So, what exactly do you do? – a day in the life of a Peace Corps Swaziland volunteer extraordinaire

This question gets asked by many people. Community members and other Swazis are interested. Friends and family in America want to know. Friends that I haven’t met yet are curious. Of course, potential Peace Corps volunteers want a glimpse into what is potentially ahead of them. 

For starters, I’m a Youth Development volunteer in Swaziland. Unlike some Peace Corps sectors, like Education, we don’t have a preset schedule. We also don’t have a specific job description. We are given the opportunity to make our own daily itinerary and work within our framework. In Swaziland, we aren’t assigned to work with a particular organization or person. We’re assigned to an entire rural community. 

Though the days vary, I would like to present what a typical day for myself is like. 

I wake up between 0530 and 0630 during the week, and sometimes on weekends. I boil a kettle of water (to shower) while I do other morning tasks. After showering, I make breakfast (typically oatmeal with cinnamon and brown sugar) and get dressed. 

I try to leave my house by 0700, if I’m going to walk to the high school. I can leave at 0710 if I am going to bike. The school is just under two kilometers from my homestead. At school, I teach life skills. The school administration has also given me some class periods to teach “youth development”. While there is a full grade-specific curriculum for the life skills classes from the Ministry of Education, the youth development time is up to me and my creativity. 

I have taught lessons on resiliency, confidence, and leadership from various curriculums floating around Peace Corps. I have lead the students on team building and trust exercises. We tried to play some improv games, but that wasn’t successful. We have played a life skills board game designed by some PCVs who came before my time. I have discussed debatable topics before having students take positions and debate in class. There are also times when the students have vast questions about America. Being the resident American, I get to answer these questions. Sometimes, these question and answer sessions will last for an entire period. 

When I’m not teaching (which is often), I hang out in the staff workroom. Sometimes, I’m chatting with other teachers and trying to pick up more siSwati, or discussing life and ideas. Most times, I’m reading a book on the kindle. I bring my lunch to school everyday. It’s almost always leftovers from whatever I made the previous evening. I should mention that there are many impromptu conversations with students, teachers, administration and other community members that happen regarding possible activities, projects, and grants. Some of it pans out. Some of it doesn’t. Impromptu conversation is partly responsible for me teaching a class.

School dismisses at 1535. After school, I ride or walk home. I change into some kind of lounge wear and sit on my porch or go for a late afternoon bike ride. I’ll typically try to find my host mom to greet her, especially if I didn’t see her in the morning. Sometimes, neighbors or friends will stop by to chat. Sometimes, I read a book until the sun sets. This is also when I do my chores, like watering and weeding my garden, sweeping my house and porch, cutting grass or washing dishes. 

Around 1800, I start the process of cooking dinner. I am often distracted by a television show or movie, so I usually end up eating around 1900. After eating dinner and finishing whatever I’m watching, it’s time to go to bed (which is typically between 2030 and 2100). 

There are other things sprinkled in throughout the day. For example, I might hang out on Instagram looking for bearded PCVs to feature on @BeardsOfPeaceCorps. Sometimes, I’m asked to co-teach a class that relates to my interests, like economics or technology. My students have taught me how to play various card games. I’ve also led permagardening trainings in the community. In the interest of transparency, there are some days that I do nothing and thoroughly enjoy it. 

It is both daunting and freeing to be able to do whatever you want (within reason). You want to introduce baseball or ultimate frisbee? Go for it. You want to trick children into analyzing English by studying and listening to the music of Drake and Jay Z? Why not! I’m fortunate to be hosted by a community open to trying new ideas. Thankfully, most days are incredibly freeing. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Let’s play a little game

One of the ways that I have been hanging out with my bobhuti na bosisi (brothers and sisters) is playing games at home. I bought a deck of playing cards, and learned a few tricks to share with my bobhuti na bosisi. The tricks were well received, and met with faces of wonder and amazement.

Some of my bobhuti decided to teach me some of the card games they play here. The first game they taught me was called, “Casino”. I still don’t understand how exactly it works. I do remember a few things about the game and its rules. Each card has a value. All numbered cards are that number’s value. Jacks are worth 11. Queens are worth 12. Kings are worth 13. Aces are worth either 14 or 1. To win, you have to build a home, which is a stack of cards. Whoever has the most spades in their home wins.

One of my bhuti taught me how to play a card game called, “AK-47”. Each player is dealt four cards. Each player begins her/his turn by picking up a card from the deck, which is face down, and discarding one card face up. A player can also pick up one card from the discarded pile. The goal of the game is to get an ace, a king, a four, and a seven. These cards do not have to be the same suit. This game was really simple to grasp. Because of that, I really enjoyed it.

Another game that my bobhuti taught me was called, “Stomach”. The cards are spread in a circle face down. Each player begins his/her turn by picking up any card in the circle and placing it face up in the center of the circle. When the next player starts her/his turn, s/he cannot repeat the suit on top of the face up pile. If the suit does repeat, that player must pick up the entire pile of face up cards. S/he will then turn over a new card to start a new face up pile. Once all of the cards in the face down circle are gone, the next player will play a card in the face up pile. Whatever card is played cannot repeat the suit of the card on top of the discard pile. If the suit is repeated, that player must pick up the entire pile. When a player has no more cards, that player wins. I asked one of the boys why the game was called, “Stomach”. He told me that towards the end of the game when a player has to pick up a large pile of cards, it looks like that person is pregnant or has a large stomach.

I’ll close by saying that while I have enjoyed playing with the children and learning about them through play, I am oft times amazed at the ingenuity of the children around the village. One boy made a model car with scrap metal rods and plastic bottle caps. He is able to steer the car with a metal rod that he pushes. Another boy has made several soccer balls using plastic grocery bags packed with the trash of the homestead. It’s pretty amazing.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.