Wednesday, December 28, 2011


 Hello long lost interwebs! Currently Ryan, Dallin and I are staying in Durban with some family friends who graciously took us in for the week.  We are staying in their lovely cottage home, and we couldn’t be happy to have a shower every day, delicious food, and a toilet that flushes.  Durban is an amazing city with a thriving metropolis and beaches.  It also has the longest drop-swing in the southern hemisphere, which of course we will hit up before we leave. Transport was a breeze, although the door of our khumbi did fall off of its hinges more than once.  We are happy to have internet (although it is as unreliable here as it is in Swaziland) and promise not to waste our vacation inside looking at Youtube videos we’ve missed out on in the last seven months, although it sure is tempting.

There are moments in the Peace Corps that your heart wishes to tug you home.  i.e. Nephews being born, weddings, family celebrations and hardships alike, Holiday’s, Fall weather, etc.  Then, of course, it is hard to adjust to the very slow pace that the developing world works on. In Swaziland, December and January are marked for several holidays: Incwala, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s, summer vacation for the students, Marula season. Work, which even on its best weeks is slow, shuts down entirely.  We were warned that it can be a hard time of the year for volunteers, and I was bracing myself for the likelihood that it would be a hard time for us as well. To my surprise, however, Christmas has been the most meaningful time we have spent in Swaziland.  We were able to spend quality time with our host family, explore Swaziland, and then of course get out and vacation, which is a nice and necessary breather, but ultimately makes you realize why you joined Peace Corps in the first place and makes you more committed to your community. I miss my family and friends, and wish that I could be apart of their Christmas celebrations, but until 2013, this (see picture below) is making up for it.  

Kisimusi Lomuhle!

 It hit me today, riding in the back of a pickup truck watching my bhuti get smaller and smaller behind us as we sped along the tar road, that this Swazi family who took us into their home sight unseen were starting to feel like real family. Not a surrogate family; nothing will ever replace our wonderful families in the states, but an extension of that living chain we create when we let people into our lives and vice-versa.

Rainer Maria Rilke said that he lived his life in “ever-widening circles”. I would like to think that our Peace Corps service thus far has been an act of living in widening circles extending from our homestead and then out into our communities. Relationships aren’t one of the fringe benefits of the Peace Corps; it is the whole point.

It being Christmas and all, and with my brother here visiting from the states creating a very tangible reminder of home, it seems that this idea of casting widening arcs into lives and communities where we live is the whole point of Christmas. This season we are reminded that we are all part of the same family regardless of race, nationality, creed or sexuality.

This isn’t a Christmas letter (or is it?), this is a blog post read by total strangers so lets get down to the nitty-gritty Christmas committee. The big news of the past week was my brother flying in from the States and visiting us for some much needed R&R. Having Dallin here has been so much fun. I feel like Addy and I have accomplished so much here by simply being able to navigate public transport, making friends at the bomake market, remembering the names of all the kids who say “hello, how are yooooou!” incessantly as we walk down the road, and knowing what restaurant has the best take-away. It was really cool to share that with someone else.

Here is how the week went down. First, we picked him up from Johannesburg. Expecting the worst picking him up from eJozi was surprisingly easy. In fact, for as crazy and busy and sorta scary Joberg is, we really ended up liking it. We stayed the night at a super-nice backpackers (as super-nice as backpackers get) and then headed home to spend Christmas in the Swaz. Breezed through border-posts, seeing rank and file policemen with AK-47s was a bit of a shock for Dallin and camped for the night at Sondzelas Backpackers located on the edge of Milwane game preserve. Sondzelas is a frequent PC haunt in Swaziland noted for its proximity to one of three Royal Game Preserves in Swaziland. The next morning we took a walk through the preserve, which graciously lets you walk through without guide accompaniment, and were surrounded by zebras, Kudu, impala, blissbok and crazy orange colored birds. Not bad for a first day in country.

We then left for Manzini. Manzini is our town. We are there every weekend, we are accustomed to the frantic pace of life (for Swaziland) that accompanies every trip. It was fun to show him the craziest Indali shops, best Swazi food restaurant (Sutsas behind Mr. Cheap Fabric, fyi) and KFC ice cream cones.

The rest of the week we spent hanging with the Tsabedzes, taking walks, showing him where we work, shop and all the various short cuts through the bush, eating the best Prego rolls in Swaziland (unnamed Mozambique place just east of the bus rank in Siteki), lounging by the pool in Simunye, and an unforgettable stay at Hlane Royal Game preserve. Umndeni wami (my family) in America kicked some money our way and we were able to go on a real safari. Range Rover. Khaki-shirted tour guide. The works. We saw giraffes, elephants, rhinos, hippos….and lions! Three lionesses and an old mkhulu lion sleeping. They look and act exactly like really, massively-huge cats. Incredible. The rest of the safari we did in typical PC budget style: Public transport to-and-from, PB & J sandwiches, and sleeping in my dad’s old tent. Peace Corps, bru.

This brings us to Christmas. I know I quoted Rainer Maria Rilke, but our Christmas day can easily be summed up by the rapper Drake, “this is one for the books/ this is really as fun as it looks”. Our day started with church in kaManzini, a huuuuge, delicious Swazi meal with three different kind of meats, a walk to the refugee camp, soccer with boTsabedze and a bike ride to the Sikhupe airport in which our Swazi nationally-ranked bicyclist absolutely destroyed me. In my defense I was riding a single-speed mountain bike. That was followed by songs, prayer and gift-giving.

The next leg of our vacation starts tomorrow as we head to Durban to visit some family friends, get pampered and hang out on the beach. See you there!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hhoho Trip, Documentary & Bongomusa's Birthday

As the school year has let out things have slowed down a bit for us. We have taken advantage of this downtime and done a bit of traveling within Swaziland. Last week we went with Zande, a teacher at Ryan's school, to visit her homestead in the Hhoho region of Swaziland. Hhoho encompasses Swaziland's perenially green high-veld with its steep mountains, cooler temperatures and lush green vegetation. To imagine Hhoho try to think of the landscape of Colorado's foothills matched with the greeness and vegetation of Pennsylvannia. Or, imagine Heaven threw up outside your doorstep. Either way it was gorgeous.

While one imagines a vacation to be in the lap of luxury, our trip to Zande's homestead outside of Pigg's Peak was totally sans electricity. What we lacked in first-class ammenities we gained in staying with some of the kindest and most hospitable people in Swaziland. The homestead also had something our homestead in Mpaka lacks. Bantfwana (kids)! We had the funnest time playing bag-ball soccer, teaching them card games, telling stories, washing hands and constructing a tippy-tap sink with the kids for the homestead.

A tippy-tap sink is a fun way to increase hygeine and instill the concept of washing hands after using the latrine for kute emalengani (zero dollars). All you need is two forked sticks, another stick to use as a cross bar, a emasi bottle, string, woodblock and soap, and in 30 minutes...Bam! You got yourself a sink.

While there we visited some amazing craft centres including the Coral Stephens knitting factory that employs rural bomake to weave naturally sourced materials to create high-end products that are sold worldwide. It was really cool to see a Fair Trade loom in action.

