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.


Swazi Slojo Half Marathon

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Pic 1: Before the half

Pic 2: After the half

On Saturday September 27th, I ran my second half marathon. This time the race was in Swaziland. I ran with four other PCVs for the half and about six PCVs ran the 5k also available that day. The race was throughout a business district in Swaziland and then went into a few communities.

This race was harder for me than the one in Cape Town for a few reasons. In Cape Town the course was difficult with a lot of steady hills. I think the course there was actually a lot harder. The benefit was that there were tons of people on the side of the course cheering everyone on. They were cheering on all the runners whether they knew you or not. It was a very enjoyable race atmosphere. I felt supported even though no one on the side of the course actually knew me.

In Swaziland I felt the complete opposite. There were a lot less runners so the race already had a different atmosphere. I was running with friends again but soon after the we began we spread out and I ran alone, at least from my friends for the whole course. There were even moments on this course where I was completely alone. No spectators or fellow runners around. It was a strange experience. I didn’t enjoy being alone on the course. On another part of the course I was running with two other runners and came across two drunk and still currently drinking men. The men were extremely rude and started to harass me. They were yelling things like “you are sexy” and “give me a baby”. I was very frustrated and really didn’t enjoy this race after that. I didn’t quit because I wanted the satisfaction of completing the course but I was extremely annoyed that I could feel so much disrespect while doing something that felt so uplifting and supportive in Cape Town.

I started running here as a way of staying fit and healthy but also to help relieve the stress that I was getting from working and living in an environment so different from what I am used to. I have actually started to enjoy running. I like the feeling when I complete and long run on a Sunday morning. I like running in the evenings as a way of burning off that days frustrations. Running has become a real support for me here as a way of dealing with the things I can’t control. I left the course Saturday frustrated and not enjoying running. I want to win back my enjoyment of running and not let those guys win. I want to continue to run and feel and see the benefits it has for me. I may have not enjoyed this half marathon but I refuse to give up on something that has been helping me deal with the stressors in my life.

Now it’s onward and upward. There is another half in Swaziland in February. I am unsure if I want to run in it or not. I have some time to decide. I do know I want to keep up with my training and maybe run a full marathon sometime after I return to the states. That’s quite a bit in the future now so I’m not sure. We will have to wait and see.

Laundry Day

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I needed to wash my big blanket and my little friend Shlelelo decided to pull up a chair and help me out. What a good helper! (The blanket needed up getting washed in a washing machine, which help both mine and Shlelelo’s arms out.)

Family Visit/Vacation

On June 30th I received the greatest gift possible this year when my family arrived in Swaziland for their 10 day visit. I knew they wouldn’t be arriving at our designed meeting point until at least 12:30pm but in my excitement I arrived at 10am and nervously sipped coffee waiting for them to arrive. I had three friends (fellow PCVs) meeting us for lunch as well. As my friends arrived they could see I was anxious and tried to help me relax. Around 2:30pm, after a little detour because GPS in Swaziland isn’t going to accurate, they arrived at the restaurant and I got hugs that I have been missing for a year.

We spent two days in Swaziland where we went to my house and met some people at my school. My parents got to see where I live and work which was nice to share. We also went to the culture village so my family could learn a little about the history of Swaziland and see some traditional dances and hear some traditional songs. It was a nice short stay in Swaziland.

Our departure out of Swaziland was delayed a bit due to a minor flood at my house. It is common for the water to go out, which happened while my family was visiting my house. A tap got left on in a sink that doesn’t drain so when the water came back the house flooded. Thanks for my family and three very helpful and generous staff members at my school we were able to clean up the water and head out of Swaziland to Kruger.
We spent to days in Phalaborwa, South Africa, right outside of Kruger National Park. We went on a night game drive and a morning game drive and got to see tons of animals. We saw three of the big five: elephants, leopards and cape buffalo (the other two are lions and rhinos, which we didn’t have luck seeing). We saw tons of birds, giraffe, many different types of antelope, hippos, crocodiles, baboons and zebra just to name a few. It was awesome to see the animals and not in a zoo cage.

From Kruger we drove to Joburg and then flew to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. This was a new country for me, country number five since arriving in Africa! We arrived and we greeted at the airport with traditional dancing and singing. We went to check in at our hotel, which was amazing and had a direct view of the Zambezi river. We spent our first night doing a river cruise on the Zambezi. It was nice, though Dan got a little see sick. We were lucky though and actually got to see a hippo standing on the shore. That is a rare sighting. Hippos are usually submerged up to their eyes in the water.
The next day we got up super early and did something I never expected to get to do in my life, ride elephants. We went to an orphaned elephants sanctuary and did an elephant back safari. Mom and I shared one elephant, Tatu and dad and Dan shared another, Mainos. It was an awesome experience. You never quite realized how tall elephants really are until you are on top of one. We rode the elephants for maybe about 30-45 minutes, I really didn’t keep track of time. I just sat back and held on because it would be a long way to fall off. We didn’t see any other game on the ride up the ride itself was quite the experience. Elephants are hungry creatures and we kept having to stop so they could rip off tree branches that they would then snack on while walking along. We finished the ride and got a chance to interact with our elephants and give them some treats. We bought elephants prints done on elephant dung paper to help further support the elephants. This was definitely a top contender for my favorite part of the trip.

After the ride we headed back to the hotel and cleaned up before heading into town to do some souvenir shopping. We did some haggling and got some good prices on things. From there we went back to the hotel so we could meet up with our guide for our tour of the falls. We went to Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side and man is it impressive. At certain places you walk along the edge the mist is so strong it’s basically raining on you. We wore ponchos and still got wet. I think my dad said it best when he stated “I’ve never seen so many rainbows in such a short amount of time.” There were tons of rainbows and even a few double rainbows. It was all very beautiful and no description or picture will really do it justice.

