News: Elaine and Phillip’s Letter from Swaziland

Elaine and Phillip Dicalfas-Hall are Palms volunteers working in Swaziland. Elaine is developing education resources for use in non-formal courses. Here, Elaine tells of her return to Sebenta following the birth of their son, Luka:

“The breaking of the dry”

After about two months of heat and dust, with the plants and trees still bravely putting out their new leaves and blossom, it is finally raining steadily this evening, having thundered all afternoon. There are three huge jacarandas at the front of the Sebenta premises and they look great. A few times when I’ve asked Chirwa or Babe Dlamini about the clouds they’ve said “No, no rain today. There’s too much air. It messes up the sky.” … and there has been a lot of air (wind) whipping the dust up and coating everything indoors and out in a fine layer. Another sign of the coming of summer is that the vendors in the bus rank have started selling peaches, which is the first fruit to emerge in delicious series over the course of the summer months.

We’ve managed to survive our first four months of being parents! I don’t know if it’s really getting easier and more fun, or if we have just adjusted to the demands of having a baby to care for. Luka has grown incredibly quickly, no one around here believes that all he eats is breast milk, they’re sure he gets a little extra something. He gets a lot of attention from all members of Sebenta staff, who love it when I take him across to the office. If I manage to go for a walk along my old ‘pregnant’ walking route, every second person stops to greet him “Oh, you are out now!” and check whether he’s a boy.

I have been back at work now for over a month and am enjoying it, I’m sure the break has helped me to take things less seriously and enjoy the interactions and mental stimulation. I work at home in the flat on Mon, Wed and Fri, and in the office on Tues and Thurs (when Phillip has Luka). It works pretty well thanks to the flexibility of our employers and the fact that ‘home’ is only 20 steps and a telephone extension away from ‘office’ for me. I have been struck coming back at the inertia within Sebenta. The books that I prepared for the printers to publish over a month before Luka was born had still not got beyond a ‘dummy’ stage 4 months later.

It’s hard to know the reasons for this lack of forward motion and also difficult to know how to deal with it. Finally Emphraem from printing came back from leave and said to me ‘take me as your priest’ (i.e. ‘trust me’) after Agnes in our office informed him that I would soon start crying if they didn’t make some progress with the books. And I’m a believer! Within about two weeks he had the show on the road and one book has been printed!

In the time remaining I have been asked to work on the existing Basic and Post Basic English literacy courses. It’s a very exciting task as it involves a lot more work in the actual classes with teachers and learners, as well as being more what I’m trained in (i.e. literacy for children), but is also realistically a job that would take a year to 18 months to complete. This has given me the opportunity to really push for working more closely with one of my office colleagues, so that she can take over the job after I’ve gone, and provide continuity. Previously my efforts to have more skill exchange happening had caused a lot of tension in the office, so I decided to let it go for a while.

It has been disappointing that despite our efforts we still do not feel that we have made friends with many Swazis. In my case, the receptionist at Sebenta, Tiny, is the most open to friendship and was very supportive of me during a period when no one in my office would speak to me. Recently her youngest son of about 10 years old died, apparently from anaemia, which was so tragic. I have been really amazed by her dignity and faith as she deals with it.

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I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. - Stephen Krebbet