Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Weekend? Rest? Psh.

(written a few days ago. Just go with it).

This weekend has definitely been a busy one. It was strangely relaxing, but non-stop the entire time.

 Friday night, the American School in Maputo brought their theater class to Waterford to perform two student pieces. They were incredibly well done, the first being a spin on the Genesis story in the style of ancient Greek theater, with a leader and chorus and all that. The second was one of those “lots-of-Shakespeare-in-a-short-time” bits, which tend to get overdone, but it was very well carried out, and we were all dying with laughter by the end.

After that, I had rehearsal for the theater performance that I’m in, which debuts next week. Nothing particularly exciting to write about, as it’s just rehearsal, but it definitely keeps me busy.

Saturday, I went to town in the morning to buy sandals with the gift cards that were my prizes from the public speaking competition last weekend. I also wound up buying a phone, because I have a link grandma (more to come on that) and keeping in touch with her was hard without it, as she doesn’t have a computer. Phones in Swaziland are surprisingly simple to buy, because you just have to buy the phone, and a SIM card, but there’s no contract or anything. It’s all pay-as-you-go, so you just buy airtime as you need it.

Saturday night, I went to another theater performance by two of the IB2’s here at Waterford. It was really abstract, but definitely fascinating to watch. It was a really great performance, and they’re actually taking the play to the Grahamstown Arts Festival in South Africa in a few months.

After that, we went out onto the field to listen to music, dance, and look at the stars. We chilled out there until later that night, when it was “Earth Hour,” meaning they cut the power to campus to save electricity, and so everyone went to the assembly hall for some performances for the hour. Some of them were okay, and some of them were really good. A girl from Germany performed on the recorder, which was really cool. It’s not that she was extraordinarily better at music than the rest of the world, it’s just that she was pretty good at the recorder, which is an instrument usually abandoned after third grade music, so it was cool to hear some actual skills on it.

Sunday, I woke up early to do laundry, and texted my link grandma about Easter break.

 Okay, I guess here is where I should explain link families. Students at Waterford can request to have a link family if they live far away, and can’t go home very often, like me! It’s essentially a home away from home, if you want to get off campus for the weekend, or need a place to stay for a long weekend, or just want an actual meal once in a while.

Anyways, my link family is a self-described “ancient” Irish woman who lives outside of Mbabane. Long story short, I’m staying with her for Easter break, and I met her this morning for lunch. She’s such a cool woman, and I’m really grateful to have her as my link grandma. I don’t think that I stopped smiling all morning, it was just so wonderful!

 After lunch, I came back to school, and lifeguarded at the pool for a few hours. IB students can swim on their own in groups of three, but the younger kids can’t without supervision, so I supervise the pool sometimes on weekends so that they can swim. It’s pretty chilled, and a nice excuse to sit at the pool for a few hours.

 Later on Sunday night, I had dress rehearsal for this theater production. I think I’ve enjoyed being in the play and all, but I’m going to be excited when rehearsals are over, just because they eat my time. I’m thinking of joining the slam poetry club here at school, which I can do just as soon as these rehearsals are over. Also, I had to grow out my hair for the play, and while it’s not too bad, I’m looking forward to going back to the much lower maintenance buzz-cut.

 Anyways, definitely an exciting week, and definitely an exciting week coming up! And then after all of that, I get to spend the long weekend with probably the coolest link grandma in existence! :)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sifundzani, WWOOF, and Link Families!

(Dear lightning, please stop knocking out the internet randomly. Dear internet, thanks for finally working! Dear readers, this was written Saturday, not today).

Today has been the most absolutely fantastic day ever imaginable!

First, I woke up this morning to go to the Sifundzani High School public speaking competition, which is the only one in Swaziland, which makes it the national competition (I just need to make the comment about Sifundzani – really nice school, but “sifundzani” translates into “what are we studying?” WHICH IS A RIDICULOUS NAME FOR A SCHOOL).

