Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sibebe and Dry Season

My link grandma (equivalent of host family if I need somewhere to stay or want to spend a weekend away from hostel at school) lives at the base of Sibebe. Simply put, Sibebe is a really big rock. It's actually the second largest continuous piece of granite in the world. Here's a picture from the ridge across the valley where we went hiking earlier this year... notice how everything is only green in this picture.

A few weeks, ago, I was at my links, and I climbed up. Well, not up the front, but I climbed up to the top of it from the side. Here's what it looked like heading up. Notice how dry it is - bush fires are actually a really big threat around here in winter (now, July, is winter).

It's really interesting to see the pictures side-by-side of the rainy season and the dry season. Water seems to be everywhere during rainy season (October to March... ish), and when it's raining every day, it seems impossible that the water would ever run out.

Waterford gets water from a dam (a little pond) at school, which is filled by run-off from the mountain above us. The dam supplies the water for Waterford, but also for everything in Sidwashini, which we call "S'dwash," the community at the foot of the mountain just below us. And let me tell you - it's not that big of a dam.

Right now, it's the dry season. There is essentially zero rain, and as you can see in the pictures of the mountain, it's dry. This morning, I woke up in hostel, and the water had run out. That's right - none. Taps were empty, toilets wouldn't flush, no showers, no laundry, and so on.

We have five or six emergency tanks, and so the tanks were opened to refill the dam a bit, and now the water is back on. But, they're emergency tanks, and once we use that water, there will be no more. This is where it becomes really important to conserve water, and from the sounds of half hour showers I'm hearing right now, the people who woke up after this whole water off-on situation happened are still living in oblivion.

I have a feeling we're going to run out of water very soon. Dry season in Swaziland is not a joke.

Monday, July 15, 2013

School in Swaziland

Remember this? Still going on. Thanks!

Today, I was running between classes, studying, getting ready for a physics test, just doing the normal school thing, when I realized... I'm doing the normal school thing in Swaziland. Seeing as how school here has finally become "everyday," I figured it's as good a time as any to write about how school here is different from school in America. I think I did this on the first day of school, but I figure I must have a little bit of a different perspective six months later (hopefully).


First of all, there's the seasonal thing. Schools here run year-round, so we have school from January through April, May off, June and July in school, August off, September through November in school, December off. Keep in mind though, summer is December and January, because it's in the southern hemisphere, so I suppose we do get a bit of summer off. Although, that doesn't help the fact that my Facebook was flooded with "SUMMER" statuses in June, just as I was starting a new term... anyways.

The other thing that goes along with schedules is the lack of bells. Culturally, time is less "of the essence" than it is in America, and so showing up for classes a few minutes (not a lot) late is totally acceptable, whereas in America it's really not acceptable whatsoever. You can see it almost ingrained into the timetable by the fact that there are no passing periods at school here. That doesn't seem so strange at first, but when you have siSwati class that ends at 15h20 (3:20 pm in American time), and French class that then starts exactly at 15h20, being late isn't really an option. Add into that the fact that teachers, unconcerned with time, rarely start on time, and you've got a school that consistently runs about five minutes late.

Except for the end of the day. The teachers always make sure we get out on time.


The next thing is the classroom block, which was designed by a man from Mozambique. That being said, the building is not well equipped to handle winter (namely, now) on the top of a Swazi mountain. The windows don't really fill the frames - literally, there is a centimeter gap between where the glass ends, and where it should end, if they wanted the glass to fill the window. If a room should be lucky to have a source of heat, it comes in the form of a pipe that runs along one side of the room. The pipe is filled with water, which is heated, which provides heat to anyone who goes over and wraps themselves around the pipe - but nobody else. And to be fair, the pipes are very rarely working. That being said, compared to America, where people wear their coats, boots, and scarves outside, but not during the school day, at school here, you see people bundled up all day long - and rightfully so. Contrary to popular belief in America, Swaziland does indeed get cold. It's not as cold here as it is in the States, but it's inescapable (there is no real heat anywhere), and so it almost feels colder.

As far as the classrooms themselves, they're just much simpler. Classrooms in America have computers, projectors, document cameras, overheads, SmartBoards, and so on. Classrooms here are lucky to have more than one electrical socket. Chalkboards, and in some (fancy) rooms, whiteboards, are still in style here. To be quite honest, I can't decide whether I prefer classrooms with or without technology. I think that on both sides, the teachers have just kind of adapted to use what they have, and it works out.


To put it bluntly, teachers here take the authoritarian viewpoint of a classroom. "Sir" will get you a very long way. I guess ma'am would too, but my only female teacher is my siSwati teacher, and so we call her "make" (mah-gay). Asking questions in class, an encouraged practice in America, is only "acceptable" here. I can think of one teacher off the top of my head who will stare you down for a solid five seconds, before starting to answer your question.

Oh, and it's not acceptable to call teachers by nicknames of their last names, which is pretty much how we call all of our teachers in America. If I tried to call my geography teacher "Wekky," I think I'd get slapped.


