Friday, December 21, 2012

Seasons Greetings!

It is safe to say that Ryan and I (unintentionally) dropped off the blogosphere for an indefinite period of time -  but we are back! In the last three (!) months of not updating, a lot has happened. We went to America and celebrated the union of my brother and his beautiful wife Caitrin in NY, we saw our nephew Noam for the first time, Ryan shot a few birds with my sister’s boyfriend Kyle, and we caught up with family and friends  while huddled together trying to stay safe from Hurricane Sandy.  After clearing the Atlantic without incident, Ryan and I spent a few days is eJozi taking the GRE and trying to re-acclimate to life in Africa.  By the time we strolled up to the Tsabedze homestead with kakhulu presents and emasnacks from America, Ryan and I were definitely grateful to be back on Swazi soil. 

While it took me about a week of sleep to get back in the Swaziland time zone, Ryan and I hit the ground running once we got back to site. We were each approved for our Books for Africa applications, which means we will receive 1,000 books each for the camp and the school.  I have been organizing a GLOW counterpart training which will take place in January, and Ryan has been doing manly things like painting and mortaring the library and preschool at the camp to get it ready for our book delivery in May.  While the last few weeks of school term were extremely busy for us, school term ended this week, which means I see hiking, reading, and lots of mango eating in our future. 

My goal for Christmas break is to teach our homestead pup, Senator John McCain, how to run with me on a leash.  The first attempt ended with me in a mud puddle and Senator free from leash and collar down the road, along with 3 of our other homestead dogs following enroute, but I am determined to have a running partner if it kills me! (Which it might.)

I cannot overstate how nice it is to have free time – to take in the sun rise and sun set, to swing in the hammock while listening to the oncoming thunder rumbling through the valley of Mpaka, to sit outside with the family and read while BoMake shuck maize and discuss matters in SiSwati that still go past me; this is time that I cherish and will miss while immersed in the chaos of American culture. 

As Ryan and I apply to graduate schools and plan ahead for the future it is definitely clear to us that our time in Swaziland is coming to an end faster than we anticipated.  While 7 months is still some time, it is nothing compared to the 27 months that we signed on for, and our Swazi bucket list is creeping up on us and making us both a little anxious.  We have gorges to see! Waterfalls to swim in! Mountains to hike! Wonders of the world to visit! Thank goodness Swaziland doesn’t move in December or January so we can relax and enjoy its beauty in the next couple of months. 

I can’t help shake the feeling that while I miss my family and friends greatly back at home, there is a constant inward struggle thinking that going home to them means leaving my home here.  I know I am not leaving tomorrow, but I have a great appreciation for the family and friends we have made here that has made Swaziland a 2nd home.  I couldn’t get time to speed up our first year in Swaziland, and now I can’t get it to slow down. I guess that is part of Peace Corps charm – it isn’t always pleasant, but it opens your eyes to see a world bigger than you and leaves you with a dual appreciation for your own culture and the culture of others. It’s pretty cool.

Oh, and in the past 3 months Obama won office – that was win. (Ncesi to my entire family who voted otherwise. Except (I’m assuming) Dallin.  Good for us!)

Until next time,

Happy Holidays from the Hall’s! 

SiSwati to English Translator

Kakhulu – a lot
Emasnacks – Snacks
BoMake – Mothers
Ncesi - Sorry

Sweating and Swearing

Addy’s last blog post brought you up to speed with some of the projects and trips we have been on. We haven’t updated this blog in a criminally long time. Ncesi. One of the things she mentioned was that I was working on some pretty manly stuff like renovating a library. Truth.

Manly is one way to describe it. But the project, in fact, only has little to do with men. Most of it involves women, children and a couple of dudes doing most of the grunt work. Sweating and swearing a lot. Most of it in languages I don’t understand, but with a few choice expletives that cut across any language barrier.

 To bring you up to speed in the camp lies a derelict building that contains three rooms. Two small ones designated for a pre-school and nursery and a larger one designated for a library. UNICEF has promised to fund the running and operation of the pre-school pending renovation of the buildings. They have partnered with Swaziland’s acting partners Department of Home Affairs and their acting counterparts CARITAS. A E6,000 grant was approved to purchase some of the supplies to renovate the buildings. Jenny Hammond, a local businesswoman and former refugee agreed to kick in any additional funds.

Here is where Peace Corps comes in. Due to our extensive time and relationship investments at the camp we are pretty good at mobilizing the community to do the hard work. Replacing broken windows, painting, mortaring cracks, constructing a fence, replacing doors and building shelving (to come). This has been a unique and ultimately rewarding experience for us. The other day while installing the fence around the perimeter I looked around at the guys working. Somalians, Rwandans, Burundians, Congolese, two Swazi professional builders who are working only for in-kind food donations and the ubiquitous American twenty-something working together to construct a fence that, due to the refugees transient stay at the camp, may not be of any direct benefit to them in the present. Instead, for nothing but a scant meal of samp and beans they were working in the dead heat of a lowveld December afternoon.

This is, I think, where the Peace Corps shines. We are able to mobilize communities by integrating into them. I was sweating and swearing along with the refugees instead of sitting behind a desk trying to raise “awareness” about literacy or early childhood education.

I asked one of the residents early in the morning if people would come and work. He said, “if they see you, they will come”. That was cool.

