Saturday gratitude: Hanging out with friends

I started the week with multiple productive days at home followed by two productive days in Mbabane. 

Now, as I write this, I am waiting to be picked up to start a day with friends, old and new. 

First, I’m off to Mlilwane, the local nature reserve, with the students I occasionally teach at school. Such an adventure is happening because students from America are visiting. I don’t have the relationship figured out yet, because the NGO that runs the program the Swazi students participate in is from Oregon, and the students are from Utah State. We will walk some trails, see some wildlife (maybe I will finally see a hippo there; I’ve only ever heard them), and braai for lunch. 

Then I’ll head to Ezulwini to drop my bags, meet more friends, dress for winter, and head back to Malkerns. A friend from my Kruger trip is returning home to Germany next week, and this is our last time to hang out. A group of us are going to House on Fire to see the Swazi premier of the movie Liyana, a story about a Swazi child and her adventures that showed at many international festivals the last few months. I’ll be meeting other new and old friends at the movie, which is in an open-air theater that fortunately has a roof–hence the dressing for winter. Then after a late dinner, I’ll finally be able to call  it a day. 

Baking for the week

  • I finished the cinnamon rolls I made the week before. 

Media for the week

  • My bhuti and I watched The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Astro Boy
  • I read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach for book club. I started our second selection, too, and also by Roach, which is about military research. 
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Winning PC Swaziland’s Blog it Home contest

I had told my friends in Salt Lake City they would see me next when I won Blog it Home and earned a prize of a inclusive trip to Washington, D.C., for a week of sessions on culture and blogging.

I did end up winning this contest, albeit it was offered in a very different fashion and did not include a trip to the motherland.


Me and Ambassador Peterson

Blog it Home is a Peace Corps sponsored contest that supports Goal 3, which is all about Peace Corps Volunteers sharing the culture and community they lived with, with Americans. A perfect example of this is a blog. Anyone with a blog could submit and Peace Corps would choose about 20 blogs. From there, online voting would occur to choose the seven or eight winners.

Another PCV here in eSwatini and I really wanted to compete in this contest. We had been talking about it for months, and when June arrived and there was no contest announcement, we were concerned. There had been a lot of cuts to Peace Corps programs thanks to Trump, and we feared this was one of them.

The large-scale Blog it Home contest was canceled. In October, Peace Corps HQ announced that country directors could choose to hold their own local contests and choose their own prizes. Fortunately our CD did choose to hold a contest for Swaziland PCVs. We learned that others did not when Kirby and I started asking around for the prizes being offered in other countries. (Sorry, April! I would have loved to meet you in D.C. if things hadn’t changed this year!)

Long story short, I won Swaziland’s 2017 Blog it Home contest. I won lunch with the ambassador, which I had in March, and two additional vacation days, and the certificate finally arrived a few weeks ago. Staff was able to coordinate a presentation of the certificate at our Close of Service conference. All in all, it was very nice. Apparently my prize also included a night out at a hostel, but this wasn’t made clear to me. Instead, I received a door-to-door ride in a Peace Corps car from the office to my homestead. This was an even better prize than a night out with a shower.

Maybe this year the international contest will occur and I will get to try my luck once again.

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Wednesday photo: Language test

I try not to brag about most things. Especially here in eSwatini, I have had so few successes that there hasn’t been much to brag about anyway.

So today I am going to brag about my language test results.


The role play was awful. I was asked to have a conversation with my landlord about breaking my lease. Everything else did go pretty well.

I spent 200 hours in tutoring sessions since I moved to my community. My tutor is my best friend in my community and I thoroughly enjoy meeting with her. She has taught me so much and we spent so much time preparing for the Close of Service language exam that we both knew I would pass.

I did not expect such a high score though. But it shows what confidence and feeling prepared does during a language test. It took those 200 hours of lessons and all the other times I have stumbled through siSwati conversations. It took dancing at Umhlanga and being interested in Swazi traditions and culture. It took singing in public to prove to strangers I did dance at Umhlanga. It also took trying to stop comparisons to how I learned German.

The extenders were told that we could retake language exams again next year, but I am worried my siSwati skills will decrease while working at an office in town. And I don’t want to give up my stellar test score.


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A moment in my life: Dancing denials

So many entertaining things happen in my life in Swaziland. These are the moments I will want to remember because they make me laugh, and they show insight into my daily routine. These moments are often hard to photograph and usually last only a minute or two. I will start sharing them with you in this occasional series. 

