The Story of War

What a story tells often depends on who is telling it. In the 1960s and 1970s, a war was being fought in Vietnam. There were disagreements about which groups and ideologies would rule the country. I’d always known this event as the Vietnam War.

In Ho Chi Minh City, there’s a museum documenting the event. At the War Remnants Museum (and around Vietnam), the event is known as the War of American Aggression. War era aircraft and artillery are on display at the museum. This is in addition to other artifacts, pictures, and stories. One display shows the service medals of a U.S. soldier, who donated them to the museum and apologized for his role in the war. Two exhibits stood out to me. One featured the photographs from various photojournalists who documented the war, and captured the day-to-day essence of the happenings on the ground. The other exhibit featured the effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people during and long after the war.

Here are two of the pictures I snapped on my visit to the museum. The first is named “Mother”, and was made from bomb fragments. The second is of one of an aircraft in the courtyard of the museum.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – Coming to America

Photo credit: U.S. embassy (Swaziland)

One of the things that I hear often around my community is a desire to go to the United States. Some people want to study in the U.S. Some want to travel and see the sights. 

In December, our country director sent all current Swaziland PCVs an email announcing recruitment for the Pan Africa Youth Leadership Program (PAYLP). The exchange program is sponsored and funded by the U.S. State Department, and coordinated locally through the American embassy and other partners. 

The school term had already finished, so I sent the message to a few teachers at my community high school to see if they wanted to nominate anyone. A teaching colleague wanted to nominate her son. He completed the application and motivation statements, and I submitted his application. 

In early February, we received notice that my teaching colleague’s son was one of five Swazi students accepted into the program and would be going to America in April. This started a busy month of obtaining passports and other documents. Then, there was the visa application process (which reminded me of the extreme privilege that comes simply with being born in America). Finally, there was the pre-departure orientation at the U.S. embassy in Swaziland. The students were able to meet the rest of the cohort, attend visa interviews, and allay some fears and worries about the trip. 

There was a video conference with representatives from the State Department, other partners, and participants from all PAYLP countries (10 nations in total, including Swaziland). The students were all very excited. This month, their collective excitement becomes reality when they arrive in the United States. They will meet with various American officials, study at local universities, and have homestay experiences with American families. The only thing left to do is get on the plane. 

In the picture above, the Public Affairs Officer (middle) poses with the students and their adult mentor.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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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.