Monday in a Picture – The Med Hut

Guest post note: Fortunately, I haven’t had to take any trips to the medical unit for an overnight stay. But it is reality for many PCVs. Today, we have this guest post from G15 volunteer and sarcasm expert Christine Paquette sharing her experience.

The med hut. The place where PCVs go when they aren’t their 100% jaded healthy self. At the beginning of November 2017, I had the pleasure of being there. I wish I could say that it was due to recovery from a stomach virus, a fractured something or another, or not bring able to make it back to site. Something ‘normal’.

I was there because I had an abscess (a painful skin infection where fluid gets between the layers of the skin making a deep red color) conveniently located in my ass area, specifically my butt crack. Getting to the office on public transport with a painful butt is the worse. Thankfully after having the fluid drained, taking antibiotics, and recovering out of site for about one week, my butt was healed. Since then, I have been counting my blessing and praying that my butt will never again be the reason I seek medical help. So far, so good.

The above picture features the inside of the med hut in Peace Corps Swaziland.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Reflections on AfrikaBurn, Peace Corps service, and life

Recently, I’ve had time to reflect. We had our COS conference last week. Three weeks ago, I was galavanting in the Karoo desert during the experience that is AfrikaBurn. Last month marked eight years since my mother died after a long illness.

As I’ve been reflecting, some things became clearer to me. These are five recurring themes that I’ve learned from burns, service, and life.

Embrace impermanence

There’s a saying that there is no time like the present. Strike while the iron is hot. While it’s true that no moment lasts forever, it’s also true that life and all the things in it (including AfrikaBurn and Peace Corps) are mere moments. Admitting to ourselves that nothing is permanent (including us) allows us to fully engage in the now. Now is all we have. Why not love now? Forgive now. Embrace now. AfrikaBurn is seven days in a desert. Peace Corps is more than two years in an foreign community. While those moments won’t last, the memories do.

For the first time since I’ve started going to burns, I was ready to depart from the burn last month. AfrikaBurn was still magical. And it still left me high on life and the awesomeness of humanity. But while the high might be long lasting, it isn’t permanent. The need for a constant, permanent high is addiction.

Don’t try to recreate experiences

I remember discussing my first year at Burning Man with a friend of mine. He was excited as I recounted fond memories. I remember him expressing his desire to recreate my Burning Man experience for himself. When I was doing research on Peace Corps before I joined, I saw many volunteers doing amazing work. I arrived in Swaziland, and thought of replicating the work being done by the previous group. It makes sense. They are successful. I want to be successful. I need to do what they’re doing. I believe that the experience we have is heavily influenced by many factors including where we are in life at that time. The factors that made my first year at Burning Man so amazing might not be present in your life at this time. And that’s okay. I believe inspiration and aspirations are powerful, but they don’t have to dictate our path and experience. You are the creator of your own experience. Which leads me to…

It’s all made up

Everything that we see, hear, do and experience is all made up. JFK made up the Peace Corps. Larry Harvey made up Burning Man. Al Gore made up the internet. When wild imaginations are left in childhood, we try to create a better today instead innovating an exciting tomorrow. Life, like AfrikaBurn and Peace Corps, encourages experimentation and innovation. There’s even a camp at Burning Man called, “It’s All Made Up”. Shouts to the IAMU crew. Again, it’s up to us to create and co-create this thing called life.

Sit face to face with people

We live in a world with many things competing for our attention. Partially because of that, sensationalism abounds. We end up with strong opinions of people we’ve never met and know very little about. Real life people become the nameless, faceless “them” or “they”. This changes when we sit with someone, formerly known as strange(r), and experience their humaness through interactions. Suddenly, Burners aren’t a bunch of naked hippies doing drugs in a desert and Swazis (and by extension, Africans) aren’t a bunch of unintelligent, poor people living in mud huts. When we meet face to face, there is often some common ground. We get to deconstruct the single story bestowed on those who want to share their own stories. Even without common language, interests, and/or ideologies, we’re all humans sharing this planet.

Community Interaction

One of the principles of Burning Man culture is “participation”. To me, a large part of that participation is done through interacting with the space and the people in it. Through interaction, we co-create the life experience. In Peace Corps, I’ve found that magic happens when I am a participant in my community. Interacting with the community promotes growth and gets things done. Interaction also promotes relationships and seeing people as more than simple mediums if transaction.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – COS (the conference)

Last week, my cohort (group 14) came together for one last Peace Corps sponsored training. We assembled in the Lubumbo region of eSwatini for our Close of Service (COS) conference. This conference signals the beginning of the end. It’s held about three months before a group is set to leave.

We had our COS conference at a secluded nature reserve with beautiful views and spacious chalets. This was also the last time that we had to take a language proficiency test, which assessed how our language skills have grown throughout our service. We discussed the paperwork and conversations that need to be completed before we leave. We gave three stool samples to ensure that we aren’t leaving with parasitic friends in our respective bowels. We reflected on the work that we’ve done. We began to prepare for the adjustment and reverse culture shock that likely awaits us in America. We discussed how to best represent our service as we seek move on to careers, school or retirement. It was a full week.

While I’ll greatly miss eSwatini and emaswati (pronounced eh-mah-swah-tee), or Swazi people, I am excited for life after Peace Corps. The picture above was taken by PCV Nate during a session with a panel of RPCVs.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Lobola

This past Saturday, I was present for an important part of the marriage process in eSwatini. The lobola (pronounced la-bow-lah), or bride price, ceremony. In Swazi culture, a man (and his family) must compensate his bride-to-be’s family. This bride price is usually paid in cattle, though modern times have seen some families paid in cash.

Like many other things in eSwatini, the community is present as the two families join to discuss how much lobola should be paid. These negotiations are closed to everyone except family. The lobola rates are pretty standardized, but they can vary depending on some factors. Typically, the first born and last born girl will garner 17 cows. Other girls in the birth order usually garner 15 cows. The groom must bring a number of cattle to the negotiations to show that he is serious about marrying. My counterpart and friend, also known as the greatest Peace Corps counterpart in the world, is getting married! After the negotiations are complete, the people gather under a tent for brief praise and worship, and to give thanks for the joining of families in the union of marriage. Following the praise and worship, everyone enjoys food and fellowship.

Congratulations to Nozie and her beau (pictured above) for taking the next step in their life together. May the joy of the lobola ceremony fill their marriage.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – What’s in a Name?

Last week, His Majesty King Mswati III celebrated his 50th birthday with Swazis and others. The national celebration, called the 50/50 celebration, also commemorated 50 years of independence from British rule. Thousands of Swazis and guests gathered in Manzini for dancing, singing and merriment. While His Majesty’s speech touched on several topics, one of the biggest was his changing of the country’s name.

What was formerly the Kingdom of Swaziland is now the Kingdom of eSwatini. The king stated during this declaration that a big part of this decision was because of what they called themselves before British rule. Fifty years ago, British rule became a thing of the past. Last Thursday, the British name for the country became a thing of the past. I was with a small group of PCVs and friends in Mavuso stadium when the king made this declaration. There was an eruption of applause and cheering upon the declaration.

Some friends have asked me what I think about the name change. While I don’t have strong opinions, I think it’s a beautiful thing to be true to your identity and to reclaim any identity you may have lost. There’s beauty in the realization that you haven’t been true to yourself; for it’s a starting point of redemption. For that, I am happy.

The above picture was taken during the 50/50 celebration while His Majesty was giving his speech.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.