Friday, October 30, 2015

...needs a little support.

The more that you read the more things you will know. The more you learn the more places you'll go! - Dr. Seuss

Well this post will be a little different than what we usually post in that this post is our first asking for support for one of our projects! When we first came to Ka-Langa, one of the many things we did was take a tour of the schools here. One of them, St. Paul’s Primary School,  has quickly become one of our favorite places to visit. Built in 2010 with support from the SOS Village here, the primary school educates nearly 500 students of various ages in grades 1 to 7. It is a mission school with Catholic influence which sets it slightly apart from other government schools. Students report to school at 7:40am for assembly and school lets out at 2:30pm. Compared to other schools we have been to, the quality of education and the dedication of the teachers is astounding. The setup is very similar to the U.S., Grades 1-4 are taught by single teachers teaching a range of subjects, and Grades 5-7 are taught by multiple teachers who specialize in a few subjects. The teachers make do with what they have, and let me say that it is almost awe-inspiring the way teachers at St. Paul’s interact and engage with students using just a chalk board and an old textbook. No fancy smart boards, projectors or computers needed here. One of the only things St. Paul's lacks, that it sorely needs, is a functioning library. Not for lack of trying either, the school does have a library space and it is full of books…books about Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The library is a mass of textbooks donated by the local Nazarene Mission in Siteki, most of which are irrelevant to the lives of young Swazis, and if that weren't bad enough the textbooks that could prove useful, those in math or science, are beyond the students comprehension levels. Thus, the inspiration for our project.

We are partnering with St. Paul's and filing an application to Books for Africa, or in our case, Books for Swaziland. The Books for Swaziland program is handled entirely by the Peace Corps Volunteers in country, but the books come from Books for Africa in the U.S., I think the books are shipped out of Georgia. The program brings over 30,000 to Swaziland to be distributed amongst 30 schools, hence the need for the application. Schools raise E1500 or $115 USD to cover in country costs (a significant cost especially to primary schools, now that primary education is free in Swaziland and paid for through the EU, schools receive less money per student than the secondary schools where student’s families pay higher fees) and Peace Corps Swaziland covers half of the remaining costs along with donations from outside Peace Corps. This money goes to cover the international shipping of the books and trainings for librarians at each of the schools. This is where we need your help! We need to raise just over $7000 USD to cover these costs and get some much needed books to this country! 

If selected, St. Paul's will be able to specify the type of books they would prefer, and after several meetings with the head teacher (principal) and librarian (an excited Grade 3 teacher), they really want to get some age-appropriate fiction and story books to improve the students English literacy and hopefully to encourage students to read for fun! The existing textbooks in the library will be sorted and some stored, with the other more advanced books being taken to the local high school. This is a wonderful opportunity for this school and they are keenly aware of and excited about the opportunity to engage and interest their students outside of the classroom. The head teacher and the librarian are already discussing reading reward programs and library improvements, as well as fundraising ideas for their end of the deal, so now we need to hold up our end! Help the students of St. Paul's and youth all over the country get access to 30,000+ books by clicking on the link below and making a donation! Siyabonga kakhulu! 

Monday, October 26, 2015


"The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hands, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life." - Robert L. Stevenson

It's been quite awhile since our last post…ncesi! In any case, we thought we’d take this lazy Sunday afternoon to talk about three things: cows, church, and crystal light/coffee. It just so happens that everything starts with a C so we’ll call these the three C’s of Peace Corps life in Swaziland.

