Gardens for orphans

Thuli’s eyes are crinkled from a life spent laughing. Her laugh fills whatever space she is in, and her smile lights up a room, even with its missing teeth. However, she’s not smiling now.

“For months now, there is no food. If we had a garden, we could grow maize and vegetables for the children. We could feed them.”

I smile. I love gardens.

“I can help with that,” I respond. “Let’s plant a garden. We can write a grant for the funds.”

Thuli beams and pulls me into a tight hug. Her arms, strong from stirring maize meal and hoeing fields, hold me close. I hug her back, laughing and smiling at her obvious delight.

Thuli is a caregiver at a neighborhood care point, or NCP, in the rural community I lived in for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) in southern Swaziland. With the unemployment rate at about 40% and an HIV prevalence rate of 26%, many people are unable to provide for their families. NCPs provide daily meals for orphans and vulnerable children so they can get enough to eat.

Almost a year and a half later, I joined Thuli and the four other caregivers at the NCP. It’s located down a dirt road, heavily potholed and rutted, past maize fields and houses made from mud and straw. A rusted fence surrounds the concrete building with missing windows. The caregivers prepare meals in a hut built from tin sheets. Kids below the age of five play while the women cook over the open fire, their backs bent straight to stir the pot of maize meal porridge.

I’ve walked the hour and a half with a bag full of empty egg cartons and seed packets. I’m teaching the women how to plant seedling trays. While the women are experienced gardeners, this is their first time growing seedlings themselves rather than buying them. They smile and chat as they add soil, manure, and seeds carefully into each little space. They’re learning something new. In two weeks or so, the women will plant the seedlings in the garden they’ve spent the last few weeks preparing.

“This is simple!” Thuli says to me.

“Don’t forget to water them!” I laugh.

“Oh no, obvious!” She laughs back.

In my last week in my community before moving to the capital to start my third year with the World Food Programme, I went to visit Thuli and the other ladies. The garden was thriving. The seedlings were now almost full grown, and the two plots were filled with young vegetables. Soon the women would be able to feed the children. The building itself was in the process of getting a facelift, as a local builder mixed cement to hold the new windows I helped them write a grant for. Thuli saw me coming and met me at the gate.

“It’s beautiful now,” she says, smiling and looking proudly around.

I smile back at her.

“Yes, it is.”

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The above is a short story I wrote for Senator Patrick Leahy. He’s my Senator and is on one of the committees that helps fund Peace Corps. I was asked as a constituent of his to write a story and send it to him so he can see what the money he helps provide does. I’ve also included two of the pictures I sent him as well.

I wanted to show you all what my life was like on a daily basis and the kind of work I was doing. Now that I’m working for the World Food Programme, my life lacks some of those little moments that I loved in service. Going back and writing about just one of them was a wonderful experience. I hope you enjoy!

