Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lightning and Electricity at Waterford

Weather is pretty crazy in Swaziland, and changes hourly. It's not ever an issue, except when we get these severe lightning storms, as the school is located on top of a mountain, and oftentimes in the clouds.

Last night, we started having another lightning storm. This literally happens all the time. People keep on saying that stuff gets hit by lightning all the time, but I never believed them. Rumor has it that one of the bus drivers was hit by lightning, and only survived because of something to do with his dreads. I have no proof of that story, but it goes uncontested around here.

Anyways, we start having this lightning storm, and the power starts flickering. It's a very easy pattern to follow - flash outside, power goes out, comes back on, and cue the thunder. Wait a couple seconds, and repeat. Now, we're sitting in the common room, and I'm cheering for the power to be totally out, just because it's kind of a boring Wednesday night, and that would add some excitement. Lightning stuck the parking lot, as in literally a bolt touched the ground, but apparently that's not exciting around here, and would be stuck into the "everyday occurrence" category of the excitement scale.

Right after I say that, the power goes out. That was at ten o'clock last night. While the generator is on for the IT center, so the internet is up, hostel still doesn't have power, and hasn't for the last fourteen hours.

Quite the adventure, although apparently this happens all the time so we each have a solar lamp, and nobody even blinks an eye when the power goes out. The only thing that changes is that some of the guys tried to scare people as they walked into the blackened common room last night, which didn't go over so well.

But yeah, the only major issue we've had without power is that we can't make toast, which is usually a major part of the diet, but we still have bread, so we're just eating that. It's kind of awesome how easily a whole school can make do with only electricity in one building. We're just that awesome.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Waterford's Campus

I was going to write a post about how pretty Waterford is, and how lucky I feel to be able to live in such a beautiful place. But then, I realized that since I'm here, I should just take pictures. So, here are a few of the pictures I took before school this morning...

 This is the view across "the fields" looking towards the mountains. On the left, that top peak is called "Tom," named after someone involved in Waterford's early history. Not sure who. They lecture us about WK history all the time, but it's too many names all at once.
This is my hostel as seen from the back, Emhlabeni. It looks so pretty in the morning!
On the other side of campus (I was just taking random pictures this morning) is the classroom block. The classroom block is really quite large, and this picture only shows a small bit of it. It's really gorgeous though - I can never get over how dramatic the mountains look!
That's just a really small sliver of what campus looks like, but hopefully you see that it's really, really dramatically gorgeous!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Not What I Expected.

In the middle of the night last night, I get woken up by something on my back. I sit up, and to my surprise, it's a cat. A literal cat was walking across my back. In my room. At two o'clock in the morning.

So, what are you supposed to do when a cat has jumped in through your window at two in the morning and is now stretching out on your bed next to you?

The school gave me a wool blanket, but I've been using it as a rug, because I didn't need another blanket, and it's nice to be able to cover up all the broken floor tiles in my room. Anyways, I picked the cat up, and put it down on the blanket on the floor. It walked over to the door, so I opened the door, and it went outside into the hallway. Thinking this was over, I closed the door behind it, but it immediately started freaking out, so I let it back in. Apparently The Dungeon is scary at two o'clock in the morning for everyone - even cats.

So, the cat settles down on the blanket on the floor, and seeing as it's two o'clock in the morning, I go back to sleep, leaving the door a crack open, in case the cat wants to leave. When I woke up five hours later for breakfast, it was gone. This was literally the most bizarre thing that has happened since I arrived here. So, uh, yeah. Not quite sure how to wrap up a story this random.

siSwati Lesson Two

To start… PRONUNCIATION NOTES: While I think that writing out these lessons is good review for me, and hopefully interesting for you, I feel bad that I cannot add some sort of audio for pronunciation. Mostly, it’s what you could expect, but I’ll add a few notes for “different” letters.
  1. K: pronounced like a hard G, as in good. “kwentani” is pronounced like “gwentani.”
  2. I: In the middle of a word, it’s a short “i” as in “hit.” At the end of a word, it is a long “ee” sound, like “tee-shirt.”
  3. NG: When it starts a word, a lot of times it sounds almost like N. Just try to think of how “ng” sounds in “thing,” and say it like that. It’s hard to wrap your head around.
  4. U: As far as I’ve seen, it’s an “oo” sound, like “food.”
  5. E: At the end of a word, it’s pronounced like “ay” in “day.”
  6. C: This isn't so much a "C" as it is a click. You know when people disapprove of something, they might make that clicking noise? Put the tip of your tongue behind your front two teeth, and then pull it down and back. That's kind of how you make the clicking noise.
Pronunciation practice time! MAKE, meaning mother or ma’am, is pronounced “ma-gay.” KUBHUKUSHA, meaning to swim, is pronounced “goo-boo-goo-sha.”
Wentani? – You are doing what?
Ngiyafundza. – I am studying/reading.
Ngiyabhala. – I am writing.
Ngiyalalela. – I am listening.
Ngiyahamba. – I am walking/going (remember, “hamba kahle” means “go well”).
Ngiyadlala. – I am playing.
Ngiyalala. – I am going to sleep.
Note: While you have probably noticed that verbs start with “ngiya” when it’s of the form “I am…” this changes to “ngi” when an object is added. Example:
Ngiyafundza. – I am studying.
Ngifundza i-IB. – I am studying the IB.
Ngiyalalela. – I am listening.
Ngilalela umculo. – I am listening to music.
Cool? Cool. Moving on.
Utsandza kwentani? – You love to do what?
Ngitsandza kubukela mabonakudze. – I like to watch TV.
Ngitsandza kushaya lugatali. – I like to play guitar (although literally “kushaya” means “to hit”).
Ngitsandza kubhukusha. – I like to swim.
Now, hopefully you’ve figured that “ngitsandza” means “I like.” Also, “ku” at the beginning of the verb makes it of the infinitive form, or in simple terms, “to watch,” or “to swim,” or so on. Knowing this, and the fact that “ngiya” conjugates a verb for “I,” you can change the verbs from the other section to be used in this manner. Example: What does “ngitsandza kulalela umculo” mean?
All right then – that’s all we learned today! Although to be fair, if we learn this much every single day, I’m going to be first of all, overwhelmed, and second of all, really good at siSwati by the end of two years! I’ve got lots of other homework to do now – school is pulling back into full swing! Enjoy the siSwati!

First Day of (Actual) Classes

I noticed quite a few differences between schooling in America and schooling here, in a bunch of different ways. I figure that this will only be interesting if I explain specifics, so I figure I should do exactly that. Although to be fair, when I say America, I can really only attest to the schools that I’ve been in. I generalize based on what I’ve heard from other Americans. If you have anything to add, please feel free to comment.

