need to be aware that I was not only wearing closed toe shoes but also well made socks. Sean and I both found the aggressiveness of the wind very interesting when we realized it could penetrate through two layers of fabric. Today was most certainly a body night in terms of bathing. On to tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

...requires a lot of walking.

"Of all the paths you take in life,
make sure a few of them are dirt."

Saturday, July 11th: It is important for everyone to know that we now are expected to cook for ourselves starting today per the Peace Corps policy of pre-service training. I think it’s a mix between taking a burden off of your host family to feed you and wondering if we will be capable of feeding our own selves. Or will it be a cornflake and peanut butter 2 year diet? So since we are decently confident in our cooking abilities we made a list and went to town to purchase groceries today. We can get almost anything we need. Some staple purchases were rice, soy sauce, honey, lemon cookies (they are amazing!), and herbs. And of course boxed wine. We intended to live, as best we can, off of our Peace Corps budget. We were very successful today, which pleased us greatly. After returning home and multiple household duties we made dinner. We took our stirfry vegetables and eggs over to the main house to sit and talk with our family while we ate. Sean and I struggled with the notion that without making dinner together we would lose a great amount of time with our family. After a long conversation it was easy to see that our family was worried as well. We will bring our dinner to their dinner every night. It earned many smiles knowing that we would still dine together. Dinning together tonight was fun. A 5 year old granddaughter is here for the night named Blessing. She spent a large amount of her time sitting in my lap while “petting” Sean's arm. What really amazed her was when Sean showed her his leg. We are foreigners for sure, accepted graciously into a very loving and fun family.

Sunday July 12th: Today was a very productive day. We got to sleep in a bit this morning before church, so we woke up at 9am as opposed to the usual 6am. The priority for the pre-church part of our day was laundry. The past week our impompi (water tap) has been on the fritz due to a blown out valve somewhere between us and the reservoir. Babe doesn't seem to concerned so I guess that means that if we have to walk to the reservoir and fill up our 25 liter jugs then it isn't something they haven't done before. Anyways, we could no longer push off laundry so we set out to use some of our own water to get it done. We separated laundry into important and unimportant piles and all we ended up accomplishing was our important pile but hey, all we really needed was the important pile so job well done. We finished laundry around 10:15 and we had burned our trash in that time as well (I know I know sorry ozone layer but I have no other options here!). After a quick peanut butter sandwich we headed off to church at 11am. I really like our church. Sure somethings are very different from how we would worship or pray in the state, but what's really fascinating to me is that we don't have to understand siSwati to know that when the people sing here, or when they pray, they are worshipping and praising God at a level which is rarely seen in the states. It feels like that every Sunday and Grace and I are really starting to feel at home in the church. After church was out we met up with a small group of other trainees and headed off to hike to the summit of a rocky hill that's really close to our homestead. It was great to get out and move a little bit and we’re very fortunate to be near to other trainees who feel the same way we do about getting outside and seeing the world around us. The view from the top was amazing and I'll post some pictures but the sun wasn't really cooperating as it sets behind the large mountain range we were so in awe of across the valley. We returned home after a couple hours and saw our church family and host family out prepping the field across from our house for their new temporary church building where they will hold services until the main church can be built in the same field. The Shabangu family actually donated all the land to build the church to Revival Life Ministries which is a very generous gift. We ran home to grab the delicious no-bake cookies Grace made so that we could return and share them with the people helping to clear the land in preparation. No surprise the cookies were a big hit and we spent sometime getting to know the pastor before returning to our homestead and calling it a night. All in all today was a productive and happy day, but it's hard not to have happy days when you spend your time with Swazi’s.
Monday, July 13th: So I wish I had something important to report to you on this day. However it was a pretty mild day in terms of activities. We had language of course, specifically words you would use to purchase things from a store or market. Next we talked for 5 hours about water. There is lots to talk about regarding access, availability, and sanitation of water. I could go into much detail or describe some of the pictures of water borne/water based diseases. But I won't. We visited a community garden after class and did not find much that we needed. We then trekked to another volunteers house to purchase tomatoes that Sean used tonight to make us a delicious meal of rice and beans. Our conversation at dinner tonight was based around two Swazi words, buka and bhuka. You need to know these words mean two totally different things, but supposedly sound different in the natural tones of the Swazi language. They sound exactly the same to us. Sean repeated pronunciation of the words were meet with abundant laughs. Sometimes all you can do is try. Oh yea, I almost forgot, Nan’s one step pound cake was a definite hit tonight. Thanks for emailing me that recipe!

