Friday, April 20, 2012


I have been less than inspired to do actual work this week. I am attributing this to my absence from site lately. A few weeks ago we had our Mid-Service Project Development Workshop that took me away from site for a week and then last week I was away while Mom and Patty visited. While I was gone my community was able to cope without me so now I've got to figure out where I fit again.

Since I spent most of this week bumming around I read 2 books, knit my first sweater while watching complete seasons of Gossip Girl, and I also restarted my garden. The garden was a complete failure last time. I am crossing my fingers that something will grow this time!

Today I visited my a neighbor. The Gogo there makes the beautiful baskets that I learned shortly after arriving at site. They also grow cotton on their homestead. Cotton has a really pretty flower before it makes the cotton and the cotton looks just like the cotton balls from the store. I know that sounds really stupid, but I have never seen a cotton plant before. It makes me think back to when I was a child, I seem to remember some campaign to male sure that inner-city kids realized that milk came from cows and not just a carton (or a powder).

I am going to use the cotton to stuff the stuffed animals I have knitted. I thought that using local cotton would be a nice finishing touch to my animals. So today I picked some cotton and then spent some hours ripping the seeds out.. not an easy job, my fingers hurt. Thankfully some of Make's family is visiting and were eager to help me. When we finished I used the seeds to practice the kids counting skills and because I was curious. There were 925 seeds and less than a grocery bag full of seedless cotton. My thoughts as I was picking the seeds was that Eli Whitney should be more famous, how much does a cotton gin cost, what does a cotton gin even look like, and can I buy one in Africa. Its times like these that google images and eBay would really come in handy!

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Patty in the Kingdom

Kelly asked me to write a little something for her blog.  So here goes nothing.

I really had no idea what I expected to discover when I arrived in Swaziland, but I must say that everything surpassed my expectations.  My mom and I took a van service through South Africa to Swaziland. As we drove savanna-like terrain of S. Africa we saw many villages with groupings of itty-bitty houses all made of corrugated tin(and here i thought y house was small).  Going through the border was also a new experience.  When we got to the border we had to get out of the car and wait in line to get our passports stamped.  We got back in the car.  Moments later we stopped again at another building to stand in another line.  The first stamp was allowing us out of S. Africa and the next stamp would allow us into Swaziland.  This is a long process that I am thankful we do not have to endure in the US while going between states.
Once in Swaziland the terrain changed almost immediately.  We drove right up into beautiful mountains that were dotted with homesteads made mostly of cement walls and tin roofs.  When I pictured Africa, mountains weren't exactly what I was expecting.  After arriving in Mbabane we took a taxi to Sondzela backpackers in Mlilwane Game Reserve.  For three days we stayed in a round hut with a grass roof and a great view of the surrounding mountains.  We continued our adventure by taking our first khoumbi ride.  We lugged our luggage onto our laps in a crowded 15 passenger van.  
As a PCV, Kelly is unable to drive in Swaziland and I wasn't about to test my skills at driving on the opposite side of the road either, so we got the real Swazi experience of public transportation.  Khoumbis and buses travel between villages and cities comprising of most of the transportation needs of the region.  People of all ages stand on the side of the road waiting for a khoumbi to ride by with and empty seat.  It is strange for me to see handfuls of people walking down the side of major highways trying to flag down any car that will pick them up.  To my astonishment, the khoumbi stopped to drop a woman off at the bottom of an offramp of a major interstate(now, i know, this was not nearly as astonishing to any of the other people crammed into this vehicle as it was to me).  Not all of the busses, khoumbis, or taxis are in rough shape, but I'd say that the vast majority are.  One of the busses we took to Kelly's homestead was terrible.  Before we left the busk rank, they added fluid to the radiator and on our travels through the mountains of Swaziland the bus would fill up with exhaust fumes.  One of the men stood at the door and would open it every so often to air out the bus while we drove down the bumpy dirt roads.  Mom swore that we hardly made it up some of the hills.  Gladly I couldn't see out the front window, but I could hear the struggling engine.  Kelly mentioned later that that same bus broke down on her on a previous trip and she had to walk home(thankfully we made it without any such breakdowns).
There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of people in the bus ranks of Manzini and Mbabane when we travelled through the cities.  Women and children line the streets selling fruits and vegetables to passersby.  Many women will tie their babies in a towel around their backs, put boxes full of fruit on their heads, and walk up to incoming busses to sell their goods.  
At the bus ranks I began to notice everyone throwing trash on the ground unashamedly.  The same was true at the bus stop at Kelly's village and all the stops we saw in our travels.  Rarely did we see any type of trash receptical and when we did, they would be overflowing.  They do not have the infrastructure for trash removal that we have here in the States.  Kelly seemed particularly concerned with trash removal on her homestead(which was extremely clean).  The trash that is produced has to be either reused, recycled, or thrown in the trash heap to be burned.  Now this doesn't seem like that big of a deal but somethings aren't safe to burn and, well, some things just don't burn at all, like tin cans.  The grocery store also packs food differently seemingly for the same reason.  More products are packaged in paper and not plastic.  The milk is sold in boxes.  The milk also doesn't need to be refrigerated, its called Whole Cream Long Life Milk.  And just so you know, its nasty.  I prefer organic 1% ice cold milk and the milk they sell is completely opposite. Yuck.
We also went on a few safaris.  We enjoyed riding around the 'bush' in an open jeep where we got up close to some awesome animals.  Outside of the game reserves we only saw regular farm animals.  Cows, goats, and chickens roaming around on the roads.  It is normal for the animals there, they can definitely called cage-free.  I don't know how they know who's animals are who's, let alone find them after they have wandered away.
All-in-all we had a great trip, a trip of a life-time.  We explored the country of Swaziland, experienced safari rides, saw handicrafts made by local women, and survived the transportation.  Kelly told us all about the work she is doing with the Peace Corp and we met many of the great people from her village that she is working with.  I am proud of the work she is doing, but look forward to the day when she comes back to America.
Mom, Kelly's Make, and Kelly
Patty, Mom, and Kelly on Sunset Safari

