And then there was rain.

It’s been quite some time since my last post, and I apologize. To say things have been hectic would be an understatement. It’s been a pretty stressful couple months, but things are finally looking up.

I did something highly frowned upon by the Peace Corps – I used money.

— Rachel Albright

Since my last post, the drought continued to get worse. At one point, community members were forced to gather water from the only source left after both rivers ran dry: a stagnant, muddy, and completely contaminated small pond. Witnessing my community drinking directly from this source, and consequentially getting sick, was difficult to watch to say the least. So, I did something highly frowned upon by the Peace Corps – I used money. I could not give everyone water, but I can educate on water treatment. I (aka my parents) took financial responsibility for all of the JIK bleach in stock at the supermarket. It ended up being just enough bleach to gift each homestead dependent on the stagnant water source. Thanks to the help of a local Rural Health Motivator, all of these homesteads were educated on treating water using the bleach method.

The lack of water has been a struggle from the beginning of my time here. Upon arriving in Msengeni, I had been contacting NGO after NGO asking for help – asking for basically any way of supplying my community with more water. As the Peace Corps does not support large water projects in Swaziland anymore (for reasons of their own… I’ll keep my opinion to myself), the issue needs to be addressed by some other aid source. This can be tedious and complicated work, especially because most organizations capable of funding a large water project are, unfortunately, difficult to contact and rare to respond. After about 4 months, one organization finally responded to me. A representative from this NGO came out to Msengeni and assessed the village for a potential water project. Following the assessment, I was informed that the situation in my community is one of the worst this NGO had seen; therefore, the chances of a project happening were high. As great of news as that was, it was not a quick solution to the problem.

After the assessment, Swaziland went for a few more days without any hope of rain. I feared the worst, and as PCV’s, we feared being forced to leave the country due to the magnitude of the situation. However, just when things could not possibly get any more difficult, it happened. It POURED. Out of nowhere. So much so that I was able to discover the roof of my house leaks right over my bed. While I escaped to my house for shelter, my host mother and sister remained outside and bathed out in the open… the pelting rain as their shower. From that moment on, spirits have been lifted here. Although it will take a lot more rain to undo the effects of this drought, we currently have water to drink, and I’ve never felt more relieved.

In other news, school has been back in session since January, although I had a late start to teaching. Mbokojweni High School is a mess and unbelievably unorganized. I find it unbearable at times. It took FIVE weeks of school for the new headteacher to decide on a timetable for the students. As unacceptable as that is, what is really troubling is the way students are being treated. Absolutely no mercy was shown for the OVC students when the new school year began. Basically, the school is a business and nothing more to the new headteacher. If you can’t afford a uniform because you’re an orphan with no income, you don’t deserve to learn and you’re sent away. On the other hand, if you have been expelled from a neighboring high school for fighting, cheating, or whatever else, but you have money to pay school fees, you are welcomed with open arms. Additionally, it does not matter if corporal punishment is “illegal” in Swaziland, the headteacher will relentlessly beat the students, seemingly just for fun at times. As a powerless PCV, I have to stand back and watch while trying to remain patient and accept that some things cannot be changed no matter how much I try.

it does not matter if corporal punishment is “illegal” in Swaziland, the headteacher will relentlessly beat the students, seemingly just for fun at times.

— Rachel Albright

I now am teaching six high school classes a life skills and sexual reproductive health curriculum that I developed with the help of another high school teacher. I educate about sensitive subjects like sex, STD’s, HIV, self-esteem, peer pressure, etc. The other day, I taught a group of around 50 high school boys about circumcision, and it went about how one would expect. I’ve been asked some very unsettling and personal questions from my students, and I answer as best I can. Every time I say “penis” or “vagina” the classroom is filled with nervous laughter, just like it was in my 5th grade health class. It is so clear to me that these kids have never really had anyone explain the facts of life to them. For this reason, I feel my work is valuable.

Recently, I received notice that my library project grant was approved. The Peace Corps grant process is not ideal; they do a great job at limiting what we can actually accomplish. It took way too long, but now I can finally begin constructing shelving for the high school library. I am beyond excited about this project. I plan on running a lot of activities out of the library and will be encouraging reading by incorporating it into many of the school’s academic curriculums. The books are set to arrive in a little over a month.

Other things I’m doing: teaching volleyball, setting up a pre-school, helping out at the NCP, raising money for GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), and distributing condoms. As much as the amount of litter around this country bothers me, I have to admit that I get pretty excited when I see empty condom wrappers blowing in the breeze.

Aside from work, I have been doing some travelling around. Recently, I visited Durban and Cape Town in South Africa. Two other PCV’s and I attended ULTRA Music Festival and had a crazy time. I did not know how to handle Cape Town at first. After 8 months of living in rural Africa, one gets used to the lack of amenities. My travel buddies and I were overwhelmed at being immersed in the first world again; we were most definitely “fish out of water.” Currently, I am mentally preparing myself for all of this again, as I will be traveling back to Cape Town in a month to meet up with Neighbor Jon. Afterwards, I will return to Swaziland with him and be entertained at my cityboy friend being entirely out of his element. I’ll let you all know how it goes.