Anyways, the way that speech tournaments work here in Swaziland is that everyone gives a five minute prepared speech, there’s a break, and then everyone gives a two minute impromptu speech. The difference between speech tournaments in the States, where there’s maybe a five person audience, and this tournament, where it’s a proper PUBLIC speaking tournament, is that here, you give the speech in the gym, with every single person watching. Lots and lots of people. Which is always a bit intimidating, but it went well. My impromptu was a little bit rough, which was embarrassing. After years of giving six and seven minute impromptu speeches, stumbling over a two minute speech wasn’t my shining moment. On the plus side, the practice of making friends outside when the people before you give their impromptu speeches? Same in the United States and Swaziland. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a circle of conversation with students from all the other high schools, talking about the same things we always talked about in the States. Good times!

The other strange thing is that everyone else wore their school uniforms, but Waterford doesn’t have a uniform, so I wore what is normal for speech tournaments in the States – a suit. I mean, dress to impress and all, but I’ve never felt so overdressed in my entire life.

Anyways, after the speeches are done, I find out that I’ve been volunteered to do a debate. I’ve never debated before. I don’t do debate. I speak. Debate? No.

Anyways, it wasn’t really a choice, so I was tossed outside with some people to prepare a debate about banning bride prices. We were “yes” to banning it, so we prepared, and then went inside.

During the debate, it was the strangest thing. I realized that most of the audience thought that bride prices were acceptable. I mean, I guess I shouldn’t say that it’s strange or whatever, but it was bizarre to realize that something I thought was a total non-issue is actually a pretty strong topic, depending on the region, the audience, and their culture.
Anyways, after the debate, they finally announced the winners. I was second place for my prepared speech, and third place for my impromptu, and second-best senior level speaker overall. All of this came with a total of E125 prize money, which is highly appreciated, after breaking my last pair of sandals the other day. E125 can buy me lots of sandals and washing powder, which are the two main things I need right now. I actually love money prizes, instead of trophies. Good choice, Sifundzani.

AND, Waterford as a team won. As in, first place. As in, we’re the new Swaziland national champions for public speaking. YEAH!

There was one other random thing that happened at this speech tournament. When I found out I was going to Swaziland, oh-so long ago, I googled Swaziland, and found this Peace Corps Volunteer’s photo blog. I followed it, and just nonchalantly looked at the pictures as I was preparing to leave. Once I was here, it occurred to me that Swaziland is a small country, and so I emailed her, saying I was an American, and would love to meet her sometime. She said she’d be in Mbabane the day of the king’s visit, but you know, the king took precedence, and so that was that. I hadn’t talked to her since.

But then, today, at the public speaking tournament, I saw this girl with brown hair, funny bangs, and green glasses that just looked too familiar. When I heard the American accent, I realized that it had to be her. It just had to be. In the end, it was, and we talked for a while. She’s really chilled. It just made me laugh that after all this time, I’d just happen to stumble into her. Small world, huh.

So, I took my E125 prize money, and got back onto the bus for Waterford. Once arriving there, I checked my email, and found an email from WWOOF South Africa. For those of you not really into the permaculture and sustainability thing, WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farmers, and it’s a sort of work-exchange where you live and work on an organic farm in exchange for room and board for the duration of your stay. Since I cannot fly to the States for the month of May, which I have off of school, I was looking at WWOOF as cheap plans, where I could actually be doing something awesome, instead of just touristing around.
So, today, after registering, and figuring out how to wire transfer a small fee to the WWOOF South Africa organization, I got the list of hosts, meaning I got the list of farms to pick from. THEY’RE SO COOL. It just made me happy to read through them. Registering is kind of a gamble, as you can’t see the hosts until after you pay, but it’s going to work out so well. The farms sound wonderful – I’m so excited for break now! I’ve emailed a few of the ones that stood out to me as really cool, and I can’t wait to hear back!
Okay, so speech tournament and WWOOF. That’s two great things today, but that’s not all.