Into the New Year

Happy Valentine’s Day from Swaziland! I hope you all spent your holiday with loved ones and, more importantly, chocolate.
Things are going well here in the Kingdom! This week we finally broke ground on the garden for orphans that’s been in the works since September. We had serious weather delays (days and days of rain in October and November) and then the holiday season made the whole country grind to a halt, but we are finally getting everything going in the New Year. I’m really excited about it. It’s the project I wanted to do while I was here, so hopefully it all comes together like I see it in my mind. It makes me laugh though, since the delays and the struggles really exemplify what it is like working here. Unless you really push to make something happen on time, nothing will happen when it is supposed to. We call it Swazi Time, but really it applies to all of Africa. Its not just development work, either. If I have a meeting scheduled for 10, I know that I can expect it to begin at the earliest 10:30, probably closer to 11. In the almost two years I’ve been here, I’m still not used to this concept of time. I’ve had to work out a system with my friend and counterpart Senelsiwe; when she’s ready to go to a meeting, she calls me. That way I’m not sitting around waiting for her to get ready to go. When I first arrived, she would say “Let’s go at 8”, so I would show up at her place at 8, only to find that she hasn’t even begun to get ready. It meant I got to spend a lot of time with her family, but waiting around gets tiresome after a while! Thank god for the system, it saves me a lot of sitting around.
But I digress. Back to what I’ve been up too.
So the garden is getting started. Along with that, I’m also working on getting the preschool that’s operating at the same care point some toys and educational tools. Most of the learning materials will just be print outs of numbers, shapes, and letters, but I want to get them some toys. There is a NGO that works through the Embassy that gives teddy bears to kids. I’m going to get in touch with them and try to get teddy bears for all the kids who come to the school, about 18 of them between the ages of 2-6. I’d also like to get toys and teddy bears for the other preschool I’m working with, but that one is must more established. The one with the garden is just an empty room with no windows at the moment, so they need all the help they can get.
The new school year has started, so I’m back in the schools. I’m only working one day a week at each one, and at the moment am teaching Grade 5 and Form 2. I’m pretty comfortable with just those classes for this term, since I’m only around until August at the latest. It will make transitioning much easier if I don’t have to leave a bunch of classes half way through the term. I’m teaching life skills to the younger kids (decision making, gender discussions, study tips) and HIV education to the older group. So far so good!
I’m also really excited to announce that BOTH my high school and my primary school will be getting libraries this year through Books for Africa!! This is so awesome, especially for the e primary school. Until this year, they didn’t even have a room for a library, let alone any books. They are an incredibly poor school, so it’s going to help so much to have a library. The kids will LOVE it. They’ll be getting almost a thousand kids books, things like picture books and early novels. The high school has a library, but it’s currently filled with old, outdated textbooks. There are books I used in high school in there, its crazy. Science books from the 70s, encyclopedias from the 80s, its just awful how old these books are. And since they are all textbooks, none of the kids use them. They sit on the shelves collecting dust. The new books will be great for them, since it will give them almost a thousand novels and general reading books. It’s going to be so amazing. I’ve also gotten incredibly lucky in the new librarian, Thando. In the month since school started, he has completely reorganized the existing books, cleaned out all the junk and old books that were in cardboard boxes in the corners, and written up a log of what they already have on the shelves. It’s been wonderful to watch him work. He’s so excited about the books and keeps hounding the head teacher to get more shelves and other supplies. I love having allies!
Camp GLOW is in April. I’ll be sending three girls from my community to camp this year, along with a counselor. I’m excited for the application and interview process, which will happen over this next month. The girls have to apply to camp, write an essay, get a recommendation, and have an interview. Its great real world experience for them, whether they get into camp or not. I’m hoping to have about twelve girls apply.
Otherwise, I’m doing well. Still undecided about extending, but its looking like it will happen. My plan is to stick around for an extra 10 months, getting me back stateside in June of 2015. That would give me a few months home before hopefully heading to grad school. I’ve applied to a few, so we’ll see how it plays out. I also took the Foreign Service Officer Test last week, which is the exam anyone who wants to work for the State Department overseas has to take. It went well, but very few people pass each year, so I’m not sure what will happen. Keeping my fingers crossed!
As of Christmas, I have a new edition to my hut. A friend found a kitten on her homestead, barely a week old. She couldn’t take care of him, so I did. After weeks of hand rearing, he is now a devil on four legs, running rampant around my hut and completely adorable. His name is Willy Shakes, and he’ll definitely be coming home with me. He’s got me wrapped around his finger. I’ll include some pictures for you. He’s just too cute.
Not much else to report. If anyone is interested in sending books for the two libraries I’m starting, let me know. If you’ve got some old books lying around that you were going to donate or try to sell, consider promoting literacy and a love of reading here in Swaziland. I can send you the address if you’re interested.
Stay warm everyone. It’s a scorcher here today, 90 degrees and sunny!!
Lots of love,
Hilary

Seven months?

This title has a fun double meaning; not only has it been seven months since I last wrote (whoops) but I also have only seven months left in my two year service. It’s cliche to say time flies, but cliches exist for a reason. Time really does fly. These past few months have been the busiest of my service, and only promise to get busier. My projects have finally begun, I’ve spent a term in classrooms teaching life skills, and my girl’s empowerment club has really taken off. It’s been a trying time for me, but overall these months are probably some of my favorite to date.

