Changing seasons and gardens

Over the last week I have begun preparing my garden for the next planting season. 

All of a sudden, my butternut vines were near death, so I knew it was time to prepare for moving forward. 


The state of my garden after many of the leaves died.

I have yet to harvest and cure my squash because of Cyclone Dineo. We had rain last week and the weather forecast shows rain for this week too. 

The vines are still growing and producing new butternuts, so I am hesitant to pull up all the plants. I decided to take some action, though, by rerouting the growing vines back onto themselves, covering some of the decaying leaves and freeing some of the beds that were covered. 

I had hardly entered my garden in the last month because the butternut vines took over all the existing space, leaving me nowhere to safely walk. The newly dead leaves and rerouting of the vines allowed me to pull weeds and begin double digging one of the beds I did not get to in October and November. 

I have lots of beds to double dig and amend the soil, but I can only do this once the butternuts are gone. 

Last week also included the arrival of a variety of heirloom seeds I ordered. I am most excited about these because I was looking for a more colorful variety of plants than what is available here in Swaziland. 

I joined the heirloom train in spring 2015 when I finally had room to grow a large container garden and a few spots of ground to plant in. Thanks to Wasatch Community Gardens’ annual seedling sale and an excellent variety of seedlings at Millcreek Gardens, I went crazy. 


I grew tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, hot peppers, kale, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, raspberries, and strawberries in containers in 2015.

Although I had that garden for only one year before moving to Swaziland, it really showed me what I could do here. Of course, growing up with a garden at my parents’ and grandparents’ homes helped too. 

What has been hard here is knowing what to plant and when. I now live in a frost-free zone that gets an incredible amount of rain in a few months. In the US, I knew what to plant in early spring and later spring. I learned I could grow tomatoes from April to November, and that those tomato plants could be 7 feet tall. And here, I know nothing. 


Standing with my doubledover Cherokee purple tomato plant with a miniature cantaloupe trellising behind me on a late October day.

When I was finally given garden space on a chilly day in October, make told me to plant what I knew and hovered over me. This meant I did not get to double dig those beds that had been amended with manure. I planted beets, onions, tomatoes, green pepper, and butternut. Only onions, tomatoes, and butternut grew. 

About a month later I tried germinating seeds, which seemed successful. I had taken over the rest of the garden and double dug a few berms. I added hot peppers and cauliflower to the mix, planting in the berms, and this time, nothing grew. 

It turned out that it was good that very little grew, because as I have mentioned, the butternut plants took over the whole garden. 

There are four seasons here that guide what is planted when, as I have recently learned. In November 2016, the wet and hot season began and is now winding down. February and March 2017 start the hot and dry season. In May, the cool and dry season should start. And finally, it may be cool and wet around October. 

November was the time to plant maize, beans, sweet potato, pumpkin, and squash. 

My bobhuti who are farmers say now is the time for tomatoes, peppers, and other dry-loving crops that could include maize,  beans, sweet potato, squash, and watermelons. 

In March I will plant onions and carrots. In April I will plant lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, cauliflower, beets, and strawberry. 

I made two maps of my garden-one of it in November and one of it with expected planting locations, a schedule, and a list of tasks. 


X marks the spot of what grew from my October and November plantings.


My “summer” and “fall” planting plan.

 Making this plan calmed me immensely. Looking at my pile of seeds wondering how and when and what will go where was incredibly distracting, so I hope this plan works. All I need now is a little sunshine to start planting. 

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Wednesday photo: Butternuts

I harvested my first butternuts as the plants have begun drying up. 

Having a successful crop is so exciting after having a rough start with many butternuts rotting. 


My first butternut

My bobhuti said it is time to start my next crop, which should include tomatoes, peppers, and onions. I have some double digging and amending to do before I can plant. I much look forward to a year-round garden! 

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The chicken diaries: Chasing chickens

I became a parent to two chickens I named Sitfwatfwa (snow) and Thandi (love) in January 2017. This is their story. 
A few days after their release, Sitfwatfwa and Thandi ran away again. 

My neighbors and the former owner of my chickens came over to give me the news. I followed them home and proceeded to start chasing my chickens. 

Watching me chase my chickens has to be high on the entertainment lists of others. It’s definitely no fun for me, though. 

