Mehlo Madzala!

PRACTICE

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.

 

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Making soy milk!

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First, you have goo.

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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!

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Peanuts oil, salt, and sugar (if you wish) go in….

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and peanut butter comes out!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This is the stunning and world known table mountain. Quite a sight as the sun is setting.

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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!

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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 ❤

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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!

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A flower in the desert

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The past months have been a whirlwind. Project work swirls around me, and the gusts from changing seasons push me forward. Rain has arrived in Swaziland, and with it comes tremendous growth, change, and mangoes; hope is revivified. In the last year and a half, I have never seen this country so green and lush. But, several weeks of rain do not cancel the damage caused by the drought- a drought so bad that Swazis lament, “even the donkeys are dying” (this is remarkable because donkeys are notoriously resilient animals). While farmers sow, and branches of trees stoop with the burden of their heavy fruit, summer sneaks upon us. The temperature rises with the sun and rain falls with the night. Fat drops are mellifluously accompanied by the bass and tenor of thunder and lightning. Flowers of every color bloom.

After a solid month of regular rain, it suddenly ceased once more. The maize planted by hopeful families began to wilt and burn under the unforgiving sun. Once thick stalks withered and browned, and the tops began to bear their tassels of maturity while the plant was still short and thin. Growing corn is a game of timing, it must have the right amount of water at the right growing stage, or else it will be stunted. Farming certainly takes luck. Thankfully, cyclone Dineo interrupted the drought at a perfect time for my family, and our maize has recovered. This, in addition to 15 freshly born piglets, gives hope to us again.

My project work is exciting and humbling. A passion for food and sustainable agriculture fits perfectly in my community, where I work with a community garden farmer co-op to help them sustain themselves through better business practices and connections to local NGOs. I have a wonderful counterpart, and together we facilitate food preservation workshops to make value-added items such as jams, canned fruit, and a delicious spicy relish called “achar”. Recently, we started teaching women in our HIV support groups how to produce, package, and profit from peanut butter. This has been one of my favorite projects, it is my wish that these women can empower themselves to a better financial position by using the skills we are teaching.

I also have been spending time at an all-girl orphanage, one of only a few orphanages in Swaziland. Because of how deep family ties are, there are very few homeless people. Most of the time, people will be able to find comfort in extended family, and rarely are children completely abandoned. Official adoption of a child is quite rare, and the girls who stay at the orphanage are there until they are old enough to leave. I have been acting as a connection point between the home and international donors, we have added electricity and also improved their kitchen. Soon, the home will also be receiving three laptops and they will be able to improve their technology skills.

Of course, there are also many project struggles. I don’t have much time left, and my community really wants my help in building a preschool. Such an undertaking would certainly make a difference for many young children, but gathering the resources so late in the game is going to be difficult, yet it can be done.

I am very fortunate. My support at home in West Virginia in unparalleled. This support brought me back to the States for Thanksgiving, where I reveled in the decadence of American “staple food” (donuts, pizza, nachos, burgers, etc.) in addition to a delicious spatchcocked turkey prepared by the gifted hands of my brother. Embracing my family and friends again was as sweet as the rain in the dry season. The joy I gained from hearing my toddler niece speaking delightfully defiant sentences in person was invaluable. In my short visit, I was surprised by how much about home remained the exact same and also how different everything felt despite that continuity. Being home brought much-needed clarity to my desires for the future as well as closure to the prolonged ending of my long-distance relationship, for which I am so grateful.

But I was very happy to return to Swaziland. Visiting America cemented the fact that I am not meant to be there now, despite how much I miss danishes at the bakery, book stores, house shows, and the local food movement. I spent Christmas with my host family, and for New Year’s I went to a local music venue that had an Alice in Wonderland themed event. I enjoyed it tremendously, and was even offered a job after I spent some time ribbon dancing. Good to know that if nothing else works out, I can move to Johannesburg and join a carnival!

So, why was I happy to return? What is special about this country? To me, it boils down to my drive to do and see more here, and the beauty I recognize surrounding me everywhere. This is the pulchritude of Swaziland:

  • The pronounced cheekbones and copious generosity of Swazi women.
  • Trees that bear the most delicious fruit I have ever tasted.
  • An openness that invites reciprocity- people are keenly interested in greeting you & learning how you are.
  • Happy children that are covered in dirt and toddle and play and sing and scream.
  • The mountains are frames, meticulously carved by the elements, which surround a complex and abstract picture of poverty. Poverty is not beautiful, but out of necessity it enables a beautiful reaction- unrelenting hospitality, and the embracing of “simple pleasures” like sitting and chatting on grass mats, dancing in front of the cooking fire, and pulling a potato from the ground that you nurtured to maturity.