First of all, the class schedule. In America, it’s standard to have class for a certain amount of time, a bell, a couple minutes of “passing period,” a bell, and then a class. Class (normally) starts promptly at the bell, and depending on the teacher, students are given detentions if they are late. Here, there are no bells, and no passing periods. While not having bells is WONDERFUL, as you don’t feel like you’re being herded around like cattle, the lack of passing periods is another thing entirely. Having one class end at nine o’clock and another starting exactly at nine o’clock is quite the dilemma, especially when the two classes are in different buildings. Culturally, it’s acceptable to be five or ten minutes late for everything, but in a school setting, this really cuts into teaching time. With a single-block being only forty minutes long (doubles are eighty), being ten minutes late takes out a quarter of the class. Also, with no bells, you end classes when the teacher ends, and they are never cut off by the bell. As such, it’s entirely within reason to end two minutes late, have to walk four minutes across campus, and get to class eight minutes late. I suppose eventually I’ll get used to this system, but I hate being late, and a system that leaves no possibility of being on time, however culturally acceptable that might be, is a pet peeve of mine.

Secondly, paper. Paper is longer here, which doesn’t really matter because the folders are taller. But, loose leaf paper has two holes, as do the binders. Notebooks are rarely spiral-bound; it’s much more typical to use something closer to composition books with actual bindings. They’re also much thicker – notebooks in America are always 70 pages for a single subject, but the notebooks here seem to be mostly 192 pages.

Third, the teaching style is much more laid back. Teachers in America rarely prepare during class. Today, in my Physics, class, the teacher spent the first ten minutes FINDING the books, the second ten minutes, handing them out, and then another significant chunk of time stapling packets together before he handed them out to us. I mean, it was fine, but it was definitely a different atmosphere from, say, Mr. ONeill’s class, where there would be stacks of packets and handouts ready, without fail.

Fourth, the building is quite different. First, I have to say that I really love the classroom block. Secondly, I have to say that it’s terribly designed, and in interesting shape. The architect was from Mozambique, and it’s a very open block. Apparently that doesn’t work out so well in July and August when it’s winter and the temperatures really drop (none of the buildings are heated or air conditioned). Secondly, it’s a full-on maze. You go inside, outside, back inside, upstairs, downstairs, down a sketchy walkway between two buildings, and so on. Some classrooms have doors inside; some of the doors are outside. In America, classrooms are numbered. Here, they are in effect labeled, but the “numbering” system doesn’t help with finding rooms. In America, room 252 is next to 253. Here, G2 is not next to G1. G2 is inside. The door to G1 is across a bit of grass, facing outside.

On another note, they love acronyms at this school. Choir is held in the LSR. Drama is upstairs at the CCLD. The climbing wall is in the MP hall. The first TOK meeting was in the assembly hall. The IB2s are working on their EEs. We have to keep track of CAS hours. LDF had its first meeting, and PAP’s first meeting is coming up. It’s a bit overwhelming sometimes, but you get the hang of it. It sounds really funny at first.

Despite the differences in school though, it’s really nice. I really enjoy my classes, and while I hate to say it – I enjoyed my homework tonight. Having siSwati homework is still novel enough to be enjoyable, so I figure I’ll enjoy it when the novelty remains!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mile Swim

Last Sunday, I woke up and climbed a mountain.

This Sunday, I woke up and swam a mile.

I'm not sure if it's just the fact that I'm at a UWC that makes me feel the need to get up and do this sort of thing, but it's kind of awesome. Also, whenever I looked up from my swimming, I saw green mountains and hibiscus trees. I'm pretty sure that this is the sort of scenery people pay lots of money to be able to see for a few days. I'm oh-so excited about being able to wake up to it every day for the next two years.

Oh, and as far as the swimming itself goes, I'm going to swim one or two miles every week until I graduate. My goal is to swim at least a hundred miles in total. Because if one mile is awesome, then a hundred miles is a hundred times as awesome, right? Right.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Being a Tourist for the Day

As part of our orientation last week, we spent a day driving around to the major tourist destinations around the school. While I'm not a big fan of the "get off the bus, take some pictures, get on the bus, next place" kind of deal, it was nice to get some of the touristy stuff out of the way.
First, can I just share how wonderful the view is from the school? This is the view looking down into the valley when driving down the road from the school into town. (WK is literally at the top of a mountain above Mbabane).
Our first stop on the most touristy day of the year was a glass bowing factory, where these guys were making all sorts of fancy figurines and containers.
Then, we went to House on Fire, which is a performing arts venue in the middle of the bush. There's a big arts festival called Bushfire that's held there every year, and is a pretty big deal at Waterford. The place itself was really cool, to the point of almost being surreal. Everywhere you looked, there was some sort of mosaic in the wall, or quote carved into the ceiling, or funky metal shapes growing out of the ground. I think Doctor Seuss would have liked it here.
^This is the main "Shakespearean Globe Theater" or whatever. Essentially, the main stage.
Next, we went to a candle-making place with a bunch of traditional-looking art for sale. It was the kind of thing that would have really interested a middle-aged, classy, artsy woman, but since it was hot and humid, and I had already seen a bunch of art stalls at the glass blowing factory, this stop didn't float my boat. But, since I was playing up the tourist mode, here are some pictures.
Finally, since we're in Swaziland being tourists, no complete tour would be complete without a safari. So, we went to the Mlilwane Game Reserve, which I have to admit, despite my annoyance at being a tourist, was really gorgeous. These pictures don't even do it justice.
 Once you drive through the game reserve, there's this sort of "traditional Swazi village," which is really just a resort. We didn't stay there, but rather just had lunch there, but that didn't stop us from finally just laughing at how overwhelmingly touristy the place was. If you were on a tour, and had one day in Swaziland, and came here? You'd think that the entirety of the country lives in grass huts and wears big pieces of red cloth for their clothing.
^This was not a joke. We tried to walk across the grass and found that there was indeed an overly aggressive hippo there.
No matter how much I hate being a tourist, I have to admit that after such a long day on a bus full of of a bunch of us who hate being tourists, we returned to Waterford hot, sweaty, and in surprisingly good spirits. Now that we've got this touristy thing out of the way, we're settled in, and getting into a routine, we've agreed that we live here now. It feels like home - not somewhere where we seek out grass huts to take pictures by :)

siSwati Lesson One

I’m taking a course in beginner’s siSwati, and thought it might be interesting to post some of the things we’re learning as we go along. And so, I present to you, “Basic Greetings in siSwati!”

Hello (greeting someone) – Sawubona
Hello (replying to their greeting) – Yebo, sawubona
How are you? – Unjani?
I’m good – Ngikhona
And how are you? – Wena unjani?
Where are you from? – Uphumaphi?
I’m from… - Ngubani e…
America – Melika
Germany – Jalimane
Britain – Ngilandi
Ngubi ligama lakho? – What is your name?
Ligama lami ngingu… - My name is…

With this, you can make a pretty decent conversation. Try reading through this and seeing if you understand:

-Yebo, sawubona make (make, pronounced “mah-gay,” is how you address an older woman respectfully)
-Ngikhona, wena unjani?
-Ngikhona. Ngubani ligama lakho?
-Ligama lami ngingu Diana. Ngubani ligama lakho?
-Ligama lami ngingu Make Dlamini. Uphumaphi?
-Ngiphuma e Melika.

