Saturday, August 22, 2015

...experienced life.

Grace: We expected to experience tragedy throughout our service here. We expected to see sadness, have pain, and feel helpless. I know I focused on the possibilities pre-departure, preparing myself for that moment or those times. I experienced it all today. Arriving at Babe Shabangu's funeral at dusk I saw the family that we have grown to love grieving over the loss of a great man. I have never felt pain as deeply as today when trying to console a 19 year old girl who was burying her father. Helplessness overwhelmed me as I listened to the sobs of those I loved first here in Swaziland. It was horrible. It was hard. However, I failed myself and I failed others. I focused on the tragedy awaiting me, unable to see the beauty that would find me. You see, arriving at Babe Shabangu's funeral at dusk I saw the family that we have grown to love surrounded by 250+ people who showed up to love and love well.  I have never felt pain as deeply as today until I listened to a 19 year old grieving for her father remind me that God is good all the time. Helplessness overwhelmed me as I listened to the sobs of those I loved first here in Swaziland, but hope flooded in when songs of praise and worship echoed across the valley. It was horribly beautiful. There was so much awe in today that I still am unable to decide if I have been crying for grief or crying for glory. I guess there is tragedy and beauty in trying to find the answer. I hated today and I loved today, and I find peace in knowing that it is okay.
* * *
Sean: Well I don't think I can say it any better than Grace just did but I'll try to give a brief recap of the funeral process to show how this culture turns death into love, connectedness, and beauty. Grace and I arrived at the Shabangu homestead at 5:15am, at 5:25am we heard one of our bosisi give a short speech, and by 5:30am, our sisi had found us to share a big hug and find comfort in Grace's continual embrace. The homestead was the site of the night vigil, where members of the family and community stay up all night commemorating the deceased and celebrating life, all while praising the Lord. At 6:00am, the vigil was over, and it was time for the burial procession because Swazi's are usually buried at first light according to custom. The casket was taken from the homestead and placed in a van, as Make followed with the help of other bomake. Make was still in mourning attire, meaning her entire body was covered with no one being able to see her. Our sisi led Grace and I up the hill to the Shabangu graveyard all the while clutching Grace's hand. The graveyard is at what we assume is Babe's brother's homestead, and there we found a gravesite and tent already set up. We moved close to the graveside with our sisi and Grace wrapped her in another heartfelt hug as Babe's casket was removed from the van and lowered into the ground. The cries from the family blended with the songs of the 250+ community members who had also come to the graveyard creating the horrible beauty that Grace mentioned earlier. The Swazi hymns are almost angelic when sung by a loving yet grieving community, and it is very hard not to be overcome by all the emotion in the air. The pain of a mother and children burying their father balanced with the love and overwhelming respect of the entire community makes you think that Swazi's don't need us PCVs at all. Everything about this culture is beautifully communal and it all just felt right today. Painful, sorrowful, but right.
The bomake were called forward and Grace and I were both surprised I think when our sisi urged Grace to come with her. The casket is not allowed to touch the dirt in Swazi culture so the bomake brought forth blankets and grassmats to cover the casket. Then our sisi, Grace, and all the other bomake and bosisi took a handful of dirt and threw it in, a sign of respect and love for the deceased. After the bomake, the bobabe were called forward and Babe Musa with the Peace Corps took me forward to pay our respects. The men standing around the graveside parted to let us through and Babe Musa and I each  threw a few shovels of dirt to the side of the hole. It is the men's job at the burial to actually bury the body. Like with the bomake, when the men move the dirt it is a sign of love and respect for the deceased, and it is put just beside the grave to allow two men standing in the grave to distribute it and pack it down. Once Babe was buried, around 7:00am, everyone took a seat in the field and a representative from the family, babe's church, and the Umphakatsi each gave a short speech and prayer. Once they finished the men then stood for a final prayer before the service was ended. As everyone started to depart, I made my way over to the side of the grave where make was seated under the tent, and our sisi was still wrapped in the arms of Grace. I gave more bosisi hugs before I got the chance to talk to Make. Grace had already spoken to her following the procession of bomake earlier. By 7:30am we were back at the homestead, our sisi joining us the entire time. The family had prepared food for all the 250+ visitors and some of them walked away with a small takeaway headed back home. We stood with our sisi until it was time to go and we gave final hugs before promising to see them all in church tomorrow.
As Grace said it was all a horrible yet beautiful event, as we buried Babe Shabangu. We feel beyond blessed to have known him and learned from him these past several weeks, and we hurt because we have lost the man who first welcomed us, not only to his country, but also to his indescribably wonderful family. We will not ever forget the surprise and elation when he called home to Make telling her "we are two", nor the smile on his face when he told us we were family. It all comes back to what we have learned while staying with the Shabangu's though, and it is what Make and I talked about when I had the chance to see her today. We don't always know or understand God's plan, but we know that with Babe's death on Earth there is life in Heaven because our God is good...all the time.