I was working in my garden and went to get a hoe. I went the back way, so my bhuti didn’t see me coming. He was standing at the pump dancing along to the music playing. I called him out on this in siSwati because although he regularly sings loudly, I have never seen him dance. He denied dancing. I told him he definitely was dancing.

I collected the hoe and returned the way I came. My bhuti was dancing again! And again, he denied it!

This was my youngest, out-of-school host brother. He is the person I interact with the least on my homestead, which made this even funnier than it should have been.

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Tips for attending Bushfire

In less than two weeks Swaziland’s famous music festival Bushfire will open its doors for a weekend of international music. Last year I wrote about some of Swaziland’s best places to visit in conjunction with attending the festival; now I have attended and can share numerous tips to make the most of your visit to Swaziland.

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A screenshot from the Bushfire homepage with Sands performing. Can you find me?


The festival is going electronic this year. There will be RFID wristbands you can load with money and then use to pay for food and drink inside the festival. Cash will also be accepted at the craft market.

The lilangeni is equal to the South African rand: E=R.

The weather

It can be relatively warm during the day and then nearly freeze at night. I was wearing short sleeves and skirts during the day and adding pants, gloves, and my puffy at night. If you are camping, be prepared for frosty late nights and early mornings. It’s been getting down to 55*F/13*C the last few nights. It is dark by 5:30 p.m. Rain is possible (it last rained on 12 May this year).

The food

Expect to pay between E75-100 for full on meals in the food court. There was one cafe with limited options inside the campground. The food court restaurants are within the festival gates, so they are not accessible until about 5 p.m. on Friday. The Malandela’s restaurant will be available for dinner on Thursday night. There were some cheaper options inside and you could get a quarter chicken outside for E20. Bring food to save money.

There are a handful of stores within 30 minutes (one grocery store and a large variety of produce are 1 km from the festival grounds) or so if you need to shop.


You can take alcohol into the campsite if you want to drink without paying for it inside the festival. The bars inside the festival are supposed to provide drinking water. There is drinking water available at a tap in the campground. I had no problems taking a water bottle into the festival.

Campground showers and toilets

These 100 percent surprised me in a good way. The facilities were clean and filled with toilet paper. There was no soap last year. There’s a long row of showers and another long row of toilets. Each will have a separate line. The shower line is very long in the morning, so showering at alternative times is recommended. The showers and toilets are open air with a locking door. The showers have a release button on a timer.


Online tickets are sold out, but some are still available at brick and mortar locations in Swaziland. Others will be available for resale. Check with me if you are still in need of a ticket.

For everyone camping, you check in across from the Moya Center at the kaMavis stesh. There will be a small structure located next to the camping parking lot. You will receive both your camping and festival bracelets here.


You can charge your phone at charging points inside the festival if you bring your own cord. Swaziland uses South African and European outlet shapes.

The lineup

It’s not fully announced, because there are always a few last minute surprises. There are always a few Swazi artists who perform. Sands verbally confirmed to me that he is performing, but he has not been announced. Velemseni is performing, and everyone should go see her. I ate dinner with her at last year’s festival without recognizing her. She’s really cool.

It turns out Velemseni sings a duet with Sands, which was my favorite non-traditional siSwati song even before I knew it is Velemseni singing the female part. You can check out a video of this song below. (It’s from a fan, so the sound isn’t great.)

There are also some well-known South African artists performing, including Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Check out the lineup here.

Arriving in Swaziland

The wait at the border was miles long last year. The campground will open on Thursday this year to hopefully reduce the border traffic from Joburg.

The khumbi/taxi from Joburg costs E220. It leaves when full from the taxi lot just east of Park Station in the CBD. It’s located in the northernmost row of the lot. It’s another E10 or E15 to the festival from the main bus ranks depending on if you get off in Mbabane or Manzini.

Homestead visits

Anyone is welcome to visit my homestead before or after the festival or on Saturday or Sunday morning during the festival. Make a comment with your email or WhatsApp number and I’ll get in touch.

Special note for PCVs

I know that some PCVs drove to and in Swaziland last year. Peace Corps will admin-sep you for this if they find out.


