Oh the memories…

In honor of my two-year anniversary in Swaziland on June 27th, I’ve decided to make a list of some memories that stand out to me.

– The small neighbor children during training trying to “borrow me” their cat

– Boiling so much water in my closed house that my tin roof rained on me while I was sleeping (condensation, ugh)

– Finding out where I would be living for the next two years and seeing that I actually had multiple rooms but sadly no furniture

– First Christmas away from family but being able to have a good dinner and go hiking with good friends here

– First vacation!! Mozambique and the dirty beaches of Maputo

– Running my first half marathon and exploring Cape Town was a great 27th bday present

– Bushfire music festival

– Seeing my family after two years and being so nervous waiting for them at the restaurant, I arrived 4 hours early and drank 6 cups of coffee

– Family vacation!! (Swaziland, Kruger, Victoria Falls and Cape Town)

– That damn baboon that stole my peanut butter M&Ms in Vic Falls. (I’m still bitter about this one.)

– Riding elephants with the family.

– Running my second half marathon and being harassed by drunk people during the race

– All the drama at my site and wanting out so so badly

– Durban for NYE and attending a music festival in a thunderstorm, in an open field

– Getting so sunburnt on vacation I spent the last day at a movie instead of at the beach

– Being excited to find out that McDonalds has veggie burgers in South Africa and eating them more times than I should admit

– moving to a better site with real work and good kitchen mates

– Kilimanjaro!!!!

– Working with preschool teachers on understanding disabilities and having them actually be interested

– Last vacation, weekend in Nelspruit and sadly McDonalds veggie burger again (Also got to see Pitch Perfect 2)!!

– COS conference and preparing to say goodbye to Swaziland and the other PCVs

– Bushfire music festival (year 2)

– Realizing I’ve been here 2 years and have less than 2 months left and things I still want to get done…

How was it??

As my time in Swaziland is wrapping up, I’ve been thinking a lot about the transition ahead. I’m utterly terrified and completely excited to move back to the States. This probably doesn’t make sense to many people but it is possible to feel those things at the exact same time. I don’t think I can accurately put my feelings into words. My entire life is changing with this move. Yes, I’ve done big moves before, coming to Swaziland being one of them, but every move is different and this one comes with the stress of reintegrating to the States after two years away.

Peace Corps tries to help with this transition by having us attend a COS (Close of Service) conference. At the conference we discuss next steps for each of us, school, work, whatever will be next. We also discuss how to find a way to speak about our two years in Swaziland in a condensed manner that people will actually want to listen to, instead of the word vomit I would most likely share.

I know you will mean well when you see me and ask “How was it?” or something like that but know that I can’t answer that question simply. It’s been amazing, terrifying, exhilarating, frustrating, beautiful, depressing, wonderful, stressful, rewarding, heartbreaking and all around indescribable. This was not just an “experience” for me. This has been my life for two years. I’ve had ups and downs, good days and bad days, love, loss, days full of work and days full of utter boredom.

If I asked any of you to answer, “How was it?” upon my return, you would think “What is she talking about? How was what? My life?” That’s what I would like you to think about in preparation for my return home. Can you answer the question “How was it?” easily about the last two years of your life? My guess is you can’t. You’ve also experienced life while I’ve been gone, had your ups and downs, experienced changes, both good and bad. So knowing how much you’ve experienced and changed in two years, don’t be surprised when I can’t answer that question either.

Don’t get me wrong, I greatly appreciate the love, support and curiosity behind the question. I know that the intention is good. You are genuinely interested in hearing about it but know that I have no simple answer. If you want the long answer, I’ve written in a journal every day for the whole two years. I could share those journals but I’m not even sure I want to read them quite yet. Most likely you want the cliff notes version and I’m still working on that. Bare with me as I process my time in Peace Corps, leaving Swaziland and my transition back to life in the States. Eventually I’ll have a good cliff notes version for you with some funny anecdotal stories. Until then be aware that if you ask me “How was it?” I’ll probably answer “It was…my life.”

Kilimanjaro!!

A few months ago my friend Jo, a fellow PCV, started talking about wanting to go to climb Kilimanjaro. She asked if I wanted to join but I was unsure due to the price of the trip. I did some budgeting and calculating and decided I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go. Last week we went to Kili and both made it to the summit!

Hiking Kilimanjaro is the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life. Since being in Peace Corps I have run two half marathons but those are nothing compared to the physical exertion on Kili.

We flew to Moshi, Tanzania on March 30th. On our way we had a short one our layover in Nairobi and flew by Mt. Kilimanjaro on both of our flights. It was intimidating to see it out the plane window. The peak was the only thing visible over a cloud line and there was no chance of getting a real view of the whole mountain.

