Wednesday photo: Fall wild flowers 

All of a sudden last week I noticed these flowers were blooming alongside the main road. 

  
Cool weather flowering plants are still so strange to me when I’m used to a thick layer of snow on the ground, especially because these flowers remind me so much of the first wildflowers to bloom along the Little Cottonwood Canyon road that signal the end of the ski season is near. 

Here, it’s just the start of fall that has brought cooler temps and more wind. 

Posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland, Wednesday photo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top activities in Swaziland

I had heard of Swaziland before receiving my Peace Corps country placement, but I did not know anything about this tiny kingdom in Southern Africa. You might be traveling to Swaziland for the first time because you know PCV here or maybe you are coming to Bushfire, one of Africa’s largest music festivals, and you probably do not know too much about the kingdom, either. Here’s Bushfire’s survival guide, if you are coming for the music festival.

This weekend will be my first Bushfire, too, but after 11-and-a-half months of living in Swaziland, I have visited many of Swaziland’s top sights and still have a list of places to visit.

There are plenty of places to get away from it all here in Swaziland, which you really might need after a crazy weekend at Bushfire with 40,000 other festival-goers, and fortunately because Swaziland is so small, it does not take to long to travel to any of these highlights. There are also a few sights closer to town (Swaziland is small enough that if you say town anywhere in the whole country you mean Manzini, the largest city) if a few days in the wild really isn’t your thing.

Best wildlife (flora and fauna) viewing

Swaziland is home to three of the big five (lion, elephant, and leopard) plus both black and white rhinos. The chances of you seeing a black rhino are decent and a leopard incredibly slim, but you do have excellent chances of seeing lions, elephants, and white rhinos up close and personal. There are also opportunities to see a variety of antelope, zebra, giraffe, hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, many bird species, and other smaller creatures. And there is always something beautiful in bloom (poinsettias right now in May!) in this country without snow.

  • Hlane Royal National Park has lions, elephants, and white rhinos, along with many other creatures. Spend the night so that you can go on a sunset or sunrise drive. You can also go on a rhino drive where you get to exit the vehicle and approach a rhino. Read about my experiences there here (with elephant photos), here (with lion photos), and here (with rhino photos).
    dsc_0113dsc_0127
  • Mkhaya Game Reserve has black rhinos and elephants. It is the most expensive park in Swaziland, but still much less than nearby lodges in South Africa.
  • Mlawula Nature Reserve is a smaller reserve in the eastern part of Swaziland with a restaurant and pool with an excellent view from the top of the Lubombo Mountains. There are also hiking trails and antelopes and other smaller creatures. Read about my trip there here.
  • Mbuluzi Game Reserve is a private reserve abutting Mlawula that additionally has giraffe and zebra. Read about my trip there here.
  • Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is located right behind Malandela’s and House on Fire and is the closest park to town. There are beautiful mountain and valley views and the park is home to zebra, antelope, hippos, warthogs, and the like.
  • Malolotja Nature Reserve is a reserve high in the Drakensburg Mountains in the northwestern part of Swaziland. This park is great for hiking, too.

Best hiking trails

There’s four well-known hikes in Swaziland, and there are many hiking opportunities in Malolotja and Mlilwane.

  • Shiba’s Breast: The trailhead is at Lidwala Backpackers.
  • Sibebe Rock: Near Mbabane, this hike is an ascent up the face of a granite dome.
  • Executioner’s Rock: In Mlilwane, this hike follows the trail used by people who were to be pushed off the top of the rock after they were sentenced to death.
  • Emlembe Peak: The highest point in Swaziland is in the northwest near Bulembu.

Best shopping

  • Malandela’s complex: There are shops for Gone Rural (woven grass bowls and placemats) and Baobab Batik (scarves, pillows, aprons, jewelry).
  • Swazi Candles complex: There are shops for Swazi Candles (candles shaped like animals), Baobab Batik, and other locally-made products.
  • Ngwenya Glass: Located between the Oshoek border post and Mbabane, this glass studio creates lots of delightful animals from glass.
  • Manzini Market: Lots of crafts of all kinds, including batiks, jewelry (usually made right there), and a lot of other tourist kitsch (most likely not made in Swaziland).

Best traditional activities

Traditional Swazi culture is exciting to see when on display at a handful of festivals throughout the year (particularly Umhlanga, the reed dance, and Incwala, the first fruits festival). Umhlanga is usually at the end of August and Incwala is in December or January.

DSCF3391DSCF3365

If you are not in Swaziland for either of those and would like to see a traditionally dressed dancing group, head to Mantenga’s Swazi Cultural Village for daily dance performances.

