Wednesday, February 26, 2014

There's too much English on the internet.

Kufanele ngibukete siSwati nyalo, ngako-ke ngitawubhala ngesiSwati. Ngihlala eSwatini - ngobani angibhali ngesiSwati? Ngiphupha kutsi i-internet ikhone kuba ngesiSwati, siZulu, netilwimi tonkhe emhlabeni. I-internet, singayitfola yonkhe ngesiNgisi, ngako-ke ngitawutama kubhala ngesiSwati. Ngisifundza - angicabangi kutsi ngati sonkhe siSwati, kepha angicabangi kutsi ngati sonkhe siNgisi! Kulungile, ngiyacala...

Ngitsandza kuhamba entsabeni lonkhe liviki. Uma ngikhona kuhamba, ngijabulile kakhulu. Ngiye entsabeni nematfombatana waseZimbabwe. Sijabulile kakhulu!

Ngikhuluma siFolenji, ngako-ke, ngete luhlolo. Nyalo, ungabona liphepha kute ngifundze eFulansi, ngente inyuvesi yonkhe ngesiFolenji. Ngesancele, ungabona indvodza yaseNgwenya. Yena, ufundzisa siFolenji enyuvesi yaseSwatini. Ngesekudla, ungabona "la directrice d'Alliance Francaise." Batali bakhe baphuma eMelika, kepha ukhuluma siFolenji.

Nyalo, ehlobo, kuyashisa. Ngitsandza kubhukusha lapha ngemphelasontfo. Ncesi, Melika, ngati kuyabandza kakhulu lapho, kepha lapha, ngingagcoka isikipa, futsi ngiyashisa! 

Ngicabanga kutsi ngicedzele kubhala lapha.Ngiyabonga!

Gone Rural, Gone Global?

(This is an article on Gone Rural BoMake, an NGO here in Swaziland, based on a visit to their site and interview with the a director. Please check out their website for more detailed information on what they do in different areas of the community).

At Waterford, all IB students are involved in various sorts of community service, but we each have at least one "big" project to work on each year. This year, my two big projects are a women's empowerment group, and the computer classes that I started teaching last year.

Yesterday, our women's empowerment group went to visit Gone Rural BoMake, a group that creates an extra source of income for rural women by selling handicrafts that the women make, mostly from grass and recycled materials. The organization then sells the handicrafts to upmarket shops overseas, using some of the profits for the women's income, and some to support other community projects, such as a mobile medical unit and paying for school fees for OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children).

Walking into Gone Rural, there's a large mosaic on the wall reading "Sukumani, bomake!" (translating roughly into "Stand up, mothers!"). The lawn was lined with racks of dyed grass, drying after being colored. The way the group works, the women gather grass from where they are, and give it to Gone Rural in exchange for grass that has been dyed. The cost of the dye is part of the business plan for the NGO, and so there are no supply costs to the women.

At that moment, it started pouring rain, as it often tends to do in Swaziland, and so we all crammed inside a second barn, where the rural women were selling their handicrafts to Gone Rural. At the beginning of each year, the women decide on a price they would like to recieve for a certain item. Thereafter, anybody who makes that item will recieve the same price from Gone Rural for it. Gone Rural buys the handicrafts from the women for this price, and then marks them up to sell to the outlets abroad, to make money to pay for dyes and administrative costs. The outlets abroad then mark them up even more, which is why there are grass placemats for fifteen US dollars.

After that, we went into their storeroom, where they keep the completed products that are waiting to shipped off to the shops. The stores were truly stunning, with stacks of beautifully woven baskets from ceiling to floor, in all sorts of colors, shapes, and different varieties. There were baskets made of grass, recycled materials, and even t-shirt scraps from a factory in Mbabane. Some had ceramic bits in the centers, and some were just grass.

As someone who has lived in America for the majority of my life, I have indeed encountered shops selling this sort of stuff as "African" and "tribal," and I wonder what to think about it.  If people abroad are really into these styles, and really like grass placemats and baskets, then more power to them! But, I wonder how much of the business is created on the portrayal of the rural women as some sort of charity case, who need support through these purchases, and how much this mindset funds the NGO. While it's great that this can be a source of income for the women, on a global scale, I'm not comfortable with the fashion being charity - especially such ignorant charity. And, judging by the names of the companies selling the items, I wonder whether the retail of these sorts of products abroad furthers the ignorant consolidation of Africa into one landmass of grass mats and baskets. There was a pile of baskets going to "Kalahari," an Australian retailer. I wonder whether the customers of that company could differentiate between where the Kalahari is, and where Swaziland is. (Hint - far away). There was a pile of placemats going to an American company called "Ten Thousand Villages," and I don't think that's going to help with America's perception of Africa, either.

But, nothing is perfect, and BoMake has created something that is relatively sustainable, and seemed to be doing an effective job providing some extra income to the women. But, from the perspective of a representative of a women's empowerment group, I wanted to know what the NGO was really doing to empower the women, beyond providing them with an extra income.