After we finished I sat under a tree and played Scrabble with some Rwandans. It was a lively game although I killed with Kuwait on a triple letter space.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Candy Beans

It’s hot. I’ve been sick now for four days. Puppies are everywhere and my phone will not stop “buzzing”.  I pack up with Ryan and decide it is time for a nice relaxing trip to town.  After some scuffling around and a mentally draining phone call from the camp, Ryan and I fetch a ride with our host family to the bus station.  We board the bus after only 5 minutes of waiting.  We take a seat. Ryan gets comfortable with The Economist and I with my book.  All of the sudden screams come out of the television set on the bus; they have decided to turn on “The Punisher.” Anyone familiar with this movie would be surprised that a conductor with a bus full of school children would decide to play such a movie, as I am under the opinion that people should have consent before having to watch such a terrible film.  Pouring salt into the wound, Ryan and I are right below the speakers. After listening to the screams of a man getting his teeth pulled out and a woman getting thrown off a building, I have had enough.  Enough of the constant noise.  Enough of the chickens.  Enough of the poverty and lack of efficiency and poor quality of every single item I have ever bought in the last 14 months. Enough of being so far away from home.  Enough, enough, enough…

Ladies and Gentlemen, I had hit my one-year-mark-what-in-the-hell-am-I-doing-here blues.  

Peace Corps has this chart called the “Peace Corps Volunteer Re-adjustment Chart”. It maps the highs and lows of most volunteers and when to expect the rough spots and how to deal with them.  I would call it ridiculous if it wasn’t so spot on.  I am sure anyone ever involved in development work, whether in or out of the States, has reached these re-adjustment points, and as our PCMO says, you either adjust or you go home. 

After getting off the bus from Mpaka to Manzini, we boarded a sprinter bus (what Swazi’s call a khumbi) and headed off to Mbabane.  We were jammed in the back but I was relatively happy because the window was open. Sitting next to Ryan was an 8-year- old girl.  She was eating jellybeans and I will be frank, I was staring watching her eat them.  I see her catch my eye, we smile at each other, and I look away.  A couple of minutes later, she turns to Ryan and says, “I saw your wife looking at me, she smiled and I thought it was cute, can you please give her these sweets for me?” My. Heart. Melted. Maybe it was the sugar high, maybe it was the adorable little girl showing me what I considered a very real act of kindness, but all the tension and frustration left me.  We sat together eating candy beans and talking about our lives here in Swaziland.  She lives in Manzini and is going with her brother to visit her family.  She asks about America and sees our big bags and asks us about camping.  “I think camping would be scary because of all the sharks, snakes and alligators.  Do snakes ever get you when you are camping?” I show her American money and give her some coins to show her friends.  She seems excited and gives me a “haibo!” when I show her a U.S. quarter, although she does exclaim, “No, it’s ok. I have real money. (Pointing to her emalengeni coins).  She gets off the bus and we waive goodbye and my “enough of this” attitude vanishes and I am left thinking that maybe we could just stay here forever. Maybe J

Malindza Community Cleaning Campaign 2012

For those of you keeping up on our blog, you know that Ryan and I embarked on a big project this last week.  Planning since October, the Malindza Community Cleaning Campaign went off without (too many) hitches! I had been preparing for weeks on getting speakers organized and making sure participants were willing to come, despite that they were not getting paid to come, something that NGO’s here for reasons I will never understand do to encourage participation.  (When I told the Rural Health Motivators that they were not getting paid to come but rather should be grateful for free education and the willingness of speakers to come teach for free, they looked at me like *I* was the crazy person.) Despite these small hiccups, Monday August 20th came and we sat hoping that people would at least show up. 

They did not disappoint!  On the first day we had 90% participation and throughout the rest of the week we had 95% participation – I could not have asked for more. As the refugee camp has serious concerns about hygiene and sanitation, we spent the first couple of days covering workshops about hygiene, HIV/Malaria, sanitation, local resources, and how to make money through trash.  Several other Peace Corps volunteers came out to help as well as Swaziland Environment Authority and Siteki Health Inspector’s Office.  Furthermore, UNHCR flew in all the way from Pretoria to see what the community was involved in.  Throughout the week the participants collected around 100 trash bags, put up a newly fenced trash pit for the camp, and even managed through grit and guile to get the plumbing up and working again at the camp, literally staring in the face of broken sewage pipes and an open septic tank.  (Gross.)


It was fantastic to see the camp residents and the community of Mpaka working together, as this was really the first time they have ever come together to solve a community problem.  They all worked extremely hard and have a new zeal for keeping their area safe and clean for their children, which was the entire point of the project.  I am sure the best tool for making this a sustainable project is peer pressure, because after everyone worked so hard to clean up Mpaka, these participants won’t appreciate people throwing their trash on the ground.

(This is me saying some pretty important stuff about the harm of open defecation.)

(This is “Bingo” contemplating the information given about why he should never defecate out in the open.)

After a long week we wrapped up the campaign and went home to relax.  Our entire family came together and celebrated true Swazi style with a delicious braai.  I even got to work on my Swazi cooking skills, which made my boSisi very happy. 

Now that some days have passed I am extremely happy to have some time to relax.  Ryan’s Play Soccer/Learn HIV project will be coming next month, so we have that to look forward to.  Until then, we are enjoying our school break, reading a lot and of course studying for the GRE.  We will be visiting the States come October and cannot wait to be with family and friends to celebrate my brother Matthew’s wedding.  I am currently in town shopping for the craziest/highest high heels I can possibly find to make my mother’s mouth drop! Swazi’s know shoe fashion.

