Lessons learned in the first month as a Peace Corps Trainee

One month down! There has been so much to learn this month that I knew I needed to record my thoughts on the first month with the Peace Corps here. It has been challenging and frustrating at times, but I have always been enjoying myself.

  • Going three weeks without a phone really was not that hard.
  • What Swazis think is cold is not that cold. Waking up to a 35- or 40-degree room is cold, though. It is like a desert here, with 30 to 40 degree temperature swings during the day. On the coldest day so far I wore heavy socks, slippers, yoga pants, a maxi skirt, a shirt, a sweater, a coat, a winter scarf, and a winter headband. I sat under my sleeping bag on my bed. It was not so cold during the daylight hours, though.
  • Make (mother) cares about my health and she tries her best to keep me warm. This involves forcing me to wear shoes in her house when only babe (father) is allowed to do that. She scolded me for not wearing socks with sandals. She scolded me for sitting outside in the sun without a hat or long sleeves. She also scolded me for not wearing tights with my skirt, when I knew it would not be cool. She even threw me under the bus and told babe during dinner that I had the gall to dress like that. One of our medical officers said she sometimes receives phone calls from our bomake saying we are not taking good enough care of ourselves. I anticipate my make doing this.
  • Babe now knows I love avocados and it just so happens to be avocado season here! They cost about 15 U.S. cents each for a regular size, which happens to be the small size here. Yes, I have started eating the avocado with a spoon. Avocados are also delicious with chicken stew with rice or pap/liphalishi (corn meal prepared like boxed mashed potatoes). I plan on posing with our avocado tree while wearing my avocado earrings once our tree is ripe.
  • Swazis dress very nicely/professionally. This is something our group underestimated. Nearly everyone wishes they brought fancier clothes.
  • You can buy just about everything here for a price, of course. Many people would have packed differently knowing that they could easily withdraw money from an ATM and buy the products here.
  • Boiling a large kettle full of water takes about 30 minutes. Boiling more than two of these kettles per day makes my ceiling rain.
  • It is fatiguing always being at work every minute of every day. Do not underestimate this. When you get home from a long day of school and you want to hide in your room, remember that you are supposed to be making connections with your family by playing with the children, practicing siSwati, or helping with chores.
  • You have no privacy. Everyone is watching you all of the time. In my case, my younger brothers and sisters are also always looking to see what food I have so that they can ask me for some.
  • My water is so dirty I broke my filter. Remember that my family uses this water every day of their lives.
  • Flexibility and patience key. Spend some time somewhere other than the United States before joining the Peace Corps so that you can learn about and experience a slower pace of life. Live is lived differently here and you have to adapt in order to be respectful.
  • Read and understand the Trainee rules. Ask for clarification when you do not understand. No one wants to be sent home so soon after arriving after such a long application process.
  • Your concrete floor will be your refrigerator. There’s no reason to not buy that yogurt after all.
  • Be nice to your fellow Trainees. These are the people who will keep you going through all of the good times and the bad.
  • Allow yourself to speak bad siSwati. This is how you will learn good siSwati.
  • Do not worry so much about the first language test. I felt confident taking the test (although I failed miserably apparently). The likelihood of being sent home over a non-passing test score at the end of the nine weeks seems slim here. Peace Corps will also reimburse us for hiring a tutor at our permanent site, meaning there is time and resources available to redeem our language scores between the end of Pre-Service Training and In-Service Training.
  • You may love your training family and want to help them however you can, but they survived with their current way of life and without you for many, many years. They will continue without you for years to come. Give them knowledge and not your money.
  • And be nice to yourself. On all the long days of Pre-Service Training, remember to take a moment and practice some self-care. Listen to music, read a book, or try to bake a cake on your stove (I have had varying degrees of success so far). You want to have fun memories of PST too, not just ones where you were stressed.


Size of G14: 37

Reading: (well, rereading) A Game of Thrones

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5 Responses to Lessons learned in the first month as a Peace Corps Trainee

  1. Brynn Fowler says:

    I am loving these posts Alison! Sounds like such an adventure. We miss you.

  2. Susan Kemp says:

    I am so glad that Make is looking after you! Do you have a new water filter?

  3. Nancy Brendlinger says:

    Love reading your about what you are thinking about now. From your list, so many rang true for me, but the one that really reverberated was the lack of privacy. I developed a way to be “by myself” in groups or surrounded. I remember trying to retreat to little alcove to read and write, surrounded by children playing all around me and being able to both block them out and monitor them for potential damage to my belongings at the same time. Keep up the good work.

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