Let’s see what I’ve been up to, shall we? 

In late August, my dad and brother came over to visit. While the trip had its mishaps (unscheduled trip to Pretoria, anyone?) it was one of the most fun weeks of my life. The boys absolutely loved Swaziland and can’t wait to come back. Cape Town was a thing of dreams after a year of rare showers and subpar food. I’d forgotten that microbrews and mexican food existed until Cape Town! The guys, who are used to such luxuries, enjoyed it as well. Grey got some shopping in and Dad spent so little money on beer I’m pretty sure he thought it was a dream! But most importantly, the three of us got to spend 10 days of mostly uninterrupted time together, which was more than necessary.

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Dad, Grey, and I in Cape Town

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Grey and I with my host Make

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My gogo (grandma)

 

After the guys left, I started really getting busy. I finally got onto the teaching schedule at both the High School and the Primary School, teaching once a week to four different grades, totaling four classes a week. Grades 5 and 6 explored issues of self esteem, role models, decision making, and values, while Forms 2 and 4 delved deeper into HIV education and sex ed than I think they were ready to. While often extremely exhausting, these classes also included some of my most fun memories. The five minutes of straight laughter when I first brought out the condom model (a lifesize rubber male sex organ) was music to my ears. And I’ll never forget the faces of my Grade 6 students when I demonstrated that girls were just as strong as boys by doing ten pushups in front of them. 

Along with teaching life skills, I also started spending a few hours a week at the local preschool. These kids are just too dang cute! I taught them the itsy bitsy spider, but they don’t really follow it well. Their favorite part is the “WASH!” part, as they wave their arms and cry it all out together in unison. It’s too cute for words, I’ll just have to attach a video (if I can…). We also worked on colors and numbers, using Brown Bear, Brown Bear as a model. They didn’t have the book (or any books really, more on that later) so I taught them the rhyme and we acted it out. Later I printed and colored pictures for them, and now we have visual stimulation as well. We also worked on counting and adding. Their English is limited by the English abilities of their teachers (which isn’t much) so I’ve been trying to work on that with them. It will definitely give them a head start next year when they move onto Grade 1. Image

Adorable Preschool girls!

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Itsy bitsy spider

 

The project I’ve wanted to start since I arrived, a garden, has finally begun. I’m beginning one at my Neighborhood Care Point (NCP), which provides a daily meal to 30 preschool aged orphans and vulnerable children in the area. The women who run it get mealie meal, oil, and beans every month from the World Food Programme and are expected to provide anything else out of their own pockets. For these women, that is often too much. With a garden on the property, they’ll be able to feed the children nutritious meals every day and have a backup if the WFP delivery doesn’t make it when it should. We have a grant from Peace Corps for fencing, tools, and seedlings to start the garden, but have been stuck in weather and development hell. It’s been raining almost non stop since summer began in November, which has made the ground mud and severely limited my travel time (the NCP is over an hour walk away, through muddy trails). I’ve also personally been incredibly busy, so making the trip with my friend work with our schedules is difficult. We have a plan this weekend to purchase fencing, and hopefully will have it set up by the New Year. I want to plant our first seedlings by mid January. This is Africa, however, so I’m not holding my breath on that timeline. 

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The site of my future NCP Garden!

 

GLOW is also thriving. We are on school break right now, but we had some wonderful sessions right before the end of the year. The girls had fun acting out scenarios that forced them to be assertive and really enjoyed a teamwork exercise involving a rope tunnel. I’m really enjoying my Friday afternoons with them. We’ve also gotten started planning for next year’s Camp GLOW, with our Training of Trainers to be in early January. Camp will be in April and should be a ton of fun!

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Girls from GLOW helping each other between the string.Image

GLOW girls leading each other blindfolded through an obstacle course.