Now, before I continue, I want to make it clear that BoMake is doing good work, providing a mobile clinic, and a support structure for these women and their familes that would probably not otherwise exist. But, I am less positive about how they are creating an empowering environment to these women.

I asked the woman in charge how long women tend to work for Gone Rural on average, making these handicrafts. I was hoping to hear that Gone Rural was a stepping stone for women to start their own businesses, or get involved in something of their own choosing, but that wasn't the case. To the woman's credit, she said that the NGO helps to pay for funeral costs, but that's not exactly the empowering answer that I was looking for. Once a woman starts working for Gone Rural, it doesn't seem like there's much of a chance for any stepping up beyond being an artisan. Admittedly, it's better than nothing, but it doesn't really strike me as the creation of a ladder, which is what I tend to think of women's empowerment as. Whether or not people choose to use it is another issue, but the ladder has to be there. This ladder, while it was technically there, had only one rung, and then nothing else.

I wish that groups like this would educate the women in business techniques and entrepreneurship skills, which could be transferred, should they choose to pursue other work. Weaving grass, while providing an income in this one environment, isn't the most transferable skill.

The woman then elaborated that the women's daughters oftentimes start working for Gone Rural when they turn sixteen, which is the youngest age that the company will allow. At this point, I couldn't help but wonder how empowering something really is, if even as generations pass, people find themselves in the same position. Sure, they're no longer at the bottom, but it's as though their ceiling is so much lower than everybody else's.

I'm not sure what else to say. It just feels like another story of an NGO that is doing really good work, but still struggles to find a way to balance charity, aid, empowerment, and the humanity and dreams of everyone involved. And I suppose that's the issue that is always faced in community service, whether it's here in Swaziland, or anywhere.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Because I Can't Remember Arabic, I'll Write in French?

Last night, another student arrived here at school, from Iraq. He's a wonderfully nice guy, but his English is anything but wonderful (yet). The thing is, he's from Iraq, and I really wanted to use my Arabic, but I just realized how absolutely terrible my Arabic is! It's strange, to know that I knew things at one time, and now simply have no idea. Want to know how extreme this is? I used to be able to write pages and pages in Arabic, and now the only word I can seem to pull out of my head is "al-umam al-muta7eda" (United Nations).

My French is wonderful, and I'm quite proud of my siSwati, but after three years of no use, my Arabic is not in the state that I wish it would be in. Strange, considering all the effort that the State Department put into trying to convince me to maintain my Arabic after NSLI-Y, but it just didn't happen. Now, though, I really want to fix it in university. Scratch that - I will definitely be fixing it in university. Insha'allah.

And now, to remind myself that all of languages are not absolutely terrible, I have (loosely, because I'm tired and my brain isn't fully functioning this early in the morning) translated this post in French, as seen below.

La nuit dernière, un autre étudiant est arrivé ici à l'école, d'Iraq. Il est absolument gentil, mais son anglais n'est pas (encore) aussi gentil. Donc, il vient d'Iraq, et j'ai vraiment voulu utiliser mon arabe, mais j'ai réalisé comment pas terrible mon arabe était devenu. C'est bizarre, à savoir que j’aie su les choses, il était une fois, et maintenant je n’ai aucune idée. Voulez-vous savoir comment extrême est-il? J'avais pu écrire des pages et des pages d'arabe, et maintenant le seul mot qui je peux souvenir est "al-umam al-muta7eda" (les Nations-Unis).

Mon anglais est super, et je suis vraiment contente avec siSwati, mais après trois ans sans l'utiliser, mon arabe n'est pas dans l'état que je voulais. Bizarre, en considérant tout l'effort fait par le gouvernement des Etats-Unis pour me convaincre de continuer avec l'arabe après mes études en Jordanie avec NSLI-Y. Mais, c'est la vie. Maintenant, alors, je voudrais l'étudier à l'université. Attends, je suis sure que je vais l'étudier a l'université. Insha'allah.

Et maintenant, pour me souvenir que tous mes langues ne sont pas absolument terrible, j'ai (peut-être, à cause des problèmes dans le cerveau qui existe à cette heure du matin) traduit ce blog en anglais, comme vous pouvez voir en haute.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Olympics, Pancakes, and Hiking

This weekend was such a great time away from school, at least for a few days. I spent Friday night at a friend's house, watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Sadly, Swaziland did not have a team, but Zimbabwe was well-represented! I mean, if you can call one athlete well-represented, but good for him! I am continuing to fight for the TV room at school when I want to watch certain events, because the guys in hostel seem to think that soccer is constantly more important than luge. But, that might just be because those who have grown up in the southern hemisphere are woefully uneducated in the ways of winter sports. We had a good time watching figure skating ("HOW DO THEY DO THAT WITH THEIR BODIES?") and freestyle skiing last night ("Wait, so it's a race, but they also get points on how their knees are held together, AND how they flip off the jumps?").

