Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

Here's an article I wrote for our Swaziland Peace Corps Newsletter:

Over the course of two Saturdays, July 19th and 26th, girls from my community gathered at the Phatsekani Bomake Sewing Association to stitch their way into a new skill. Taught by 8 women from Velezizweni’s very talented sewing group, 20 girls ranging from ages 7 to 23 learned how to use hand-crank sewing machines to design pillow cushions and tote bags. And, of course, they also participated in 2 HIV education sessions focusing on prevention, transmission, and healthy living.

Funded by PEPFAR’s Mini-Vast, the 2-day workshop was filled with tea and cake, kumnandzi lunches, and fun with fabric….and fabric paint. Day 1 proved a messy undertaking as leftover batting and splotches of fabric paint covered the tables after a long day of pillow designing. Finished products included lots of flowers (yea, we were pretty girly!), stars and moons, suns, squiggles, prayers, and nicknames. After clean-up, the girls went home happy and the teachers went home to nap.

Day 2 went slightly better as there were 2 girls to show up on time—yes, that’s right, they LISTENED to my plea to start at 9! After a rousing game of elephants and lions starring my 7 year old sisi as the baby elephant, we discussed balanced nutrition and healthy relationships. All the while, they were itching to start their bags. Each girl chose 2 colors to sew their bags and immediately jumped in line for a turn on the sewing machines. By the end of the day, they were sewing like pros and cat-walked their new tote bags up and down the length of the building. Again, they went home happy and the teachers looked exhausted.

Wrapping up the 2 day workshop, Gogo Vilane (“Gogo V” as she told the girls to call her) thanked the girls for their participation in the workshop Kutfunga Kanjani (How to Sew). To my surprise, a participant piped up after her speech—she thanked the teachers, Temusa (Helen), and myself for our time, sacrifice, and work in planning the workshop. My jaw dropped at this display of maturity and gratitude and my exhaustion dissipated. I was just as giddy as the girls and walked home with my bosisi strutting like models with their new hand-made accessories.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sounds of Swaziland

I have always wanted a soundtrack to be continuously playing in the backdrop of my life. It’s not that strange…right? The desire to star in your own personal movie and experience heightened emotions with the perfect sequencing of melodies matching your individual situations and moods. I rely on my MP3 player way too much here in Swaziland. I am obsessed with keeping it charged at all times and keeping it in my bag with earphones in case I need to drown out the rest of the world. It comes in handy on my long walks to Mankayane or the school or to visit the Youth Club about 1 hour and 40 minutes from my house. But it also serves as a dangerous escape from the realities of Swaziland; an escape from my cultural immersion.

But, the other option is often to suffer through the sounds and styles of khombi remixes and out-of-tune gospel. It is true that Africa is a continent famous for beautiful tribal music. The drums and chantings carried across the ocean with the slave trade have influenced so much of our music today. Do you think I hear any of that? Well, rarely, at weddings and other ceremonies I do get to watch performances of drummers, dancers, and singers that often match the stereotypical African tribal music—strong beats with call and response led by the strongest vocalist. But, the rest of the time I am stuck with numerous remixes of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” yet another techno cover of Joan Armatrading’s “The Weakness in Me,” and the ever-worsening gospel music that blares through the speakers in public transport (usually right next to my ear). And while I think it is cute that my bhuti’s son, Owethu, runs around singing One Republic’s newest song (at least in Swaziland) “Too Late to Apologize” without being able to properly pronounce “apologize,” I have a premonition that it is going to get on my nerves very soon. But, the worst song I have yet to hear is sung by West Life, a sorry excuse for an Irish boy band, which decided to steal Andrea Bocelli’s duet with Sarah Brightman—“Time to Say Good-bye”—and turn it into…well…a piece of crap. My sincerest apologies to Bocelli if he ever has to hear what was done to his song.

In the meantime, I suppose I have to create my own soundtrack with my MP3 player and recognize that I may never enjoy the noises emitting from the khombis and buses here in Swaziland. Cheers to advances in music technology!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Walk the Nation Journal continued...