Returning to Mpaka we were met with a long list of obligations. First, Ryan taught an imprompteu HIV class to the executives at the Swaziland Railway Company. It apparently went well, he has an invitation to return and teach a class to its employees. Second, we were asked to be part of a documentary that our American friends, the Smiths, are producing about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Swaziland. John Smith is a Fulbright Scholar from Southern Utah University who is teaching Broadcast Journalism at  the University of Swaziland. Our portion in the documentary will be small and will more than likely feature the work we are doing in HIV prevention and will chronicle our daily life on the homestead/in Mpaka.

In preperation for filming Addy's health club spent weeks preparing  a program for the Smiths. The program included an original song about condom use, a presentation of the Swaziland National Anthem, a drama about Multiple Concurrent Partners, and a presentation of posters they made and will hang around the community. We couldn't have been more proud of these Swazi adolescents who gave up time from their holiday break to work hard and perform for total strangers. It gave us a lot of hope about this upcoming generation of Swazis who take ownership of HIV and prevent its spread in Swaziland. Sharp, bru!

We  will let you know where/when you can see it.

Last, but not least was Ryan's birthday on Saturday Dec. 10th. We spent the day volunteering at the Teen Club Christmas Party and eating ridiculous amounts of pizza. Teen Club is a club put on by the Baylor Clinic and third year Peace Corps Volunteers for HIV + youth to have fun while learning important skills for living a HIV + life. It is incredibly sobering to hang out with kids, ranging in ages from young to 18, who are living with HIV. Teen Club is great because it gives them a chance to forget their status for a day and just concentrate on being a kid. These kids are so full of life yet face incredible challenges. It definately puts the work we do in perspective.

After volunteering we headed into town to meet friends at Debonairs Pizza. Ever since arriving in Swaziland we have seen billboards for Debonairs' triple-decker pizza. Ryan, being a sucker for anything novelty food related, had his mind set on eating the triple-decker for his birthday. The Triple Decker is exactly what it sounds like. Three layers of pizza. Or, more accurately, three pizza piled on top of each other. Our eyes were bigger than out stomachs. Turns out two pieces of triple decker is the equivalent of six pieces of regular pizza.  Don't order two of them between four people. You will want to die.

This week Ryan had Sojournal training for most of the week in Mbabane. We are counting down the days until Ryan's brother Dallin arrives for 10 days of exploring Swaziland and chilling on the beach in Durban, SA. Merry Christmas!

P.S. We aplogize for the lack of pictures. We really have some fantasic ones. If you are friends with Addy on facebook check out here photo album "Summer in the Swaz". It more or less follows this blog post in chronological order

The Halls

Friday, November 25, 2011

IST, PSN, THNKSGVNG (and other abbreviations sans vowels)

Trees, long since shedding their leaves in a fireworks display of death and dying, are standing barren, resigned and waiting for winter. Retail wage-earners are begrudgingly clomping down to basement storage room A to lug a six foot plastic Santa replica up to the window display area before the Annual Black Friday Zombie Feast. Marketing types are at loggerheads with the design types who are arguing with R&D types over which shade of burnt sienna will really make that pumpkin spice flavoring in their new limited edition Eggnog Pumpkin Spice Milkshake “pop" and say bam! Suckas! It’s artificial pumpkin spice time!

I really miss fall/winter. As you are tastefully bundling (or layering) in muted colors in response to the dropping temperatures and blank, expansive grey skies, I am laying on the concrete floor of my hut wishing I had a kiddie pool full of ice water I could float in. Yes, it is getting hot here in Mpaka. I guess I never really accounted for the existential dislocation that comes with inverting hemispheres. I guess I never really believed people when they said it would get hot here. But it is. Kakhulu.

Luckily, Addy and I earned a reprieve with a week-long Integrated Service Training in the beautiful Highveld capitol city of Mbane. It has been foggy and cool every day. A very nice break. The training itself has been very helpful. We have had time to debrief on our first three months of service, learn about how Peace Corps funding works for projects, network and meet NGOs operating in Swaziland and learn alternatives to corporal punishment (still very prevalent in Swaziland). Plus, all of our meals are provided. We have been eating like Members of Parliament.

During IST we had elections for PSN (Peer Support Network) which acts as a kind of support group for the incoming group (G10) and leadership for current Group 9 Volunteers. Addy was nominated and was elected into PSN. She was also elected to be the co-vice president of GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) group that runs and oversee GLOW related activities with other volunteers in SD. Ryan was nominated and elected to write/edit the SOJO (SoJournal), Peace Corps Swaziland's monthly newsletter/publication.

We spent Thanksgiving engorging our already enlarged stomachs on home made, traditional Thanksgiving food at the U.S Ambassador's House with all PCV's in country, embassy staff and others in the American community in SD. Classy.

Prior to our trip up to Mbane, things at site have really been going well for us. Addy’s Health Club soldiers on despite testing that is occurring at Malindza High School. She is also working with the Refugee Camp to start our first PC project, a trash clean up/hygiene workshop at the Camp. More on that to come.

Mpaka Railway School has been testing all week, as a result I have found myself with more time on my hands than usual. With that I have been reading a lot, a lot.  I would strongly recommend The Invisible Cure by Helen Epstein for anyone who has ever wondered why Africa was hit so hard by HIV/AIDS. You will get an idea of the prevention philosophy and struggles we face in working in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention. Second, I would highly recommend Paul Farmer’s Infections and Inequalities which covers everything from public health, epidemiology and anthropology in an attempt to understand the struggle the poor face when it comes to adequate health care and health epidemics.

Grade 7 had their last day/graduation ceremony from Mpaka Railway on Friday. The day was filled with speeches, dancing, dramas and TONS of food. I am proud of my Grade 7 class and wish them the best of luck in Secondary School.

During one of the speeches I had one of the proudest moments of my life. A few weeks ago I designed a lesson called “adjective basketball” to help them prepare for their exams. In the lesson the students were handed adjectives of “good, bad or big” and then threw them in the corresponding “basket”. I welled up with pride as this Grade 7 class representative used the word “abysmal”, which she learned from the game, in her speech. That word isn’t even in my vocabulary. It was awesome.

I have seen other such lessons “stick” with students and it is the best feeling in the world. Hearing them refer to a concept like “gender violence” in a lesson three weeks after I introduced the topic is amazing. These kids really are the future of Swaziland. It is within their power to reverse the damage done by a disease that has robbed them of an entire generation. Good luck, bantfwana.


Friday, November 4, 2011


My freckles have always been somewhat of a burden.  Not really for me per say, I have always been comfortable with them and felt they add somewhat of a “flare” – or something.  Growing up my Uncle Al use to joke that when I was young a large group of ants came in while I was sleeping, pooped on me, and now I have freckles.  Being that I was completely immature and loved toilet talk, I thought it was funny and somewhat believable.  As I got older people use to ask me things such as, “Have you always had so many freckles?” Once I was interested in wearing make-up, mall attendants would have an extremely hard time trying to find a foundation that would cover up about 5 tones of skin color that come up from all my different freckles.  When I realized that all they were doing was trying to cover up my freckles, and not my pimples, I decided foundation wasn’t really necessary. And recently I realized that my freckles, not ever seen in Sub-Saharan Africa, was disconcerting to many. 