Friday, August 21, 2015

...khuluma siSwati.

"I know not all that may be coming, but be what it will, I'll go to it laughing." - Herman Melville

I decided to take a break from studying Siswati to write this blog. If you have to know the truth I have taken many breaks within this study period. Desperate times call for desperate measures, honestly meaning this blog post has no purpose other than to waste some time. I hope something will evolve within the next few minutes that will be worthy of your time. Or, if like me you are avoiding something important than you are welcome, I am glad to be of help. I shall begin with this language called siSwati. Since this blog is intended to avoid my studying of siSwati I can feel your confusion. But who doesn't like a little irony ever now and again? So, siSwati. It is sort of hard. I will not lie and tell you that every day I am thrilled to be learning this language. Many days I am overly frustrated that every noun has a set of rules, that "s's" never make things plural, there is one spelled word meaning many things with unrecognizable pronunciation differences, and to say the color blue you say luhlata sasibhakabhaka. Truthfully, most Swazis speak English in Swaziland and love to do so with Americans. It is bad when your teacher everyday repeats the phrases, "this word is an exception" or "oh Siswati, it doesn't make any sense".

Woe is me right? So what is the point?  The reason is for the joyful laughter you get when we say sawubona make, unjani? The reason is for the complete surprise when you say Ngicela ematamatisi, emazambane, ne banyanisi to the bomake at the market. The reason is for, "You speak Siswati my friend!", "Ah you know Siswati!", "How?!", "You are Swazi!". It is undeniably unbelievable how happy it makes the residences of this beautiful country. We truly know only the slightest bit of their language and culture but it matters deeply. So I continue to pick up my books for only this reason. It might take this many letters- ngiyagcoke libhuluko lelimphunga- to say I wear grey pants or that the month of May is Inkhwekhweti. The verbs to look (buka), to buy on credit (bhuka), to bake (bhaka), and to watch (bukela) all sound the same coming out of a Swazi speaking native. But at the end of the day, after failing conversations over and over again, we take the smiles, laughs, and hugs as major wins. It is important to them, so it is important to us. It is as simple as that.

Niyabonga. Ngitawudadisa siSwati naylo ngobe ngibhale eblog ngingafundza. Angifuni kudadisa kepha ngikhona ngobe eSwatini kuna bantfu labalungile.

Monday, August 17, 2015

...finds us at a loss today.

Psalm 100:5 - For the Lord is good. His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endures to all generations. 

Last night we received terrible news. Our babe, Siza Shabangu, has passed away. We don't know and likely will not know his specific ailment, but he had been sick for the last couple weeks. We returned from church yesterday to find babe in considerable pain and make preparing to take him to the hospital. Babe had been to the hospital several times in the previous weeks and would vary between resting in bed days and talking to us from the sofa days. One of his daughters came in her car to get him around 3pm and we walked him to the car and he, make, and the daughter all went to Manzini for what Grace and I thought would be a checkup and possible admittance to the hospital. Later that evening around 10pm we got a knock on our door and found make leaning against the door frame. It was then that she told us “he is dead”.