Day 6

We are all in complete awe that we have made it this far. Based on distance, we have passed the half-way point but we have yet to go through my “zone” (the 3½ days that I was in charge of planning/coordinating). Today we walked through the big city along a very busy corridor. It was a short walk into the city where we held an event at Jubilee Park. We had a marching band and drum majorettes group from a Manzini high school perform before the HIV/AIDS education. NGOs in Manzini set up booths for people to get more information about their services and after all the speeches (and there were many), the crowd marched through the city. I ran ahead to get pictures—it was stunning. NGO workers out with their banners and t-shirts alongside the nation walkers and led by the drum majorettes. The excitement of the singing and dancing infected the typically unfriendly city. Shop owners stepped outside to view the passing crowd. People on errands stopped to watch the walk and ask what was happening. Raising awareness about HIV—that’s what was happening!

We walked to Matsapha for our lunch break. Matsapha, a nearby city to Manzini, is the industrial center of Swaziland—international companies like Coca-Cola have their factories sprawled out amongst smoke stacks and concrete buildings. Not the most attractive city, but it does have fast food. And, instead of eating the undercooked rice and beans that we have been eating the past few days, I had a burger, French fries, and bought fresh fruit from the market. Oh…how I love Steers! After lunch, it was a short walk to the Taiwanese Technical Mission, down the road from Matsapha. It has a beautiful complex but found there was not enough space for everyone to sleep inside. So, most of us ended up sleeping outside…Not the best way to spend the night and a cause for many complaints from our nation walkers. Some were troopers and some would not give their complaints a rest. What did they think? We’d be staying in 5 star hotels? I just don’t understand how it’s any different to sleep outside under canopies than it is to sleep in school classrooms with all windows open (or broken) and doors falling off their hinges. The same onslaught of bugs and morning dew. The same noise level. The same discomfort. I guess I just don’t get it.

Day 7

Saturday, a big day for Walk the Nation, and the first day that I am completely responsible for. UNICEF agreed to take on this day as Youth Day and work with Adam, another Peace Corps Volunteer, in Emphini, our final destination. I, unfortunately, did not get to be part of the walk today. Instead, I was put on advance team duty and went to Emphini to unload the truck and ensure that everything was set up. We had a bit of a crisis with water and Adam explained that the sports activities that were supposed to happen in the morning (teaching HIV prevention through sports) were cancelled because of miscommunication about transportation. This is the frustrating thing about event planning in Swaziland—a central part of the day focused on educating the youth in Emphini just didn’t happen because someone told someone else the wrong time to meet in Manzini to drive to the site. The result—300 children at the primary school hanging around expecting to play some sports and left disappointed.

The walk would have been a great experience. The American Embassy and many NGOs showed up to participate. It was a huge crowd and the program at Emphini Primary School was highlighted by special guests—U.S. Ambassador Maurice Parker, the Director of UNICEF for Swaziland, and a Swazi prince. I was able to watch a bit of the program and relax in the shade for a while. I saw Colile, a girl from Adam’s soccer team, who remembered me from a soccer match in January. She is a really sweet girl and kept me company during lunch and the afternoon.

Fortunately, we were not responsible for lunch on that day but dinner turned out to be a disaster. We decided to make chicken salad sandwiches for 130 people. Sounds delicious, right? Well, we didn’t really consider the time it takes for chicken to cool after it’s been boiled. After an hour of pulling hot chicken off the bone (and Josh mistakenly putting cooked chicken into raw chicken juice), my fingers ached and the walkers were pacing for their meals. When all was said and done, the sandwiches were made, people ate, and it was time for sleep. The day had been peppered with dealing with people’s egos and problem solving the lack of water among other issues. The next day would be similar as I had to continue with advance team duty and miss out on walking to Khalangilile with Colile.

Day 8

The closer we get to my community, the more nervous I get. I feel as if I have to prove that all this work will have some impact on the people of my community. I have spent so much time in Mbabane and Manzini planning for this walk and now my energy is expended on trying to make people happy. Ensuring there is enough water to bathe, dealing with the egos of event planners, and appeasing all the stakeholders. My focus is being pulled away from the central purpose of the walk—providing HIV education to rural community members.
On advance team, we packed up the truck, passed the walkers en route to Khalangilile, and were pleasantly surprised to find a group of women awaiting our arrival, willing to cook for us. They had been organized by Zide, who I had worked with to plan the event. I am constantly shocked by people…never knowing what to expect in Swaziland. We unloaded the truck, organized the food preparation, and I was actually able to enjoy the program. This community was really into the drama skits provided by Red Cross—the group performed a skit about the rights of orphans and explained how, as a community, the lives of orphans are everyone’s responsibility. People were moved by the message and judging by the amount of children in the audience, many were probably orphans themselves.

