Archive for July, 2009

Not in Kanas Anymore!

July 11, 2009

Dear Friends,

We trust this note finds you well and peaceful.

We’re posting this entry along with another one that we wrote upon our arrival to Swaziland and were unable to post. The small town of Pigg’s Peak is about a 45-minute khumbi (10 passenger van that holds 15 or 20) ride from our training community. Our group of 33 Peace Corps trainees have twice descended on the town, which has one internet café with two painfully slow computers. We opted to buy some needed supplies in lieu of waiting for internet access, holding out for a trip to the city of Mbanane, some two hours away. If you’re reading this, it means we were successful in finding a link-up.

We’re into our third week of training and remain impressed by and appreciative of the level of training, support and supplies the PC program provides. Truly incredible, the amount of work and coordination of so many details that is being done on trainees behalf. We are in good hands.

On July 1 we moved from the training site in eNgonini to our nearby training community. We left behind the comfort of hot showers and three prepared meals a day to take another step toward experiencing what it will likely be like once we arrive at our permanent posts. It is no longer a joke. We are now heating water and bathing from a bucket.

Swasi families in rural areas live on homesteads with extended family members either on the same property or nearby. Volunteers are assigned to a homestead and have either a separate home or live in the family home with a separate entry. A young widow has welcomed us onto her property and into her heart. She has provided us with a nice home, a one-room house about 20’ by 20’ a few yards from her only slightly larger home. We’ve heard the Swazis are proud of their hospitality and warmth toward strangers, and we’ve felt blessed to experience it every day from our Make and the people with whom we cross paths. We also feel blessed to be here in Africa and to be experiencing such a different culture. We clearly are not in Kansas anymore!

We were actually “adopted” by this family and were given family names (before we met) that we now use in the community. John is mDumduzi (um-da-duuze) meaning “comfort.” Jordan is Nonlhanlha (noan-slan-sla) meaning “fortunate.” Maybe you can see why we’re struggling to learn siSwati. Our surname is that of the late husband and is tied to the homestead itself. The name is recognized by those in the community and relays to them where and with whom we are living. Our new names connect us to an amazing web of relations extending many generations back. Make’s relatives on both sides are introduced to us as our relatives, e.g., “This is your cousin, Themba.”

For me, Jordan, I’m surprised as I was in Peru by the level of comfort I feel in this place despite the limited time we have had to expose ourselves to different facets of the community. PC training is intense just as we were warned. Training begins at 8 a.m. and wraps up anywhere from 4 to 6 p.m. But even with little time for walking and khumbi rides, we have had wonderful encounters with the Swazis and our new environment – dirt roads, riding on the left side of the road, school children in uniforms walking from school, men and women at church. We’re working hard in our language classes where we have two to four hours of training six days a week, four students to one trainer. Cross-cultural and skills training are held in larger groups. It seems every volunteer has at least one person at the homestead who is comfortable speaking English so our cultural adjustment is buffered by an ability to communicate. Our Make (“ma gay” meaning mother) is quite comfortable with English and her warmth and openness belies her 37 years. Her stillness, her childlike smile, her warm and open expression repeatedly tell me to pause and move at a more natural pace. No rush here.

For me, John, I’m enjoying being in one of few households in the area without electricity. Jordan and I are enjoying the quiet. The lack of electricity and refrigeration are minor challenges. The lack of running water is an inconvenience, but one we’re adjusting to. We have two sources of water, one for drinking (following boiling for 10 minutes and filtering) and one for bathing and washing clothes. We first carried our drinking water 150 yards from a community tap but lately the tap has been dry and a neighbor of Make’s has brought us water from a nearby town.

We seem to be adjusting well to our new life and find comfort in the simplicity of our home and habits. We have only been able to sit for meditation a few times since our arrival but the focus on observing process is still strong with both of us and we feel our practices are growing stronger despite limited time for formal sitting. We expect to have more time once we’re at our permanent post. We are looking forward to learning more siSwati and as just about everyone we meet is happy to be our teacher, we are confident we’ll pick it up in the coming months. As with our travels in Peru and Ecuador, we find our best times are with the community members, struggling to communicate, sharing smiles and good-natured laughter, the universal language. And there are the kids. Their smiles and excitement at being engaged by these white strangers offers us encouragement that we will be supported along our path through this poor and troubled nation.

The following note was written upon our arrival but never sent.

We wanted to drop a quick note to let you know we arrived in Swaziland with no glitches, well feed by the airlines, our luggage intact and a bit tired. We had been told that there was a good chance that our luggage would be delayed so we felt blessed to have missed that little adventure. The flight was 17 hours not counting the one-hour stop in Dakar, Senegal. Our group spent the night at a nice hotel in Johannesburg where we enjoyed Japanese food and later indulged in probably what was our last hot soaking bath for some time.  On Wednesday our group took a cushy bus ride to our five-hour destination to Ngonini in northern Swaziland where we’re now receiving initial training, medical checks, etc. We’ll be in training at this center, a rented Lutheran school that trains farmers, through Wednesday morning. At that time we’ll head off in groups of five or six to communities throughout this area to continue training while we live in a host family compound. At the end of the nine-week “pre-service training” PC will assign us to community and family compound where we’ll serve our next two years.

We’re impressed and delighted with the level of professionalism, organization, warmth and accessibility of the PC staff, most of whom are Swazis. The learning materials are excellent and we are excited to have this new course of study. We were also relieved to find the medical officer, a physician’s assistant, knowledgeable and attentive, especially in regard to our concerns around malaria prevention meds.

We’re also impressed with the composition of fellow volunteers. Largely they are bright young people recently out of college, with five others being about our age. There are seven married couples, including ourselves. The 33 volunteers come from all over the US.

The weather is interesting. Afternoons are sunny and clear in the 70s. When the sun sets, temps plummet into the 30s. We’re enjoying new nature sounds, beautiful birdcalls we’ve not heard before, new vegetation, mountains and valleys and a 4 a.m. rooster call that has been a constant during our travels outside the U.S.

Tomorrow’s training agenda includes a short bus trip to the small town of Pigg’s Peak to pick up incidentals and begin learning our way around Swazi markets and shops. We hope to have Internet access and be able to let you know that we’re safe and sound in Swaziland. We don’t know when we’ll have Internet access again and may not have the bandwidth to use Skype until we go to the Peace Corps headquarters in Mbabane at the end of our nine-week training. There is a six-hour time difference so once we have reliable Internet we will still have to figure out a good time to chat.

We haven’t had many opportunities to take many photos, but hope to have some to post in the coming months.

We send you our best and appreciate any prayers or good wishes sent our way.

With love and appreciation,
Jordan and John