A moment in my life: Running from mama cow

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. 
Mama cow Madiba (yes, she is named after Nelson Mandela) and I have a mostly hate relationship. I give her a wide berth whenever I can because she has charged me. 

Yesterday when I went grocery shopping I bought make some vegetables because I came home really late the night before and she told me I was naughty. 

I rounded the corner from my house to the back door of the main house and came face to face with Madiba, who lunged for the chard in my hand. 

Phetsile shouted, “Run, Hloniphile!”

I ran back to my house, chased by Madiba, and narrowly got inside with the door shut before Madiba could come crashing after me. 

I was able to give make the veggies a few minutes later after the cows had been retained, which she was quite excited about. She heartily laughed after hearing about Madiba’s attempted thievery, too. 

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How I spent June’s PCV stipend

June ended with two busy weekends of food preparation. I came in under budget in every category, which was great because I was going on a vacation the next month.


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Wednesday photo: How to iron a lihiya

As my family was preparing for a wedding of a relative, my eldest bhuti showed me the traditional way to “iron” a lihiya.

A lihiya is a piece of fabric worn like a wrap-around skirt in traditional dress. 

It turns out that there is no iron involved. 



Rather, the layer or layers of fabric are spread out on a grass mat and held down by rocks to dry in the sun. 

One of the questions that I have had for a year was finally answered, as well. I asked make if I should hem the two cut edges of the fabric, and she said no. Since then, I have just trimmed the dangling strings. 

My bhuti explained that the edges should be rolled as tightly as possible, and that the drying process will keep the edge rolled and the frayed edges out of sight. 

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What’s cooking: Snacks

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland, I have a limited food budget. But I also love food–both eating and making it. During PST, I cooked without an oven, refrigeration, and a non-stick skillet. Now at my permanent site, I have all three, though at a cost. This occasional series will highlight my cooking and baking and the recipes I use.

I like my snacks to be portable, and during PST, I had a hard time creating portable snacks other than popcorn, hard boiled eggs, and fruit. Since then, I have expanded my snacks to include a combination of packaged and homemade items.

Packaged items

  • Clicks has a big range of packaged snacks including crackers, pretzels, and granola bars.
  • Shoprite and Pick’n’Pay both have a selection of nuts. The almonds are usually the most affordable.
  • Spar sells fruit rollups in mango, peach, apricot, and guava flavors.
  • I also really enjoy feta with the Clicks tortilla chips.

Homemade items

  • Cauliflower buffalo wings
  • Sweet potato chips
  • Banana bread


Cauliflower buffalo wings

Time: 45 minutes
Cost: E30
Servings: 4-6 

1 cup floor
2 teaspoon garlic
1 cup of water
1 head of cauliflower, chopped
3/4 cup buffalo or other hot sauce
1 teaspoon butter


  1. Preheat stoven to 230*C. Line the rack with foil and spray.
  2. Mix flour and garlic. Pour in water and stir. Add cauliflower and toss to coat.
  3. Spread cauliflower on foil and bake 18 to 20 minutes.
  4. While baking, melt butter and combine with buffalo sauce. Pour sauce over cauliflower after the 20 minutes are up and return to the stoven to bake for 5 more minutes.

*To make this in a skillet, sauté the cauliflower in a well-greased skillet until almost tender for about 10 minutes. Melt the butter with the buffalo sauce and then pour over the cauliflower and cook for 5 more minutes.

Sweet potato chips

Time: 45 minutes
Cost: E30 for a bag of four orange sweet potatos at Pick N’ Pay
Servings: 2

1 sweet potato, scrubbed and sliced 1/8th inch thick
1 tablespoon oil
½ teaspoon coarse salt


  1. Preheat stoven to 200*C.
  2. Lay sliced sweet potatoes on rack covered with foil. Drizzle with oil, toss, and spread in a single layer on the sheets.
  3. Bake, flipping and rotating once, for about 25 minutes or until desired crispness.

Banana Bread

Time: 75 minutes
Cost: E15
Servings: 10 

3 very ripe bananas
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
½ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup flour


  1. Preheat stoven to 175*C.
  2. Mash bananas until smooth. Stir in butter.
  3. Mix in baking soda and salt. Mix in sugar, egg, and vanilla. Mix in flour.
  4. Pour batter into a greased loaf pan or muffin cups. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, rotating every 15 minutes, in a loaf pan, or bake about 15 minutes, rotating half way through, for muffins.
  5. Cool completely on wire rack or on top of the gas burner in the pan before removing.




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A moral dilemma about aid: Thulane’s story

I see needs everywhere I look in Swaziland.

