So I know that many of you have been asking for pictures, and I want to thank all of you for being patient as I uploaded them using the very, very slow internet here. I’ve now got enough of them up to bring everyone up to speed on what my eyes have been seeing in this beautiful country. You can find photos of where I’ve been and some of the people I’ve met here by going to this link:
The only non-Swaziland album is the Israel one!
June 20, 2009
Ok, so I know everyone who travels to Africa is expected to get sick at least once, and I hope this is my once. I must have eaten something very bad yesterday, or maybe some bad water sneaked into something I ate or drank, because I spent last night paying for it hardcore. I think it might have been the potato salad or the beef stew from the meal at the event yesterday. I thought about calling Ncamsile last night to tell her I wasn’t going to make it to the final Day of the African Child, but thought I’d wait until morning in case it was just a passing thing. I woke up this morning at 5:30 and tried to stand up and was overwhelmed with dizziness and a strange heaviness in my stomach, and laid back down and called her to tell her I wouldn’t be able to come today. She sounded very worried and asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, and I said I probably just needed a day of not moving around too much. She said, “Ok, you just stay at Eden and please get better, ok? Please just feel better soon, please, please. I’ll take the road past your place on my way back to Mbabane to check on you.” I went back to sleep and woke up at 9 feeling like I’d been glued to the bed, and I forced myself to get up and take a shower, and then I walked slowly over to the dining hall to have some coffee. I tried nibbling on a rice cake and successfully kept it down, and drank my coffee while typing some notes on my computer. Finally around 11:30, I got truly hungry and decided I’d make some rice pudding for myself with the leftover Jasmine rice I had in the fridge. I mixed it with some soy milk and some brown sugar and ate about half of it before I felt like I couldn’t eat anymore, and then I made myself drink some juice and water.
All of that aside, though, I am glad I got to stay at the guest house today and spend more time with Sindi and Chazile and Antonio. We had some more siSwati lessons, and I found out more about Antonio – that he is from Mozambique originally, and isn’t married but has two kids with two different women, one in Mozambique and one in South Africa. He wouldn’t tell me his age, but he said that he is under 37, so “I’m not old.” I laughed but was a little sad inside, and it reminded me of a conversation with Andile (the intern) from the day before, when he told me that 40 is old to him, and that his mother is 65 and that he’s extremely lucky that she is still alive. It makes me appreciate our standards of living and health care in the U.S. even more when I hear things like that; they may not be perfect and we certainly still need reform, but at least most of us can usually count on having at least 20 – 30 more years to spend with our loved ones than those who live in developing countries.
As I was making my rice pudding, Chazile and I chatted, and the subject turned to one that has been uncomfortable for me from the first day I arrived. I know that most of Swaziland is Christian, and people here talk very openly about being “saved” or believing in Jesus Christ when you first meet them, and they don’t hesitate to ask me what my beliefs are. I certainly don’t want to lie, but I also sense that it is a matter of deep importance to the people here, so I am still unsure of the best way to handle this as a non-Christian. I think it’s the language that is used here that is most unsettling to me, the “Hellow, my name is X and I’m saved” thing. Chazile told me she goes to church a lot and that she believes in Jesus Christ, and then she asked me what religion I am. I said that I had an interesting childhood in that I was brought up with both Catholic and Jewish traditions because my parents are mixed religions. “Jewish?” she asked, looking concerned. “I heard that the Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus Christ; is that true?” I said that that is true, that Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus Christ as their savior. She looked troubled and said, “But this has caused confusion for you because now you don’t know what to believe. What about others in America – do they believe in Jesus Christ there?” I explained a rough breakdown of religious beliefs in America and said that yes, the majority are Christian but that there were many other religions represented as well. I told her that my family never attended church or Temple because my parents wanted us to decide for ourselves, and she said, “That’s good; so now you can just decide to go to church. Church is so freeing, and it really helps you a lot to learn how to pray, and what Jesus can do for you.” At that moment, she was called into the other room to assist with something, and I breathed an inward sigh of relief. I certainly wouldn’t mind attending church services with a friend here in Swaziland, but I felt like this conversation was getting to a point that would have been unpleasant for Chazile to hear, and I’m glad it ended when it did. I have been directly asked by many people already why I don’t go to church, and why I am not yet saved. It’s an extremely uncomfortable conversation every single time, with me feeling the eyes of my interrogator bore into me as I struggle to formulate a sensitive yet firm answer. I want to be as respectful as possible of the beliefs of my friends in general, which of course includes everyone I know in Swaziland, but I also feel that part of respecting someone else is being honest. So how do I handle this one?