African Sunset

April 12 and Democracy

Today, April 12 is just a regular day to us Americans but is a significant day in Swaziland's political history. It is a day that is especially relevant now as other African nations are fighting for their own political freedom. Our PC security director gave us a bit of history of what happened on this day many years ago.

"The background of April the 12th is that on this date in 1973, political parties were banned in Swaziland by the late King Sobhuza II. So on this date political formations in country use it as a day to "make noise" in a quest to push for the unbanning of political parties in the Kingdom."

I have not heard any 'noise' this year, but it has given me the opportunity to reflect on how thankful I am to be American. I know that we are in the midst of the election season back in America and you are probably tired of the repetitive campaign 'news' and polling that seems to be the only interesting stories to reporters. Honestly, that is one thing I am happy to miss in America, but the fact that we have a choice and a say in the way our government operates is not a right that everyone in the world is able to enjoy (or the opposite of enjoy: how we love to complain when the only thing on the news is a discussion of how a candidate's religious views will affect the Latino vote or something along those lines).

Another thing I have thought about is how awesome our Forefathers were. It is pretty spectacular how successful our government is, a system that they essentially created from scratch. And you can see the proof of how spectacular it is when the news programs take a break from talking about a politicians' infidelities for 30 seconds to talk about the actual news as countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq and many others including Swaziland struggle to create democracy (or at least a government that is more representative of the people's needs). Creating a whole new government that the people accept and fight for to protect its values is a huge accomplishment that I always took for granted. Good job forefathers!

I am not trying to say that our government is perfect. Actually, it is imperfect in a lot of ways, but the writers of our Constitution had the foresight to allow us to change it as our needs changed. As Americans we are brought up taught to ask questions, we make our own decisions on what we believe, and we hold our leaders accountable to serve our needs: the people's needs rather their own self-interest.

I must admit that politicians have a really tough job. I can only compare it to the brief time I was a soccer referee. During one winter while I was still in high school I worked for a short time reffing the 5 year olds indoor soccer teams. It was the worst job ever. Every time I blew my whistle to make a call some coach or parent would start yelling at me telling me how awful I was. At any given time half the people thought I was doing a terrible job. On top of that, I always felt myself becoming partial to the underdog(not the best quality for a referee). Soccer refereeing is definitely not the job for me. I learned that pretty quickly and I hope that those 5 year olds weren't too adversely affected. I am sure my experience as a soccer referee is nothing like what being a politician is like other than having 50% of the audience hate me all the time except for a politician its worse since the audience is more than a million times bigger than mine was.
I think more than anything, my time in Swaziland has solidified the feeling that I am proud to be an American. I am happy to reap the benefits of a democracy that was created a couple centuries ago and glad that we didn't have to wait until now to achieve democracy because given the current political climate I don't know if they could ever come to an agreement of how to run things.

39 years ago, political parties were banned in Swaziland and although they make progress seem slow in America, political parties and their politicians have made our country what it is today: a great place to live, but always a work in progress.

On a lighter note, today I spent a couple hours hand washing the clothes from my vacation last week. Patty and Mom made it back to America safely, and now I am heading out to work in my garden. It failed miserably the first time I planted it, but I am hoping that the cooler weather will bring more success this time. Crossing my fingers!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mom and Patty visit Swaziland!