Tuesday July 14: Namuhla kuyabandza kakhulu! It's the first time I've worn a hoodie for the majority of the day, so yes I think that qualifies the statement above: today it is very cold. It's a good thing though because Swazi's think its hilarious that we know enough siSwati to say today it's very cold. Then again it's not hard to make a Swazi laugh. They're a very laid back, fun-loving people. Anyways despite the cold we walked to a “market” today during our 5 hour language lesson. I put “market” in quotations because in reality what we stumbled upon was a large homestead with a commercial freezer acting as a root cellar for pallet quantities of potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, and butternut squash. Grace and I bought a small bag of onions, 2 butternuts, and around 15 potatoes for 20 emalangeni or 2 dollars. Not a bad trip! We returned with our spoils to our house where we stored them away before walking down to the Nazarene church for our technical training session on HIV/AIDS. It was just an introductory but it is quite clear that it's an issue that all of Swaziland wants to see resolved. After the session we returned home, joined by a group of 5 children who enjoyed playing with us and practicing their English. We cooked spaghetti tonight by making our own marinara sauce with the tomatoes we bought yesterday, and I must say I really enjoy cooking every night because we are forced to be creative and cook organically which has been a great experience. Tomorrow is huevos rancheros night with our leftover sauce and possibly the addition of some of the hottest peppers I've ever had which we acquired from a fellow trainees homestead. Everyday brings something new though, and I already can't wait for tomorrow.

Friday, July 10, 2015 meant for two.

Friday July 10th: I’m really glad I'm not here alone. Not because I don't think I could do it but because I know the experience would be lesser if I were alone. I wouldn't talk as much. I wouldn't have as many great conversations. I wouldn't laugh as much. I wouldn't have as many opportunities to grow as a person. I’m not discouraging anyone from joining the Peace Corps alone or traveling the world alone I just know that for me the experience would be lesser if I were alone. Let me tell you what happened this morning. It is one of the many reasons I'm thankful I'm here with Grace. We left our thishela’s house as a language group, Carol, Anadelia, Grace and I, and as we were standing outside the house waiting for thishela Shongwe to come out we heard some sobbing in the distance. We all picked our heads up and there wondering up the driveway was a young boy no more than 3 crying and sauntering back home. It was one of those sights that would make Chuck Norris, in all his manliness, say “awww”. Naturally, we all said “awww” and I think that Carol, Anadelia and I all started thinking what can we do for this little boy now about 30 yds from where we stood. Grace never stopped to think though. She locked eyes with the little boy and started his way slowly and carefully because the little boy had stopped in the driveway, unsure of where to go due to the crowd of strangers (and a particularly frightening large hairy white man) standing in his front yard. Grace approached the little boy in the most loving way possible until she was maybe 10 feet away. She dropped down to a crouch and beckoned the crying little boy forward softly saying that he was ok. Carol, Anadelia and I just watched, awe struck I think by the magical moment unfolding in front us. The little boy shuffled his way over to Grace rubbing his teary eyes and Grace took a seat welcoming arms still extended. As soon as the little boy made contact with Grace the crying stopped and she pulled him into a hug while he sat on her lap. It was one of the most precious things I have witnessed in my short life. Carol, Anadelia and I finally broke from our mesmerized stupor and approached Grace and the little boy. Then just as soon as it all happened the moment was gone as thishela walked out and it was time to go. Grace gave the little boy a final squeeze saying “sometimes everyone just needs a hug” and set the little boy back on his feet to finish his journey home. 
One of my favorite pictures of Grace is from her trip to Kenya. It's a picture of her walking away from the camera hand-in-hand with a young Kenyan child down a dusty path through some tall grass. It's a picture that I always felt truly embodied Grace and all that she was about. This morning however, that picture was surpassed. Surpassed by a picture that I will forever hold dear in my memory and one which I wish I could share with you all just as clearly as I was blessed to see it today. It is reasons like that mental image I now carry that I'm glad I'm not alone here. It is reasons like that which make me feel so indescribably thankful to be here with my amazing wife. Sala kahle bangani and remember, “sometimes everyone just needs a hug.”

