Saturday, May 28, 2016

... Is shared.

"Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." - Norman Macewan

Our guest blogger is Sean’s Mom, Chris, who came for a visit along with Evan, Sean’s twin brother:

 We visited one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World … we spotted 4 of Africa’s Big 5 game animals … we climbed to the peak of a mountain which legends tell is the site of King Solomon’s Mines … we accumulated 4 passport pages full of stamps … but BY FAR the best and most fulfilling part of our trip to Africa was finding Sean and Grace there. As you know, our precious son and daughter-in-law/twin brother and sister-in-law are PCVs serving in the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland since June 2015. 

Sean and Grace have been wonderful communicators since they left the USA. They have blogged “This Life of Ours …”, written notes, emails and texts, passed along photos and newsletters, and managed regular phone calls from halfway across the world despite lousy internet and major time differences. For 3 weeks they invited us into their lives in their newest home and shared everything – families, language, food and water, culture, work, play, church – they even shared their pee bucket! We witnessed them working hard and loving well and as a result, we gained perspective and new context for all their communications. The day-to-day happenings of their “Swazi-life” mean so much more now and we feel honored to have had the experience. We are so very grateful!

Our sweet “children” introduced us to family. Sean and Grace’s tiny hut is actually quite spacious and they have made it home with her creative colorful touch and his skillful ingenuity. They divide chores and responsibilities and respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Job well done “Team Collins”! The Shabangu and Dlamini families are every bit as special as Sean and Grace have said. Make Shabangu has a huge heart (and huge pigs) and she is most definitely worthy of being our children’s Mom while they are so far away! I get the distinct feeling of “entertaining angels unaware” in her presence. Babe Dlamini is an affable family patriarch and proud nkhosi (of the king) countryman – he taught me so much about his heritage in such a short time. They are all wonderful people who we will never forget.

Our gracious hosts included us in worship. Again I am astounded at how big our God is and am thankful for the community of believers sharing truth and love in the tiny block church at the end of a dirt path in KaLanga.  Here, praise music echoes joy. Pastor Saul preaches and prays (entirely in English) passionately about living “all in” Christ. The words of the old hymn come to mind: “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above”.

                With pending projects and deadlines, these two diligent volunteers incorporated us in their work. I could go on and on about Peace Corps projects – it is mind-boggling how much has already been accomplished. Sipho and Siphiwe have learned the language and immersed themselves into the culture of their community. The results are that they are known and respected, developing long-lasting relationships, and being accepted into everyday work and activities. To their credit there are also 24 homesteads with new permagardens, each with a grey-water filter for sustainability; a refurbished library at St. Paul’s Primary School with an active Library Club and well over a thousand new age-appropriate books due to arrive next month; on-going HIV/AIDS education with weekly pickup basketball games thrown in; a productive chicken co-op; teddy bears for children to cuddle during clinic visits; and 1 of 25 playgrounds coming to fruition in the very near future. Sean and Grace work hard and efficiently. Their passion for the Swazi people and their PC projects is positively remarkable! It is truly inspiring to have shared this glimpse of their “jobs” and yes, most definitely, I am a very proud Momma.  Evan (aka Speed Tech PC) was able to install Windows 10 as well as provide much needed support to the high school computer lab. During a visit to the SOS Health Clinic I met 2 amazing nurses and a pregnant Mom (my first maternal exam since nursing school 30+ years ago). Eish! Hopefully attempts at encouraging our professional counterparts in Swaziland were successful because they too were inspiring to watch at work.

We also played together … a lot! We talked tirelessly and laughed and cried as we discovered history, enjoyed nature, and tasted unknown meats together. We were drenched by the powerful mist on both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides of Victoria Falls. We hiked tough trails to Sheba’s Breasts and Nyonyane Mountain and blazed our own path between rock cairns of Mahamba Gorge. Swaziland’s dramatic landscape is beautiful and saturated with color despite the terrible drought and we were privileged to get our feet very dirty. With Evan as our expert driver (he quickly mastered driving on the left, maneuvering around cows, pedestrians, speed bumps, khumbis, and buses), Sean as our uncanny navigator (that map in his head is extensive), and a whole host of knowledgeable safari guides, we visited the country’s 3 Big Game Parks – Hlane, Mkhaya, and Mlilwane. Evan and I had a wonderful 3-day camp out in Kruger National Park, SA as well. We got up close and personal with amazing wildlife – rhino, giraffe, zebra, elephant, lion, hyena, waterbuck, wildebeest, water buffalo, crocodile, nyala, birds, warthog, hippo, impala and a variety of antelope. We learned to watch wildlife comfort zones and identify the impala’s noisy mating call.  Our friendly competition of naming new baby rhinos and giraffes was entertaining. We admired a myriad of authentic craftsmen and artists at work as well as their lovely wares. We sang and we danced and the Collins brothers kicked Swazi-style (or attempted to I should say). We were awestruck by radiant rainbows and picturesque sunsets. We packed a lot of playing in to our time together and I think we all have plenty of memorable storytelling material to share for many a campfire to come.

