I seem to be receiving a lot of comments from people thinking that my life here is just one big holiday. So, this blog is to put that idea to rest.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been responsible for coordinating 2-day Peer Educator training workshops. The first workshop was held two weeks ago, with 14 women, 1 man and a gorgeous baby from our Hhohho groups. The theme was sexual health. Given that I was led to believe this topic to be quite taboo in Africa, I was blown away by the participants’ level of engagement and interaction. The teacher almost couldn’t get a word in because they had so many questions. Better still, the women were quick to answer the questions themselves, by openly sharing their own experiences and knowledge to help find a solution – peers educating the peer educators. Awesome!
The second workshop was held a week later in Lavumisa, in the Shiselweni region (South East corner of Swaziland). It was great to get away from civilisation and into the “real” Swaziland. In my naivety, I booked accommodation at Nisela Game Reserve in their traditional beehive huts, thinking these would be a fairly open thatched hut similar to what I stayed in at Mkhaya. When I got there, however, I discovered that beehive huts are pretty much, well, like a beehive – a thatched dome with tiny 70cm high entry. While I quite liked the novelty of crawling into my accommodation, I can’t say my colleagues shared the same enthusiasm. Hopefully, however, they were impressed with the wildlife that surrounded us during our two nights there – ostriches wandering the park, and the sound of baby giraffes crying at night.
The workshop in Lavumisa was held in one of the local Churches. To reach there, it was 30 minute drive from the main road at a pace of about 20km per hour as we crept over rocks and boulders in our All-Wheel Drive. The slow drive did give me a beautiful chance to see Swazi life in the raw: homesteads built of branches and mud; chickens, goats and donkeys wandering aimlessly; young girls herding cattle; the queue of people and animals at the local water pump; different trees and cacti that make it look like it could pass for Mexico; kids waving incessantly and playing games using a home-made ball of plastic bags or a car on a stick made of old wire; and men slothfully gathering each day at the “General Store” that may or may not make money given that is operating with a customer base of about 10. To think this is quite a major hub in Lavumisa!
The Lavumisa workshop had quite a different vibe from the Hhohho ones. After only having four of the 20 registered women turning up in the morning, we managed to track down another six, only to start 2 hours late. Not bad for Swaziland! Unsurprisingly, the participants here didn’t have the same level of vibrancy for the topic that the Hhohho groups did. However, they still seemed comfortable watching the teacher describe male circumcision using a big, black fake penis. The awkwardness of playing with a penis in a Church, it seemed, was felt only by me.
Perhaps the highlight of the training for me was when I received applause from the participants after I gave them a self-assessment M&E form to complete! Whether they were just excited about the prospect of filling out a form (ha!), or appreciated that fact that someone cared enough to develop a form, I don’t know, but I dare say it will be the first and last time that that will happen in my life.
Over these two workshops, I learnt a couple of new things about Swazi women.
- Swazi women are not as conservative as you’re led to believe.
- Swazi women place an awful lot of importance on hygiene, with practices that make me look like a stinking hippy (which, of course, I’m not).
- Swazis love food. In fact, unless you’re specific about how much food they can take, they will take whatever they can physically carry, plus a bit more.