The late afternoon was spent with laundry (all the kitchen towels), bathing (finally—I washed my hair and body!), and cooking. We feasted on pasta and tomato sauce—not a favorite of the Swazis but I thoroughly enjoyed. The night ended on a bit of an odd note…with a round of gun shots. As I was entering the girls’ “dorm” I heard the shots. There was definitely some confusion. The boys yelled at me to get inside and I called Sipho, our Peace Corps driver, who was sleeping in the car near where the shots came from. The shots hadn’t even woken him up…that’s how exhausted people are getting. With some investigation, we found that one of our walkers had walked down to the latrine with his cell phone as a flash-light and was attacked by someone awaiting his opportunity to steal a sleek new phone. Our walker yelled for the police who remained seated, directed their guns towards the night sky, and wasted a round to scare away the attacker. They didn’t even leave their seats. Well, I guess I am thankful they were there. After that, it was time for me to sleep. I have given up on trying to find a sponge/foam to sleep on and started to sleep on the concrete floor. It’s much easier and, surprisingly, much more comfortable.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Daily Journal from Walk the Nation Pre-Launch through Day 5

Our day began early today, as it has for the past 2 weeks in preparation for the event. We are so uncertain of so many things but one is certain—this is happening! Five months of planning and working through a foreign system of NGOs, government agencies, and, more often than not, unnecessary and nerve-wracking bureaucracy.
We loaded our 8 ton truck just before 7am and went through checklists trying to cover our bases. After grabbing a few forgotten items, we were on the road to Siteki where the nation walkers met during the evening to prepare for the first day the walk. Registration didn’t go quite as planned…or as orderly as I thought. People came who said they had registered but we did not have their papers and a lot of people who turned in papers did not show up. So far, we have about 50 walkers and about 25 volunteers. Beans and rice for all!
The first walker to arrive in Siteki was a 63 year old mkhulu (grandfather) from a community near Mbabane. He is HIV positive and member of an active support group. He was such a kind man when he arrived and offered to help us with the cooking and setting up.
Before bed, we had a welcome session and introduction to the event schedule. It was a little chaotic—walkers were arriving late, people were talking over one another, and not everyone was on the same page…or even in the same library. Most of the walkers are younger and speak English well but others speak no English at all and it was really difficult convincing the youth to help their elders by translating. On top of the chaos were some rather unhappy Swazis—to their dismay, we did not serve meat for dinner and our announcements indicated that meat would not be frequently served. Swazis love their meat… Bed time…some time around midnight for myself and the other organizers.

Day 1:
Toilets clogged, water supply evaporated, 4am wake-up call, transport late, smiles on all faces…ok, not all faces. Who decided to start the event at 8am? Oh, yea, the Prime Minister. We arrived at the Sicunusa border gate with enough time to muster a few yawns, hang up our banner, set-up, and welcome the Prime Minister and his entourage. It was a typical government-initiated event—all the VIPs said a few words about HIV/AIDS and the importance of prevention and testing while the audience responded with polite applause. Judith, our Fort Worth Sister Cities representative arrived during the speeches and gave a quick introduction. She has been living with HIV for about 18 years and is an HIV/AIDS activist in Texas as well as at the national level. I can tell she will be integral in educating the Swazi public about living positively.
The end of the event was a bit rushed. I was left in the parking lot figuring out where to put Judith’s luggage, how to get the banner down from its high positioning, and coordinating the Peace Corps cars. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister was on a mission to walk to Mhlumeni Primary School, about 11 km down the road. The following 3 hours seem a little blurred…I recall running to catch up to the walkers after I completed some of my tasks and rubbed elbows with some VIPs and then I remember having to run back to where the Prime Minister was taking tea and snacks with the VIPs along the road. The walk was anything but cohesive. People trickled down the road 3 km. That can’t happen again. We are lucky—it’s Sunday; there was no traffic. But, the police are not going to put up with us stretching out across multiple kilometers.
When we arrived at the entrance to the school, UNICEF called into the radio to update Swaziland on the progress of the walk. Everything went relatively smoothly but we had a few challenges ahead. A lot of walkers showed up without being registered. It wasn’t a problem until we surpassed the number we had estimated—75. We were up to 95. Twenty extra mouths to feed. Twenty extra bodies to provide sleeping mats and space for. Twenty extra thirsty mouths after 20 km of walking each day. I wish I could have an idealist perspective—twenty extra people to learn about HIV each day and share their knowledge with others. But, I am too realistic of a person and too detailed-oriented to deliberately ignore the consequences of poor event planning and implementation.
After settling all of the registration problems, the Red Cross drama group set up their PA system and provided entertainment/education for the crowd. They were amazing and energetic and I was relieved to see that everyone was enjoying the first day. They were not happy, however, when we served beans and rice (second day in a row) and started regulating bath water. I kept reminding them that we were “camping”. I think the concept was lost. But, I did my part and only used .75L to bathe. Yea, I was pretty impressed! Bed time…around 11:30pm (better than last night!)