First things first, cows. These delightful yet devastating creatures roam all over the country largely unfettered. In theory, all cows have owners, yet in Swaziland, this theory is put to the test unlike any where else. Cows can be seen all over the country, wandering along roadsides, laying on the sidewalk, grazing in the mountains and yet it is all but guaranteed you will never spot their owner. It's hard to say what the reason for this really is considering cows represent wealth here and each cow is  valued at around E7000, but nonetheless, we see tens of thousands of emalangeni trotting about everyday with no owner in sight. Now there are a couple of reasons we have surmised as to why cows are free to roam here. The first is that Swaziland is a very small, very peaceful country. No one here wants to steal cows because everybody is too nice to steal cows and if they weren't odds are it would catch up with them because they can't go very far. (Mozambicans on the other hand…eish…they steal several million emalangeni worth of cows from Swaziland every year) The other reason is that we are in the midst of a terrible drought. Terrible drought means no grass on or around the owner’s homestead for cows to graze. Hence, those who can afford to pen up their cows and buy hay at a cost of around E900 per bundle do so, and those who can't, set their cows loose every day/week to eat what they can. The result is ravenous hordes of starving cows. Have I mentioned our permagarden lately…no?...well we are very proud and very excited about our permagarden, and apparently, all the cows are too. Our garden has been raided by cows on three occasions. The first time was just a few days after we planted our seedlings and they were just starting to take root. A group of ravenous herbivores jumped the 4 foot fence separating our garden from the roadside and ate almost everything on the outside of our garden. We were obviously dismayed and a little angry but we figured it to be a fluke and we still had all of the vegetables in our interior beds so we resolved to push through the attack and revive what we could on the exterior. Not long after, the fence was hurdled again by a new group of acrobatic herbivores and the destruction was widespread. The healthy interior beds were eaten except for our lettuce (strange enough) and a few green peppers, and the exterior berms were twice eaten except for our green beans and a few onions. After this second attack we realized that starving cows are incredibly athletic in their desperation and babe and I raised the roadside fence about a foot to challenge what I can only hope to be a cows vertical jump PR. Over a couple weeks we nursed the surviving plants in our garden back to life until one fateful evening a jackass invaded with a crew of cows. Now to fully appreciate this attack you must know something about our homestead. Our homestead is a very large rectangle adjacent to the road. It is approximately 40 meters in width and nearly a football field in length running parallel to the road. The only gate into the homestead is on one end with our garden on the other, nearly a football field away. In between are 6 houses and another fence just before our garden that stretches about 2/3 across the homestead. In order to get from the gate to the garden you must travel diagonally across the homestead with no clear line of sight due to the houses, avoid the fire-pit, find the gap in the fence, then hang a Louie and cross the homestead along its width to reach our garden. The dog that's lived on this homestead for four years can't even figure that out. Apparently though, donkeys are smarter than dogs. In short, the gate was left open by our Sisi and a donkey with a crew of cows navigated through the homestead and enjoyed what was left of our garden…save the lettuce…go lettuce! In response, babe and I fenced the gap and strung barb wire across the top. We now have what we hope is an herbivore-proof garden. It is a little sad though because Grace and I both love cows and seeing them in a starving state and dying along the road isn't very fun, but neither is having your garden eaten before you can introduce the permagarden concept to the community that needs it more than ever due to the same drought that's killing the cows. Water is by far the most precious resource here, oil is an afterthought. 

Second things second but it very well could be first, we have found a church home here in Ka-Langa! We have visited three churches here since moving a couple months ago. The first was a nice church across the road that meets for two hours and everything is in siSwati. It was a great church but it's hard to stay connected with our limited siSwati. The second was a very nice church close to Siteki. It is by far the largest church we have been to in Swaziland with a three hour service mostly in siSwati but a translated sermon. The third church we visited meets at the high school in one of the classrooms for two hours and the service is run primarily by the kids before Sunday school, and then the adults take over. The third church is called Christian Revival Center and it is the church we plan on calling home for the next two years. We love how focused the entire church body is on the youth. The praise team is all youth including an incredible 15 year old keyboardist, and they control song selection and the order of the first half of the service. During the second half when the pastor takes over, the youth all go out to Sunday school, and after church is over they all get a sandwich made by the bomake of the church. The pastor is a great man who, seeing us, gave the sermon the past couple weeks in English with a siSwati translator, saying that they should be welcoming of all people not just Americans,  and English is the most common international language in southern Africa. He also is one of the most understanding and compassionate individuals we have met thus far concerning the plight of the PCV in leaving our families and homes in America  to come to Swaziland. All in all it’s a great fit for us. I am also quite convinced that nobody worships and sings praise to God better than the Swazi people, especially at CRC. Despite not understanding a single word, we know without a doubt that we are praising God while worshipping here. It such a wonderful feeling everyone should come just for that experience! 

Third things third, although they could be first or second, crystal light and coffee. As everyone who reads our blog is bound to know by now, it is hot here. Some days very hot. The purchase of our little mini fridge will be a highlight of our service for that reason. Another highlight of our service, receiving packages full of crystal light. We drank water everyday for a couple months of PST. Then, for about a month after we bought our fridge, we drank cold water everyday. A remarkable improvement over just water by the way. Now, we drink fruit punch, lemonade, orange juice, kiwi-strawberry, and peach mango green tea everyday. It is beyond my capability to describe how something so small has now become a key to our happiness and survival here. Thank you so very much to our bomake eMelika for supplying us with these glorious little sugar filled pouches that keep us hydrated, energetic, and happy. Another small happiness of ours despite the heat? You might be thinking why would they love coffee so much when it's 100+ degrees there? Solid question. One reason is that by 6am if the heat hasn't woken you up yet, the animals will, and at 6am in the morning there are few things that make Grace and I as happy as good coffee. Another is banana pancakes but I digress. The other is that for two people who enjoy a good cup of coffee simply to enjoy a good cup of coffee, it is nearly impossible to find good coffee in Swaziland that we can make at home. Thanks again to our bomake eMelika for sending us good ground coffee, tea and Ricofy just don't cut it like good coffee out of the French press (shout to Grandma Jane and Grandaddy for the press!). 