Any description I give of my experiences here in the tiny Kingdom, however verbose, are not an apt portrayal. Pictures help, so I’ve included some below. Yet, photos show very little. I encourage you, with my whole heart, to find a way to save some cash and prioritize traveling. Whether it be to visit me here in Swaziland, or someplace you’ve always fantasized about, there is no better remedy for a closed-mind or an ego than to take yourself out of your comfort zone and truly experience how other people around the world live.

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At the top of a mountain hike, we peeked over the edge and saw a few kids enjoying the view just as we were.

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Swaziland is full of natural wonders, but it is important to keep your eyes open for crocodiles when enjoying the environment pictured above.

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Ever ask yourself, “How did I get here?”… I think that’s what this cow was asking itself when I found it very near the top of another mountain hike.

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Home to some of the oldest mines in the world, such as the Lion Cavern near the Ngwenya mine. This quarry is directly next to the path that takes you to the cavern. Swaziland carries an incredible history of ancestors, magic, and peace during times of war.

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Did I mention how fantastic the fruit here is? Delightful  papaya, mango, avocado, and banana can be found nearly everywhere. The taste is incomparable to the produce imported to West Virginia.

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Dilapidation and unfinished structures are commonly found. People build structures very slowly, buying only the materials they can afford at the time. Little by little, homes and businesses are built without ever taking a loan. But, if the person investing the money into building happens to die before completing the structure, it may be a very long time before it is finished.

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I’m not sure what kind of flower this is, but I thought it was beautiful.

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A great aspect of eating meat here is that nearly all of it is “free range”! Also, many farm animals have very interesting colorful coats.

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A rainbow above the bus rank in the capital city of Mbabane. The bus rank is the beating heart of the large public transport system. You can get many places in Swaziland without a personal vehicle by taking a bus or a kombi. But everything stops at about 6 pm, so you have to reach your destination before then!

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This is one component of a playground we built at my local neighborhood care point.

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Children thoroughly enjoy playing on the swings and climbing the tower structure!

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An outdoor kitchen is instrumental in cooking large portions of food in the three-legged pots commonly found in most homes here.

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One of the most common dishes is chicken stew, as seen above.

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My counterpart, Phephile, is standing in front of the chalkboard and discussing business practices with the women of our HIV support groups. Check out the way the woman in the yellow shirt is carrying the baby on her back- she has simply wrapped a towel around the child tying her to her back, that is the common and hands-free method for carrying children.

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Another one of my favorite things to do is help other volunteers with their painting projects. This is just one of the preschools I’ve helped liven up.

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The DREAMERS! These lovely young women are my buddies at the orphanage.

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When the new group was ready to move to their permanent sites, it was our job as the senior volunteers to introduce them to their sites in the most fun way possible. So with rhymes and some funny outfits, we announced their individual communities with a Dr. Seuss theme!

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I love pasta. Especially after hiking a long hike. This is Mount Emlembe, the highest point in Swaziland!

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I’m so lucky to be living in a beautiful mountainous community, with great hiking and even monkeys! I went to go find the water source in the mountain, and in this picture I was pretty close to it.

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I’m also lucky to have really really really great friends, even some who are willing to come all the way here just to visit me!

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The top of Sibebe Rock, the second largest monolith in the world, and apparently the largest exposed granite pluton.

The following pictures are how I do my laundry!

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First step in doing laundry: Collect the necessary items. These are my necessities: multiple basins, a slab of “Green Bar” soap, a container for water, and a recent addition and fantastic gift- a washing board! Oh, and filthy clothing of course.

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Next, we fetch water from the big green “Jojo” tank! Children help me out by turning the water on and off, and offering a myriad of wisdom and insights such as how to properly eat mangoes and how to make a game from thin air.

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Scrubba-dubbin’ is next, this is where the elbow grease is very important.

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After a rinse, they are ready to be strung up and dried by the elements. As you can see, laundry is a multiple hour, hands-on activity.