Check out facebook for more pictures of the cleaning campaign week! Thanks for your love and support, we send our love from this side –



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It has been a little while since our last post so we thought we would treat you with an all photo edition abrakadafrica blog post.

This is one of my favorites of all time. Our headmaster dancing to Lil Wayne on the bus back from the countrywide music tournament. Mpaka Railway School came in fourth place.

Addy has been hard at work setting up a library at Malindza High School. It is a lot of sorting, organizing, taping, binding, etc.. All of which Addy is a pro at.

Some of the resourceful members of the camp built parallel bars in order to “gym” during the day. We are making a punching bag out of all repurposed materials. Be on the look out for that. This dude from the D.R.C is an acrobat.

This was my attempt.

Last weekend was the culminating soccer tournament at the Malalleni Soccer Tournament for all of the teams in the area playing in the Malindza Football League. I support the Mpaka Seven Stars. Obviously.

All of the fans of teams met in Mpaka and marched (with a full marching band, drumettes, traditional singers, motorcade and police escort) to the stadium. My day was 8-6 of all soccer related activities. I don’t even like soccer that much. It was fun to spend time with the community though.

Monday, August 13, 2012

There is a Catch...There is Always a Catch

Hello Friends and Readers of this Blog -

As you know you are reading a Peace Corps Blog. Peace Corps does development work. Sometimes development work in Africa. Like other NGO's and Development Agencies Peace Corps doesn't come in for a few months, drive Range Rovers out to a rural community, do some slap-dash assessment and hang our name on something that the community doesn't need or will break after we leave. At least, that's not how I see it. As some of you know I (Ryan) have been trying to put together an HIV soccer workshop with local teams in our community for some time now. The good news is we are zeroing in on our target. All of the necessary meetings have taken place, we know how many we are going to reach, the shareholders are into it, the coaches are on board,  kids are interested, grant has been sent in, yadda yadda. It has only taken a year. 

A component of this workshop is that every team participating will receive jerseys and a ball. Our close family friend Babe Watts from Texas has graciously collected over 150 jerseys. The problem is shipping 150 jerseys to Africa is expensive. Really expensive.Who knew?  

So far she has been able to raise 80$ out of the 220$ she needs to ship the jerseys to Swaziland. We are asking, not as the PR face of some vaguely intentioned NGO or Development Agency, but as friends of yours that if you could help us reach the goal of helping Babe send out the jerseys, we would be really grateful. Maybe even send you some nice African thing or give you a high-five when we get back. If you could spare anything. 5$, 10$, 20$, it would help a lot to get these jerseys out here. It would also play a crucial role in this workshop designed to educate youth (many of whom are not in school or orphaned) about HIV. So, whatever you can help with please get in touch with me and we will discuss how to donate money into Babe's pay-pal account. 

Contact me at:

Kindest Regards,


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Waya Waya

We haven’t blogged as of late, not because we haven’t been busy, quite the contrary, but because we have a lot of projects in the works. We have our nose to the grindstones. By the end of August we will have lots to report. Right now we are plodding through the necessary groundwork to ensure successful projects.

A quick update as to what we are working on:

Addy is planning a massive camp/community clean up day with the Malindza Refugee Camp located down the road from us. For this project she has collaborated with the Swaziland Environmental Authority, our local Umpakhatsi (village council) and local Rural Health Motivators to put on a week long workshop focusing on health and sanitation, proper waste disposal and a host of other health-related topics. Speakers are coming in from all parts of Swaziland and different disciplines. The workshops will be held at the camp for residents and for the Rural Health Motivators. On the last day we will walk from the camp to the BoMake market picking up trash. Our grant went through which includes provisions for trash cans which we will place along the road and in the camp. Without proper waste disposal plastic bags and discarded wrappers from ema-sweets and ema-chips bloom and waste becomes a major problem. This is especially apparent in the winter months when there is no brush to hide the shocking amount of trash lining the road.

Ryan is still plowing through on his soccer tournament. The first meeting was held at the end of last month with coaches and players and the HIV Awareness Tournament has FINALLY been scheduled. Right now he is working trying to get an accurate count of all interested parties for the coaches/players worksho to include in his grant. Friends and family have come through in spades donating soccer jerseys to the cause. Big props to the Hall family, Stroup family and Kathleen and Nate Steel for donating soccer jerseys. This thing is really happening. Promise. Slowly. But it is happening.

English class at the camp is going swimmingly. We have broken the classes into three levels. Addy teaches the advanced class, Ryan teaches basic literacy.

In big news, the Refugee camp has found an “angel donor” for some much needed services. A donor in the states has raised money to pay for the school fees for several of the very needy in the refugee camp. School fees in Swaziland are criminally high and many families cannot afford to send their children to school. This donation has put us in touch a very nice lady who lives in Swaziland whom we have been working with to see that funds get to the children. She is passionate about refugees and has decided to help make three derelict buildings in the camp into a library and crèche. She is donating very generously from her own pocket. We helping her with preparation for the work and will, of course, assist in replacing doors, windows, painting, etc… The refugees are ecstatic about the prospect of having a library. A worn out paperback is passed among the camp residents until it is battered beyond readability. This is a big step and a huge boon to our English and literacy program.

Schools have been quiet these days as teachers continue their waya waya (indefinite) strike for a 4.5% increase in their salary. As a result school has been either canceled or erratic for the past month. Needless to say this has put a dent in Ryan’s previously air-tight schedule. Oh well. You can’t win them all.

