Six Month Check

As of today, I’ve officially been a resident of the Kingom of Swaziland for half a year. In all honesty I’ve learned way more than I’ve taught at this point. In the past six months I’ve learned (some) siswati, to cook liphalishi, how to properly use a hoe, and how to kick higher when attempting traditional dances. I’m pretty sure all I’ve taught is that when you’re dabbing, really lean into it. 

At this point in my service the official “integration” phase is over and the real work begins. We capped off integrating with a two week training back at SIMPA, where we had our initial pre-service training. It was two weeks of showers, friends, dishes I didn’t have to wash, and constructive sessions on projects for your community. I learned the best way to implement clubs and libraries in the schools while maintaining sustainability and it was really eye opening for me. Often times I feel we volunteers can get caught up in the American mind set of wanting to get things done quickly, but when you go about projects that way they typically end up dead as soon as you leave since you did the project by yourself rather than teaching people around you how to do a project so they can maintain it. While definitely a tad more frustrating at times, it because clear how important it is to build capacity. 

At training we also reviewed different committees volunteers have the option to serve on and I was ecstatic to be selected to help advise the Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) program! I will be serving with two other amazing, passionate, and dedicated women. We will be organizing trainings, events, and a week long camp for girls in different clubs across the country, but our main job is to know and support the amazing Swazi women who run these clubs. The three of us will be shadowing and learning from the current GLOW directors until the close service in May, and then we will officially take over. 

Until then however, I am back at site. I returned from training with about a week to run around to all the schools I work with and say goodbye. I helped assist with one of my preschool’s graduations and it was probably one of my favorite events I’ve been to in Swaziland. The kids were adorable in their caps and gowns and did an amazing job show casing everything the learned this year to their parents. The preschool has been one of my favorite places to go in my community. If I’m ever feeling down, all I need to do is visit them to get 30+ hugs and hear shouts of “How are you, my friend?” It’s impossible to feel sad after that. 


The Saturday after graduation I also was able to attend my first wedding in Swaziland. It was what they call “white wedding”, which means Christian wedding taking place in a church rather than the traditional Swazi wedding. While many aspects of the wedding was similar to weddings I have attended back home, a few keys things were different- flower girls threw candy rather than flowers and the service lasted 5 hours total, including an entire sermon and a whole lot of gospel music. The bride was beautiful and it was great to see such a large number of people in the community turn out to support her. After the wedding, we naturally had a post wedding photo shoot (my Swazi friends’ fave) and I learned that pink is clearly the in color to wear to a wedding right now. 



One other thing that is new is how green the country is right now. Before we got here, Swaziland was experiencing a horrific draught. People were losing crops and livestock- some volunteers were even moved communities due to the lack of water access. Now, the affects of the draught are still not entirely over, but man is is green and amazingly beautiful right now. The maize is growing high again and the cows are seeming happier!

Finally, now that we have finished integration  we are allowed to begin projects, the only problem is that schools just let out for summer and when school is out the community essentially shuts down. Luckily I’ve been able to pass time in either working with my family in the fields or in my hammock beneath the mango trees with a book, so I really can’t complain. 

My plans for the rest of 2016 include attending Incwala, having a Christmas party with some fellow volunteers on the 23rd, enjoying Christmas with my family here, then heading off to Mozambique to ring in the new year on some beautiful, sandy beaches with some of my favorite people! 

Six months in, twenty to go- can’t wait to see where this next year will take us❤️

Month One: “On the Ground”

On August 25th, we officially made it.  37 of us were sworn in as the 14th group of volunteers to serve in Swaziland since the post’s reopening. We dressed up in traditional garb, watched traditional dances, listened to a bunch of speeches, and made an oath to serve the people of Swaziland as representatives of the United States. It was exactly what we had been working toward for the past ten weeks and we couldn’t wait to get going. 

 (Getting ready to finally go be real volunteers)
The next few days were a bit of a blur. Peace Corps drove us to our sites, dropped us off with all or stuff, and were on their way again. I stood in my new home staring at my piles of stuff suddenly feeling completely overwhelmed. I needed to go shopping as soon as possible to get the basics, like a bed. I needed to find my host family gifts, organize myself, spend time with my family, but what I really needed most of all was a nap. The constant go-go-go of the past ten weeks had caught up with me and I was suddenly exhausted. Thankfully, my new family is incredibly kind and understanding. They brought me an extra bed and told me to rest some. We spent the evening joking and talking and I felt much better about the whole process. 