And then one last thing – goodbyes.
Goodbye (if you’re talking to someone who is staying) – Sala kahle
Goodbye (if you’re talking to someone who is leaving) – Hamba kahle
 (note: Both people in the conversation could potentially say “hamba kahle,” but if both people said “sala kahle,” that’d just be awkward).


Academic Orientation

This week, we started academic orientation, which is essentially "window shopping" for classes. We're given a time table of all the classes being offered during each block, and can just pick which ones we want to go to.

The first class I went to was higher level French. It was held upstairs in a corridor with only two rooms; one for French that block, and one for Economics, or "Eco." There were only three of us in the French room, and we kept on getting really excited when someone else would walk in, but then they'd say, "Wait, is this higher French?" and then hightail it out of there as fast as they could, and go to Economics.

Anyways, the higher French teacher is really cool - his name is Monsieur Silienou, and he's from Cameroon. Since there were only three of us, we just kind of chilled at a table and talked in French for eighty minutes. It was nice, at least for me, because I haven't really spoken French since the AP test way back in May, and I was worried that I had forgotten all of my French. Never fear, Monsieur Guiard, you did your job well - I was the only one there who knew what was up with "subjunctif."

After French, I went to Beginner's siSwati, which is the local language spoken here in Swaziland, along with English. Most people don't want to take three language classes (for me French, siSwati, and English), but I'm kind of a language junkie, so it works out just fine. The siSwati class was really good - even though it's just a window shopping week, she jumped into teaching, and I actually learned a decent amount in the block. It's nice, because now, even before starting the class, I can finally greet the Make's in hostel and the Babe's and Make's in the dining hall.

Then, I went to maths. The way that they're doing maths is to put everyone in the same level of classes for the first couple of weeks, and then to have a test to separate people in higher, standard, and studies. (Jokingly, studies is also known as "intro to counting," or "maths ab initio." Ab initio is the term usually used when describing a beginner's language class. Essentially, maths from scratch :D). Anyways, we just had to do a worksheet, which was really easy for me, but it was good, because then I just finished it quickly and could help other people. Although to be honest, since it was such old material that we learned in elementary school, I went a tad fast and made a few stupid mistakes. Note to self: on the actual test, so that you can get into higher maths? No stupid mistakes :)

Afterwards, I went to geography, which I was kind of iffy about taking, but it sounded really interesting, and so I'm quite excited for it now. It's a class all about people and societies, and the differences between societies, and how people interact with their environment, and all that - not memorizing the names of countries. I mean, I've never taken a geography class before, but it sounds like it's going to be really cool, especially with the perspective of studying it at such an international school.

Lastly that day, I went to Literature, which I would take higher, but as we can only take three higher classes, we have to take some things standard level, and so I decided that I'll take standard level Language and Literature, which is a class more about cultures and communication and globalization and all, moreso than old stuffy "literature" works.

There are classes for the rest of the week, but I'm pretty set in my schedule now - higher Maths, Physics, and French, standard English Language and Literature, Geography, and siSwati. I'm going to go back to the siSwati classes and French classes for the rest of the week, as the teachers are planning to keep teaching, as well as maths, where we've started, but other than that, I think it's going to be pretty chilled out for the rest of the week, which is good, since Friday is my birthday :) For now, I'm just going to enjoy a laid back afternoon in Swaziland!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Food at Waterford KaMhlaba

One of the biggest things people worry about coming to a boarding school is the food. I assure you, the food's not bad here. It's just that it's the same food every single day.

First of all - rice and chicken EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I have avoided this by being vegetarian, but that just means that the chicken is replaced with a mushy little goulash, usually with zucchini, squash, carrots, mushrooms, and onions, all in some sort of ketchup sauce. It's not bad - once. Twice, it's pretty bad, and seeing as how we've been here a week, I'm no longer a fan of the veggie mush.

But for the record - it's not bad.

Apparently Sunday is ice cream day, which is kind of fun. I think bacon day is a big thing, but I don't eat the bacon, so I can't keep track of what day it is. The thing with the bacon here is that it's more like thinly sliced ham than bacon, and people think I'm absolutely insane when I describe crunchy American bacon.

Oh, and fun little story. The other day, there was a pan of mashed potatoes, and I was SO EXCITED. After a week of non-stop rice, potatoes were a nice break.

They weren't potatoes.

It was pap, which has a different name in every country you go to, but that's the one I keep hearing. People translate it as millet, but that doesn't really help me in understanding what it is. Regardless, it's really, really gross. I have been trying really hard to eat all the food, or at least try a decent portion of it (I ate multiple bowls of sour milk last night - apparently it's a delicacy, and contrary to popular belief amongst the other IB1s, it's SO GOOD!). But this pap stuff? No. I can't eat it. It's just this weird rubbery texture and no taste.

Then I accidentally got it again at another meal. Don't even ask how it happened, I should have known, but I was not a happy camper. They had some good beans at that meal though, so I guess I was a happy camper, because the beans were the best thing I'd had since getting here.

MORAL OF THE STORY: WK food is a lot of rice and chicken. Go vegetarian.

Quite the Morning

Yesterday, it was Sunday, and so apparently breakfast was delayed until nine o'clock to allow for an hour of sleeping in. I didn't realize that, and so I was awake at the lovely hour of five thirty, as I've been every day that I'm here. Don't ask why - there's no reason.

As a Davis Scholar at a UWC, I have to write a letter to Shelby Davis addressing my goals and progress as they relate to the UWC mission. So, I did.

Then, I went to the classroom block for a yoga class, and that stuff is HARD! But actually, I think I started to sweat at points.

Afterwards, I had a charming breakfast in the dining hall, and then went back to hostel to meet up with some people to climb up the two mountains here, Tom and Kelly. We literally hiked up two mountains, plus the letter-essay, plus the yoga, all before lunch.

When I got to lunch, I laughed so hard when I sat down across from one of my friends, and she goes "Agh, I just woke up - I'm so tired!"

Friday, January 18, 2013

HIV/AIDS in Swaziland

Today, we had a presentation on HIV/AIDS, which is a much larger part of life in Swaziland (and sub-Saharan Africa in general) than it is in the States. Before going to the presentation, I was talking to one of the Swazi students about it at breakfast. He said that he didn’t like how they talked about it so early on, like it was one of the most important things in the country. That’s the mindset I hope you take when reading this – AIDS exists, but it doesn’t define the country. At all. Please don't ever think that. Swaziland is so, so, so much more.

While statistics can’t possibly tell the whole story, I think that it’s almost necessary to include some, just to show how HIV/AIDS is common. While again, it doesn't define the country, it’s not some rare disease that you can live your life without ever noticing.

Note: All facts on HIV in this post are from the presentation. If you see something entirely wrong, feel free to correct me in the comments with a source URL, and I’ll revise the post accordingly.