Grace and I had prepared to witness death in our community when we joined the Peace Corps. We knew that in Southern Africa and in a land stricken with HIV/AIDS and TB, that the possibility of someone we knew in the community dying was quite real. However, we never could have expected for it to hit so early on, so close to home, and with someone so near and dear to our hearts. Babe Shabangu was the first Swazi we met with no affiliation to the Peace Corps. He was the one who came and took us home and gave us our names “Mvuselelo and Nomvuselelo” (meaning revival in siSwati), he was our first challenge with siSwati, and he was the only one to always ask first in siSwati and then translate for “his children” in English. He was my first major experience with the language barrier when he and I had a thirty minute conversation about the fact that beef came from dead cows. Babe was truly our father, his wife truly our make, and all his children truly our bosisi and bobhuti. Words cannot express our sadness in this time as the man who first gave us a comforting welcome to this beautiful country is now gone, but we remember that God is good. A humbling and eternal truth that babe and make have instilled in us in all of our hardships as trainees, with language and with being away from our American families. We ask all of those reading this post to say a prayer for the Shabangu family but to also thank God for being so good. We do not always know his plans, but, as make has reminded her entire family including us her children, He is good, and we can rest with the reassurance that babe was met in heaven with arms spread wide in welcome. The faith that the Shabangu family has is unshakeable, and even though our knees wobbled when we received the news, the faith that is pervasive throughout the homestead has lifted us up. We are continually blessed and forever thankful to have know babe for the time we did, and our hearts go out to his wonderful, faithful, loving family. 

For the time being the Peace Corps has moved us and all of our belongings back to SIMPA. Culturally in Swaziland when someone dies the make and women of the family go into mourning in the main house, and the men of the family mourn outside. A funeral brings together the entire family and all of the community as people come to pay their respects the whole week before the funeral. With the influx of loved ones and community members, all homes on the homestead are needed for the family so the Peace Corps made the decision to remove us for the time being and Grace and I agreed. We will stay at SIMPA but will return to our home for the funeral and then we will be able to visit as often as we wish.

We had a chance to speak with make this morning before we left, and I must say again that this woman's faith is unlike any I have ever witnessed before. As Grace and I silently cried, our hearts splitting for make, she reminded us that God is good and we are her and His children. She was sorry to see us go and was worried that this would scare away our American parents from visiting her, but we told her that without a doubt we would visit, parents in tow, next year. We told her how much we loved her and how sorry for her and the family we were, and then it was time for us to leave and give the family space. We said goodbye to all our bosisi, which was just as gut-wrenching as it sounds, but we left behind banana-grams, a sign we said that we would return and they must practice. Grace and I have never had sisters before but we let them know that they were all our bosisi now, and that we love them all very much. We love all of our family both Swazi and American so very very much. Remember, God is good.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

...moves to the beat.