My family and my neighbors laughed when I told them I have never chased a chicken before. Swazis generally assume that all Americans have backyard chickens just like they do and are flabbergasted when I tell them this is not the case. They are happy to hear that having backyard chickens is a growing trend in the States. 

I unsuccessfully chased my chickens for about 10 minutes when the sikoni (sister-in-law, the wife of my tutor’s brother) next door enticed my chickens with rice and promptly caught Thandi. 

I took Thandi home and returned her to time out. 

I returned to my neighbor’s house with food to attempt to capture Sitfwatfwa. She knew I was on the prowl though, so she stayed well away from me. I gave up after about 15 minutes to get ready for church. 

When I returned a few hours later, Sitfwatfwa was still socializing with her former friends and hiding from me. 


Sitfwatfwa hiding in my neighbor’s yard

I tried tricking her with food when I got her out of the grass, but she knew she was being chased and was extra vigilant. 

Finally my neighbors decided it was time to help me. Four of them surrounded her and managed to catch her with some food. And then Sitfwatfwa was returned to time out, too. 

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Wednesday photo: Sunset

Sunset is my favorite time of day. I love watching the colors change and spread across the sky. 

Last week the sunsets were epic with colors spreading 90 degrees to the east. 

I have learned to go outside around sunset time because I will often find something beautiful. 

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What’s cooking: Lentil soup and menemen

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.

After spending a month in Turkey last year, there are many days where I wish for an excellent Turkish meal. Two of the easiest foods to prepare are lentil soup and a tomato and egg dish called menemen. I eat these dishes with a tasty slice of bread and I quickly return to the wonderful dinners of Turkey.


Difficulty: Easy
Cost of supplies: E20
Time: 90 minutes
Servings: 3

Tools needed:

  • Cutting board
  • Pairing knife
  • Measuring cup
  • Large pot
  • Skillet
  • Spatula

Lentil soup ingredients:

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 c red lentils
  • 5 c water
  • Dried chicken stock cube
  • Cumin, to taste
  • Paprika, to taste
  • Cayenne, to taste


  1. In pot, heat olive oil.
  2. Once hot, cook vegetables until soft, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add lentils, water, and chicken stock, and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer until lentils fall apart, about 30 minutes.
  5. Add spices to taste.


  6. If you want a thinner soup, add more water, a 1/2 cup at a time.

Menemen ingredients:

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 fresh eggs
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Cayenne, to taste
  • Cumin, to taste


  1. In skillet, heat oil.
  2. Cook vegetables until tomato juice is reduced and onions are soft, about 10 minutes.
  3. Make three wells in the vegetables.
  4. Crack one egg at a time into a cup and pour egg into one of the wells. If egg is not fresh, the yolk will crack. For best appearance, use eggs with solid yolks.


  5. Cook the eggs until the yolks are set, about five minutes.
  6. Pour eggs and tomatoes out of skillet or separate each and remove each egg with a wide spatula.

Serve lentil soup and menemen with crusty bread or pitas.




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Homestead hospitality in Swaziland

Within the last month, other PCVs in Swaziland finally started visiting my site to see the little slice of heaven where I live. Not only has this given me the opportunity to play host, but my make loves it too.

Visits always begin with greetings and introductions, which you can read about here. Using praise names sweetens the process and shows off your knowledge of your fellow countrymen.
Then my make and babe, if he is there too, will want to know where you live and comment on how far away and rural your community is.
Now is the time to wow the family with some siSwati and they will be even more excited you came to visit.
Next, make will say how nice it was that her Hloniphile brought her friends to visit because she loves me so much and is so happy for me to be living with them.
Finally, make will offer you some mangoes and perhaps some of the other fruit varieties that are currently in season and tell you that you truly are welcome. Wemukelekile.
When it is time for you to leave, make will make sure you have as much fruit as desired, and if you arrived in a big enough group, she will call a khumbi to collect you from the front gate.
And then with a final ngiyabonga (thank you) and salani kahle (stay well), and from my make a hamba kahle (go well), you will leave my homestead well fed and appreciative of plentiful fruits and Swazi hospitality.
This post was first published at
This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week five: Hospitality.
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Wednesday photo: Book club

My group here in Swaziland started a book club in September but it took until January to have our first meeting.