1. The overall HIV/AIDS prevalence is 26%, the highest in the world.
2. The highest prevalence is in the 30-34 year-old group, where over 50% of the people have HIV/AIDS.
3. The prevalence among 15-19 year olds is about 20%.
4. Over 50% of the population is under the age of 15.
5. The average life expectancy is less than 50.

Okay, now I’m really interesting in public health and epidemics and medicine and all that, so the related portion of the presentation really interested me. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but ARVs, taken as one pill a day, can cause the virus count to go way down, and the CD4 (a body cell) count to go way back up.

Here’s the thing – while in America you would be starting on ARVs as soon as you test positive for HIV/AIDS, due to cost issues for these clinics here, you cannot start on ARVs until your CD4 count is below a certain number. While that might not seem that significant, more and more diseases are likely to occur when your CD4 count is low, and there are a bunch of diseases that you are likely to get before your CD4 count gets to the line to start ARVs, which is about a third of the ARVs a healthy person would have. Because of cost, it’s hard to avoid, but it seems really, really wrong.

The other thing is the stigma about HIV and taking ARVs – the presentation was given by a doctor from a local clinic, and he said he’s had patients who have agreed to chemotherapy right away, and didn’t want to take the ARVs, which are much easier, and just one pill a day.

Now, in Swaziland, HIV is mostly spread through body fluids mixing, so namely, sex. There was an interesting table included in the presentation, and while I don’t remember the exact numbers, I’ll try to describe it. It showed that if you have sex with one other person, and they’ve had sex with one person, you’ve only had sex with each other, and unless one of you has HIV already, you’re not exposed. Assuming that everyone has the same sex habits as you, if you have sex with two people, you’re being exposed to you partner, your partner’s other partner, your partner’s other partner’s two partner’s, and so on. The graph went on down the line, and once you got down to having had about seven or eight partners, you’d have been exposed to about a thousand people. In a country with and HIV prevalence rate of 26% on average, that means that having sex with two or more people has probably exposed you to HIV.

Again, while HIV doesn’t define Swaziland, it’s something that’s essentially unavoidable as a part of life that you notice.

I’m not sure what else to say about HIV/AIDS here. Walking down the street, people have AIDS, but it’s not like you can tell. It’s just ordinary people. Some people were born with HIV, and some contract it, but you can’t tell by looking that they have it. It’s not contagious, and you’re not going to get it if you touch something they’ve touched. It’s kind of just that it’s there, but after this whole presentation and hullabaloo, nothing changed. We walked out of Assembly Hall, and kept going with our day. Just like the flu doesn’t shut down life, HIV doesn’t shut down life. Even in the other respect, with ARVs, HIV/AIDS treatment is really rather good, despite the cost restrictions in the country. Getting HIV is no longer an absolute death sentence, Swaziland or elsewhere.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Window

This picture seem insignificant. It's not.
First of all, it's my cubie (dorm room) window. While my room is teeny tiny, I love having such a tall, massive window OH-SO MUCH!
Secondly, it's January. Look outside! AHHH I CAN'T EVEN HANDLE IT BEING SUMMERTIME IN JANUARY! It's the coolest, weirdest, strangest, most fantastic thing ever. I'm currently wearing short and flip flops in January, which is something I would be doing in Chicago anyways, but HERE IT'S APPROPRIATE!

Thoughts on Education

Finally, here's something timely. If the internet lasts, this should keep up. If anything else gets struck by lightning, we're screwed :)

(Let me explain the lightning thing - we live on the top of a mountain, and things get struck by lightning all the time, and it messes with the internet more than anything. A few years ago, a man in the parking lot was struck by lightning and died. It's not some vague threat - there are big storms, and every time one comes around, someone gets struck by lightning. It's bizarre).


Yesterday, we finally started talking about school, and had a big long presentation about class choices. It's the strangest thing, at a UWC, or any IB school, to be picking your classes for the next two years. There's a lot of thought that goes into it.

Along the lines of having a lot of thought going into an education, there's a very different mentality here than there is at high school in the States. Studying at Waterford means having a very concrete goal for almost all the students here - myself included. While we love life here, and enjoy it and all, the point of working so hard for two years is to get a scholarship (Davis Scholarship, to be specific) for university, with the dream for most people to go to school in the states. It's strange to put it like this, but this education is "the chance."

School here isn't something people HAVE to do. It's something people WANT to do, and they want to get something out of it. For instance, when we finally got to go to the library, people weren't listening to the tour. In the states, I can guarantee you my classmates would have been sleeping, but here, everyone was almost drawn to the books, and would just pick a book and start reading, like the books were some holy object that they couldn't help but open. And in a way, I guess they are, and it's really wonderful that they are.

I'm not really sure how to describe it really well, but there's just a drive that everyone has here to do really well in school. There's no competitive energy - we know that we could ALL get 45's on the IB. Everyone just wants to do really well themselves, to have a chance at something greater later in life. It's a really beautiful thing, and I'm so excited for the chance to study in this environment for the next two years.

Life at WKUWCSA on January 16th

(again, sorry for not posting in a timely manner - just not really an option with how the internet works here)


Early on today, we walked across the sports fields to what is called “the dam.” I’m sure there’s a dam somewhere, but what you see is pretty much just a small pond. And when I say small, I mean small. I’m really bad at estimating distances, but just trust me – it’s small. Calling it a pond is being optimistic.

This pond is not only the water source for the school, but also for the communities below us (literally below us – we’re on the top of a mountain). Right now, it’s pretty full, as it’s been raining for the past few days, but apparently in the winter (June through August), it can get really, really low. They said that last year bucket showers were almost enforced because they practically ran out of water.

I mean, people always say to not take too long of a shower, and to turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth, and all that. But that’s always been a very vague idea of “the water,” at least for me. It’s interesting now to be able to see a pond, and know that if I take a twenty minute shower, and then it doesn’t rain for three weeks, we could have some problems.


I’m getting more and more frustrated at America the more I realize that I wish I was raised using the metric system.

“It’s so hot – it’s already twenty degrees outside!” WHAT?

I mean, I’m sure it will make sense eventually, but for now, the whole Celsius, liters, meters? It’s throwing me off.


So, this morning, we decided to play a game called “Thirty Seconds,” which turned out to be the African version of Taboo, where someone describes a word without saying the word itself, and then their teammates have to guess the word.

On my turn, I look at the card, and don’t recognize ANY of the names or phrases. It was really awkward. I pass, and then show someone on my team the card, and they tell me it was a school, a rugby team, a politican, a TV show, and a town, all from Southern Africa. I was bizarre, just because it made me realize how very little I knew about pop culture around here.

On the other hand, some of the cards did have American things on them, but I assure you, the students from southern Africa were much better at guessing and describing the American celebrities than I could ever be. Typical.

Speaking of not knowing what was going on, later that evening we had a presentation on the history of Waterford. It was started as an all-boys school during Apartheid, and there were sixteen students, all boys. Over the years, it’s expanded, added girls, and become a UWC.