Day 2:
Onward to Siteki. More glitches to figure out today—serving snacks and water at the 5 km points and keeping the group packed together. We had a lot of day walkers join us today and they joined us at Mlindazwe Primary School for our educational event. I watched some of the event and helped with the food preparation for lunch. Judith, Red Cross, and the NERCHA regional coordinator for Lubombo were the shining glory of the day. Red Cross because they are so energetic (yea, they walked with us too!) and get the children engaged in the drama skits and dancing. Judith because, even though she may not realize it, is changing lives just by disclosing her status. She stood up today and announced to an audience of 300 people that she is HIV positive. That rarely happens in Swaziland (and never so directly)! She was very emotional after her speech—she told me that a few Swazi women came to share that they were positive as well—one hasn’t told anyone but wanted to disclose to Judith. And, the NERCHA regional coordinator, Themba, because he was so patient and flexible during the event. He wanted to make sure all the bases were covered—I wish he could teach his bosses at headquarters to do the same.

Day 3:
Yes, this is still happening. Amy and I are just waiting for something to go terribly wrong. Yes, there have been challenges—water, lack of meat, walkers arriving late, missing sleeping mats, drama among walkers, etc. But, there have been no tragedies and, unfortunately, my realism is awaiting the tragedy.
We stopped in Lonhlupheko today where the HIV educational event was hosted by UNICEF. The walkers were great today; despite having 2 large schools join us, the walkers stayed together in a very cohesive unit. Much of that was thanks to the UNICEF Boy Scouts & Girl Guides and their leader, Mangaliso, who has agreed to help the organizers with translating, group morale, and setting the pace/keeping people together.
The event was very successful—the community was well mobilized and attendance was high. It started late, which put a kink in our walk schedule, but it was worth seeing the group discussions led by UNICEF educators. There were 4 groups—older men, older women, younger girls, and younger boys. They participated in discussions focusing on how their particular demographic can “take the lead” in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Amy and I hid in the Peace Corps car for a while, making phone calls to make sure everything was in order for the next day and then snuck an ice cream from the store across the road. Success was all around us—the event was happening and making a difference but all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and take a nap. After my second Coca-Cola that day (yes, with ice cream), we rounded up the walkers to continue down the road to Swazi Secrets and Mpaka Railway Club.
This was such a difficult walking day. I think everyone was exhausted and our bodies were not yet used to the distance. Today was 22 km and it was blazing hot. I could feel the heat from the asphalt seeping through the soles of my shoes. After a break at Swazi Secrets with snacks and tours (http://www.swazisecrets.com/), we dragged our feet to the Mpaka Railway Club. Dragging turned to dancing when the building was in site. So far, I have concluded that Swazis love their bath water, meat, and dancing. I tried to jog ahead to get some pictures but the energy was reaching a high point and the walkers/dancers almost trampled Meredith and I with our cameras and all. After more dancing and singing, everyone jumped in the pool at the club (yea, a pool…dirty and murky with the sweat and stench of 120 walkers—not that glamorous). It was such a long day. Bed time I think was 12:45am after making egg salad and peanut butter sandwiches.

Day 4:
Today was an Advance Team day. I had to serve breakfast, clean up the overnight site, ride in the truck to set up the lunch stop, and then head to the next overnight site. I was so happy Helen was with me. It was frustrating to be detached from the walk and experience the event from first perspective but it was necessary that I partake in the behind the scene action as well. I felt a bit like a servant fetching people extra sugar for their tea and sweeping up candy wrappers from the walkers’ overnight feasting. I was also disappointed to miss out on a speech given by Sgwane, the manager of the Mpaka Railway Club. He joined in the walk today and publicly announced that he would be testing for HIV at the lunch point. As a successful business person and very kind man (he let us use their facilities free of charge), it was very meaningful to his fellow Swazis and the volunteers as well to hear about someone testing publicly. He did not announce his results, of course, but encouraged his peers to follow his lead.
At the overnight point, Mafutseni Primary School, I was in charge of water treatment (boil and filter) and then had to deal with the laundry. We had all 120 walkers’ clothing sent to be cleaned but when it came back, people’s things were missing, damaged, and all mixed up. Not really a tragedy but a challenge when 50 people are asking you where their t-shirt is. Bed time much improved—10:30!!!