Just over an hour ago I sent my mom and sister off in a khumbi(taxi van) to thew airport and back to the First World.  Their plane leaves Johannesburg, South Africa tonight and they will be back in New York (JFK) tomorrow.  I don't have pictures to upload today, but I hope that Patty will do a guest appearance and load pictures for me *hint-hint.*

They arrived  in Swaziland 10 days ago and we have been busy traveling around the country and seeing the sights ever since.  When they arrived at the Jo'burgh Airport, they had no trouble finding the transport we arranged to bring them to Mbabane, Swaziland, the capital city where I met them and from there we took a taxi to the first place.  We stayed at a backpacker's hostel called Sondzelas at the Mlilwane Game Reserve.  We had a private round house to ourselves with a beautiful view of a valley and mountain range on the game reserve.  We could look out our window impala and warthogs in our 'front yard' and zebra in the distance.  One morning I was brushing my teeth and looked out the window to see three warthogs staring at me.  At dinner we watched impala grazing, monkeys climbing the trees, and birds diving for fish in the pond the restaurant overlooked.  We went on a safari there, saw tons of animals and watched the sunset over the mountains.

Next stop, we moved to a hostel called Lidwala's Backpackers which is located on a main road between Swaziland's two main cities: Mbabane and Manzini in the Ezulwini Valley.  We used public transport and taxis the whole time, so by staying at this location we could easily get to the Handicraft Markets.  We visited Ngwenya Glass Factory where  they do glass blowing and glass art.  We watched from a balcony above the factory floor as they made wine glasses, vases, and glass hippos.  Also at Ngwenya they have some of the higher end craft shop boutiques in Swaziland.  Gone Rural and Tintsaba Crafts feature their sisal basket weaving, Rosecraft has beautiful scarves that I wish I could afford made from bamboo fiber, Imvelo eSwatini makes ceramic bead jewelry that I am in love with and the unique paper jewelry of Quazi Design.  Check out these companies.  Most of them support rural women in Swaziland and Ngwenya Glass helps gives money to the Animal Reserves specifically to save the rhino population.

On Friday, we braved the public transport and the Manzini bus rank with all our luggage to go to Mkaya Game Reserve for Endangered Species.  This game reserve is the closest game reserve to my site, it has four of the Big Five Animals (rhino, buffalo, elephant, leopard, but not lions), and they say that this park rivals Kruger in South Africa because of the accommodation which was so unique and awesome and the amount of animals you are able to see.  At Mkaya we went on three game drives where we saw tons of animals: rhinos, hippos, buffalo, elephant, giraffes, a crocodile, hyena, impala, and many more!  We stayed in this cool hut that's stone walls only went half way up so we were basically sleeping outside and we were surrounded by forest so no one would see in.  There was no electricity since we were so far in the bush, so at night everything was lit by lantern which gave it such a pretty, and romantic feeling.  It felt like a different world, it was hard for me to believe a place like this could exist.  In the morning we went on our third game drive at Mkhaya.  It was early, before breakfast and as we were driving to the fence that separates the camp section from the elephants' section our guide discovered elephant tracks on the wrong side of the fence! Uh-oh!  Unknown to us we had been sleeping with 13 elephants very close to us the previous night!  He said they would need to get a helicopter to come to herd all the elephants back to the other side of the fence.  That sounds expensive!

After breakfast we were dropped off at the closest bus rank where buses and khumbis come to take me to my site.  we loaded ourselves and all our stuff into a khumbi and waited for enough time to make Patty and Mom become anxious.  The khumbi took a while to load but it eventually did and we took off down the dirt road for 1/2hr to my home.  When we arrived at my homestead, Gogo was the only one there.  She instantly cried seeing my family.  I'm not sure how many white people she has seen in her life, but I can't imagine it is many.  Anyways, we got settled and then headed back to the bus stop which is the meeting place  and center of my community.  We met with some of my counterparts and friends who arranged a tour for us to drive around my community.  They explained a lot about life and culture in Swaziland and some of the history of my community.  Afterwards, we went to the butchery for a braii (bbq) of chicken and beef with lipalishi (corn porridge).  This was the first time Patty and Mom ate lipalishi which is a staple food here they eat at every meal, and we ate it like real Swazis: with our hands!!  I am accustomed to eating with my hands now, but it was funny watching Patty and Mom figure it out and put unhygienic-ness out of their minds.

The last stop was the Mountain Inn Hotel, a luxury hotel with a beautiful view that is located in Mbabane and really close to where they would pick up transport back to the airport.  We went from staying in the bush of rural Swaziland to a hotel with TV, showers, and free WiFi, but the best part was the view.  I could never get tired of looking at the mountains and the valley below dotted with homesteads.  Simply breathtaking!

We had a wonderful time together!  I was able to show them the many facets that exist in Swaziland, and I think they got a taste of what my life is like here.  Please look out for pictures and hopefully a post from Patty once they return back to America!