We were picked up from the airport by one of the owners of the climbing company. He drove us to the hotel and then briefed us about what would be happening over our six day hike but didn’t get into much detail because he said the guides would do that when we met them. He drove us to town and we got pizza and some snacks before going back to the hotel to rest.

On the morning on the 31st, we were picked up at the hotel by our guide, assistant guide and the cook that would be hiking with us. We would be meeting the porters, the guys that help carry all the gear and food, at the national park. Our hiking team ended up having eight members, a head guide, assistant guide, cook, and five porters.

We only hiked 9km the first day (about 5.5 miles). The guides tell you to walk “pole pole” which means slowly in Swahili. Our lead guide told us its best to walk this slow to give your body more time to adjust to all the altitude changes that will happen. The slower you walk on the first two days the better your body can adjust to the altitude because you aren’t pushing yourself too much and needed extra oxygen that isn’t available.

We hiked a total of six days. We could have done it in five but opted for an extra day to give ourselves more time for acclimatization. On that extra day we were able to take a short day hike. It was nice because it was the only day we didn’t have to pack up all of our gear. Throughout the hike we stayed in little wooden huts. They usually had four beds and limited space. It was cold and a warm sleeping bag was essential.

Our summit hike started at 1am on Saturday April 4th. Summit hikes happen in the dark for a few reasons. Weather is a main reason. Rain/snow are more likely to happen in the afternoon so going in the morning gives you more time to summit and hike down without the rain or snow. We were also told it’s because some people get really intimidated by seeing where they are hiking. By going in the dark we could only see in the area right around us that our headlamps lit up. We could see other hikers headlamps in the distance but you can’t see the distance or the height. I really do think this did help.

Summit was the hardest day of them all. Due to altitude I threw up on the way up. This is apparently really common. The guide told me that people can throw up twice but usually around time three they need people to start heading down because the altitude is affecting them too much. It took us 5 hours and 40 minutes to go from the camp to the summit. It’s about 6km (3.72 miles), which doesn’t seem like much but the elevation goes up 1100 meters or 3,630 ft. The beginning of summit day is a lot of what feel like nearly vertical switchbacks. They probably weren’t as vertical as they felt but because it was in the dark it was hard to tell.

Throughout the hike up to summit I wasn’t sure I was going to make it up. I was exhausted and breathing heavily. I just wanted to sit and catch my breath. I kept thinking “I paid for this?!? What was I thinking?!?” I would stop at the beginning of every switchback to take three deep breaths (well as deep as they can be with air that thin). The guides kept us going but let us take a break for about five minutes every hour.

We made it to the summit not long after sunrise. That’s when I knew why the hike was worth it. I was still tired physically but mentally I was exhilarated. It was amazing to stand that high and look down and just see the world in a different way. In most directions it just looked like oceans of clouds. I was so happy I can’t even describe it. It was one of the most freeing moments of my life. The view and the accomplishment of making it to the top were well worth the struggle. I took pictures but mostly just looked around and tried to absorb everything I could about the moment. I had felt nauseous all the way up to the top and just getting there made me feel mentally better even if I wasn’t feeling physically better. I can’t even describe how I felt at the top. It was too many emotions at once.

We hiked a day and a half down after summit. It was nice to have that time to cool down and feel relaxed hiking. We got to bond with our hiking team and on our last morning they sang and danced for us. We had the best porter by far in Felix. His job was to wake us up in the morning and serve us our meals. He went above and beyond though and kept up the energy and helped us stay positive. He mostly spoke to us in Swahili but at the end of six days we definitely understood each other well.

At the end of the week we had hiked around 50 miles. It’s really not that much but the height makes the challenge. I was sore for a few days after but it was so so worth it. So was the Kilimanjaro beer that we got at the hotel after we finished the hike. If you have other questions about the experience I can share. I could go on for days about it. It’s an amazing and intense experience and so hard to put into words.

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The pink owl in the summit picture is from my niece Mira. She sent it to me for Christmas. I wanted to show her it made it to the highest point in Africa too!!

Moving within Swaziland

For the last 18 months I’ve been living and working at a school for the Deaf in Swaziland. Due to several complicated reasons PC and I came to an understanding that I should move to finish my service somewhere else. I’m still in Peace Corps and I’m still in Swaziland. I will just be working and living somewhere else for the remainder of my time here. I will not discuss the reasons at length here, as I still am in the country and do not want to have conflicts with people from the school if I see them. Overall the move is sad because I have gotten to know the students and some staff from the school very well and will miss seeing them and spending time with them. I will miss my little friends Shlelelo and Melo, but this move is a good thing. It is better for me to be in a new place with a new and real job expectation. It’s bittersweet to be moving but I know that it’s for the best and that I tried my best at my first site, things can only get better at my new one.