At first it was just people telling me that I must carry an umbrella because the sun was so hot.  This is not uncommon, as many people carry umbrellas and wear long sleeved shirts to keep safe from the sun.  Then my host sister asked me if I was feeling well, and that I was getting much too dark.  “By the time you leave here, you are going to look like one of us!” Then, the bombshell – My host sister asked me if she touched my skin if she would get dots.  I was confused, knowing that I didn’t have any sort of rash or infectious disease on my skin.  Then she asked me why I had all these dots on my skin, and if I was going to be okay.  I have never laughed so hard in my life! All of the females on my homestead had a discussion prior to this confrontation about my freckles, what they thought they were, and if I was going to be okay.  I calmed them by telling them that freckles are completely natural, I have had them all of my life, and they are not contagious. I also explained to them that I had sunscreen, I wore it everyday, and that protects me from the sun.  I knew they believed me because they spent the next five minutes rubbing my arm to see if they could feel my freckles. PS – The females on my homestead are ages 27 and up, these are not children. 

The month of October went by quickly.  I cannot believe that we have been living in Swaziland for 5 months already, although there have been moments where time has stood still (Six hours at any community event is 5 hours too long.)  Although for most of you November means hot drinks, snowfall and sweaters, right now Ryan and I are sitting in 105 degree heat! (Don’t feel too bad for us, we also have access to free wifi, a trampoline and a pool)

Come November 19th Ryan and I will be attending training in Mbabane and will officially be off of what some volunteers lovingly call solitary confinement.  For the first three months at site we are only allowed one night away a month, which is a lot more isolating than it sounds.  Luckily, it is almost over, and Ryan and I are celebrating! Ryan’s brother, Dallin, will be coming to visit December 19th, and we will travel through South Africa and Swaziland, where we are hoping he can stomach the slaughtering of a cow, and then Ryan and I will be going on a vacation on an island off of Mozambique! I have always wanted to travel around the world, and this gives us the perfect opportunity to do it, and to do it very cheaply. 

Ryan and I have been busy wrapping up with integration and starting to get some ideas rolling for projects.  Unfortunately, we are stifled due to integration and cannot actually start projects that require any sort of funding until December, which is conveniently when the whole country shuts down to celebrate the King, Christmas, New Years, and summer. Although when we first got here we were cursing the lack of efficiency and the fact that even doing a simple task such as dishes takes an hour +, we are starting to really enjoy the slower pace of life and making the most out of it.  We have started a flowerbed, a garden, read a lot, and go on walks. Luckily, the rainy season has begun, and even the hot lowveld where we live is starting to green. 

We also have adopted a new kitty! I have been feeling pretty maternal here, and to everyone’s disappointment, instead of getting myself knocked up, we just adopted a cat instead.  Her name is Sipokobuso (Ghostface), and she is adorable.  We hope that when she gets a little older she will deter lizards, snakes, spiders, etc. from coming into our home.  She is adorable and we are happy to have her. Our main chore for right now is keeping her away from the dogs, who I am afraid will try to eat her the first chance they get.  For that reason she is an indoor only kitty for now. 

I hope that you all enjoyed Halloween, and know that for Thanksgiving we are very grateful to have all of you in our lives.

Monday, October 24, 2011


We have promised, tacitly, to post more pictures. Well, you asked for it. A slew of pictures coming your way. But first, some news. Progress. Integration is going swimmingly. Ryan continues to work at Mpaka Railway School. The students are in the middle of testing for the next few weeks. Ryan has been facilitating tests, helping with compositions and teaching life skills lessons in Grades 5, 6, 7. The beginning of the term in January is when he will start rolling out PC related projects. Internet capable computer lab here we come!

With it being testing time for Mpaka High School we have been put to good use editing Form 3,5 Design and Technology Students final project proposals. What started with helping our bhuti with his homework blossomed into a meeting with the D & T teacher, the Headmaster and a new partnership with the High School. Addy is planning on starting a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Chapter there next term. Addy continues to work at the Manyaveni clinic as an official unofficial staff member, mostly hanging out in the lobby and dispensing all the HIV/Health related advice she can. Her work at the KaGogo Center and Malindza High School Health Club is well documented in pictures below.

The big news is that we finally got cleared to work at the Refugee Camp! We faced several hurdles early on due to the sensitivity and security of the camp and the baffling bureaucracy behind getting approval to volunteer there. Turns out all we needed to do was call our awesome Safety and Security Coordinator Babe Mavanivuti to cut through the red tape and get stuff done. One meeting with him, our Country Director Steve Drihaus and the camp directors and we were in and touring the facility fast-fast. If we got a cool reception by the leadership of the camp, the Refugees (ranging from all over: Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Mozambique, DNC, etc…) that we have talked to seem pretty thrilled. We are planning on teaching an English class and a Health/Sanitation/Life Skills/HIV class next term (year).

That’s pretty much it this side. In other news: Ryan is listening to every album on his i-pod. He just finished the A’s: Dalek’s “Abandoned Language” to Kyle Bobby Dunn’s “A Young Person’s Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn”. He is also writing a monthly music column for the Peace Corps Swaziland newspaper (SOJO) called FILE UNDER: So far he has written up the albums: Rodriquez – “Cold Fact”, Boris – “Pink”, William Basinski – “The Disintegration Loops”, The Cancer Conspiracy – “The Audio Medium.

On to the pictures – we promise.

Sharp-Sharp, bhuti!

Community Crime Prevention Campaign! 6 hours of awesomeness. 

Some of Ryan's students from Mpaka Railway. They will be Toyi-Toyi'ing in no time! Shem!

Six hours of dancing and lectures in SiSwati where the only English words I heard were "America" and "Dinosaur".

I made a bookshelf out of 100 % salvaged scrap wood.

Pretty typical Mpaka landscape. Hot, flat and oddly pretty.

Addy's Health Club hard at work on Community Mapping!

Addy's Helath Club at Malindza High School.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


September 30, 2011

The month of September has had a lot of ups and downs.  It seems with development work that every good day is followed by a frustrating day, and then that frustrating day is followed by an amazing cross-cultural exchange of hope and ideas that reminds me of why I wanted to join the Peace Corps in the first place. 

This Monday Bethany and I stumbled on an amazing cross-cultural opportunity.  We have been spending some time each week at our communities Kagogo Center, trying to make it the HIV/AIDS resource center that it was built to be. (Currently it is being used to hold community meetings, none of which have anything to do with HIV, but it is being used, which is more than what others can say about their centers.) We have had some great discussions there with a few people, and thus far our efforts have paid off.

Monday was an extremely slow day, and no one came in to talk to us.  Although no one came in to our office, there was a group of BoMake (women) outside, and we thought maybe we could spice up our day by seeing what they are all doing outside the Chief’s homestead on a Monday morning.  I am so glad that we did! It turns out that the women had been asked to go to a nearby community and cut down reeds to decorate the Chief’s Royal Crawl, something that only happens once a year.  Because Swazi’s are extremely gracious they invited us along, and we thought this would be a great time to get our name in with the ladies of the community.