"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." - Bill Bryson

You know what's a good way to start your day? Country music…especially if all you've listened to as of late has been kwaito music. I personally have really enjoyed our thishela’s collection of country the last week, mainly consisting of Long Black Train by Josh Turner and a few Dolly Parton throwbacks. Getting back to kwaito music though we went to the heart of kwaito music in Swaziland this past Saturday, Manzini. Kwaito originally started in Jo-burg but it has spread like wildfire ever since and is now a prominent component of radio all over Swaziland. Hipsters, kwaito, country, cowboys, traditional Swazi’s, all can be found in Manzini. The cowboys and country music are rare but trust me I've seen them. For those of you who don't know, Manzini is the largest city in Swaziland (if it isn't well that's what everyone would have us believe), and it is also the transportation hub for the rest of the country. If you want to get somewhere in Swaziland, odds are you go to Manzini first. This past weekend we went to Manzini to hunt some traditional wear for our swearing in ceremony (remember Manzini has a little bit of everything). Full blown traditional wear consists of 2 emahiya (lihiya - a simple rectangular cloth consisting of some pattern) and various accessories for women and 3 emahiya plus a lijobo (animal skin loincloth) for males. On our way to buy the materials we learned a lot about how to wear the emahiya by observing the traditionally dressed people walk along the streets with the hipsters and cowboys. Now, most of the female volunteers bought a portion of the traditional wear because it is not necessary to buy two emahiya, a combination of skirt and one lihya will do fine. For males, either you go whole hog or you don’t go at all. The lijobo is the most important part of the men's attire and one is rude/naked to wear a lihiya without it. That being said, the lijobo costs 400 emalangeni, so I settled for a modernized lihiya shirt, but Grace got a lihiya and a head scarf because she is married. There should be some interesting group photos from the swearing in ceremony, and don't worry we'll be sure to share! Now, since we’re already in Manzini I'll give you some additional features of this great little big city. We ate lunch at Thyme Café at The Hub, a Pick N’ Pay shopping complex with a nice pub, a bank, and a post office. Near The Hub is an agricultural supply store, one of two in the country that sell compost for new permagardens, hence our interest in such a place. There are also two malls in Manzini, the Riverstone Mall and the Bhunu Mall. The Riverstone Mall is a very new, very chic mall that we have not visited yet, but the Bhunu Mall is just about the center of the city and it has several great stores. Then there is the famous bomake craft market which is like a one stop shop for any and all Swazi souvenirs both traditional and untraditional, and a vegetable market which features some of the cheapest vegetables in the country at 3 emalangeni a bag. Nearest the market is the also infamous Manzini bus rank. The bus rank catches a bad rap from tourists because it is a busy place (remember it's a transportation hub for the whole country) and because you cannot go quietly through the bus rank like you can the rest of the city. As soon as you set foot in the rank you will be approached my multiple Swazi men speaking very quickly and gradually encircling you. You may even be lassoed by an arm around your shoulders. All of this is completely harmless because all they want to know is where you are going. Once you tell them they will kindly point you to where you should be, and usually about 2-3 guys later you're on your bus. It gets a little tricky when there are multiple buses and the conductors get a little more pushy because you're a fare that they need. If that happens it's important to remember that they’re just trying to get you where you need to go. The bus rank seems to intimidate many volunteers, but after finding our own community bus home on Saturday after our shopping, we are feeling more and more comfortable. Well, that's Manzini in a nutshell. The place where different cultures collide with traditional Swazi culture, making for an interesting little big city with plenty of places to explore. If you're interested in staying there before you come on to Ka-Langa to see us, you can check out the George Hotel, and as a bonus the hitching point toward Ka-Langa is just outside the hotel’s gate a few meters up the road! We’ll be happy to function as tour guides as well, we only charge a cup of good coffee at Thyme Café or Baker’s Corner!

Now, you know what's a good way to end your day? Hanging out with good friends. Grace and I threw our first Swazi dinner party on Saturday for our great friends! We came back from Manzini behind the main PC group because we wanted to see more of the city, and frankly because we wanted a little freedom as young adults, but that's beside the point. We took the community bus home and we cooked pizzas for everyone at our place. We are beyond blessed to have found such a great group of friends, and the pizza was a hit, as was the wine! Our friends brought Lindt chocolates, peanut butter M&Ms, and cookies over for a dessert and we just ate and talked, all thankful for a good moment of relaxation after all the PC training. We finished up after dark which concerns local Swazis because only people with “bad intentions” are out after dark. It wasn't a big deal though because we had notified all our families and I walked everyone home underneath a beautiful starlit sky! So there you have it, a great way to start and end your day with a little something to do in between. Lala kahle bangani!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

...grows deeper, gets richer.

"Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures." -M.F.K. Fisher

The new system for blogging, as mentioned previously, is still a work in progress. It has proven difficult to find a topic to speak about that is not our day to day scheduled lives. Working outside the normal procedure, but not too far outside, my intention is to tell you about the last few days. I have had some time to reflect on my favorite moments or thoughts since the last time we posted, so that is what I will write about. 

First, Sean made paleo banana pancakes this morning. We want to assure you that we don't care about the paleo part, only the ease of ingredients. It only took two bananas and two eggs, and they cook and taste like pancakes! In the past month I truly have enjoyed cooking (or being cooked for mostly) and learning new and inventive ways to eat good food with limited ingredients and kitchen resources. It is going to become one of our favorite hobbies in Swaziland and we talk extensively about how when we go back home to maintain some level of creative cooking despite the abounding resources at our disposal.  