When I was getting ready to check into hostel tonight, the teacher who coordinates link parents stopped me. Link parents are kind of like a host family. We live in hostel, but it’s kind of a home away from home you can go to for weekends, breaks, and whenever you need a home other than the dorms. Anyways, I’d registered for a link family A REALLY LONG TIME AGO, and was getting kind of frustrated that everyone else was getting them, and I wasn’t.

 NO LONGER! She found me a link family! Well, not so much a link family as a link grandma. She’s this seventy-five year old woman living in a rondoval (a fancy word for the circle huts with grass roofs) near Mbabane. She does karate and goes mountain climbing, and is self-described as really weird. In essence, she sounds like the perfect link parent EVER for me. I’m so excited! I haven’t met her yet, but I’m going to get in touch with her sometime next week.
I COULDN’T BE HAPPIER! Won the national public speaking tournament, getting once step closer to having plans for the month-long break, and got a link family! LIFE IS SO GOOD!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

King Mswati at Waterford

Yesterday, King Mswati came to Waterford to celebrate the school's achievements over the last 50 years. Highlights of the day? I danced a traditional Swazi dance in a traditional Swazi outfit for the king, and then he mentioned in his speech that the non-Swazi dancers did such a good job with the Swazi dance. I felt so special :)
Later on, attended a Q&A session with the king. To be blunt, his answers were awful, but I'll blame politics instead of him.
I'm just going to stop there, before I complain about how excessive and overly formal the whole day was, and how for a celebration of a school, the school was rather neglected, just so that the king would be comfortable.
Instead, I'll just post a bad picture that we took later that day in hostel of my Swazi outfit. We weren't allowed to take pictures at the event itself, but this is the outfit.
I guess that despite everything, it was still a good day, even though everyone returned to hostel that night exhausted. I've never heard hostel so quiet on a Friday night before - we all just went to sleep!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ward 8

(Written yesterday. Gotta love the internet).
 This afternoon, I spent several hours volunteering in Ward 8 of the Mbabane Government Hospital. I was helping a woman who works with an organization called “mothers2mothers,” which deals with pregnant women and HIV/AIDS. Today, I learned how to fill out the patient records, which, while it sounds really lame, is actually an amazing opportunity. Can you imagine letting some random teenager fill out medical records on her first day in the States?

Anyways, so what happens is that when they see a patient, they write down their information in a little notebook, but then it needs to be transferred into the actual logbooks at the hospital. (Forget about computer systems; it’s all just written and re-written. Manual “copy-paste,” I suppose). Once I got into the mode of reading the nurse’s terrible handwriting, recognizing the more common Swazi names, and figuring out how to spell the various towns the women came from, I started paying more attention to the details of the forms.

There are several things that they log. First, there’s a column for whether the woman knows her partner’s status, and if so, what it is. Then, there’s a column for what the woman’s status is. At least in the ones I copied today, it was positive about half the time. There’s a column for how many children the woman already has, and whether they are HIV positive or negative. I didn’t mark a single child as positive today, which was really encouraging, as it means that these women are taking the right medication during pregnancy to prevent it from being passed onto their children.

Then came the treatment columns, where you had to mark whether the women were on all sorts of different anti-retroviral treatments, and what the child was on. This is where I had some issues, because they only wrote down one, and it was assumed that a nurse would know that “if they’re on this, they’re on this, and can’t be on this,” and so on. At first, I was just confused. But the nurse I was working with explained to me what was what, and why someone would be on something, and by the end of the time, I could de-code the medical markings and fill out the whole form.

Lastly, there was the comments section. The main thing that got written here was that the baby came out dead, which I wrote too many times. It’s technically just a form, but you can’t help but see it.

“18 years old, HIV positive, partner unknown, five months pregnant, CD4: 150 (an indication of how badly the HIV virus has impacted your system – 150 is not good), dead fetus removed.”

The last thing about it was a column to fill on whether they’d be on a certain medication for life. The nurse said to just always mark it “yes.” When I asked her why, her only response was that when they stop taking the medication, they die. They take the medication for the duration of their lives, whether they want to or not. It’s a necessity, just like food or water.