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This is a delightful meal a friend and I made when I visited her farm. From scratch jumbo ravioli stuffed with spinach and butternut, pesto made from macadamia nuts that I cracked open with a hammer, gooseberries, fresh squeezed orange juice, and the only thing that wasn’t grown in the permagarden- cheese. 🙂 ah, and the flour for the ravioli.

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Pictured here and framed by the beautiful purple blooms of a jacaranda tree is Execution Rock, a hike I have yet to do, but hope to ascend soon!

Sala kahle, till next time.

One year in.

Explorers are we,

Five days ago marked the one year of arriving in Johannesburg, expectation-less and ready for change. I think of my community in West Virginia often, especially when I hear about the devastating floods, but I still have so much to do with my community here.

Winter is upon us “eSwatini” (in Swaziland), rendering remarkably cold temperatures. I think my fellow West Virginians would laugh at me when they learn I am shivering and bundled under two blankets as my house plummets to a frosty 60 F in the evening. Week by week, my house is becoming more cozy; I have completed my palette couch, recently purchased a refrigerator, and have settled on a furniture layout that presents minimal sharp edges which attract my shins like magnets.

Projects are taking off- I’ve focused on facilitating business skills and financial literacy workshops for young mothers who care for HIV positive youth. We also do food preservation workshops, making treats such as marula jam, guava jam, and spicy mango & veggie chutney. The culmination of this will be a peanut butter workshop, where we will all learn how to make delicious home made, nutritionally rich PB. Honestly, local peanut butter puts the organic stuff you find at kroger to shame- I’m hooked. I’ve also been fairly busy as an elected Peer Support Network member welcoming the new group to Swaziland! I truly can’t believe how fast time is going.

Now, allow me to pose a question. What do you do when you’ve spent all of your time, money and energy on planting maize during a drought,  and after exhausting all form of prayer to every deity you know, and it still doesn’t grow? You rip it all up and plant “bhatata” (sweet potato) instead! That has been the theme of the last several months- sowing seeds (literally & figuratively), crossing fingers & creating callouses, then hoping for the best. When there is nothing to reap due to uncontrollable variables (such as drought), we continue to plow forward and try something different. The bhatata is growing well, and my family is extremely grateful to their God for blessing them with this fortune. I feel the soil beneath my hoe alongside them, watch as they sow each carefully manicured vine of the bhatata plant, and hear the rhythmic “thunk… thunk…” of my sisters weeding the field early in the morning. Perhaps it is not the fortune of God that is creating the success of this crop, but their diligent efforts.

I am so incredibly, magnificently, superbly fortunate and privileged. When I feel the drought dust settling in my lungs, when I no longer am amused by the marriage proposals, when I feel helpless and powerless, I am able to take a break. And that is just what six friends and I did- we embarked on a fun 12 day holiday in Madagascar! This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, and I am so glad we did it. Although the days were full with long  drives (the island is HUGE and there’s so much to see!), the scenery made it worth the copious hours of driving we logged. Below are some shots from my time in the island country, with a description of the picture below.

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Sorry about the immediate creepy-crawlies! I couldn’t resist showcasing this picture I took of a millipede (or centipede?) and a giant pill bug that look like the word “so”.

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The northern coast of Madagascar. After we had a fun 14 hour layover in Nairobi, seeing this delta took my breath away.

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The intricate system of terraces were amazing!

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Malagasy people buy their food fresh, nearly every day. Including meat! We passed many meat stalls like this one.

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Rice is what’s for dinner in Madagascar. And breakfast, and lunch. These are the first rice paddies I’ve ever seen!

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The cars on the island are adorable. The french colonization is evident every where you look! From baguettes and “Bonjour!”s, to tiny cars and interesting architecture.

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But what do you do if you don’t have one of those fun tiny cars? Just strap up your zebu (the local cow) and go for a ride!

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A beautiful sunset & baobabs in Morondava, which is on the west coast.

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Vary Amin’anana, one of the classic breakfast staples. It is a rice soup, with a simple broth and meatballs or meat strips on the side. Or vegetarian if you prefer! This delicious meal was less than $1.

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Do you see the delightful treat in this woman’s hand? You are looking at the best pineapple I’ve ever eaten.

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We tried some fois gras, quite a morally questionable dish due to the method of fattening the duck to engorge the liver. Crossed that one off my bucket list..

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Persimmons! The exterior feels like a ripe tomato, the inside is luscious and creamy- somewhat like a papaya, but juicier.

