Wednesday photo: The first fruits

The  first fruits holiday that is also about cleansing, renewal, and celebrating kingship starts this Saturday. It is called Incwala. The first fruits also happened this week at my house. 


Parrafin, fish, and the stringy mangos, plus an ear of boiled maize

As soon as I got home from training, little bobhuti wanted to show me the ripe mangos. There were not many, just a few of each type (we have three types, including the familiar red and green one seen at grocery stores in America), but soon we will be rolling in the mangos. 

Make brought me two ears of boiled maize yesterday, too. The ears were from the farms of my older bobhuti. The ears were boiled with the husks on, which made removing the strings easy. The maize was light yellow with average-sized kernels. 

Everything was delicious. 

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Love and hardship with my training family

I have wanted to write about my PST host family for a really long time. I started a post about a month into service but I could not finish it. Writing about them was too emotional. It still is now.

My first afternoon and evening with them was nothing spectacular. Everyone was shyly glancing at me and there was little interaction. The family was four generations, with a make and babe, some of their children and their children’s children, one grandchild, and the grandchild’s son. There were so many people and I did not know how they were related. I did not know the family structure or how to do anything.

I ate a dinner of a simple chicken stew with liphalishi with my family that night while watching the news. I was thankful I did not have to kill a chicken or eat a strange animal part. My bosisi even had me serve myself, which was such a relief. Shortly after, I fell into bed and was asleep immediately. I fixed my own breakfast the next morning and left for class after telling make I was departing.

Everyone was talking about their family experiences that day at class and I had nothing exciting to report other than the sheer number of people I was living with. I got off the school bus that afternoon to an entirely different world.

The children ran down the driveway to meet me while screaming my name Ntombi. They walked me home while holding my hands. After dinner, the news, and a gangster soap opera, the children would scream good night to me.

These moments became so, so precious to me, but their wonderfulness was hard to balance with the bad moments at home.

The same children (the grandchildren) would always ask for food. They would see what I had on my shelf when my door was opening and ask for what they could see. They also thought a fun game was asking me to name all of my food items when they would point to them.

One of the adult children always asked me for food as well, and after a few of these moments, I told the Peace Corps about what was happening. These involved a variety of conversations in person and over the phone and retelling the stories over and over. One of the training leaders also visited my homestead to speak with my make and babe and things marginally improved.

The good moments continued though, as I shared homemade stovetop pizzas and s’mores with them. Even the pizza became chaos by the end, because when there are five children under 10 years old, everything is always chaos–but it doesn’t matter. The little kids really wanted to help make the pizza dough, which they over-kneaded because it was so much fun. They were so excited to participate, even when they couldn’t reach the stove, which was sweet.

The last week with them was hard. We had a second crazy pizza party and the s’mores party. I was trying to study for my tests and pack and prepare myself for moving back into the dorms where everyone would be together for a few nights.

And then, while watching the news waiting for dinner one night, my sisi escorted her daughter out of the house and started beating her outside.

The switch was always visible and often used as a threat, but I had never seen it used.

My little sisi’s screams will never leave me. And the fact that I cannot do anything about active abuse here will be one of those things I will always have to live with.

My job is to educate people on the perils of all forms of abuse and to stay out of what happens at home.

In the end, the love and excitement of those children always won. We made pizza that second time because of the sheer joy it brought them. It did not matter that it took four hours to make forty pan-sized pizzas from start to finish.

I went back to visit my family this past weekend after having been away for 12 weeks. The kids ran down the driveway to greet me and walk me home just like I hoped. It was a relaxing visit with everyone happy to see me but not hanging off all my appendages. I got some baby love, checked on the garden (it’s doing so well!) and overall had a nice time. It was nice enough that I think I will return again in a few months with pictures and s’mores.

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A moment in my life: Cockroaches

So many entertaining things happen in my life in Swaziland. These are the moments I will want to remember because they make me laugh, and they show insight into my daily routine. These moments are often hard to photograph and usually last only a minute or two. I will start sharing them with you in this occasional series. 
Insects really like my hut. 

I do not understand how my family of flies lived through my recent, extended absence, but they did. 

There are plenty of ants that enjoy visiting to eat crumbs I did not know were on the ground. 