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The most recent project I’ve started is called Books For Africa. BFA provides a much needed service to local schools; libraries. Every school accepted by the program gets 1,500 book donated from America. My two schools are really indicative of the types of schools in Swaziland. One, the high school, has a library filled to the brim with donated college text books that are gathering dust as the students routinely ignore them. The other, the primary school, doesn’t even have a room to house a library. Through BFA, I am hoping to bring novels and more age appropriate books to the high school and a brand new library filled with books for the primary school. In order to do so, I need some help. We have to fundraise half of the grant amount in order to ship the books from America. We are about half way there. If you are interested in contributing to charity this holiday season, I have to recommend this program. It is tax deductible, and will really make a difference in the lives of so many kids in Swaziland who other wise would not be able to enjoy books. We take them for granted in America, but they really are a privilege in most of the world. The link to donate is below. Please think about it, and spread the word!  https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-645-001

On another note, anyone who has spoken with my parent’s recently has probably heard about my most recent exciting opportunity. I’ve been offered a third year position working with the World Food Programme in the capital, Mbabane. What this would mean for me is that I would stay a third year in the Peace Corps as a volunteer and work with the WFP in their offices. I wouldn’t be an intern, but I wouldn’t be paid by WFP, I would still be on PC’s dime. I’d live in an apartment in the capital and have a 9-5 office job. My task for the WFP would be to help them make their Food by Prescription project sustainable. This project provides food bundles and fortified maize meal to severely malnourished people who are on ARVs, or AIDS treatment drugs. Once they are deemed healthy again, these people graduate and stop receiving help from the WFP. They want to stop relapses from happing, or prevent people from getting malnourished again. I’d help them design new programs to prevent relapse, things like community gardens, income generating project training, nutrition classes, and other things. I’m really excited about this opportunity, as it encompasses a lot of things that I am passionate about; food security, sustainability, public health, and gardening. It’s really amazing, as I would develop numerous contacts in the development world and would have the UN on my resume (WFP is part of that). Its a once in a lifetime thing for me. The bonus part is that Peace Corps would send me back stateside for a month, on their dime, in the summer. So I’d get to be home for a month! 

This is in no way finalized. I have a lot of time to figure it out. I’m also applying to some graduate programs and am taking the Foreign Service Test next month, just to have my options open. I’ll fill everyone in as it all progresses. But what do you think? Should I do it?

For now, I’ll end here. Its been a long post, and thank you everyone for reading it. If you’ve gotten this far, I congratulate you! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season (or had it, if you were lucky to celebrate thanksgivukah!) and I’ll be thinking of you all this Christmas and New Years.

Happy Holidays, and all my love.

 

Boston and what’s been happening.

When I heard about Monday’s attack at the Boston Marathon, my heart nearly stopped. My chest tightened, I could barely breathe, and my skin tingled. Boston was my home for four years, and although I haven’t lived there since 2011, it still holds a special place in my heart. It is where I made some of my best friends, friends who live there still. The panic I felt for them was, luckily, quickly quenched through reassuring messages on Facebook, but the pain for my city still lingers days later. Cities have a spirit, a personality that is hard to define, but easy to recognize. Boston is no different. While the city will take some time to heal, I am proud of the stories I have heard of people coming together and supporting each other, and Boston, through its tough time. I was especially proud of the Yankee’s, who played “Sweet Caroline” at their most recent game. I know I am not alone in my pain and grief. The hundred of thousands of people who called Boston home for their college years will understand what I am feeling. The pain of being away from it is only equal to the relief of being away. I know that I would have been on the edge of the lines, cheering on the runners with the rest of the city. Part of me is overcome with relief that I am in Swaziland, away from it all. But a much larger part of me wishes I were there, so I could be a part of that support system. I can keep thinking about what if’s until the cows come home, but in the end, what matters is that I feel for Boston, for my city, for my friends and family who still call it home, and for the spirit that permeates every inch of Boston. Boston is strong, it will come back from this.

