#GloPoWriMo 17/30: The Formula

​I wasn’t born great/
but I was born of greatness./
Riley pedigree. 

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Monday in a Picture – Inspiration from Mother and others

​Everyday before I leave my house, this is what I see. It’s important to stay motivated and inspired while serving. People have sent postcards, greeting cards, and letters from all over the world during my time in Swaziland. I’m extremely grateful to all of those who have taken the time to write kind words and send them to me. 

To make my house feel more homey, I added pictures of those responsible for my being to the inspiration wall. They include my great grandfather, his daughter (my grandmother), and her daughter (my mother). It was on this day seven years ago that my mother passed away. She’s actually (partially) responsible for my serving in the Peace Corps. She pushed us to serve others with compassion. She instilled a sense of exploration. She made sure that we respected and embraced those who might be different from us.

Having these visual reminders has been great for keeping me motivated in the rural community. It makes my service feel a little less lonely. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Water from Jojo

Some weeks ago, we experienced the effects of Cyclone Dineo. It brought high winds and an abundance of rain. For a week, rain muddied the roads while rain clouds hid the sun. As a rookie gardener, I have learned to appreciate the rain for what it does to my garden. Swaziland, as a whole, appreciates the rain as southern Africa recovers from a severe drought. 

Water is necessary regardless of where you live. Across the kingdom, different families get water in different ways. Some families have indoor plumbing with running water. Some families take water cans to the river, and fill them before returning home. In some communities, there is a community tap which typically pulls water from a rain caching reservoir. On some homesteads, you find a borehole which extracts water from the ground. I have also seen families divert streams or rivers to deliver water to the homestead. 

On my homestead, we are fortunate to have a jojo tank. The jojo tank sits on a large concrete slab, and has one tap at the bottom. The jojo tank is connected to rain gutters leading into to the jojo tank. Our jojo tank has a capacity of about 5000 liters. When the rains come, the jojo tank fills with water and all is well. When the rains don’t come, there are services that can come out and fill your jojo tank. Our jojo tank provides all of the water used for drinking, cooking, gardening, cleaning, and bathing. I also use the jojo tank to wash my hands after using the pit latrine. 

To get water in my house, I fill a 25 liter water can (as seen in the picture above) to bring inside. Because water access isn’t as simple as turning on a faucet in the kitchen or bathroom, I’m more cognizant of my water usage. I try to conserve water. Now, I can happily add “showering with 5 liters of water” to my skill set. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Sweet Dreams – Obama girl

Because I am posted in a country where I might contract malaria, I have been given an antimalarial medication called, “Mefloquine”. One of the side effects of this medication is lucid dreaming. The following is what I dreamt last night (as best I can remember). 

​I was discussing something on Twitter. I was engaging with followers and whatnot. I was also coming back from a trip. I was coming back to DC. I had mentioned this on my Twitter. Anyway, a day or so after I arrived in DC, a follower contacts me to talk about the topic I was discussing with my followers earlier. We engage in a dialogue and decide to meet up since we’re both in DC at the time. 

I meet a young lady. She’s in her late teens or early twenties. We meet by the White House. It’s Obama’s daughter. (In this dream, the Obamas only have one daughter, and she looks like a mixture of Malia and Sasha.) We start chatting. She asks if I have ever been in the White House. I say that I haven’t. She invites me in.

The first thing I notice is that there is a massive bathroom. I think to myself that I should really ask to use the bathroom as it’ll probably be the most luxurious bathroom I ever have a chance to use. I don’t ask because I’m so excited that I don’t even have to go to the bathroom. Me and Obama girl are talking about life, and whatever we were discussing on Twitter as she gives me an impromptu tour of the White House. I’m only engaging partly because I’m so excited to be in the White House, and that the president’s daughter follows me on Twitter. Apparently, I’m too excited to even take pictures. We get to the museum part of the White House and I ask Obama girl if she’ll take a picture of me with a bust of Obama. She agrees. It’s the only picture I have from the visit and the occasion. 

