Wednesday, January 30, 2013


            Today was a wonderful day. I am teaching math and English in “bridge school,” which is aimed at accelerating slightly older kids through grades 6 and 7 so they can begin high school the following year. I don’t understand yet exactly how kids end up in this program, but I was surprised and impressed by how good my students are. I have only 11 of them and they all have reasonable baseline knowledge, show up on time, and do what I tell them. After teaching classes of 50 kids, half of whom didn’t want to be there, in Mozambique, this is unbelievably enjoyable. In the afternoons we have an educational enhancement program for the primary school kids. The purpose is to improve their English and math skills, but in a distinctly non-classroom setting. So basically I get to combine two of my favorite things—a summer camp atmosphere with learning! Today we discussed the alphabet and played a game where the kids have to arrange the letters in the correct answer. The kids got really into it and seemed to enjoy the activity, though I wish I could do it in smaller groups.
            Afterwards I was loitering near the playground speaking to kids when one of my students from bridge school came over and launched into a monologue in English about how much he loves bologna and how much energy he has. This was really incredible because most primary school kids here avoid speaking English at all costs. I can tell so many of them want to speak to me so badly, but don’t simply because they feel they don’t have the English to do so.
            There is a brand new baby here who is only 2 years old and sick. Aside from being noticeably hungry when she first arrived, she is heartbreaking in her interactions with other people. She rarely ever makes eye contact and, though it’s apparent she recognizes face, she doesn’t fixate on them. It’s very clear that she learned a long time ago that human interactions would not benefit her in any way, so she stopped having them. It literally feels like someone has stomped on my chest when I look at her and realize that she’s never felt loved before.
            She was brought up at a meeting today, people were discussing her lack of eye contact and interaction with others. I was relieved because I often feel that Mozambicans and Swazis think I am overreacting to things like this. I was glad to see other people concerned too. 


            The kids came back Monday and, for someone like me who loves kids, especially the energetic grimy kind, everything became even better. We are waiting until Monday to start any of the educational projects I will be working with, so this week has been mostly preparations and then sitting on my porch getting climbed all over by dirty little children.
            This morning was the guardians meeting, where the guardians of the children at the hostel (for Americans, this place would be called an orphanage, but in Swazi culture family ties are incredibly important, so this word is avoided and special efforts are made to maintain the children’s relationships with their families), come for a meeting with the staff here. It was all in Siswati, but still interesting to watch, and I got to read the minutes (in English) afterwards.
            Mozambique has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world, currently being reported at 11.5% (when I joined Peace Corps in 2009 it was reported at 16%). But in Swaziland during that same time period it has gone from 33% to 31%. HIV was a constant part of our lives in Mozambique, but it is even more so here. One thing I am struck by is what I perceive as a more open culture. Perhaps this is due to the higher prevalence rate, so you are more likely to be around people who are HIV+. Perhaps this isn’t true of all Swaziland, but only where I am living now. At the orphanage where I lived in Mozambique there were two HIV+ girls, but this secret was closely guarded from other girls in the orphanage, students at school, and people in the community. Here, everyone knows who the 25+ positive kids are. Their having HIVs is discussed as openly as the fact that some kids failed English last year, are deaf, are having behavioral issues, or come from bad family situations. I do appreciate this openness and, in this accepting environment at least, I think it’s far better for everyone, both positive and negative. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013


            On Sunday there was a retreat for all Childcare staff at the mission, so the tutors who help out with certain students, or in afternoon and evening studies with all hostel kids; the aunties who are kind of like my dorm mom in boarding school; the few other more administrative people in childcare, including Sister Barbara who is the head; the other volunteer; and me. It was a time for us to reflect on the past year, to consider how what we’re doing truly matters, and to mentally prepare for the year ahead of us. Sister Barbara asked us how, in 2012, we saw that we had been acting as Christ’s hands, mouth, and body on earth. Well this will be easy, I thought to myself. For grad school application essays I spent the past four months enumerating and describing all of my accomplishments as the Malaria Activities Coordinator and in the previous year as the REDES National Financial Director. But, while all of that work was good and necessary work, as I reflected more thoroughly, none of it struck me as God’s work. I started writing and after I had filled an entire page, I reread it and was surprised to find that I wrote nothing about my professional accomplishments, I only wrote about my personal relationships with other people. About the girl who started college in Maputo last year, so I was supposed to collect receipts from her every so often. But when it quickly became clear that she was scared and lonely (she is from a tiny, very bush town that’s 700km from Maputo), I brought her her favorite fruit that she mentioned she missed, I visited her dorm room and walked around campus with her, seeing her classroom buildings and dining hall. It was clear that she valued being able to proudly show off this new life to someone, but that her family would never be able to make the trip down. I wrote about the girl who washed our clothes for us. How I would always talk to her about school and when she found out she had passed she called me five times in a row to tell me (I was in a bus and couldn’t answer, but I just about had a heart attack, I thought someone had died), how we gave a large portion of our clothes and things to her when we left Namaacha. I wrote about spending time with the girls in the orphanage (back in Inharrime), just talking to them about school, stroking their heads, hugging and kissing them, caring about what they said—things that can’t always happen in an orphanage with 70+ girls and 10 adults. I wrote about how my REDES girls would ask me to call them on a weekly basis and would always be excited to tell me when they were doing well in a school subject. It was a wonderful moment of clarity for me to be reminded what really matters at the end of the day. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013