I dozed for the rest of the afternoon until Ncamsile stopped by at around 5:30 on her way home, and then felt well enough to have some more rice cakes with slices of chicken on top and some tea. By the time I went to bed, I was feeling better enough to go to work again the next day. I went into the office later than usual on Friday morning (at Ncamsile’s insistence, as she wanted me to rest more) and arrived during the break of a management meeting that was in session. Everyone asked me how I was feeling and then Mandla told me to pull a chair up to the table so I could sit in on the meeting. The majority of the meeting, of course, was held in siSwati, but enough was in English (or used basic siSwati vocabulary) that I could follow a lot of what was happening. Mandla introduced me to everyone formally (there were people from the other regional offices present who hadn’t met me), and I had a chance to speak to everyone to tell them about myself and that I can offer some skills despite looking like I’m 18. I am really hoping to be able to help with some writing of reports or grants, as it was mentioned (forcefully) many times during the meeting that they really need the help of a person who is a strong writer in English. It was said that we should be able to write something that someone in America would find convincing, at which point, all heads turned to me with a wink. I hope that means I’ll get to help.
I had a full day of plans for today (Saturday), but unfortunately, they all fell through at the last minute. I was going to attend a support group for HIV positive children in Mbabane this morning, but the woman running it texted me early this morning to tell me that she wouldn’t be able to go after all because her father had suddenly fallen seriously ill. I hope that he is ok! I’ll just catch the support group the next time it meets. The other part of my day had been reserved for a performance by one of my co-workers, Sandile, who is putting on a theater show about gender roles and domestic violence and child abuse, but unfortunately, the rides didn’t work out and he promised to arrange for me to come to another one before I leave. So instead I went into town to wander around a bit before coming home to work at the guest house this afternoon. I went into a clothing shop to look for an inexpensive sweater, and as I was paying for it, one of the women behind the counter said, “Siphiwe! Unjani! (How are you?) I remember you.” And I remembered her, too – the last time I was in that shop (the only other time I was in that shop, actually), she had been sitting near the dressing rooms reading a newspaper with an incredulous look on her face. She looked up, saw me, and shoved the paper towards me, asking “Is this really true??” I looked at the page and saw a picture of that American transgendered man who had a baby, and I said that yes, it was true, and explained how. She stared at me in disbelief, alternating her dubious gaze between my face and the picture, and then she said, “Ach! That is crazy.” And that was that.
This time, she asked my surname, and I told her that my name is Siphiwe Mazibuko, and she and the other women burst into laughter and all started shouting a chorus of “Dudu! Dudu!!” Another woman appeared, and it turned out that her surname is also Mazibuko. Nokuthula had already explained to me that if you have the same surname as someone else, that makes you their sister or brother, so now I have another sister at Fashion World in Mbabane. I turned back to the register with a smile on my face, and the next thing I knew, a male voice was talking to me in siSwati from behind the counter in the stockroom. I looked up and there was a young man standing there taking inventory, looking at me. The women burst into uproarious laughter again and translated: “He is asking you to marry him.” He continued talking, and the woman said “He is inviting you to come to his family’s kraal and to wear a goatskin bracelet, and he wants to know what kind of ring you want.” and I said, “Oh, to cry in the kraal?” They all looked surprised, and then impressed that I knew what he was talking about. I asked about the goatskin bracelet, and one of the women explained, “When you marry a man and cry in the kraal, he gives the woman a bracelet made of goat skin that you have to wear forever after that.” She paused and said, “Those goatskin bracelets smell pretty bad, actually,” and pinched her nose. I replied that given the smelly goatskin bracelet, it was a bigger commitment than I thought to get married in the kraal, and she agreed, laughing. I laughed and backed out of the store with my purchase, and successfully made it out un-engaged. The problem is that Mbabane is so small that I tend to run into these guys again – and of course, it was only 1.5 hours later when I saw this guy again in town, waving at me and pointing to his ring finger.