Later that evening, or the next day, I’m sitting in a car with my mother and brother. I’m explaining to them what happened my brother is in disbelief and telling me all of the reasons that it couldn’t have happened. My mother is listening and supportive. But I’m not sure she knows what Twitter is. I look up and we’re sitting outside of my grandmother’s house in NW DC. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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​Monday in a Picture – My Pit Latrine 

I thought about titling this, “My Poopy Place”. Alas, I resisted. Everyone poops. As such, everyone needs some a method and a place to relieve themselves of fecal matter. While some rural homesteads and urban businesses have bathrooms furnished with flushing toilets, many of the homesteads in my community utilize some kind of pit latrine when handling bathroom business. My homestead falls into this category. The above picture is our pit latrine. 

There’s a toilet-like structure that sits over a very large deep hole (pit). All of the waste goes into that hole. Around the toilet-like structure, there are four walls (including one with a door). In my latrine, I have enough space to sit comfortably while handling my business. The door’s lock is a wire that wraps around a nail on the door frame. My latrine also has a ventilation pipe to help mitigate the smell of decomposing waste. 

I’ve never seen a latrine filled. However, I’ve been told that the latrine is considered full when the waste is between 1.5 and 2 meters away from the top of the hole. After a latrine is full, a tree of some variety is planted in that space as the space is now very fertile. Another hole will be dug so that there can still be a place for using the toilet. 

Because there is no light in my latrine, I tend not to use the latrine after dark. I’ve heard stories of crafty, stealthy creatures biting butts in the dark. While I realize that my concern is probably irrational and could be alleviated with a headlamp, I’ll stick to the safety of my pee bucket. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – Here’s a picture of the inside of my latrine. 

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​Monday in a Picture – The Homestead 

In Swaziland, we live with a host family in a rural community for the duration of our service. These communities tend to be very family oriented. Families live together on a plot of land called a homestead. Homesteads vary greatly in size, structures, and composition. There are some common elements with all homesteads around the country. 

I have yet to see a homestead that doesn’t have a farming space to grow crops, typically maize. Most homesteads have multiple buildings on them. On my homestead (pictured above), there’s the main house, my house, a tool house, a chicken house, a guest room, and a pit latrine. Many homesteads also have a kraal (pronounced crawl), which is where the family’s cows live. Some homesteads with many extended family members may have one house for school age female children, and another house for school age male children. Some homesteads have a kitchen house, where food is cooked in a large three legged pot over an open fire. 

There is, of course, a process to acquiring land to build your homestead. It starts with going to the inner council at the umphakatsi (pronounced om-pa-got-see) to ask for land to build your home. The umphakatsi is the local governance structure of a chiefdom. In many rural communities and chiefdoms, only a married man can ask the inner council for land to build a home. It’s expected that you give a number of cows to the umphakatsi for the land you are given. Once the land for your homestead is acquired, you can start building whatever structures you’ll need. I’ve noticed that building homes tends to be a local community and family effort. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Thanksgiving

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving, an American holiday of food, family, and football. For those who may not know, Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated here in Swaziland. It’s simply another Thursday in November. For the occasion, our country director invited all of the volunteers in Swaziland to her beautiful home for a momentous feast. I wasn’t able to get pictures of all of the food, but the above collage is a bit of what our eyes and tastebuds enjoyed on Thursday afternoon. 

While the chefs were putting the final touches on the meal, I was able to relax by the pool and chat with other volunteers. There was also badminton and other backyard games to be played. This was definitely the first Thanksgiving that I was able to chill in a pool and soak up some sun. I could used to Thanksgiving as a summer holiday. 

Several volunteers and staff helped prepare various delicious dishes. It was indeed, a feast. There were four turkeys (two baked, two fried), a roasted pig, and a sizeable salmon. We enjoyed several types of stuffing, macaroni and cheese, fried cabbage, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green bean casserole and more. There were appetizers to whet our palettes, and desserts to satisfy the most distinguishing sweet tooth. 