But then, the presentation starts going into all the famous alumni of the school. I had absolutely zero idea who any of these people were, and it was bizarre. She’d say a name, and you could hear the room go “whoa,” and I’d just think “who.” I’m sure they’re really cool people, but I haven’t heard of them. It was just kind of another reminder about how little I really know about Swaziland and Southern Africa in general.


On a less serious note, we’re playing this game to get to know people, where you’re given a name, and have to “kill them.” There are many ways to kill people, but the one I wound up with was touching a spoon to their left foot. I promise, it was as awkward as it sounds to walk up to someone and touch a spoon to their left foot.


At dinner, it was wonderful. We were just sitting at dinner having quite a wonderful time. You can’t help but worry, coming to a new school – especially such a diverse school – about whether you’ll fit in, and get on with everyone, and all that. But even though it was only the second night, it was very easy see that at that dinner, we were all going to get on. We were laughing, and talking, and smiling, and it just felt so comfortable. It sounds really cheesy, but I’m coming to smile when I think that this is going to be my home for the next two years, and these wonderful people are my family.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First Few Days in Swaziland

(due to a really, really sketchy internet signal, this was written a few days ago, and I wasn't able to post it until now).

January 14th and 15th –Before Orientation Itself Actually Begins

There has been no internet since we’ve arrived, and won’t be any time in the foreseeable future. So, when we do get internet back, I’m going to end up posting a bunch of posts that won’t be technically “on-time,” but here, as I’ve quickly learned, we operate on “Swazi time.”


It was the strangest thing to see a group of people, and have them be so happy to see you, and to be so happy to see them, especially when you’ve never met before. This is really hard to explain, but the excitement was a little bit overwhelming. Sometimes, when you meet a new group of people, you look around like “Hey, these people are pretty cool.” At the airport, meeting everyone, we were looking around like “Hey, these people are pretty cool. It’s a little strange though that this is going to be my family for the next two years.” Because that’s the thing – despite it feeling like this is a summer program or some international camp, we have to keep reminding ourselves that this is our new home for the next two years, and that the people around us are our new family members.

The only challenge for me with meeting people was the names. I hate to generalize, because some of the African names weren’t so difficult, but for the most part, to me, the names are just a bunch of syllables jammed together, and that makes it so, so, so hard to pronounce them, much less remember them. Also, with a school like this, it’s kind of like everyone has two names – their name, and their country.


So, the bus from Johannesburg to Mbabane (which, as I recently discovered, is pronounced “buh-bahn”) is supposedly four hours, if you’re taking a car. Let me describe to you the absolute joy that was the Waterford Bus ride. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad, but it just felt a little ridiculous at the time.

The bus was supposed to leave at two, but since we were operating on some sort of Africa time, we left around three thirty. Before leaving, we had to pile all the suitcases on the top of the bus, which was quite interesting, considering that everyone had brought luggage for the year, and so our suitcases were anything but small.

Then, once we were on the road, our driver would randomly stop along the side of the road for a cigarette, and would just kind of walk in circles around the bus. Then, he would get back in and keep going.

After being on the bus for probably five or six hours, we finally get to South Africa’s border with Swaziland. To get a bus full of students across the border, we just got off the bus and walked across. First, you exit South Africa, and then walk about a hundred feet in what I’m assuming is just no-man’s land until you get to the Swazi building, where you do customs and immigration. It’s a little bit sketchy, to be honest. Some woman stamps your passport, and then stamps a sheet of paper with the same thing as is on your passport, and then you have to hand the sheet of paper to this guy before you can leave the building and actually enter Swaziland.

But then, after all of us get through the border, we’re just waiting in Swaziland for the bus to get through. This takes about an hour and a half, for no reason. It wasn’t that bad to wait, except that by this point, it’s about ten o’clock on Monday night, and I personally hadn’t slept horizontally since Friday night. Airplane sleep doesn’t count for anything.

Finally, we get through the border though, and get to the campus. It was a little bit bizarre to arrive, but not really know what anything looked like, because it’s been really foggy so far, and we arrived in the middle of the night.


I’ve been assigned to room 71, in a charming corridor called “The Dungeon,” named that for good reason. It’s kind of a split level thing, where the hallway is a couple steps down from the main hallway, and there are two rooms off that level, and then there are a bunch more steps down, and then there are four rooms at the bottom. So, essentially, I’m living at the bottom of this creepy, dark, hallway called the Dungeon. To be honest though, I rather like it.

My room itself is about five feet by seven feet, which I understand is tiny, but it hasn’t bothered me, at least not yet. There is a cabinet thing which has become my wardrobe in the corner, next to a grey desk-table-thing. On the other side (although keep in mind, the space between the sides is about a foot) is my bed, and a bunch of shelves. One of the shelves is kind of low, and near enough to my bed that I can use it as a tabletop while sitting on my bed, which is kind of nice.

Above the bed, there’s a big window, which is about fifteen feet tall. That’s right – while my room is teeny tiny as far as floor space goes, it’s really, really tall. That’s the perk of living about ten feet lower than the lowest actual floor of the building – props to the Dungeon for getting me a lot of natural light, which is rather wonderful!

I’ve decorated it quite a bit already, but because it’s so hot and humid I’ve been having a little bit of trouble taping stuff up. The tape itself hasn’t fallen down yet, but the paper gets flimsy in this weather and sags a bunch. I’m not quite sure what to do about it, so for now, I’m just leaving it. Regardless of the sagging, it looks rather nice. When I first got here, it really did look like a prison cell, but now that it’s decorated, and I’ve got my blanket on the bed and my stuff on the shelf, it looks a little more like home. It’s only been a few days, and it’s strange to think that this five foot by seven foot square is going to be my home for the next year, but it’s not a bad thing. I rather like it.


I live in Emhlabeni, which is pronounced like “em-ple-ba-nee” except that the P is this siSwati sound that happens when there’s an H and an L next to each other. It’s not really a P sound at all, more of this strange breath thing. There are 130 people living here in mostly single rooms, with a few doubles. There is a large common room with a pool table, a ping pong table, a kitchen, and a bunch of couches in the middle, and then a girls’ wing and a boys’ wing. All the hallways, which are “corridors” here because people use British English, have strange names, such as Zion, Monkey Business, or Hollywood.

The thing about campus itself is that it’s more spread out that everyone had though before arriving, and that to get between buildings, it’s pretty much a maze of paths. There are these little stone walkways that are mostly stairs, because we’re on a mountain, and they go winding around everything. There are bridges over streams that make you feel like you’re in the middle of the jungle walking from Emhlabeni to the dining hall, and uneven steps that make you self-conscious about your cardio climbing back up from Elangeni to the amphitheater. All in all though, it’s very pretty, although to be honest we haven’t really seen it properly, just because there’s so much fog and drizzle. That should clear up eventually.