Anyways, then, on Saturday, I spent the morning working at my friend's dad's restaurant in Mbabane. They were having an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, and so I was waitress-ing. Let me tell you - keeping coffee coming to people is not easy.But, that kind of stressful, energetic, dealing-wth-impatient-people kind of work just happens to be my forte (cough, used to work at Toys-R-Us, cough), and so I felt quite at home. I know, I'm strange, but I really enjoy working, and it's not something I get to do all that often here in Swaziland. And, while I spent the whole day thinking I was just helping out, I got paid at the end - that's a few hundred more emalangeni to help finance my return to Cape Town in a few weeks!

So, that was Saturday. Then, yesterday (Sunday), we went hiking just outside of Mbabane. The hike was along this ridge, and then down into a valley where we swam in the river. The thing with this hike is that, while navigation is pretty easy (stay on top of the ridge), there are these massive boulders along the way, and you can find yourself pretty easily in quite a sticky situation, where you don't want to go forwards or backwards. Essentially, the whole thing turned into more of a climbing than a hiking trip, with people pulling each other up rock faces, or yelling encouragement as people essentially crossed their fingers and jumped three meters down. It was very team-build-ish, but definitely a great time. And, the swim in the Mbuluzi never ceases to make me happy.

So, that's about it! Now I'm back in school for another week, trying to enjoy it, but already missing the weekend! Here's a picture of our lunch spot yesterday, and our swimming spot.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Superbowl... Monday?

This is going to be a very short post. We spent last night watching the Superbowl, which started at 1:30 am on Monday (today) here because of time differences. Here's a joke: what do you get when you stick a Norwegian, a Bolivian, a Zambian-German, a Dutchman, a Turk, and two American girls in a room to watch the Superbowl?

Cupcakes, because that's what you make at three in the morning when nobody really understands what's happening with the game.

Anyways, I didn't get a single wink of sleep, but it was a wonderful night, and totally worth it. #uwclife.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Lovely People of Mpaka

Today added another event to the continuation of Waterford's community service projects related to Mpaka Refugee Camp here in Swaziland. The difference? Last year, I simply helped out with these projects, while this time, I ran it.

As compared to other events we've run with Mpaka, which oftentimes focused on entertaining the younger kids at the expense of the older ones, this event was geared for high schoolers and up. Apparently, at the camp, the bus driver went through quite the battle to make sure that parents didn't get their ten year-olds onto the bus, because the day we had planned back at school was not catered for younger kids. But, once the people from Mpaka made it all the way back to Mbabane, and to Waterford, we were waiting, and the day only went uphill from there.

This was meant to be a day with purpose. Once everyone got there, we broke into discussion groups. There was a group for those interested in working in medicine, a group for those wanting careers in science, one for those interested in business, and various other groups for those who weren't yet quite sure. The core in all of the groups was discussing issues in education, and how to achieve despite them, along with goal-setting, careers, and general things in life that everyone would like to see improved.

After settling all the groups down into their respective locations (sigh, organizing 150 people is hard), I sat down with my favorite group of people to talk to - the twelve-year old boys. They're hilarious honest, and goofy, and just great to be around. Last time I had talked to this particular group, they had described the challenges they were having in school because they weren't Swazi. This time, several of them were speaking siSwati, and said that everything was great. (They're still oh-so proud of their English).

The boys had plenty of ideas that were different for each other, but the one thing that they could agree on was that the worst thing at the camp was drinking and smoking. It's always strange to see a group of twelve year-olds swearing that they'll never drink, and wondering whether they'll be able to keep that up, especially considering the particularly difficult hands of cards that they've been dealt. I really hope they can.

After these discussion groups, we quickly gathered back in the ampitheater to re-group. I couldn't help but smile as I heard Waterford business students talking with some of the older guys from the camp about what you need to start a business. Sometimes it feels like discussions are a waste of time, but in other ways, it's empowerment. Knowledge is power.

Anyways, after that we split into what I had meant to be the "fun activities." I put that in quotes not because they weren't fun, but because they were just so much more productive than I expected. Everyone picked between the climbing wall, volleyball, dancing, Wii, and using the computers. I headed over to the IT center, which proved to be the most popular choice by far.

Once we got over there, these guys used the one hour they had on the internet to their advantage! I've never seen so many school admissions applications, college forms, and homework printed. They were creating email addresses, typing business letters, and researching scholarships. I genuinely hope that something works out that stems from that one hour, because it was the most glorious use of the IT center that I have ever seen.

Overall, it was just a wonderful day. It's a strange perspective to look back on an event and be proud of how I organized it, and not simply of just "how it went." (Believe me, nothing ever just "goes." Someone makes it "go"). The understanding that everyone has a chance to do whatever they want in life is something that can sometimes pass kids up when they grow up in the camp, and I strongly believe that days like this make a difference. And that makes me proud.

For tonight, I've got a geography essay, a French essay, and a whole mess of random homework. And I'm thankful for that chance. And I'm not even being facetious.