Eat a bowl of cookie dough, and other accomplishments

October 28, 2011

I am relaxing with Rebecca in our now at least partially furnished living room—filled with slightly less than usual levels of anxiety and reflecting on the events of the past week.`

The week began with a beautiful and productive Sunday—laundry, cleaning, planting in our garden, prepping for the weeks activities in the library and computer lab, and making delicious Salmon burgers for dinner.  It was a little bit too nice of a day, and Rebecca and I both received our first real Swaziland sunburn.  In fact, by the time we walked down to our little garden plot, we were already sweating.  We persevered by discovered that by the time we finished planting, we couldn’t pick up the metal shovel because it had gotten too hot.  We found out later in the week that Sunday reached over 100 F.  Good news is that we have a couple of beanstalks growing and are crossing our fingers that what we think are small spinach seedlings turn out to be that and not weeds.

Monday morning started with our usual routine.  Wake up about 5:30am, get ready and review our daily plan—this one called for finishing up some prep for the rest of the weeks library programming, working on installing some software on newly functional computers in the lab, and having 5th grade in the library at their usual time (10:05-11:45).  After assembly, Rebecca and I went our separate ways—her to the library and me to the computer lab.  After making some great strides in the computer lab, I noticed it was about 9:30 and time to head down and help get ready for the 5th graders (one of the largest, and, therefore, most difficult classes).  On my way down, I was called over to the principal’s office—he talked about how he had just gotten off the phone with a man in Mbabane and was given a green light to rummage through some of the Government’s old office equipment—including junked computers.  I smiled and was excited by the idea of us finally getting some of the parts I need to get the remaining computers up and running.  As the conversation continued (as all conversations in Swaziland do…brevity is not prized here), I began noticing that I needed to be going if I was to make it down to the library before the 5th graders arrived.  In an effort to rap up the conversation, I inquired about the timing of such a trip.  The response was the trademark…”now, now” (which is very different from ‘now’ which translates to our American ‘in a bit’).  I rushed down to share the news with Rebecca and then rushed up to the house trying to pack for every contingency I could imagine—in addition to water and a snack, I also needed supplies necessary to take advantage of any possible shopping opportunities that may arise.

After my flurry of activity, we hopped in the truck and off we went.  Our first stop was the department of ‘Government Stores’ which is more like the warehouse of misfit office furniture.  Heaps of everything from desks to beds to stoves to fans and…of course…computers and monitors lie scattered about inside and around the yard of an old warehouse.  After shaking hands and doing the usual greeting/bow/mumble, we were asked to produce a letter which our principal had scrawled out on the way to town asking for the computers.  We were then set loose on the heaps.  I was at a loss.  Where do we start?  What looks like it might possibly have some life still left in it?  I decided a two-pronged strategy…first targeting those machines which looked newer (which have better components but carry a greater question as to why they are in the heap) and round out our selection with a  couple old, but solid looking machines.  Following a week of tinkering, I am still a ways off from assessing the whole of our take on Monday, but it appears that my assumptions were right about most of the newer machines—and the old machines work just fine (running Windows 98 of course J).  I was, however, able to cobble together various bits and pieces from the newer machines and produce at least one fully functional computer.  After loading up the truck with the computers, a couple of cables I snagged, as well as a strange desk/stand thing that our principal chose, we were informed that the stock manager was out to lunch and might not return—he is in charge of certifying our haul.  We were asked politely to drive across town to the Ministry of Education and have their stock manager fill out the necessary paperwork.  So off we went, to the MoE.  After explaining the rather bizarre request the stock manager began working on producing a paper for us.  After watching him write for almost 20 minutes, we were called by the people back at Government Stores and told that they had a better idea.  We go back and have them fill out the paperwork and then return to the MoE to have it signed and stamped.  Back across town we drove to have them fill out the paperwork at Government Stores—in the interest of full disclosure we made clear to them that we would not be returning to the Ministry of Education as the situation had gotten far too complicated…and they were fine with that.

With our initial mission wrapped up, we were off to Sidwashini to greet Fred’s sister and to pick up a package and some medications at the Peace Corps Office.  While it was all done in a ‘rush, rush’ I was happy to be able to see one of our colleagues before he headed back to the States to pursue a pretty awesome career opportunity.  It is unfortunate to lose another great volunteer, but we are all very happy for him and wish him the best of luck.

Our final task for the day was to attempt to get some beans for our school kitchen—the government has provided beans, but we have been unable to draw them from the supplier because of some logistical or financial issue between the supplier and the government.  As we cannot wait any longer, we went to the Cash n’ Carry (kinda like Sam’s Club) in Manzini and loaded a cart with 50kg of sugar beans.  We then spent about 45 minutes discussing with the store management whether or not they would accept a check from the school as payment.  After 45 minutes of waiting and being pass around from person to person we received the final verdict—no.  Frustrated by this turn of events we got back in the truck and headed home.  The fact that they wouldn’t accept a check was not all the surprising to me—the biggest surprise was that after having left the car parked for all that time on the street in the middle of the largest city in the country none of the 8 computers sitting in the bed had even been touched.