The most annoying, though, are the cockroaches. They are not frequent daytime visitors. But they do like my company at night. I can’t really say how many visit at this time of day because I am asleep. 

Except for the night one was crawling on me. 

Yes, you read that right. I woke up to feeling something crawling on me, and it was a cockroach. 

I thrashed in my sheets, trying to escape the insect. I nearly tore down my bed net, trying to get out of bed. 

I took a few deep breathes and found my headlamp and glasses. I collected my broom and a flip flop. 

I found the cockroach cowering in my bed. It took two tries to remove it, but I finally caught it with a cup and a piece of paper. Usually I let my insect intruders live, but not this time. I let out a nice whack with my flip flop and returned to bed. 

Of course, it took two hours to calm down enough to fall asleep. 

I had run out of data, as well, so I couldn’t let anyone know what was happening. Fortunately, I woke that morning to a gift of data from one of my friends checking in on me, since he hadn’t heard from me for 12+ hours. (Thanks, Deacon!)

His message said: Either you ran out of data or the insects finally got you. 

I was able to respond with: Both! I woke up to a cockroach crawling on me. 

Finally, I returned home this week to four dead cockroaches covered in ants. From now on, I am tucking in my bed net and hope that the cockroach parties in my hut stay out of my bed. 

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Wednesday photo: HIV awareness

 There are very few trash cans in Swaziland. The capital, Mbabane, and the largest city, Manzini, both have trash cans and anti-littering campaigns. In the rest of the country, people litter every where and burn or bury their trash. Therefore, it is very exciting to see these trash cans at our training facility, especially because they have HIV and AIDS awareness messages. 


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Wednesday photo: Pineapple 

I live near the pineapple center of Swaziland, but purchasing a pineapple has been ridiculously difficult. 

I bought four when I found them the first time. I found none when I wanted them again. And then they were back at the markets. 
Then I learned that I could grow a pineapple from the leaves of a pineapple. I saved one of my leaves and after a week of letting it dry, and then another couple weeks of letting roots grow, I planted my pineapple last week. 

It should take about two years to grow a Swaziland-sized pineapple, which is about half the size of an American pineapple. 

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Wednesday photo: Flowering bananas

I have seen banana trees a few times during my Africa travels, but I had yet to fully understand the plant and its banana production. 

My family here in Swaziland has a large grove with 30 trees or so. Bananas seem to grow year round and I have seen a few trees carrying fruit. 

To collect the bananas, my family explained that you cut the tree down and then store the bananas until they are ripe. 

Finally this last week I saw some bananas being birthed from the huge, maroon flower, and the bottom of each banana had a small flower, too. 

New-born bananas

I am finally in-the-know! 

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What’s cooking: Snickerdoodles 

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 made this recipe for a friend here, and I didn’t think he liked them. Maybe the cinnamon was too spicy. In my opinion, that first batch may have been the most delightful treat to have come out of my kitchen. Ever, too, not just from my Swazi kitchen. 

I had my family try them that evening for an additional Swazi opinion. They were satisfied. 

Truly speaking, these were the lightest, fluffiest cookie I have ever had. They were so good that I ate about 30 of them within three days. 

I gave some to my siSwati tutor, and she took them to school. I think she shared with her friends, because she reported back to me that all her friends now wanted to be friends with me so they could learn some baking magic. My tutor said she wasn’t sharing me. 

She also shared with her sister, who promptly walked down to my house and demanded I tell her what hotel I bought them from. She did not believe that such an amazing dessert could come out of a Swazi kitchen. 

I decided I had to make a second batch so I could share with some friends meeting up at a hostel so two of us could cook dinner on a stove (yes, we made a Chipotle-style taco bar). Again, I received rave reviews, even though they were not as beautiful as the first batch. 

Finally, I again heard from the friend I baked them for originally, who said that he did think they were good.

Unfortunately, Swazis describe everything as nice, so it is often hard to tell the degree of enjoyment. Their language just doesn’t have the words. 