I have a newfound respect and admiration for those who host large holiday gatherings at their home. There were more than 70 of us. There were dietary restrictions and food allergies to be observed, but there was still something for everyone. 

I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly give thanks and gratitude to our country director for hosting us in her home (and for taking suggestions on the menu); all of the volunteers here in Swaziland, for being a supportive and amazing group of folks; all of the chefs who made the meal magical; and my brother and uncle, for WhatsApping me their Thanksgiving greetings. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Different different, but same.

There are certainly some things that definitely remind me of home here. There are some gender roles and expectations that I’ve seen before.

Typically, I am not involved in the cooking process. I suspect that this is because I am a man. Women and children, usually girls, prepare and serve meals. Here, at my training home site, my sikhoni takes the lead on most of the cooking. This past weekend, she sent in one of the children with sour porridge for breakfast. This was followed by an egg scramble and porridge some hours later for lunch.

As I was doing my laundry this past weekend, I was nudged to give it to one of the children for them to do it. I resisted the temptation. I decided that it would be best for me to learn hand washing, and perfect my technique. There was a compromise that I would let one of the children assist me. I was very thankful because laundry takes much more time and energy than it ever did in DC. After completing my laundry, I asked one of the children if there was a nap culture in Swaziland. With a confused look, he asked what a nap was. I explained that it was a period of rest in the middle of the day. He promptly replied that they don’t do that. I told them that I would sleep for one hour, and then come back out to continue the day.

Upon returning from one of the PST sessions this week, my sisi (pronounced see-see), or sister, asked for my dishes, so that she could wash them. I told her that I had already washed them. She asked if I was sure. I told her that I just had my lunch dish from today. She asked for it. I told her not to worry about it, and I would take care of it. She relented.

While patriarchy is prevalent in both the United States and Swaziland, I can see that it certainly more pronounced here.

This just reminds me of the idea that we are more the same than we are different. Babe (pronounced bah-bay), or father Sheba is one of the training staff in PC Swaziland. He has said several times that we are all going to the same place. It’s just that some of us get there before others. I believe this to be true. It’s all same same, but different.

Of note, in Swazi culture, any father/married man/man old enough to be your father is referred to as babe. This is done out of respect. The same applies for any mother/married woman/woman old enough to be your mother. She is referred to as make. Anyone who is your age, regardless of relation, is referred to as bhuti or sisi. The Swazi culture is a very communal one. Because of this, I feel very welcomed.

I feel the presence of my aunt Nae when I’m at home with my make. We often sit in make’s house and watch the news (in sis-Swati). Whenever King Mswati III is discussed and/or appears on television, she speaks of him very highly. She sounds like a mother who is proud of her son’s accomplishments. This is super similar to some weekday evenings spent with Aunt Nae watching the evening news. Aunt Nae’s version of King Mswati III is President Obama. She absolutely loves him. (Side note: if this post ever makes it to Mr. President, she would love a visit from you – and it doesn’t matter if you’re still in office)

It’s quite often that I feel that the Swazi people have accepted me as one of their own. One evening, while showing my training host family pictures of my family in America, my bhuti looks at my Uncle Pat and says that there is no way that Pat could be in America because he saw him last week in Matsapha (a town in Swaziland). I laughed. Though, it is completely possible that my uncle could just show up.

Onward.

Less than ten days to go!

There are officially less than ten days before I begin my Peace Corps service. With a little over a week left, it’s surreal.

I have (finally) packed my first piece of checked luggage. I am in the final stages of moving out of my home for past 6+ years. I made the decision that I will be getting rid of anything that is not going with me. There is nothing like a major move to be a reminder that I have entirely too much stuff. It feels great to be letting go of so much as I prepare for the next chapter in my life. 

image
Bag one. ✔

I have begun to share farewells with friends. I will be going to my final (for a while) November Project DC workouts this week. I will also be hosting a farewell happy hour hangout on Friday. Feel free to come workout and/or hang if you’re in the DC area.

I have been told that the next week will fly. I am excited for whatever the future holds.

Onward.