I hit the 3 month mark this month on the 16th! 🎉 Can you believe that I’ve been here that long?! I can’t! It’s been a while since I’ve kept you all up to date about what’s going on. I’ll highlight a few things.
After 10 weeks together, on Saturday August 26th group 14th dismantled and headed separate ways to our prospective new homes.
As the car pulled up to my home I could feel my stomach flutter, palms get sweaty, and my heart beat racing faster than usual. I was so nervous to start this new transition in a completely foreign environment with no familiar faces around me. This time I couldn’t rely on PC prison aka PST training as I would be completely on my own. I gotten so used to the structured schedule and seeing my friends everyday.
The first week at my site my sole purpose was to get to know my new family and make my hut feel like home.
From the very first encounter my host family was warm, welcoming, and loving. I’ve been slowly cracking open the jar getting to know their different personalities and the family dynamics. PC couldn’t have matched me with a better home!
In PST during one of the cross cultural sessions, we learned about a common phrase that they say here in Swaziland: “umuntfu ngumuntfu ngebantfu.” In English it translates to: “a person is a person by the people.” To me this means the people who surround us shape who we become. As I’ve been integrating into the Swazi culture I’ve been learning so much. I’m sure I’ve said this before but Swazis are the most genuine, patient, and hospitable people I’ve ever met. I can’t wait to see what the next two years will produce and how the community will continue to mold me into a better person.
Tuesday 8/30, I met up with another volunteer, Timmya, in our shopping town of Nhlangano to purchase furniture. PC gave us a settling in allowance + our first monthly stipend to purchase a bed and whatever else with the remaining balance. I was able to buy a bed, table, clothing wardrobe, and food hamper. I went WAY over my budget but in the end it was worth it. Timmya gave me her leftover paint and later on in the week I was able to recruit my bhuti (brother) to help me paint! I plan on doing a lot more to my room such as purchasing fabric to make curtains, adding shelves, and hanging up art work (the walls are pretty bland now). I will post pictures of the finished project in the coming months.
I was introduced to the local leadership at the umphakatsi (the chiefdom) – The first person I met was the Bucopho (or community brain), he then accompanied me to meet the Indvuna (or headman). Indvuna arranged a community meeting at the Royal Crow for the sole purposes of introducing myself to the people of Mbowane. Since I am the first volunteer in the community – I gave a brief history of Peace Corps in Swaziland, introduced myself in SiSwati, lastly, I told the community that I want to build relationships with them all and get to know their story over the next two years. After the meeting so many people came up to greet me and introduce themselves. My host Sisi was standing alongside me and she was kind enough to interpret what everyone was saying.
The last person I met was acting Chief Gedlane at the Royal Crow in kaqweqwe. It’s very rare that you find a woman who serves in the that role. My first impressions- she was very kind! She even mistaken me for a Swazi and told me I look like a Swazi several times! She told the community to welcome me as their own, protect me, and if I had any problems to go directly to her.
I also attended the HIV/AIDS support group in my community. The group formed in June and has about 25 active members (both men and women). In the meeting I attended the group was dividing up who would make this purchase and chipping in money towards an income generating project. Weeks prior someone came in and taught them how to make Vaseline, floor polish, and atcha (spicy cabbage) so they could sell it and keep the money for themselves. During week 3 I attended group again and was able to watch some of the women make and distribute the products in jars, it was so cool to experience that!
I started gathering information to conduct my homestead surveys. Bucopho informed me that there are 200 homesteads in Mbowane. So far my Sisi and Bucopho have accompanied me and helped me translate a brief introduction and a few questions to members in my community.
Some of the questions include:
What is your surname?
Are you working?
Are you married?
How many child and adults live on the homestead?
What school(s) do the children attend?
Are there any orphan and or/vulnerable children living on the homestead?
What is your favorite thing about the community?
What skills do you have? What skills do you want to acquire?
What would make the community a better place?
The purpose of this questionnaire is to get to know the community better and figure out what problems to tackle – some of my projects will generate from people’s responses. By the end of October my goal is to at least hit half of the homesteads.
Term 3 (of 3) of school started on 9/13. As we all know the first week back to school is chaotic. I didn’t feel a need to rush so I went into the school on Thursday. I caught up with my Site Support Agent (SSA) Lindiwe who also is the headteacher (principle) of the high school. Later on in the day I got to shadow her classroom.
PC requires that we get a tutor and meet with them at least 2 hours a week. My SSA and the SiSwati teacher at the high school helped me track down a tutor. We had our first meeting on Thursday. My language skills have definitely improved since PST- it helps that the kids and my Gogo only speak SiSwati. That has forced me to learn a lot quicker. I’m shooting for the stars – my long term goal is to be fluent in SiSwati by the end of my first year, I think it’s do-able!