Tuesday was a return to normalcy—3rd and 4th grade are scheduled in the library on Tuesdays and I generally have some teachers into the computer lab in the afternoon.  Nothing really extraordinary happened on Tuesday this week—Boiled potatoes with bacon and cheese for dinner.

Wednesday is our day off from school—which means we are generally working in the community.  This week we were unable to get our counterpart lined up to finish up homestead survey until Saturday so we made Wednesday our shopping day and Saturday we will be pounding the dirt and wrap up those visits.  It was a GREAT day in town.  We stopped by the post office to load up on postage and sent some letters, made some photocopies for a student survey, walked down to the mall and had an awesome lunch, did some grocery shopping, bought some seating for our living room, and even enjoyed our usual Manzini milkshake before getting ready to head home.  Unfortunately a series of unexpected and unfortunate events delayed our planned 2:30pm departure until almost 4pm and we spent much of that time standing out in the rain during a pretty fantastic lightning storm.  While it was fun to watch, it was a stressful end to the day to say the least.

Thursday only has one library class (7th grade) at the end of the day, so I have designated it as my day for working on the Poultry project.  I have been tasked with managing the business/finance end of our OVC Hostel’s poultry project—which has also meant I am the fall back person to take care of the chickens when plans A-C fail (which, in Swaziland, happens about once or twice a week).  It has been a bit of a challenge to get it under control, but this Thursday I put some (hopefully) final touches on our record keeping system and produced invoices for some of our business clients.  Library with the 7th graders went great, as usual—the combination of their small class and fluency with English makes this one of our favorite parts of each week.  Mushroom-cheddar burgers for dinner J and cookie dough for dessert.

Friday turned out to be unexpected as well—usually Friday consists of 1st, 2nd, and 6th grade coming to the library along with end-of-week cleaning at the school.  Today, however, we had scheduled a meeting with a librarian from the National Library in Manzini to plan next steps with the library we opened at the beginning of the term.  Since that meeting was scheduled for 9am, we had to cancel 2nd grade’s library (usually 9:30), but planned to go ahead with the other two (1st at 8:00 and 6th at 11:30).  Our program with the 1st grade went great and then we got word that the librarian was delayed—transport to our site had failed (no surprise) and she was stranded half way.  Rebecca held the program for the 2nd grade while I prepped for a computer session with the 7th graders and we all waited for the librarian to arrive.  It wasn’t until lunch time when the librarian finally made it, but the meeting was very fruitful.  She started with a meeting with Rebecca about what has been done and our current plans for the library.  After some idea sharing, the entire school staff was invited in—I used this opportunity to take over the 6th grade class and had them fill out one of our surveys while their teacher attended this meeting.  The main objective of this meeting was to elect a library committee of teachers who will oversee the operation of the library and ensure sustainability of our efforts in the space by providing counterparts to work alongside Rebecca.  After the very strange committee election process (everything here in Swaziland is done by committee—the school alone has half a dozen committees with responsibilities ranging far and wide), the rest of the staff left and the discussion continued plotting our ‘path forward.’  I bowed out to check on the 6th graders (luckily their teacher had been elected to the committee, giving them some extra time to finish up the survey).  The day ended with a visit by the 7th grade class to the computer lab.  I decided to take this opportunity to introduce them all to the internet and gave them each an opportunity to find a video, game, pictures, or article on a subject that interested them from an encyclopedia from the library (and yes, Rebecca made sure I checked it out).  They all had a great time, and I enjoyed myself as well… viewing photographs from World War I, playing a game while learning about traditional Japanese homes, and watching a video of ballet dancers are things that we often take for granted in the information stuffed US.  These kids had never even heard of the Internet, much less seen a ballet dancer perform.  After they all headed home, we ended just as the week started—laundry, cleaning, weeding the garden, and preparing for our next adventure.

Rebecca is outside clearing some vegetation around the house to keep the Mambas away and we are planning on forgoing our Friday usual of fry-pan pizza and just having ‘polony’ sandwiches for dinner—a sort of bologna that comes in a tube (I think).

Enjoy your weekend,

Oliver

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5 thoughts on “Eat a bowl of cookie dough, and other accomplishments

  1. The mention of students not being aware of the internet, and never having seen a ballet dancer are very interesting. Great examples of how travel is enlightening; we get to see things from a new perspective!
    Also, keeping the Mambas away sounds like a very good plan.

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