Secondly, thoughts of Betty Joe were in my mind yesterday while the girls in our group learned to sew reusable sanitation pads for Swazi girls. I know how to sew, and how to sew well, because years ago BJ taught me how. While I threaded multiple needles and gave basic instructions to my fellow PCVs I was beyond thankful for not only the skill but the time that was spent together in the fabric room making beautiful things. While sanitation pads might be far from beautiful the end result exceeds beauty. Teaching girls to understand, know, respect, and love their bodies leads to powerful women. Powerful women desire change, and change is what is needed here. So I am thankful to have been taught beauty from such a beautiful person. 

Lastly, I will say we are blessed to have found some amazing people here that we now call our friends. Sunday afternoon we spent time together talking about our lives here, our new sites, and adventures we hoped to have together. They surprised us with candy and a cupcake for our anniversary and it made us feel so loved. We have begun to plan trips and holidays knowing full well that we will have an awesome time together. I can speak for both of us when saying they make our lives more enjoyable here in Swaziland. 

Now for a P.S. – we got our first package from home (reference picture above)! Thank you Granny O’Neill, now all my friends know that you are wonderfully crazy. We love you!

P.S.S. Happy 62nd wedding anniversay JL and Edna Collins. What an amazing example of love, respect, and all around fun! We hope to be like you in so many ways. 

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.

Sunday, August 2, 2015 headed to Lubombo!!

"This is the time for small pay checks and  big memories."
-Jessy Tapper

Friday, July 31st: Well I thought I'd start by informing all of our curious readers that I lost at banana-grams last night. Even with such great words as umgcibelo and emabhontjisi, Simiso proved that I have not yet mastered siSwati like she has mastered English. Not to worry, Michael Jordan didn't give up after being cut from his high school team, and neither shall I. I will find a way to be victorious despite the ominous lack of r’s and q’s in the siSwati language. Now, on to today, or rather, the thoughts of tomorrow. Awaiting us tomorrow is the hallowed site announcement ceremony! In the past such notable figures as Dumbledore and King Robert Baratheon have graced us lowly PSTs with their presence and doled out houses of their choosing. It's always a grand affair and tomorrow will be no different. We anxiously await the decision of whatever esteemed councilors the Peace Corps has chosen to consult, knowing absolutely nothing of where we might end up for the next two years. Yes, tomorrow is a big day, and Grace and I are both eager to learn where we are headed and sad to remember that we must leave the Shabangu's behind. It's also befuddling to think that this somewhat randomly chosen village will be our new home for the next two years, considerably longer than we have ever stayed together in one place in America. We remain tremendously excited for the opportunity that awaits however, and we can not wait to assess our new community  home and begin planning projects. We want to help and we have wanted this, both individually and together as a couple, for a long time now. We are doing  what our hearts have beckoned us to do, and despite having a vast network of loving homes back in America, our home is now where are hearts are, Africa. Our home is Swaziland. Tomorrow, we’ll find out exactly which home here will capture our hearts for the next two years.

Saturday, August 1st: I don't even know where to begin. Wow, what a day it has been! Of course we started off with language, and of course we could not concentrate. Thishela, being a pro Peace Corp LCF, knew that nothing would get accomplished, so we had a review day. The bus ride to SIMPA was stirring with nerves. We even forgot to go eat cookies in our break room, someone had to bring them to us. These Americans can sure eat some cookies. Like Sean said previously, the current group of PCVs in country run the entire permanent site matching day. The theme they choose this year was The Avengers and it was oh so well done! If you haven't seen The Avengers you might not understand the next few sentences. Do not fear, call my brother John, he is an expert and can explain. There are 4 regions in Swaziland, Hhohho, Shiselweni, Lubombo, and Manzini. Super heroes (PCVs currently working in those regions) were assigned as following; Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America. Shield was there with approximately 10 agents who called us up individually and “interviewed us” for the job that awaits as a PCV. 