1. Obama is hot stuff in Kenya, and a public holiday was declared when he was elected. School was cancelled for Kenyan students. Reminder – American students didn’t get the day off of school.
2. Kim Kardashian is not going to make a good mother. Just in case you were wondering.
3. American pancakes are not the same as African pancakes, which are more like crepes, but not the kind of crepes we have in America, but rather more like Swedish pancakes, although everyone thought I was a little crazy when I said we call them Swedish pancakes, even though they have no relation to Sweden.
4. Teenagers in Zimbabwe have this entire slang language to talk behind their parents back. Mostly, it’s just English backwards. For example, “item” in this slang is “meti,” which doesn’t sound like it’d be that hard to understand, but when stringing a bunch of this all together in a sentence, it sounds like proper gibberish.


The roads look the same. The cars look the same. The buildings look the same. The British English is different. The accents are different. The popular hairstyles are different. The books look the same. The plates look the same. Squash is still gross here. Rice is still rice, bread is still bread, and apples still mush up when they sit there for too long. The birds outside sound different, and it’s summertime in January, which is different. It’s much more humid, and there’s more fog than I’ve ever seen before.

All in all though, Swaziland so far is much more similar to America than I expected. I thought that it was going to be really different. I had no expectations of what it would be, except for different, and it’s rather similar, to be honest. It sounds really strange, but it’s true.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mom and Dad

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thanks for letting me go. I know letting me go is nothing new - I've been leaving since forever ago. To Minnesota, to Indiana, to Iowa, to Missouri, to Jordan, all by myself. I'm sure you've had safety concerns, but thanks for not letting them get in the way of me chasing my dreams. Thanks for sending me care packages full of cookies and stupid trivia games, even when I didn't have the time to write a snail mail letter back. Thanks for letting me get on a plane with a suitcase and an Arabic dictionary, and knowing I'd be all right. Thanks for letting me do all that when I was 14 years old, 15 years old, 16 years old, 17 years old.

Thanks for having let me even apply to go to the UWCs. Thanks for not reminding me about the teeny tiny admission rate while I was working on my application. Thanks for letting me apply to whatever I wanted. Thanks for letting me go wherever I wanted when accepted. Thanks for never saying "No."

I realize that you guys are awesome for letting me just go do this whole Africa thing. Not all parents are as chill as you guys, and that's made such a difference in what I've been able to do, and where I've been able to go. It finally occurred to me that a seventeen-year-old moving from Illinois to Swaziland by herself isn't really normal...

We all know you're sentimental beasts, you parents, but thanks for hiding it. I know that the minute I left in the airport, you probably cried, like you did when I flew to Jordan. But thanks for at least waiting until I left. After all of this "mature" stuff, I'm still a teenager, and no teenager wants to stand in an airport with their sobbing parents.

PS. Even if you don't like it, I've officially moved out of the house. You're welcome to turn my room into a sewing room :)

Friday, January 11, 2013



Okay, so I let it slip in there once. I promise, I'm done.

Anyways, I'm leaving tomorrow, which is really, really crazy. I'm all packed - one suitcase, one backpacking-ish backpack, and then a shoulder bag for my laptop. It's really strange to see it by the door, after all this time waiting.

So, quick flashback...

Just over a year ago, in the middle of November 2011, I got something in the mail, telling me about this weird school, where I could study in all these different countries for high school... and it was free?

Now, we all know that we get a lot of college spam mail, but I couldn't help but show this to my mom, asking "could this be legitimate?" Spoiler alert: it was :)

Back in present day, I was cleaning out my car this morning about found that flyer in my glove compartment. That flyer. The flyer that first told me about UWC. It was very bizarre, knowing that if the school hadn't, for whatever reason, mailed me this one sheet of paper, telling me about UWC, I would be currently studying for finals at my old high school right now, instead of checking that I've got my passport and yellow fever cards packed.



^The "life-changing" flyer that I received in the mail over a year ago :)

Safety in the NSLI-Y Countries

I keep hearing of parents who are concerned about sending their child to a NSLI-Y country, or want their kid to switch their ranking to put a "safer" country first. While all the NSLI-Y countries are really safe to study in, I'm only a NSLI-Y Jordan alumni, so I've asked alumni from each of the other NSLI-Y countries to talk a little bit about day-to-day safety concerns in their host country. Sometimes, as alumni, we tend to just say "it was totally safe!" without qualification. (Newsflash, abroad or not, ZERO countries are entirely safe).Hopefully this can be a resource for applicants and parents to see how safety varies between NSLI-Y countries, and how students make sure they have a safe study abroad experience.

I've included the alumni responses below, in alphabetical order by country. Bear in mind that each and every exchange student has a different experience, and while hopefully this is a starting point for discussion and thought for NSLI-Y applicants and parents, this is just one NSLI-Y student's experience from each country. Please comment if you have experience in a country, and would like to add onto any of these.

China - Eric B.

You needed to be aware of Chinese people taking advantage of you due to your lack of language ability or cultural understanding. Don't be alarmed, however, I've never once felt unsafe. Rather, they may rip you off regarding the price of an item, overcharge you on a taxi ride, or something else. It's just people being greedy, but not ever have they been violent.

As a foreigner in China, you stand out immensely. Because of this, eyes are typically always on you (people asking for pictures, looking at your unique physique, or people just wanting to practice their English with you). This is good because you are never really alone and will seldom have situations where you feel vulnerable - there's always safety in numbers.  Another thing is that the Chinese highlight foreigners like celebrities. For that reason, you will find that people are always willing to help you out (such as police officers), if you ever need it.

[Protests and political tensions] never affected my safety, I would say. Although political views sometimes differed, my Mandarin was not really at the level to engage in political debate... so you quickly learn the art of smiling and nodding.  Also, the Chinese concept of "saving face" is really important. In public, it would be a shame for a Chinese person to do anything that is unhonorable, because they would "lose face" or in other words hurt their reputation. That's why Chinese people are often so nice, because others's perception of them is very important in Chinese culture!

Yes, China was a foreign country, and yes, crime does occur. But, the NSLI-Y program would never put a student in an unsafe area, ever. Additionally, the Chinese government keeps crime in check with an iron fist, so crime is not as common as in the United States.

India - Eyal H.

As a student, I found that being aware of my surroundings and possessions was the most important safety concern in India (and quite frankly, the exact same advice would apply to an exchange student in New York City). Being careful about money, cameras, iPods, and phones was always my number one concern— over the course of my year abroad, I did a lot of independent travel around Delhi, but since I was careful to only stay in safe areas, I never had to worry about other threats.

I also found the stereotype about Indian parents to be very true while I was abroad: although you will almost always be with a host family member, sibling, or friend from your host country, your host parents will always keep track of where you are, ask for extensive plans, and in some cases cross-check those plans.

The US diplomatic presence in India, NSLI-Y, and my implementing organization alerted me to all areas of protest and political tension and did not allow me to go near them. While it was tempting for me to join the Anna Hazare anti-corruption protests, crowds in India can turn violent very quickly and without warning, and getting trampled is a serious issue. I would highly suggest to stay away from crowds because the risks of getting separated from friends, having personal items stolen, or getting injured far outweigh the benefits of participating in a demonstration. Standing in a crowded line to buy ice cream or riding the Metro during rush hour should suffice if you would like to experience the feeling of a crowd of sweaty and smelly people!