Thursday, July 9, 2015

...has a learning curve.

"I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then." 
-Alice in Wonderland

Tuesday, July 7th: We killed a chicken today. Okay, well we actually didn't kill it, Nozipho did. And because the word kill seems so harsh I will change my words. Nozipho cooked a chicken for dinner tonight that was previously alive in our front yard. To say it was impressive is an understatement. Unless you are Nozipho or an avid chicken farmer, then you would find our curiosity and excitement underwhelming and possibly stupid. Sean is very interested in farming chickens at our permanent sight so it was a good lesson in catching, beheading, draining, and plucking a chicken. After all of the advice state side of how exactly to go about de-life-ing a chicken I feel pretty confident that Nozipho’s way will be our way. We told our bosisi that next time it is our turn. They laughed and laughed. Swazis laugh and laugh a lot. After the chicken happenings we invited our bosisi and a few volunteers over to watch a movie, drink tea, and eat popcorn. We learned that tea and popcorn are a hit but our movie choice could use improvement. There are the highlights of today, with the addition of trying to teach Khombi a new English word. We chose smorgasbord. 

Wednesday July 8th: Today has been one of those days that feels long but in reality when you lay your head on your pillow the day has flown by. We started our day in our language group for another great two hour session during which we mastered more greetings and introductions. After language we took a bus to the community health village of Nkamndzi. There we met with all of G13 to talk briefly about integration tools before launching into a great session on permagardening. Grace and I are very interested in permagardening and plan on planting one at our permanent site, as well as developing some potential projects around the idea. Permagardens are great for rural areas because they have a very high yield, they use minimal amounts of water, and, once established, maintenance is pretty low key. We are looking forward to the 17th when we will have a chance to get our hands dirty and put into practice the concepts we learned today. We ended our day with a bus ride back to Sihhohhweni which really just took the energy out of us. The cool mornings but hot afternoon sun does a great job of sapping your energy. That's why we’re calling it a night a little early tonight. Hope all is well back home! Lala kahle!

Thursday, July 9th: Do you think in English? I'm sure that the majority of those reading this do in fact think in English. However, for the children of Swaziland who are punished or publicly ridiculed in school for speaking in any language except English the question is worth a conversation. So that is what we had tonight at dinner, a conversation about thinking in English while being Swazi. It was a pretty good debate between the two sisters, each making valid points about “being a true Swazi” verse “if you think out loud do you say ‘wow’ instead of ‘how’ (the Swazi translation for wow)”. Did you know that we read the same books in school? The Great Gatsby was a favorite. Argumentative writing is preferred over descriptive and history class is chosen as a favorite above home economics. I find it funny that we, as Americans, are labeled as the intelligent ones. I know I think in English because I have not learned any other way to think, and I think that is a problem. I know I speak for both myself and Sean, we are proud of our new sisters, they are so unbelievably intelligent. We are very honored to be the ones to remind them constantly of it.

Monday, July 6, 2015 full of buckets.

Monday July 6th: Namuhla ngu sombuluko. Today is Monday, and because today is Monday we’re going to start something new. We have realized that our blog may become a bit tedious should we rattle off what we’re doing everyday in every post. So last night during a spirited discussion over a simple question we decided to break the monotonous string of our posts every now and again by revealing to you an aspect of rural Swazi life. The question posed last night, and the one which all our readers may credit this change of pace with, was:

        “How would you feel if I peed in a bucket?”