Day 5:
Tragedy finally hit Walk the Nation. We were right on time today and arrived at our first rest point with extra time to spare before we continued to St. Joseph’s Mission—a Catholic mission with a high school, primary school, and special facilities for children with mental and physical disabilities. While resting at the Caltex gas station, we received word from a NERCHA representative that a child had been hit by a car a few kilometers behind us. The 11 year old girl had been walking with a group of students from another primary school—they had been sent by their head teacher to “run and catch up with the walk”. Two teachers were “accompanying” them. When I say accompany I mean that they were driving in their car while the children walked along the road. The girl tried to cross the road but was hit by a car that fled the scene. I wanted to vomit. Then all I wanted was to punch someone, yell at someone, ask those teachers what the hell they thought they were doing?! Schools have been walking with us and it has worked out so far. They meet us on the road, join the walkers, and stay within the perimeters of our police escorts.
We continued on, joined by about 100 students from St. Joseph’s. They joined us at the gas station with about 20 teachers—thankfully these teachers had some sense about keeping their students safe. I talked to a few girls on our way to the school—they were sweet but I couldn’t think of anything but the little girl.
Upon arriving at St. Joseph’s, I was very impressed with their motivation to make the event successful. Father Giocconi, an Italian priest who lives at the mission, welcomed all the students, community members, and walkers. While the event started, Amy and I were told by another NERCHA representative that the little girl died before reaching the hospital. She said it so matter-of-factly, a result of how normal death is in Swaziland. I lost it. Amy kept her cool while I cried it out and then hid in the Peace Corps car. Nothing was said to the walkers. The children at St. Joseph’s were so happy to host the walkers and we didn’t want to spoil the positive energy. The children recited poems and performed songs in English and SiSwati about HIV/AIDS and protecting themselves.
We pushed on towards Manzini and arrived at a private school, Apex Tutorial Academy, to spend the night. Some of the volunteers knew about the girl and we decided to brief the walkers with NERCHA at night. The reactions were a little void to how Americans would react but our 2 oldest walkers asked about keeping the children safe from here on out. He made a good point. We knew (or thought we did) all of the schools planning to meet us on the road and walk with us. NERCHA representatives agreed to make phone calls to schools asking about their participation but relayed a message from the Prime Minister—he said that despite the tragic death we should continue the walk because of the message that the walk was spreading and the important work we were doing. It was…reassuring. But I will never forget that little girl and how incompetence and apathy can lead to tragedy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Back from the infinite abyss

Well, Cape Town was not exactly the abyss or infinite but it was amazing and I keep thinking about the climb up Table Mountain. The steep vertical grade was challenging but I was overtaken by the beauty of the atmosphere around me. I would be swallowed by the clouds for a moment and then awestruck by the view below when they passed. Once on top, about 20 minutes passed that I could see nothing beyond or below. I was suspended in the clouds or the "tablecloth" as South Africans refer to the condensation that accumulates around the majestic high rise. Those minutes were precious and I just sat perched on the rocks enjoying existence.

I found myself in the same state of mind when I visited some vineyards between Stellenbosch and Paarl. I took a glass of wine from a tasting and wandered through the vineyards until I was enclosed by nothing but the vines around me and I stood facing away from the buildings and wanted nothing more but to forget about what awaited me in Swaziland. It was a conglomeration of these amazing moments that made it a very maddening (almost irrationally so) experience to return.

But, alas, I sit in Swaziland wondering what's next and when I can return to Cape Town...more on the vacation later...and the walk...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Essay: The Beatles Say It Best, You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Life is full of hellos and goodbyes. There are the hellos we wish we’d never made. The inevitable goodbyes that we never want to experience. The hellos we want to last a lifetime. The goodbyes we wish we had made earlier. In looking back on the last 7 months serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland, my life can be summarized in an ongoing collection of hellos and goodbyes.

