Last week, we found out where we would live over the next two years. This week, we traveled to our respective sites for something called, On The Job training, or OJT. I was able to stay a few days with my permanent host family. They are pretty awesome, in addition to being some of the most hospitable people on this side of the Sun. Before traveling to our sites, we met our site support agent (SSA). The SSA is a respected member of the community who introduces us to key stakeholders. Typically, the SSA works in the same sector that the volunteer will work in. The SSA/PCV relationship is one that is initiated by the local community and the local Peace Corps office.
I also had the opportunity to meet the principal (called the head teacher here), staff, and students at the high school in my community. The principal was happy that I was in the community. He phoned the chief of the village to inform the chief of my arrival. An impromptu meeting was called at the umphakatsi (pronounced oohm-pa-got-see), or chief’s house. I was accompanied by the principal, vice principal (called the deputy head teacher here), and my SSA to the meeting. I introduced myself (in siSwati), and met some of the residents of the Lushikishini. I noticed that the people in my village greatly appreciated my efforts to speak siSwati, even if my grammar is off or I confuse similar sounding words.
During my full day in Lushikishini, I was introduced to students and staff at the high school. The children laughed as I introduced myself (again, in siSwati). I was able to ask them, uhlekani (pronounced ou-sshlay-gah-knee), or why are you laughing? They just laughed more. The principal mentioned during my introduction to students and staff that I am here to help solve problems. He then emphasized one of the other reasons that I am here. He told the students that I am here to provide them with a firsthand look at life in America. From the perspective of a real life American.
As the day went on, I spoke to various heads of departments in the school about their role in the school community and what they thought my role might be in the school community. We discussed challenges that students are having, as well as challenges that staff is having with students. As the students finished their lunch, I was able to speak with some of them. A small group of 4 students grew to about 15 students as they asked me all kinds of questions about America. Some were interested in the presidential election. Some were interested in the school calendar, and asked if I could help them get summers off like American children. Some were interested in the American economy and job market, as they wanted to go to America to work. One student even asked me how many rooms are in the White House. I asked my friend, Google, and told them that there are 132 rooms in the White House. Many students were amazed that a family of four would need so much space. I explained that the White House is also an office building and museum of sorts.
The principal came to take me away from the children so that I could have lunch. He invited me to his home (there’s teacher housing on the premises) where his wife made us pork and rice with salad. We discussed my talk with the children. He informed that many of the children have always dreamed of going to America because of the image of prosperity and wealth. He also discussed the reality of America as a global power and how most nations try to remain on friendly terms with the USA. He then said that there was a saying when he was growing up as a young boy in Swaziland. “When America sneezes, the whole world catches the flu.” This struck a special chord within me. Not only am I part of the diplomatic mission to Swaziland known as Peace Corps, I get to share my unique American experience with rural Swaziland. It’s possible that the things I do and say may be taken as definitively American. There’s a great interest in America, and by extension, me as an American. The principal’s comments gave me a fresh perspective on what I am doing here. I have realized that, in some ways, I am America. I’m excited!
Be kind to yourself.