How I spent January’s living allowance

The answer to this question is easy: on vacation. I reflected some of those costs here, but in truth, I easily spent the entire allowance on my trip. I just tallied the costs listed here, and they are a few hundred emalangeni above our allowance. Spending so much money was totally worth it, though.


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African money collecting

I do not recall how my money collection initially started, but for 15 years or so, it has been fun adding to the collection. One of my uncles is a regular contributor with money from his own travels. I am only starting to approach the number of his contributions to the collection.

At first, there was a lot of sorting and research to do. Then I studied abroad in Austria and added 10 or so currencies to the collection. The change to the euro has greatly standardized currencies, but each country is still able to make the designs on the coins, so there is still some individuality. During my year studying abroad I also made a trip to Slovenia in part for its currency because it was changing to the Euro the next year. To read more about my collection, check out these posts: Collecting foreign money and Slovakia, the euro and collecting currency.

I noted in “Collecting foreign money” that my currency collection was severely lacking African currencies. How convenient for my collection that I now live in Swaziland! Except that scanning bills and coins made for such beautiful photos, and my current one-room abode doesn’t have that luxury, so I hope the pictures suffice.

I traveled to Mozambique in April 2017. It was beautiful. I wasn’t harassed on the street and the food had variety and was cheap. I would go back, but a visa is expensive on the Peace Corps budget and distances within the country are far. Mozambican Portuguese sounded like French and sometimes looked like Spanish. It was entertaining trying to speak it.

On the 20 meticais (met-ih-cash) note is the country’s first president, Samora Moises Machel. He died in a plane crash in South Africa near the Swaziland and Mozambique borders, and his wife later married Nelson Mandela. The back of the 20 meticais note is a black rhino. The coins have a marimba (native to Mozambique!), an office building, a female student, and a fish.


Namibia’s dollar is based off South Africa’s rand, just like the money in Swaziland and Lesotho. This N$10 note has Dr. Sam Nujoma, Namibia’s first president, on the front side, and these springbok on the reverse. I particularly liked the silver coins with trees, including the quiver tree and aloe. There is a bird of prey on the bronze coin.


Botswana’s currency is called the pula, which means rain. This 10 pula note shows Botswana’s current president, Ian Khama. The crest in the upper right corner includes Botswana’s national animal, the zebra. The zebra was chosen because the country’s first president married a white woman, and the zebra has both black and white stripes. There’s also an oryx, a type of antelope, shown, with spiral patterns that represent traditional weaving. The coins show a black rhino, an African fish eagle, an oryx, and a red-billed hornbill.


South Africa’s currency, the rand, has been updated since this 100 rand note was printed, but I like this version better. The current 100 rand note is blue and white with Nelson Mandela on one side and a buffalo on the other. The buffalo did not change from this note with zebras. The coins show a kudu and two different flowers. Rand notes are legal tender in Swaziland, but not the coins.


The currency in Lesotho is the Loti (maloti when plural). This side shows the style of traditional Lesotho homes. The other side shows former and present kings.


All of the rupee notes in Mauritius show the dodo bird, which lived on the island before becoming extinct. There’s an outline of the island on the Rs25 note. The coins all have the first Mauritian president, Sir Seewoosaguar Ramgoolam. The other sides show sugar cane, the country’s shield, and a deer.


And finally, the Zambian kwacha. I first traveled to Zambia in May 2017, and I returned to visit Victoria Falls in January 2018. I regret returning with this much money because it’s a whopping $18. The currency has many scenes, including an indigenous man breaking the chain of colonization and the African fish eagle. Also shown are former leaders, the buffalo, the baobab tree, and the black lechwe antelope.


A close-up of the K10 note with a porcupine and rice fields. DSC_0017

I intentionally omitted Swaziland’s lilangeni from this post, because it deserves a post of its own.

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How I spent December’s living allowance

I stayed well under budget in the normal expenses of December, but I ate out four times and mailed two packages for Christmas that took a ridiculously long time to get to the U.S. I also tried to shop ahead for snacks for my holiday vacation, but did not buy too much ahead of time. But then we were paid for January just before my departure and I realized I was out of deodorant, so I made a trip to Gables to withdraw 3000 in rand (rand is legal tender in Namibia and could be used in Botswana and Zambia, too) and buy my last minute items.


