Packing for Peace Corps Swaziland: Clothing

Choosing what clothing I would bring to Swaziland was difficult. There are so many unknowns about the weather, clothing styles, and attitudes toward females wearing pants that depend on your family and/or your community.

Of course, I had consulted many lists from other Peace Corps blogs and Peace Corps Swaziland provided a very last-minute list from the group of Volunteers that arrived in 2015, but I still did not know what I would need.

Organized clothing

All of my clothes reunited and sorted on the day I moved into my permanent site.

I started organizing my clothes by dividing my closet into what I would like to take and what I knew I would not need. This was at least twice as much clothes as I ultimately brought. I spent hours searching for maxi skirts without slits, which I had never worn before, and matching them to tops because I needed to be able to mix and match.

I did not want to spend too much money on anything I bought because the piece of clothing would most likely be destroyed in two years, but it also needed to be durable enough to last those two years. I had many durable selections from Eddie Bauer already in my clothing collection, and I found good items at Nordstrom Rack (huge selection online and you can search by skirt length), Kohl’s, JCPenney, Old Navy, and Target.

My advice is to prepare to be extremely modest and you will learn with time what is acceptable at home and in your community. This means long sleeves and long skirts or dresses for women and long sleeves and dress pants for men.

Sorted clothes

Everything sorted and stowed in my suitcase and bags.

My dress style has evolved to include many cardigans, and they will be very important to provide arm coverage when needed or when Make wants you to be protected from the sun when it is 90*. Long-sleeve cardigans were great for our training period when it was cold outside and inside, but now I am wishing I had brought short-sleeve cardigans as well, to cover my shoulders when needed but also attempt to be less sweaty than I am with long-sleeves. (Thanks, Mom, for finding some for me!)

Pants are complicated. The young-adult females in my training family always wore pants. The only pants I had brought with me were my yoga pants (bring yoga pants in all lengths for wearing under skirts or relaxing!) and capris. My Make and other family members would laugh at me when I would show some leg with either the capris or knee-length skirts, but they were not being mean, and I was definitely allowed to wear the pants and knee-length skirts. We had many “jeans days” during PST, so it would have been nice to have jeans to wear. No guarantees on this continuing though, because my PST was led by an American who was filling in, while PST 2017 will be led by a Swazi who will likely have different views on jeans.

At my permanent home, my Babe is a member of the traditional council, so my household is more traditional than others. Females should not wear pants, but my younger bosisi are allowed to wear short skirts. I have worn pants at home when cold or when traveling somewhere, but they are not part of my regular wear and I still have not worn my jeans. I did wear shorts on the hottest day yet, topping out at 98.2*, but anytime I went outside, I wrapped a lihiya, or piece of traditional fabric, over my shorts to be better covered up. Babe liked that I was wearing a lihiya but I received further questions from Make. I revealed to her that I was covering up my shorts and I could not decipher her reaction.

Additionally, my bosisi are not allowed to wear nail polish, which is something I contemplated bringing and am glad I did not. If I ever decide I need to paint my toenails, nail polish is available in Swaziland.

On the other hand, wearing a traditional outfit that shows lots of skin is perfectly acceptable any time of year and is an excellent outfit choice for PCVs because Swazis of all ages get so excited to see us traditionally dressed. Men and unmarried women wear more or less the same fabric pieces but tied on different sides. Married women have a much more complicated outfit. The traditional outfit leaves one shoulder bare, along with the lower legs and a part of the upper leg on the side the lower fabric is tied. At Umhlanga, I was scolded for holding the bottom fabric closed.

 

traditional swazi dress

Dressed in the traditional outfit for swearing in.

 
I know that I could push my Babe’s rules if I so desired because even though I am a liked family member, I am also seen as a guest with more leniency. I plan on living happily with this family for two years and I want to live as much like them as possible, particularly in my current Peace Corps stage of Integration.

Finally, my clothing list.

