Monday, September 20, 2010

9/3: Today is day one of two days devoted to planning Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). Clearly, it will take more than two days to plan a week long sleep-away camp but it’s a start. Angie and Leah are sleeping over at my place so we can get as much work done as possible. I think I discussed the idea of Camp GLOW earlier but it’s one of Peace Corps’s initiatives for gender and development. The plan is to take 20 female leaders in grades 8-10 from each of our communities and empower them to look past their challenges and embrace another option. The option being presented to them is success, education, family planning and confidence. Self reliance, independence, joy. If you take away every educational opportunity planned during the week you will have what I hope will be an amazing camp experience. I look back on my camp experiences as some of my fondest childhood memories. I would love to bring these young women that feeling of joy and camaraderie too. I think we can do that and much, much more. I want to teach them about their rights to their bodies and their rights to fight back. There’s a whole world out there and lots of scholarships waiting to help you experience it. I was ready with plenty of ideas for potential workshops but we ended up discussing how much (or little) people were willing to put into this project. The tense planning meeting resulted in me doubting how the different personalities and visions of my two best friends and I could ever be meshed into a functional camp. I then realized that not only was it not about me but that any help is important in a project this large. Unfortunately, we never quite got around to the actual camp. We have another sleep over planning session slated for next Friday so I’m hoping that one will be more productive.

9/4: So earlier this week my go go requested her electric cord back. She strung a cord outside from her house to mine which has one plug attached to the end for my electricity. She suggested that I take this down, buy myself another cord, and have a young boy install it. “Very cheap, Lindelwa.” I told her what might be easier is if she tells me how many meters of cord she needs and I go buy her that amount instead of uninstalling and reinstalling my existing electricity. This seemed to satisfy her. A few days later she said she needed my bed. I asked her what I would sleep on and she said it’s not her problem. After going back and forth for quite some time I was able to deduce that the girlfriend of one of her sons that passed away has also just passed. She left a child who will be coming to stay with us so she needs the bed. This would be more than reasonable if there wasn’t already a bed that was unused in my go go’s house. If this wasn’t shocking enough, the following day she said that she needs rent from me as well. In an indirect culture I’ve been trying to see what I did to upset her. This could be her way of telling me she’s angry at me for something completely unrelated to our housing agreement. Ironically, our relationship has been great, which made this whole debacle even more hurtful. Zindle is over at my house every day and does all but sleep here. My go go and I drink tea at my house every day and spend a good amount of time chatting on a daily basis. Is she now just my landlord? I thought I was part of the family. I can buy a new cord, bed and monthly rent but when I asked her why she was doing this she said, “You aren’t a part of the family, I don’t love you.” To make matters worse, last night there was a drunk man at my door who wouldn’t go away. I locked my flimsy door but my burglar gate wasn’t locked because Angie had just come back in. He was shaking the door handle and yelling. I finally called my go go’s cell phone and she said she knows what’s happening. Her window’s open, she’s been watching this whole time. I tried to articulate as clearly as possible that this incident is upsetting and I would like her to help get this man to leave. Not only did she not help me but she was yelling at me for forgetting to lock my burglar bars. She finally did help me but I felt so hurt that I almost had to beg her to do so. She could hear my tone of voice and those of my friends; she knew we were rattled by this. And she stood by and watched it happen? This whole week has made me feel so betrayed by the woman I devoted so much of my time to and who always treated me as one of her own. Later on she made sure I knew how hurt Zindle and her friends were that she couldn’t spend all day yesterday and today with my friends and I. I tried to explain that four five year olds does not make for a conducive work environment. Well, apparently I wasn’t convincing enough because Zindle and her friends banged on my door on 20 minute intervals all day. When my friends left, I was so exhausted by the blatant disregard of my boundaries that the next time the girls banged on my door I spouted off as many angry phrases as I could muster and locked the door. Zindle sat on my front stoop and cried for an hour. After stumbling back into my house in a haze of guilt and sheer weariness I attempted to compile all my Christian music into one playlist which somehow resulted in half of it being deleted in the process. This brings us to my breaking point where I cried until I had no more tears left to shed.

