My thoughts have become a dangerous place to be left in. As if my mind is some sort of toxic landfill. My pen and paper have become my saving grace. Typical days like this in the states would be filled with the company of both family and friends, grad classes, field placement, work, activities, night clubs, music concerts, stimulation, common language and the list could go on. Most days here are the polar opposite.
You get lost in the idle time. Lost in your thoughts. Lost in yourself. The very things that once worked for you are not suffice enough to quench the thirst of stimulating conversations, familiarity, convenience and ultimately all the things that once masked the loneliness that was maybe always there. There is no real busy here because there is always time for reflection.
There is always time for introspection. Like you really get to know yourself in your alone time because sometimes no matter how full the homestead, classroom or community meeting is you still find yourself feeling alone. It’s like that song “cranes in the sky” where she talks about her use of distractions to rid herself of the loneliness and past pain. I wouldn’t consider myself pain ridden or hurt but I must admit that I’m struggling. I am struggling in all the places that I thought I had figured out. Like myself. I’m ever-changing, I’m constantly evolving and reliving old experiences while experiencing new ones. It’s like my feelings are all over the place and I can’t get a grip on them at times.
“The Mother Bear Project is dedicated to providing comfort and hope to children affected by HIV/AIDS in emerging nations, by giving them a gift of love in the form of a hand-knit or crocheted bear.The simple gift of a hand-knit bear with a tag signed by the knitter has touched children with the message that they are unconditionally loved”.(taken from motherbearproject.org)
I had the great priviledge of partnering with this organization this past week to deliver teddy bears to children in my community. The smiles on their faces were priceless. Here are a few pictures from the big day
“It is possible that we have been brought together at this time because we have profound truths to teach each other”- Malidoma Patrice Some
For me its never been about proving whos right or wrong. It’s never been about othering or placing one’s beliefs above one another. I truly believe that there is no one way of doing things but that solutions to various different problems require us to enlist perspective. Perspective for me is the defining factor and its our perspectives that make us unique. I joined the Peace Corps to share my culture but also to learn about the swazi culture that has whole-heartedly embraced me over these past 9 months. My community has taught me so much about life, the power of collectivism and teamwork when it comes to even the slightest tasks.
“Community is important because there is an understanding that human beings are collectively oriented”- malidoma patrice some
Inclusiveness across the board and
the consulting of everyone throughout the process is what I’ve learned most over this journey.
I can remember my first emphakatsi meeting like it was yesterday. We all gathered under a huge shaded tree with our grass mats and lihayas all for a chance to meet with the inner council for guidance on projects we’d like to implement in the community. In most communities across swaziland, no one person can just go off and start any project without consulting the inner council. The inner council is comprised of various elected officials from the community. Some of these officials include the chief, bucopho, indvuna, community runner etc. All of these people are elected by their peers to oversee the inner workings of each and everything that happens in the community. This very sense of collectivism in the decision making process has been much difficult for me to adjust to than what I had originally imagined.
I’m used to doing things myself. The quick and easy way is what I call it. Or the saying “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself”. Its safe to say that that frame of mind doesnt exist here nor would it flourish if it did. The true essence of ubuntu and collectivism reigns supreme and that’s something that I’m learning more and more each day.
It becomes quite frustrating to me as I perceive experiences as “oh we’re wasting time”, “but why do you need permission? “and “can we just get on with the project?” But ultimately I ask myself what’s the rush? I think I do it because I want to feel that I’ve accomplished something or the fact that I want to do as much in my power for the youth in my time here. Two years seemed like alot of time in the beginning but when I began to look at my calenar the days are flying.
I’m making strides by making friends but for me tangible projects or things are slim to none. I’m hopeful but at times I grow weary. I recently started an English club at the high school and the amount of support and participation from the students has truly been rewarding. They are eager each Wednesday as we all crowd in to the schools library which is sadly not in use to conduct fun activities in English. They seem to really enjoy the activities and the time we spend together. This past meeting we translated the popular song Tigi by the swazi artist Sands into English and the students loved it. They worked in their groups fearlessly for the two hours as they debated over the translations of words and the true meaning behind the song. One group said that the song is very powerful because it teaches us to never use the word Love if we don’t mean. I was very pleased with that answer and proud that the students were able to go so deep into the meaning behind tje song and effortlessly articulate their thoughts. Im excited for whats to come with the English club and the improvements that the club can potentially have in their English speaking, listening and overall confidence when it comes to speaking English.