Being here, I am constantly reminded of the goodness of people, of the strength and perseverance that so many show on a daily basis. I’m surrounded by examples, like the woman who came to my recent cookstove workshop. She’s in her mid thirties, is unemployed, and cares for about 10 children, most of whom are not her own. She lives in a mud and stick hut, cooks outdoors, and works in her fields, all on her own. She is unmarried, and is the sole provider for these kids. Yet, every week, she manages to come and act as secretary for the local umphakatsi, or the local government meetings. She cares about what is happening in her community, about how she can make it a better place. She attends workshops and trainings to better herself so she can care for her kids. She is a constant reminder to me of how much difference a single person can make. I am so proud of her and proud to be her friend.

 

Two weeks ago, I held an improved cookstove workshop in my community. Although we had training on improved cookstoves back in December, I must admit I wasn’t paying much attention. I had my friend Walker come and assist me, since he has been incredibly successful in his own community with them. Our other friend, Caitlin, came as well. It was a resounding success. Eight women, all of them the sole caretakers on their homesteads, attended and learned how to build a small outdoor cookstove using clay, recycled tin cans, and rocks. The workshop took about an hour, as we talked the women through the process and built one at the chief’s homestead. It was the first workshop I had run, and I was incredibly stressed, but it went really well. Since then, many women have come to me asking about the stoves and how they can build one. I keep referring them to the women who attended, saying that they should be the teachers. This helps sustain the project, as well as giving the women much needed self esteem boosts.

I’ve also been running a girls club at my high school, GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). About every two weeks, I meet with 10 girls after school and we talk about issues in their lives. One week we did self esteem art projects, where the girls had to draw pictures and then list positive attributes of themselves. I followed it up with a session on healthy relationships. There is a huge issue of multiple concurrent partnerships in Swaziland, where many people, both men and women, have two or more sexual partners at a time. Many of the girls had expressed issues with cheating boyfriends to me, so I wanted to see what they believed a healthy relationship entailed. It was incredibly interesting, especially because of cultural differences. There were several instances where I thought something was healthy and they thought it was unhealthy. It led to serious debate on the subject, but overall I believe the girls learned a lot. The club has been very successful so far, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Camp GLOW, the annual camp for all the PC GLOW groups in Swaziland, is at the end of the month. I’m helping with the organizing this year as a member of the food committee. We are having elections for organizing positions for next year this week, I hope to head the food committee at the next camp. Last year’s was a huge success and this year is looking to be as well. More on that after it happens!

Otherwise, life in the Kingdom goes on. Winter is coming, the maize harvests are starting to come in, the grass is drying out and turning brown. Some nights I have to put on slippers and a sweater, some nights I’m in shorts and a t-shirt, so the weather hasn’t made up its mind yet. In May, my friend Morgan is coming from Vermont for a visit. I’m really excited, she will be here for two weeks and we are going to spend time in Mozambique and at local game reserves. The next group of volunteers will be here in less than two months, which will not only mark the one year anniversary of my arrival but will also be the beginning of the end for volunteers from the previous group. They are excited to be off on their end of service trips and to be heading home, but I’ll certainly miss them. It’s crazy to me that I’ve been here almost a full year!!

Lots of love to everyone, and thank you for your continued support, it means the world to me.

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Home!

A small collection of photos from my homestead, in my hut, and of my garden! My hut is the round one with the thatch roof! The one of the man with the dogs is my host father (Babe) and our dogs Nicki and Molly.

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Christmas and the month of never being home

December in Swaziland is an interesting month. Very little ever gets done. School ends for the year the first few days of the month, people work hard in the maize fields, and PCVs travel. The entire month of December, I was home at site for 12 days total. It was insane, with lots of packing, unpacking, washing clothes, hurried meals, and endless bus rides. But now, after a month of non stop madness, I’m almost back home. A quick stop at the office to check if I have packages, and then I’ll head home to my lovely hut.

I didn’t realize what stopping in to get packages would entail. I didn’t realize how many of my family and friends were thinking of me on Christmas! Three large packages waited for me, and each was stuffed with delicious treats, really useful kitchen supplies, a few small alcoholic items, and more love than I could handle. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for my gifts. They are absolutely wonderful. Nini, GPD, Mum, Dad, Grey, Aunt Sandy, Uncle Bill, everyone. Thank you so much. I can’t wait to try to carry it all home! If you sentme something and I didn’t mention you, I probably just haven’t gotten it yet. No worries, it’ll all arrive eventually!