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As we were visiting the Kirindy rainforest, a cyclone arrived. We got the real rain forest experience! Many beautiful sights emerged in the rain.

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Madagascar has some GIANT spiders (I don’t use those caps lightheartedly). You could see them hanging meters above you, their webs draped across the tree canopies.

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The only wild orchid I had the pleasure of seeing. A beauty, indeed. I’m unsure of what kind it is, if you know please reach out to me!

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One of the most surprising features of Madagascar was the amount of water everywhere. Going from drought stricken Swaziland to an island nation was an interesting shock.

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One of my favorite experiences: Seeing a baobab in real life, with some great friends. I think it truly says something about people when you can spend two straight weeks with the same people 24-7 and not get sick of ’em!

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And here we found a wild Jojo! Heheh. The magnitude of these old trees are not well captured with film, but we tried! Thanks for the pic, Sam.

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The Volcanic Lake of Tritriva. No life exists in this emerald green lake that fills a volcano cone due to the sulfurous water, except a pair of ducks. The malagasy version of Romeo & Juliet is a legend that ends in a young couple leaping to their death in this lake.

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The iconic baobab love tree.

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We were excited to encounter local wildlife at a lemur sanctuary. We canoed around the island, hoping to catch a peak at the many different lemurs.

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And we did! This is a curious ring-tailed lemur, who came over to check out our boat.

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This guy was a hoot, he seemed to be playing peek-a-boo.

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I believe the sole defense mechanism of this lemur is how dang cute it is.

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A rare day sighting of this nocturnal lemur peaking out of his home-hole.

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The impressive and giant Comet Moth! It only lives out of it’s cocoon for about week, and doesn’t eat or drink anything for that time. It is huge.

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This snake has been telling fibs! Yes, that is its nose…

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An amazing chameleon encounter! The wide variety of reptiles in madagascar is amazing, and they’re so beautiful.

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Another magnificent chameleon.

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After spending countless hours on the road, we spent a solid three days at the beach near Mahambo, on the eastern coast. The black volcanic sand is so interesting!

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The indian ocean has a special place in my heart, after spending time in Mozambique, South Africa, and now Madagascar.

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Just enjoying the view of the avenue of baobabs. Thanks for this pic, Ally-Bo-Bally!

So, Madagascar was April. Then my long distance partner, Sam, came to visit at the end of May! It was so wonderful having him here, so that he could finally put a picture to what I’m always telling him about. We spent a while at my site, then went to a huge music festival in Swaziland- Bushfire! Unfortunately, that is where my camera was stolen… So, these may be the last high quality pictures I’m able to post for a while. 😦

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After Bushfire and a few more days around Swaziland, we rented a car (yes, I was spoiled while he was here) and cruised over to the Hlane game reserve. We enjoyed our time there very much, and saw some great animals!

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We booked a sunrise game drive and saw lions, elephants, and we were slightly too close for comfort to these rhinos.

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Then we cruised down to St. Lucia, South Africa. We took a lovely sunset cruise on the estuary and saw countless hippos, crocodiles, and even a bull shark!

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Relaxing and playing at the beach with Sam was another highlight. Although we’ve been together for more than 3 years, we’ve never been to the beach with each other- so we fixed that.

Then, just as fast as he arrived, he was gone. I needed some distractions from my sadness, and spent a little time with some friends visiting sites. Here in Swaziland, we have a small competition between volunteers- we are racing to see who can visit the most other volunteer sites, and I’m in the lead with more than 20 sites! It helps that Swaziland is a very tiny place.

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Although the country is small, it is full of diverse geography, and rich in culture. In one of my friend’s communities, there exists 4000 year old cave paintings! As an anthropology nerd, this was one of my favorite sites to visit thus far.

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A close up of some of the art. It has been preserved from the rain and sun, and is well hidden.

I also visited another volunteer’s site to offer my artistic assistance! Together, we repainted her preschool.

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The finished outside featured a tree, giraffes, a watering hole, and elephants. She called my art “representative”, which I find an apt descriptor.

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The elephants are my favorite.

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But the giraffes are cute too!

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I also did a papaya tree inside! As well as lots of grass and flowers around the trim, an alphabet, and two chalkboards.