We spent a good hour waiting around for transport, and finally we took off, Bethany and I sitting in the front with the driver, and about 15 women crammed in the bed of the truck. We knew today was going to be magical because as we passed through our neighboring game park we actually saw a family of giraffes chomping away at a tree on the side of the road.  It was definitely a “Wow, I’m in Africa” moment.  When we arrived to our destination some people could not believe their eyes – What are these bomulungu doing cutting down reeds?! It was so much fun, and we even picked up on some more SiSwati.  After learning the art of cutting reeds, to celebrate we went to the most beautiful homestead full of mango trees and were fed goats meat! The best part is that the whole town got word that we went along with the women to help and now everyone in town makes reference to how now I am a real Swazi woman because I know how to cut reeds.  It was awesome. Then on Tuesday we also had a successful visit to a nearby clinic where we hope to do some work in the future. 

Wednesday was another eventful day at Malindza High School with the newly formed Health Club. We have anywhere from 15-20 members, and the students seem to be receptive and even have some great ideas of their own about community outreach.  We ended the day perfectly, with a little game of kick ball. 

But, every good day must come to an end..

The past couple of days have been a looming storm cloud over my very productive start of the week.  I am at a stalemate with the nearby refugee camp, as Peace Corps currently deems me working there a health risk and is looking into it further. Thursday morning I woke up to a stream of urgent text messages and emails, saying that a very good friend I have made here must go home. I knew coming with a group of 39 volunteers that I would probably lose good friends a long the way for one reason or another, but this news certainly came as a shock to all of us.  Furthermore, just today we found out that another volunteer who was on leave for a family emergency is not returning to Swaziland.  We see the pool of volunteers shrinking, and our insecurity about being so far away from home is heightened.

Although the news of these two people leaving left me feeling to say the least bummed, I can honestly say that I am so glad that Ryan and I made the decision to come here to Swaziland.  The people are so kind, and I am even getting use to the slower pace of life, and starting to be able to enjoy the disarray of development work.  I am even getting use to killing the huge spiders in my latrine every morning! Life here certainly is different, and the adjustment wasn’t as easy as I expected, but I am happy to be here and to have the opportunity to work with such amazing people, and especially to work side by side with Ryan. PS – He is way better at all of this than I am.

On another note, we also have the best friends and family ever.  I got a call from my best friend from college, Wendy Adams, which always makes my day.  We also received the most awesome packages from Ryan’s family and Katie Jackson, a good friend of ours from SLC, AND we received a hilarious and heart felt letter from the Potter’s.  It felt good to be showered with love and support, and it came at a time when we both really needed it. I did not need distance to show me how awesome all of our friends and family are, but seriously, you guys are awesome.

Our first lightning storm of the summer is beginning! Everyone enjoy a cup of hot chocolate for me while I tramp around in this miserable summer heat! But whatever, because I get to see giraffes!

PS – The newest member of the Stroup family is expected to arrive any day now!!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Never Ending Task of Integration

I have started full-time at Mpaka Railway school. Right now my role is a bit undefined, but everyday I am starting to get a clearer idea of what I am doing in this school and where I can be of most assistance. I have started doing HIV Knowledge and Attitudes surveys in grades 5, 6, and 7. The strange thing about a place like Swaziland is that the knowledge saturation about HIV is around 100%. These kids can recite what HIV stands for, the four ways of contraction, they even know some jargon like “multiple concurrent partners”, but practical application is more than fuzzy. Less than half know where to get condoms and even less say they are comfortable talking about HIV with members of their immediate family or teachers. One thing I am planning on doing is converting a rarely used Counseling Room as an office/resource center of sorts where I will have pamphlets, posters, information and more than anything a safe place where kids can talk about anything they may be scared to talk about to their parents or teachers.

While their HIV knowledge may be 100% their basic knowledge of basic reproductive health is like…what? After the survey I opened it up to questions about HIV or America. The America questions are hilarious. I am used to all of the normal ones. “Do you know Beyonce? (said just like it is spelled, no inflection on the e) , “Do you know John Cena?”. But some of these kids threw me for a loop, my favorites are, “Are there really vampires in America?” and “Is it true Jay-Z is in the illuminati”. The globalization-gone-amuck cultural drift behind those questions is amazing. Some of the questions were a little more telling, however, when it came to basic reproductive health. I found that very basic information was lacking about things like ejaculation, sperm, eggs…that whole “where do babies come from talk” I had with my Dad is apparently not happening here. I hope I can fill in some gaps, or start with a clean slate.

We are really feeling comfortable in our community. A week ago I was struggling a bit - integration is rough. Normal things that come with the turf of being a white person in an African country started bugging me way more than they should. Things like incessant requests for money, (I just need 12,000 to go to law school” is my favorite) and being the center of attention everywhere you go really started irritating me. A weekend away from site with other volunteers really got me back into the swing of things and suddenly, everything is coming up roses. I just needed some readjustment to see the beauty of everything around me. I am definitely in a high in my cycle of adjustment right now.

Addy is doing great. She is working one day a week at Malindza High School working with a health club. She also works Mondays and Saturdays at the KaGogo center, which is an HIV resource center. The rest of her time is a bit more free-form which she will master in a short time. Right now it is a bit slow going on her end. The Refugee Camp is a nightmare-mess of red-tape to work with. Once she jumps through the hoops she will be golden, but right now we are waiting on some people to help us with an in. No rush. She is also planning on opening up a chapter of GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), which is a female empowerment club for adolescents in our community. She has her irons in the fire all over the place.

That is all for now.  We will be busy in the month of October trying to figure out a Halloween costume on a budget of 0.00. We will keep you posted with pictures!

- Ryan

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I have taken a little bit of a break from writing on our blog – but
luckily for me I have Ryan to pick up my slack! A lot has happened in
the last few weeks, and I am happy to say that I have adjusted well.
I really like our new family and placement in Mpaka.  There is a lot
going on in this little “town”, and it seems like my fear of being
bored out of my mind with nothing to do was useless, as worrying
always is.  There is plenty to do here!  Just this week I have spent
time at the Kagogo Center meeting with my counterpart, I have met with
the Malindza headmaster where, if all pans out well, I will be
teaching life skills and computer skills, and I have a meeting this
morning with the local pastors of Mpaka, hopefully trying to get an in
on some youth group activities. People seem very perceptive to us
being here, and although they are a little unclear of our roles,
(which is okay – so was I) people are ready and willing to accept us
as part of their community.

We are also spending a lot of our time doing Homestead Visits, which
is basically a meet and greet of neighbors, and that is going very
well.  Although we don’t always have a SiSwati translator to go with
us, we just kind of wing it, and it is working!

