Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/1: Today I had my best GLOW club meeting yet. When I was home I heard Beyonce’s latest single, “Run the World (Girls)” and regardless of your affinity for the Top 40 (or lack thereof) I think you’d appreciate her attempt at a girl’s anthem. The girls in my village worship her and for her to say lyrics like, “Who runs the world? Girls,” was incredibly empowering. I played it for them today and one of the girls said, “I always think girls are just good for cooking and cleaning but Beyonce just said that girls can run the world. Maybe they can.” We talked about what the women in our lives taught us about school, careers, our appearance, marriage and children. We then made collages out of old magazines I got in care packages and the girls chose pictures of women and girls they admired and then presented them. Many of the girls wrote, “Girls run the world” in crayon on their papers. It was one of those days where I could just see the pieces of the puzzle clicking together in many of the girls’ heads. Awesome. It was just awesome. It also didn't hurt that I was able to download the latest Beyonce and Rihanna albums while I was at home which we blasted while crafting. : )

9/2: So I’m currently cooped up in my hut because gale force winds have turned my village into a dust bowl. Unfortunately, I learned just how severe the winds were the hard way. So I was attempting to hang dry my wash and not only was I getting whipped by wet clothes (and quickly soaked) but soon enough I would have to chase after the newly dirty item after it got torn from the line…again. There was really no going back for if I let my wet clothes sit in a bucket overnight (or until the wind died down, who knows how long that could take?) they could get moldy. So I trekked ahead. It was pretty humorous actually. Gotta love Africa.

9/5: My family donated backpacks and school supplies to all 22 of the girls I took to Camp GLOW so I had a blast playing Santa this week. I told the girls that these bright pink backpacks were symbols that they were strong, beautiful, intelligent young women, passionate about bringing change to their community. So that when they wear these backpacks not only are they representing all the GLOW girls but they’re telling the world that they’re a leader and a change maker. It could be in my head but I could swear when they walked out of that room with their backpacks on they walked a little taller.

9/8: So I prepared all day for a rockin’ girls club lesson on nutrition that was equal parts fun and stimulating when I went to the storage area that houses our art supplies donated to us by a Dutch youth group. And the cupboards were bare. I was fuming. Not only do I regularly use those supplies for art lessons with the orphans on our feeding scheme but they were a part of the lesson I had planned for right then. Thankfully I had a few packages of crayons that were donated by my family but I wanted to give those packages away as gifs. Sadly, none of my co-workers could look me in the eye or give me a straight answer about yet another incident of theft at our organization. Trust me, I understand that they probably just wanted to give a little joy to their own children who most likely have never had art supplies but there has to be a line somewhere.

I am happy to report that my girls club, as always, was a cure to my frustration. We had a great discussion about the challenges to eating a healthy diet (fruit and vegetables are expensive, they aren’t commonplace in Zulu diets so are deemed strange and there are very limited options in the market or store). We also reviewed the concept of a food pyramid which I was shocked had changed shape since I last checked and the idea of putting good food into your body to give it vitamins and energy not just to feel full.

9/9: I am so excited about this new training I’m planning on doing for out-of-school youth. I hope to give them a three day training on HIV/AIDS so that they could become peer educators in our community. Once trained, they’ll be asked to go on a pre-determined amount of home visits. During the home visit they’ll first give another youth a pre-test. Once completed, the educator will then talk to the youth about AIDS and review any answers that were incorrect. Then the youth will take the post-test. Not only do I feel this is a measurable, tangible way to educate my community about specific points concerning AIDS but I also think it’ll be incredibly empowering for the peer educators who currently sit at home all day but I know many of them see the ravages of AIDS and want to make a change.

I’ve discussed this idea with a fellow PCV who did this training in the past, informed the local municipality (as a formality) and have had several meetings with Tshengie to discuss logistics. Today Tshengie and I introduced the idea to the caregivers who will be asked to bring 1-3 candidates to our informational meeting next week.

I mentioned in passing that refreshments will be served during the training and Tshengie balked. She deferred to the Management Committee which is ironic because a typical meeting ends in a screaming match with no decision ever being made. The one male in the group, Mpostol, decided that the trainees couldn’t eat off the feeding scheme as per usual, but would need to bring lunch boxes. Of course the room was full of women; none of whom dared to challenge him. This, in effect, rendered the training DOA. Sounds dramatic, but trust me, after a year and a half here I know what incentives are necessary to entice people to come to a training and they are: printing an attendance certificate at the end and food. Take one or the other away and you’ll be lucky if three people show.

They said we wouldn’t have enough food for 20 adults when there are 20-25 adults that come for weekly reporting and eat off the feeding scheme twice a week. Every week. I let go a long time ago about trying to help people who don’t want to change but it’s one thing to not do anything to support my work but it’s quite another to sabotage it.