I moved to an NGO in northern Swaziland, the Hhhohho region, that has a variety of projects. I will be working with the early childhood projects. I will be assisting, facilitating and monitoring preschool teachers and their trainings. The theme they are focusing on this year is special education, so it’s something that I can work with relatively easily, having worked in special ed in the states and here in Swaziland. I am excited for the new challenges that this role will give me. I know I will be much busier but I think that means I will just be better prepared for adjustment back into the working world of the states.

Only about 6-7 months left here in Swaziland. I’m definitely ready to come home. I miss people, food, cars and washing machines. Towards the end of April/beginning of May I should have an actual leave date and the countdown can begin!

New Address:

Megan Wicklund PCV

PO Box 229

Piggs Peak

Swaziland

AFRICA

Summer Break and the Holidays

Since the seasons are reversed for me here in Swaziland, we have our summer break in December and January. This is nice because it covers the Holidays in December but it’s also painful because that means it is the middle of the summer on Christmas day. No white Christmas for this girl. It was near 100 degrees on Christmas day this year for me. I celebrated with friends that came to stay at my house. We made this decision in order to spend the holiday together but save money by not having to pay accommodation. The problem was I live in the hot region and we had six people in my house. It was a hot and sticky Christmas but the food and company were great.

After Christmas I headed to South Africa for vacation. First to a little beach town, St. Lucia on the east of South Africa. It’s a tiny little town, just one street really, but it was nice. We went out to dinner and to the beach. We also got to go on a hippo and crocodile boat tour. We saw so many hippos! We stayed for two days and enjoyed the fun and sun.

We then headed to Durban. We were excited to be heading to a big city with restaurants and food we can’t get in Swaziland. I may have had Mexican food three times in five days. The beach in Durban was fantastic. The ocean is nice and we were able to go swimming several days. The heat was even enjoyable because at least we could cool off in the ocean, unlike in Swaziland. On NYE we went to a big music festival at the stadium and got to see a bunch of live bands. We danced in the rain/thunder under a tent in a park. It was a unique and memorable NYE for sure.

I enjoyed my holidays but after eight weeks with no school, I was ready for school to start again. It was set to start January 20th but on January 13th it was announced in the newspaper that school would be pushed back to January 27th due to a national holiday that consists of weeding the kings field (yes this is real). So school got pushed back another week but we’ve started now and things are moving right ahead.

Only about 6.5 months left here in Swaziland. I’m getting excited about coming home. I can’t wait to eat all the food!!!……oh and see all the people 😉

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Melo being a cutie and playing peek-a-boo!

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Shelelo loves photos. Melo photobombed us.

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Day after Thanksgiving hike!

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I cut my own grass with a slasher. My arms hurt for days after this.

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My ladies!!! Hiking and dessert night!

Sisterhood of the Traveling Necklace

I’ve made three great friends since I’ve been here. We hang out as a group and sometimes individually but all three of them are fantastic ladies. We have a few nicknames: The Quad (from another PCV), the Wolf Pack (reference to the Hangover) and then sometimes I call us the Sisterhood of the Traveling Necklace. Like the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants we have a group of four girls that share and item and mail it back and forth. In our case it’s a necklace and not a pair of jeans. Also we trade it in person when we see each other but do plan on mailing it when we return to the states.

The story behind the necklace…So in May we were at Bushfire, an annual music festival in Swaziland. We were perusing the vendor stalls and came across a stall selling jewelry. They had these beautiful necklaces of the map of Africa with a dot placed over Swaziland. The necklace was priced at E200 (about $20 USD). None of us had an extra E200 to spare but we each had E50. Thus the idea was born. We would split the cost of the necklace and share it. We would trade it on and off while in Swaziland and then continue to mail it when back in the states. The idea seems crazy and whimsical but it’s been a great additional bond to our friendship. We have a connection and a story for the necklace. Its dear to each one of us.

These ladies are my best friends here. We hang out in town together, chat on whatsapp all night long, go hiking, zip lining, or just plan nights in town so we can eat. We have had a successful taco night and dessert night. I’m not always the biggest fan of Peace Corps or Swaziland but I am thankful for both because they brought these ladies into my life. I know our friendship will last beyond Swaziland and Peace Corps. I look forward to our reunion trips where we can explore more of the world together. So for my belated Thanksgiving post, I’m thankful for the amazing friendships that I’ve developed here. These girls rock!!IMG_3991