I remember during integration (that period of time where you are at site but can’t start any projects yet) in September being so bored I counted exactly how many weekends were still coming in my service. When the number hit over 100 I remember thinking “I’ve got a long road ahead in Swaziland.” Yet, somehow now that it has been a year since I stepped foot into Swaziland I honestly have no idea where the time has gone.
I could go through everything that has changed from day one to now, but the words coming to mind don’t really do it justice. However, I think how I spent day today exactly summarizes my service thus far. I woke up with nothing to do until a meeting in the late afternoon. I made breakfast, cleaned, listened to podcasts, and even gave meditation a try. I worked a little on a grant for GLOW, then stepped outside to find my sisi playing with the bubbles I had given her yesterday for her birthday. Man, I had no idea the pure joy bubbles could bring. Phe and TsuTsu’s laughter was infectious and I had a hard time leaving them to head to my meeting.
The meeting was run by a counterpart of mine who work with the Family Life Association in Swaziland. He educates teenagers on everything from HIV/AIDS to financial literacy. Today they were discussing STIs, menstruation, and contraception. I was so impressed with how Sibongakhonke taught these teens about these culturally sensitive matters without any sense of prejudice or shame. He was teaching both boys and girls about menstraustion, even getting small rocks to model the process of a woman’s egg moving through the process. I know many men in the States who would not have had the tact he did. Together, we answered a lot of questions, ranging from “What exactly is a female condom” to “When is it most likely in your period to get pregnant?” We started a question box as well where students could ask anything anonymously, which lead to some more serious matters like “What causes a person to be abused?” The day was heavy, but I left knowing at least these kids had more education to help them.
When we were leaving, it was already dusk and quickly getting dark so my counterpart insisted on walking me home. (Side bar- I can’t express enough how well taken care of I am in my community. I have formed wonderful friendships and ties in the community, and if I ever come into any issues at all they are incredibly supportive.) on our walk to my house, Sibongakhonke and I were brainstorming other NGOs we could get to work with his group and more work we could do in the community. I mentioned to him that today marked my one year anniversary in Swaziland and he said to me, “When you leave this place, it will feel like a death in the community, we will mis you so much.” I hope it was dark enough by this point that he couldn’t tell I was fighting back tears. I love my community so much, but often feelthat either I’m the one benefitting more than they are, that I’m not doing enough, or that I’m not actually making a difference (sometimes a combination of the three). His kind words meant so much to me and energize me to keep focused on my work for the next year I have here.
So yes, it’s been a year since I left behind Starbucks and Target and my 9-5. It’s been a year since I said goodbye to air conditioning and driving and football sundays. It’s been a year since I hugged my friends and family tight. But this past year has been one that has taught me patience and understanding, how to laugh at myself and be comfortable in who I am, how to be emphatic and show love. I wouldn’t trade this past year for the world. ❤️