9/10: My host mom called me this morning and asked me to come to the neighbors (my host cousins). When I walked into their compound I realized immediately that there was a ceremony going on and there wasn’t some lazy Saturday morning chit chat or card playing like I’d assumed. Now even though being a slave for a day is exhausting I love ceremonies and would normally be thrilled to stumble upon one but today I was wearing capris and was immediately self-conscious as to how grossly taboo my pants were. I felt that I would have made an even bigger scene if I went home and changed so I decided to play it cool. Well the father of the house later pulled me aside and said, “I know you’re from a different culture but you’re in my culture now and I don’t ever want to see you at a ceremony at my compound in pants again, disrespecting my culture.” I was appropriately shamed. With that incident aside, the ceremony helped remind me why I’m here in the first place after a rough couple of days. I felt a part of the family, I had a place with the young women and connected with the culture even with my fashion faux pas. In short, it was exactly what I needed.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

8/3-4: Today I started my trek back to the land of milk and honey. It is really a testament to my overall absentmindedness that it took me as long as it did to realize my culture shock started at the airport. Let me back up. So I had already been travelling for ten hours when I got to the airport. In my overwhelmed daze I circled the terminals not once or twice but three times. And let me tell you it’s not a small circle. It involves multiple elevators and a seemingly endless stretch of ramps. I was so distracted by being plunged back into a sea of white faces and neon lights that I literally couldn’t concentrate. I’m known to not be too directionally savvy so if my problems ended there it wouldn’t have been anything out of the ordinary. But they didn’t. Shockingly nobody in my village owns a scale so it was only at the check in desk (in my second time through the line around the corner) that I realized my bag was overweight. I walked into the airport already soaked in sweat from being crammed into someone’s armpit for a full day but I was now a walking circus act. I literally saw people pointing. I ended up carrying on a down coat, large grass mat, and two bulging bags filled with books that got booted from my checked bag. How they let me on the plane is anyone’s guess. I somehow made it to London carrying my body weight in books and went through immigration twice when I never really had to go in the first place. I then cried to the baggage guy that I couldn’t find my bag and he politely steered me to the right baggage pick up area. I needed to re-check my bags in London because I failed to tell the check-in lady in SA my final destination. It was a genuine miracle I made it back here relatively in one piece (I looked like a homeless person) and with all 27 of my bags.

8/4-24: Being home was amazing. I blocked out all thoughts of SA which allowed me to enjoy my time guilt-free though only prolonging the inevitable culture shock later. I saw almost everyone I wanted to see and gained at least my goal of five pounds in greasy food. It was perfect.

8/25: So I purposefully scheduled a 12 hour layover in London so I could enjoy a day there. It was only when I got off the tube carrying my carry-on luggage that I realized it was pouring down rain. So I made it my first order of business to buy a glamorous plastic poncho. Bizarrely enough it took me three people before I found someone who spoke English. This involved a lot of circling because not many people were on the streets due to the monsoon. Once I was thoroughly soaked to the bone I found what I was looking for. Though cold and wet I was determined to sight see. I asked several more people where Kensington Palace was only to find they too didn’t understand me. Doesn’t anyone in London speak English anymore?! I finally asked a tourist with a map and he pointed me in what turned out to be the wrong direction. I found that out after about 20 minutes when I realized I was surrounded by houses. Thoroughly shivering, I had already tried to wait out the rain in a coffee shop and there were no signs it was letting up. I finally resigned myself to failure and went back to the airport where I wrung out my skirt and hair and slept for several hours.

8/26-30: By some miracle I was able to find an airport shuttle from Jo-burg to Mbabane, the capitol of Swaziland, so I took that when I went to the Umhlanga Reeds Festival. This is an annual event where 60,000 half-naked virgins parade in front of the King in traditional dress carrying 10 foot high bundles of reeds in the hopes he will pick them as his next bride. (He currently has 13). It was really quite beautiful.

There were four very different types of dress worn signifying the four regions or tribes of Swaziland. Dress varied from poufs of brightly colored yarn worn around the waist and shoulders to the more demure cloth tied across the shoulder in a toga-esque style. The elderly women perform ‘checks’ on the girls before they’re able to participate in the two week ceremony to confirm they are indeed a virgin. (These ‘checks’ are also done periodically in my village by the female elders). If they pass, their virginity could be held in question once again if one of the reeds they’re holding breaks or falls.

The members of the royal family are identified by the red feathers in their hair. The closer your relation to the king the more feathers you have. So there were several girls with a full ring around their face which means they are daughters of the King with his first born pinning two full rings of feathers in her hair. If the King is more of a distant cousin you might have only one or two feathers.
The first day the girls are divided into groups of about 50 and are singing while carrying their reeds. After several hours all 60,000 girls have made it into the clearing where they will give the Queen Mother their bundle of reeds. The reeds are saved until December when the male teenaged virgins have a ceremony of their own of equal if not greater size where they use the reeds to repair the King’s large compound.

The next day the girls are all gathered in the arena where they are singing and dancing all day. There was even a Zulu group there from South Africa who danced individually. The Zulu dancing with large drums and tons of high kicks was a huge crowd pleaser and made me incredibly proud to be considered one of them.
All in all it was the perfect way to transition back to life in Africa.