That is, I felt better until the next morning when I decided to go furniture shopping. I would be taking public transport on my own to a place I didn’t know how to get to, and no matter how many times my bosisi (sisters) explained to me where to go, I wasn’t exactly feeling assured. My sisi Lindy told me to go to Hamps, and not to worry because everyone knows Hamps and I could get a khumbi (minivans here used for public transport) to a furniture store from there.  

So, I got on the already packed bus leaving my village at 8:30am and stood near the front. Never in my life have I been on a bus so packed. Everyone was stepping on everyone else just trying to fit as many people on as possible. I now have a pretty good idea of what it must feel like to get stuffed in a clown car. Luckily, the boy standing next to me was also getting off at the same stop and the bus conductor made sure I knew where I was going as well. Looking back on it, the transport ended up being easier than I thought it would be, but that didn’t make it any less anxiety ridden on the way there. 

I purchased my new bed, fridge, and oven, and was soon on my way back to Endlinilembi. When I pulled up with the delivery truck around 1pm, my sister laughed and said, “You’re home! I didn’t think you would make it.” Thanks for the vote of confidence, sis. 

I started working on getting my room together, but it wasn’t too long before I was packing again to go to Umhlanga, a huge cultural ceremony held each year in Swaziland known as the Reed Dance. I met up with a bunch of volunteers at a backpackers (aka hostel) and even though we had only been apart for four days it was such and amazing feeling to see them again. 

A bunch of us threw back on our traditional gear and then headed to the Reed dance. A bit of background, Umhlanga is a ceremony where the young, unmarried girls of Swaziland come together and walk miles to cut down Reed for the Queen Mother. They present this Reed to her to repair the Royal Kraal, and the ceremony ends with all the girls participating in traditional dance for the King and Queen Mother, along with tons of spectators. The entire event takes course over 8 days and this year over 98,000 girls participated. 

Walking to the amphitheater with some awesome Swazi girls. 


And then we made it in the Swazi newspaper for being tourists haha. 

The next day we went shopping for food and then it was on the bus back home. I spent the first week trying to get my life/hut together and it was nice to have something to keep me busy. I spent time getting to know my family and relaxing. Schools were currently out of session until mid September so there wasn’t too much to get started on just yet. 

I’m currently in a phase called integration where my sole purpose is to get around and introduce myself to the community, which at times is much easier said than done. During this period we are not supposed to begin any projects. This becomes a little frustrating since integration lasts from the end of August all the way through the end of November. It’s difficult to consistently explain that you’re here, and happy to meet and get project ideas, but you can’t start any work just yet. 

However I’ve been able to fill my time by exploring my community, attending youth meetings, and learning to go with the flow. Soon enough school was back in session as well and this gave me more to do. I began my new job of going around and introducing myself to the schools. Currently I am working with the primary school near me and two pre-schools, but I hope to introduce myself to the high school soon as well. 

In all honesty, this transition has been more difficult than I thought it would be.  It’s been a roller coaster ride of feeling like I’m in over my head one minute to feeling amazing about the potential work to do here the next. There are moments when I have to cry on the phone to other volunteers about life and there are moments where I can’t picture being anywhere else. Before leaving pre- service training I asked our Program and Training manager what advice he had for someone about to begin service and he told me to never make an important decision based on a feeling from one day. He explained there would be highs and lows and stressed the importance of not basing anything on those feelings, but rather waiting it out and rationally making a decision from there. This advice has been so important while I’ve been here. 

That about wraps up my first month of service as a full fledged volunteer finally working “on the ground” as the Peace Corps staff likes to put it. I’ve made it through one third of integration and I’m hoping the next two months of it fly by just as quickly so I finally know my community and can get around to starting work.

Keep you all posted!

Sink or Swim: OJT

On Saturday, July 23rd the most exciting event since we arrived in country occurred- we received our permanent site placements for our two years of service in Swaziland! I discovered I would be living in Endlinilembi, with a big, welcoming family, and that my home would have electricity (meaning I can finally get my much anticipated fridge). I was over the moon about the announcement and could not wait for the next week when we would meet our Site Support Agents (SSAs) and then begin our On the Job Training (OJT).