Jackets

  • Lightweight Patagonia puffy
  • Rain coat
  • Lightweight water-resistant jacket from Eddie Bauer

Scarves

  • 1 thick scarf
  • 1 thin scarf

Hats

  • Straw fedora from San Diego Hat Company (I am so glad I brought this even though I had to pay it special care while flying. Absolutely worth it to bring a good hat.)
  • Lightweight ball cap
  • Winter headband (I have worn this inside on the coldest days.)
  • Winter hat (Have not used yet)

Pajamas

  • Long-sleeve shirt and flannel pants
  • Short-sleeve shirt and light pants
  • Short-sleeve shirt and shorts

Shoes

  • Slippers (So happy to have these. I am wearing them right now.)
  • Plastic flip flops for hostel showers
  • Regular flip flops for my inside shoes (Floors here are usually concrete.)
  • Hiking shoes
  • Asics sneakers (I wear these almost every day for all long walks.)
  • Teva Hurricane XLT sandals (My homestead and shorter walks shoes. Teva also has a great pro deal for PCVS!)
  • Teva sandals that are a bit dressier (These were my dress shoes for PST.)
  • Brown flats (I had these mailed. I will not wear them on long walks, but take them with me when needed.)

Swimsuit

  • 1 bottom
  • 1 tankini top (I know of a couple pools in Swaziland, and it would be inappropriate to be less covered than this.)
  • 1 bikini top

Dresses

  • 1 business dress (I wore this to a special event at the Embassy and it would have been appropriate for swearing in. It is dry-clean only, of which there happens to be a dry cleaner in my closest shopping town and I also saw one in Manzini.)
  • 1 maxi dress
  • 3 knee-length dresses (If the dress or skirt does not come to your knee when sitting down, I think it is too short for Swaziland.)

Skirts

  • 1 business skirt
  • 4 knee-length skirts
  • 7 maxi skirts

Pants and shorts

  • 1 jeans
  • 1 capris
  • 3 khaki shorts
  • 1 exercise shorts
  • 1 long yoga pants (I could wear these at my training home but should not at my permanent site.)
  • 1 capris yoga pants (I wear under skirts or dresses.)
  • 1 bike shorts (I wear under skirts or dresses. These are perfect for wearing under the traditional dress.)
  • 1 hiking pants from Eddie Bauer that are water-resistent

Upper layers

  • 1 quarter-zip pullover from Target’s C9 brand (These are my favorite lightweight layers.)
  • 4 long-sleeve cardigans
  • 1 elbow-length cardigan
  • 1 blazer that was mailed to me (Swazis dress nice and often put us to shame.)
  • *I wish I had brought a hoodie. I will likely look for one at the used clothing markets. Oddly enough, one of my bobhuti at my training family had a hoodie from an Ohio fastpitch softball team.

Tank tops

  • 6 narrow-width (Great for wearing under cardigans.)
  • 3 shoulder-width (These are shopping-town acceptable and I could wear them at home. They are not office or school acceptable.)

Dress shirts

  • 3 sleeveless (Same as tank tops above.)
  • 3 button-down short sleeves
  • 2 elbow length
  • 2 button-down long sleeves

Less-fancy/Casual shirts (These are essential because who wants to do chores at home in dress clothes, especially when you spend most of your time at home sitting on a mat on the floor. These are also great for traveling to other volunteers in Swaziland or for leaving the country. Everything I brought has been Make-approved.)

  • 7 short sleeves (One is a wrinkle-free, quick dry shirt from Eddie Bauer that I love.)
  • 1 long sleeve (It is regularly cold enough that I could have brought a second.)
  • 1 long-sleeve button down (Also a wrinkle-free, quick dry shirt from Eddie Bauer. It stays cool enough that I can wear this to be totally covered on the hottest days.)

The most casual of my shirts

  • 2 tank tops
  • 1 wicking shirt from Marmot (It is super soft and great for hot days at home.)
  • 1 regular t-shirt that sports my Utah and mountains love
  • 1 regular t-shirt from Peace Corps I was given at Staging

Underwear

  • 4 regular bras
  • 1 strapless bra
  • 9 sports bras
  • 36 pairs of underwear (I was happy I had about half of these with me during PST but wished I had all of them. Washing underwear was complicated because of my living situation. It is not now, so I could have made do with less.)