The only downside to living in Mpaka is actually an upside as well.
We live about a 15 minute walk to the main road for transport (awesome
– a lot of other volunteers have to walk 2 hours to the main road),
however, living this close to the main road with shops means that
there is A LOT of trash thrown everywhere. What is an absolutely
breathtaking landscape is ruined with black plastic bags, cocoa-cola
bottles and candy wrappers sprinkled everywhere. When I was living in
SLC I took our neighbor boy, Maxime, to Scouts every Wednesday.
Maxime just moved to SLC from Guinea with his family.  After Scouts he
would always ask me to buy him a hamburger, so I would take him to
different local joints and then we would drive home.  I remember one
time he just rolled down the window and threw the paper bag and his
fountain drink out the window! I was concerned A – because I did not
want to get slapped with a 300.00 littering fine, and B – because he
thought it was appropriate to do so.  Now living in Swaziland I
understand a little more of Maxime’s mindset.  There are no good
receptacles for trash here in Mpaka, and as Swaziland becomes more
modernized with Western products, you have a lovely display of this
modernization on all of the roads.

Although our main road is littered with trash, the back roads are
absolutely breathtaking, and although I have never been one to bird
watch, I think it is a hobby I might have to pick up here.  The birds
here are AWESOME.  Watch Planet Earth and you will get a glimpse of
what I get to experience every day.  Also this week we are going to
attend the traditional “Reed Dance”.  Expect pictures - My homestead
sister is going to be dressing me up in original Swazi attire!

I have to give a shout out to my Mother who sent us the best package
ever this week.  I am so grateful to her and everyone who takes time
out of their day to write us and send us packages.  It is really
comforting and makes me feel like I can survive here in Africa for two
years – especially if I have Reese’s for desert at night :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mpaka! (2), Swearing in, Leaving Makhonza

A post is long, long overdue as so much has happened in the past couple of weeks. To bring everyone up to speed we are writing from Mpaka, our home for the next two years. Here is how we got here.

        ­Leaving Makhonza and our host Make was difficult. Those first couple of weeks we exerted a more emotional energy than we ever knew we had trying to cope with the inevitable shocks of plunging head first into a new culture, struggling with SiSwati and making connections with Host Country Nationals that became our bedrock for the small strides in integration we achieved. As we left Sidududu followed us out past the gate until turning back forlorn. We miss that little pup most of all.
        The logistical nightmare of moving all of our things from Makhonza to Ngwane to mBabane to Mpaka was something I hope I never have to go through again. If anyone has seen the table legs to our stove please holler.
        After staying a few days in a mBabane with running water, flushing toilet and a hot shower IN OUR ROOM!! We were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers by Ambassador Steve Irwing at the Mountain Inn overlooking the entire valley and city of mBabane. If you are asking, “swear to what?” you are a couple steps ahead of me. I guess I missed the memo that I would be swearing allegiance to anything, but as Peace Corps is an official Government Program we swore (or affirmed, I affirmed) that we protect the Constitution from all enemies domestic and foreign. This is the same oath that the president takes when he takes office. Luckily Ambassador Irwing didn’t flub the oath like a certain Chief Justice during the 2008 Inauguration.
        That brings us to here and now. I am writing this on top of a beautiful, spacious table that Addy and I built with our bare hands. More on that later.
        We couldn’t be more thrilled with our site placement. Mpaka is amazing. Located in the low (see: hot) veldt, Mpaka is equidistance from Siteki (a hop-skip-jump from Mozambique) and the bustling, maddening industrial capitol of Swaziland, Manzini. We live about 1k from the tar road which makes transport a breeze. The town of Mpaka has way more than meets the eye. In the little cluster of sitolos we have a fully stocked grocery store, pharmacy, Internet cafĂ©, butchery, hardware store, beauty salon and a whole grip of bomake stands selling produce and emasnacks.
        In Mpaka there are seemingly endless things for Addy and I to work on. My assignment is working in the Mpaka Railway Primary School. As school isn’t in session right now there isn’t a whole lot I can do. The school itself is amazing. It is located in a tiny village about 2k from our homestead. The village was built by a Mozambique Railway company a while back for its employees. After the Mozambiquians pulled out and turned the railway over to Swazi’s the school became public. The village where the workers live is unreal. It has paved streets with names, front yards, street lamps. It is the closest to a Western/American suburb you will find in Swaziland. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, not far from our house is a refugee camp and clinic where Addy has the option of working. Our babe took us on a tour the day we arrived. If the Mpaka Railway village is the equivalent of a gated community in America, then the refugee camp is the projects. There is so much work to be done. There is also a High School, Vocational School, another primary school all within walking distance. Addy’s main assignment is at the KaGogo center about 6k from our house. Her counterpart gave us a tour on Saturday when we attended the Umpakatsi Meeting. A KaGogo Center is a resource center for HIV/AIDS patients. It also functions as a meeting hall. She will be spending most of her time there. She even has an office! It is being used as storage right now, but will be up and running in no time.
        We couldn’t have asked for a better host family. The family consists a Makhulu who is the head of the house and a pastor, his wife the Gogo, a sisi in her 20’s Gcebile, a bhuti in his 20’s named Patrick and a bhuti in high school named ThembaKosi. There are other relatives who come and go on a semi regular basis. Our SiSwati is improving immensely as both Makhulu and Gogo speak only limited English. We feel so blessed to be in such a great position.
        This brings us to our house. We live in a spacious, two bedroom hut on the homestead. When we came it was completely unfurnished which gave us the chance to totally start from the ground up. We bought a nice bed in Manzini, constructed a bath area and a sink of sorts. Our biggest accomplishment thus far in Swaziland has been constructing a table and two benches with our bare hands. In Makhonza we built Sidududu a doghouse (out of 100% salvaged materials, thank you very much). But with that rudimentary carpentry behind us we were ready to tackle something bigger. Building a doghouse is like making your mom an ashtray in ceramics 101, well, we just graduated to intermediate carpentry folks! It actually functions and the project didn’t end in divorce. Great success!

That is all the news for now. We will keep everyone posted as we start our projects and all of the successes and observations we will have during the next two years. Until then,

We out.

Ryan and Adelyn Hall, PCVs.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Widow's Ceremony

The time to swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers, move to our permanent site and actually start on the work that we will spend the next two years of our lives on is inching steadily closer. Today is the end of our last full week as Trainees, next week we will spend in a High School teaching a life skills class and our final LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) test. Although we are ecstatic to move on we are more than a little bummed to leave our Make and our homestead (plus our TV and our sweet digs). Training was integral because mostly because we made our first (and hopefully only major) cultural faux-pas and got over most of our culture shock while in a temporary setting. Next stop is a clean slate with a little more experience and SiSwati under our belt.

With all of the challenges that came with integration came some of the most endearing life lessons and discoveries that come with diving head first into a new culture. Last week was one such occasion. As we have mentioned before, Make is a widow whose husband died last year. As part of traditional Swazi custom Make has been wearing a black shawl and black clothing for the past year. Friday (coincidently the observed holiday of Lilanga Lisilo, King’s Day), was the one year anniversary of her husband’s death. This occasion was a huge deal for Make, one that she had been planning for and talking about ever since we met her. I will try and go through it step-by-step, knowing there is a lot that I am unaware of or that was lost in translation.