After the tour, Dan and mom headed back to the hotel while dad and I decided to walk across the bridge to Zambia. We had to walk a good distance but the bridge had more amazing views and we got to watch a couple people bungee jump. We walked to Zambia, got in to get our passports stamped and then because of short timing before our next activity just turned around and headed back to Zimbabwe. We didn’t really get to explore Zambia but I went to my sixth African country so the walk was totally worth it. We also got a different view of the Zambezi river from the bridge and that was really neat.
We went to a Boma (eating place) dinner in the evening. The food was a buffet still and not tons of different meat options, which I avoided but dad enjoyed. The food was good and the desserts were nice but the best part of the meal was that they brought out a drum for everyone in the audience. A group then came out and performed some before guiding us to join in. They taught us different beats and we played along to the songs. Dan seemed to really enjoy this part of the dinner. He was beating his drum hard! We all had red palms when we were done.

Early that afternoon we also had a baboon incident. I opened the window of mine and Dan’s hotel room to get a bit of fresh air (windows here don’t have screens). I told Dan I would shut it when I came out of the bathroom. Dan was telling me a story while walking around the room and then I hear him yell “Baboon!” I asked what because I was in the bathroom and thought it was a joke. He yelled “Baboon, in the room!” and the ran out the room shutting the door behind him. I open the bathroom door just a little to sure enough see a baboon standing at the desk in our hotel room. Unsure of what to do I shut the door to the bathroom and thought for a second. When I reopened the door that baboon was sitting on the window sill eating my peanut butter m&ms out of the bag, one by one. I was still scared but a house keeper came in and scared him away. Sadly he took my m&ms with him.

The next day was entirely a travel day. We flew from Victoria Falls to Joburg, switched flights and flew from Joburg to Cape Town. We got into Cape Town around 7pm so it was dark and we just headed to the hotel and had dinner in the hotel restaurant before going to bed.

Our first morning in Cape Town, we got up and headed to the mall nearby at the V&A Waterfront. We could walk to the waterfront from our hotel. I got my first haircut in year and we enjoyed lunch at McDonalds. Yes, enjoyed lunch at McDonalds. They have fountain coke and crispy fries and McDonalds doesn’t exist in Swaziland so this was a real treat for me. We then went back to the hotel and got picked up by the tour company for our city tour. We rode to Table Mountain and then rode the cable car to the top. It was windy and cold but the view from the top is totally worth it. We had about 45 minutes to explore the top and see the different views of the ocean including a view of Robben Island.

We got back down and drove around the city for a bit of a tour on our way to the Castle of Good Hope. This castle is pentagon shaped and used to fit the whole city of Cape Town inside of it. It was interesting to see some more history of Cape Town that I hadn’t known before the trip. Our final stop on the tour was at a diamond store where they make and sell diamonds. Diamonds are one of South Africa’s main products and there are some very expensive diamonds coming out of the country. The tour of the store explained the stages of diamond cutting and polishing and how they judge clarity. We also got to see a very beautiful blue stone, Tanzite, which is found in Tanzania. I had never heard of it before the tour. It’s a beautifully colored stone.

That evening mom and dad went out for a nice dinner date on their own while Dan and I got take away and went back to the hotel room to watch Frozen. Before our dinners though we headed back to the waterfront and rode the ferris wheel. We were able to see a beautiful view of the harbor and the city at night. Cape Town truly is a beautiful city and the ferris wheel ride was a nice way to see it from a different perspective.

Our last full day of vacation, we got picked up in the morning for our Cape Peninsula tour. It was a full day tour. We left around 8am and didn’t return to the hotel until around 3:30-4pm. We stopped along the way to view the Twelve Apostles, the name of the mountains in line with Table Mountain. We drove to another part of Table Mountain National Park and got to see the Cape of Good Hope and hike to the lighthouse and then ride a funicular back down. The view along the hike and the drive were amazing. The vast expanse of the ocean in front of you like that is just daunting, but beautiful at the same time. Along the drive we saw some whales swimming in the distance. Not sure if we got a picture but we did see them.

We stopped for lunch along the way at a nice restaurant with a view of the water. We then continued on to Boulder Beach National Park were you can see African penguins hanging out of the beach. They make a call like a donkey when they are mating and I definitely heard some donkey calls while we were there that day. We also say some baby and teenager penguins because we came right after what is the typical mating season. While at Boulder Beach we also saw some seals out in the water. The penguins were all staying on the beach, none swimming so perhaps they knew the seals were out there too.

To finish this day we went back to the mall where I got some much needed new running shoes. While training and competing in my half marathon in April I wore holes into the bottom of my other running shoes. We then had dinner at a nice Pub. Mom and I split some really good appetizers and I enjoyed things like hummus and jalapeno poppers, which would be next to impossible to find at a restaurant in Swaziland. We had a great dinner and conversation enjoying our last dinner on vacation.

The next morning we got up and headed to the Green Market Square for some souvenir shopping. Again this was a successful trip and we left getting nice things for everyone of the list. We went back to the waterfront to have lunch before heading to the airport.
We flew from Cape Town to Joburg all together but then my family had a quick layover, less than one hour, before their flight to the states. With a quick and tear-filled goodbye I hugged my family before they headed back through security and I headed out of the airport to spend the night in Joburg.

I am ever so grateful that my family was able to come and visit me. Its been a long year without seeing anyone in person. The phone calls and texting are nice but there is nothing that can replace a real hug and a conversation while sitting right next to someone. This vacation meant the world to me. I am so thankful I got to spend that time enjoying my family and all of these wonderful experiences that we get to share. I’m sad I will have to wait another year to see them again but I have some amazing memories to pull me through until then.