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I’m proud of how comfortable I’ve made my home with minimal materials. Both the couch and the table are made from upcycled palettes, and the sculpture in the center of the table is just a twig with yarn and LED lights wrapped around it. Notice the West Virginia state flag hanging above my couch… I’m devastated that I can’t help with the cleanup of the terrible floods that ravaged my home state, and I hate that the only time West Virginia gets publicity is when terrible things happen! However, I have a funny feeling about the impact my generation will have on the wild and wonderful state… I think great things are coming.

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So I will continue forward, trying to find my balance in the tiny kingdom, trying to share wonders untold, and most importantly- trying to do no harm.

Some pictures & a few words about em

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The view from Shiba’s Breast

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The view from the top of the hike

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Obligatory photo of myself from the top of the hike. Check out that sweet tie dye!

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GLOW girls shouting out against gender based violence. A march in downtown Manzini!

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Lubombo, the low veld and driest region of swaziland.

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Freya, a kitty pal of a fellow PCV

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On the border of Swaziland, gazing into a tree farm in South Africa

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Cheese and wine from Galentine’s Day!

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Hannah and I holding mangoes we picked in our neighbor Nick’s fruit orchard. Check out those banana plants!

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The banana pod. Not sure what you actually call this part of the banana plant, but it seems pretty spacey to me.

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This is what bananas look like before they’re born.

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The neat nest of a weaving bird that enjoys inhabiting banana plants.

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The teacher and students at my community’s preschool

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The corn is dying from drought. Eish.

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The sunflowers are doing okay though!

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Don’t these seeds look like chocolate covered candy corn?

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A table full of seeds at the Guba permaculture NGO

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House on Fire, the venue for Swaziland’s biggest attraction: Bushfire music festival

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The weirdest looking ducks I’ve ever seen

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Bingo, the hiking dog.

A few words on my experience with NCPs

I apologize for the lack of pictures to accompany this post. I’m currently in the library of my shopping town. Maybe my next post will be only pictures. 😉

Yesterday, I hiked for an hour up a mountain to visit one of the three Neighborhood Care Points (NCPs) in my community. Supported by UNICEF, World Vision, and several other national and international NGOs, NCPs serve the orphans and vulnerable children within the community by offering a breakfast snack & lunch in addition to a school lesson of some kind. Most have at least one teacher who has received some training from  World Vision, and typically between 20-30 children are served.

After hiking the mountain (and stopping along the way to pick up some of the beautiful crystals that litter the path), my counter part and I finally reached the cinder block building. Nestled on the mountainside high above the main road, and doubling as a church on Sundays, the dilapidated building barely provides shelter from the rain. Two large window holes (where exactly is the line between a hole in a wall and a window?) frame the busted front door, and illuminate the grass mats covering the crumbling concrete floor.

We arrived at 10, the time that was agreed upon last week when I visited, and found no one. Unsurprisingly, they had forgotten I was coming and we’re tending the fields. But, one by one, eight women showed up as well as two men, and about 20 children. At 11, the front door was finally unlocked. The kids sang a few songs, then I opened my backpack and distributed some toys, books, and teaching materials graciously sent to me from friends in America. (Thanks Morgantown Wine Club & Brandee McCoy!)

The kids were very happy to receive the toys, and I was happy to help. Still, there is so much work to be done… Although I haven’t yet been able to help the NCP acquire the chairs or tables they have requested for the kids, I’m working on persuading the community leadership to donate the children sized chairs currently sitting in a storage room collecting dust (“but who will replace them when they break?” Sigh).

A very important fact, and the reason no one was there when I initially arrived, is that they have no food.  Food aid is typically provided by the World Food Programme and I attempted to call them, but no one answered. Then the email I sent was returned. Double sigh. This system is not sustainable. When the food rations run out, they simply have to close the doors, which unfortunately means the kids miss meals and the cycle of stunted, sick children continues.

I am hopeful to make an impact by teaching about and helping build water efficient permagardens for the NCPs. Although we still have very little water reserves, the terrible drought that has plagued us for months and months seems to be ending. Rain fell several days last week, and even this morning the ground was wet- it’s a good sign. Oh how happy I would be to see cute hungry faces eating carrots and beans they grew themselves. I believe I can help, and I want to do it the right way.