DSC_0597

The traditional kicking dance.

And if you are a PCV from another country and want to see a traditional homestead, comment below and we can arrange something!

 

 

Posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wildlife at Mbuluzi and Mlawula

When a friend comes to Swaziland with a car, it is time to visit somewhere less accessible by khumbi. We chose Mbuluzi and Mlawula wildlife areas in the Lubombo mountains. These reserves are located in the northeastern part of Swaziland, near Simunye and Siteki.

DSC_0468

Kudus have such awesome horns.

The reserves are home to many smaller animals and have a few species of antelope and giraffe. Mbuluzi is a private game reserve and Mlawula is run by the Swaziland National Trust Commission.

My group went on a couple hikes in Mlawula. The scenery is nice and it was great seeings watering holes with water. There was a scary moment on one of the hikes when we were nearing the supposed waterfall and all of a sudden, we heard a huge swarm of bees. We all froze terrified. We never saw the bees but we hurried back to the car real fast.

DSC_0443

My first dung beetles in action. We had to stop the car because they were rolling the ball of dung across the road.

We stayed at the Maphelephele cottage in Mlawula that is many steps up from camping and only slightly more expensive than the campgrounds. It was self-catering with kitchenware provided. The cottage was incredibly spacious, had one bathroom with a bathtub, and sleeps seven. Two of the beds are located on baboon-proofed balconies, which means you can truly fall asleep to the sounds of the wild and wake up to the terrifying sounds of the baboons. There is also a braai (grill) area outside, with one night’s worth of firewood included in the price of the cottage.

DSC_0566

The baboon-proofed balcony.

DSC_0570

The cottage.

Neither of the parks is truly khumbi accessible. You can get to the entrance gates, but there is no way to see either of the reserves without your own transportation. It is possible to arrange for staff at Mlawula to transport your group to the cottage, but then you would need to tour the parks on foot.

DSC_0474

Both parks have an agreement that if you pay to get into one, you can visit the other on the same ticket, so you have no reason not to visit both. Both parks also have decently maintained dirt roads that were accessible by small car. More clearance is better, though, because some parts of the roads were quite rocky.

DSC_0450

Some of the forest in Mlawula.

DSC_0485

The giraffe let us hang out with him for about 15 minutes.

DSC_0453

The scenery changes fast. This is in Mbuluzi, just next door to Mlawula.

DSC_0464

More exciting beetles.

DSC_0496

An oasis-like part of Mlawula.

DSC_0513

Really awesome grasshoppers.

If you go:

  • Entrance: E30 per person at Mlawula and E40 per person at Mbuluzi.
  • Maphelephele cottage per night: E570 for four people.
  • Food for three days: E200 per person.
  • Travel time from Manzini: about 1 hour.
  • Animal sightings: dung beetle, warthogs, impala, nyala, kudu, wildebeest, giraffe, neon green grasshoppers, red dragonflies, baboons, zebra, and a few birds.
Posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transportation in Swaziland

Transportation in Swaziland includes only a few options for PCVs: khumbis (15 passenger vans), buses (of small, large, and coach sizes), bicycles, and rides with friends.

I had low expectations for the khumbis after traveling on Ghana’s version called a trotro. Swaziland’s khumbi is usually a variety of steps up. I have yet to travel in a khumbi where I could see the road through the floor, I generally do not feel like the khumbi will fall apart while driving, and more often than not I get to travel on the more spacious Toyota Quantum rather than the old Toyota HiAce.

I regularly ride in a HiAce to and from the office and the Mbabane bus rank. Usually I have lots of belongings and there is no space for belongings on these khumbis. Exiting is never graceful and I usually knock my head on the ceiling at least once.

IMG_2897

Inside a HiAce, the older model khumbis used mostly for shorter distances.

The Quantum is much more widely used and is all I travel in at my site. There is usually a space for bags by the driver and the front row has a few more inches of room, which is great when traveling with big bags.

IMG_3060_2

Inside the newer Quantum model.

Unfortunately, though, the conductor (money collector and door operator) regularly overfills the khumbis, so sometimes instead of 15 passengers, there could be 25 passengers. There are also a lot of traffic stops, so conductors get creative in hiding passengers or ditching passengers that are sometimes collected again after the traffic stop.

IMG_3061_2

A look outside to the Manzini Bus Rank.

Sometimes travel by public transport can be fast or it can be excruciatingly slow. Often, the khumbi needs to fill up before leaving the stop, which can take hours. Other times there are so many pick ups and drop offs, that the driver stops nearly every minute to exchange passengers.