Sunday: The Khumalo clan arrives from Johannesburg, S.A. Make has six children who are all, quite possibly, the most stand-up people we have ever met. Each looks like and shares similar quirks and expressions similar to Make. We had so much fun spending time with them and working side by side with them in preparation for the ceremony.

Monday-Wednesday: The Homestead was a hive of activity. As soon as we got home from class we were put to work chopping down trees to make tent poles for the extended awning that acted as a tent for visitors, killing chickens for dinner and baking hundreds of scones for all the tea that out of town visitors were about to consume.

Thursday: While we were at school Ctello and various Khumalos/neighbors slaughtered a cow. By the time we got back the cow was splayed out in the krall (pen) with its intestines and organs on full display. As disgusting as it sounds it was actually a pretty cool anatomy lesson. Most of the massive cavity of a cow is made up of its four stomachs. Who knew? One thing about Swazi’s is that they let nothing go to waste. I helped bring in kidneys, intestines and various other unnamed organs that were eaten throughout the ceremony. Keeping with my animal slaughtering streak, I helped kill and skin a goat. That is a little more intense than killing a chicken.

That night Make went with a group of bomake and bogogo to the krall to sing and pay respects to the ancestors (who according to Swazi culture live and hang out there). At some point, and this is where I get fuzzy on the details because we didn’t see any of it, Make bathed in a mixture of water, cow and goat blood, burned the shawl she was wearing and put on civilian (non-black) clothes.

Friday: The Khumalo Homestead was hopping! People from all over Swaziland/S.Africa showed up to pay their respects to Make and Babe Khumalo. Make had been making “King’s Brew” all week and Friday it was passed around and consumed in massive quantities. Everything we heard about Swaziland being a largely non-drinking country were thrown out the window with every drunk bobhuti, bogogo, bobabe, bomakulu and bo-everyone throwing down in heroic capacities. Being a non-drinker, something stuck out to me. There was a clear bifurcation between those who drank and those who didn’t. Those who did drank to absolute obliteration and those who didn’t, didn’t even touch a drop. Suddenly, Peace Corp’s alcohol stance made a lot of sense.

To contrast the revelry outside, the night vigil inside was a solemn contrast. Around 11PM things got rolling inside. The house was packed with bomake, two preachers and a group of youth from a local congregation that served as a sort of hired spiritual muscle that sang and rounded out the worshippers inside. I thought Swazi church was long, with three hours of preaching and singing in a language I don’t understand, the Night Vigil was a marathon. The service went from 11PM to 7AM when they left to uncover Babe’s grave and pay final respects. We went to bed around 2:00 AM.

As the revelry went on outside, the festivities continued outside and party-goers did not stop until Saturday night. Unfortunately, we missed the feast that happened during the day, but the amount of beef we have consumed in the past two weeks is a testament to how much food was prepared.

We count ourselves very lucky to witness such an important part of our Make’s life and be there for a traditional Swazi ceremony. Although, the party aspect made us scratch our heads at times, everyone was incredibly friendly and I had mock LPI’s with countless drunk bobabe and bobhuti who loved the fact that I was trying to speak their language.

In our next post we may be writing as full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers writing from our permanent site in Mpaka!

Friday, July 22, 2011



Although Mpaka might not mean anything out of context, Mpaka means the next two years for Ryan and I, and we are very pleased! On Friday we received our site placement for the next two years, and we are being placed in the town of Mpaka.  (Yes, it is an actual town on the map of Swaziland!) We are also spoiled enough to have yet another volunteer in our town, which is extremely rare.  We do not have all the information yet, but what we do know is that we will be moving into a multi-room hut with electricity, which is placed right on the main road (which means good things for transportation), and we also have a better understanding of what our jobs are going to be. 

Ryan is being placed at Mpaka Primary School teaching Life Skills and English, he will also be working on improving the library and the computer lab. We have heard only good things about the school where he is being placed; including that it is a fully functioning, semi-private school, and it’s always nice to work at a school that is actually functional.  Where Ryan, as an education volunteer, is being placed at a school, myself being a health volunteer, my job site is the community! Although I am excited to see exactly what that means, I have plenty of options to work with.  The first option is to work with the schools, as there is a Primary School, Junior School and High School where I can work with Ryan and Phylicia, the other volunteer placed in Mpaka.  There is also a clinic and what Swaziland calls a National Care Point, which is a center provided by the community where orphaned and vulnerable children go to get food and basic care.  Finally, and what I am most excited about, there is a refugee camp and a vocational school, and I hope to work closely with both.

Although Ryan and I have not been to Mpaka, and I do not know really what to expect, I am happy that we are in a town, close to a shopping town (Siteki), and only a half an hour away from Manzini, the biggest city in Swaziland.  If you look at the map we are just right of the center of the country, which is perfect location.  Close to all the big cities, and close to Mozambique!  We are also extremely close to a game park, which is rumored to hold lions! Mpaka is in the region of Lubombo, which means its going to be hotter than hell, but considering that we have discovered in the last 2 months that it can actually be really cold in Africa (who knew?) we are welcoming the hot weather. 

Besides receiving our site placement, we have spent this last week in the Hhoho region of Swaziland training about perma-culture. We hope to have an extensive garden of our own at our homestead, but that really depends on how our family feels about giving us a plot of their land.  (Although that sounds like a big favor to American ears, Swazi’s are surprisingly very liberal with their land.) We are starting out small with some basil and lavender pots, and hope to add on rosemary, thyme, tomatoes and garlic in the near future.  (Feel free to send us some seeds!) Once we move to our permanent site we will then negotiate with our host family about the size of our garden.

In other news, Ryan and I took our language proficiency test last week, and we are officially at the novice high level! Although it might not sound that impressive, that is actually right where we were suppose to score, so we are happy to be reaching that goal.  I have to remind myself that we have only been here 5 weeks, and that before we received our invite to serve in Swaziland I did not know that the language SiSwati even existed.  Cool thing about SiSwati is that it is actually extremely similar to SiZulu, which is a prominent language spoken in South Africa, so really it’s like two in one! We have another proficiency test during week 8, where we have to hit Intermediate Low. I am confident that with some hard work we will reach it.   We will also arrange to have a tutor continue to help us with Siswati even after training, because we are far from even being conversational, which is definitely a goal we both have. 

(PS – EMMA’s DAD – I heard that you have been reading our blog, and I am happy to report that Emma received the highest language score in our group! She is amazing! Also, she is doing well, and I am encouraging her to post more!)

Lastly, I am happy to report that our host family dog Sibi finally brought her new pup around for us all to love, and Make Joyce let us name him! We have named his Sidududu, which means motorcyle in SiSwati.  Mainly, it’s just a really fun word to say. She is free to rename him once we leave!

We also received our phones, so Mom, Dad, Chris and Loni, please call me soon!

Hope all is well in the land of the free.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ngibalale inkhukhu

RMH - 7/9/2011

I have blood on my hands. Literally. As many of you know I have been a vegetarian for the past five years of my life. Some of you know the story as to why I made this decision like the back of your hand, I can recall your eyes rolling as I would  re-hash it over and over again at parties, dinners and other social events in response to the inevitable question of why I became a vegetarian. The question of why I became a vegetarian is much less exciting than why I stopped being a vegetarian.