In regard to the recent rape in Delhi: your implementing organization will prepare you for what to expect both at a pre-departure orientation/gateway orientation and once you arrive in the country. It is very unfortunate that being a woman in India comes with such consequences, but by staying aware of your surroundings, you will stay absolutely safe. Indians on the street stare at all foreigners, and getting used to the "looks" and "catcalls" will all be part of the immersion experience, but something that you will barely notice by the time you leave the country.

Jordan - Yours Truly.

Amman was as safe as any American cities. You had to be aware of what was around you, but it was safe to walk around at night, and 99% of people are friendly, and would help you if you needed help.

Taking cabs, women always sit in the back, while men can sit in the front. Women also are expected to wear long skirts or pants, and very modest blouses. While some people seem to think that this is some sort of women's oppression, the impression I got while in Jordan was that these customs were in place out of respect for, and protection for, women. Agree with that logic or not, I'd say that if you follow these customs as a woman, you're definitely really safe. We got very few cat-calls, if any. Jordanian culture is really based on respect, and a large part of that is respect for women.

There were definitely protests in Jordan. But, protests occur in certain places, at certain times, and those things are planned ahead of time. The locations and times are well known, emailed to Americans by the embassy, and therefore easy to avoid. The vast majority of our group went for the entire duration of the trip without so much as seeing a trace of a protest, despite the fact that violent protests occurred while we were there. You would have to make an effort to be at a protest. You can't end up there by accident.

As far as the influences of international politics on safety, the absolutely only challenge would be if you are Jewish. To make it clear - you'll be fine. Five of the fifteen people on my trip were Jewish. You just have to be aware of the tensions between Israel and Palestine, understand that the vast majority of Jordan is Palestinian, understand that Jewish and Israeli are synonymous in Jordan, even when it's not accurate, and understand that it's a conflict that has had a very direct impact on many Jordanians. Jewish students on exchange CAN AND WILL be perfectly safe in Jordan; they just have to be aware of the prejudices in the region, and know how to handle it, which is something that NSLI-Y makes sure to cover with Jewish students both before departure, and at orientation.

Morocco - Hassan H.

As a male it was fine, but for females cat-calling was definitely a problem. In our case, we took it upon us (the boys) to look after the girls and make sure they got home safe / weren't harassed. Other concerns were pickpocket and thieves on the buses; we never used them for that reason. Plus, they're not really convenient. The only other safety concern we had was the traffic and driving. Crossing the street is quite chaotic, but after our first few days we got acclimated. It's just a matter of being safe and attentive as a pedestrian. Other than that, we never felt threatened or in danger as long as we followed common sense and what we were told during orientation. If course there's a shady character here or there, but by paying them no attention we never were harassed by it.

I never had to worry about walking around - in most big cities in the USA, it's better to walk with someone. In Morocco, the same rule applies, but it was never uncomfortable or dangerous to walk alone, day or night. Safety is also more visible there - police are everywhere and shop owners do seem to look out for tourists if possible. The people in general are very nice and willing to help which is a big plus [compared to] some parts of the USA. Also, I would say that there was always a sense of safety- we never felt threatened or in danger, and the environment, people, and culture all contribute to a safe and comfortable environment.

I don't remember any protests or political demonstrations during our time. Generally, Moroccans love their king and are satisfied with government, so they don't feel the need to protest. Before we got there, there were some, but the king was open and allowed them to occur with a police presence for safety and monitoring. He's also made some democratic reforms, so that's helped with keeping people satisfied. Political activity and protests never affected us, but they were quite interested in learning about America and our opinion on big name politicians - particularly Obama. The other things in neighboring nations didn't really set anything off either. People in Moroccan are just generally happy- their parliament and king work pretty well together and they have the freedoms they want from their government. All in all, political tension is probably one of the smallest worries I had. However, we were told that if any organization/protest did start, to stay away and leave just for our safety.

Oman -Ariel V.

The only safety - which wasn't really safety; it was more of a respect thing - concern we had was to remember not to eat or drink in public, since we were there during Ramadan. There was nothing regarding safety that we had to be concerned about [more than in the United States].

There were no protests in Oman while we were there, and the during the only day in which we were warned that there would be protests (it had to do with Israel) there were none. In Yemen, there was and still is political tension, however there was no spillover that we had to be worried about, and it didnt affect our daily life in Oman.
There was nothing in terms of safety [for girls] that was different, I just had to remember that I couldn't wear short-anything because of the environment I was in.

Russia - Kira W.

The differences I noticed are would probably be the same going to any urban place: keeping track of my stuff, more cautious crossing the street, etc. Russian drivers don't stop for pedestrians and if you're with other Russians, they probably won't wait for a crosswalk. NSLI-Y has a dress code (nothing extremely short or revealing, that sort of stuff) that is much more conservative than what Russian teens where. No safety differences between girls and guys, as far as I could tell... Guys' families were maybe a bit less protective?

One time some drunk man came up to us during lunch and started shouting at us. Program people and the restaurant dealt with it for us though. By the reactions of the Russians in the restaurant, it seemed like that was really unusual though. Other than that, people sometimes tried to talk to us calmly and we just had to know to get up and go someplace else.

Honestly, I felt extremely safe over there. NSLI-Y has a fantastic support system in place if something goes wrong, but I never really felt in danger.

South Korea - Marisa Jo R.

Honestly, I felt much safer in Korea than I did at home. A stroll in the neighborhood at 11pm was no different than a stroll in the neighborhood at 2pm. I actually acted more "recklessly" (i.e. late night walks) because I felt safer. Drivers were way wilder, so I only had to be careful in crossing the street. [There were] usual concerns about pick-pocketing in tourist areas and on the subway. I was aware of one or two parts of town not to be in after dark, as well as suspicious karaoke places in those areas.

I actually avoided going to any Korean protests, because they can get a bit wild but only one peaceful protest happened during my stay that I was aware of, and it didn't affect me. North Korea is very close to Seoul, but Koreans worry far less about relations with them than we do. My safety was never influenced by politics or international relations.

I didn't have any additional safety concerns because of my gender that I wouldn't already have in America. Again, I generally felt safer in Korea, partly because foreigners are treated so well, but also because it was just SAFE. Koreans generally embrace much more traditional gender roles though, so just be prepared to surprise some people if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer.....but they did just elect a female president

On a related side note, Koreans believe that there are simply no gay Koreans. I got asked regularly if I "actually knew gay people" but I didn't notice a difference in safety levels or attitudes than say, the American south. It's mostly just a curiosity thing for them.

Taiwan - Carly B.

Taiwan is generally safer than America as far as traveling alone and as a girl. Tip: To avoid getting into a collision, be very aware when walking on roads and crossing the street, motorbikes come from all directions. In Taiwan I feel a whole not safer while walking alone at night, whereas in many places in America it just isn't as safe. Taiwan has lower violent crime rates which leads to a more comfortable feeling. Also, in Alaska [Carly's home] walking around at night you need to be aware of moose and bear - I'm still waiting to catch a glimpse of the Formosan bear.