Total time: About 90 minutes, mostly active

Makes: Up to 50 cookies

What do you need:

  • Stoven
  • Two mixing bowls, one needs to be big
  • Foil to put cookies on in stoven or a pan to put them in
  • Dry measuring cups and spoons
  • Spatula
  • Whisk or fork

Snickerdoodles ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup margarine, softened (you could put the margarine outside if it is hot, on the stoven as it warms, get it out of the fridge early enough, or as a last option you could melt part of the amount)
  • 1 and 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 2 t cream of tartar (available at Pick’n’Pay
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 3 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t salt

Topping ingredients:

  • 1/3 c granulated sugar
  • 1 t cinnamon is optional

Snickerdoodles recipe: 

  1. Preheat stoven to 165*C. 
  2. Cream the butter in the large mixing bowl. Note that this is impossible without a mixer. I used an egg beater that worked mildly well. I would suggest using a fork, wooden spoon, or spatula to incorporate any runny margarine. 
  3. Mix in the sugar, followed by the egg and vanilla. 
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt). 
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three parts. Incorporate flour mixture before adding more flour. Dough should be thick but not sticky. 
  6. Make topping. Add cinnamon to sugar if you like extra spiciness
  7. Take a spoonful of dough and roll into a ball about the size of a buckeye or kiss cookie. Roll in topping. 
  8. Bake each tray 9 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven once the outer edges start cracking. I baked 12 cookies at a time on a piece of foil on top of the wire rack. I would remove the rack and foil and let the cookies cool at least five minutes before removing. 
  9. While a tray is baking, prepare the next set of sugared cookie balls to bake. 

Note: If your dough is too sticky to roll, do not bake on ungreased foil. Either grease the foil or bake on parchment or a greased cake pan. 

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Wednesday photo: Insect attack, part 2

Maybe some of you saw my post on Facebook a few weeks ago, about my house under attack by small, flying creatures that could fell their wings and crawl under my door. 

I stood at attention a few feet from my closed door with insect-killing spray and a flip flop to keep my hut free from infestation. 

I woke up to today’s attack at 4:15 a.m. I could hear strange noises but did not know what was happening. Instead, I tuned in to World Series game 6 about 45 minutes earlier than planned, which meant that I had 45 more minutes of agony to listen to. 

After the game ended at 5:40 a.m., I went back to sleep, still unaware of what was happening outside (and inside). 

I finally got out of bed around 7:15 a.m. and saw the first bug crawling across my floor. A flip flop was handy and I deftly ended its life. Then I saw a few more and reluctantly opened my door to so, so many bugs. 


Close up of the assailants struggling to live.

Fortunately I have not yet encountered a bug here that has scared me yet, as there have been plenty that have wanted to move in with me. Like this fellow. 


Hey there, big spider. I almost screamed when it almost crawled on me.

I let him live, albeit outside. 

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Wednesday photo: Questionnaires

I have spent the last month in survey heaven. Except that running three surveys for one project in one month, including gathering data, digitizing data, analyzing data, and writing the report, out of a one-room hut in my third-best language (yay for coded answers!), is more fun than one person should have in one month. 

Especially when you have one week left and you are still digitizing data! 

Piles and piles of questionnaires and answer sheets. I really should have brought my hole punch.

Anyone want to volunteer and help the Volunteer? I’ll feed you and share my hut with you. You just have to get to Johannesburg or Swaziland. 

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My permanent home in Swaziland

My permanent home in Swaziland is located in the Manzini Region, with easy access to transportation, food, and Swaziland’s capitol and biggest cities. I live near the main tourist areas of Swaziland, as well, which just happens to be an area called Ezulwini, meaning in heaven. It is located among the many mountains with lush green grasses, fields, and mountainsides. I am glad this area is my home.

When I was visited by the Peace Corps for my first site visit last week, I was immediately told I live at a Posh Corps homestead. I said that maybe my homestead looked posh, especially with water available at home and a garden full of fruit trees, but aside from outside looks it is not that posh.

I do not have running water, a shower, or a toilet like some volunteers. I do not have a tiled floor, a fireplace, or beautiful lighting.

But I do have a beautiful family allowing me to live on their homestead and be a part of their family for two years.

I have had requests to see photos of my home for weeks. Finally, here they are.


My bed and nightstand


My closet and storage area


More storage and my toilet


Part of my kitchen, water filter, and more storage


My stoven sits at one end of my counter. I use the small kettle for tea and the large kettle to boil water for drinking.



My kitchen counter and shelves


My homestead from the street, and my laundry as an added bonus! My home is the square building behind my laundry.


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