Group 10 has come into Swaziland and Addy has been quite involved in their training as she is on the Peer Support Network (PSN) which acts as a kind of volunteer leadership program. Luckily their training is not as far as it was last year, but these duties have taken her out of the community quite a bit working with the volunteers.

So, our noses are to the grindstone. Next month will be a month of huge celebrations and sighs of relief as we close some of our projects. Look forward for good news to come. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's a Christmas Miracle!

I feel like Peace Corps service starts in slow motion and speeds up until the days all blend together and you are felt sideswiped with how much time has really gone by.  Ryan and I passed our one-year mark this month in Swaziland, and I honestly don’t know where the time has gone.  In the interim I have gained a nephew, my best friend from high school has gotten engaged and will be married next week, and my two best friends from college are both pregnant, due at the end of this year.  Although that is a lot to miss out on, Swaziland has great things to offer as well.  Ryan and I have made great friends, gained new family members, participated in fun community events, got stuck at a catholic church vigil in Mozambique, seen life and death, have had the best and the worst food of our lives…it has been an experience of a lifetime and we are excited to reign in the 2nd year of our Peace Corps Service. 

Unfortunately, however, the quiet Peace Corps time is currently over, as Ryan and I have quite a few projects we are involved with in our community.  My main project, the cleaning campaign, is scheduled for August 20-24th, and I will kiss the ground of my Babe’s kraal (the cow pen) when it is over. I thankfully have endless support from the community, but it has – for the better – become quite the undertaking.  Ryan is currently working on two different projects, an HIV soccer tournament and a Refugee Memoirs Project with the Camp, which I am particularly excited about.  Hearing their stories is unbelievable, as it makes me realize I have lived my whole life safe in the arms of democracy with no revolutions and wars to get away from. Side note - Amnesty has us practicing the first chapter of the Quran in Arabic, our pronunciation is honestly laughable, but is a fun past time.

Ryan’s Memoirs project, while still in its planning stages, will collect the stories of the refugees at the camp and will be put online as either a podcast or will be available for streaming. This project will include teaching residents at the camp how to use a digital voice recorder, how to shape your life story into a workable narrative, the finer points of interviewing and how to edit and post MP3’s on the web. It will be quite the undertaking and it hasn’t even been approved. Pending approval and grant money becoming available, this will be quite the undertaking.

This weekend is particularly exciting as all the volunteers will be getting together to celebrate the infamous “Christmas in June” here in Swaziland.  As this will be the last time Ryan and I will see the majority of Group 8 before they leave for America, we are excited to go and join in on the celebration. As Christmas is my second favorite holiday, following St. Patrick’s Day of course, I am more than ready to enjoy the cool weather and eat one million cookies.  (If you were wondering, one year of not eating cookies equals to one millions cookies are allowed to be eaten once they become available to you. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about, I’m studying for the GRE.)  Cookies! It’s a Christmas Miracle!

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Last weekend was the world famous Bushfire Music Festival. I was lucky enough to attend as a "Guest Writer" for the Swazi Observer, Swaziland's National paper. I used this as an in to enjoy a weekend full of music, great friends, food (pizza by the slice!!! Get outta town) and not a lot of sleep. Below is my contribution to the Observer. It was published as a two page spread on Monday.

Bushfire – Day One, 5/26/12

The theme of the 6th annual Bushfire Music Festival sponsored by MTN was “Bring Your Fire”. An apt statement as the first night's acts heated up and the temperatures outside dropped. Swaziland has been my home for the past year. Even though I am technically a foreigner in the Kingdom, I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride as my country played host to a renowned cast of local and international musicians and artists from Africa and beyond. As the emcees reminded the concert patrons that the theme “Bring Your Fire” referred to more than simply warming yourself; “Bring the Fire” was a call for social responsibility and giving back to the community. This fire radiates out; out into Swaziland as 100% of the proceeds from Bushfire went to support the Young Heroes Orphan Scholarship Program.

With so many Swazis living hand-to-mouth it is sometimes easy to forget how much creativity, honest exploration of art and talent Swais possess. Friday night was a perfect example of this; and it started with a bang. Although the crowds didn't arrive en masse until late in the evening, Swaziland's own poetry troupe Rooted Soulz opened with a multimedia performance that fused poetry, music and art. The Swazi spoken word artist/poet ,Qibho tha Intellektual was backed by a live band as he poured out some of his soul rending verses against the steady groove of bass line and some beautiful tremolo picked guitar. Qibho's verses were treading a thin line between poetry and hip-hop as he was joined in a beautiful duet on the poem/song “You”. During the performance two artists flanked the stage creating mixed-media art pieces as a direct response to the music and words coming from the stage.

House on Fire hosted two stages which staggered acts between the outdoor main stage and the smaller, more intimate (and warmer) amphitheater. The first main stage act was the popular South African jazz fusion act Mango Groove. Consisting of a three piece brass ensemble, three dancers, a steady rhythm section and led by commanding voice of Claire Johnston, Mango Groove took the stage playing some of their radio favorites including “Special Star” and covers of “Give Peace a Chance” and an extended jam on “In the Jungle” riling the early crowd up to near boiling point. While the three dancers onstage moved to music in precise timing, the fire dancer on top of the venue drew most attention early in the show.

