December 5, 2011
Before arriving in Swaziland, the only developing country we had been to was Haiti. We figured that our experience here in Swaziland would be similar. Once we arrived, we started to see how different the two cultures are and how that effects the country’s entire feel. However, even though the cultures are really quite different, we have been noticing some similarities. These similarities seem odd to us because our experience here feels so different but then suddenly we are thinking about Haiti. One such moment was today.
It is the first day of Summer Break and parents came to help build the new agriculture building. Despite being on the opposite side of the Atlantic, it was hard not to notice the similarities. Hauling rocks, mixing cement by hand with shovels, and hauling water to the construction site all brought us right back to Caneille, Haiti.
The comparisons our minds make between Haiti and Swaziland don’t stop at construction. Living at a rural primary school in Swaziland brings to mind Ecole de la Grace de Caneille almost every day.
Uniforms: Both cultures demand uniforms for school-going children. However, we have noticed that the care of those uniforms is a much higher priority in the minds of the Haitian children.
School Assembly: Both schools begin the day in lines (according to grade) singing songs and with a prayer.
Importance of Livestock: In Haiti, we were often told that families looked at a pig or cow as their bank account. As it gave birth to more animals, their investment “grew.” It is an important way to prepare for your family’s future. Here, having cattle is very important. You can be financially successful in town, but unexpected if you do not have cattle in your family home. The kraal, where the cattle live, is also the place where ancestors go when they pass on.
Dresses: It’s common place in Haiti for women to wear skirts or dresses, especially in the rural areas. I often wore pants in Haiti but at parent meetings, etc. I tried to make sure I wore a skirt. Same thing here in Swaziland. In our community here, there is even a house with a sign- you can’t enter if you are a woman wearing pants.
Lots of Mountains: Despite being in the flat, low-veld here in Swaziland, mountains are always visible when you are traveling in both countries.
There’s also some major differences that we can’t get over.
Transportation: Despite having a ‘remote’ site by Swazi standards, our transportation situation is light years ahead of the availability in Caneille. In general, Swazi public transport is more regulated and familiar to an American—in Haiti, moto-taxis and huge trucks dominate the transport options in the rural areas. The roads in Haiti are also much rougher.
Rainy Season- When we experienced the rainy season in Haiti, it felt like a hurricane was passing over every day at about 2 pm. Then by 4, all of the puddles and small, drenched children, would by dray again. It is supposed to be the rainy season here in Swaziland right now. It gets very cloudy, sometimes for a whole week, but doesn’t really do much in the way of rain. Only a few times did it rain hard, for about 30 minutes. Other than that, it’s been a light sprinkle or a mist.
Hair-styles: In Haiti girls wear barrettes to match their school uniforms and usually plait their hair while in Swaziland shaved heads is the norm for both sexes in primary school.
For those of our readers who many not know about our work in Haiti, check out our organization’s blog at www.caneille.org.
-Oliver & Rebecca