And We’re Off…

Sunday, August 7, 2011

WOW!  It is really here.  The end of PST and the beginnings of our two years of service as Peace Corps Volunteers in Swaziland is only days away.  I know I keep saying this, but we are very excited. 

The past few days have been stressful and emotional.  We have said goodbye to our host families, packed up all of our belongings (along with a TON of stuff given to us by Peace Corps), cleaned out our hut, and moved back to the training center where it all began. 

On Saturday, we had an appreciation ceremony at the center for our host families.  It was a lot of fun.  We ate some food, Matt (a fellow PCT) and I gave a short thank you, and our entire group did two dances (one Swazi and one American).  The American dance we decided was the cha-cha slide.  Let’s just say there were lots of Swazi smiles while we took “it back now y’all.”  Of course, no gathering in Swaziland would be complete without certificates.  It may seem a little strange for us Americans, but Swazis love certificates and Peace Corps makes sure to give them out all the time. 

After the ceremony, we went back to the homestead one more time to collect the last of our belongings and say goodbye.  The rest of our training group then gathered at the college to load EVERYTHING onto a large flat-bed truck for transport to Mbabane (the capital).  We had a ‘Medical Review’ session which was a lot of fun.  Our Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO), Daynesse, has a very good sense of humor (I guess you need one when you work in Africa for ten years).  We were put into teams (each with a funny hat of some kind) and played Jeopardy with questions from all of our previous medical sessions.  Of course, Day made sure to have an incentive at the end—ICE CREAM.  It was a fun night, and we slept well at the training center for our last night in the southern region of Swaziland (Shisilweni). 

This morning we got up and boarded a bus (which we are currently on) to Mbabane.  We will spend much of today traveling and unloading and organizing that massive pile of stuff on the back of the truck.  Tomorrow we will get a tour of town, including the Peace Corps Swaziland Office and have an opportunity to do some shopping for our new home.  Tuesday is the Swearing-In Ceremony.  It apparently is kind of a big deal and will be attended by a number of important people.  I will be busting out my suit—fingers crossed that it survived the move.  If not, I will have to go ‘traditional’ and buy some animal skins. 

Early Wednesday morning, we will depart in groups of 4-5 (assigned by geographic area) to be dropped off at each of our permanent sites.  It will be a very busy day, but it is going to be so great to get started on what we came here to do.

Well, we’ve reached the winding mountain roads which cross the country—so I better put the computer down and concentrate on not getting sick. 



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Today is our third wedding anniversary!  It’s strange spending it in Swaziland.  Instead of going to dinner at a restaurant, we made tuna melt sandwiches and had quite an eventful day.

But let’s back up to where Oliver left off last time.  We arrived at a hostel in Mbabane where we spent three nights.  The first two days we were shown around the capital city-where the grocery stores are, what restaurants have more available than lipalishi, and how to get to Peace Corps offices.  It’s a very small city, I think about 45,000 but everything seems well stocked.  Mostlikely, Oliver and I will be traveling there about once a month to pick up mail and use free internet at the Peace Corps offices and also to buy some of the exotic food that you can’t get in the rural areas.  Exotic reads: cheese, soy sauce, and more than one type of candy bar available! Mbabane is a relatively safe city during the day except for pick picketers and after dark we will never travel except in a taxi so don’t worry about things on the safety and security end.

Tuesday was swearing in!   In the morning our entire group got ready, some of the other volunteers had bought traditional wear the day before and the rest of us dressed in normal western business attire.  The ceremony was held at the Mountain Inn.  That place has the best view I had seen throughout our entire time in Swaziland.  While we waited around to get started, we checked out the area and I played on a giant chess board and got beaten twice by Tim.  The event was held outdoors in a giant white tent.  It reminded me of a wedding because all of the chairs had slip covers and of course, red and blue ribbons on them.  There were a lot of important guests at the event, including the US ambassador, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, regional administrators, and PC country director among others.  Everyone gave speeches and thanked everyone else several times.  Since PC is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, there were quite a few RPCV’s (returned Peace Corps volunteers) and a lot was said about PC’s long heritage.  It was a very moving day, especially when Tim and Kerry gave their speech on behalf of us trainees.  Tim described a moment in his life where a stranger helped him purely out of kindness, and how it is that exchange between people that brings us to Swaziland.  Kerry then spoke about some factors in her life, like seeing JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. speak, which lead her to an organization that brings peace around the world.  She also described to the audience the various skills, professions, awards, travels, and abilities that we bring with us to our work.  We ended by swearing to uphold and defend the constitution the USA, got our certificates, and took a group photo.  After a nice lunch (which also resembled a wedding reception) we left the Mountain Inn as official Peace Corps Volunteers.

That night we went to a club and danced.  We had a great time; it was really the last time we will do something together as a group for at least three months. 

Today, we loaded up all of the trucks and vans with our bags and said goodbye to each other.  It took Oliver and I about 1 ½ hours to drive from Mbabane to where we are staying.  No one was at the school when we got there because it is the end of the term and there were some meetings happening off site.  We moved all of our stuff in to our home.  It is wonderful.  We live in a separate house on school grounds.  We do have electricity.  There are five different rooms of varying size.  I guess they would be a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two bedrooms if there was actually anything to distinguish them from each other.  Concrete floors and a tin roof- no more thatch!  It is hard to set things up because there is no place to put anything.  Hopefully we will travel to Manzini on Friday to buy a bed, curtains, and a couple other small things. 

