Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Upon Returning to America

A few weeks ago, I read quote along the lines of "the point of travelling is not to be a foreigner in a foreign land, but to return to your homeland as a foreigner." Having returned to America after two years in Swaziland, I assure you, that is very much the case. As such, I would like to describe the top six things which have stood out to me over the past two days as points of major culture shock, which I am currently experiencing in my homeland.

  1. TELEVISION: I'm not sure if I got just a little bit too used to SABC (South African Broadcast Company) or Swazi TV, but American broadcast television (we don't have cable or satellite) is just bizarre. Infomercials, the extent of repetitive reality TV... I don't know why it's bizarre, but it just is. I haven't seen the United Auto Insurance commercial in a while, and it freaked me out. In other news, apparently if you have had a bladder sling and it has gone wrong, they want you to call their 800 number... I'm already yearning for the South African commercials.
  2. TRAFFIC: In America, it's so much more organized, and somehow that makes it that much scarier. In Swaziland, if they have an intersection, one road will go, and then the other. Here, they've got these massive systems of lights and signals and lanes and turn lanes and straight lanes, so that everyone is still driving all the time. I practically had a panic attack yesterday, half because I'm used to driving on the left and everything is backwards here, and half because there were a million cars going every direction when I thought only one side of the road should be driving!
  3. FENCES: There are none here. Anybody who has ever lived practically anywhere in southern Africa will understand how weird it is that there aren't any here. No barbed wire, no Inyatsi Security signs, no nothing. 
  4. FOOD: It's not a joke. American food is over-sized, over-processed, and kind of weird. The sugar has all these tiny white grains, compared to the big brown grains from the less-processed sugarcane in Swaziland. The pizzas are massive, maybe three or four times those from SD. Cookies are too perfect, and everything strikes me as just being a little bit not-food-ish. Even the vegetables are weirdly shiny. I scrubbed a pepper for twenty minutes yesterday, and then decided not to eat it, because it was just too polished.
  5. AMERICA IS A GHOST TOWN: There are literally no people outside. I know that it's cold, but there's not that much snow, and even when it's pouring rain outside there are people around in Swaziland. Even in summer, people aren't outside here. It's bizarre. It's like the aliens have come and abducted everyone in America except for me... and then I see a car drive by. But still, there's nobody outside here.
  6. BOILING WATER: Strangely enough, the electric kettles that we use in Swaziland are faster at boiling water than using the metal kettle and the stove like I do here. My tea takes forever, and I feel impatient. Just so you know that Swaziland is more efficient than America, in at least one area.
And that's my list. There are many more, as I'm sure my mother will tell you... apparently I've been walking around the house like someone who has grown up underground and is seeing the sky for the first time in forever.

Monday, November 24, 2014

It Shall Come To Pass.

And so that's it. Two years in Swaziland, I blinked, and it's over. I spent the last two days in airports and planes, flying from Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi and back to America. It's crazy to think about the day that I first got the letter from UWC, asking me to apply, all the way until now, as I've technically become an "alumni," but it really doesn't feel like that. I feel like in the middle of January, I'm going to get on a plane and fly back to Swaziland for another year. Logically, I know I'm not, but that doesn't change the feeling.

Despite my tears and frustrations at being scattered from my best friends and adoptive family, it's strange that life goes on. I got back to the States last night, and I have a job interview in approximately an hour (kind of panicked at what I'm supposed to wear, looking at my haphazard suitcase in front of me), an appointment with the Indian visa people in a week to process my visa for March, a whole lot of other things to do for Semester at Sea, and a rather neglected life and family here in Illinois that I have one month to catch up with before leaving again.

It's strange. There's really no other word for it. During exams, we would joke that no matter how much or how little you study, the exams will simply come to pass. Time keeps going, and no matter what we do, it's going to pas us by, whether we like it or not. When I think about the fact that three days ago I woke up next to my best friend in Swaziland, and now I'm looking out the window at America, my head kind of spins. It all seems so big, somehow overwhelming to even think about the distance between myself and so many of the people I love so dearly. And then there's always that realization that no matter where I go, there will always be someone I love who is on the other side of the world.

And that, as they say, is the price we pay for the life we live.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Diwali at Waterford UWC

Hello! All right, let me try and get this blog back on track.

In July, my friend from India asked me how to write an event proposal. A few months later, we were shopping for, preparing for, and setting up for a Hindu festival called Diwali, which we were hosting as a cultural event here at school.

First of all, there was the food. Waterford so generously gave us funding for the event, so we were able to make a bit of Indian food for everyone to try. So, all morning was spent in the kitchen, working to make pakuras from chickpea flower, onions, and some spices.

Photo Credit: Deepali Tikone

Then, I left to start working on set-up. It took about eight hours to get all the furniture and equipment moved between buildings and set up properly, and then to set up all the decorations, including many strings of lights and about 200 candles, but in the end, I'm really proud of how it worked out!

Photo credit: Sarah Hahn

We rushed around like chickens with our heads cut off for the entire day, but the event itself was well worth it. We set the limit at 80 people to attend, because of the food and space limitations, and every single ticket that we gave out returned to us with a lovely person, complete in their requisite Indian attire, or at least a valiant attempt at such.

The program for the evening included a dance, a presentation about the history and religious significance of Diwali as the Festival of Lights, an lesson in dance, food tasting, and a fireworks display. For all of you who know Waterford, you might have a small inkling of how proud I am that we got fireworks on the field, smack in the middle of the cricket pitch! The following photos are credit to Kim Sinnige.

I almost had a change of life plans after this event, thinking I wanted to be an event planner or something. Anyways... I really encourage anybody at a UWC (or even another school) where you think you are lacking in cultural events to get up and do one yourself! Diwali here was something really special, and I hope that it's started a tradition in cultural events for years to come. 

Oh, and one massive final thank you to Deepali, my partner in crime in having the idea for, planning for, and getting this whole event to happen. Also, thanks to Nayifa and Sarah for working themselves silly all day setting up and cleaning up, and also to Waterford's administration for being so generous with the funding for this event, so that nobody had to pay anything to get in the door. And thanks to everyone who came and enjoyed!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Epilogue to Swaziland and Prequel to Semester at Sea

Hello! I feel like I've completely abandoned this blog, but someone just told me that their husband found it and was reading and laughing at the stories, and so I'm feeling inspired to start writing again.

I finish my time here in Swaziland in just over two weeks, which, after two years here, is a crazy notion indeed. For those two weeks, I'm busy writing my final exams, and so there won't be much posting in that time. But, once I return to Chicago in December, I'll try to fill in some of the better stories that have happened here in the kingdom over the past few months.

And soon enough, the next adventure is going to start! The guy who has paid for my time here in Swaziland (Shelby Davis, super cool dude, spends all his money on international education scholarships), has given me a full scholarship to participate in the Semester at Sea program. So, I get to live on what is essentially a converted cruise ship and sail around the world for four months, starting in the beginning of January. So, I assure you, the adventures are not over, and this blog was merely in hibernation, not entirely dead.

In the meantime, I'll just tell you that there is a eight inch long spider (maybe twenty centimeters) chilling in the bathroom, and we're all admittedly a little bit scared of it. Admittedly, I'm also going to miss the fact that all the insects here in Swaziland are humorously big.

Until December, when you can expect a few more Swaziland stories and some preparation tales for Semester at Sea!