Sibhaca Tradition Dance

Sibhaca Tradition Dance
Prize Giving Day at a Local High School

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sitting on a Gold Mine

For the last 9 weeks, I have been trying to get my data analyzed.  I’ve been to 4 different agencies and to the government statistic office 9 times.  My time in Swaziland is ticking and I am no longer patient, and am losing my ability to be tactful.
Is the whole study a waste if I do not get the data disseminated while I’m in Swaziland?  Will any change happen if I report my findings after I leave?  How can I not go back to the people I surveyed to share what I found and discuss ways to help them?  Right now I feel like a huge disappointment.  But I’ve done everything I can think of to make the study a success.  I am working so hard and nothing is changing.  I need to let go.
But let go of a study I’ve worked on for 2 years?  Something that I quit my job for, left my friends and family, put my life on hold, and flew across an ocean for?  I’m sitting on a gold mine.  I’m about to start digging with my hands…

The Data Act of 1939

The data act of 1939 in Swaziland, or so recited by the man on the ethics committee, states that you cannot take data collected in Swaziland outside the country.  This means that I am not allowed to simply email my excel spreadsheet to my professor who specializes in statistics in the US in order for him to use a computer software program to analyze the data. 
No problem, I’ll do it in Swaziland.  Except that the SPSS software could not be found at the university.  No problem.  I’ll ask around.  I find that the government statistics office has version 14 of SPSS (the current version is 19).  They will let me use the program, all I need to do is make an appointment.  No problem.  I make an appointment. 
I have been going to the government statistics office (walking the 40 minutes uphill) every day for the last six days and I still do not have my data analyzed.  I’ve cancelled 5 appointments I had scheduled to disseminate the results to participants in the study.   Now the lady at the stats office won’t pick up my calls.  Problem!
So what would have been an email, has turned into twoweeks of frustration, canceled appointments, and lots of energy wasted walking up the giant hill to the stats office.  I’m really hating that 72 year old act…
This first draft of the blog was written a month and a half ago.  I’ve still not gotten my data analyzed, although now I have been to WHO, ICAP, and seen 2 more professors at the University of Swaziland.  Every person that I tell about this so-called Act, says they don’t really even think it exists.  It is totally ridiculous, and the more I think about it, it gets even more ridiculous.  So, according to the Act, I’m not allowed to open up my excel spreadsheet when I get back to the US?

Luyengo Campus vs. Kansas City

During my time preparing for and participating in the Intervarsity Games, I had the opportunity to meet students from all three campuses of the University of Swaziland.  I found that I really connected to many of the students at the Luyengo campus. 
It’s funny, I find that this happens often.  When I was studying in India, it seemed that the majority of the people I connected with were from the province of Rajistan.  And back in the US, my home is definitely in Kansas City. 
It is wonderful having these connections with people and feeling like they are your friends and family.  I visited the Luyengo campus this week to see my friends and we were making plans to go to the Intervarsity competition in Lesotho next year as spectators.  When making future plans I usually have a problem, because I’m never sure which continent I’ll be on.  When my friends started to give me trouble about leaving in June, I reminded them that I have a whole other set of friends that I miss and who are expecting me to come back.
I can’t make everyone happy.  Then I started to think, am I happy?  Yes, but it’s getting complicated.  Eventually I’ll have to make a choice.  Can I really live in Swaziland for the rest of my life?  Would I be happy in the US?  Was it really smart to give such a big piece of myself to a country so far away? 
I don’t know the answers to these questions.  What I do know is that I am grateful to have such wonderful and understanding friends and family standing with me through these times of adventure, growth, and decision.  Only time will tell.  May the best country win!

Counting- American Style

I found myself in Botswana with 750 other University of Swaziland students at the end of February.  We had come to participate in the Intervarsity Games, a competition between university students in Swaziland, Lesotho, and Botswana.  As the only non-African and also white person at the event of over 2,000 participants and spectators, I was in a unique position.  Walking around in my Swaziland tracksuit helped me really feel a part of the Swaziland team.  My teammates on more than one occasion put the rowdy Botswana fans in their place by telling them, "She is one of us!"
I will also not forget walking with my teammates and coming across other Swazis who addressed all of us as "fellow Swazis."  It wasn't, "Hello fellow Swazis and hello to the American girl..." 
But with all of this inclusion and efforts to try to fit in and be Swazi, I felt myself losing a key aspect of my personality and a cool opportunity at cultural exchange.  I am not a Swazi.  I'm a Swazi-AMERICAN.  Besides opportunities for cultural exchange, I also find it personally challenging to constantly be in an atmosphere where everything is so different.
So one day when we were stretching, my Americaness came out.  In Swaziland they count by having the leader count and then the rest of the team repeats.  For months now, I’ve counted 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi in my head because this style of counting always brings me back to grade school and the way we counted during hide-and-go-seek games to make sure we didn’t cheat.   So I started to count out loud, 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi…  I explained to my teammates the story behind the “Mississippi” and they quickly asked, “What would this be in Swaziland?  What is a name of a place that is also a long word in siSwati?
To my surprise and my teammates, I blurted out, 1-Ludzeludze!  Ludzeludze, along with being a long word to say, also means long!  I had come up with the perfect siSwati version of “Mississippi!”  Yes!  The rest of our cool down was spent counting in American-Swazi style and having a good laugh. 
I think this is the key to real cultural understanding and fun: learning how to not just be Swazi, or just be American, but how to be a Swazi-American.  And it can all start by counting…

