My Surrogate Family

I’ve been in Swaziland for 15 months now. I have had ups and downs, good times and bad times, moments of stress and amazing adventures. I have considering quitting Peace Corps and going home. I have thought about the relationships I have made here and how hard they would be to leave tomorrow and how much harder they will be to leave in 11 more months.

When I first arrived at my school I wasn’t quite sure how these two years would go. I would be living at the school working with the students/teachers and interacting with staff. I knew I would have interactions with people during school hours and after since all the teachers and students live at the school. I assumed I would have some interactions with their families but I didn’t know how much. Since I have been here one of the housemothers, Sibongile, and one have the cleaning women, Gladys, have become my surrogate family since I don’t have one at site like most volunteers.

These two women have been friends since youth, they are both Deaf adults working at the school and they share the housemother’s quarters in the girl’s hostel. Sibongile also has her two children living with her Shlelelo a fun little three-year-old girl and Melokuhle (Melo for short) an adorable 16-month-old boy. Gladys’ 21-year-old niece, Nompilo, also stays with them to help take care of the kids while Sibongile is working.

This relationship all started because Shlelelo would come and play at my house with some of the teachers’ children. She wouldn’t talk to me much at the beginning and she didn’t even want to be alone with me most times. This has morphed into a very different relationship. Now Shlelelo will come over to my house independently she will knock or perhaps just walk in because the door is unlocked. We will have conversations in mixed siSwati/English/sign language and usually come to some understanding of what she wants to do/play. She tries to go running with me at times or walks me to her house and tells me to “hlala” (stay) so that I won’t go running and instead will play with her. She is a demanding little girl but I love it because it brightens my day to see her smile.

The first time I was alone in a room with Melo he cried. He probably had never seen a white person before and wasn’t quite sure what was happening. Now Melo cries sometimes when I leave their house because he wants me to stay and play longer. He’s learning to sign and using it more and more everyday so it’s exciting to be able to communicate with him. He is also starting to babble. He mimics sounds I make and Shlelelo also helps to encourage the babbling and talking. It’s an adorable relationship.

With Gladys and Sibongile we share food. I will make them some of my favorite dishes like my mom’s potato salad, sautéed spinach, or any baked good. They will share with me Swazi dishes like samp and beans, maize or lipalishi. They allow me to hang out at their house at whatever time and offer to feed me whenever I visit. I usually have to politely turn down food because it’s too much for me to eat but I greatly appreciate the gesture and the thought.

Nompilo has become my closest Swazi friend here. She and I are able to have real conversations. We talk about gender inequality in Swaziland and the harassment that women commonly face from men. I am able to share my honest opinion about these topics and get back an honest opinion in response. It’s a nice relationship that I hope continues to grow.

This family has become my surrogate Swazi family. I may not have a babe (father) or make (mother) but I have these great people that look out for me and care for me. I have come to really care for each of them individually and the family as a whole. I long for the day that I get to be back with my family and friends in the states but I would be lying if I didn’t say I tear up thinking about leaving behind my Swazi family.

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3 thoughts on “My Surrogate Family

  1. Hello! I just got my invitation to Swaziland – youth development. But I’m a bit on the fence to be honest. With my current teaching job here in the US, I can use my summers to travel abroad and volunteer (and have already done one trip to Europe). I have also volunteered in many human services capacities (including tutor refugees). So that’s one option. Or I could do the Peace Corps. Your thoughts? What about your experience? Challenges? Frustrations? Part of me is concerned about the international development bit. Many PCVs seem to mention great personal development and great relationships, but also either don’t mention their projects or mention great frustration in completing their projects. What’s your opinion?

    Thanks! Sunny

  2. Hi Megan,
    Thanks for the post on your surrogate family and introducing them to us. We’re very happy that you’re having these meaningful experiences, and, that you are having such an impact on the lives of others. You will never regret your service, and we are very proud of you.

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