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Saturday gratitude: Close of Service

This past week my friend Kirby visited my homestead again, and we laughed for hours. On the way home from the stesh, he proposed to my tutor and then asked her elder bhuti for permission to marry her, completely in siSwati. I didn’t think anything could be funnier than this, but when we told my family what had just happened, my make decided to instruct Kirby on proper proposal technique. This was even funnier.

The next morning Kirby and I headed to our Close of Service conference at Magadzavane in Mlawula near Siteki in the east. We had two-and-a-half days of sessions to prepare us for ending our service and to acquaint us with Peace Corps career services. We also took our final language tests, although extenders are allowed to retake next year if so desired. I passed with more flying colors than I deserved, although I will admit to totally rocking the exam. Knowing Swazi traditions and songs is the way to go.


G14’s 32 current volunteers. Goodbyes will begin soon.

The week was nice, but many of us wished for more down time to actually have a break. Alas, that’s not how Peace Corps trainings go.

This week started with attending my first white wedding in Swaziland. The bride is my cousin, although we had never met before. The bridal party got ready at my homestead, so Sunday started off loud. Every other day this week has begun quietly.


Baking for the week

  • Cinnamon rolls

Media for the week

  • Still reading Alexander Hamilton.
  • I was gifted a copy of Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa. Of course, I started reading immediately.
  • My younger bhuti and I watched True Grit.
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Saturday gratitude: All the feels from GLOW camp

Another week and another visitor came to kaHloniphile (my house). My friend Sam spent Sunday night here to have an easy trek the following day to GLOW camp. This was my week at camp to do M+E. I wasn’t totally sold at the idea of spending a week with 50 screaming children, but the GLOW girls 100 percent won me over. All those young ladies were so willing to love unconditionally all of the PCVs there and showed such strength throughout the week, that it was impossible to not be moved. I was also given a nickname for the first time in many, many years that I am happy to go by: Gwalagwala. Ligwalagwala is the red feather worn by members of the royal family and the first word to my favorite siSwati song.

I am also extremely grateful for my siSwati tutor. All Swaziland PCVs are allowed and sometimes required to have siSwati tutoring. I have happily met with my tutor 10 hours every month since moving to site. Recently we have focused my lessons on preparing for the siSwati exam all G14ers will take on Tuesday. I am ready to impress my tester with my siSwati song knowledge, and if I have to have a conversation, rather than just sing songs, I am ready for that too.

The test will happen during the G14 Close of Service conference that takes place next week. The presenters are promising the sessions will be useful for extenders, too, so I hope it is a beneficial week. Even if it isn’t, it still is a week of showers, food I don’t have to cook, and dishes I don’t have to wash. It is also the last time my cohort is guaranteed to be together before PCVs start leaving Swaziland in two-and-a-half months.

In other news, my hand, specifically my left ring finger, is still not back to normal. I will meet with the PCMO this next week to have it checked again.

Baking for the week

  • Brownies with Sam

Media for the week

  • Kung Fu Panda 3 with my bhuti.
  • Queen of Katwe with the girls at GLOW camp.
  • I finished the collection of Rumi poems I’ve been reading.
  • At GLOW camp, we listened to Bhizer’s “Gobisiqolo” on repeat for days. I’m impressed this song is still loved more than a year after it became popular in Swaziland. You may recognize it from Black Panther (which you should see if you haven’t!). You can listen to it here.
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Wednesday photo: Dance party

I’m at GLOW camp this week celebrating female empowerment and black girl magic. 

Of course, no girls camp is complete without a fair share of dance parties. 


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Saturday gratitude: Finding peace

This week was a stress-filled mess. I had wanted to change things up and spend two days and a night at Hlane to see wildlife and take a relaxing break with nature. But like the wise, old, kung fu master in Kung Fu Panda says, there are no accidents.

It’s good that I had little scheduled for this week so that I could be as flexible as I could when all the punches – both good and bad – were thrown my way.

On Sunday, a fellow PCV spent the night at my homestead so she could be a short ride away from the girls’ camp that was this past week and next week. On Monday morning, I went with her to the school so that I could fill some time and help get everything organized before camp started. This was not to be because as I was retrieving my friend’s bag from the front of the khumbi, the front passenger door of the khumbi closed on my left fingers. Nothing broke, bled, fractured, or dislocated, but I spent the week with my hand bandaged, and this is the first time I have tried using my hand this week. It hurts.