Sometimes we want it to work so bad that we stay too long
Waiting for things to change
For people to grow into who we want them to be
And in the process we wound up loosing patience
And loosing ourselves
When they ask me how I spent most of my twenties here’s what I’ll say:
I spent it finding myself
Like right down to my very core
My deepest convictions
My wildest fears
A yearning to grow closer to God
Falling so deeply in love
Trying to love again
A wanting to be loved and to love
with everyone ounce of me
I spent it traveling the world
Experiencing new cultures
Hearing new sounds
Tasting exotic foods
Fumbling across unspoken words
Staring at the moon
I spent it listening to children’s laughter
Making fun of myself
Feasting from my own garden
And learning to write my own story
You see as the days go by and the night’s grow longer I take the time to reflect on ME. To check in with myself every step of the way. To be present; like actually in the now. It’s important to me because it’s all apart of my journey.
FROM TOFU TO MAPUTO AND BEYONDDDDDDDDDD!!
Let’s just say that my first vacation to Mozambique was a blast. Filled with lots of sun, coconuts and delicious food.
Gugu Mamba this post is dedicated to you. Thanks for making me feel at home.
I think the hardest part about being a Peace Corps Volunteer thus far is balancing self. By that it’s understanding who you are in accordance to the current cultural norms in which you have chosen to live under for the next two years but still staying true to who you are. It’s truly a balancing act and as exhausting as it can be at times to strip away your self, to take on a new name and the ultimate identity as A Peace Corps Volunteer its worth it. Its officially been six months into my journey and walking the tight rope hasn’t been as much of a balancing act as it started out to be. I told myself that this is truly a cultural exchange and as much as I find myself altering my dress, behavior and voice at times I also find myself being unapologetic about who I am and what I believe in the process.
In my community I’ve become really close with a woman who I call sisi. She is the daughter of the community runner and is such a genuine and vibrant spirit to be around. She’s helped me so much in understanding Swazi culture and acclamating myself within the community. I’ve also served as her sort of Wikipedia to American culture if I do say so myself. Shes so interested in what my life was like before I decided to drop everything to answer the call to service.
I can remember the first day we met as I nervously visited her homestead with my counterpart. Ekhaya I yelled which is customary when entering someone’s homestead. It’s a way of alerting them of your presence. I greeted her in my broken siswati with assistance from my counterpart. She then began speaking full out siswati only to be told by my counterpart that I was actually American. The look on her face was priceless. It was a mixture of disbelief, confusion, excitement and ultimately curiosity. Although I couldn’t respond I understand many of the questions that flowed from her mouth like the way the water often times squirks out rapidly fdom the bohole (water tap) when you first open it. She began asking questions like: Are you sure? But her hair is like ours (in reference to my locs), But she speaks siswati (guess my greeting was just that good), etc. Then after shes done with her questions, she looks to me and introduces her same in perfect english. “Hello Nosmilo. My name is Gugu and you are my sister” (not literally but because we share the same surname of Mamba we are seen as sisters in Swazi culture).
Most days we lie together on the grassmat of her homestead under the jacaranda tree and just chat about life and all the possibilities for growth and projects within the community. She gives me hope that I can do this thing called Peace Core.
Just recently I started wearing more clothing items that reveal my tattoos. I was tired of feeling like I had to cover up and also it’s the dead heat of summer so cardigans are not an option. I told myself that ultimately despite my tattoos or way in which I choose to live people are going to like me for me. So of course Gugu says to me one day, “Hey Nosmilo I noticed you have tattoos. How come?” And of course I tell her my reasoning and how tattoos aren’t seen as a big deal in America. She was shocked. Lol she told me that in Swaziland that if you have tattoos than people assume that you’ve done time in jail. She then looks to me and laughs and then says “well I’m certain you havent done any time in jail so you are alright lol. Next we discussed my nose ring and she explained that people who wear nose rings are seen as Satanist. We both paused for a while and burst out in deep laughter. I replied so you think I’m a satirist? She laughs and replies of course not. You are my sister. It’s in these conversations where I feel free to be myself. Unafraid of what people will say and unapologetic in my convictions around who I am.
So who is Nosmilo Mamba?, I still sometimes ask myself. Shes the swazi version of Akirah. A ligusha and lipalishi eating, people lover, laughter enthuist, youth worker from Jersey who’s Queening in the magical kingdom of Swaziland. I’m enjoying the journey and taking it one day at a time. I remind myself that its not a Sprint but yet a marathon and I’m pacing myself, beinf interntional and staying present in the moment.