I departed from the U.S. in June 2007 with an assignment to become a Community Health and HIV/AIDS Educator in rural Swaziland. I attended farewell parties, broke off relationships that would not endure the distance, parted with friends and coworkers, and hugged my loved ones before taking my spot in DIA’s airport security line. Upon arrival in Washington D.C., I said my hellos to fellow volunteers departing for Swaziland and Lesotho. After just a few days, my hellos extended to southern Africa where greetings were exchanged with Peace Corps staff, Swazi host families, community leaders and members, workers at non-profit organizations, school teachers and students, bus drivers and conductors, women selling fruits and vegetables in the markets, shop owners, neighbors, and children following me during my jogs.

During the month of December 2007, my collection of hellos and goodbyes was unique to the Peace Corps experience. I was the only volunteer to say goodbye to my Swazi family and fellow volunteers and travel home to Fort Morgan, Colorado where I spent the holidays with my family. It might have seemed strange to skip out on adventures in Cape Town, Durban, or Maputo but I knew I had to attend to important hellos and goodbyes.

My nephew, born a few months prior, awaited his aunt’s first hello. My grandfather, in his late 80s, was also awaiting the goodbye he would make to his family and friends following his last Christmas celebration. Although I remain a skeptic of destiny and fate, I believe that hellos and goodbyes coincide in an attempt to provide balance in our lives. Amongst the hellos to my family and friends during my trip home, I will cherish those few moments with the newest member of my family. Amongst the goodbyes to my friends and family, I will also appreciate the final Christmas with my grandfather.

Saying goodbye is never easy. But, as I have learned in Swaziland, saying hello (or ‘sawubona’ in siSwati) is also a challenging task. Each hello is an attempt to build relationships with people in a new and different culture. Each hello is a sign of respect for cultural norms, a practice in learning a new language, and a possible entrance into a conversation about HIV/AIDS education and prevention. Each hello is also a reminder that my time in Swaziland is not only difficult but temporary. For each goodbye that I will make during my volunteer service, I will have just as many hellos when I return home. And in overcoming the difficulty of making these good-byes and hellos, I grow stronger as my collection of greetings expands to reflect the emblematic experiences of life.


After returning from the U.S. for a brief holiday visit with my family, I am struggling through a readjustment period I didn’t expect. I was so indescribably happy to see my family that Swaziland took a backseat in my mind (at least I tried to make it that way). I wanted to melt away into the chaos that remains to be my family at Christmas time. But, after a week, I had to repack my bags and trudge back to the airport at 4:30am.

My trip to Colorado was a much needed mental break from the many frustrations in my work (I guess attempted work is more accurate) but also a reminder of the many people/things/ideas I miss while in Swaziland. Among these include my family, friends, holding babies, watching my crazy little cousins run around, hugging my Mom, talking politics with my Dad, listening to my sister play violin and piano, riding in cars, quality beef, chips and salsa, market-driven economy, snow, indoor heating, sushi, my full closet of clothing, showers, my huge bed with fluffy pillows and flannel sheets, the wonderful world of Mexican food, good wine, eating a variety of food, clean (I mean really clean) underwear, the list could continue forever…

And, with this unfortunate readjustment period, I am also realizing what I did not miss about my current host country: relentless apathy, persistent Swazi men (frequently drunk) who insist that they pay dowry for me, maize, children asking for money and candy, adults asking for “capital” or money, khombis, Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ song, bad techno music, feeling grimy, not being able to sleep in past 7am without someone knocking on my door, loud-mouth roosters, chicken crap at my door, lightning that blows out my electricity for days, constantly being compared to the volunteer I replaced, this list could also continue forever…

As each day passes, I am searching for the things I did miss. The list is short but includes fellow volunteers, my host family, the kids from next door knocking on my door saying “Sicela kubhala?” (“May we write/draw?”), running along the quiet dirt roads, cooking in my hut, having endless hours to read, meeting new people, the hike to Mankayane (such a great workout!), cute babies staring at my white skin…

Without a doubt, my life in Swaziland is a challenge. A challenge to be away from the things I love, the people I love, the environment that has supported me for the past 23 years. A challenge to work through the lack of motivation around me and then confront apathy, lack of education, lack of resources, and language/cultural barriers. But, if I leave in 6 months, 1 year, or 18 months, I will hope to have educated at least one individual on HIV/AIDS and at least one more individual on the importance of development. At this point, it’s the only way to keep going every day—the knowledge that I can educate someone to protect themselves, care for others, and keep working towards a better future.