So I postponed going to Hlane until Friday and spent Monday and Tuesday trying to not use my hand while entertaining my littlest bhuti who is visiting with his brother for the week. While he’s darling and makes me laugh, he touches everything, tries to put everything in his mouth, constantly asks me for cake, and loves turning things on and off, all of which cause me stress.

The Peace Corps doctor decided I should go in to the office on Wednesday so she could inspect my hand. While there I mentioned I had a headache for an extended period of time, and that medication wasn’t helping it. I would have to return another day for a vision screening to see if that was the cause of the headaches.

The stress and flexibility continued Thursday as I was supposed to have a visitor from the office. She arrived a few hours late because she was in a car accident in the morning [she was uninjured], which led me to canceling my eye exam and rescheduling for Friday and postponing Hlane again.

This allowed me to say yes when a new friend asked to meet me as he unexpectedly had the day off. This turned out to be the redeeming moment of the week I needed and happily exchanged Hlane for a slow morning of drinking coffee and chatting about things other than Peace Corps. I left feeling at peace and continued with my tasks for the day.

And today, although I could have tried squeezing Hlane in today and tomorrow, it turns out it was another good day to stay home and remember the peace I found the day before. I’ll be able to bake birthday cakes for two siblings who are unexpectedly at home today, and one of them brought two of his children with him. While I have been writing this, I have tuned out the four little boys that have been noisily playing behind me and I will soon bake the cakes with two of my bosisi.

*I am a especially grateful this week for one sisi who washed my dishes and another sisi who washed my clothes while my left hand was out of order.

Baking for the week

  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Carrot cake for my sisi’s birthday
  • Chocolate cake for my bhuti’s birthday

Media for the week

  • I read more Rumi and Alexander Hamilton. There hasn’t been much time for reading.
  • I watched some random YouTube videos I had saved on my hard drive so they could be deleted to free up space.
  • The kids and I have watched The Lion King, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Kung Fu Panda, and Kung Fu Panda 2.
  • I’ve been listening to my mix of Swazi music, The Head and the Heart, and Alabama Shakes.
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A moment in my life: The wrong khumbi. Twice.

So many entertaining things happen in my life in Swaziland. These are the moments I will want to remember because they make me laugh, and they show insight into my daily routine. These moments are often hard to photograph and usually last only a minute or two. I will start sharing them with you in this occasional series. 

I am sheepishly admitting and sharing this moment in my life, that has actually happened twice, both within a month or so. And at month 22 and never before.

I got on two different khumbis whose destinations I had assumed, and I assumed wrong. The end destinations are printed on the khumbi, but that doesn’t always tell you all you need to know.

The likelihood of catching a khumbi direct to Mbabane from my community is slim but possible. If I am going beyond Malkerns, that’s usually the direction I am going. But sadly not on this day. I was actually going to Matsapha to meet a friend for pizza at Rudi’s.

Coming on a khumbi from my house, you eventually end up at a T-junction in Mahlanya. And the khumbi turned left, instead of going straight into the parking lot used as a khumbi and bus stesh. This was odd. The khumbi only had a few people, and I always pay attention even if I am reading a book. I wasn’t even doing that on this journey. The conductor nor the driver asked my destination and I never heard them say they were going to Mbabane. There was the possibility of them using the side entrance to the stesh, but the khumbi continued past that. I had to embarrassingly ask the khumbi to stop because I was going in the opposite direction, walk back to the stesh, and get a new khumbi actually going to my destination.

The second time was when I was coming home from Ezulwini. It was late in the morning, and I knew I would have a long wait ahead of me if I wanted to get an appropriate khumbi so I only had to change once to get home. I did not want to wait so long on the side of the road, so I jumped on the first khumbi that came, planning to change at Mahlanya for a khumbi that would go to Malkerns, where I would change again to get one home. Once again I got on a khumbi that did the unlikely but possible thing. I think I was reading but also not paying very good attention. I was vaguely aware of our location. I started fumbling through my bags to get money to pay for my upcoming junction. But then, when I looked up, we were taking the Lozitha route to Manzini instead of the Mahlanya route. We would not be going past my stesh and I admitted defeat and went to Manzini. I made a few delightful purchases: plantains, avocado, and fabric. Then I got on the correct khumbi that would take me the whole way home. This misadventure had cost me all of my spare time before going to school, so I quickly grabbed some food, changed my clothes, and departed yet again.

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