By the time Tuesday rolled around we were all excited and nervous to meet our SSAs. I definitely lucked out with mine. Make Shongwe is the head teacher of the primary school I will be working with and we hit it off right away. She is also just as new to Endlinilembi as I am, so she said she and I will go arm and arm together through the community to introduce ourselves. By the end of day one she was telling me I was her second daughter and a part of her family now. It was definitely comforting to know I had someone at site who was on my side in such a way. 

Wednesday rolled around and OJT officially kicked off- and this is where things started to get interesting. To start the day off Make Shongwe wanted to kill time before we went to meet one of the teachers from school in Manzini (the former capital of Swaziland), so she took me to “one of her mother’s” homes to introduce me. Make explained that she comes from a polygamous family, so she has a very large family and they are all throughout Swaziland. Gogo was very warm and welcoming. She made us tea and cookies and wanted to know all about what I have learned since being in Swaziland. In a very Swazi way, she told me that if I ever wanted to come again to just drop by- and she really means that. On the whole, Swazi people are the most hospitable people you will ever meet and they love company, announced or not. 

We moved on from Gogo’s to Manzini, where we spent the morning learning how to navigate the bus rank and shopping at the local flea market with Ms. Phiri (or Faith, as she told me to call her).  After a quick lunch at Nando’s (which is delicious by the way and available in DC, so check it out if you haven’t already), Make and I parted ways and Faith helped me navigate public transport back to my new home. Once we hopped off the bus, we met with one of the leaders from the community and the vice chairwoman on the school board for them to introduce me to my new family. I was on the homestead barely long enough to say hello, get a quick tour, and drop my things before Faith and I were off again so she could show me where the primary school is located. 

After about a 30 minute walk there, an hour or two of hanging out at Faith’s house and helping her wash the new clothes she got at the flea market, and then another long walk home I was feeling pretty exhausted, but also very ready to meet my new family. 

Words honestly cannot describe how incredibly welcoming my whole family is. My new Make does not speak a lot of English (and I am still working with very limited siswati), but kindness emminates from her in a way that does not need words to be understood. My entire stay there was full of chats with my new bosisi (sisters), card games, and way more food than I was ready to handle. I am so incredibly lucky to have two such amazing families here in Swaziland and I have to say while I love being a Motsa now, I cannot wait to join the Mndzebele family in August!

I went to bed Wednesday exhausted, but content. Day one of OJT could not have gone better and I couldn’t wait for day two and to finally get a glimpse at the community I would be working with for the next two years. 

However, day two did not go as seemlessly as day one had. I kicked off the day with some serious wind burn as Wizard of Oz-esq. winds whipped through the community. I arrived at the primary school and Make Shongwe introduced me to the staff and then walked me to the morning assembly to introduce me to the students. As we walked she told me that she unfortunately had two teachers out that day and as it is currently exam time, no teacher could watch the first grade students, which meant I had a job to do. I stood sort of frozen when she said this. I definitely did not want to start my second day in the community by refusing to help when they needed it, but I am definitely not a teacher, let alone to a group of 6-7 year olds who barely understand me. I accepted the challenged blindly however, and continued to the school assembly. 

Immediately after the assembly was over we  went straight to the first grade class room. I stood in front of 40 seven year olds completely frozen. I have worked with kids before, but never in a foreign language. Together, with their English and my siswati, I was able to have them draw pictures of their families, however this task only ate up about 40 minutes of the two hour slot I had with them. The remaining time consisted of learning English, the kids leading a mutiny against me and running off to the bathroom, learning more English, and the recess time where we all learned the hokey pokey. Probably the longest two hours of my life at the moment, but it makes me laugh now and I cannot wait to get back to these kids. 

The remainder of OJT was a bit less exciting, we visited the local high school and clinic before going back to my homestead to eat another huge meal. In the morning I was out the door on the 8:30am bus on my way back to Manzini to meet up with my friend Rachael so we could headed to Mbabane together for our Peace Corps Volunteer Shadow. We were lucky enough to shadow Patti who is an extending 3rd year volunteer in the Captial. Since she is here a year longer than the rest of her group working on a project with Baylor, she has an upgraded living space, which basically means she had a shower. Rachael and I were in heaven. The night consisted of showers, pizza, and craft beer and it was perfect. 