I see undernourished children. I see 18-year-olds in grade seven. I see gogo caring for seven children because their parents died. I see teenaged mothers. I see a room full of high school girls ecstatic to receive the health classes they never had. I see more scars and tumors than I can count.

I see hard work. I see proud people. I see traditions followed. I see everyone doing the best they can with what they have.

My community infrequently asks me for money, and when people do, I am usually able to talk to them about saving their own money or creating a way to earn money.

While it is hard to see hungry children (and all of the other needs I mentioned), I know that me feeding them will not solve any problems.

I can keep a clean conscience about this, and I am able to sleep at night.

Peace Corps does not support PCVs giving away anything for free other than knowledge, and I wanted to work for this organization for this reason. This post is not about the merits or disservices of traditional aid, though.

Instead, this post is about the first person who has challenged my view.

In general, I do not know much about anyone other than the children in my family. I would love to ask many people hundreds of questions about their lives, but I do not want to be too nosy.

When I asked my English club students to write letters to students at my high school, no one wrote about anything too personal. They shared their favorite sports and subjects, how many siblings they have, and where they live.

My club meetings were canceled at the end of the last term because of exams, so I was asked to come to a different club’s meetings. This other club helps students with a handful of subjects. They meet at the same time on Tuesdays as my club, and most of them do not come to my Friday sessions.

At one of my sessions with this other group, I asked them to also write letters, and most of them did. But this group was much more personal.

They shared about being bullied, dead parents, and unmarried parents.

And then there’s Thulane’s* letter.

He is one of the students who occasionally comes to English club and always greets me when he sees me. He speaks great English and is very polite. I was sure he was older than an eleventh-grader in the U.S., but that is relatively normal here.

His letter took me by surprise, and I have not stopped thinking about it because he explains why he is 30 years old and still in high school.

He grew up with his father, and his grandmother was paying his school fees (only recently were grades 1-7 made free). His grandmother died, and the money stopped, too. Then his father died. He went to look for his mother, whom he found, and they lived with a relative who started paying for his school. His mother moved out because the relative was abusive. Thulane stayed to continue school.

Eventually, the abuse was too much, so he moved out in 2006 after finishing Form 1, looking for work to support himself. He went back to school in 2015, paying for Form 2 himself. Friends and teachers paid the last two years. He has one year of high school left.

What do I do with this information?

I am not allowed to report abuse, even if it was current.

If I offer to help or ask you to help pay his school fees, what message does that send? What about all the other students at his school and across Swaziland who cannot afford school fees? Would I feel differently if he hadn’t been abused? If his loving family members hadn’t died or abandoned him? If next year wasn’t his final year of high school? And what about after high school? He still will not be able to afford university, and there is no FAFSA form to fill out here in Swaziland to show that you have no money in order to receive a grant from the federal government to fund your education.

I could stop buying cheese and yogurt and stop making cookies and cake to share with my family and friends. I could stop eating out. I could save that money for Thulane’s school fees instead.

I cannot help everyone, but I–or we–could help this one person finish high school. Is it worth it?

*Name changed for privacy.

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Learning siSwati is hard

Yesterday, G15 took their language examination, and their stress surrounding the test has made me think quite a bit about my own struggle with learning siSwati.

I have many complaints about the language-learning process and materials here, and even with a relatively substantial effort to learn siSwati through tutoring, I will most likely leave Swaziland unable to have a substantial conversation with anyone in siSwati.

Changes were made this year to the language program, and I hope that G15’s scores are better than my group’s scores. This year’s group was threatened with being sent back to the U.S. if they do not pass the test, and perhaps that was said in hopes of them putting in more effort, but instead it has created a culture of fear, which is not helpful. We should find out on Monday if anyone will be sent home.

I did not pass the language test at the end of PST, although I did pass when I was retested at the end of Integration. I remain confident that singing the Swazi national anthem is the way to pass. We had a practice test during week four and my tester said I did horribly (I did not think it was that bad). One of my biggest complaints is that no one offered me additional help or resources or asked me how I thought I was doing in order to help me catch up.

I know now that there are no additional resources or help for anyone falling behind in siSwati class. SiSwati is an oral language rather than a written one, so there are extremely limited language-learning materials available to Swazis let alone Peace Corps Volunteers.

I really want to know how other Peace Corps posts that teach Bantu languages teach them. For as much as I want to make comparisons, especially to a country like Mozambique that is two hours away and the PCVs finish PST fluent in Portuguese, Portuguese is a language that has teaching resources available.

But that’s enough of comparisons. Comparisons can be the bane of any Peace Corps Volunteer’s experience. So to end a good note, I have spent August’s tutoring lessons learning songs and dances for Umhlanga, the reed dance, which is Swaziland’s next holiday. It has been a lot of fun and a much more interesting way to practice siSwati.