So more about this month. Where, might you ask, have I been for the past 30 days? Swaziland is small, how much traveling could one do in that time!? Well, to start it all off, I had a weeklong training the first week of the month. That was fun, but exhausting! I couldn’t believe we used to have days of training like that, for weeks at a time. A week of 8-5 and I was done. Either I’ve become really lazy, or I’ve just got a different feel of time. I’m going with the latter. Following our training, I had to come immediately back into town in order to work on the SOJO. The SOJO is our PCV newsletter, and during our training me and two fellow volunteers, Tim and Blythe, were elected to run it for the next  year. It’s a three day commitment a month, and its completley covered by Peace Corps. Basically, its a mandatory three day vacation in town once a month. Besides that, we have to write, edit, and print a newsletter, so I guess its work too. Once we finished the first edition, I went to my friend Kelley’s house for her birthday. We went to the one movie theater in Swaziland, saw Breaking Dawn (no shame!) and had a great dinner. The next day, I had planned to go to another friend’s birthday party at the local country club, but I woke up feeling really bad, so I went home. The next 5 days were spent lounging around, trying to recover for the end of the world! We had a party for that anticlimactic event, then back to site the next day.

Christmas was wonderful. We met up in the capital at the hostel we all stay at, this place called Bombaso’s. Almost 20 PCVs, a pool, and two full days of laziness. I brought my tent and spent Christmas Eve under the stars. The next morning, me and my friend Ryan cooked Christmas dinner. Three large roasted chickens, freshly killed and plucked, butternut squash, stuffing, mashed potatos, roasted beets and carrots, green beans, salad, and of course, wine. We had a Christmas feast! It wouldn’t have been Swaziland without its issues, of course. Halfway through roasting the chickens, the power went out. We lost power for an hour, which delayed the food by about as much. Luckily, everything was still absolutely delicious. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I cooked some damn fine food.

After the food coma had worn off, we all packed up on Boxing Day and headed back home for two days. Then it was the thing everyone had been looking forward to; Durban. 15 volunteers, one city, 5 days. We had such an amazing time! Sunny beaches, palm trees, a real city, and the food. Oh, the food. On the street our hostel was on, we had more choices then we could even imagine. Thai, sushi, Indian, Cuban, Italian, some little Hawaiian place, froyo, gelato, vegetarian cafes, coffee shops, cocktail bars, regular bars, anything we wanted, Florida Rd had. It was unbelievable. Coming from Swaziland, where the capital maybe has 4 different restaurants or bars you can choose from, all the options were overwhelming. Everything was delicious too. We also went to the largest mall in southern Africa. I thought I was back in America, it was so overwhelming! Except for the stores, which were different than in America, it was exactly like I had walked into a mall in Ohio or California (not Vermont..). The only thing I wanted from this trip that I didn’t get was to see The Hobbit, but I guess I can’t have everything.

Now that I”m back, I am incredibly ready to not leave site for a month. I have no commitments to anything this month, so I’m going to get my garden going (finally) and spend some quality time with my family here. They are great people and are on vacation too, so I hope to spend lots of time with them. My library project got approved as well, so I’ll be starting that. If anyone wants to donate books or money to the project, let me know! The link to donate money will be at the end of this post, and if you want to donate books we can organize it. When school starts back up at the end of the month, I’ll be teaching life skills probably a few days a week. I’m really looking forward to that. Things are finally getting going!

Happy Holidays to everyone. I hope your days were merry, not too cold, and filled with love and friendship. I love you all.

 

Link to donate to the Books for Africa Library Project!

https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-645-003

The end of Integration, the start of real life

Hey all!

