There always seems to be disbelief and confusion about how cold it gets here, especially in the mountains of Hhohho, including where I currently live in Mbabane. I admit to not knowing how serious winter is here when I was preparing for my Peace Corps service, but that was more a problem of not being told, rather than disbelief. I experienced full-on snowy winters every year of my life until I joined Peace Corps and moved to eSwatini. I know what winter and snow are, and how to survive outside in them, and I am not lying when I tell you that winter in eSwatini is cold.
It was 39*F outside when I walked home after a celebration of my three-years-in-eSwatini anniversary in the middle of June. The grass in Mbabane was covered in frost the morning of July 4. And between those dates, I walked to work on multiple mornings where I could see my breath.
When I get home from work, I bundle up with two pairs of pants, heavy socks, one or two shirts underneath a fleece or a wool pullover, and then I sometimes have to add my fingerless mittens and wrapping up in a blanket.
I sleep with three blankets, a duvet, and a sleeping bag.
My house has no insulation, leaky windows and doors, and no heating mechanisms (the electric blanket I brought from the US died when I plugged it in, even with a voltage converter in use). And with the cold nights and cement block walls, the daytime warmth outside never leaks inside.
While the other regions of eSwatini do not see such cold temps (the lowest temp I saw at my hut was 45*F), everyone still comes to town for meetings or trainings, and being unprepared can be miserable.
What you need to survive winter in eSwatini
- Warm socks
I haven’t seen any satisfactory warm socks for sale here.
Available at stores in the malls and some women make them as an income generating project.
- A warm layer to wear inside at home, roomy enough to accommodate multiple layers
Fleece jackets are available here; if you already own something, bring it. I brought a Patagonia puffy with me, bought a fleece, had a thrift-store fleece mailed, and brought back from home leave a Patagonia fleece that is warmer and a wool pullover.
- A warm layer to wear inside at work
Office buildings, schools, and clinics usually have minimal or no heating and cooling systems. You will see Swatis wearing their winter coats inside. I don’t find that comfortable, so I always have a cardigan.
- A warm outer layer
Perhaps you can reuse something from the previous categories. I made do with wearing a light jacket and a fleece when I left my homestead in the early mornings. In preparation for my move to Mbabane, I purchased a used pea coat at the market. New pea coats are also available at many stores.
- Sleeping bag
While there are PCVs here without them, I have relished having mine for camping, cold nights, and visitors. If you didn’t camp in the US and would have to buy a sleeping bag for your service, I would suggest you wait and purchase a blanket in eSwatini if you need warmer bedding.
- Leggins or another base layer for your legs
I brought a pair of yoga pants with me when I joined Peace Corps, and when my mom mailed me leggings, I was able to much more easily layer leg wear. I now wear a pair of leggings underneath every skirt I wear all winter long.
My hands are always cold, and I have appreciated warming them up easily with gloves and fingerless mittens.