9/5: Today all I wanted to do was hole up in my hut and wallow in my own misery while dreaming of quesadillas and milkshakes but alas I had a coming of age ceremony for a sangoma (witch doctor) to attend so I had to cut my pity party short. This ceremony was in the next village over so I needed to take a short bush taxi ride to get there. I was given the directions from Tshengie to get on the taxi and ask to be taken to the Majola family compound. There find someone to take you to the Mcineka compound. So I was going in pretty blind here. I waited so long for a taxi to arrive that I thought perhaps they’d joined the strike as they’d been threatening to do since its inception so I hitchhiked with people that said they knew where this family lived. Well they didn’t. I sat in the back of a pickup truck for an hour on top of a crate of beer bottles. Though the truck bed was caked in dirt I would have much preferred the floor if it wouldn’t have been so socially unacceptable. After being dropped off in the middle of a market (definitely not the Majola compound) I asked the crowd of people in the taxi heading back to my village if they knew this family’s location before getting in. I felt more confident that I was going to get there this time. Sure enough I was dropped off in the right location. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone just roaming around ready to take me from this compound to the Mcinekas’. I then stood on the side of the dirt road in a mixture of confusion and panic for what felt like hours before I saw a few women in the distance who I proceeded to run to with flailing arms as if I was being rescued from a deserted island. After I caught my breath I was able to ask for directions and was assured I could follow them because they were going to the same party. Relieved that I wasn’t going to die alone, my starved body being ravaged by wild dogs, I followed them to what turned out to be quite the experience. As I walked into the compound which was composed of seven or eight mud homes with thatched roofs, several horses, chickens, goats and cows and more people than I could count, I was bombarded with a herd of children. I immediately had three holding each hand and half a dozen stragglers dragging behind me while holding a piece of my skirt. My guides didn’t want anything to do with this bizarre celebrity and quickly made themselves scarce. I was trying to find the one woman I knew amongst the masses and stumbled upon a woman who proceeded to pry my entourage off of me in time to once again, “make me pretty.” As I’ve now come to expect, she poured boiling water over my head then dumped half a bottle of shampoo over it then came an equally scalding rinse session. After that, moisturizer was rubbed through my hair, followed by lots and lots of baby oil. Next came the blow dryer where she combed out my waves to create a ring of frizz. The final touch was a bright pink infant sized elastic headband with a large bow in the front. My audience of bathing women and snotty nosed children loved it. The next step in the beautification process was clothing. This mystery friend of mine dressed me in a child sized shirt that did not quite cover my stomach…at all. She then scurried into yet another room to find a pair of heels that she had never worn. I couldn’t tell if they were too small or if I was just too used to shoes with items such as support, cushion and breathable material. I was then paraded amid the hordes of people to oohs and aahs. I even was able to go into the hut designated for the three patriarchs of the extended family, all of whom are sangomas themselves. I entered with my new friend after taking off my shoes and bending at a 90 degree angle. We were then asked to sit where we faced perpendicular to them in an effort to never make eye contact. I peered my head as far as I dared to try to get a sense of the place. There were shelves filled with traditional medicine and all sorts of herbs and animal hides hanging from the ceiling. As we left I started to think that the woman I’m suppose to meet here either does not actually live here, is sick, or perhaps sacrificed herself to the pack of wild dogs I was envisioning succumbing to earlier.

Next on the docket was the main event. All the sangomas that had been milling about earlier had gathered in a clearing on the compound. We were up high enough that there was nothing but hills and deep ravines in any direction. In essence it felt like we were at the edge of the world.

Each sangoma, both male and female, wore a waist-length beaded headdress, black beaded skirt, white shirt and tin disks around their ankles so they jingled when they danced. They waved horses’ tails as they danced to the drums covered in raw hide while one man sang songs from so deep in his soul I felt I was intruding. The mood turned celebratory as the young woman stepped into the circle. Every young woman has a coming of age ceremony, whether she’s a witch doctor or not. This is a time when a girl becomes a woman and she’s now ready to be married. This isn’t signified by menstruation but rather by the maturity of the individual. The ages of the women in this ceremony are usually 15-19.

Everyone who could safety pinned money onto her headdress while her fellow sangomas danced and sung in a semi-circle around her. This ended when everyone was exhausted, hungry and out of money. Unlike everyone else, I had already been force fed two meals of rice and boiled chicken swimming in oil so I was not looking forward to a third heaping portion. I somehow choked it down with the help of some water of questionable quality and the herd of children that hadn’t left my side since I came. I finally stumbled upon my host who insisted that I sleep there overnight. I didn’t think it was too bad of an idea and when I called my go go to confirm my decision she said she didn’t care what I did and repeated that she doesn’t love me. I suddenly was reminded of our strained relationship and I felt the immediate need to get home and try to make amends. This about face was met with confusion and frustration. I allotted multiple hours for goodbyes, the majority of which I spent convincing my entourage that I made the right decision. At the end of the day, the woman, Bongisile, who befriended me and didn’t leave my side, even while bathing, insisted I keep all the articles of clothing that she let me borrow. This included the infant head band, child sized t-shirt with classy midriff and heels that she’d never worn. I pleaded with her to keep the shoes. I only stopped begging when I realized how hurt she was at my refusal of her gift. I thought this revelation was a bit too late but she quickly recovered once I grudgingly accepted. I left with such a full heart I had all but forgotten the frustrations of the previous week.

9/6: My Peace Corps supervisor gave me pretty sound advice, in my opinion, concerning my housing situation. He suggested that I take myself out of the equation entirely and request that my go go talk to Tshengie directly. This will enable our relationship to remain intact while she hammers out her need for furniture and money. Tshengie visited her today after work. They talked for about an hour, at one point laughing at other points fighting. When I asked for a translation she said she was too tired to talk about it but everything’s fine. When I asked her the following day she elaborated by saying, “don’t worry, everything’s fine.” Gotcha.

9/7: Today it was all hands on deck when we were notified that one of our funders, the Department of Social Development, is requesting proof to back up our statistics. Not only do we make up numbers but the forms are all in English so none of the caregivers have the slightest idea what they’re making up numbers for. Let’s just say reporting is an opportunity for growth for us. I don’t doubt they’re doing the work, well most of them, but their literacy level in their home language, let alone a second language, prevents them from accurately reporting. I proposed the idea of typing the lists that are requested of us so that each month we could just add our new clients and delete the ones who’ve passed away instead of the mad scramble that happens when everyone remembers that, in fact, the end of the month is here again. This was deemed a ridiculous suggestion and everyone went back to organizing their million scrap sheets of paper onto one sheet of paper that after turned in will have to be re-created from scratch the next month…and the next month.

9/8: So as much as I want to be fluent in Zulu, the last thing I want to do after an exhausting day of stumbling through this new language, is to study more Zulu. So I’ve hit a plateau. But today I pushed through and studied all day, much to the entertainment of my co-workers.

9/9: So we’ve been in our new building for a week or so and the concept of indoor plumbing has still eluded my co-workers. I gave a lesson in flush toilets that involved instructing the men to lift the seat up when standing, counting to three as they hold down the lever to flush and how to clean such a foreign object. This was received with only mild interest. I was not expecting a conga line in gratitude for this new knowledge but I was hoping that perhaps some of my suggestions on how to use a flush toilet would be put into practice. The short answer to that is, though the men have thankfully since decided to lift the seat up, other ideas of mine have been disregarded. The idea, for example, to wash their dishes in our new sink has led them to wash the dishes in buckets…in the sink. I was hoping by giving them some tips the two older women who cook hot meals for the orphans and vulnerable children would have a much easier time doing so. But in reality, indoor plumbing has turned out to be scary, intimidating, confusing and not all that it’s cracked up to be. Is bigger, faster and easier always better?

9/10-11: Today started sleepover number two of Camp GLOW planning. Unfortunately, I can’t say this meeting was much more productive. On a positive note, the PCV host cooked a chili that was composed almost solely of American ingredients, which warmed my soul on such a blustery day.

9/12: I locked myself in my room and read almost an entire book in one day; it was amazing!

9/13: I’m heartened by all the progress at the Camp GLOW meeting today. We have a skeleton of the grant done, which was possible by enlisting an agenda with Western-style time limits on each topic. What can I say; it worked. I was designated Project Manager which was particularly special coming from my closest friends. I was also able to release my white knuckle grip on the planning when someone else requested the section of the grant where the majority of the creative liberty could be taken.

9/14: So the trainer for the caregivers’ training did not show up for train the trainer day for our first in a series of workshops slated for completion at the end of the year. Busi, my back up trainer was MIA as well, as were the materials she promised she’d translate. Instead, I decided to peel vegetables and gossip.

9/15: Training went so well today. The caregivers learned about what it means to be a home based carer. Though they could say things like, a caregiver provides palliative care, when pressed for examples or a definition of palliative care nobody knew. Mpostol is also a very charismatic trainer and made sure everyone participated. Though only two out of the thirteen pages of curriculum were accomplished, and about half of the caregivers showed up I was still really excited to see them starting to grasp their role in the fight of HIV/AIDS.

9/16: Today we had a meeting with the church we share our new building with. Members of Zamimpilo feel it’s unnecessary for members of the church to have keys to our doors and offices. (The building has no shared space and was designed to function as two separate entities). They’re concerned that we have parts of computers that if put together properly one could eventually get it to operate (assuming that the thousands of viruses riddling the hard drives were somehow eradicated) and therefore could be at risk of getting stolen. Right now they’re behaving as important looking dust collectors but the consensus is that broken, green screened computers would catch the potential funder’s eye.
The meeting was scheduled for 9:00 so I didn’t peer into our new ‘board room’ which is just an empty room that we drag plastic chairs into when our ‘dining hall’ for the orphans isn’t being used until after 10:00. (The dining hall is also empty save for a few plastic chairs). People started petering in soon after that and we quickly had everyone settled in one room. Naturally, the agreements signed between the two parties last year needed to be copied before the meeting could begin and this was not something that necessarily could/should be done beforehand. So each of the three agreements were taken one by one to get a few copies. It was promptly agreed upon that everyone needed a copy of each document. This back and forth charade took another hour. Next up was the declaration of the need to find an attendance register. A search party was assembled and came back triumphant about 20 minutes later. We then passed around some hymnals, sang a few Psalms and prayed many a prayer. Another attendance register was mandated. It is now three hours past our original start time. Now that everyone was good and tired from all that productivity tea was passed around to all. I had to go to what would invariably be an equally productive meeting at the Department of Agriculture. This was upsetting to everyone as my whiteness gave the meeting more validity. They were just getting started they exclaimed! Well it’s now well into the afternoon and I assured them that I didn’t doubt they would come away from this battle of the minds with an action plan filled with concessions and compromises, sacrifices and small gains. I could tell that the momentum for the meeting had waned as the realization surfaced that it would no longer be possible to shamelessly stare at the malungu for hours on end. I could hear them picking up their things and planning their next meeting as I walked out the door. Onward and upward to the Department of Agriculture. There are a series of entrances to the D of A, all of which lead directly into someone’s personal office. I walked into someone on the phone then when I tried door number 2, I found three people in a meeting. The only person that seemed flustered at this seeming intrusion of privacy was me. One of them walked me to the office I was looking for where I interrupted another meeting with my more important White agenda. I explained that I heard the D of A was giving away free seeds and tools as a part of their One Home One Garden program and that I would like some. I went on to say that I’m going to a training with a co-worker where we’ll learn different gardening techniques and then train the community members. I didn’t get a chance to delve into my color-coded evaluation chart or my assessment tools. He said that though it’s true that the D of A has a large storage room stacked with more crates than he could count with both tools and seeds, my village wasn’t one of the four neediest in the catchment area so he couldn’t give me any supplies. I wouldn’t want to take tools and seeds from the people most in need…would I, he asked me. Well, in fact, if the crates have been sitting there for months, I argued, I wouldn’t be taking anything from anybody. I asked him how long they had been there and if there was a chance we could take a few things if the tools and seeds are going unclaimed? Not possible. Of course not.