            After feeling so triumphant about my sleeping abilities the previous night, jetlag got the best of me last night. I woke up at 2am and couldn’t fall back asleep until after 5am. The good news is that I got some reading done, essential since I apparently packed 17 books to read during these four months. Really Scooter?
            This afternoon I was asked if I wanted to try driving for the first time—a driver had just come back from the weekly shopping trip, so I was going to drive him home, then bring the car back. While at home I had borrowed a neighbor’s stick shift to practice driving it a bit. I had learned to drive stick originally when I was 16, but after we got rid of our pickup truck I hadn’t driven one in probably 6 years. I knew that driving here would involve two fun changes: stick for the first time in many years, as well as driving on the left side of the road. I successfully drove us up to the health center to drop some items off, then one more stop at a person’s house. As the driver came back to the car it started to rain. He says “we must drive quickly because soon the roads will become too muddy.” I laugh because it’s such an African thing to say, plus how quickly will that happen anyway? Within another minute it begins to pour so hard I can barely see the road. And to answer my question: almost instantly. Suddenly stick shift and the fact that I’m sitting on the right side of the car become irrelevant—I’m more worried about seeing the road in front of me (did I mention that the sun went down instantly in the last 10 minutes? The black clouds may have had something to do with it) and sliding off into the bushes. In order to keep the windshield from fogging completely over we have to turn the heat on full blast and, rain or no, it’s summer here and freaking hot. We crack our windows but can’t open them too much without getting soaked. I make it all the way to his house, a couple miles down the road, but by this point he’s decided he’s not going to send me back alone, so we wait for another truck with two people to come get me and this truck. In the 20 minutes it takes them to come get me the roads get unbelievably worse as it continues to pour. Driven back by one of the volunteers, I’m assured that this is the worst driving he’s seen, and driving right now has nothing to do with a stick shift or the opposite side of the road. “Oh, the driver wanted me to tell you to be careful not to go off the road to the left side, because it’s a big ditch and you’ll never get the car out” I inform him helpfully. We get almost all the way back, we can see the mission ahead and we relax a little. Just as conversation moves to non-weather/driving related topics for the first time, lightning strikes directly to the right of our car, so close and loudly that we both jump to the left as if to dodge it. I return to my house to find the power is out and I’m assured that it probably won’t return until tomorrow at the earliest. Oh Africa, how I have missed you!


            I arrived safe and sound in Swaziland yesterday! At the Johannesburg airport I needed to catch a bus to Swaziland and had no idea where to do that, so I walked over to the police stand. My interactions with policemen in Africa haven’t always been fantastic, but I didn’t have any other options so I gave them a big smile and hoped for the best. They gave me directions so I thanked them and started to walk away when one of the policemen said, “here I’ll show you” and began walking in front of me. When we arrived at the bus terminal—a logical conclusion for where one might catch a bus—he spoke to the man working there. That man said that the only bus he knew for Swaziland didn’t actually leave from the bus terminal, but from in front of the domestic departures. Naturally. So the policeman walked me back across the street and upstairs to domestic departures. He spoke to the man there who knew the bus I was looking for and confirmed that this was where it stopped. Then without even asking for a bribe, the policeman walked away—I was impressed. When the bus arrived I ran over to talk to the driver. I was supposed to have booked and paid for the bus in advance, but I hadn’t because leaving America had snuck up on me so quickly. I smiled and sweet-talked him and promised I would pay upon arrival in Mbabane, and soon we were on our way.
After the many hours of travel I was able to sleep about 11 hours straight through the night. This morning at 10am I sat in on my first meeting with the education team. We began discussing the first item on the agenda, an after-school math and English program. One woman suggested that the program really needed a committed director to be successful this first school term. “How about Scooter?” suggested someone else. And thus it was decided that I will oversee this project during the first school term while I am here, while training an understudy to take over once I leave. Why wade in slowly, just jump right in!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


            Happy New Year! I write from London’s Heathrow airport, on my way back to Africa, only this time to Swaziland. I hope everyone had wonderful holidays. During the approximately one month I had back in the States, I enjoyed catching up with family and friends, eating lots of good food, and many of the other wonders that America offers, like movie theaters, public skating, and snow. Now back to Swaziland for three-to-four more months, so look forward to hearing about the adventures I have there!
            One thing I forgot to write about before the holidays. A few days before I left, Anna gathered my hair in a ponytail and cut off as much as possible, while still leaving enough for me to pull back. I then offered this hair to my host mother as a gift. Mozambican women love braiding real hair into their own as extensions. Some PCVs have even been able to finance post-Peace Corps travels by selling their hair! Although my black hair isn’t the most exciting (as opposed to brunette or, better, blonde or red), my host mom was still thrilled and actually almost cried. Totally worth the headache of bucket-bathing such long hair during the last few months!