When I got back to hostel later that evening, lightning had knocked out the internet, and the power was going on and off for a while. For a moment, I was annoyed, and then I realized that I didn’t need it. I didn’t need the blanket on my bed, or the sweatshirt I was wearing, or the laptop I was holding, or the apple I had just eaten. I didn’t need ANY of it.

Maybe paperwork isn’t the most exciting job, but I’m learning about HIV/AIDS, treatments for it, and I’m working in a hospital, speaking siSwati, doing something I could never have done in the States. But regardless of all that, it’s knowing that this organization and these forms are the reason that these women have children who are HIV negative, and why they’re living into their twenties and thirties, and why some of them are still here to on this earth. Right now, to know that I’m some teeny-tiny part of all of it is all I need right now to make me fall asleep happy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Barbed Wire Fences and Waterfalls

 So, this weekend we went hiking around Swaziland. (Exact location... unknown? It's not an official path, and it involved climbing under exactly three barbed wire fences and jumping over two locked gates. You know, normal stuff). It was somewhere around Pine Valley, I think, and while I forget where we started, we wound up around Mbuluzi, and swam in the river and slid down the waterfall, which was absolutely wonderful.
Anyways! It was absolutely gorgeous, and since I'd be wasting my time trying to describe it, the rest of this post is just going to be pictures. It was a much more "chilled" hike than last weekend's, but it was just as pretty - dare I say prettier?
 ^Proof that I didn't just steal pretty pictures from the internet.
 ^Because Waterford's teachers are essentially bushmen. This is a math teacher turned trek-master :)
^It felt like Lord of the Rings. Plus cows.
^These rapids made a pretty good water slide. No joke - we were so skeptical at first, but it worked amazingly well.
^Part of the group, chilling in the river at the end. Repping the UK, Tanzania, the States, Norway, Malawi, and Swaziland. Normal life :)