Moving back into the cozier amphitheater Doster and Engle meets Dusty and Stones, was an inexplicably great collaboration between the American country/folk duo Doster and Engle and the Swazi country group Dusty and Stones. I am not sure how many country bands there are in Swaziland, but I am pretty confident we heard the crème de la crème Friday night. The set started with a tribute to Nelson Mandela complete with a full youth choir from the SOS Village. In the prelude to the song Greg Engle stated that what most people in the West hear about Africa is famine and war, when in reality  Africa “means optimism and opportunity”. Doster and Dusty traded off between original songs before the group ended on a particularly rousing rendition of Johnny Cash's “Ring of Fire” that got the patrons out of their seats and onto the dance floor.

As Doster & Engle meets Dusty and Stones were wrapping up, Nancy G. & The Human Family were getting to work on the main stage. Nancy G. was by far the most inspiring Swazi-born artist I saw that night. Commanding the stage with her rich tenor and incredible guitar playing, Nancy G. reminded me of a female Live From Mars-era Ben Harper. Unlike most African guitar playing I have heard which relies on light, upbeat arpeggios and clean riffs, Nancy G. played angular and jagged power chords and wasn't afraid of letting some feedback and distortion ride out her ringing chords. My jaw was on the floor well into her acoustic set where she unplugged and opened up a bit. Her backing band rocked out on some tight grooves while her drummer moved between powerful rock drumming and more jazzy time signatures during the calmer songs.

The next main stage act to whip the crowd into a frenzy was the internationally acclaimed jazz/hip-hop fusion act MXO which took the crowd by storm. MXO delivered with a high energy performance with astoundingly tight choreographed dance moves. MXO's main vocalist's reedy baritone moved freely between singing and rapping, and earnestly conjured Bob Marley during their extended jam of “Wait in Vain”. Joe Nina, the impulsive and energizing singer, joined MXO for the last stretch of their set. Joe Nina boasted an impressive set of pipes and even more impressive dance moves. It was difficult to tell whether the crowd's reaction to Nina had to do more with his high-energy performance or blindingly bright red suit.

Quite possibly the most surprising and exciting group to rock Friday night was the internationally scattered group Napalma which boasts group members from Mozambique, Brazil and South Africa. Drawing a large crowd of Portuguese speakers who sang and danced along emphatically to every song, Napalma brought audience participation and a sound that was unmatched by any group that night. Consisting of three percussionists, one vocalist and an electronic musician playing accompanying percussion through his laptop, Napalma filled the stage not only with the immensity of their set-up but their unmatched energy and enthusiasm. The vocalist could not keep still during the percussion heavy numbers, constantly bounding across stage or calling for more audience participation which the capacity crowd was more than willing to give. The three percussionists wove beats around each other like smoke rings through fog, each filling in for the other and shaking the small amphitheater with a massive all-percussion sound. Napalma was the most welcome surprise of the entire evening. I wouldn't be surprised to find myself traveling to Mozambique to catch another one of their sets.

Running concurrently with Napalma's set was the legendary twin-brother DJ group Revolution who kept the crowd moving well past midnight with classic and cutting edge house cuts that didn't allow dancers any break as they moved from one hit to another under striking violet colored lights. George and Joseph Mothiba must share some kind of spooky ESP between them as they traded DJ'ing duties and chose the set-list without any break in the music. Their performance legitimizes the hype they receive as revolutionary DJ's.

Local Swazi DJ's took the party going late into the night (or early into the next morning) playing some classic hip-hop cuts (I think I heard Kriss Kross in there) and R&B tracks along with House favorites. As patrons stumbled out into the chilly night, sweat soaked and rapidly losing body temperature, everyone had the same look on their face. This was a good night. A great start.

Bushfire Day Two

Day two of the legendary Bushfire Music Festival was going to be epic. The evening line up was stacked with big names making waves in the Southern Africa and International music scene and the day was filled with thought provoking lectures and poetry. When someone studies Africa in the west we learn all about Africa's great oral tradition of stories and wisdom passed from generation to generation by the means of talented storytellers. If there was a common motif for the sixth year of Bushfire it was the power of the spoken word. The festival opened with a spoken word performance by Rooted Soulz, then dedicated ample time for local and international poets and played host to Saul Williams, arguably one of the biggest performing poet in the world.
While the day, night and well into the next morning were filled with rich messages embedded within the rhythm of speech. Day two began with the wordless delight of the Giant Puppets of Mozambique who returned to Bushfire. The festival did a great job of providing family-centered activities throughout the day for young children. Not only did the giant puppets delight, but the Kids Zone with its art activities, blow up slides and mini-quad racing satisfied bantfwana all day long.

One great addition to Bushfire this year was the construction of The Barn, a converted barn that housed artwork from Yebo Art gallery, sculptures and a giant chalk wall for patrons to add their own messages and artwork. The Barn, however, functioned as a public space where vigorous discussions of some of the most pressing issues in Swaziland were heard. The first guest speaker was Dolores Godeffroy owner of eDladaleni restaurant in Mbabane which specializes in local, indigenous food. She addressed food security and argued pointedly against the introduction of mono-cropping cash crops while so many of our citizens are going hungry every day. The spirited lecture inspired equally spirited questions and debate during the question and answer period on topics ranging from GMO foods to mismanagement of arable land.

Later that afternoon Joy Ndwandwe a.k.a Prophet Ndwandwe gave a fascinating lecture on African Relational Humanism, or more basically, an examination of the traditional values of Swazis. Using King Sobhouza as a model, Ndwandwe described the Swazi worldview as, “I am because we are”; a fascinating idea coming from such an individualist culture that I come from.