Each person was assigned a region. Lots of laughter, music, and speeches made the entire event unbelievably enjoyable! Sean and I were called closer to the beginning. After a terrible rendition of Amazing Grace we were assigned to the Lubombo region (The Hulk). After everyone was assigned, relatively evenly across the four regions, a large map was hung on the wall to show where sites were located. After investigation, our site is in northeastern Swaziland only a few miles away from Hlane Game Reserve! Close to some current PVCs, we found out the name of our community is Langa. I was given a few papers on Langa and by the looks of it we have some amazing opportunities to plug in and get started! Our homestead is a Dlamini family, so you better watch out, we are about to be royalty! I will not go into too much detail at this moment, as we will visit our site for 3 days this upcoming week. However, I will say we are excited! Most other volunteers are excited as well, and after a quick run to the store we visited with our friends back in Sihhohhweni, learned how to make chocolate and discussed the fears, possibilities, and hopes for our lives in the next two years. Back at home our sisi was relieved to find out we were not going to church tomorrow. Our sisi who is our “translator” at church is out of town this weekend, so our little sisi was deemed her replacement this afternoon while she was at choir practice. She says her English is not good. Of course she is wrong but we couldn't convince her of that. We spoke briefly about our site placement which seemed to make make a little sad. So I reminded her that we would come to visit. Also that when, make wami eMelika utoya eSwatini (my mom from America comes to Swaziland), that I will bring her to the Shabangu's home. That was met with so much delight and now make is off practicing her English for make McCord and make Collins! We have made an excellent dinner of pizza (remember it was a town day. Town day=cheese), about to call our families and tell them about our upcoming home. We will tell you more after our on-site visit! 

Sunday, August 2nd: Today we did sisi wetfu (our sister), Khombi, a favor. We did it unintentionally but we’ll take credit nonetheless. You see, today was the day of the big CH vs YD soccer game in Sihhohhweni, and it also happened to be the day that most of our church members, including Simiso and our pastor, were away at a youth convention. Grace and I had assured Khombi on Thursday that we would attend church before the soccer game because she seemed very distressed that nobody would be in church. Well, last night rolled around and Grace and I changed our decision and told Khombi we would not make it to church in the ekuseni. We explained that we had to be at the field and would have to leave church early and we didn't want to disturb everyone, and we continued to explain and excuse ourselves as Khombi’s shoulders slowly slumped forward. I think Grace and I were feeling a little bad about our new decision as Khombi kept repeating “You’re not coming?, You're not coming?” seemingly trying to understand what we had taken to long to explain and excuse. Finally, Khombi let out a “eesh” (the best we can tell this expresses disbelief or “that's crazy” whereas “hawu” expresses shock or “WTF”) and said she was very relieved! We said “’hawu’ we thought you were sad!”, and she said “ay no! I am relieved!” Thoroughly confused at this point and with make joining the conversation we learned that Khombi had been worried about having to translate for us since Thursday because Simiso would not be back in time. Make even said that Khombi had asked her to tell us not to come, but make felt that would be a bad lesson to teach us. Laughter obviously ensued as we realized Khombi had slumped in relief not sadness, and she was overjoyed that she would not be laughed at for translating. (Apparently although not all Swazi’s speak good English or any English at all, they can tell when someone is speaking bad English, and as Khombi says, they would laugh) We adjourned feeling better about our decision and we awoke today after sleeping in a bit ready for a soccer game. The game was a lot of fun with about 40 PCTs and 60 Sihhohhweni villagers participating in some fashion. Some bobhuti and bosisi played with us and the others got ahold of some vuvuzelas and ensured that nobody got in an afternoon nap. The field was at about a 10 degree slope and full of potholes and cowpies, but no one was deterred. The game was a blast and Grace and I left after about 2 hours with the score locked at 1 to 1. It was actually like 2-3 I'd say but the benefit of pickup soccer here is that there are no goalposts and whoever complains the most audibly about whether it was too high or not determines if it was a goal. CH ended up winning, meaning Grace’s team, and my team, the home team, ended up first loser. We left early because I had promised make I’d help cut down a banana stalk to get some bananas. I ended up doing that and removing a tin roof from there maize containers because tomorrow is corn thrashing day. As for now, Grace and I are settled in for the evening with far too many cookies to eat, so I really ought to put this down and pull my weight. Sitawukhuluma kusasa!