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Day at WK

I usually try to blog about what’s new and exciting, but then I realized that what has become “everyday” to me is still interesting for others who don’t do this everyday. So, I figured that I might as well write a “day in the life” post. Voila – a detailed summary of my life on Thursday, February 28th, 2013. Enjoy!
06:40 – Alarm goes off. Snooze.
07:00 – I actually got out of bed and get ready for the day. Nothing interesting here; I promise, morning routines are similar in dorms all around the world.
07:10 – Breakfast! I walked down to the dining hall, where I met up with a few of my friends for breakfast. Today was cereal, tomatoes, scrambled eggs, and toast – a rare occasion. Usually they serve beans and toast. It always feels very “UWC” at breakfast to look around the table and see people from so many different countries – today, there was Swaziland, Lesotho, Uganda, Zambia, and the States.
08:00 – My first class on Thursdays is Geography. It’s a cool class – definitely interesting to take it at a school with people from so many different countries. It adds a lot of different perspectives (I often end up answering “America” questions). Our teacher is from Kenya, so it’s interesting to have an “expat” teacher as well. Although to be fair, I think all but one of my teachers are expats… anyways! Today we were discussing how migration impacts the origin and destination countries, specifically when immigrants don’t integrate into the main community. Fascinating stuff, right there.
08:40 – My favorite class… maths! We just discussed the proofs for a couple of theorems, and then had some work time. We’ve never had work time in class before, but there’s a first for everything! Doesn’t happen very often though.
09:20 – I walked across campus to the IT center, where my siSwati class is held on Thursdays. We don’t really have a room – we’re a migrant class J Anyways, we went through some vocabulary, did some translations, and turned in an essay. siSwati isn’t that hard of a language, but we go at a pretty good pace, so it’s just a lot of stuff to remember.
10:00 – Break time! Headed over to the cafeteria to grab a snack, and then over to the IT center to just hang out.
10:50 – Went over to the Mbabane Government Hospital with the director of community service at Waterford. Normally, I work on a project that takes a kid with disabilities out to parks and such, just to sit with him, so that he can see something other than the hospital walls. I like the project, but there were four WK students, and one kid, so I didn’t feel like I was doing much. I had thought of trying to do something else at the hospital, but didn’t quite know what, so we were going to see where I could help out.
11:05 – Arrived at the hospital. We miraculously avoided the string of “talk to so-and-so’s” that often happens in these situations, and got the head nurse of the pediatric ward, the head doctor, and a woman in charge of this certain room all in a circle to talk to us at the same time! We discussed running art classes for the sick kids, repainting murals, planting flowers, and that sort of thing, but I was looking to do something more related to medicine. Eventually, one of the nurses suggested that I could help with “re-hydration.” It’s this part of the hospital where dehydrated babies and children are brought in, and they need to be rehydrated. Simple enough, but there’s a lot of milk to mix and then for babies to give it to them, and you need to monitor how much they take in, and always a lot of paperwork. Not exactly medical, but it’s the closest thing I’m going to get when my highest certification is lifeguarding and CPR/AED, so I’m really excited, and I think I’ll be doing a lot more good than I was before. I never really looked forward to my old community service project, but I’m already giddy, just thinking about finally getting to start this next week! Sometimes I’m reluctant to stick my neck out, but in this case, I’m really glad that I did!
12:30 – Back to school. I went to my room really quick to grab some money and the slip from the post office, as I had a package waiting at the post office from the States, but you have to pay to pick it up. Since we’re at school, we can give the slips and the money to the office and school, and they go pick everyone’s up together.
12:40 – Lunch! Rice – if you get sick of rice easily, this might be an issue for you. Thankfully, I like rice, so we’re good!
13:20 – Double French. Our teacher is from Cameroon, and he’s pretty chilled, and there are only six of us taking it higher level, so it’s a small class. Today, we just discussed the differences between friendships and romances, which was actually pretty interesting.
14:40 – Double English. Our teacher is a rotten, old, grumpy, nasty man (that’s all proclaimed by him – I think he’s hilarious), and he was really tired, so we read a little bit of this play, and then got out early. (The play is Boesman and Lena by Athol Fugard, if anyone’s interested. It’s about the Apartheid).
16:00 – Went to the SOS Children’s Village, a local orphanage, to set up a small computer lab. I set up six computers, and starting next week my friend and I will be teaching computer classes to Form 1s (12 year olds) once a week. My friend’s excuse for not coming this week? Practicing his Swazi dancing to perform for the king next Friday. Legitimate reason, in my opinion. I’m definitely excited to start teaching classes next week though!
17:30 – Dinner! Salad and potatoes. We ate fast because there was a lightning storm, and if it gets bad, you can’t leave the building, and we didn’t want to be stuck at the dining hall. It got bad right after we left.
18:15 – Back at the hostel, worked on maths for a bit with my friend from Lesotho. The power was out for a while from the lightning, but it’s so normal here that we just grabbed the solar lamp and kept going.
18:45 – Ran back over to the library in the rain. Typical Swaziland – it was hot and sunny this afternoon.
19:00 – A spoken word poet from South Africa who ran a seminar on writing poetry. It was pretty interesting, and if nothing else was some good brain food and medicine against writer’s block for later. I jotted down some thoughts that I think will wind up as some sort of writing eventually.
20:45 – Back to hostel, just catching the tail end of “prep time,” when you’re “forced” to do your homework. As you can see, I usually find something more interesting to do, like poetry sessions.
21:00 – Chilled in the common room for a while, just chilling with the amigos.
21:30 – Bed. I go to sleep PATHETICALLY early here. But, I’d rather be awake for what goes on during the day, instead of staying up at night for no reason, and missing what happens during the day. If there’s something exciting that night, I’ll be up. Otherwise, you can find me asleep J
And that’s just a typical day in the life! Reading through this, I'm realizing how awesome it is that this is normal life here :)