The Barn hosted not only discussion groups and invigorating lectures, but it also was the place to hear some of the most soul-searing, inspiring, heartbreaking and hilarious poets this side of the Atlantic. Nomfundo a.k.a Mocats gave a voice to the silent pain of a country as she recited several heartfelt poems that centered around the loss of her mother. She was followed by the provocative South African poet Phillippa Yaa De Villiers whose poems focused on the politics of language, race and sexuality in post-apartheid South Africa. Her observations of the silent gaps between two people, two races and two classes ranged from intentionally hilarious to devastatingly accurate.

The Barn's morning programme featured women from a variety of disciplines whose words all seemed to focus on their and their country's place in a changing world. Kudos should go to the progrmming director for putting together an enlightening and cohesive line up.

One of the things that Bushfire does well is displaying local talent from an incredibly wide range of styles and disciplines. The 100% Seriously Swazi Programme was no exception. While local Swazi DJ's such as DJ Toxik, DJ Chuidy, DJ Muscle and DJ Mfundo rocked the party on both stages, the House on Fire Amphitheater played host an eclectic cross-section of Swazi artists. Acts ranged from the blues influenced +268 to the reggae group Swaziloution and others. I was proud to have my new country represented by such talented and diverse musicians.
As the afternoon wore on and the sun began beat down relentlessly, I was grateful that Bushfire provided so many great options of spoken word and music outside off the main stage. It was the main stage, however, that really began to heat up as the shadows of the afternoon began to lengthen.

Jika Nelanga is an innovative jazz-fusion group that featured impressive flamenco guitars and tabla percussion, giving the patrons, who now began arriving in numbers, a funky groove to dance to.

 Around 4:00 as the sun began sinking behind the hills Jeremy Loop gave a performance few would ever forget. Loop, as his moniker suggests, incorporates a deft use of a loop and effect pedals to loop his instruments, voice and even kid's toys to create full-fledged compositions using only guitar and vocal chords. While a virtual one man band for most of the set, Loops was joined by saxophonist Jamie Faull during some of the more rousing numbers and was later joined by rapper M.O Lecko who whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

While Jeremy received a warm welcome to Swaziland, nothing would compare to the fervor and adoration eSwatini has for its local legend Bholoja. Bholoja is a fixture at Bushfire and his appearance was welcomed by every Swazi who had his songs memorized and could belt them at the top of their lungs. Although his set was disappointingly short due to a lengthy interlude, his impact was palpable. At first, the vocalist Velemseni warmed up the crowd with some laid back numbers before Bholoja took the stage. As the sun set, Bholoja and his extremely talented band took the crowd through some of the stand out tracks in his catalogue including his well known track “Zero to Hero” that was warmly received by this mixed audience of internationals and locals.

Ayo took the stage next. Moving freely between guitar and piano, Ayo held a commanding stage presence in front of the building crowd. By her accounts, however, she would have preferred a more intimate setting. To make up for this she climbed the fence and concluded her cover of Bob Marley's “Three Little Birds” walking amongst the adoring crowd with her resonant voice and lyrics.

The main stage acts had been wonderful and extremely talented; however, nothing prepared me for the sheer mayhem of what was going to come next. The Brother Moves On is a young group from Johannesberg who play blistering rock music with an embattled punk spirit, free-wheeling psychedelia and strong roots in traditional African music. After hearing their work on a Spoek Mathambo mixtape earlier this year, my expectations were high for this group and they delivered on every front. By the end of the intense soloing, the lead singer's frenzied calls for peace amidst a swirling cacophony of well constructed destruction, the crowd came together in a sweaty mass of positivity and admiration. Did I mention that each member wore skintight, gold, lame tights? It was over the top and amazing.

I had been looking forward to seeing Saul Williams perform ever since it was announced that he would be coming to Swaziland. I have followed William's career from his 2001 release of the album Amethyst Rock Star, his movie Slam and his various collaborations with artists as diverse as Blackalicious, Janelle Monae and Nine Inch Nails. My expectations were met on every level. Backed by a full band, William's poetry weaved in and out of his soulful crooning, undergirded by the politics of punk rock and the vocal chords of a soul legend. While most of his set focused on recent releases, such as his 2011 release Volcanic Sunligh,t that steer more towards a punk-blues direction, Williams treated the audience with a few impassioned recitations of some of his most well known poems. For those who came to hear Saul Williams for the first time were lucky to hear him in such an inspiring context.

The stage was set for the biggest name in the festival, Mi Casa, to take the stage. Before the got underway, however, the Mozambican reggae star Ras Haitrm took the stage to the delight of the Mozambique contingent in the audience and avid reggae lovers.

Mi Casa, the award winning South African trio (rounded out to a quartet for Bushfire) played through a medley of original songs and genre-spanning interludes. Mi Casa is a fascinating combination of jazz, kwaito, house and latin influenced sounds that come together in a style completely their own. At this point, as the clock chimed past midnight, the crowd was packed to overflowing, giving Mo-T's trumpet and J’Something's soaring falsetto love on their most well known tracks and dancing without reserve throughout their entire set as each track effortlessly blended into each other under the deft hand of beatmaster Dr. Duda.

