Wednesday photo: Beet harvest

As spring becomes more and more like summer, my garden is finally producing lots. 

These were my pickings on Tuesday, plus two shopping bags full of lettuce leaves, and I successfully gave it all away (except the herbs, which I am drying). 

I love eating from my garden, but it is too much for one person most of the time. Plus, I really love sharing! 

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Day six: Delivering reeds to the queen mother

I thought to myself, “I wonder if the king is here,” and then I looked up and made eye contact with him.

It was the day of reed delivery to the queen mother, and it only made sense that the royal family would be watching.

After a well-deserved day of rest, I had returned to Lobamba High School to get ready to deliver my reeds to the queen mother and dance on the main field.

This was the extent of my knowledge for the day. One of the hardest parts of participating in Umhlanga was giving up all control. I really like to know what is happening next so that I can be prepared, and although I always had what I needed, it was hard to be at the mercy of people who only sometimes communicated well in English.

Around noon we lined up outside our tent after collecting our bundles of reeds. Our tindvuna (male chaperones) put us in lines of five, with me easily visible in the second line.


Noncedo and me getting ready.

We finally headed toward Ludzidzini singing one of my new favorite songs.

Ivalele, ivalele, ivalele, ivalele
Inkhomo mifo ifo ifohle lani

The cow is locked up, locked up, locked up, locked up
The cow escaped, escaped, escaped how

We joined those who departed before us waiting to take the reeds to the kraal in a sea of beautifully dressed Swazi and Zulu maidens. Unlike the previous days, though, there were tourists looking for good photos.

In Swaziland, it is illegal to take photos of children without their parents’ consent, but that did not stop anyone. Although I don’t fall under the legislation, I still was extremely annoyed at the people who wanted to take photos of me without asking.

Apparently everyone thought it would be great to have a picture of the white girl standing around traditionally dressed with her fellow timbali. I educated the rest of my group that they did not have to pose for anyone and could turn around just like me. Had any of these 20-plus people who walked past toting huge cameras asked to take a photo of me with or without my friends, I would have agreed, but no one did.


Waiting with our reeds.

Finally we were off and we slowly made our way to the kraal where we handed over our bunches of reeds to tindvuna who lined them up on fences erected for the occasion. They were surprised to see me. Then a lutsango member (regiment for married women) called out to me, asking if I was the Peace Corps Volunteer. Apparently she had been keeping up on her Swazi Times articles, where there was a photo and an article about me on two different days.

Then things got a bit crazy. We started singing one of this year’s new songs while reforming into our lines. I realized there were people ahead, which I was not prepared for. I thought to myself, “I wonder if the king is here,” and then I looked up and made eye contact with him.

Whoops. Ncesi kakhulu kakhulu. Swazis don’t make eye contact.

I had a moment of panic. Can I go to jail for this? Will the king marry me for this? But I did not have time to be distracted, because oh, there’s the queen mother. And oh, there’s a lot of important-looking men. And I still had to keep singing and dancing and trying to stay in step.

We get past all of them, and my group asks me to sing, and of course I say yes. They know I know the songs, and if I have already embarrassed myself in front of the king, what else is there to lose?

I lead the singing as we make our way down to the field. I surprise everyone by taking my shoes off when we get to the grass. We sing and dance our way across the back of the field where all of the participants have massed. Then we form our own group singing all manner of songs. They make me dance ingadla, the kicking dance, and sing lead a few times, and soon we have a mass of girls surrounding us, watching the group with the imbali of a different skin color try so hard to be Swazi.

Eventually we parade in front of the stands in a horrible formation and file around to the back of the field again where we have our own dance party for the rest of the night.

During moments like these I would hear lots of shouts of umlungu, the word for visitor and regularly used for all white people. Sometimes I ignore this word, and sometimes I don’t. At Umhlanga, I would answer but not in the way expected. Most of the time, I think Swazis do not expect foreigners to even recognize the word, let alone be able to respond in siSwati. So when I would say, “Uphi?” they would be shocked. I was responding with the word where, which I would follow with, “Ngingu Hloniphile.” I am Hloniphile. “Ngihlala kaNgwane.” I live in Swaziland.

After hearing my response a few times, the girls in my group would respond likewise. It was their way of saying she’s with us and you can acknowledge her properly, which was more than I ever expected.



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What’s cooking: Chakalaka

Sometimes I do not have time to prepare food to the likes of what I write about regularly in the SOJO.

There are a few staples that I always have on hand for times like the months of June and July where I spent many hours preparing delectable dishes for Peace Corps events, going on vacation, helping out at PST, and keeping up with my regular community activities. These staples include rice, pasta, lentils, canned beans, and chakalaka.

My favorite quick food to make has become my Swazi chili: chakalaka.

But, of course, I cannot just eat a can of chakalaka. To make a meal out of it, I add a can of beans, a can of peas, and a cup of rice.

Chakalaka comes in many varieties, brands, and heat levels. My preference is the Koo Extra Hot because I love the heat and the Koo brand has the least amount of included cabbage.