I get great satisfaction from carefully planning and researching our travel destinations, but this time Sean and Grace did most of the prep work and I hoped and prayed for a time of encouragement and refreshment for them with Evan and me there. I think my hope came true … and we were refreshed too! As a traveler I have learned to be flexible and expect change. Sean is 30 pounds lighter, Grace glows with a new tan … I knew to expect that. I expected changes more than “skin deep” too but you never really know what you’re gonna’ get. American writer Henry Miller said, “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of seeing things.” At the risk of sounding sappy I’ll end with this: SiSwati names have meanings – Sipho and Siphiwe mean “gift” and “gifted”; Evan was given his siSwati name Sibusiso which means “blessing” by a sweet Hlane hostess. After some careful thought from a Make working in Mkhaya, I was given a siSwati name too – “You must be more than just ‘Make’”, she proclaimed, “Yebo! I name you Sibusiwe, meaning ‘You are blessed/We are blessed’ to have you visit Swaziland.” Perfect! Our visit and all that was shared along the way was truly extraordinary. Yebo! … We are blessed!

Sunday, May 1, 2016 pending.

If "plan A" fails, remember you have 25 letters left. - Henry Guest

Pending…pending…pending. This post has been pending for some time now. Much of our life here with Peace Corps Swaziland is in a pending state. Currently, with two grants in the works for our library and chicken cooperative projects, our pending lifestyle has finally consumed us. It's not such a bad thing really, I mean our patience with all things is growing exponentially, as more and more things hit the pending stage, but there is a small drawback. Eventually, all of the pending is actually happening, and it's usually actually happening when we would be fine for it to remain pending a few days. Let me try to explain using last week as an example.

On Monday of last week Grace and I both received notice that our grants were approved by the small grants committee of PC Swaziland and PC Washington. Each volunteer may have one active grant at a time so Grace’s is a grant for the KaLanga Women’s Chicken Farming Cooperative, and mine is for library renovations at St. Paul’s Primary School, but I must add that Grace wrote both grants. She has grant writing and monitoring and evaluation gift, and I have a facilitating trainings gift, we’re a good team if I may say so. Anyways, both grants approved and immediately moved into the pending category of our lives. It takes up to two weeks for the money to actually get to my account for my grant, and it takes up to two weeks for Grace’s grant to get posted on the PC’s fundraising website. (Hence why Grace uses the term grant reluctantly, she prefers “monitored fundraising”) So, it's Monday and we already have two pending projects. We need to paint the library whilst the primary school is on break, but with the grant pending, painting is pending. We need to deliver 100 poultry transport crates to the Co-op before the chickens reach full maturity in the next 2-3 weeks but with the grant pending, delivery is pending. We also have a very successful permagardening project still underway. We officially finished all of the training sites last week and now, pending completion of each caregivers own permagarden, delivery of seeds, seedlings, and buckets is pending. As you can see, much of our life is pending.

 What happens when pending moves to actually happening is a source of much stress and excitement in our lives. As many of you know, we were set to meet my mom and brother for a vacation to Victoria Falls,in the midst of all the pendingness (Yes I made up that word). We will be in and out of the country and our community intermittently over the next three weeks, but with the expectation that pending will move to actually happening in that same time frame, it's been exciting and stressing to build-in pending work days to our vacation. On Thursday of last week, we were incredibly happy we did build-in some pending workdays as we bought seedlings and buckets for 3 gardens to plant over the weekend. After planting those three we had already made a plan to plant 5 more when we return to Swaziland next week. Pending to actually happening. We have time allotted to paint our library on two weekends depending on when our grant money moves from pending to actually happening. We have several times identified where we’ll be passing through Manzini and able to place our order and  setup delivery for poultry crates depending on when pending moves to actually happening. 

This blog post has now been pending for 4 days as we’ve explored Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia, but it's time for it to actually happen I think. We’re headed back to Swaziland eagerly anticipating the sudden rush of things actually happening.