The strange thing is that despite all the pomp and circumstance in the classroom, teachers are much more chilled out with assignments. In America, they rarely accept late work, but here, late work is almost the norm - probably has something to do with the "late" culture.

Other than that, the only difference I can think of is the marked lack of quirky teachers in America. I know that some of my American teachers who like to think of themselves as quirky will be disappointed by this, but they have nothing on the pure weirdness of my teachers here. My physics teacher has the habit of leaving the classroom mid-sentence, going to get something to drink, sometimes changing his clothes, and returning five minutes later. He then picks up exactly where he left off in the sentence, and doesn't even mention the fact that he left. My English teacher regularly makes jokes about things he probably shouldn't make jokes about. My French teacher once walked into class, said simply "J'ai déchiré mes pantalons. Je dois retourner chez moi." (I've ripped my pants. I must go home). He then walked out, and didn't return.

You know, totally normal.


That's all I can think of. School really isn't that different. I mean, we use textbooks in America, and don't really have proper textbooks for most classes here. We have a bell system in America, and class just kind of "starts" here. Teachers in America are chilled about classroom ceremony, and strict about schoolwork, while teachers here are strict about ceremony, but chilled about schoolwork.

The funny thing is, I go to school in Swaziland. And that's normal. And right now, like any teenager in America waiting for summer, I'm in school, waiting for August, which is the term break. Except that instead of working as a camp counselor in my term breaks, I'm going backpacking through six countries in my term break, but more on that in a few weeks...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

International Weekend Field Trip

So, I spent this past weekend in Durban, South Africa, for a geography field trip. That's right - international weekend field trip. This is the kind of thing that they should put in a UWC brochure or something. The point of the trip was to study coastal processes, and so while we were technically in Durban, most of our time was spent on this little beach called Treasure Beach, doing geography research. As you can see in the pictures, the weather wasn't beautiful... it was dramatic, though.

Obviously the best thing to do when there are two meter high waves bashing against these massive rocks all along the coast is to get in and try to measure them with meter sticks. All in the name of the fieldwork!

Thankfully, the weather got better and the next day was slightly more tolerable. And so, here are some pictures of how I spent my fourth of July in South Africa, listening to geomorphology lectures and looking at ocean creatures... not very American, I know, but to make up for it, I'm pretty sure I hummed The Star Spangled Banner all day. It was stuck in my head.

Overall, it was a pretty good trip, although now we have so much work to do with our completed research! Anyways, I'm back in Swaziland now, and will be here for another month until the term ends, and then it's off for another month of adventures during the term break! I hope everyone in the States is enjoying the summer. Just know that I'm enjoying the winter here... silly southern hemisphere.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Hitchhiking and Kumbis in Swaziland

(Unless you're too tired to move the mouse across the screen to do so, please comment/like/watch this video? Thanks! And if you happen to be too tired to move your mouse - go to sleep. The internet will be here when you wake up).

This weekend was midterm, meaning that I stayed at my link grandma’s house instead of at school. Something that always comes up for midterm is transport, so I figured I could describe how I get around Swaziland, as shown through the course of my weekend.

So, I left school Thursday around lunchtime. Waterford is on the top of the mountain, so I just start walking down, with two options in mind: either I walk all the way to the highway entrance ramp and get a kumbi from there, or I get a lift from whatever car passes me on the mountain.

 The first car to pass me pulled over. They were indeed going into town, as everyone is, because there’s nowhere else to go, and so I hopped in. Ten minutes later, she dropped me a few blocks from the bus rank, and I was set. America was never a good hitchhiking place, but hitching rides in Swaziland is pretty beautiful. It’s just so easy – you don’t even have to put your arm up, you just stare down passing cars and they stop.

Anyways, I get to the bus rank, and find a kumbi to Mbuluzi. My link grandma doesn’t live in Mbuluzi, but she lives on the way to Mbuluzi. Kumbis just go between two places, so you just have to know which two places your destination is between. My link grandma’s house happens to be en route from Mbabane to Mbuluzi, and so that’s the kumbi I take. These two “endpoints” are written on the front of the kumbi, so if you’re deaf, that works, but the drivers are also yelling their destinations at the top of your lungs, so it’s hard to miss.

“KAMANZINI! MANZINI MANZINI MANZINI! UYA YINI KAMANZINI?” is probably what you hear the most in the Mbabane bus rank, as Mbabane to Manzini is one of the biggest routes. In other places around Mbabane, such as Lobamba, Pigg’s Peak, or Ezulwini, you oftentimes see kumbis in bus ranks and parking lots, their drivers yelling “MBABANE-MBABANE-MBABANE-MBABANE-MBABANE-MBABANE!” It’s a very distinctly sound, and kind of blends into itself – “BA-BA-NAY-BA-BA-NAY-BA-BA-NAY!”

Anyways, I quickly find my kumbi to Mbuluzi, because, despite contrary belief, the bus rank is also very well organized, and kumbis to the same places always wait in the same area of the bus rank, and the Mbuluzi one is always on this certain side, and, well, it’s easy enough to find. Plus, you hear, “MBULUZI! MBULUZI!”

