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Update time

I haven’t updated in a LONG time. Here’s what’s been happening.
As I said, my computer got stolen. I don’t really want to talk about it.
I know that you may have heard about the 20/20 report on safety in the Peace Corps. While in the particular case of the volunteer in Benin who was killed, the particular country office displayed gross incompetence, I don’t feel that her story is representative of Peace Corps in general. My office is quite diligent about safety and security and our Safety and Security officer is excellent (as in, the guy has actually received awards for his work). Furthermore, for whatever reason, I seem to receive very little sexual harassment compared with other female Peace Corps Volunteers. I’ve only had only really creepy experience and that was at a backpackers in South Africa and the guy was Portuguese. On the very rare occasion when men have tried to cross the line from marriage proposals to touching (and seriously, I can probably count on one hand the number of times that has happened in 21 months) someone usually comes to my rescue and then refuses to let any men near me for months afterwards. I know I’ve complained about harassment before, but it’s out of annoyance (because repeating “I don’t love you” gets pretty old after 15 times or so) instead of feeling threatened.
So what have I been up to? Working on several projects, most of them not too successful, but one that has been very successful. For the second year in a row, Peace Corps Swaziland has taken part in Books for Africa, a program that helps bring used books from the US to schools in developing countries. Since I’m a big reader and I love books, I really wanted to do this project. I also had quite a few schools to choose from, since there are three high schools and four primary schools in my community. But I also considered carefully what factors prevent people from accessing books and information in Swaziland.
These thoughts led me a two-hour walk down the dirt road, where I found a primary and high school on the same complex. Unlike the other schools in my community that are situated right on the tar road, the area had a lack of transport to get to the tar road. This made it difficult for residents of the area to get to Manzini, where there is a public library. I also liked that the primary and high school were right next to each other, which allowed for the possibility of doing a joint library project.
Since I had connections with two of the teachers at the primary school, I approached the headmaster there first. I was a bit apprehensive, since I had tried to work with other schools in my community and had gotten a less than enthusiastic response. However the headmaster loved the idea and the next week, at a community meeting, the high school headmaster approached me and gave his full-hearted support for a joint library. They both agreed to put in the amount of work needed to bring libraries to their school.
So, what work did they have to do? Well, for starters, each school had to write an application to a committee. The application asked them to detail a plan for preparing a library room, shelving, library policies, an ongoing budget, as well as choosing a teacher-librarian and a library committee. In addition, they had to fundraise 1500 Rand for shipment of the books from South Africa to Swaziland (Peace Corps funding brought the books from the US to SA).
I started making the trip to the school once a week to check in on the progress of the application. I read and re-read the application, suggested revisions, corrected grammar and pushed for more details. However, that was the extent of my work on the application.
After weeks of meeting and edits, we turned in the application. Shortly after, we received word that not only had the school’s application been accepted, also, the selection committee was very impressed and said that my school’s application was the best. That was a good moment.
Now, we are working on preparing the library room for the arrival of books that will be coming in a few weeks. After that, we will process the books and hopefully get the library up and running quickly—I would like to see it functioning before I leave.
One of my favorite things about this project has been making connections with people at the school. As I said before, I hadn’t worked much with the schools because they haven’t seemed to care to work with me. The teachers at this school are different. They are fantastic to work with, especially the two headmasters. Not only have they become my co-workers, they are also my friends. During our planning meetings, we have gotten to know each other on a more personal basis (they even took me on a road trip around the country during Christmas break). They’re great guys and a lot of fun to be around.
I’ve also had some visits from home and been on some fun vacations recently. Right after Christmas, I went to South Africa to meet a good friend of mine, who is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) from Thailand. We spent about five days in South Africa. We first went to St. Lucia, on the Eastern coast, where we swam and snorkeled in the Indian Ocean, saw wildlife, grilled fresh fish and generally had a great relaxing time. Then it was off to Durban to celebrate New Year’s Eve and for me to get a taste of city life. I have to say, I underestimated the appeal Durban would have for someone who actually LIVES in the US. If I had to do it over again, I would have spent the time taking my friend on a more lengthy safari and gone to Durban with other PCVs. Things like tall buildings, awesome Indian food and the ability to party without fear of getting your picture in the newspaper are just not that thrilling for someone who lives outside of Swaziland. Nevertheless, I had a good time.
After a few days, we headed to Swaziland for a week spending time in my community and traveling around the country. My friend got a taste of Swaziland PCV life, which is apparently quite different (aka, more hard-core) from Thailand PCV life. She really enjoyed though, meeting different people around my community and hanging out with my little sisters. We also made a few trips around the country—to a game reserve where we saw rhinos and elephants, but sadly, no lions, and to another game reserve, where we shopped for crafts, rode horses and saw a lot of beautiful scenery.
The other visit/vacation I’ve had recently was only a few weeks ago when my cousin came to visit. We spent the first week in Swaziland, doing most of the same things we did when my friend visited, but getting to do even more because my cousin rented a car. We also hung out in my community a fair amount and he met a bunch of different people—he got along particularly well with my counterpart. But we did get to have a country club swim and pizza with couple friends of mine, visited my training family (which I hadn’t done in a year and I realized how much I’d missed them) and drinks with another friend of mine and her boyfriend who was visiting. We even got to stay in an apartment for a night because the guesthouse messed up our reservation—we each got our own room and bathroom and I haven’t had that much comfort and privacy in well over a year. Funny the things I used to take for granted…
Then, we headed for Cape Town. I had been wanting to go back pretty much since I had left and the city did not disappoint. Ate too much, drank too much and spent way too much of my birthday money, but I had a great time doing it. I finally got to do a wine tour and between the four bottles I brought that day and the four bottles of microbrew I brought back, I pretty much filled my suitcase with booze. Went shark-cage diving (something I hadn’t even considered due to the price, but my cousin wanted to do it and paid for it) and saw so many sharks—super cool, despite embarrassingly puking off the side of the boat. Never going on a boat without motion sickness medication again. Went to my favorite restaurant from the first visit and sadly, they did not have pots of mussels this time—the beer was still good though. Hiked up Table Mountain in the blazing heat and didn’t have the energy to hike back down. Thank god for cable cars. Gorged myself on food at the weekly food market. Gorged myself on food in general—Thai, Ethiopian, Greek, sushi. Spent some time just hanging out at the backpackers—they had an awesome staff and cheap beer (Big Blue Backpackers, in case anyone is looking for a recommendation—a free airport pick-up, good deals of tours, helpful staff, clean bathrooms, great location and the aforementioned cheap beer).
I feel like with both visits, I achieved a better balance of Swaziland/vacation time then I did when my parents and Matthew visited. My big regret was that I did not plan enough time in Swaziland with them (four days, as opposed to two weeks in SA) and with both of my subsequent visitors, I planned a week, which was perfect. My advice to any Group 9ers who may be reading this, when planning family and friend visits, plan for about a week in Swaziland—it gives you time to introduce your visitor to the community and also do fun, touristy things in-country. You save money that way too.
And yes, I am winding down my service—only four months to go. But since this entry has become a bit of a monster already, I’ll save my combination excitement/terror/happiness/sadness about closing my service for a later date. I’ll just say that I cannot believe that two years are almost up. Where did the time go?


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Apr. 10th, 2011 06:04 pm (UTC)
I am doing research for my university thesis, thanks for your great points, now I am acting on a sudden impulse.

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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