It is also best to not watch the odometer while in khumbis. The drivers are often in a hurry, but with picking up and dropping off so many passengers, there is a lot of speeding up quickly and stopping in a hurry. It is always a good idea to have something to hold on to.

IMG_3126_2

The view from the front seat on the road between Matsapha and Mahlanya.

As only a few buses pass my community, and I have not traveled to many other locations in Swaziland, I cannot comment on bus travel, and I also do not have a bicycle.

Khumbi etiquette is complicated. It is usually first come, first served when picking seats. Sometimes Swazis refuse to slide into the bench, preferring to stay on the aisle seat. Sometimes they will exit the khumbi soon, but often not. Sometimes other riders will offer to hold a bag for you or help you on and off with your many bags. Sometimes everyone is rude and ignores you. Sometimes the little kids stare at you the whole ride and are too shy to respond to your questions in siSwati. Sometimes there will be professions of love from passengers or the driver. Sometimes the passengers cannot believe that you can speak (some) siSwati. Sometimes the passengers think you can just squeeze past traditionally-built bomake with 10 bags while carrying your three bags and you just stare them down until they move for you. Sometimes you have to stare down the conductor to get the correct change. Sometimes you just have to be as rude as the other passengers to make life easier. And that’s just how life on khumbis goes.

Posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wednesday photo: Beans

My first rounds of beans started great, was annihilated by the cows, and managed to finish with some salvageable beans. 

Here’s my harvest:  


The spots where the cows were able to break in were repaired and then covered with a large piece of a tree for extra protection, as well.  

Posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland, Wednesday photo | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wednesday photo: Emachicks 

My hens had babies! Here’s Thandi and her five babies. 

 

Thandi and her emachicks

 
Sitfwatfwa’s eggs hatched and has six emachicks (siSwati for chicks). I haven’t seen them yet but make reported back that they are doing ok. 

Posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland, Wednesday photo | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A week in the life of a PCV in Swaziland: Saturday

When thinking about writing about a normal day as a community health PCV in Swaziland, I just laughed. There are no normal days.

I picked a week to report on where I had very little on my calendar to start with, and by the end of the week, I was exhausted from the number of activities that came up. Sometimes, though, the week does not get filled with activities and sometimes I know the week will be extremely busy before it starts.

I will be posting each day this week with the activities I did on the corresponding day a few weeks ago.

Remember that this is only representative of my life. Other PCVs in Swaziland have very different schedules and are working on different projects and activities in their communities. We are supposed to be meeting the needs of our communities, and of course, each of our 70-some communities have different needs, which means we work on different projects across the country.

Saturday

630: I wake up, start boiling water for oatmeal and tea, make the posters for the community meeting, eat, pack my bag, and dress traditionally.

815: One of my counterparts said he would pick me up around 800, but I left my house too late to be picked up at 800. I do not know if he had already driven past, so I get on the first khumbi that drives past. Unfortunately, I do not have the correct amount in small change, and the conductor does not want to break my 50, so I pay with all the change I have, which is about E1.50 short.

845: I arrive at the meeting place and my ride shows up about 5 minutes later. Oh well. He has me practice to make sure I am understandable (I had practiced all week with my tutor).

915: There is a quick meeting with everyone who is on the community meeting’s agenda. I am told I will be last. The other presenters take a long time and the tree we are meeting under does not provide much shade, so everyone is hungry and hot by the time it is finally my turn.

1200: I present my data from my community needs assessment on water, HIV stigma, gardening, and orphans and vulnerable children; answer a few questions; and my counterparts talk about permagardening, financial training, and water projects. The man talking about water explains that I am not able to do big development projects like water systems. After we present, the meeting is finished and people who were interested in participating further talked to my counterparts and me.

1315: I get a ride home, and immediately get a phone call from someone wanting to come talk to me now now (Swazi English for right away). I hardly have enough time to change my clothes before she shows up. It turns out she wants money from me for a fence project (if only she’d gone to the meeting I just had where I explained I have no money to hand out!). I explain this and some alternatives.

1430: I finally get to make my lunch and relax after my long morning. Eventually I do some reading and then I do some work in my garden.

1700: siSwati lesson. I was worn out from the busy week and morning, and I really hate daily siSwati lessons, so I purposefully direct the lesson to a conversation about wedding traditions rather than talking siSwati.

1900: I fix dinner.

1930: I work on my VRF, the Volunteer Reporting Form, which is due a few days later. In Swaziland, PCVs report on their work biannually.

2115: I start getting ready for bed.