Feel free to personalize this dish to include your preferred vegetables and beans.

Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 5
Cost: E32

Pot with lid
Can opener
Spoon for stirring
Measuring cup

1 can Koo Extra Hot chakalaka
1 can black beans
1 can garden peas
1 can water
1 cup rice


  1. Turn on stove to high heat. Open the three cans. Drain the beans and peas before pouring into the pot. Pour in the chakalaka. Fill the chakalaka can with water to rinse the can. Then pour that water into the pot. Add the cup of rice.
  2. Cover and heat until boiling. Reduce to a simmer until rice is cooked.
  3. Remove from heat and serve.


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Wednesday photo: Sibhaca dance

On Monday I attended Swaziland’s trade fair so that I could purchase a new internet package. I have so much more data now!

While I was there, a sibhaca competition was in progress. This is the male version of Swaziland’s kicking dance. The males kick together, which I think makes it more impressive than the female equivalent ingadla, where females take turns kicking. 

These were adult competitors, which also made for an exciting event. They have much more skill than the children who participate in grade school. 

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Late summer and fall gardening in Swaziland

I have been so far behind in updating all of you on my garden; at least I have kept good records.


My plans from February, March, and April.


My plans from May.

By May, I had quite the garden planted with onions, lettuce, beets, green pepper, hot pepper, paprika pepper, beans, broccoli, eggplant, tomatoes, and carrots. Everything grew great until the days really started getting short in June. Most of these plants are still growing in my garden now. I picked beans in July and carrots and tomatoes in July and August.




Peppers and eggplant


Tomatoes and lettuce

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Photos from cutting reeds

Cutting the reeds turned out to be pretty exciting after a long wait for the day to get started. The photos below show a bit of the march, the cutting, the preparing, the tying, and the posing with the reeds. All photos were taken by Kirby R. from


The princesses leading the parade.


I did not have a bush knife, so I had to break each reed.


Trying to bread the reed free.


It was a lot of work.


But I could still laugh at myself.


I had just cut open my pinky finger. Soon I had blood running down my arm.


I went in search of more reeds, which I found. But then I learned I could not use reeds that had not yet tasseled. I left the swamp with only four reeds.


Fortunately Noncedo with the help of one of the males watching my group cut about one hundred reeds. We were able to pick from this selection to get our bundles up to at least 15 reeds.


Selecting reeds.


We had to break off all leaves growing on the reeds.


Lindiwe showed me that each reed’s tassels needed to be in line.


She watched over me to make sure I picked off all of the green pieces.



Their tall size made the reeds tricky to work with.


We used ripped plastic bags to tie the reeds together.


Me and my reeds.


Team Luyengo and our reeds.


Talking to the reporter who later changed all my quotes.


The princesses leading the parade back home. They only cut one of the reeds in their bundles; the rest were cut by their assistants.


Singing and dancing and trotting with the reeds.

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Day four: Another long march

Friday is the day of the return march to Ludzidzini. 

When I arrived, my group was already packed and we departed for the umphakatsi within a few minutes. I thought things would be happening soon, but of course, that wasn’t the case. There were thousands and thousands of girls there. 

This was the only time I saw the timbali fed, and it was a massive operation. There were also dozens of people selling snacks of all kinds. 

My group waited here for a few hours. So many girls came up to me to hear me speak siSwati, to ask me to be their friend, and to stare at me. 

Finally, around 1 p.m., we lined up, and eventually the march began. There was a small crowd in Luyengo to watch us pass, and then we were off, down the middle of the road to Malkerns. 

It took about 90 minutes to get to the first meeting point, where busses would shuttle the timbali to Mahlanya, and then they would march the last segment to Ludzidzini in the dark. 

When we arrived at the meeting point, the busses had already left with the first section to arrive. I decided to turn around at this point, because I needed to be home before dark. There was no way I could get to Ludzidzini and back before nightfall. 

In all, this was the least exciting of the days, but I was still happy to participate in a portion of the day’s activities. 

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Day three: Cutting umhlanga

Cutting reeds was definitely a day for the memory books. 

It started with many hours of waiting, which has become a common theme. Then the group of timbali that has most adopted me disappeared after getting ready. I had realized the day before that this members of this group really like to do their own thing. 

I headed down from the school with the rest of the group and we were waiting for the parade that started at the umphakatsi to get to us, so we could join the line. The group led by the princesses finally arrived, and unsurprisingly, the group that left was at the end of this segment of the line. They called me over and I hurried to join. 

We turned onto UNISWA’s Luyengo campus and walked to a swamp in the back where the umhlanga, or reeds grow. 

The princesses had a ceremonial first cutting of the reeds, and then it was a free-for-all. 

Like so many other parts of this event, I received no real instructions. All I knew was that I needed 15 reeds. 

For any future participants, if you are going to be cutting reeds alone, bring a knife. Breaking them by hand was a lot of work. The leaves are also quite sharp. I had a huge gash on my pinky finger. More importantly, you also need to cut only reeds that have tassles on top. And your reed collection needs to have an odd number. 