Thanks to Neil for the photo!

It was a grand success with nine volunteers travelling to my community for our first discussion. We have picked our next meeting time, so I hope we continue to have book club success.

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Dreams and hope in Swaziland

“Start doing things you love” is one of my favorite lines from the Holstee Manifesto.


This old copy of the manifesto has hung in many bedrooms in many locations over the years.

It is one of the reasons why I am here in Swaziland in the first place.

When I graduated with an MPH, I really wanted to do work that mattered, that wasn’t just another job in another cubicle, where I had little interaction with the people whose health I wanted to work to improve.

One of my professors who had organized both of the research trips to Ghana I participated in suggested the Peace Corps as a way to get more of the on-the-ground, grassroots experience I so craved (his words involved “running through fields somewhere in Africa”).

I had hoped that following my dreams (and the Holstee Manifesto) to live and work abroad serving other people would be the right path for me, and it has been.

Working as a Peace Corps Voluteer in Swaziland has been everything I want it to be. Being at peace with life, even with all the struggles I see and face every day as a Volunteer in the country with the highest per capita rate of HIV in the world, gives me hope that I will be successful here. Having realistic ideas of what success looks like helps too.

Every day I see how much bogogo (grandmothers) do for their families when they should be resting and being cared for by their children. But there is a missing generation in Swaziland because the people who should be 30 or 40 or 50 years old have died from AIDS, and there is little but increasing knowledge about family planning. This means that gogo often rears her grandchildren too.

Bogogo give me hope, too, when I see how much they will do for their families and for me as I now am part of one.

So go forth and have hope that the world will be an increasingly better and healthier place.


The back of my door in Swaziland is decorated with the Holstee Manifesto and photos from some of my favorite places and memories.

And remember the final lines of the Holstee Manifesto:

“Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them so go out and start creating. Life is short. Live your dream, and wear your passion. ”


This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week four: Change and Hope.







And you can find my profile here.


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Wednesday photo: Pin the tail on the elephant 

In December I helped a vacation bible school plan a fun day. I helped organize some carny games that the children really enjoyed. 

My favorite game was pin the tail on the elephant, which I made myself. 

We also had sack, wheelbarrow, and egg races; horseshoe; bobbing for apples; and a ball toss. 

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The chicken diaries: The first day of freedom

I became a parent to two chickens I named Sitfwatfwa (snow) and Thandi (love) in January 2017. This is their story. 

My chickens were released from time out thanks to Thandi’s escape tactics. 

I had just removed the jerry can and metal grate from the top of their barrel. I reached in to get the water bowl and again to get the food bowl. As I was trying to get the grate back on top of the barrel, Thandi flapped her wings, landed on the edge of the barrel, and escaped the cooking hut. 

She did not run once escaped, which was a good sign. Make told me to get Sitfwatfwa out, too, and spread out some food. 

Of course, all the other chickens came running and pushing my chickens out of the way. 

Thandi posing for a photo. I can pick her out from the others because of the feathers that poof up on her head.

The realities behind the phrase “pecking order” all came to light today. I was even like a mother hen, checking on my chicken children many times throughout the day. 

The rooster is definitely in charge. He gets what he wants now now. Then there are two big hens next in line. Then there’s a younger hen with babies, one big ugly pullet (a chicken that hasn’t laid eggs yet), and a variety of teenagers (in weeks). 

Sitfwatfwa is like me, a little bit afraid of stepping on its new families toes and ran away before she really got in anyone’s way. 

Thandi, of course, was ready to fight. There were a few small chicken fights thoughout the day, and no apparent injuries, just a lot of ruffled feathers. 

Their broiler chicken friend from time out is still their friend, which is good. Unfortunately, this chicken think my toes are food. Once she gets close to me, she follows real close, trying to find a moment where she can peck at my bombozo.  

I can kind of get my chickens to follow me. They are willing to let me stand real close, but I haven’t tried holding either since their release. 

I am also worrying about them getting enough to eat. If I tried to feed them, all the other chickens would eventually come running and push them out of the way. I need to find a way around this because I will need to give them special food to lay better eggs. 

The day ended successfully with make getting both of my chickens into the mango tree to spend the night. 

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