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Wednesday photo: The view from my bed

When my curtains are open on the side of my house, I can see straight from my bed to this beautiful tree in my front yard.



I consulted my wildlife guide but couldn’t make up my mind that this tree was any of the ones listed in my book. It’s not the coral tree or tulip tree, other red flowering trees that grow here and I love. I will have to do some more research.

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Wednesday photo: Hikes with friends

One of my goals for 2018 is to see more of Swaziland. This includes increasing visits to my local park, Mlilwane National Park.

A friend and former volunteer in Swaziland visited with her son, so in addition to visiting my homestead and eating out, we went to Mlilwane to hike Execution Rock.


The hiking group trying to pose with the zebras.

I did not make it to the top because of a short amount of time and my backpack rubbing my sunburn, but finishing a hike is not important to me. The views, exercise, and friendship were the important parts and absolutely worthwhile.


The view from my turnaround point. I live at the base of the mountains on the horizon.

Earlier in the month, one of my friends from my holiday tour continued her tour from Victoria Falls en route to Cape Town. We met up at Mlilwane as well.


Sarah and I are on the right at the Hippo Pool.

We did a loop hike through the central part of Mlilwane, and once again, it was great to get out and explore.

I use my WildCard for free entry into Mlilwane. I can use it at Swaziland’s two other national parks, and at most of South Africa’s parks. When buying it with a SADC passport or visa, the solo card pays for itself after three days at Kruger National Park. I have used it there, at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi in South Africa, and at Hlane in Swaziland.

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Victoria Falls: Zim or Zam?

I spent a lot of time on this question when planning the end of my epic holiday vacation through Namibia and Botswana. The tour I was taking with Acacia Africa ended in Livingstone, on the Zambian side of the Falls. Should I spend the time and money to go to the Zimbabwean side of the Falls, too?

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Your first view of the Falls in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is of the Eastern Cataract.

I ultimately decided yes, based on many factors.

But then the change in power happened in Zimbabwe, and all Peace Corps Volunteers were prohibited from travel anywhere in Zimbabwe. Peace Corps travel is indefinitely suspended to Zimbabwe.

So if you are a current PCV, the answer is easy: you have to choose Zambia.

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Looking back at the Eastern Cataract after crossing the Knife Edge Bridge. There was a light mist in January.

I was underwhelmed by the Falls and too poor to enjoy the adrenaline-pumping activities on offer, and in hindsight a visit to both sides of the Falls seems unnecessary.

Simply put, most activities are available from both sides, and unless you have lots of cold, hard cash in the form of U.S. dollars, you can get relatively similar experiences from both sides.

Instead, I would choose one side of the Falls combined with wildlife drives in Chobe National Park just upstream in Botswana if you are looking for more to do in the area.

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Rainbow Falls. The Falls’ local name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, or the Smoke which Thunders, makes perfect sense from this view point. The wall of rock jutting out from the left of this photo is Zimbabwe and continues back to were you can see grass to the left of the mist in the upper left. The Falls was much longer/wider than I expected, with it extending nearly 2 kms. 

Things to consider when choosing which side of the Falls to visit:

Airport: Flights were cheaper to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, than Livingstone, Zambia, from Johannesburg. Kasane, Botswana, should also be considered as a potential airport. I believe transport between the airport and most hostels is comparable in Zim and Zam.

Cost into the national parks: To see the Falls in Zambia, the cost is $10 per person. It is $30 per person in Zimbabwe.

Location of town: Victoria Falls town is much closer to the Falls (practically in town), as compared to the Zambian side, where a taxi is required to get from town to the Falls.

Money: Kwacha, the official currency in Zambia, and USD are used on the Zambian side. ATMs have cash, as do money exchange locations. USD is the official currency of Zimbabwe, and ATMs are never guaranteed to have any money. You need to bring in as much USD as you might need (make sure it was printed in 2006 or sooner), although some businesses allow payment by credit card.