Fortunately, something I didn’t know about was happening. One of the tindvuna, the guards, was with one member of my group and they cut about 100 reeds and brought them out of the swamp to distribute to us. This was a relief because I had only four properly tassled reeds. This, apparently, is how reed cutting is supposed to happen. Maidens should work with the tindvuna to cut reeds with a bush knife. 

After many rounds of photos, we lined up to match back up to Luyengo. We sang and danced up the hill with our 15-foot reeds. 

When we arrived at the campus entrance, we had to wait for the police to clear the road. This led to more dancing. Eventually the timbali from my group convinced me to dance ingadla, the kicking dance, in front of everyone. Once wasn’t enough, either. The woman in charge of the day’s activities saw me dance and told me to dance again for the princesses. 

It was at this point that I started to feel a bit like a party trick. I think my group wants to show me off, but it is awkward at times. Regardless, it was still an awesome day. 

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Day two: The first day of marching

No one told me there would be running. 

Wednesday started again at 5 a.m., so I could arrive at Lobamba at 6:30 a.m. Around 7:30 a.m. we lined up near the Royal Kraal for the opening ceremony. The queen mother was in attendance, which I didn’t know until I saw her on the news that evening. 

The head of the imbali regiment and the eldest princess led the songs. It was hard to dance in such a tightly packed location. We were finally told the march could begin after men carrying rolled grass mats on their heads left the residence. 

A group of us in matching emahiya jumped into the group a few lines behind the leaders and a clip of me dancing here made the news. We ended up being the last line in the first group of the march, or shuca.  

As soon as we got to the road, the running started. At least it was downhill. When we turned off the road onto a dirt road made for us, we stopped running.

We largely spent the 15 km or so in a free-form walk and occasional run, egged on by the traditional officers guarding us. They were yelling, “Hamba!” (Go) and threatening us with their sticks. 

The first line set the pace and each group chose songs to sing. These were usually chosen by the loud and excellent group in the second section behind us. 

It was hot and I was so happy to have brought my bag with two liters of water, which I had finished before we got to Engabezweni.  

When we crossed under the MR3 highway, the road changed from dirt and gravel to pavement. Our guard also increased at this point from our traditional guards armed with clubs and police and military guards to also include two tanks with armed guards. 

We finally made it to Engabezweni around 12 p.m. We were given a shirt, backpack, bread, water, soda, another unidentifed drink, and pads. We had a few hours to rest before we had to kuhlehla (parade) again. 

After a few hours, I decided to just go home rather than wait for the busses all participants would be taking. 

This was quite the march, and it was really spectacular to look back at the long line of timbali behind us. The newspaper reported 80,000 registrants, and I can believe that number. 

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Day one: Registration at Umhlanga

Today started early at 4:45 a.m. because we were told to meet the bus taking us to Ludzidzini at 6 a.m.

I asked my sisi for us to leave at 5:50 a.m. to walk to school so that we could be on time. When transportation is involved, I really like to be early.

We finally left the house at 6:20 a.m. (sisi lost her phone) and arrived at school to only a couple other girls.

We heard rumors of the actual pick-up time being 8 a.m. I read until I went to the bathroom and repacked my bag just before the top of the hour.

By the time 9:45 a.m. rolled around, I had drunk half my water and eaten my snacks. I thought I would be on my way home by this time and we still had not left.

I walked home for more food and water and to leave a few of my layers behind. By the time I got back to the school everyone was loaded in flat bed trucks and I panicked. Riding in the back of a truck is a sure-fire way to get fired from the Peace Corps in Swaziland. Fortunately, I was allowed into the cab.

We headed away from town, eventually stopping at the inkhundla building in the next community. I can’t figure out the purpose of that stop. We dropped no one off and picked no one up.

Finally, we went up to our umphakatsi where we moved to a bus with the rest of the girls from my chiefdom who are not from my community. After a quick ride to Ludzidzini, we sang and marched before waiting for our turn to register.

One of the guards sang a wedding song about being white (meaning pure, in this song, rather than skin color) when she saw me. After registering, another elder asked for my name and apparently made a profession of love that I missed (I told my group about my game where I guess how many marriage proposals and professions of love I will receive on a given day, which they think is hysterical. They are counting for me, because like this one, I do not always understand the ones in siSwati).

We had to pass a singing and dancing test to register. We passed those parts but the testers were disappointed that not everyone was in a traditional outfit.

After being dismissed, we walked to the tents set up for sleeping. They picked out a location and we sat around for a time. Eventually we decided to check out the shops coming to life in Lobamba selling everything an imbali may have forgotten to bring to Umhlanga and lots of things she doesn’t need. Like short shorts and swimsuits. Neither are cultural-event appropriate. We also posed for a photo for some tourists and declined all the other requests.

Finally I headed home with five proposals, which was my guess. I am anticipating more tomorrow.

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