All in all, after these three days it was a little rough to return to the 7 to 4 schedule of pre-service training sessions. However, we couldn’t be more pumped for the end of August to finally get here!

Adjusting to Swazilife

Just checked the calendar and as of today I have been in Swaziland for 33 days. I simultaneously feel like I just got here and that I’ve been here forever. The past few weeks have been jam packed with learning siswati, hanging with my host family, navigating a new culture, and trying to keep on top of my chores (hand washing a weeks worth of clothes WILL take an hour or two longer than you think it will).  

So for starters, I am a part of the 14th group of volunteers to come to Swaziland since the post reopened. There are currently 37 of us here in pre-service training and I just have to say I am so incredibly lucky to get to serve alongside these amazing people. G14 is a solid group and I love getting to spend my days with all of them. I spent my first week in Swaziland at the training facility where we acclimated to the schedule Peace Corps sets for us, get to know the staff, and got to know each other. I don’t think I realized how much I would miss having food constantly prepared for me or the easy access to showers from that week. Both were severely underrated at the time. 

 
-The whole G14 Crew-

By the end of the first week, we met our host families and I totally lucked out with mine. I am currently staying with the Motsa family in Nkamanzi and they are amazing. I have a Babe (dad), Make (mom), three bosisi (sisters), and three bobhuti (brothers). One of my sisters, Nelsiwe, is a bit older than me and is the mother of my three brothers. These boys are 20 month old triplets and I can’t get enough of them (Abenkosi, Sinenkosi, na Owenkosi). My other two sisters are twins who are 15 going on 16, Lindela and Sindela. I spend most of my time wish the mans they have been amazing with helping me learn siswati and adjust to life here. Here’s a snapshot of the fam, minus Make and Babe:


My family also gave me the Swazi name of Phindile, which means another girl. I’m the fifth volunteer they have hosted and all have been girls so that’s the reasoning behind it hah.

The Saturday following my first week with my family, we were all invited to attend the reopening of the US embassy in Swaziland. We all had been loving our experiences so far, but this provides a much needed break for all of us to get together, shop, get wifi for the first time in country, and enjoy an open bar (responsibly of course). We all returned back to site a little more relaxed and ready to get back to learning siswati. 

The week that followed consisted of a constant blend of siswati lessons, information sessions on everything from Swaziland’s health and education systems, cultural explanations, and our Peace Corps medical office telling us all the different ways we will inevitably get sick. Oh and this was the week my language group learned how to by a chicken from Gogo (grandma), carried a chicken on the bus, and then learned how to kill and pluck a chicken the following day. I swear, I’m going to be coming home with so many new life skills. 

The next big event for us was our first 4th of July in country. Our Country Director invites all current volunteers to her house for a big celebration. We got travel to the Captial (Mbabane) and finally get our phones working! Then once at Glenda’s home we got to eat a ton of super American food (I had the best corn dog I’ve probably ever had) and meet all the volunteers from older groups. They had a bunch of advice for us and meeting with them was crazy helpful in terms of understanding what life will be like beyond pre-service training. 


-All hundred and something of us at the Director’s house-

As great as the fourth was, we couldn’t relax for too long since July 5th kicked off crunch time for us. In about a week we would have our LPIs (Language Proficiency Interviews) and Round Robins with all of the senior staff. Completing these was probably the most exhausting experience since the 15 hour non-stop plane ride. Our LPI consisted of the most painful siswati conversation I hope I’ll ever have. It’s hard to talk for 30 minutes when you have only been actually studying the language for 3 weeks. 

But regardless, we all made it through and were rewarded with an amazing cultural field trip. We basically packed a week’s worth of activities into 36 hours, getting on the bus at 7am and getting to the hostel at 9pm (which is literally past my bed time these days). We managed to visit Guba, a permaculture hub, Msamo (Swaziland’s national museum), King Sobhuza’s memorial, hit up the Gables for a lunch of a much needed burger and fries, visit the Mantega Cultural village, do a tour, watch traditional Swazi dances, and mini-hike to Mantega Waterfall all on Saturday. Sunday we we’re able to check out Milwane National Game Park and hike around a bit to check out the animals. A word of caution, trails here are not as clearly marked as those back home so be careful not to go off track because you will get lost and your friends will have to pin drop a location for you to get back before your bus leaves you. At least the compass app on my phone finally came in handy. And I got to see crocodiles, warthogs, zebras and other cool animals out roaming about which was neat. 