Today marks the last day of my integration period. Integration is the first three months of your service, designed to make you stay at site and get integrated into your community. The idea is, the better you know each other, the more you’ll be able to do with them in the future. We can’t start any real projects and we’re limited to one night away from our home a month for those three months. It’s a really great idea and honestly, I didn’t mind the time. Now its over, I’m really looking forward to spending nights away without planning them months in advance. My nights in September, October and November were planned back in August. Now, if I’m hanging out in my town with one of my volunteer friends and we want to go back to her place and watch a movie, no problem! It makes things a lot easier and less stressful.

On the other hand, now I can start my projects! December will entail organizing sponsors and finances for the Neighborhood Care Point (NCP) in my community. The NCP is a government funded program that provides food and care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs). Sadly, most of the funds for that have been diverted or discontinued. My NCP hasn’t had food for about 6 months and the building they are running out of doesn’t have a roof. I’ve made contact with a local missionary group here that wants to set up NCPs, so hopefully I can arrange with them to finish the building and provide food until we establish a garden. That’s going to be my part of it. I’d like to help develop a garden for the women that is run on permaculture principles. It’ll be easier for them to maintain with little water and through the dry months. I’d like to get that started, and then in January, when the schools open up again, get my library started. 

So that’s the future plans. For now though, its almost Thanksgiving. The Ambassador from the US is hosting a big meal for us Peace Corps Volunteers, which will be wonderful. Almost every volunteer is coming down for it, so it’ll be amazing to see everyone. Then the first week of December is our In Service Training (IST), the first of our trainings following the two month training over the summer. Every group 10 volunteer has to go, so I’ll be seeing the whole group for a week. I am really looking forward to it! I am bringing some Wartinger family Thanksgiving traditions to the Swaz. Bought a bottle of Bourbon today, and am working on a playlist for a 50s-60s dance party. I’ll be dancing and drinking with you in spirit, Woods and Water Estates!

Love you all

Two months

I have been at my home community for two months now. It’s surreal. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that only two months of my two year commitment have passed. It seems like so much more. Tomorrow marks the 4 month mark for my time in Swaziland, as well as the longest I have ever lived outside of the United States. For all that I have traveled and lived elsewhere, this is the first time it has been more than a four month stretch. Part of me is really sad about this. It’s a small part, but I miss the US sometimes. Most of me is incredibly excited for the next 23 months of my adventure, however. There is so much to do!

I’m in my integration period, so technically I can’t start projects. However, I am getting an early start on the high school library. My high school has a pretty functioning library, as far as Swazi libraries go. There is a locked room, with shelves, and a checkout system. The books, however, range from textbooks on Molecular Biology and Rocket Science to Highlights Magazines from the 80’s. The few novels they have are on one small shelf, and the covers are so worn you can’t read the titles. The space has such potential, it just needs a bit of love. Luckily, my bhuti (brother) is the librarian this term. I’m uniquely placed in that I live with the person who can help me rebuild it. This week I am giving him the application for Books for Africa, which would get us over 1,500 books for the library if we are accepted. Hopefully, he and I can organize a complete refurbishment of the library at the high school.

Some other project ideas: helping mothers create kitchen gardens at their homes, creating income generating projects for out of work youth, drama club at the high school.

Last weekend, I went to a dubstep concert and slept in a game reserve in a tent surrounded by zebras and warthogs. Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m in Africa. That was not one of those times. 

Otherwise, life moves on here. Its the start of the rainy season, which has been harder on me than I thought it would be. Swaziland shuts down when it rains, especially in the rural communities. I tend to spend my days inside my hut, reading or marathoning my favorite TV shows. While this isn’t too bad (I’ve FINALLY watched Breaking Bad…I feel like a real person now who gets things) it definitely wears on you. In other news, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga and work out tapes in my small hut, which has been really great for me physically. Thanks so some amazing care packages, I have a ton of cards hanging on my wall, which brighten up my home, as well as new sheets, delicious coffees and teas, and of course, chocolate! Thank you so much to everyone who has been thinking of me and sending me love from the States. It makes my day and my life a little brighter to know you’ve been missing me as I’ve been missing you. 

Lots of love from Africa!