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.

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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.

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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.

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The baboon-proofed balcony.

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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.

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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.

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Some of the forest in Mlawula.

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

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

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More exciting beetles.

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An oasis-like part of Mlawula.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

  

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

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.

Wednesday

745: Awake and reading emails and WhatsApp.

800: Make breakfast, sweep, dress, pack a bag for my trip to the umphakatsi.

915: Take a khumbi to the sigayo (mill) and walk up the hill to the umphakatsi for a meeting with my chiefdom’s development committee.

945: We talk about Peace Corps, my role, and the water project they are working on and how they would like funding from a Peace Corps grant.

1030: Walk to the stesh for the khumbi to head to Malkerns to visit the post office, where there was a snake inside. Next I walk to Swazi Can to find out about tours (they are on Thursdays and need to be scheduled in advance).

1330: I arrive home, eat lunch, and watch an Avengers movie with my bhuti who was home from school because he did not feel well.

1600: SiSwati lesson.

1700: I work in my garden. There’s always weeds to pull or something to stake. Then I tell Make that I found where Thandi was hiding her eggs, and she tells me that I should take them all inside, and each morning to put one back in the spot so that the neighbors’ dogs do not eat the eggs.

1815: Play crazy eights with my bhuti.

1845: Reheat leftovers for dinner and watch two episodes of TV.

2130: Bedtime.

Check out Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

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

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.

Tuesday

730: Awake and check email and WhatsApp from bed.

800: Out of bed, check for insects, boil water for tea, and I make breakfast with cereal and a slice of toast with peanut butter. I get dressed and soak 30 beans to plant that day.

900: I peruse the grass near my house looking for manure for my garden. I also collect dried leaves and green grass to use in my beds. I mark each spot for a seed with a small stick and then I plant the bean seeds to the left of each stick.

1030: Fetch water and bathe.

1110: Leave for savings group at the school.

1130: The meeting is short, with everyone contributing E20 and some of the members borrowing money.

1230: At home, I prepare lunch and pack my bag for English club.

1330: I head to the stesh to catch a khumbi to the high school. I never know how long I will have to wait, so I have to be early. The ride itself takes only 10 minutes, with about five minutes of walking on both ends. Sometimes I get to school at 1400 and other times it is closer to 1430.

1440: Classes end at school, but it takes until nearly 1500 to get the students to the club. We cover idioms until the school day is over at 1540.

1550: I get a ride from the school to my community from one of the English teachers who drives home through my community. I get home around 1610.

1615: I have lots of ideas about a TB event that I discuss with a community member on WhatsApp.

1640: siSwati lesson.

1750: Play with the kids on my homestead.

1830: Cook chicken curry for dinner.

1930: Learn the ummiso dance with two of my sisters. This is the most traditional of all the dances for unmarried females.

2000: I read, make plans for the next issue of the SOJO, and discuss plans for a TB and HIV event.

2200: Bedtime.

Check out SundayMonday, and Wednesday, too.

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