Saturday, August 13, 2011

Waiting for the new fridge to arrive from Manzini

Finally a moment to sit down with my blog and update it directly.  Emma has been my blogmaster these last couple of weeks and I cannot thank her enough for typing in snippets from my letters home and scanning and posting the photos I have snail mailed. 
The internet cafe's soundtrack just came up with our favorite khumbi song, "Jezibel".  Well second to that perennial khumbi favorite, "I don't want no short dick man."
Yep, it's official.  Tuesday afternoon, our group of Mighty Fine G-9s were sworn in an elaborate ceremony in Mbabane.  The US Ambassador to Swaziland administered the oath as we all raised our right hands and stumbled to repeat after him.  The Prime Minister of Swaziland, a member of the royal family, was on hand as well to offer us a few words of wisdom -- apparently he studied chemistry for three years at the University of Wisconsin as a young man and still keeps in touch with his host family. Particularly moving was a short video that was shown about the Peace Corps (I used to think them trite and trival but now they bring tears to my eyes) and an absolutely amazing speech by my friend and roommate Kerry Sullivan.  She really nailed it -- mixing up a bit of humor ("We in Makhonza will miss our khumbi driver who we nicknamed Manny or Man U for his Manchester United sweatshirt as Khiza trainees will miss their "city jive" - the local alcholic beverage that's cheap and fruity") and seriousness ("Give your best to the people of Swaziland, and you will discover the best in yourselves").
The next morning bright and early, we (and all our masses of stuff) were shuttled off in separate cars and trucks to our permanent sites.  I think everyone in Group 9 was sad to be split apart after so much time together and a little nervous about what they would find at the end of the tunnel.
I am extremely fortunate to be in the same corner of Swaziland as we were stationed for training.  I am already settled into my gogo (grandmother) hut in the Simelane family homestead in Khiza.  Gogo Simelane is a bright 62-year old woman with an amazing command of English having worked as a domestic for a family in Johannesburg for over 35 years.  She also has a lovely twinkle in her eye and a constant smile and looks after her two grandchildren -- GeGe (which I am not doubt misspelling) who is 6 years old and her grandson who is 16 years old.  They are both adorable and the house and garden are neat as a pin.
My hut is a separate cement building which is roundish (with 8 corners) and a tile roof.  It is painted a pale peach and my new double bed sits right in the middle of the room.  I have one plug and a round bulb hanging from the center of the tile roof.  Well, no more of these painful interior design details - I will send a photo home soon (for Emma to scan and post for me?)  Uploading photos directly on to my blog takes so long, it is completely impractical though I hope to figure out a home computer connection soon.
Suffice it to say for now, I'm very comfortable and pretty darned happy most of the time. 
The school I will be working at, Nsongweni High School, has just finished term and the students are on holiday until September 13th so I think I will have plenty of time to wander around town, meet the locals and get organized before settling down to the true task at hand.  I suppose I might even hire my private SiSwati tutor too -- though I am listening to SiSwati on my new 40 Rand radio and enjoying it.  I'm hoping it will sink in effortlessly but I'll have to keep you posted on that. 
Better run -- I'm going to meet another PC G-8 volunteer in town today, Sophia, who is from Santa Cruz.  Wish we could grab a cappuchino at a local cafe, but unfortunately, this part of Africa doesn't seem to have adopted that gorgeous tradition.  I think it would be a delightful one to bring here, given the perfect 70 degree sunshine and great people watching!  Hambe kahle everyone.  I will write again soon.

Friday, August 12, 2011

new mailing address!

Just got a new mailing address:
Ruth Marvin Webster
PO Box 1014
 Nhlangano S400

Good to get Peace Corps out of the transaction (I think). The old one still works too, this one is just easier for me as it's in the same town as my new permanent site!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My new cell phone number!

Just received our Peace Corps cell phones! 

My number is 0026876781487 and it's free for me to receive international calls, so please skype me sometime!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Letters from Swaziland

Friday July 1st, 2011 2:30pm
Life is much better than last I wrote... Finally we received our medical kit which is stocked with everything from band-aids and sunscreen to a clean syringe and snake bite treatment. All of the sleep I'm getting is really helpful - it is pitchblack by 6pm and I'm always in bed by 8pm. Then, the day starts around 6am when the chickens are let out of the coop at the Masuku homestead - which so far, feels late. Come to fnd out, I'm kind of a morning person.
It's mid-winter here now and we are in a scrub-savannah rural area. Every day has been warm (70 degrees F) in the sunshine and pretty damn cold at night (40?). I certainly with I had brought more sweaters and sweatshirts and I made the mistake of packing all my pants (except my UCSD and black sweatpants) in my bag that I won't get until we are moved to out permanent sites after swearing in on August 9th.
One of the things that has struck me - and surprised me - is how strong I am mentally and physically - especially at my age! So many of these volunteers are just out of college , but more than that, they are so 'wet behind the ears'.
Love you all!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Letters from Swaziland