Now, the kumbi to Mbuluzi goes through Pine Valley, down Pine Valley Road, which is a two lane little road, nice and everything, but windier than anything. It goes up and down, zigzags, and all the rest of it the entire way. The drivers often have a hard time getting the kumbi up one hill or another, so they go hurtling down the down hills, hoping their momentum will bring up the up hills. It’s always an adventure.

Anyways, there’s no action station at my link grandma’s house, but if you want to make it a station (i.e. get off), you just declare “STATION,” or more commonly, “STAYSH,” the kumbi screeches to a halt, you pay your five emalangeni (currently divide by ten to get USD), and get off. Magic – I’m at my link grandma’s house. I doubt that anywhere in America you could get from door-to-door for only fifty cents, unless you lived adjacent to each other.

So, I’m chilling at my link grandma’s house, and that’s all fine and jolly, but I needed to go to Mpaka Refugee Camp on Saturday. Not sure how familiar you are with Swazi geography, but that’s kind of a haul, and I was supposed to be there at nine o’clock in the morning. Let’s just say that I had very little confidence in my ability to be punctual, but I was going to try.

At six-thirty, I was standing on the side of the road in Pine Valley, thumbing for rides. There’s such a thick fog in the mornings that standing on the side of this windy little road that people go zipping down is essentially asking for death, but a kumbi came along soon enough, and I hopped in without any problems. It was definitely an interesting kumbi though – it is indeed wintertime right now, and so there was ice covering all the windows, including the windshield, and they hadn’t bothered to scrape any of it off. The side door kept flying open at inopportune times, and the exhaust pipe could be heard banging on the road as we bumped along. This ride was also a reminder of the fact that kumbis are never full. There were six of us sitting in two seats during this particular ride, and nobody even gave it a second glance.

Anyways, we bump along into town, give the driver our five emalangeni as we get off, and everyone goes off to whatever they’re doing in town, or off to seek their second kumbi. My second kumbi on this grand trek to Mpaka was the famous Mbabane-Manzini route, and so I had no problems finding one. We waited about five minutes for it to fill up, as kumbis won’t leave the bus ranks until they’re full, and then we were off.

The drive to Manzini was pretty chilled. It was a nicer kumbi, and there were only as many people as there were seats, and soon enough, I was in the Manzini bus rank. Now, the Manzini bus rank is much bigger than the Mbabane bus rank, and has a reputation for muggings and the like. On the other hand, I much prefer the Manzini bus rank, as there are lots more people, entertaining things to look at, and louder drivers.

“SITEKI! SITEKI! SITEKI!” And I found my kumbi. Mpaka is in between Manzini (pronounced Man-zee-nee, clearly) and Siteki (pronounced steh, as in electric, and then gee, with a hard g – steh-gee, not so clearly, if you don’t speak siSwati).

Now, the challenge at this point was that I had never before taken a kumbi to Mpaka (pronounced mm-pah-gah – if there’s a k without an h after it, you pronounce it as a g), and as towns are never explicitly labeled, I was a little bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to tell that the cluster of building we went through was Mpaka. Fortunately, we pulled to a stop at one moment, and I say a sign for Mpaka High School, and so I hopped off. Getting off the kumbi, I started to ask another man who had gotten off if he knew which way I should walk from here to get to the refugee camp, but then one of the Peace Corps volunteers who lives at the camp and knows me came up, and asked what in the world I was doing all the way out at the camp. Anyways, I thanked the first man, talked to the Peace Corps guy for a few moments, but he was hopping onto the kumbi I had just left, so he had to go. He pointed me down a long dirt road, with no end in sight, and I started walking.

Let me make this clear – no matter how great kumbis and hitchhiking is, that only works when there are kumbis and cars where you’re going. The biggest mode of transportation in Swaziland is by far your own two feet. So, I made us of them, and walked down this long road, until it ended, and then I turned onto another long, dirt road, until that ended, but by then I knew where I was, as I’ve been to the camp before, and recognized the gate.
As this is getting to be much too long of a post, I’ll skip the bit about what I did at the camp, and save that for later.

My way getting back from Mpaka to Mbabane was much easier. I hitchhiked from the camp to the main road with some random Swazi guy who refused to believe that I wasn’t Peace Corps. He wasn’t headed towards Manzini, so I hopped out and promptly got another ride in another carful of Swazis headed for Manzini. There were two loud, obnoxious guys in the front, and a silent girl in the back next to me who just kept doing her nails. They were all really keen on the fact that I could speak siSwati though, which they alternatively laughed at, and were amazed at.

Anyways, they dropped me in Manzini, and I found my way to the bus rank, which is easy enough – follow the crowds. I jumped on a kumbi from Manzini to Mbabane, and then one in Mbabane back to Mbuluzi. A few minutes down the road, I call out “staysh” and the kumbi pulls to a stop, right in front of my door. I’m never going to get over how convenient this is.

Well, that’s it! Hitchhiking and kumbis is pretty much how everyone gets around in Swaziland, with a lot of walking thrown in there. America complains about greenhouse gas emissions – and then you see hundreds of people driving along, with hitchhiking as a lost art. Sometimes I think that America is more backwards than Swaziland.