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