Let me begin by trying to explain our situation here in our house as married volunteers. Our house is octagonal in shape with no interior walls or other means of dividing the space. It is very simple. Concrete floor, block walls, and some form of masonry roof. We have access to a latrine a mere 50 yards from our front door. It is our only bathroom (save the fact that I am a man and the world is my oyster when it comes to “passing water”). The latrine is a very porous structure composed of block and a simple tin roof that requires me to duck but allows Grace to stand. There is a rusty, perforated corrugated steel wall dividing quite quaint pilot-to-copilot style toilet seats set into raised concrete mounds. There are a variety of visitors to the latrine and the pilot-to-copilot nature of it all allows a certain level of intimacy with your fellow visitor be it human or creature. This is our situation, and may I add we feel very fortunate to live where we do and with the lovely family that we do. None of what I have said thus far is intended to paint a negative picture, merely an accurate one. If you think it negative perhaps I should have mentioned the flowery mat that is resident to the “women's” side of the latrine. (On occasion it makes me jealous that the men are not privy to such beauty). 

Nevertheless I set out to include you all in our lives and life style so allow me address the simple question at hand within the context of our daily hygiene routines.  Swazi’s are very clean people, and knowing this, the Peace Corps expects volunteers to be very clean people. The PC in all its wisdom provides various basins that are intended to be used as baths during the not so efficient process of bucket bathing. Grace and I must bathe everyday in these basins. We typically rotate days washing either our hair or our bodies so as to prevent a sizable flood in our small very intimate house. Grace is beginning to adapt quite well to the bucket bath whereas I tend to look like a crippled duck in a bird bath fit for a hummingbird. Such is life in rural Africa.. It is routine. It is an awkward routine when there is no escaping the sight of a crippled duck splashing about but it is a routine nonetheless. Now our bathing routine is typically accompanied by a joint trip to the latrine in the dark of night. Such trips are always joint trips because…well…I believe myself a gentleman and no gentleman would allow his wife to face the vermin of the latrine unaccompanied. This lays the foundation for the spirited discussion we had last night. “How would you  feel if I peed in a bucket?” I felt like any American with no prior knowledge of rural Africa would feel, or so I thought. It is not okay to pee in a bucket which may one day be used to fetch water from the river with which to bathe or even drink. It is not okay. Or so I felt. However, I began to turn as my wonderful, logical, and rational wife began to explain the various benefits of moving our latrine inside after nightfall. No more awkward encounters after dark with our host family. No more latrine rats clamoring for attention. No more worries of what lies in wait in the high grass on the way to the latrine.  The list goes on and on as you may imagine should you possess a logical and rational mind, or if you possess the mind of an American you may be suffering from increasing shock as you continue to read. This I cannot determine so onward I press. Now once my belief was changed and I agreed with establishing a #1 only, after dark, latrine in what would otherwise be our living room, it took some time for me to convince my better half that I was indeed ok with this new latrine despite my initial shock. Eventually the question was laid to rest and the bucket was placed in the living room under a stack of chairs. It was christened that very evening and I must say it has greatly simplified our lives and led to a much more efficient nightly routine. 
In conclusion, do not be mystified or shocked by the life we live here. It is full of uncompromising closeness, uncontrollable laughter, and at times, a little awkward grace.

Sunday, July 5, 2015 full of celebration!