One of the reasons why I stopped being a vegetarian was completely logistical. I couldn’t imagine explaining to my host-family in my extremely limited SiSwati that in my country we have the luxury of choosing our diets and what soy/gluten based alternatives to use to supplement the existential longing of having a protein as part of a full and balanced diet. I just didn’t feel like full integration meant opting out of a very important part of Swazi culture. Seriously important, livestock is a direct expression of livelihood and status among Swazis.

The main philosophical/spiritual/political/environmental thrust behind the decision to eat meat comes from the fact that (I thought) eating meat in Swaziland would not come with the same philosophical/spiritual/political/environmental baggage that eating meat in the States brings with it. For the most part I was right, most of the meat is raised locally on the homestead, and if not on the homestead at least 200 or so miles from the purchase point.

I believe deeply that every creature on earth is a sentient being worthy of our acknowledgement and respect. The act of taking another life for your own sustenance has long been viewed as a one-to-one transferal from life to life that came along with the appropriate reverence and respect for that transaction. Most indigenous peoples have built communal and spiritual practices built on this reverence for life. My unique sect of Christianity teaches a similar doctrine, that every life is sacred and that meat should only be eaten in moderation (in times of famine or winter specifically, a sadly overlooked tenant) and with thanksgiving. With the advent of industrialized agriculture in Western culture, we have seen that one-for-one transference eroded to a commodity-based transaction where the life of an animal is reduced to how cheap you can get it at the super market. Not only does this harm our overall spiritual worldview, but also it has consolidated mass amounts of capitol in the hands of the few corporations whose only objective is to acquire more capitol. This drive for the bottom line has introduced horrendous, institutionalized and wholesale disregard for the life and well being of the animal as well as a mind-boggling amount of chemicals, steroids and antibiotics required to keep an animal alive in such squalid and hellish conditions. The environmental considerations of converting most of our pasturelands to feed lots, most of our nation’s corn harvest to feed and shipping meat from slaughterhouses in Ohio to Whole Foods in California are staggering to say the least.

This separation from the process of growing, feeding and slaughter to brightly wrapped, pink meat-product in your chain grocer’s “butcher” section allows us to eat meat without even considering the animal it came from (in some products like hot dogs this rings even more true). So, that is why I felt like I had to kill a chicken. If I am going to continue eating meat I needed to know what it felt like to take a life. And so I did.

MDuduzi and I selected a chicken that was old, no chicks and past egg laying age. He held it by its feet and wings. It lay prone and motionless. I said a little prayer of thanksgiving, audibly thanked the Chicken for its life and then took a knife to its trachea and with about 30 seconds of sawing I cut through its neck. It flapped its wings for a few seconds, and then with all its life expelled in a glinting flash of red, it was over.

It was over. I didn’t feel any sort of sorrow or regret. I was nervous, but that eventually gave way to focus on the task at hand. I really didn’t feel anything. Comfortably numb is a good way to describe it. If you have ever carved a turkey it is not much of a different experience.

Killing something (or witnessing something being killed) and then eating it is a necessary experience if you are comfortable making the decision to eat meat. If the process horrifies you, or fills you with an overwhelming amount of pathos, maybe you should reconsider your decision to eat meat. Industrialized agriculture is ubiquitously evil, but there is a better way. Look for ways to buy and eat locally from local farmers and ranchers. Farmers markets and food co-ops are great places to start. If these are not available to you, remember, you can always opt out entirely. It is incredibly easy. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Notes on Swazi Culture #1: Gender Roles


Seeing that we are about four weeks into Pre-Service Training and only have one blog post to show for it, this one will be a little more comprehensive than usual. First, it is important to know that we are doing great here. Learning SiSwati is difficult, as to be expected, but we are trying our hardest to be at least mildly proficient by the end of our two years. Luckily, almost everyone is fairly fluent in English here and can usually carry on a conversation in our native tongue after our obligatory three-four sentence baby-talk in SiSwati.

A recent change has taken place in our training. For the first two weeks in our Community-Based Training we cooked with our host-family, trying to learn how to cook traditional Swazi food, which usually consists of at least three starches and a protein (corn as the base ingredient in at least two of those starches.) Cooking with Make Joyce on a wood-burning stove with no ventilation was an experience, to say the least. During this time Make definitely took to Addy (Bongiwe), teaching her all of the responsibilities and trials of being an Umfati (wife), while I was relegated to maaaybe peeling a potato or squash. You can tell the faith she had in the ability for an invodza (husband) to tackle roles that are traditionally “woman’s work”. In fact, this strict bifurcation of gender roles and responsibilities has been one of the most difficult things for us to overcome in integrating into the Swazi culture.

In our relationship, Addy and I prize our ability to be “equally yoked” in our roles and responsibilities. We both worked full time and divided chores equally in our apartment in SLC. Needless to say moving to a country that not only divides the roles of men and women, but generally puts the sexes on unequal ground was going to be a difficult transition. So far, we have managed to create a minor scandal by a neighbor “catching” me doing laundry outside when our Make was gone, and Make “catching” me sweeping our front porch one morning before class. What is difficult about this is not trying to hide the fact that we split up chores evenly but finding an abundance of man’s work on the homestead that keeps me occupied, while Addy assists Make in the umfati chores. So far I have managed to keep busy helping neighbors set controlled brush fires around their property and helping MDuduzi valella (herd) tinkhomo (cows) into the kraal (pen) in the evening.

To extend this further into our purpose as Peace Corps Trainees we have learned that one of the reasons why Swaziland owns the dubious title of having the highest HIV/AIDS rate of infection in the world is because of gender inequality. If a woman does not feel empowered to ask her husband to help with the dishes, how much less empowered would she feel to ask her partner to wear a condom during sex or ask her husband to stop having “multiple concurrent partners” with women who run a very high risk of being HIV positive?

While we realize that this is a traditional role that does not extend to all households, this has been the first major hurdle we have had to overcome in terms of Swazi culture. This past week, however, we have been cooking for ourselves and are more easily able to divide chores in the privacy of our own hut. We hope that our somewhat clumsy attempt to show and explain our philosophy of equality in our relationship reflects positively on our American culture.


(Just adding on to Ryan’s previous thought, and some thoughts of my own.)

Although there have been hurdles to overcome (and will continue to come), Swaziland is showing us some short-comings of our own.  Swaziland is a communal country, and puts the community before the individual.  Although this can be frustrating at times, it is refreshing to see neighbors actually being neighborly, and extending a hand, food, etc. whenever possible. On our homestead you will see several neighbors daily coming in and out trying to help our Make (Mom) with random tasks that she and Mdu cannot do on their own.  Make and Mdu are in charge of a considerable amount of land for only two people, (and us coming into the picture is not much of help considering we have no idea what we are doing i.e. No, I do not know how to slaughter a chicken, YET!), and it is refreshing to find that neighbors nearby extend a hand whenever possible. 