Later that afternoon, our principal was able to show us around school grounds.  There is quite a lot happening here.  There are teacher dorms, a hostel for OVCs, a kitchen and eating area, a library and computer lab in the works, an area for chickens and cows, sport fields, and of course classrooms.  It is very nice and spacious.  The surrounding area is beautiful.  We are between lowveld and midveld so we can see some mountains in the near distance and the bush all around us.

Tomorrow parents come to the school to get their children’s reports so we will be able to meet both them and the other teachers.  School is on break for a few weeks which will give us enough time to set up the house and get used to things around here.

Whew, I’m exhausted!



August 11, 2011

The excitement continues…This morning we woke up early to make sure we were ready to go for the 7:20am staff meeting.  This meeting, in keeping with Swazi time, ended up starting at 8:15am.  Being especially eager to meet the staff we ended up walking down at about 7am. 

Luckily, the principal (F.D.) offered us the keys and the opportunity to spend some time poking around with the computers that had been donated to the school.  It is so great to have the resources available, however there are several challenges standing in the way of opening it up for instruction.  One of the first hurdles is the fact that all of the plugs for the computers at UK plugs and don’t fit into a Swazi outlet.  The school has little by little been purchasing adapters, but funds are always scarce.  By taking the few converters that they do have around the room, Rebecca and I found 3 out of 11 to be functional (meaning able to boot Windows and at open a program).  The rest have a variety of issues I am sure to be trying to figure out over the next few weeks.  Don’t be surprised (Jordan or Ryan) if I start sending a few questions your way.

In addition, we went to visit the room intended to be the library.  Our school has been lucky enough to receive a donation of over 3,000 books.  The books still need to be unloaded from boxes, placed on shelves, and organized.  In addition a system has to be devised and implemented to allow the books to be used and checked out. 

Both of these projects appear to be ripe for our help, and our F.D. is very excited to have our support.  I know we are still in integration, but we will probably continue to ‘poke’ around and see if we can get a little head start these two projects.  

After this initial assessment, we began a string of introductions which covered everything from our names and background to the history and mission of the Peace Corps.  We gave this introduction at the staff meeting, with the school committee, and then continued on to a meeting of the parents at the students.  The students are currently on break, so we will not have the opportunity to meet them until they come back for next term.

Our location is quite remote, with the nearest small store (sitolo in siSwati) being about 5km down the dirt road.  However, our principal is more than happy to teach us tricks to make our lives easier. 

One example is the ‘informal supplier’ about 1km down the road from us.  The procedure is that you walk up to the fence at a certain point and a woman will emerge from a hut.  Upon request of her stock list last night, she has available bread, soap, matches, candles, live chickens, and sugar.  This is a far cry from a quick trip to Copps—and she also doesn’t even double coupons, but I am learning to cope.

Today he also showed us his ‘black market’ supply for diesel.  Driving to the town of Mpaka, there is a clustering of huts near the main road.  When you drive to the back section of this area you tell a young boy how much you want and within a few minutes he emerges with a container full of diesel and a piece of garden hose to siphon the gas into your car.

In addition to learning these helpful hints, our F.D. was able to arrange a tour of the new International Airport under construction near our site (we can actually see the lights of the airport from our back door).  It was quite interesting and very impressive.  The project was initially slated for the World Cup last year, but circumstances have moved that target to June 2012.  In addition to the usual airport things, we saw the beginnings of the ‘King’s Terminal and Apron’ where the King and his guests will board flights as well as a reconstructed jet where the local fire-fighters will practice rescue missions.  It was our F.D.’s first time on board a plane, so he was very excited. 

After this tour, we stopped for lunch at one of our principal’s favorite stops in Mpaka (hence the diesel experience) before heading to the Swaziland’s first subdivision.  As a result of the airport and related construction, many families were relocated to a neighborhood that reminds me so much of Christian Drive in Oshkosh.  Three styles of houses are lined in rows with only slightly varied color schemes (the only difference being the presence of chickens and cattle kraals).  F.D. had arranged to purchase someone’s water-tank stand (an approx. 6 food metal structure used to hold a 1,000 liter water tank).  We pulled up in the pick-up truck and got a few guys to help us rip it out of the ground and hoist it on the back to be brought to his homestead. 

On the way, back he dropped us at the T-junction (intersection) about 2km from the school and we enjoyed the sunset as we walked home.  It was a very busy day, but we have boundless enthusiasm for the potential here and can’t wait to get started. 


P.S. Please feel free to pose any questions you are curious about and we will be sure to include answers in one of our posts.


2 thoughts on “And We’re Off…

  1. What is your mailing address at your new place? Congratulations on finally getting to your assignment, and thanks so much for all the news!

  2. Hi Oliver and Rebecca,

    It is great to read your stories. Donations of computers always come with logistical problems such as plugs. Adapters also seem to disappear too easy as it can be used for the chargers of the cellphones. So a suggestions: cut off the UK plugs and replace them with cheap Swazi plugs that you can buy in many (small) shops. You don’t need to be an electrician to do this.


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