There is a phrase in English to express extreme fatigue. That phrase is being “bushed”. I have no idea where it came from but by the end of the festival, I was 100% bushed. I was exhausted but I had never been happier in my time here in Swaziland. The spectacle and amazing sounds I heard were second only to overwhelming feeling of positivity radiating through the international crowd that shared different languages and culture, but each bringing something indispensible to the event. They brought their fire. –Ryan Hall

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


We are on the last bus out of Maputo towards the border town of Naamahasha. The man next to me who is about 1/3 into his bottle of rum tells me, in very, very broken English, that we will be there in 45 minutes. I look down at my watch. If all goes according to plan we will be at the border gate at 7:30-7:45, giving us just enough time to rush through the customs and be on the last bus leaving Lomahasha around 8 and be back to Mpaka around 9.

I am sitting on top of the increasingly hot radiator in a 15-passenger bus, which is currently holding about 19, wondering if it is true what they say about holding a laptop in your lap. This isn’t even packed for Mozambique standards. In fact, this is downright spacious compared to the clown car theatrics of the conductor hanging out the door we experienced in Maputo. After a lengthy argument at a filling station between the driver and passengers, plus an unplanned pee break by the side of the road, our precious 15-minute window of time is slowly dwindling. We have been in the khumbi for about 30 minutes when we approach a sign saying 37 Kilometers to Naamahasha. “You see! 45 minutes!” the man next to me says. I shoot a furtive look back to Addy sitting a row behind me. This could be the most awesome, or stupidest thing we have ever done in our three years of marriage.

Arriving in Naamahsha the crowds are so thick that our driver has to lay on the horn and swerve around people to reach any sort of clear road. It is 7:55. I slip the driver a 50 Metacais tip and he floors it to the border post. We jump out, grab all of our stuff and get through the Mozambiquan side (to the protest of the staff) by 7:58. A guard lets us through the gate and we approach a darkened building on the other side of the razor wire adorned fence. The Swaziland border has decided to knock off a few minutes early. No one answers our calls through the fence. We are stuck in limbo between Mozambique and Swaziland. The guard locks us in and slowly walks away.  After some serious protesting, he lets us back into Mozambique and walk dejectedly into the fray of religious worshipers and revelers. It is Dios de Santa Maria. The biggest Catholic holiday in Southern Mozambique. There must be 10,000 people in this small Colonial town. The devout are walking around with candles with icons of the Virgin Mary, while car speakers are blaring out Pantsula and Top 40 Hip Hop.  All the hotels are booked. We looked at each other and without vocalizing it say, “Ok, what now?” 

 And that is how we spent the last night of our three year wedding anniversary get-away to Mozambique. That is how we spent the best vacation of our lives.

Let’s backtrack.

We have been planning a trip to Inhaca Island, a small island off the coast of Maputo, Mozambique, for close to a year. After GLOW, counterpart trainings, etc…We were finally ready to go. We left Tuesday morning and rolled into the coastal city of Maputo, Mozambique’s capital and biggest city, around mid-day. Maputo is a big city with a distinctly African, yet charmingly European feel. Colonial forts, parks and cafes mingle with slums and sprawling markets of hawkers selling knock off clothes brands, crafts and gadgets. Maputo is, so far, my favorite city in Africa. We had two days to explore its streets, museums, cafes, jazz clubs and fish markets. We originally planned on staying a night at the local backpackers, but after hearing inflated quotations on how pricy it was, and reports of bed bugs, we decided to stick to the city. We found a nice, old hotel in the heart of downtown, which charged us about the same price as the backpackers, but with much better location. The hotel is called Hotel Tamariz for anyone looking to travel to Maputo. Fair warning – the shower water is cold. 

We only planned on spending one day in Maputo. Ferries run to Inhaca Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday only. We had heard that you could charter a private boat to the island any day of the week. We were wrong. The only option to take us there on Wednesday would have cost 6,000 Mets. The extra day was a blessing in disguise. We took along 50 $ USD and were able - after spending two hours running around the black market trying to find someone to change it into a crisp 50 dollar bill – to pay for the extra night with money my grandmother sent us. Thanks Grammy!

Our first day in Maputo we took a trip to the Fish Market on the South side of town. An absolute must for anyone traveling there. It works like this. You get out of the cab and about 5 people rush up to you offering to take you through the market. Each owns a restaurant and will cook the fish for you on demand. We were able to hook up with a very friendly and amazing cook named Gaspar. With his help we picked out clams, rock fish and prawns for a pretty reasonable price. He brought us the meal in courses. It was, by far, the best seafood experience of my life. The fish were fresh – we saw the fishermen bring them off their boats across the street – and the experience is unforgettable. 

The next day, after learning the sad fact that we would not be going to Inhaca that day, decided to explore the city. We experienced everything from street side gelato shops and cafes to bustling madness of the hawkers markets. Explored a surprisingly well maintained and beautiful park in the city center all the while eating our way through street vendors selling delicious baguette-style rolls filled with potato latke type things, wors, or prego steak.

Thursday we were finally on our way to Inhaca. The Government ferry there and back is a necessary experience. While not exactly in the best condition cosmetically, it is a sea-worthy vessel, except when it isn’t. Lucky for us it had just been fixed. 

Inhaca island is beautiful beyond words. I will let the pictures do most of the talking. Miles of uninhabited beaches, fishermen catching today’s catch and small restaurants offering mountains of prawns for 300 metacais. We stayed at a backpackers on the island in a tent. It wasn’t the most luxurious of accommodations but it had everything we needed and the staff was very friendly. We spent most of our time exploring the coastline, looking at the marine life through the crystal clear, green Indian Ocean.