We all know about the tension caused by the one China policy, and that there is an ongoing chance of war. Like most Taiwanese, I think the happenstance that I'm in the country when this happens, or if it will ever happen is very minimal.

As a girl traveling in Taiwan when alone you may be prone to questions like, ' Do you have a boyfriend' by men who ride beside you in the public transportation, or even the bus drivers. To not lead on anyone or be in an unsafe situation I just make sure I stay around as many people as possible so I am never far from help.

Tajikistan - Katie A.

 The three major concerns I can think of are:
  1. Health: We were told never to drink the water or eat off of the streets, but we could brush our teeth with it and there was a western-style medical clinic, plus they airlift you or something if it gets really bad.
  2. Limits on freedom: It sounds bad, but basically means don't say bad things about the president, have your passport, don't photograph government buildings, and you're fine. I read SO MUCH about it but it's not really enforced.
  3. Stay in a group: We got a few sketchy people trying to marry us and whatnot, but I think this is more a general exchange thing... if you aren't fluent in the language/culture, it would just be dumb to walk around alone.
  4. Driving (bonus!): It's crazy, but I wouldn't put it past other teenagers [in America] to drive like [they do in Tajikistan].
Parents don't have to worry about their kids drinking/driving/doing drugs here and I never experienced violence; it's a lot less prevalent than in Chicago, where I would have been a lot

Tajiks are notoriously complacent, it's post-soviet. The country borders Afghanistan, and so people see the extremism and do what they can to avoid it... large-scale political dissension is laughable in Dushanbe.

Women are a lot more equal than most people think. We had to dress modestly because otherwise you attract attention, and one time a man on the bus was harassing us, so we just had another guy stand by us.

Turkey - Delia R.

While in Turkey, I took care when choosing clothes every morning - I wasn't sure how my host family would react or how people on the street would react. Especially considering the heat, it was quite frustrating to pick out clothes that were modest but cool. That was the main [concern].
Not making eye contact was something I had been warned to do, so I didn't look at guys at all. It was mainly on public transportation that this was an issue at all - I did have one unpleasant experience, but overall I felt fairly safe.
Syria hadn't gotten super intense at that point, and in any case I was on the opposite side of Turkey. I was treated to several rants by my host mother, but other than that, I was completely unaffected by instability in surrounding places.

As a girl, I sometimes felt a little uncomfortable - there was a lot more catcalling and obvious flirtations than in America. But I never really felt unsafe - I moved freely through the city by myself and I didn't ever feel in danger.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What I Do, Don't, and Probably Should Know About Swaziland

No matter how much I pretend to know, I have to admit that as of right now, I know very, very little about Swaziland. I'm writing this pretty much so I can laugh at myself in a few months, when I'm a little bit more educated about the nation. I refused to look anything up while writing this post (because that kind of defeats the purpose of this), so be warned that there are comparable amounts of fact and ignorance in this post.

I know that Swaziland is a monarchy, and I know that I should probably know the name of the king, but I can't remember it at the moment. I think it starts with an 'M,' as most of the Swazi-related words I've come across do. I know that Manzini is the largest city, and Mbabane is the capital. I know how to pronounce Manzini, but I have no earthly idea how to say Mbabane.

I know that it's borders are South Africa and Mozambique, and that no, it's not that country that's entirely surrounded by South Africa. That's Lesotho. I know that it's closer to the eastern coast of Africa, but I'm not sure how far away it is exactly from the ocean. I know that Swaziland itself is landlocked though.

I know that the electrical outlets look kind of like those in India, but bigger. I know that the electricity is 240V, instead of the 120V in America, but it doesn't really matter, because the electronics I was planning on bringing from America can handle the greater voltage anyways.

I'm pretty sure that Swaziland is the same latitude south as Georgia is north, and while I have no idea where I got this impression, I think that Swaziland is somewhat rainy in the summer, and doesn't get all that cold in the winter. I think that the mountains Mbabane is in are something like the Appalachians, although I have no idea what the Swazi mountain range is called. I'm not even sure if they consider it mountains, or if that's just my Midwestern observation based solely on pictures of the campus that I've seen.

I know that Swaziland used to be a British colony, and that it declared its independence sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. I want to say 1957, but am 99% sure that's wrong. I know that the Swazi flag is a red, yellow, and blue stripes with some sort of black and white shield in the center, but I'm not quite sure of the significance of any of that. I think the red has something to do with blood.

I know that they hold some sort of ceremony every year called the Umhlanga, or something close to that, which translates into the Reed Dance. From what I understand, a bunch of young girls dance topless for the king, wearing blue and red skirts, and holding these really tall reeds. The king's wives, thirteen or fourteen of them, wear red feathers in their hair. I'm not sure of the significance of any of this.

 I know that the people of Swaziland are Swazi, but I'm not sure if there's another word in siSwati, the local language, for Swazi. I think I read somewhere that siSwati is one of those "click languages," and is related to Zulu. I know that 'hello' in siSwati is 'sawubona,' and 'yes' in siSwati is 'yebo.' Either thank you, please, or goodbye is something along the lines of 'ngikifuna.' Now that I'm reading that, I'm pretty sure I have nothing past the first two letters of that word correct. I know that siSwati has a bunch of sounds that English doesn't have, and should be more of an adventure than Arabic was. Although, from my understanding, it looks like siSwati uses our alphabet, which is simple (and boring).

I know that Swaziland has the highest AIDS rate in the world. I read somewhere that it was around 35%, and while I'm pretty sure that's a WHO number, I'm not sure from which year. I know the Peace Corps currently has volunteers there.

I know that I know very, very little about the country where I'll be spending the next two years of my life. I guess that just means I have lots of room for improvement!

Friday, January 4, 2013


I was going to bring just one deodorant, and buy more in Swaziland as I need it, but everyone I've talked to says that abroad, deodorant is just not quite the same, and not quite as effective. So, I figured I'd have to bring some more than I thought. But, I don't keep a year's supply of deodorant at my house... so, Wal-Mart!

After finding the deodorant I wanted, and being happy that it was on sale for a dollar each, I grabbed eight, because that was all the store had, and I decided that should be enough.

Now, I've gotten some weird looks walking through Wal-Mart. I mean, I've done the Wal-Mart Scavenger Hunt. I've proposed to a stranger in the aisles of Wal-Mart, kissed a stranger on the cheek in Wal-Mart, set up a full-sized tent in the aisle of Wal-Mart, and set up a battle between the toys on the floor of the toy aisle in Wal-Mart.

None of that even compares to the number of awkward looks I got carrying eight sticks of deodorant through the store. And then I started laughing, because I realized how ridiculous I looked, and then I must have just looked some crazy person, buying eight sticks of deodorant and giggling to myself.

Oh, Wal-Mart. I'll miss you :)