In the end, it's funny how our lives are changing here. Cows play a huge role in day to day life. Praise and worship is just as good if not better in a foreign language. Crystal light and coffee are keys to happiness. Three things I definitely don't think we anticipated before coming to Swaziland, but now true all the same. I know we say are lives are boring here and our work sometimes is, but give us a couple years and our lives just might get a little more interesting. I mean when's the last time you heard about a cow jumping over a four foot fence then skippin the lettuce?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

...slowly starts.

"Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care." - Theodore Roosevelt 

Our lives are moving pretty slowly here as Peace Corps Volunteers. This is not to say that we aren't having a good time or that we count our work here as any lesser than before. It's just that life in general is slow. I say this to try to minimize any frustration towards us on your end due to the lack of information we are giving you regarding the work that we are doing. There truly is little to report. 
As volunteers in a new country and a new community we were instructed to take the first few months when arriving at site to get to know the community. Introduce ourselves, say hello, explain why we are here and be a constant presence at local organizations, not to start work and not to jump in feet first, full steam ahead. It sounds simple. It sounds repetitive. It sounds a little silly. Why come all the way across the world and essentially do nothing? 

Prior to this blog post I baked 2 loaves of bread, a cake, and 2 types of granola bars. Not for any reason other than I had the time. We watched a few TV shows, read our books, and thought about doing laundry. We have lots of time here. I think I would be frustrated if prior to my late day boredom I experienced the highlight of my week.

Sean and I decided to take a stroll down to SOS youth village just to see what was up. I mean, like I said we had the time. We were greeted by a young primary age boy who knew us from our visits to his school. He asked if he could walk around with us and of course we agreed. Answering many questions (I asked a lot of questions) this young boy spoke freely of his life here, what was good, what needed to change, and where he desired for us to make an impact. He was a boy to be proud of. 

As we left him we told him we would see him on Tuesday at school - our usual day at the primary school. As we walked home I began to think about the ease of conversation that occurred, not just from this young boy but people throughout the week. We are now being the ones greeted by children, bomake, teachers, and neighbors. We are beginning to have follow up conversations, and inside jokes aside from the general complaining about the weather. We are becoming missed at church, school, and at the shops. 

It sounds simple but it is truly important. It sounds repetitive but all relationships are in some way. It sounds silly but until we prove we are serious we will remain a joke. 

So while it seems like we are doing nothing we are trying very hard to set ourselves up to do plenty. It takes time to trust, understand, listen, and learn from anything or anyone new. So we are taking our time to get the first part right from the start. Hopefully in a few months our posts will be full of stories of projects, failures, and successes. So in the mean time please bear with us if you are bored - or bake something, that's what I do.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

...feelin' hot hot hot!

"It ain't the heat, it's the humility."
— Yogi Berra

Kuyashisa. Kuyashisa kakhulu. It’s hot. It’s very hot. Nobody ever says futfumele (it’s warm) in Ka-Langa, especially now that summer is upon us, and unfortunately nobody has gotten to say liyana (it’s raining) for awhile now either. Nope, it's another hot and dry Sunday afternoon. The temperature is around 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which may not impress anyone in the southern United States, especially no one in Rome, Georgia (I only know because Grace believes Rome, GA to be the hottest place on the planet). However, here in rural Swaziland there is no chance of escaping the heat which makes a huge difference. Let me provide an example.

 It's 95 degrees Fahrenheit on a sunny Sunday morning in east Tennessee. You wake up and put on your Sunday best (long sleeve shirt, maybe a tie, khakis, a nice dress or slacks for the ladies) and head out the door for church. Immediately you feel like you've walked out of your balmy 60-70 degree house into a furnace. You make a general statement like “Man it's hot today!” before walking the 10-20yds to your car and getting in. You turn the car on and crank the A/C down to low, double snowflake, the thick blue or what have you. You proceed to drive and park at the church after searching for a good spot (which if you're my dad is way out in the middle of nowhere) and you walk the 100yds or so (if you're my dad) to the church. Halfway there you say again “it's hot today!” and wipe the small beads of sweat from your brow. You make it in the front door and are met with the joyous feeling of cool 55-65 degree conditioned air of the church. Five minutes after walking in you've forgotten all about the heat outside, so much so that you are ready for a hot coffee of all things. You find your seat and begin to realize that you feel cold sitting directly under the grossly oversized A/C system’s vent. 