Speaking of slaughtering animals, I witnessed a pig slaughtering today.  I will not go into details yet, because I have not fully processed the horror that I witnessed, but, to say the least, it was…educational.  The pig was being slaughtered for a two-day wedding ceremony that will take place tomorrow and Saturday.  They have killed one pig, and will kill two cows for the celebration.  I have always had a soft spot for animals, but talked myself into witnessing the event based on moral principals (If I am okay with eating pork, I should be willing to witness the process from beginning to end.) To that I say – I do not think I will be witnessing the cow slaughtering.

I have to put in a short word for our “Mom” here in Swaziland.  She has taken us under her wing as she would her own children.  She watches out for us daily.  She makes sure we are up and going at the right time, that we are dressed properly, that we have eaten, etc.  Not only does she watch out for us, she has taught us many things even in the short time we have been here.  I spent two weeks in her kitchen cooking dinners with her, which gave Ryan and I a lot of time to talk to her and learn about Swazi culture and traditions.  Most importantly, however, she has taught me the true strength of a Swazi woman.  Being a woman here is a challenge for many reasons.  Women are expected to be purely homemakers, but due to shortcomings in income, you will find many women working outside of the home.  Although women work outside of the home, that does not dismiss their duties to their families at home. Men take care of the cattle and other farm animals, and build the homestead, while women are expected to carry on chores on the homestead, including cleaning, cooking, taking care of the children, etc.  It is exhausting. My Make was laughing at me one day because I refused to take the pot off the wood stove with my bare hands.  That is right.  She grabs the pot full on with her bare hands, even at the base of the pot.  She says her hands are made of stone, and I believe her. 

Things that I do miss about the USA:

-          Family and friends
-          Showers
-          Running water
-          Fridges
-          Toilets that flush
-          Heaters
-          Jeans
-          Youtube Videos

Saturday, June 18, 2011

First Post From Africa!!

Sawubona bobuthi en bosisi –

This being our first post since we arrived in the Kingdom of Swaziland, I thought I would bring you all up to speed on what has been an unbelievably exciting, tiring and long two weeks. I understand some of you may have burning questions, all of these will be answered in time, trust me.

First: Staging. Philadelphia. We spent two days in Philly with the rest of our Peace Corps Trainees (PCT) for session after session of icebreakers, shots and seminars of what to expect during the course of our Peace Corps Training. As excitement was building for our eventual departure from the United States, these two days flew by. We spent our “last meal” of Whole Foods’ Salad Bar with our three beautiful friends Stephanie Vickery, Tim Manzo and Theo Wheeland in a park. It was the perfect way to momentarily close a chapter in our lives. Or at least place a bookmark there until we return.

Second: Pre-Service Training (PST). Ngwane College. Swaziland, Africa. After an incredibly long 16 hour flight into Johannesberg followed by a seven hour bus ride into the Kingdom of Swaziland replete with border stops, checks, passport clearances, Visas, etc… We finally arrived to Ngwane College to begin our PST. Tired does not begin to describe what we felt. Luckily, considering the fact that we were experiencing the intense jetlag of basically traveling forward in time, the instructors allowed us to eat and pass out.

Our five days at Ngwane were nice. We were pared with our Language Cultural Facilitator (LCF) Calile (not as simple as it sounds in English. The C makes a sound similar to putting the tongue on the roof of your mouth and making a “tut-tut” sound) and the rest of the in-country administrators. During this time we began our language and cultural training, along with endless talks on security, medical safety, how to boil, filter and bleach water (a tedious, never-ending process) and how to treat fruits and vegetables.

Third: Makhonza. Swaziland, Africa. After five days we met our Host Family and traveled to our host-community to begin our three months of Pre-Service Training (PST, keep track of these acronyms). Right now we are a week into our PST in the village of Makhonza. I am writing on my laptop so immediately this answers a few questions. Yes, we have electricity (TV even! S. African soaps every night!). Our hut is a tin-roofed, two bedroom, cement building on the Khamalu homestead (more on this in a second). We do not have running water, however, we leave feet away from a 5,000 gallon cistern known as a JO-JO, a luxury that not many people have. We are in language and cultural class from 8-4 everyday and every once and awhile are able to sneak off to town to buy essentials and send e-mails.
What is Swaziland like?: Swaziland is a beautiful country. The rolling brown hills bear a striking resemblance to the high desert of the Western slope of Colorado or Southern Utah. Swaziland is a country full of red-dirt roads, speeding ikhombis, curious and inquisitive people. I will use my host-family as a microcosm of Swazi culture. We live with Make (mother, a title of affection) Kahmalu. She is a recent widow with children who have grown and moved to various parts of S. Africa with whom Swaziland is surrounded on almost all sides by. Swazi’s live on about 1$, but you would never know it with our Make. She is extremely bright, educated and fluent in English. She raised four children with her husband, built a gorgeous homestead (a collection of independent homes in a single living space), raises a garden where we eat from every day, chickens, cows and two dogs named Cibi and Zulu-Boy. Her adult son mDududzu lives with her as well. We are fortunate to live with someone who is so inviting, genuinely sweet and willing to help us learn SiSwati. Our accommodations are more than adequate and we feel blessed to be part of  such an interesting and rich culture.

Addy and I received SiSwati names when we arrived to the homestead. Addy is Bongiwe and my name is Bongomusa. It means “a gift”.

Swazi’s are very polite and very formal. Swaziland is extremely religious (90 % practicing Christian), teetotalering and extremely affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Over 50 % of the population over the age of 23 is infected. We certainly have our work cut out for us here as we begin our real PC service in August. Until then, we are simply learners. Our classroom is our village, our homestead and the instruction we receive from our LCF. Addy and I are happy, healthy and stare at each other with renewed amazement every time we realize that we are really in Africa.

Helpful SiSwati phrases and customs:

When Swazis pass each other or meet each other it is customary to greet each other every time. This is generally how this works.


Yebo (bhuti|sisi|make|babe|gogo)


Ngikona, wena ke?

Ngikona nami.

What just happened was. Hello. How are you? I am good, you? I am good as well.

To not use this greeting is considered impolite. Considering how many times a day I am greeting people I am starting to miss the anonymity of the big city.

The African sun is unreal. Even though it is winter here and chilly at night and in the mornings, five minutes in the sun is enough to warm you from the inside out.

Swazi’s dietary staple is corn. Maize meal. It is milled and turned into this paste that is the consistency of mashed potatoes put has the taste of a corn tortilla. It is called Lipalishi and they have it with everything. It is delicious. Really. For another dish called emasi, they ferment mille mill  (milled rice) with milk and call it “sour milk”. If you are asking, “why would anyone want to eat that?” You are on the right track.

We eat a lot of chicken that used to be running around the yard a day before. Also, a lot of squash (“pumpkin”), cabbage and tomatoes. Also, oranges grow on the tree here.

KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) is huuuuge here. They are official corporate sponsor of everything.

Favorite SiSwati word: Sidududu – motorcyle Try saying it and you will see how they got this word.

We will try and update as our PST progresses. Until then. Hamba Kahle (go well)!

Ryan and Adelyn