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate. –Oprah Winfrey

Saturday July 4th:  Happy Birthday Jeff McCord! Happy Birthday America! Today has been a wonderful day! We started the day walking across the road to thishela Shongwe’s house for a 1 hour language lesson where we learned the eight different noun classes and simple sentence structure for siSwati. After an hour and a half lesson, the bus showed up to take us to SIMPA.  Once at SIMPA we collected our SIM cards for our phones as well as some extra cash because we brought compatible phones with us to Swaziland.  The large group of us broke up into smaller groups of about 8 with each group led by a G12 PCV.  Hannah led our group and we departed for the siteshi in Mahhala to catch a khumbi to take us to Mbabane (Swazi’s say baban…).  Baban is about a 20 to 30 minute khumbi ride depending on if you get stuck behind some cows on the highway or not…it turned out to be just a 20 minute journey for us at a cost of 15 emalangeni. When we arrived we headed for the local phone shop to have our SIM cards cut to size.  Mbabane definitely has an urban feel to it and it noticeably affects the culture of the Swazi’s living there. Greetings aren’t as important and dress is not as modest.  Also, the downtown area is about the size of Kingsport’s or JC’s. Anyways after we got our cards cut we went to purchase “airtime” from Pep, a sort of small Target-esque store. The only carrier/network here is MTN which is owned by the king.  We purchased airtime which we then converted to data so we could  use Whatsapp.  If this process sounds confusing then you have the right idea. My account activated immediately but Grace and the others had to wait because we seemingly flooded the network from a single point in Baban…it was odd. While we waited we went to a cafĂ© in what they call the corporate place to get real coffee (which was great!) and get wifi.  As we attempted to upload a blogpost we noticed a few things. One, the internet here is slow, spotty, and hard to find. Two, our computer was backed up with emails, notifications, and updates that made it impossible to upload our post. Third, we realized that the best way to communicate was through our phones.  Hence, I'm typing this post on my phone.  We will update the blog via phone and upload pictures from the phone to the blog. We will still continue to take better pictures but with access to wifi being so limited we’re committing to our phones. Also, if you would like to contact us you may but Whatsapp is our primary option so please use it when you call/txt us. After all of this we went to Pick N’ Pay to get some groceries for cake baking and American dinner night on Monday. We returned to our group after grabbing some lunch at Galito’s (a fast food chicken place) and we headed back to the siteshi. After a thirty minute ride back to Mahhala…yes…the cows…we walked to SIMPA to catch our bus back to Sihhohhweni.  Upon arriving at our stop we found Khombi and Letho waiting for us so we walked back with them. We met up with Simiso who we asked to teach us how she does the laundry. It's quite simple to hand wash in buckets we’re just not used to it so we spent some time in the yard hanging out with our bosisi and make. After laundry make asked a family friend to stop and cut down a banana tree to get the bunch of bananas down so I got to step in and help which was fun. Then during dinner prep Grace and Simiso baked a chocolate cake for my birthday tomorrow and it was great to see them having so much fun together.  We have a wonderful family here and we were so thankful to talk to family back home today but know that we are in great hands here with the Shabangu’s. Happy 4th and happy birthday Jeff! My thumbs are tired now. 

Sunday July 5th: I love this day. It is probably my favorite day of the year. This day has made my life immensely better.  On this day my sweet, handsome, kindhearted husband was born. Oh yes and Evan. So happy first birthday in Africa to Sean McNeil Collins, I love you so much. We had plenty of time before church today. We took our time getting ready and talking siSwati. We left at 11:00 to go to Revival Life Ministries, where our make and 3 bosisi go to church. Founded on Ezekiel 47:9, the small church welcomed us openly. They translated their service into English with the help of a few members including Simiso. We were asked to introduce ourselves and Sean did a wonderful job of thanking the community, the Shabangu family and Revival for welcoming us. It was a wonderful service. At 2:00 church ended and we stopped at our house to change before taking a walk to explorer the community we now call home. Simiso was our guide and we stopped at another volunteer’s house to talk. I think it would be very hard doing this by yourself. I have a great deal of admiration for those who set out on this journey on their own. Once back at our homestead I brought out the cake that I had baked for Sean. We sang happy birthday and he made a wish, which I explained to the family was “a thing we do in America”. We met two older sisters while eating cake. They live in Manzini. Homemade cake is a hit here so it might become a weekly staple. We are now in our home tackling our bucket baths getting ready for a night of wine and cards, aka our best effort for a birthday party. Happy birthday Evan. I am grateful  for you as well, I promise.
Pictures: outside our home before church; cake celebration 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

...has begun!

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***