Visa for Americans: It costs $50 for a one-time visa to Zambia. It costs $30 for a one-time visa to Zimbabwe. It costs $50 for the Kazavisa, which allows double entry into both countries, but there are no guarantees that it will be available at any border. It was available in early January 2018 at Kazungula in Zambia. Botswana does not have a visa fee for Americans, but the country may be collecting a tourist levy of $30, payable by anyone who does not have a SADC passport or visa.

Activities: Like I mentioned above, the available activities are nearly identical from both sides (bungee jump, helicopter ride, sunset cruise, white water rafting). In Zimbabwe, the additional available activities include game drives in Stanley and Livingstone Private Game Reserve where there are black rhinos. In Zambia you can access Devils Pool, which needs to be booked ahead. Both sides have an activity I would not recommend: wildlife interactions. In Zambia you can walk with and ride elephants and in Zimbabwe you can walk with lions. Neither of these is good for the health of the animals.

Language: Both countries are former British colonies, so English is commonly spoken as a second (or third) language. I could not understand the local Zambian language, but siSwati and isiZulu speakers will be able to communicate with the Northern Ndebele speakers of Zimbabwe.

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Enjoying the view.

If you do decide to visit both sides of the Falls, I think a day trip to the other side is a better option if you can get the Kazavisa. A day trip allows you to walk across the bridge between the two borders, about a 2 km walk, for free and without a lot of baggage. If you have the extra USD, you can take a taxi from your hostel on one side, cross the first border, drive to the next border, cross the second border, and get a new taxi to the Falls or town. Expect at least $40 for the taxi option.

Overall, I think traveling to the Zambian side is easier for money reasons, but no locals expressed any safety concerns with traveling to Zimbabwe. If acquiring enough USD before travel is not a concern, and you are not a PCV or the travel ban is lifted, I would choose the Zimbabwean side.

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Wednesday photo: Death and life

I woke up on Tuesday to the news that Hugh Masekela, a South African musician who performed at Bushfire last year, had died.


Watching him perform was beautiful, especially because of the way a 78-year-old musician was still rocking on stage and connecting with all of the young people in the crowd.

Later in the day I noticed that both Thandi and Sitfwatfwa’s eggs had hatched. Make says three belong to each hen, but I do not think that is the case. All of them belong to each other, as they brooded next to each other, and I think Thandi generally sat on all the eggs.

And then, at bed time, I checked my email one last time for the day, where I saw that my grandmother on my father’s side died in her sleep.


Dead. Life. Death.

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Wednesday photo: Flamingos

I had been trying to see these pretty-in-pink birds for years, with failed attempts in Kenya and South Africa.

When I planned my trip through Namibia and Botswana, I specifically arranged one extra day before the trip so I could see the flamingos in Walvis Bay. I booked lodging within walking distance and when I arrived there were none visible.

Like on my trip to Lake Nakuru in Kenya, I was warned the flamingos had flown the coop for more favorable waters, but I was assured I would be able to find at least one.


They were a couple of kilometers down the bay and far from the shore. And they weren’t pink.

But I can finally say that I have seen them!

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The books of 2017

Peace Corps service comes with a lot of free time. At the beginning of my service I read less because I was trying so hard to integrate into my community.

Now I am taking better care of my self by trying to worry less about the little work I have done in my community and read instead.

Reading has never been punishment to me, and I always strive to finish what I have started. I have a few lingering, unfinished books from 2017 that I need to work on, but otherwise, I read 45 books. My numbers surged at the end of the year as my lessons at school were canceled and I had more free time.

These were my favorites, in alphabetical order:

The 40 Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympis by Daniel James Brown

The Darling by Russel Banks

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Killing for Profit: Exposing the Illegal Rhino Horn Trade by Julian Rademeyer

The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

O’Mandingo! The Only Black at a Dinner Party by Eric Miyeni

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

For my complete list, click here.

For 2018, I would love to read just as much. And I am planning to read as much written by African authors as I can.

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Wednesday photo: Okavango Delta

The tour I am on included a night spent in the Okavango Delta and two walking safaris. Transportation was via mokoro, which is like a canoe. They used to be made of wood from the sausage tree, but now they are made of plexiglass. 

We had two extremely peaceful rides. 

View from the mokoro.

Fellow traveler Kim and me heading into the Delta.

We also learned to pole, but none of us was very good. Those photos are to come. 

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