June 28th 10:30am
Besides "hub days," we look forward to a field trip to Sondzela Bckpackers eMlilwane for a weeek. We leave Sunday, July 10th and don't return until the 15th-16th. Around then, we are also supposed to receive our cellphones (July 11th) and our permanent site placements. Apparently only one or two of us will remain in this area of southwest part of country.
The nearest town... is called Nhlangano (which apparently means "meeting place"). It consists of a kumbi terminal, a KFC, and two streets including two supermarkets , Swazi Bank and Telecom, three internet caf├ęs, a couple of bars and a few more "bottle shops". There are about two or three signaled intersections (they call traffic lights "robots") and a police station.
Well that's about it. It's my birthday today and I'm spending an extra amount of time thinking about all of you!! I miss you guys so much!! <3

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Letters from Swaziland

Tuesday June 14th 11:50am
Today is a big day because we are moving out of the dorms at the Ngawane Teachers College and into our host families' houses in nearby towns. All of us are nervous about how it will all work out because they're been giving us endless lectures about social manners, siswati phrases, security and disease. We will be armed with a propane tank and double burner, water filter, pots and pans, food, mosquito net and a million other things
I'm being sent to a little town called Makhonza with is about a 20min kumbi drive from the college where we are now and where we will come three times a week for classes during the next two months of training.

Wednesday June 15th 8:30am
Wow. The first night "in the field" was an experience I will never forget. I've been placed for eight weeks during training with a family called Makusuku. It is a huge, fat mother and her seven children and a father who looks like he comes and goes. The children range from 14 years to one year old - the oldest is a girl who knows a little bit of English, but the others don't go to school - probably because they can't afford school fees and uniforms. Their clothes are so tattered, they look like they are wearing hand-me-downs for years at a time. The bottom line is that the poverty is overwhelming.
The families are not paid to host us, except for the food, and must provide us with a locked room. Mine is a little room next to the garage and it is very clean and minimal - has a bed, a table and two chairs.
You may have ascertained - and you would be right - that this experience so far has not been easy. And I think it's harder than I think I had anticipated. [Though] I think I'm faring pretty well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Getting ready to board the plane to Johannesburg

It only seems fitting that we 39 new Peace Corps volunteers to Swaziland should wait at JFK to board our flight to Johannesburg this morning.  As we learned in Staging yesterday, President John F Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in a stirring speech made to students at the University of Michigan fifty years ago.
It's only 10 in the morning now but it's already been a long day.  After a couple of beers and fish n' chips at a great Irish pub in Philadelphia last night, my roommate Kelly Root and I hit the hay after midnight only to rise again at 1:45 am.  We all met in the lobby of the Hampton Inn at 2:30 and then boarded our bus for the two hour drive to JFK.  Then, hours more waiting in the front of the terminal until the South Africa Airlines staff manned the counter at 7:30 a.m. But all went without a hitch.  Many of us were worried stiff about exceeding our 80 lbs. luggage limit but the airline staff just waved us all through without so much as a mention of a fee.  Apparently the airline allow more luggage than we were told.  Yipee.  Maybe I could have put in that Stanford sweatshirt in afterall.
This may be my last post in over a month.  We are told that when we arrive in Swaziland, we will be given a chance for one cellphone call to tell our families we are safely in country.  But, after that, there may not be internet access for two months.  So I'm getting my last wi-fi in at the airport with gusto.  I've Skyped with Emma, played all my Scrabble games on Facebook and checked Jeff Frank's column today in the North County Times.  Thanks Jeff for the mention!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Swazi Send-Off A Hit

First and foremost, I want to thank the Bjornstads for putting on this amazing party.  Everything about it was perfect.  The food was so good and Classic Party Rentals is the best!  But most importantly, thank you to Jenny.  Jenny is truly the best friend a person could ever hope to find in a lifetime.  Not only is she a stunningly math teacher and tennis partner, she is always kind, always giving, always supportive, always loving. She puts up with my crappy tennis game and constant commentary on the court.  She inspired our daughters in the classroom and in life.    The list is too long, there are too many things.  But I want her to know, I appreciate it all.  I can never hope to repay all your love and kindness Jenn.
And Kathy, my other BFF.  Thank you so much for the gorgeous organizing for this party.  
Thank you, Kathy, for getting me off my butt to put together net wit.  We’ve had so much fun picking out shirts, coming up with sayings, and lugging them around.  I hope you can keep it going, but if you don’t have the time and it’s just too much, that’s OK too.  We’ve learned so much, and it’s been wonderful having breakfast meetings, happy hour meetings, and after tennis lunch meetings.  Who knew that business could be so much fun?  Kathy, you are such a dear, sweet friend –  I’m gonna miss you so much!

