I realized that I have done a poor job writing about the work I have been doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland. So now, let’s return to Pre-Service Training (PST), which is where PCVs learn language, culture, and about their future job.
Swaziland’s Group 14 (G14) arrived in Swaziland after a long flight from JFK to Johannesburg followed by a bus ride to Swaziland, ending finally at the training center that would regularly be our home and classroom space.
We were greeted by our language teachers traditionally dressed and singing plus staff and members of G13. One G13 wowed us by knowing all our names. We were in shock and exhaustion and hunger as we stumbled off the bus and collected our baggage. Everyone who had said they would show up in Philadelphia made it to Swaziland, though two Trainees went home during PST.
Our PST was broken into seven sections over 10 weeks, including welcome; homestay survival, language, safety and security, and health; cross culture and technical training; site visits and PCV shadowing; technical training; wrap up; and move out.
The first week included introductions to staff and expectations plus introductory language skills. We received shots, learned how to prepare water safely with our filter, and how to use our stoves. And then one member of our training host family came for lunch with us and we headed home with them. This was an extremely awkward meal, where I could speak no siSwati and my babe could speak no English. I could not understand the name he gave me and my new last name had a click that I had not yet mastered. I was shy and so was he. Fortunately, as time moved on, I came to love them dearly and enjoyed my stay there albeit the many difficulties I had.
Over the following weeks we would have sessions on HIV, permagardening, Swaziland’s Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, safety issues such as dealing with unwanted attention and travel, tools we would use during Integration (the first three months at our permanent sites) and the rest of our service, traditional events and rites of passage, the history of Swaziland, and Volunteer health topics like diarrhea and mental health.
We also had bigger events, such as receiving our cell phone numbers and celebrating the Fourth of July at the country director’s home (week three and already being planned by G14’s top cooks including yours truly); a weekend away from training that we spent visiting a wildlife reserve, historical sites, and a garden (end of week four); a site announcement ceremony (ours was Dr. Seuss themed at the end of week five); and visiting our sites and a nearby PCV during week six.
Of course, there were also daily language lessons and near weekly shopping trips to buy supplies and food for our training homes. You can decide with your family if you will eat dinner with them or cook your own food. Sometimes host families provide breakfast, but you should be prepared to cook your own breakfast and bring a lunch to classes. I wanted to cook my own dinner, but my host make did not believe I ate unless I ate her food, so I had to give up that battle. Cooking American food with my family was the only acceptable alternative, and those moments ended up as some of my happiest. (Stove top pizzas are the way to go!) We also had frequent jean Saturdays that could be instituted by the new training manager.
We were also tested on our language skills at the end of week four and the end of week nine. Both of those testing sessions also included about six other tests and interviews to determine our skill acquisitions and if we were following the Core Expectations of Peace Corps Volunteers.
Week nine ends with Host Family Appreciation Day, where each Trainee is able to bring three family members to lunch, which was followed by moving out and returning to the dorms at the training center. During week 10 we swore in and became official Peace Corps Volunteers. G13 was quick to point out that we were jilted at our ceremony because of an international event happening in Swaziland. We hope all will be rectified for G15 and that we will get to recelebrate in style at the next ceremony. Week 10 ended with moving in to our permanent sites and beginning our lives with our new families.
We had a small reunion the following day because it was a national holiday (the main day of umhlanga, the reed dance), and after that, we were on our own.
Looking back, I harbor no sore feelings about PST. The days were long. Some were boring. There was nearly no time to yourself. And when I got home after a long, bumpy bus ride, I had to decide if I was going to hide in my room or play with my sisi’s baby. They baby always won. There’s time to learn siSwati later, after swearing in, and playing with children was a much better way to destress than being alone.