On Friday we woke up early and set out on a 10K walk to the lighthouse on the Eastern tip of the island. We hiked the entire thing in bare feet through ankle deep sand. A wrong turn turned a 2 hour walk into a 4 hour walk to the lighthouse. Reaching it was totally worth it.

Inhaca is almost totally surrounded by a coral reef and when the tide is out it is possible to wade out forever until you find water deep enough to at least wade in. Most people on the island try to charge you 800 mets to take you to a small island a few hundred meters off the coast of Inhaca or to the tourist beach on the other side of the island.  Beneath the lighthouse, however, was a perfect stretch of beach, totally uninhabited and perfect for swimming and body surfing. We were fortunate to trust our gut and sense of adventure and explore the island for ourselves.

Our sense of adventure didn’t always work in our favor. On our way back to our campsite, we decided to find a shortcut and walk along the coast.  What we find was seashell/sea urchin/sea monsters covered in mud, and decided to backtrack from whence we came.  This is not the only wrong turn we made during this trip.

We discovered that on Saturday, the day we were planning to leave the island and return to Swaziland, the ferry arrived at 10am but didn’t leave for Maputo until 3pm. Everyone we talked to was doubtful that we could make it to the Swaziland border gate in two hours. We were determined to prove them wrong. Turns out they knew what they were talking about.

It is about 9:00 and we have been wandering around Naamasha trying to find a hotel that has any vacancy. No such luck. As we get closer to the Santa Maria cathedral in the town’s center we are drawn by liturgical chants of the Ave Maria. We witness a ceremony in which the Virgin Mary’s statue is paraded through the town and laid to rest in the cathedral. As we are sucked into the crowd we start to notice tents pitched up all around the town center. Then a crazy thought popped into our heads, “when in Rome, do as the Roman (Catholics)”. We declared ourselves Catholic for the night and pitched our tent near some other campers/pilgrims and slept the night underneath a giant water cistern in the middle of the town center while several thousand Mozambiquan Catholics worshipped and partied around us. It was a fitting conclusion to a celebration of an adventure we started on three years ago. We certainly did not see this as the way we would celebrate. But most everything in our life has been unexpected and amazing. I hope we can many more years of exploring and taking risks.

We crossed the boarder the next morning at 7am and as the relief washed over us once we saw the “Welcome to Swaziland” sign, we declared ourselves home.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Sitting with my back against the Taiwanese Embassy watching a soccer game of boys from the Kasi (ghetto) side in a vacant lot amongst million dollar estates of MP’s and NGO CEO’s. I am staying the night with my host bhuti who lived with us in Mpaka but who now stays in the Fonteyn neighborhood in Mbabane where mud and tin roofed huts are nestled into ravines beneath ostentatious mansions. In many ways this wrenching divide has defined our (almost) one year of Peace Corps service. As Peace Corps Volunteers we move in between the worlds of those who make a living trying to help and those who they try and help. There is some cognitive dissonance moving between the two worlds at which the gap between can be miles apart. Being caught between the development world and the developing world, to say my service is nothing like what I expected would be an understatement. There are some things that never factored into my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I never thought I would find a riding community and go out on morning mountain and road rides with Swazi and South African cycling enthusiasts. I never thought I would write music reviews for a national publication and be put on VIP lists and all that. I never thought that most of my friends in Swaziland would be Somalian refugees. I never thought we would celebrate our third wedding anniversary on an island off the coast of Mozambique. These things are fun. But leaning back watching a bunch of Swazi boys play soccer against the as the African sunset dips behind mountains in a swan song of red and orange; these are things I hope I never forget when look back on my service.

A lot has happened since you may have checked in with the Halls. Addy returned from a week + long GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp in Siteki. This event took months of planning and preparation and by all accounts was a fantastic success. GLOW was a week camp for girls from all over Swaziland. The camp focused on self-image, positive examples of femininity, empowerment and skills cultivation. They also included practical workshops like screen printing (our friends the Potters would be proud), hikes and a nature walk through Hlane Royal Game Preserve. Addy facilitated a workshop on grief and loss. Some of the stories she shared of what these girls have lost be it family members or the innocence of youth at such a young age paint a very sobering, but very real picture, of conditions for Women in Swaziland. Addy came back proud and exhausted. A lot of work but a lot of pay off. Here are some pictures from the week:

Addy’s Counterpart Zande from the Mpaka Railway Pre-School was a rock star. She won Ms. GLOW 2012.


This break has afforded some ample time to reflect on how our projects are going and projects we want to begin in the future. In fact we are in Mbabane right now attending a TEFL training with four of our counterparts from the camp. We are discussing the direction we want our class to take and learning invaluable skills on how to teach multi-level proficiency classes. This is coming just on the heels of a 10 week teacher training course that I taught at the camp to those who will be co-facilitators for these upcoming terms. We are excited to see our counterparts take a more active role in the teaching of the English classes so we get to see more scenes like this:

In other news the homestead has turned into a virtual construction site. Having some time off between terms I have been on the homestead a lot more and have been able to help in the construction of Patrick and Andile’s house. I learned how to pour a foundation, mix mortar and construct a house out of cement blocks.

We are in the middle of a major redesign of our place. Our host bhuti Dora built us a table and shelving and we are in the middle of constructing a showering area directly behind our house. Before that I had to dig this: 7x5 baby! with just a pick axe and shovel. This is a septic system for the excess water.

We have replanted our garden and it is taking off like crazy. We are already harvesting spinach and lettuce.