Thanks also to my family for being so supportive of this crazy decision to go to Africa with the Peace Corps.  In so many ways, if the next two years will be tough --these years will be the hardest on them.  They are the ones who have to hold up the fort here at home.  Nick is talking about taking a month to join me in my mud hut without a toilet or electricity.  Traveling around Africa, fixing something – anything that needs fixing. There is nothing that man can’t fix. Girls, give him a call. But I can’t talk about Nick and our two stunning daughters without breaking out in tears so I won’t … just know that I love you and I doing so this, in some small part, so you can be proud of me.  
It’s been a difficult decision to come to terms with.  And of course, I don’t know now whether it has been the right one.   I may never know, but I feel that this is something I have to do.  Who knows, maybe I can make some small difference in the world.  Maybe I can help someone who I don’t even know now.  Maybe I can motivate someone, someone who is poor, someone who has AIDS, someone who doesn’t believe in the future, to have a better life.  To believe in themselves, to believe in their culture, to believe that things can be better than they are now.   Maybe I will surprise myself too along the way.

I’m leaving my mother and Dave at a time when they probably need me most and for that, I must say ‘I’m sorry.’  They’ve moved all the way out here to Carlsbad and I pick up and go to Swaziland.  Thank you, you guys, for never saying ‘don’t go.’  My mom is one of those people who has always gone after what she wanted --- she picked up and moved to Silver City.  She found a great life there, a wonderful husband.  She probably knows better than anyone, it is always best to follow your instincts, to take a chance.  Sorry to say it mom, but you are the one who taught me by example, that life is not something to be feared but something to be seized

Don’t forget to write me, call me, Skype me, and send me packages.  Red Vines are always good.  And come visit.  I will miss you all.  But, you know, two years isn’t a very long time.  All of you with children know how fast two years can speed by.  One minute the kids are starting kindergarten, the next minute they are graduating from college. Two years will go by with a blink of the eye.  Before you know it,  I will be back again, on the tennis courts, in the writing class, in the book club, sitting at the bar.  I will be back, boring you with all the daily details of my adventure.  Be good to each other and hold down the fort until I'm home again.

My address, at least at first, is:
Ruth Marvin Webster, PCV
PO Box 2797
Mbanbane H 1000, Swaziland
P.S.  Apparently it's good to put Africa on the letter, things have been known to go to Switzerland.  Not a bad idea either, to add "Jesus Saves" on the outside.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Send-Off Party Plans

Jenny, Kathy and I at my 50th Birthday Bash
The big Swaziland Send-Off Party at Jenny's house is around the corner.  And I'm getting pretty excited about seeing everyone.  I thought about alerting the media of the social event of the year, but then, decided against it.  We'll have enough media there without issuing a press release ... as well as scientists, tennis players, teachers, business owners, librarians, producers, activists, artists, models, chefs, lawyers, doctors and generally, everyone I know and love.  Can't wait until Saturday.  How many hours left until we get to pop open a bottle of wine?
Kathy said that I didn't have to make a speech if I didn't want to, but my family assures me that it would be wise to put together a few thoughts.  I've been working on a few "talking points" this afternoon -- on my laptop beside the pool in the gorgeous sunshine -- but can't seem to string two words together without getting seriously misty-eyed.  At present, I can't even make out the screen, let alone the words I've typed there.  Maybe I'll go back to practicing my non-existent Siswati or endeavor to stack necessities beside my suitcase.  Fitting my sleeping bag, flashlights, hard drives, alarm clock and sensible shoes in two bags weighing 80 lbs. seems almost as impossible as managing a couple of thank you's at the appropriate time on Saturday. Fingers crossed.  No one said this was going to be easy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Journey by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice ---
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles 
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried 
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations ---
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do ---
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

This is one of Emma's paintings in her new show at Stanford.  It was tucked in the corner but, needless to say, I loved it from the first second I laid eyes on it.

It is part of her exploration of family -- the ties that bind and the ones that pull us apart.

For me, this painting shows how a simple word like "Swaziland" that may have little meaning for our family now, most certainly will in a year or two.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Trip to Tanzania in 2006

The countdown to my June departure begins.

At the risk of boring you with all the 'navel gazing' details months before I even set off to Swaziland, I am starting this blog now.

I've been going through photos of a trip Nick and I took to Tanzania in 2006 and thought some of these could find a good home here.  

Back in 2006, we spent three short weeks in Tanzania with a group of doctors and researchers with whom we have traveled with before.  We started in Arusha, drove to Ngorongora Crater and the Serengeti and finished with a week in Zanzibar.  It was really a perfect trip.  And one of the reasons I was so anxious to become a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.

The kingdom of Swaziland is the size of New Jersey and home to piles of snake species, including six deadly ones -- the most famous being the Black Mamba --- which I hope to never see.
These photos of wildlife are certainly putting me in an African mood and allowing me to learn how to post new photos and add text at the same time.  
As you might be able to tell, I could use the