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Yebo Kakhulu

I love Swazis.  I think they are the coolest people.  I feel selfish, narrow-hearted, and stunted next to them.  I am challenged from the very beginning here in Swaziland, starting with greetings.   Greeting a person is important.  It is a simple act, but it shows that you recognize the person. 
Americans are terrible about this.  We will just go up to you and ask you a question.  We don’t care about you, we want our question answered.   We don’t have time for you. 
Swazis understand that in order to get a question answered, you need to talk to a Person.  And that person matters.  You always greet someone.  Especially in the rural areas, you can’t walk past someone and not greet them.  The greeting in siSwati is “Sawubona”, or “I see you.”  How right on is that?  The response is then,” Yebo” or “Yes” as a way to acknowledge the person. 
Unjani?  How are you?
Ngiyaphila.  I am fine/alive.
The university is a 40 minute walk from my apartment.  I can take a kombi into town, shaving 20 minutes off the commute, but the kombi doesn’t come at a set time and is sporadic after 9 am.  So I usually walk.  Along the way, I greet and am greeted by many people.  Occasionally when I greet someone they will respond by saying “Yebo kakhulu!”  There is no way to really translate this into English.  Yebo means yes, and kakhulu is an amplifying word, meaning a lot or very.  So if you try to translate it literally, it means very yes!  
But if you remember that a person says “Yebo” in acknowledgment of your greeting, “Yebo kakhulu” would mean that the person is really acknowledging you.  That person is honored by my greeting, probably excited to be greeted in siSwati by an umlungu (white person).  I am likewise so tickled anytime someone says “yebo kakhulu.”  Not only is it funny to me because there is no context for it in my language and culture, but it is said with so much joy and feeling that I cannot help but smile.  It totally makes my day, and my 40 minute walk that much more enjoyable.

Service Above Self

I am very impressed with the humanitarian work done in Swaziland by Rotarians.  Rotary clubs here are small, but effective.  The Malkerns club, one of the smallest with 15 members, has the most matching-grant projects in the district, and recently reached 4,700 children with clothing and blanket distributions.  Often times Rotarians step in when the government does not provide services. 
My host club of Mbabane-Mbuluzi along with their Rotaract club has identified a school without desks where children stand and use the wall and floor to put their books and notepads on.  A rousing debate occurred last week at the meeting where Rotarians discussed their role in education.  If the government is not fulfilling their responsibility to the people, should Rotarians step in to help?  The Rotarians are incredibly concerned about education and the situation in these schools, but they know that they cannot start acting on the government’s behalf.  Do they step aside and push the government to provide the services they should?  What about these children now with inadequate access to education? 
A political atmosphere of rampant corruption makes the Rotarians job very difficult.  One Rotarian explained the challenge to me by saying, “Why do I pay taxes?  The taxes are supposed to be used for education, health, and other services.  But they aren’t being used for this.  Someone is becoming rich off my taxes, and now I’m expected as a Rotarian to pay for the desks, when I already paid for them with my taxes.  We cannot keep doing this.  The government will not change if we do their work for them.”                    
The country is in a financial crisis and the King just gave himself a raise equal to the entire health budget.  There will continue to be humanitarian needs as a result of government inadequacy, so the question of which projects to fund will become even tougher.  For the Swaziland Rotary clubs, the tension between a desire to respond to the acute needs of the population and a willingness to hold their government accountable and seek change will only grow tighter. 
A visiting Rotarian from the UK stood up and talked about Matching Grants and how to raise money for these projects.  He was missing the point.  The Swazi Rotarians were saying they have the money for the desks, but if they buy these desks when they should have been provided by the government, will it really be helping in the long term?  Will they be fueling a corrupt system when they should be challenging their government to deliver to the people? 
It is not easy being a Rotarian in Swaziland.  More than any other Rotary meeting I’ve been to, the ones in Swaziland are bursting with urgency and compassion.  But they always end with humor.  To close the meetings, the sergeant tells a joke…
So… a very shy guy goes into a pub on Valentine’s Day night and sees a beautiful woman sitting alone at the bar.  After an hour of gathering up his courage, he finally goes over to her and asks tentatively, “um, would you mind if I bought you a drink?”  She responds by yelling, at the top of her lungs, “no, I won’t sleep with you tonight!”  Everyone in the pub is now staring at them.  Naturally, the guy is hopelessly and completely embarrassed and he slinks back to his table totally red faced. 
After a few minutes, the woman walks over to him and apologizes to him and says, “I’m really sorry if I embarrassed you just then.  You see, I’m a graduate student in psychology and I’m studying how people respond to embarrassing situations.”  The man responds, at the top of his lungs, No I will not pay $200!”

The Object of Rotary

The Object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:

-the development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service
-high ethical standards in business and professions; the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society
-the application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian’s personal, business and community life
-the advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service

The 4-Way Test
Of the things Rotarians think, say and do:
1.       Is it the truth?
2.       Is it fair to all concerned?
3.      Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4.      Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

The Object of Rotary and the 4 Way Test are said at every Rotary meeting.  Whether you are in Hong Kong, India, Swaziland, the US, Canada, Honduras, these doctrines guide your life as a Rotarian.  I enjoy this time at meetings.  It is unifying and reminds me that whatever we chose to do, whatever skills and connections we have, there is always an opportunity to use them to serve one another.  I am thankful for this weekly reminder.  It puts into perspective why I am in Swaziland and refreshes me for the work ahead.