Sunday, October 26, 2008

Peace from the Peace Corp

Last week, during one of my darker moments, Kristin and Andrew from the Peace Corp suggested that I come and stay with them for the weekend. I politely declined initially and then I realised that they were living out in a Swazi village for two years- the least I could do was spend one weekend with them.

They came and picked me up from the hospital on Saturday. As part of the Peace Corp, they are not allowed to have their own vehicle so everything is done on foot. We set out for the 40 minute walk along a dusty dirt road with dark storm clouds looming overhead.
Thankfully, it only rained for a short part of the journey and it didn’t distract me from marvelling at all the local people, their houses (made literally of sticks and stones) and the abundance of cattle, goats and chickens that meander alongside you.

We arrived at the homestead that Kristin and Andrew are living in. They are actually living in quite a “flash” abode with concrete walls and a corrugated iron roof that is firmly attached to the base and doesn’t need stones thrown on top of it to keep it in place.
They don’t have electricity and they don’t have running water, but surprisingly, their home is incredibly comfortable and welcoming. They have a gas bottle that fuels their stove and oven and they have purchased some cupboards, a couch and a double bed. Kristin has done a beautiful job in decorating the place and my little flat (which I boast is the best at Good Shepherd) somewhat pales in comparison.
Of most interest to me was the dreaded latrine. I have obviously heard about these amenities and having Noah found in one made me extra curious. Let me tell you- I was horrified. Hopefully Courtney will be able to upload the photos for me, but as you can see the “toilet” is a concrete cylindrical mass that stands to the height of my mid-thigh and it terminates in a pit that is progressively filling with urine and faeces. The stench is overwhelming. You can see that modesty is achieved with some corrugated iron with the sole of a thong used as a lever to open it with. I did use this “toilet” on one occasion but then I refused to use it thereafter- choosing instead to squat behind the building and quickly pass urine. The reason for me choosing to avoid the latrine is that during the night, one of the other members of the homestead had an episode of “explosive” diarrhoea and faeces were covering the entire concrete structure. The structure stands too high so that you can’t just “squat” and I simply couldn’t bring myself to wipe the faecal matter away. Unfortunately, overnight, Kristin also developed an upset stomach and we were faced with a difficult dilemma. I managed to convince her that she simply couldn’t use the latrine, so several times through the day, I went with her to guard against passers-by so that she could relieve herself elsewhere. During the weekend, we brainstormed on alternatives to the latrine (which really is the reason I think Kristin was sick) and I think I helped them come up with some ingenious alternatives that will be put in place as from tomorrow.

I don’t want to concentrate on the latrine too much, because honestly, the weekend was one of the highlights of my Swazi experience thus far. Kristin and Andrew are two of the most amazing people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. They embody the concept of humanity and their kindness, courage and commitment to their calling inspires me every time I am graced by their presence. They are also very funny, very knowledgeable and have a true understanding of both our modern world and the third world we find ourselves living in. We talked for hours and hours and we laughed. I even had the return of my sense of humour that I have lost over the past couple of weeks. I felt so comfortable with them- as though I had known them all my life. They made me feel incredibly special as I was their “first visitor to their home” since they arrived in Swaziland. We stayed up late talking (10pm in Swaziland is considered very late- most of us are in bed by 8pm because we have run out of things to do). They set me up with a roll-out mattress and I was most comfortable. I was a little upset at being woken up at dawn by the roosters announcing the start of the day, but my mood was soon lightened by Andrew making some delicious pancakes and the return of our free-flowing, enjoyable conversation. I feel we know almost everything there is to know about each other. We sat around for hours just talking and laughing. You will be relieved to know that I had the sense not to wear my pink “Winnie the Pooh” pyjamas and I sensibly chose tracksuit pants and a t-shirt. I wore these outside, lounging around inside and then as we walked back to Good Shepherd. It didn’t bother me in the slightest that I had not washed and I looked absolutely dreadful. Here in Africa, that does not matter and the concept is quite liberating for me. That being said, when I got home this afternoon, I jumped in the shower, washed my hair and scrubbed with antibacterial soap. You just can’t teach an old dog new tricks…..
So as I conclude this message, I can assure you that I am feeling much better, reinvigorated and re-inspired to continue my work. Thank you Kristin and Andrew- words will never ever truly be enough to express my appreciation.