Socks and tights

  • 2 compression socks (Great for the 15 hours on the plane.)
  • 2 black footless tights (Great for added warmth in the winter. They are available here.)
  • 2 pairs socks to wear with dress shoes
  • 1 tall ski sock (Yes, I plan to ski in Lesotho next winter!)
  • 4 calf-length heavy-duty Smartwool socks (Check backcountry.com or Sierra Trading Post for these at a reduced price. I wore them every night during PST for sleeping and have worn them once or twice a week at my permanent site.)
  • 1 ankle-length hiking sock from Smartwool
  • 4 calf-length regular socks (4 pairs was not necessary.)
  • 9 short socks I wear with sneakers

Of all the items mentioned above, I only purchased one pair of Teva sandals with a pro deal. I packed my clothing in pro-deal purchased bags from Eagle Creek. I had tried both of these items before I had access to a pro deal. Everything else I purchased at full price or during sales, except for a few items from Target, which is where I worked and therefore received a minimal employee discount. Most of my wardrobe comes from Eddie Bauer, which has regular and excellent sales, and makes extremely durable and professional clothes for traveling and adventuring. Finally, I have received no compensation to rave about any of these items, and of course, all opinions are my own.

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Packing for Peace Corps Swaziland

I love planning and organizing for trips. A 27-month adventure with the Peace Corps requires something very different than the usual trip, though.

I was offered a position in Swaziland as a community health volunteer many, many months before departure. That meant nothing to me, though, because I knew that receiving medical clearance would be more difficult for me than securing the job. Because of that, I could not pack until I received clearance, which was about 3.5 weeks before departure.

Talk about tying up every loose end, taking one last trip home, and packing on a deadline.

Having lived in Swaziland for three months now, I think I did a pretty excellent job packing. I did not forget or have to leave behind anything crucial. I had two big packages sent after arriving with useful items, including kitchenware and a blazer and dressier shoes.

 

Moving out of my Pre-Service Training home

 
I packed enough of a variety of clothing and kitchenware to be satisfied and soon learned that most items are available in Swaziland.

I was allowed to bring two checked bags, one carryon, and one personal item for my travel from New York to Johannesburg. We could pay for extra weight or an extra bag, and I seriously considered paying for a third checked bag. It would have been impossible for me to carry, but it would have been cheaper to pay for the bag than mailing everything I would have filled it with.

I really did not want to be the person who brought three checked bags, though, which saved me a lot of struggle with maneuvering my bags. I had a really hard time carrying everything as it was, because I was not strong enough to heft my 50-pound backpack onto my back from the ground without dangling the bag from my left arm. Having either a chair or a friend to help was crucial. I even had an unbeknownst witness during much of my struggle because another Trainee from my group rode on the same shuttle as I did. I ended up arriving in Swaziland with a huge bruise on my left upper arm from the weight of my backpack.

I would have struggled less if I had two suitcases to check like the rest of my group, a medium-sized backpack as a carryon, and then a small personal item. I did not want to buy any new luggage because I already owned a high-quality and durable suitcase and carryon in addition to the hiking backpack.

All of my bags were just to the dimensions and weight limits. As a group, we realized that most checkin airline agents did not check the dimensions of our bags, and having bags with more wiggle-room would have been nice when packing for Pre-Service Training upon arrival in Swaziland. For PST, we have to leave one checked bag behind in the capital and find a way to cram all of our new materials into the baggage we have left. That was a challenge for me because my bags started out stuffed.

I brought about 50 pounds of clothing and shoes and about 100 pounds of everything else, spread amongst a checked bag, my carryon, and my personal item.

The most important thing I have learned about packing for the Peace Corps in Swaziland is bringing items you already like and use. There is no reason to waste crucial space and weight on things you will not use. You also need to bring a backpack or duffle for traveling because you will have to sit with your baggage on your lap while taking public transportation. Finally, having some kind of bags to separate items within your luggage has been stress-reducing. I love the quarter, half, and full bags from Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Specter Cube system. I roll my clothes and store like items together in each cube. You can even sign up for their pro deal with your Peace Corps acceptance letter to get 40 percent off your purchases.

And remember that it does get chilly in Swaziland. It will be cold during PST and could be cold during winter at your permanent site. It will also cool off immensely when the rains come. The 98-degree high at my site on Friday became 65 degrees on Saturday and then 55 degrees on Sunday due to the rain and cloud coverage. I was bundled up in my puffy, a hat, and gloves, just trying to stay warm.