-Hanging with King Sobhuza-

That pretty much brings us up to date on what I’ve been doing since I hopped on a plane a little over a month ago. It’s been jam packed but I’ve loved every second of it and have no doubt in my mind that this is exactly where I should be right now.

I’ll try to keep up with the blog a little better so there’s to blab about next time, but let me just end by saying I love and miss you all❤️
**Disclaimer: Please forgive any typos or grammatical errors. This post was written by a tired Peace Corps Trainee entirely on an iPhone

Gearing up to go

Odds are if you are reading this right now, you are already very aware that in less than two weeks I’ll be embarking on my new adventure to Swaziland to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. One of my goals while I am there is to keep a running blog chronicling my time abroad (something I’ve never been great at, honestly, but I’ll work on it).  

So in this first post I’ll recap the FAQs I’ve received and the year long process it took to get here for those who haven’t heard me go on ad nauseam about it. 

FAQs:

“Swaziland… that’s in Africa, right?”

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to google Swaziland when I was first going through the application process. Yes, Swaziland in a small country about the size of New Jersey located in the south of Africa. It is actually almost land locked by South Africa with about a quarter of the border touching Mozambique.

“So how long will you be there?”

About 27 months. There will be 2-3 months of pre-service training and after that you begin your two years of service in your community. 

“Do you know exactly where you will live?”

I actually won’t find this out until the end of my pre-service training when we get our community assignments. I could be in the city, the mountains, or out in a rural community. I’ll let you all know once I do!

“What exactly will you be doing over there?”

I will be working in the youth development sector. Swaziland has the highest HIV rate per capita which has lead to many orphaned or vulnerable children in the country. I will not know exactly what projects I will be working on yet because it is dependent upon the needs of my community, but I look forward to working in this sector and helping in any way I can. 

“Do you get to come home at all?”

I will aquire 2 vacation days per month of service, meaning I’ll have about 50 days off during the next two years. I can use some of this time to come home if I would like to, but I would pay for the trip. My parents and I decided that we would rather they come visit me in 2017 rather than me come back home. I believe two years is not as long as it seems and would love to travel around Africa while I have the opportunity. Plus, this just gives you an even bigger reason to come visit, right?

“Can I come see you?”

YES, PLEASE. The more, the merrier!

“Why the Peace Corps?”

Alright, now for the long answer.   Peace Corps has been something that had interested me since around middle school. I loved the idea of working in the international community, but it was always just a concept I would kick around. But I knew for sure I wanted to apply to be a volunteer following my sophomore year of college. I had just finished my second summer at Outdoor Odyssey as a camp counselor and was on my way back home to Virginia when we stopped at on of my co-counselor’s homes in Loudon. I was talking with my friend’s mom about how his sister had just finished up her service in Benin and how incredible it had been. Hearing the stories of the wonderful opportunities the Peace Corps gave her along with the impact it had made me know right away that this was something I wanted to be a part of. 
I continued to research the Peace Corps for the next year or so, and by the time my senior year at GMU rolled around I was lucky enough to be accepted for an internship with them at their headquarters in DC. This not only further affirmed that the PCV route was one I wanted to follow, but also allowed me to work closely with the Overseas IT Specialists in the Africa region. Working with them allowed me a glimps into their warmth and generosity and I knew I would love to serve with any one of them. 

Fast forwarding a bit to May 2015, I finally submitted my application and was put under consideration to serve in Swaziland in June 2016. I interviewed for the position in August, and received my acceptance on September 1st, 2015. Since then it has been a whirlwind of doctors and dentist appointment accompanied by a whole lot of waiting. Yet, now that I leave soon, time seems to be going at warp speed and all the goodbyes don’t seem to feel real. People ask if I am excited and the answer is 100% yes, but I am also nervous, confused, ecstatic, and about 100 other emotions. I can’t wait to get on that plane though and see what the next two years have to offer!