So what is the wrong way? I will share a story that happened a few months ago. As I mentioned earlier, there are three NCPs in my community. One of them is a very nice, new building that was built by a volunteer 6 years ago. My counterpart and I toured the building, and sat in for a few minutes as the children played. There was only one small set of blocks on the ground for the kids, which I didn’t think anything of…. until we were shown the storage room. Inside this room, three trunks contain a multitude of toys, puzzles, clay, teaching tools, even a soccer net and little jerseys….. all of them still in original plastic. Nearly all the toys had not been touched in the past 6 years. The teacher told me, “You see? We are rich!” and the blatant disconnect between receiving aid and utilizing aforementioned aid smacked me in the face, hard. I’m disappointed that the kids didn’t get to use a majority of the resources in those trunks, but I believe its mostly because the teachers don’t know how. So, that will be my next undertaking… show these teachers how to use this stuff!

Peace Corps Cribs: Swazi Edition

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For some, the word “hut” is synonymous with a round, single room house that is hand crafted from mud and sticks, and topped with a thatch roof. In Swaziland, you will find these rondavals alongside modern huts made from cinder blocks. I am fortunate to reside in the latter, a large two-room hut with plenty of room for activities.  I’m still settling in, and need to hang more art (and buy a few chairs), but I feel very comfortable in my new home. Let me show you my crib!

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This is the entrance, and one of the three windows. This area is my water station where all the water filtration magic happens. I fetch water from a large tank on my homestead. Below the window is my table, which is a large PC-issued water barrel with a piece of wood (that I begged for at the hardware store in town, it was not initially for saleÖ) on top. This table is where I do most things, like preparing food or washing my face. The collection of colorful paper making up the big heart next to my door may be familiar to some of you. At my going away party, I asked all the attendees to write a piece of advice or note of encouragement on the paper, then I mailed it to myself. I then posted all the wonderful words of my friends on my wall, and love reading it every time I pass through the door or get some water.

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Moving around the room to the eastern wall are the PC-issued trunks that I use as benches, my  dishwashing area, and my halloween costume hanging next to the window. I was a slice of pizza. I’m very proud of that costume because I designed it to be collapsible, so I could transport it on a khumbi easily, and I succeeded. It was pretty cheesy.

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On the southern wall is my kitchen area. The far right is my handigas leading to my gas stoven (hidden below the fabric). I also prioritized purchasing a stoven (stove/oven combo) because baking decadent pastries keeps me sane. I “built” the shelf that my dishes and veggies are resting on by placing two boards across the stoven box and a bucket. According to my make, covering it with fabric to hide the misc. pots and pans makes it very “lookable”, I agree.

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Next to my makeshift shelf is my pantry, which is actually just a pallet with nothing done to it. I have dubbed myself the spice queen of shiselweni! Sometimes volunteers can find really great deals on household items when a group is COSing, as I did with the spices. When I first moved in, the chalkboard wall was a bare cream. I splurged on some chalkboard paint, and being able to quickly write out lists or recipes is super handy. My bosisi and bobhuti also enjoy hanging out and doing self-assigned homework on the chalk board, like multiplication tables or english compositions.

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Now we are entering my bedroom/bathroom/library/closet! Following the southern wall, you can see my catch-all/bookshelf and my shrine to my family & friends back home.

Before I posted the collage on the wall, I had a hammock hanging from the rafters. One day, shortly after moving in, I grabbed a few cookies and lowered myself onto the hammock. To my shock, after a loud crack, my bum hit the floor. Yes, my hammock broke the one time I sat on it with cookies in hand. As I laid on the floor, contemplating the irony, I checked myself for injuries…. Only after finishing the cookies. .

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Taking up most of the room is my big comfy bed. Since childhood, I’ve thought canopy beds are really neat, and now I have one! Seeing the bugs collected in the top makes me extremely thankful for my netting. Next to my bed is my “bathroom”, or two buckets. One for bathing, one is a toilet. It took me a solid three months of living here before I was comfortable pooping in a bucket, but now I’ll probably never go back to a toilet (just kidding).

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Lastly, my closet! Pretty self explanatory. Find a stick (or bribe your bobhuti with candy to find one for you), attach it to the ceiling rafter with p-cord. Purchase hangers, and enjoy your new closet! Not pictured is my giant pile of dirty clothes, because hand washing is difficult.

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Thanks for checking out my spot. It is very basic, but it is mine! This is my view looking out my front door.

I hope to have some visitors soon. I had the pleasure of visiting my friend Heather waaaaaaay up in northern Swaziland, it was really neat to visit another volunteer’s home and family. I am also hoarding my care package savory foods to treat whoever visits with a decadent meal!

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