Is there anything you wished you packed or did not pack for the Peace Corps?

Check back on Friday for the list of what clothing I brought and on Monday for the list of everything else.

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What’s cooking: Oatmeal muffins

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland, I have a limited food budget. But I also love food–both eating and making it. During PST, I cooked without an oven, refrigeration, and a non-stick skillet. Now at my permanent site, I have all three, though at a cost. This occasional series will highlight my cooking and baking and the recipes I use.

I woke up today to an overflowing water filter with the water running down the side of my refrigerator, pooling on the floor. Fortunately all of my food on the floor near the water was either in glass or plastic, except for the oats.

About half of the container was moist and about a quarter of the oats. I spread them out to dry, but knew I needed to find a way to use some of them. In comes the oatmeal muffin.

Oatmeal muffins

I found this recipe a few weeks ago when looking for muffins and desserts made with the ingredients I have on hand, and this one was one of the easiest. These require no baking skills and can be personalized with additions like nuts (if only they were not so expensive here!), raisins, cranberries, apples, or chocolate.

Total time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Makes: 15 muffins

What do you need:

  • Stoven
  • Mixing bowl
  • Small bowl
  • Cup
  • Fork
  • Spatula
  • Measuring cups
  • Muffin tin or reusable muffin cups

Oatmeal muffin ingredients:

  • 1 C milk or 1 C water plus 3 tablespoons Nespray or other powdered milk
  • 1 C oats (need to be the quick cooking kind, like Jungle Oats)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 C oil
  • 1 C self-rising flour
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or more or less depending on your love of cinnamon)

Oatmeal muffin recipe:

  1. Preheat oven to 220* C.
  2. Combine milk and oats and let soak for 15 minutes.
  3. In a cup, mix egg and oil and add to oat mixture.
  4. In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add to wet ingredients and mix with fork until just combined. Add any additions such as raisins.
  5. Spoon into muffin cups until 2/3 full.
  6. Bake six muffins at a time for 19 minutes. Rotate rack in stoven half way through the baking time.

I ate the muffin with peanut butter spread on each half, which was quite tasty. The muffins are great for a quick snack and I am sure they are even better with raisins or apples. I will try that the next time.

Recipe is adapted from http://www.andthenwesaved.com.

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Wednesday photo: Rhinos

Rhinos. Bobejane. One of the animals I saw in Kenya from very far away, but today that changed. 

 Rhinos at Hlane 
I’m at Hlane Royal National Park. As a volunteer, I am allowed just one night away from my site per month for the first three months. I chose my first night away to be here, where I can see some of the animals I have grown to love like elephants and giraffes and to see ones I have not had a close encounter with. 

Now I’m sitting at the watering hole waiting for elephants and also my impala curry dinner. There’s some nearby birds, hippos in the water, and some unidentifiable noises. Our guess is the naughty pig–which its name translates to in siSwati–the warthog. 

It is time to get back to watching now. 

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Wednesday photo: Umhlanga

The Reed Dance, Swaziland’s most famous cultural event, is a week-long celebration of young females, called flowers. This year there were 98,000 participants, about 1/12 of the country’s population. Any female up to the age of about 22 can participate as long as she has not given birth. 

wp-umhlanga

One of the best coordinated groups of girls. They are bowing to the king.


The participants were lined up as if for a parade and marched like a marching band, although most did not do such a great job of guiding to the right to keep their lines straight.

Some participants wore the indlamu, the skirt seen in the photo, while others wore sidwashi, the traditional brown fabric lihiya. Some carried machetes or sticks. All sang and danced and stomped their feet. 

Babe said I can dance next year with my bosisi. I think I need to start practicing the footwork now. 

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Learning about my community and the art of saying no

It took just three months — and moving to my permanent site — for the Peace Corps life to get real, and difficult.

I have spent the last week living an easy life while meeting people at church and the community council meetings. I had a language lesson, met the chief and was officially announced as a citizen of my community, and toured the community with my mother, an ugcugcuteli, a rural health motivator and another of her colleagues.

My mother told me a few things during that tour that I have mulled over for a few days. She pointed out a few households without any living elders, she introduced me to a mentally disabled man she shared fruit with, and she stopped to buy chicken dust from a younger man she likes to support because he’s kute make na kute babe — without mother and without father.

On Saturday after I was introduced to the community by the chief and was walking home with my sisi, I met a woman on the street who was asking me about my work here. She specifically asked if I would help children without parents, to which I answered yes. She then asked if I would help her because her children do not have a father. She did not ask for anything specific, so I told her that I would be interviewing the community to determine its greatest needs. She seemed satisfied enough.

Her question, though, started my thoughts on how to say no to people asking me for something.

A few hours later, I was returning home again, this time from exchanging my empty propane tank for a full one in the closest town. I had made arrangements with one of my bobhuti to let him know when I was close to home on the public transportation, and he would start toward my stesh, or bus stop, to help carry the heavy tank home.

I exited the khumbi and was immediately offered help from two nearby young men. Their offer of help was followed up by asking for sodas in exchange for their help. I told them no thank you, that my bhuti was coming to help me. And then they reprimanded me for turning down their help. They said because I was living in their community in order to help them, that they needed to help me, which is a thought I hope many community members have.

I said I wasn’t buying them sodas to help me when my bhuti was already on his way. They followed that up with asking me for my phone number, so that they could contact me when they needed help. I said no, knowing that it was not safe for me to give my phone number to unfamiliar young men, and I also assumed that everyone in the community knows which family I live with. If someone needs me, they can easily find my family.

They finally moved onward, and I was able to cross the road and head toward home to wait for my bhuti.

Then the chicken dust salesman, the one make told me about a few days earlier, comes to take the propane tank from me. I try to stop him, telling him that Mancoba is coming to help me, that he does not need to leave his stand. He insists, and hefts the tank on his shoulders, walking it toward my home. He introduces himself to me, saying he is doing the job of women, cooking chicken on the side of the road just to earn some money. Won’t I support him sometime?

I answer of course as he passes off the propane tank to my brothers, because two of them came so that they could carry the whole weight of the tank.

I had decided that I would have to support his chicken dust business after knowing his story. I was already taking turns buying from the different fruit and vegetable sellers, and I was also happy to have such a nice general store, which would be easy to support.

I pinch pennies, but I also have a heart. My mothers have taught me well.

This brings me to wondering again, how do I say no to people? How hard will it be to say no to people while working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland once I know them?

I had a taste of this during Pre-Service Training when I was asked for food from various members of my training family, sometimes when they needed it and sometimes when they did not. Some of these moments were awkward, but life always continued to move forward regardless of my answer.

Here, things will be different. Soon, the people in my community will no longer be strangers. I will learn people’s stories. Soon, we will have expectations about each other. I know my community is a bit hesitant about their newest community member, and at the same time, I also know they expect great things from me.

I know my community will ask me for things I cannot provide. I cannot bring piped water to every home in the village. It will be hard enough to get one borehole drilled for a water source, let alone the four or five I know my community would like.

How do I get them to start small, for both our sakes? How do I not disappoint them? How do I avoid making their lives worse, as I know project failures can sometimes do? How do I get them to participate if they think they have too much to lose or if they do not trust me? How do I stay within the project goals Peace Corps requires of me?

These are just some of the questions I will have to think about each day. These questions are what will keep me learning and looking for ideas and suggestions on how to bring the knowledge and skills and improved health my community wants to them. These are the questions that will form my next two years here and the relationships that I build.
Reading: In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith

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What’s cooking: Tacos

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland, I have a limited food budget. But I also love food–both eating and making it. During PST, I cooked without an oven, refrigeration, and a non-stick skillet. Now at my permanent site, I have all three, though at a cost. This occasional series will highlight my cooking and baking and the recipes I use. 

Everyone says they miss Mexican food while in Swaziland. I wondered why when all the ingredients are available here, including homegrown avocados. The most non-Swazi part of tacos are the tortillas and the non-stick skillet required to make them. 

 

Tacos!

 
My first purchase for my new home was a non-stick skillet. I bought the 28 cm aluminum skillet from Shoprite for E139. It will be worth every penny. Everything else can be bought at most grocery stores and bomake markets. 