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Wednesday photo: Viva vagina

“Viva vagina” was the pumped-up cheer our condom demonstrator gave in the middle of a female condom demonstration.


The session was part of a day-long training about HIV and activities that can be used in our communities for G15 during their Pre-Service Training.

I am so proud of this day and so happy that after asking for a condom demonstration training for at least nine months, I was able to plan the activity myself with Condomize Swaziland, a group that is working to increase the use of condoms in Swaziland.

Condoms are an excellent way to reduce the spread of HIV and pregnancy and are given away for free across the country. In a country where 28 percent of the population is HIV positive and an abstinence-only message is not working (easily proven by regular pregnancies at high schools), condoms are a necessary part of life here, especially for Peace Corps Volunteers working with young adults


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A moment in my life: Nausea on public transport

Fortunately, I avoided vomiting altogether, but there were a few moments, well more like at least 50 moments – one for each speed bump on my khumbi ride home today – where I was concerned. 

I was stuck in the back row with no window access, a clammy brow, and a rolling stomach, but happy that at least the windows were open sending a cool breeze my way. 

Never-ending computer work, little sleep from late nights plus early mornings, eight nights and at least 15 days away from site all in the last month, plus my first ice cream in many months, all worked together to create this afternoon’s unpleasantness, along with leaving me no time to blog. 

I have ample time to recover and write lots in the near future, which I greatly look forward too. 

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What’s cooking: Peach cobbler

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland, I have a limited food budget. But I also love food–both eating and making it. During PST, I cooked without an oven, refrigeration, and a non-stick skillet. Now at my permanent site, I have all three, though at a cost. This occasional series will highlight my cooking and baking and the recipes I use.

I have been making peach cobbler since I was a child. I received Addy’s Cook Book, from the American Girl Doll series, as a birthday gift, and since then, the only peach cobbler recipe I have used is the one from this book.

I was delighted to learn that peaches grew in Swaziland, just so I could make this dish. Peach season may be at its end in Swaziland, but there are canned peaches for sale at grocery stores, so this can be a year-round dessert.

This is a much easier alternative to making a pie, which is perfect for Swaziland. Any size baking dish can be used—just adjust the quantities as needed. And for those of you without stovens, I give directions for making this on the stove top.

Difficulty: Easy
Cost of supplies: E25
Time: 1 hour
Servings: 6

Tools needed:
Cutting board
Baking dish
Mixing bowl
Measuring cups
Rolling pin
Cookie cutter

Filling ingredients:
10 peaches (3 to 4 cups), depending on baking dish size
2 tbsp flour
½ tsp cinnamon
1 c sugar

Crust ingredients:
1 c flour
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp margarine
2 tbsp powdered milk
6 tbsp water
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sugar


  1. Preheat stoven to 190* C. Use both the oven and grill settings.
  2. Slice the peaches into a greased baking dish. Fill it until full. I use an 8×8 dish that is full after about 10 peaches. Mix the flour, cinnamon, and sugar into the peaches.DSC_0480
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into small chunks and mix into the flour mixture with a fork or knife. Add the water and powdered milk until just moist. Knead the flour mixture until well combined, about 30 seconds.
  4. Roll out the dough until a ¼ inch thick and cut into shapes with the cookie cutter or cut into strips. Place on top of the peaches.DSC_0481DSC_0484DSC_0486
  5. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown.DSC_0489DSC_0492

Stovetop directions: Make the filling in a pot on the stove (cook the peaches until soft and the liquid bubbles) and fry the dough in pieces in a skillet. Then you could serve the pieces together.


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Wednesday photo: Potjie

What is a potjie, you might be asking. Or maybe you want to know how to pronounce this strange combination of letters. 

A potjie (pronounced poi-key), more or less, is a stew cooked on the fire in a cast iron three-legged pot. It’s an Afrikaner dish. 

The nearby country club hosted a potjie cookoff somewhat similar to a chili cookoff  in the U.S. but minus the crowd favorite. 

I competed in a team with two other PCVs and one of their significant others. 


Team Red Hot Chili Preppers

We didn’t place in the top three, but we still believe we had the best themed booth. We made a rockin’ chili with Mexican decor that was all homemade. 


Deacon checking the chili.

The team that won decorated their stall with taxidermied antelope. If you hadn’t already figured out this was a rich, white people event, then that should tell you. 


The judging

 In a country with a tiny non-black population, I felt more out of place at this event than I have since I arrived. Integration works, especially when you are living close to the poverty line. 

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