In siSwati, “Mehlo Madzala” literally translates to “old eyes”. It is one of the handful of “deep” siSwati phrases that I know and love to use because it raises eyebrows and rouses laughter from Swazis. Essentially, it means “Wow, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve laid eyes on you” which is why it is an apt title for this blog. Other than not getting a solid wifi connection, what else have I been up to for the past 4 months? Besides the usual life of working in and exploring this gorgeous country, I also took some time off to visit Cape Town and attend a regional burning man event, Afrika Burn. That amazing experience really refreshed my motivations and allowed me to unplug, rejuvenate, and recharge with the help of about 10,000 other attendees.
My last blog “Intentional Relationship Building through Food” was a link to a short blog I wrote for Peace Corps about one of my favorite projects. Below are some more pictures about this project, which you can read about here.
Making soy milk!
First, you have goo.
Then you sieve the liquid from the goo. The solids can be further processed into tofu by adding lemon juice and using cheese cloth to squeeze out excess liquid, and the liquid is the soy milk!
Peanuts oil, salt, and sugar (if you wish) go in….
and peanut butter comes out!!
Another one of my favorite activities in Swaziland is getting to know the ladies at a home for orphaned girls near my community. I have been a managing funds they received from a sister establishment in the states. It’s been a blast to do crafts with them and help out with homework. They’ve taught me how to play netball and countless other games. We’ve installed electricity, upgraded the kitchen with new cabinets, and in the coming weeks we are starting a pilot poultry project. As my time in Swaziland nears the end, it is wonderful to still have momentum with projects that keep me busy and focused on living presently.
We recently had a craft day where we recycled empty toilet paper rolls and used ribbon that was gifted to us to make some fun necklaces, headbands, and decorations for their rooms.
We always have a fun time. 🙂
40 KMs down a dirt road, I am still enjoying life in my community. I recently tried honey in the honeycomb for the first time. It’s interesting, and tasty.
Sometimes, I find it difficult to simply sit and be. I am blessed with exuberant energy, and Swaziland as helped me further by providing ample opportunities for practicing patience. I’ve learned the benefits of sitting and listening. One of my darling friends left a few weeks ago to begin grad school, and there was a gathering at her homestead to bid farewell. It was lovely to spend time with her family, listen to them share stories of her kindness, and also to cuddle with adorable babies.
Women here carry the burden of the entire country. Literally. A common sight to behold is a young lady pushing a cart filled with 50 or more liters of water, with a chubby baby wrapped in many layers tied to her back with a towel or blanket. Having a baby tied to her doesn’t stop women here from working hard- they are in the fields plowing, washing then hauling buckets of laundry up from the river, and generally just being awesome. My make (host mother) had eight children. Here, she is washing sweet potatoes that grew because of her diligent tending of the field. She is an incredibly strong woman who cares our large homestead, the piggery, chickens, and neighbors with grace.
The rolling hills that surround my community are gorgeous and covered with indigenous forest. Locals rarely explore these woods because they fear the wild and aggressive pigs that call them home, and I am inclined to heed their warnings. Below are these mountains, as seen from a watering hole along the path I typically walk to a neighboring community.
Ah, but I do revel in the adventure of exploring. I love the satisfaction one receives from ascending the summit of an incredible mountain or hill or monolith or even just a tall set of stairs. I have countless pictures from the tops of places, but these are just a few of my favorites.
The view from the top of the Lubumbo Plateau (I’ve also heard it called the Ubumbo mountains, unsure which is correct). The valley is the eastern low veld region of Swaziland, and the top of the mountain is South Africa.
This is the spectacular view from Lion’s Head in Cape Town (Robbin Island is next to my elbow). In April I had the pleasure of visiting the mother city for the first time, what a treat it was. It is a site to behold- sky scrapers are framed by two oceans and the high walls of table mountain. Colorful cafes, restaurants, bars, health shops, and boutiques are abundant. “Yea, Johnna… it’s just another city.”- some may say. But for a gal who has become accustomed to bathing in a tiny basin with two inches of water and walking 100 meters (one way) to poop in a pit latrine, it is quite amazing and overwhelming to be in a city again. I walked by restaurants where jazz bands were playing sultry tunes, looked around me and saw people dressed remarkably well, and after I finished eating an apple (core and all, another skill I’ve gained eSwatini) I thought, “geez… I’m kind of feral”. Can I ever adapt to city life again? The idea frightens me a little. But, I’m ready for another challenge and change.