In Ka-Langa, Swaziland, you awake in a light sweat even though you have your only fan literally inside the mosquito net with you. You get dressed in your Sunday best but you intentionally dress just 15min before you go out the door and in the lightest good-looking clothes you have. You step out the door already sweating lightly and are unsurprised to find that it is hotter than Hades outside without a cloud in the sky. You walk the ½ to ¾ mile to church (pictured below) barely noticing that you're sweating because the super heated air all around is drying you off as fast as you perspire. You arrive at church and exchange the usual greetings along with “Kuyashisa kakhulu namuhla” (it is hot today). You find your seat and notice something quite odd beginning to occur. You feel a few beads of water run down your neck and along your spine. Initially puzzled, you realize that now that you're out of direct sunlight and the air temperature has dropped a few degrees, your sweat doesn't evaporate as fast as it appears anymore. You spend the next two hours soaking in your own sweat and relishing every breeze that comes through the open windows, despite the fact that the breeze from outside is hotter than the air inside. You leave church and are none too surprised that after you reach home your are dry and no longer sweating. Once inside the door the Sunday’s best attire is quickly stripped, giving way to shorts and the optional t shirt. You begin to sweat lightly none the less and huddle around the fan, thankful to be in out of the sun. There is just no escaping the heat here which explains why at 8:00 pm I'm still sweating lightly sitting right next to the fan writing this blog. I'm not complaining though, I mean after all we chose this lifestyle, quite happily I might add, but I want to try and portray the weather accurately in a way in which you can understand so that now in the second part of this blog about our week you can set the scene more clearly when you think about our activities.

This has been a very satisfying week in all for Siphiwe and I. We got our front door mostly fixed on Monday (there’s a long frustrating backstory there which I won't get into) and we don't expect to get it fully fixed until…well…ever really, but it will do and we are much happier with it. Tuesday we went and shadowed classes again at the primary school which is always a highlight of our week, especially assembly which is how every school in Swaziland starts. The primary school does this chant though that is incredibly adorable, something like,”Good morning teachers, good morning brothers, good morning sisters, we meet in peace”. It's all recited in a clearly memorized, robotic manner but it's always in sync and all the little voices seem to over power the older students which makes us smile every time. After school, Grace joined the SOS Family-Strengthening Coordinator for some home visits and had a great experience meeting bogogo in our community who are caring for OVCs and whom SOS supports. At both the homesteads she went to the SOS Village kids built the houses with the guidance of a professional builder, and she said they were quite impressive. Wednesday, I went and shadowed at the high school and Grace joined me at noon for our first siSwati tutoring session. Our tutor’s nickname that she prefers to go by is Ngety, and we feel quite lucky that we found her. She had lesson plans with notes prepared for us and she's our age so conversation comes easy. That afternoon I hung out with Form 5 (12th grade) students in the computer lab as they typed their agriculture project reports, and Grace joined our Sisi who is leading a girl’s empowerment club through SWAGAA at the high school. Grace was very impressed with our sisi and we are both so happy that she is doing it and really seems to be loving it. Thursday was a glorious day as I went with our older sisi to Manzini to pick up pallets. We've been hunting pallets for a month now and it was such a relief and joy to find them. I missed our tutoring session but Grace went and said it went very well, we even have homework for next week. That night we built the first section of our three section pallet couch and it worked out perfectly! Finally we have some extra seating and storage space and it won't be long now until we have finished making our house a home. Friday we got up super early to head into the PC office in Mbabane to do some clerical/office work like printing surveys to use on our reports and discovering new project ideas. The week culminated on Saturday when we ran our first international race! We met our friends at Somhlolo Stadium in the Ezulwini Valley and 5 of us ran a 10k and 2 of us a half-marathon. Grace and I stuck to the 10k and it was a beautiful course with views of the mountains on all sides. One of our friends placed 8th in the Women’s 10km and another placed 10th in the Women’s 21km. All in all we were all very proud of each other and had a great time. 

Well that’s our week in a nutshell and I'm still sweating…hope all is well back home!