2200: Sleep.

Check out Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A week in the life of a PCV in Swaziland: Friday

When thinking about writing about a normal day as a community health PCV in Swaziland, I just laughed. There are no normal days.

I picked a week to report on where I had very little on my calendar to start with, and by the end of the week, I was exhausted from the number of activities that came up. Sometimes, though, the week does not get filled with activities and sometimes I know the week will be extremely busy before it starts.

I will be posting each day this week with the activities I did on the corresponding day a few weeks ago.

Remember that this is only representative of my life. Other PCVs in Swaziland have very different schedules and are working on different projects and activities in their communities. We are supposed to be meeting the needs of our communities, and of course, each of our 70-some communities have different needs, which means we work on different projects across the country.

Friday

530: Woken by a WhatsApp message from a Swazi. Apparently he thinks my day started just as early as his. Thanks to him, it did. He decides on the time for our meeting that day.

730: Finally get out of bed after trying to fall back asleep and failing. I spent the time reading emails and a book. I take out that day’s egg. Then I boil water, put away dishes, track my spending, reorganize my room, eat, update my garden map, fill out my tutor reimbursement form, update my reimbursements list (essential for making sure I get back all the money I am owed. We get reimbursed for tutoring, when someone in the office asks us to come in for medical or a meeting, or when I go in to work on the SOJO), check on my garden, and get ready for my meeting.

1030: I take a khumbi to the umphakatsi just like on Wednesday for my 1100 meeting. It took until 1220 for the person to show up, and fortunately, I have reading material with me at all times. We talk until 1400 and I get a ride down to my house.

1430: Three of the nearest high schools are meeting at the sports field near my house for some competitions. There are soccer and netball games. Only boys are allowed to play soccer and only girls are allowed to play netball. Netball is kind of like basketball but without any contact and without dribbling. You can only pass the ball while standing still.

1545: I head home after tiring of annoying high schoolers calling me umlungu (this word means visitor and to me is only offensive when the person’s tone implies it is being used impolitely, which it was in this case). I eat a snack and wait for my tutor to arrive for our lesson at 1630. When she had not shown up by 1700, I go to her house. She is not there either. Rather than to continue idly waiting for her, I get to work watering my garden. Then the bucopho (a community development leader) comes by to discuss our plans for the community meeting the next morning.

1815: SiSwati finally starts

1900: I make dinner and spend much of the evening making final preparations for the next morning’s meeting and speech. I update my blog and finally sleep at 2215.

Check out Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A week in the life of a PCV in Swaziland: Thursday

When thinking about writing about a normal day as a community health PCV in Swaziland, I just laughed. There are no normal days.

I picked a week to report on where I had very little on my calendar to start with, and by the end of the week, I was exhausted from the number of activities that came up. Sometimes, though, the week does not get filled with activities and sometimes I know the week will be extremely busy before it starts.

I will be posting each day this week with the activities I did on the corresponding day a few weeks ago.

Remember that this is only representative of my life. Other PCVs in Swaziland have very different schedules and are working on different projects and activities in their communities. We are supposed to be meeting the needs of our communities, and of course, each of our 70-some communities have different needs, which means we work on different projects across the country.

Thursday

745: Awake and I take a marked egg outside to Thandi’s laying spot. I will collect this egg in the afternoon after she lays a new egg. Then I eat, boil water, read about planting potatoes and decide that although the temperatures are good now for potatoes, I have not seen any seed potatoes and therefore will not be growing potatoes. I review my garden plan, and complete my lesson for Friday’s English club.

945: I head to the garden to double dig a bed and am slowed by copious amounts of trash. I eventually take a break to review the MST schedule again as more discussion has occurred. I also have a creepy visit from the police (don’t worry, I have already reported it).

1330: I finally finish the bed and go inside to cool off on my cool, concrete floor and eat lunch.

1430: I work on my siSwati homework and then work on some articles for the SOJO.

1630: I bring in the eggs, and I wash dishes.

1715: SiSwati lesson.

1815: I finish rinsing dishes and clean the carbon filters in my water filter.

1830: I make dinner, read the latest issue of the SOJO, make a new calendar (I use a big sheet of paper, fold it so that there are eight rows and eight columns, and number the boxes with the dates, and then there is plenty of space to write in plans, what I do each day, and birthdays).

2030: Get ready for bed and read until 2130.

Check out Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wednesday photo: Chitenge in Zambia

I love shopping for fabric and dreaming about hand-made clothes. 

A week in Zambia has given me the opportunity to continue shopping after my week in Mozambique. 

  

Posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Wednesday photo | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment