Saturday, November 6, 2010

10/30-10/31: I was so excited to go to my first Zulu wedding today. I arrived at the house of the friend who invited me and she was nowhere to be found. There are about fifty people living on her family compound which was a bit intimidating to navigate but luckily I quickly found the woman who befriended me during the witch doctor’s coming of age ceremony which was at this woman’s house as well. She was thrilled to see me again and immediately began brainstorming potential ensembles and hair dos for the big event. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do a full wash so instead she put shampoo on my dry hair as a make shift styling product. She took a large chunk of hair out to hang in the front then slicked it back in a tight greasy ponytail. Next, she colored my eyebrows black and put brown face powder on me as a finishing touch. She then dressed me and sent me on my way. Ma Mcineka appeared out of nowhere just as soon as I was finished with my beauty treatments and we walked over to the wedding together.

My friend, again, left me to my own devices almost as soon as we got there. I attempted to make friends right away out of necessity and boredom more than anything else. Sadly, after the novelty of me being a foreigner wore off (which it did rather quickly when they found out I’m not friends with Beyonce or Rhianna) so did their interest in me. After several more circles of the compound I realized that they didn’t necessarily lose interest in me, they just don’t seem to be a very talkative bunch. Each hut I entered, I discovered a small group of people the same age and gender all of whom were sitting together mostly in silence. I grew less panicked that they were ambivalent about my legitimacy in being there and joined them in their silence. I realized after multiple hours of this that we were waiting for the bridal party. The wedding was slated to begin mid-morning and the bridal party was in the adjacent province.

As it started to get late I asked if they were even going to have the wedding today at all. Apparently I had missed the memo that the wedding was now planned for the following day. Everyone, meaning about a hundred people, are now sleeping over for tomorrow’s big event. I was a bit confused because everyone seemed to have brought an overnight bag so I’m still not quite sure what the original plan was. Regardless, I had felt I had invested so much time in witnessing this wedding that I was going to sleep there as well, out of principle. Since there was nothing else to do, I had eaten myself into a food coma had was ready for bed at 6:00. Regrettably I was the only one with such a plan. Weddings are code for men of all ages to get belligerently drunk and for women to be attentive to their beck and call. This might not sway too far from their daily lives except for the excess of alcohol consumed. As you graciously hand out the requested biscuits you are peeling men off you. By early the next day I had stopped replying to any man’s attempt at communication with me, friendly or otherwise.

Halfway through the night nobody has yet gone to bed. I’ve been assigned to sleep in a double bed with my friend and her two children. At midnight there were still fifteen drunk people in our shack. At some point they left and I gratefully snuggled up in my corner of the bed. Ma Mcineka’s husband came in soon afterwards and was not prepared to see a malungu in his bed. I feigned sleep hoping I wouldn’t get booted out of one of the few beds to a straw mat on the floor in some strange room. Luckily, he eventually left to sleep with his friends and after a few hours of sleep I woke up before dawn to what turned out to be twelve hours of hard labor. I helped the women prepare for the wedding, cooking, cleaning, arranging while I avoided the men like the plague. The actual ceremony was really interesting and involved a lot of rituals. First, the bride and her family walked over to the bridal tent while singing songs and carrying the bridal chest. The chest is suppose to signify all her possessions which she is now bringing to her new family. During this time the bride is covered completely by a blanket. There is singing from the groom’s family then from everyone. It’s really lively and circles start forming around people stomping loudly to the music. Just like in the States, the actual ceremony is quite short. After that, the groom and one of his friends (a brother maybe?) dressed up in animal skins and danced some more. Then everyone in the large bridal party is given a blanket, pillow and straw mat which they individually take out of the packaging and curl up in. Then the eating begins.

I finally was able to sneak away after an hour of goodbyes. It was a wonderful day but I was so exhausted and ready to sleep in my own bed. I started walking home with a group of girls ready to take the next bush taxi back home. After an hour and a half of walking up hill against the wind I was wondering if a taxi would ever come. This wedding was in the adjacent village and is a little less than an hour away by taxi. We were still so, so far when one finally came. I was so relieved but felt guilty leaving the girls to walk several more hours in the cold by themselves.

When I got home I was planning on tweaking the grant for my girls’ empowerment sleep away camp and calling it a night. I was getting sick from the slave labor on no sleep and was so disappointed that the ‘fine-tuning’ took five hours. With a trash bin full of used tissues and eyes pried open with toothpicks I turned it in.
It feels so great to have written a $20,000 grant in such pain-staking detail for 88 young women in grades 8-10 and 12 adults. I’m so proud of our programming and what a camp like this can do to change a young woman’s feelings about what she deserves out of life. I also know that what I called slave labor is what women here do every day. I hope to teach these 88 girls that there are other options.

11/1: I woke up still recovering from the flu bug I got from being worn down when I remembered I was scheduled to go on home visits in a far corner of my village. But when I ambled over to the taxi rank I was informed that the taxi going to this section of my village was not going there today, ‘try again tomorrow’ they said. I honestly wasn’t too disappointed but when I turned to leave a woman called me back. I’ve seen her there before, she’s always darting around the taxis serving them food and drinks. She summoned me back to ask if there were any openings at my organization. Sadly, there isn’t, and even the staff on the payroll haven’t been paid in months. She was clearly disappointed. I asked her why she asked because it looked to me as though she’s one of the lucky few that already has a job in this village. We ended up talking for almost an hour and she confided in me all of the sacrifices she makes in working with a dozen young men. Not only is her job description basically to be at their beck and call but they feel entitled to much more than the occasional cup of tea. I told her that what she was telling me was against the law and if she went to the police they would go to jail. She said she knew but that in addition to them perhaps spending a night or two in jail (and a pat on the back from their buddies) she would lose her job and she’s the sole breadwinner in her large family. She said that life here isn’t fair, she goes to church every Sunday, she’s always praying, she’s such a good Christian she says, I should trust her on that, she’s done everything right and for what? This was not a rhetorical question; she was looking for answers. I told her that the price she’s paying to provide for her family is more than unfair and that I wish I had the answers as to why a good Christian who was one of a very small number to pass their high school exams, has drawn such a lot in life. Just then the men started snapping and calling after her and I turned and walked away.

11/2: I felt this renewed sense of purpose today as I was reflecting on my service thus far. I know this is where I should be and there’s so much to do. I don’t want to be too cheesy but I’ve noticed that I’ve written a lot about my struggles and cultural mishaps but there’s a lot of joy here too.

11/3: Today I helped forty orphans and vulnerable children paint for the first time. A few art supplies were donated by the Dutch church who built our building. It was so wonderful. They didn’t know what to do with the paint at first but after a quick tutorial it was all smiles. There were far too many kids for one table worth of paint but the kids painting didn’t want to leave. I started to run out of paper and had to limit the children to two paintings each. The paintings were for a World AIDS Day art competition that is being organized by a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer. I will exchange the art created today with another PCV who will display it at her organization. Then all submissions will be sent to the organizer who will pick winners and prizes will be divvied up.

Tshengie came in to observe the event about halfway through. She looked sort of confused and a little annoyed when she asked what the point of this was. Of course I’ve discussed this event with her several times (along with its aims and objectives) but these meetings must have slipped her mind. I told her that the idea is for the children to relax, have fun and express themselves artistically. That statement was returned with a blank stare. I wasn’t hurt. I understand that children’s role in this culture is to help adults and this help usually involves chores like cooking and cleaning. The thought of doing something not out of utility is not a luxury people have here.

I saw how excited the kids were today and I plan on doing art therapy on a weekly basis, I can’t wait!