I then took a deep breath as I entered the always traumatic Post Office. I had three packages stuffed to the brim with American shoes and toys awaiting my retrieval thanks to my church back home. The postal lady snickered when she asked if I had a car to haul these parcels, knowing full well I didn’t, taking great joy as I carried them one by one on my head to the taxi rank. (It is legitimately easier to carry almost anything on your head). After asking one of the fruit ladies in the market to watch my package; I went to fetch the next one…and back again. Next came arguably the most entertaining part, which would be getting all three boxes on a bush taxi where your knees are already jutting into the seat in front of you. Lucky for me I was sandwiched in between two morbidly obese women. These women composed three Alenas each. So there were seven Alenas and three gigantic boxes on a seat made for maybe two and a half Alenas, no boxes. The door could not be opened from the inside; the driver had to get out to open it. I somehow survived the ride and plopped the boxes onto the side of the road. I didn’t expect my arms to feel like Jell-O but I had been bracing them against near disaster for over an hour now. I then got Mpostol who was not only irritated at getting torn away from his favorite Chuck Norris film but was shocked I was requesting some assistance in the heavy lifting department. I then pleaded, against all cultural norms, for some empathy. He finally agreed and took the lightest one. Happy to be down a third of the work, I made my second trek back to the side of the road with a bounce in my step. I waited to peer into the contents for several more days.

9/17: Today we celebrated the opening of our new building. Before the event started I was concerned I didn’t quite decipher the chicken scratch agenda properly, was there really no singing planned, I asked, quite alarmed. I was quickly assured there would be plenty of singing. In fact, there was about two hours waiting for everyone to arrive fashionably late, six hours of singing and about ten minutes of speeches. I was pleasantly surprised that I knew at least some of the words to all of the songs and correlating hand movements. I not only sang, but sang as loud as my voice would allow inserting as many Hallelujahs as the best of them while joining the conga line soaked in sweat. (We crammed way too many people into our ‘dining hall’ for said party). Leah came because our organizations are partners (in theory) and it was really great to show everyone off. She then pulled me aside and said, “I know how frustrated you get with the bureaucracy and the corruption and the varying work ethic. But the people here love you. You’ve touched people and they adore you.” After she finished her lengthy Kodak moment and I was near tears, I told her that I adore them far more.

9/18: Leah slept over and we watched rom coms all day with as many American delicacies as I could muster. When Zindle joined the party we played Pixar’s Up and she cried during the scene where the couple grows old together, how cute is that?!

9/19: I had several visitors today who needed help with homework or were just looking to chat though I was exhausted after I tried to keep up with a teen for an hour in a half in Zulu after I played some card game with no apparent rules with seven neighbor kids. Next a girl came over looking for help with her assignment. She’s 20 and in 11th grade, which is not only not unique but typical. She gave me her rubric, written in English, which she clearly didn’t understand. She then handed me a job description cut out from a newspaper which was part of the assignment and which she couldn’t read to do homework that was completely over her head. Good thing they extended summer vacation for World Cup and the teachers went on strike for another month, are slated to strike again, with another two weeks of vacation fast approaching.

9/20: Is it gross that despite the fact that I have two separate ant hills inside my hut with the packaging of my food covered in ants I still walk around unfazed with bare feet?


  1. I'm sorry you are having such issues. It probably has little to do with you and more to deal with the perceived idea that hosting a white person means that they are, in fact, wealthy and should defer to those who are poorer by giving things or doing favors. Family in the African context here seems to mean that everything is held in common, even stuff you claim as yours. Perhaps Tshengie see's your understanding of ownership as cutting off family ties? Anything's possible.

    I think you'll have to have Gogo maneuver here, as you may not be getting half the story. Don't, however, be bullied into giving in to demands just to keep peace. Zulu's often forget that relationships need to work BOTH ways..