When I was in Cape Town, I felt like I had left the continent of Africa and jumped to a cosmopolitan american city. I certainly enjoyed my time there, it is always a treat when I get to have a well made bloody mary. But, there was a lack of color there. I’ve come to love the diversity I’ve experienced in places like Durban and Johannesburg. Yet, my glance at Cape Town was cursory at best, and I look forward to going back and exploring further.
The reason for this Cape Town trip was to attend the regional Burning Man event, Afrika Burn. It took place in the Karoo desert, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There are many blogs out there that share pictures and descriptions of this event, and this is not one of them. I turned off my phone with intention, and did not take any pictures during this week. Instead, I used the time to recharge and reconnect with nature and the different energies of new people. In this place of de-commodification, radical self reliance, and gift giving with no strings attached, I was a part of a naturist theme camp, Birthday Suits. The gift we gave was a daily human car wash, where hundreds of people filed through a very platonic system of scrubbing and rinsing to remove the karoo dust and filth. What a treat. It was an amazing time, and I hope to return in the coming years.
I have a bucket list of places I’ve wanted to hike or see in Swaziland. One that was crossed off recently was the scramble up “Execution Rock”. It is a spectacular place that overlooks the eZulwini (heaven) valley. The folklore surrounded Execution Rock is that people were once pushed off the steep cliff side of the rock, plummeting to their demise, as recompense for heinous crimes. I’m unsure of whether or not this is true, but I was certainly extra careful while gazing over the edge.
I have to give a shout out to the best thing I brought with me- my backpack. It is basically magical, I can manifest whatever I need from it and find myself prepared in nearly any situation. My friend snapped this picture of me in my community while we were waiting for transport. Inside my bag at this time was everything I needed to survive for MONTHS! (Though I was only away for a little over a week…. yes, I have been guilty of overpacking) Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, extra clothes, camping gear, etc etc etc, all fit inside. I have been able to haul many pounds of groceries back with me to my community. Having free hands remaining while traveling is very important, so I can high five every kid I pass along the way.
But occasionally, I have to transport things back to my site and must use my hands. We are not allowed to drive vehicles, buses and mini buses are the sole transport PCVs use. When a PCV has the motivation to move items from the main office where we receive mail, back to site, we must utilize that momentum. Below, I am somewhat frazzled and about to board a bus back to my community. In each hand, I have a trash bag full of hand knitted teddy bears from the Mother Bears project. Under one arm is a box of books for my preschool. The other arm has my laptop and miscellaneous items. Then I have my full backpack behind me. My shirt says “weird and wonderful”. I showed someone this picture and their only response was, “that’s a PCV if I’ve ever seen one!” This feat would have been much more difficult if I had not encountered so many friendly Swazis along the way willing to lend me a hand. My faith in humanity is constantly growing.
This is the stunning and world known table mountain. Quite a sight as the sun is setting.
One of my favorite activities in Cape Town was watching the sun set from Signal Hill. I learned a lesson though- next time I do this, I’m bringing a picnic!
We recently attended our Close of Service conference. It was the last official gathering of the thirteenth group of volunteers who came to Swaziland in June of 2015. Getting to know these fellow weirdos has been a tremendous pleasure, and I can now call these silly people my own. We’ve had countless fits of tear-inducing laughter, adventures, mishaps, dance parties, and ideas shared. We have all thrived where we were planted, and used the hands we were given to do really good work in nearly every corner of this tiny kingdom. The experience we’ve shared has tangibly sculpted more resilient, powerful, and patient versions of ourselves. Together, we’ve reached the next fork in the road. Some are sticking around for another year (or more!) to extend their good work in new areas, some are going to grad school. Some are continuing their world explorations, and some have no clue what is next. Wherever we go next, whatever we do, we will carry Swaziland with us in our hearts, of that I am sure. Much love to everyone in g13 ❤
And what is next for me? I hope to continue to explore, do good work, and meet amazing people in some new places. I have some ideas about taking this blog in a different direction, and hopefully better wifi connections will enable me to update with more frequency as I continue my travels. I will share tips I’ve accumulated about Swaziland, traveling internationally, and thriving on less. ‘Till next time!