Preparing the filling is easily adaptable to your dietary needs and tastes. I used mince (ground beef), onion, green pepper, and tomato. I spiced the filling with garlic, cumin, and cayenne. I bound everything together with a tiny can of tomato paste. You could easily use chicken or beans instead of the beef and any other veggies of your choosing. 

And the tortillas. I use four ingredients (no lard or other fat!) and they are so easy. The key to a soft tortilla is not greasing the skillet and giving the dough a few minutes to rest between steps. 

Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Makes: 6 tortilla shells with enough filling left over for another day

What do you need:

  • 1 burner
  • Non-stick skillet
  • Plastic spatula
  • Mixing bowl
  • Cutting board
  • Chopping knife
  • Can opener
  • Measuring cups
  • Rolling pin (I used a pasta sauce bottle)
  • Clean, flat surface to roll out tortillas
  • Plate for the tortillas once cooked
  • Towel to cover dough and wrap cooked tortillas

Tortilla ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/4 c flour 
  • 1/2 c water
  • Two pinches of baking powder
  • One pinch of salt

Filling ingredients:

  • 1/4 kilo mince
  • 3 small tomatoes
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 small onion
  • 70 g tomato paste
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Cumin powder to taste
  • Cayenne powder to taste
  • 1 avocado
  • Cheese

Tortilla recipe:

  1. Measure the ingredients into a mixing bowl. 
  2. Mix together with a fork. 
  3. Knead dough with your knuckles or bottom of hand by folding dough in half and pushing down. Rotate dough in quarter turns, kneading until dough is elastic. Add more flour if dough is sticky or water if not pliable. 
  4. Cover and let dough rest for 5 to 10 minutes. 
  5. Pull dough apart into 6 pieces and form into balls. 
  6. Cover and let rest again for 5 to 10 minutes. 
  7. Lightly flour your clean, flat surface and your rolling pin. 
  8. Roll out each ball, rotating roll direction to keep circular, until it is about 5 inches in diameter. I flip the dough after every couple of rolls to keep both sides floured. 
  9. Turn on your burner. When your skillet is warm, add your first tortilla. Cook about 1 minute per side until dough starts to change color. 
  10. Finish cooking tortillas. 

Filling recipe:

  1. While the dough is resting from the tortilla recipe, organize ingredients and start chopping veggies for the filling. 
  2. Brown mince in skillet. 
  3. Once cooked, add chopped vegetables, tomato paste, and spices. Cook until vegetables and tomato paste are heated. 
  4. Add filling to tortillas and garnish with avocado and cheese as desired. 

Enjoy your tasty tacos and have happy travels! 

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Wednesday photo: Bomangoza! 

Spring sprung earlier at my permanent site in the bread basket of Swaziland than in my training village. I left peach blossoms to find peaches already growing and what’s even more exciting, the first mangoes are already growing!  

Baby mangoes, with more mangoe trees in the background


My family explained they have a variety of mango trees, even though I thought all the trees looked the same. I’ll have to learn the differences. One variety is called fish, because of its shape. Another had a name that matched its smell. 

I was told that the fruit should be ready starting in December. My Swazi family doesn’t can or make pies, so I have lots to teach them! 

 

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Wednesday photo: My bosisi

This last weekend I moved out of my training family’s home to prepare for Swearing In. I will write about my family soon, but as a preview, I wanted to share a photo with two of my older bosisi before I got teary-eyed about my departure. I will miss them and their families, but I will be able to visit them easily. I look forward to staying in touch with them and watching the little kids grow up. 

 

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Wednesday photo: Care packages, coffee, and cheese

Two packages arrived from home last week filled with kitchen gadgets and clothing that I hadn’t had room for and a few things I realized I could use and had not yet found here in Swaziland. 

I may have been the most excited about my Jack Mormon coffee and mug. On Sunday morning, the only day we do not have class, I had a lazy morning with scrambled eggs, hash browns with my newly arrived grater, feta (yes, feta is available in Swaziland!), grapefruit, and a great cup of coffee. It was an excellent morning. 

  
I really love receiving mail, even letters. Sending a package here is really expensive, so I’m not asking for packages. But send me letters! 

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