Wednesday photo: Snake in a bucket

Peace Corps Volunteers need to learn how to have no expectations. You never know what will happen, who you might meet, or what ideas you might have. 

Having no expectations means that when you show up at the post office to mail some World Wise Schools letters to one of your high school teachers, and you find the post office closed because there’s a snake inside, you roll with it. 

Swazis really fear snakes, but I couldn’t imagine this was anything special. It turns out I was wrong. 

There was a pretty big viper inside being followed by a trained snake catcher. 

What a morning. 

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Upholding the meaning of my first name

Swazi first names are drenched in meaning, telling a story about their family, birth, or hopes for the child. I have come to love this because American names sometimes come from relatives but usually come down to being liked by both parents or are creatively constructed so there are no other children with the same name.
I have missed reading the obits in the Salt Lake Tribune and working at the pharmacy where I learned many fantastic new names. 
Here in Swaziland when I meet people I often ask them what their names mean, and I am regularly asked if I know what my name Hloniphile means. It means respected, which I learned on my first day with my new family. 

I love my name, and my community members comment on how well my name and I fit each other, which I find to be the utmost of praises. 

And like the name I grew up with that many people could not spell, my Swazi name is uncommon and is often confused with Hlobsile because both start with the same hl sound. Hlobsile means decorated, which is a nice name but not mine. 

So how does someone who needs to uphold her name correct her elders who call her by the wrong name? 

It turns out that other elders who have correctly remembered my name will chastise each other when the wrong name is used, and my babe did not have to be the one to correct them either. 

I went to a big event last weekend where I was fortunately correctly introduced and this weekend I will be returning to that location for another even, so TWT – time will tell how many people remember the right name for me. 


I know the meanings of many of my family members’ and friends’ names, so in the event you are curious to know more Swazi names and their meanings, here’s a list. 

Mhlonishwa (m): Respected

Mancoba (m): Champion, soldier

Fezile (f): Become reality

Siphesihle (f): To give something beautiful

Wenzo (m): To do something

Gugu (f): Something you have

Neliswa (f): To be satisfied 

Nqobile (f): To win

Bahle (m): Handsome

Stembiso (m): To promise

Thuli (f): To be quiet

Thando (m): Love

Ngeti (f): To multiply

(B)ayanda (m): To multiply

Phayo (m): To give

Tiyandza (f): To multiply

Nonhlanhla (f): To be lucky

Mandla (m): Power

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Overview of Peace Corps Swaziland’s PST

I realized that I have done a poor job writing about the work I have been doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland. So now, let’s return to Pre-Service Training (PST), which is where PCVs learn language, culture, and about their future job.

Swaziland’s Group 14 (G14) arrived in Swaziland after a long flight from JFK to Johannesburg followed by a bus ride to Swaziland, ending finally at the training center that would regularly be our home and classroom space.

We were greeted by our language teachers traditionally dressed and singing plus staff and members of G13. One G13 wowed us by knowing all our names. We were in shock and exhaustion and hunger as we stumbled off the bus and collected our baggage. Everyone who had said they would show up in Philadelphia made it to Swaziland, though two Trainees went home during PST.

Our PST was broken into seven sections over 10 weeks, including welcome; homestay survival, language, safety and security, and health; cross culture and technical training; site visits and PCV shadowing; technical training; wrap up; and move out.

The first week included introductions to staff and expectations plus introductory language skills. We received shots, learned how to prepare water safely with our filter, and how to use our stoves. And then one member of our training host family came for lunch with us and we headed home with them. This was an extremely awkward meal, where I could speak no siSwati and my babe could speak no English. I could not understand the name he gave me and my new last name had a click that I had not yet mastered. I was shy and so was he. Fortunately, as time moved on, I came to love them dearly and enjoyed my stay there albeit the many difficulties I had.

Over the following weeks we would have sessions on HIV, permagardening, Swaziland’s Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, safety issues such as dealing with unwanted attention and travel, tools we would use during Integration (the first three months at our permanent sites) and the rest of our service, traditional events and rites of passage, the history of Swaziland, and Volunteer health topics like diarrhea and mental health.

We also had bigger events, such as receiving our cell phone numbers and celebrating the Fourth of July at the country director’s home (week three and already being planned by G14’s top cooks including yours truly); a weekend away from training that we spent visiting a wildlife reserve, historical sites, and a garden (end of week four); a site announcement ceremony (ours was Dr. Seuss themed at the end of week five); and visiting our sites and a nearby PCV during week six.

Of course, there were also daily language lessons and near weekly shopping trips to buy supplies and food for our training homes. You can decide with your family if you will eat dinner with them or cook your own food. Sometimes host families provide breakfast, but you should be prepared to cook your own breakfast and bring a lunch to classes. I wanted to cook my own dinner, but my host make did not believe I ate unless I ate her food, so I had to give up that battle. Cooking American food with my family was the only acceptable alternative, and those moments ended up as some of my happiest. (Stove top pizzas are the way to go!) We also had frequent jean Saturdays that could be instituted by the new training manager.

We were also tested on our language skills at the end of week four and the end of week nine. Both of those testing sessions also included about six other tests and interviews to determine our skill acquisitions and if we were following the Core Expectations of Peace Corps Volunteers.

Week nine ends with Host Family Appreciation Day, where each Trainee is able to bring three family members to lunch, which was followed by moving out and returning to the dorms at the training center. During week 10 we swore in and became official Peace Corps Volunteers. G13 was quick to point out that we were jilted at our ceremony because of an international event happening in Swaziland. We hope all will be rectified for G15 and that we will get to recelebrate in style at the next ceremony. Week 10 ended with moving in to our permanent sites and beginning our lives with our new families.

We had a small reunion the following day because it was a national holiday (the main day of umhlanga, the reed dance), and after that, we were on our own.

Looking back, I harbor no sore feelings about PST. The days were long. Some were boring. There was nearly no time to yourself. And when I got home after a long, bumpy bus ride, I had to decide if I was going to hide in my room or play with my sisi’s baby. They baby always won. There’s time to learn siSwati later, after swearing in, and playing with children was a much better way to destress than being alone.


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Wednesday photo: Wildflowes

I saw these beauties on Sunday and was very happy to walk past them again this morning. 

Just before these flowers I walked past a few open fields, and with the mountains behind them, I couldn’t help but to sing that the hills are alive with the sound of music. 

I was walking to the chief’s homestead where the community council meets so that I could present the results from my community survey that I completed in October. Please note that it took five months for this presentation to happen to understand how slowly everything runs here. 

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Wednesday photo: Lions

There were lots of incredible moments on my trip to Kruger.

There was the cheetah we watched for a half hour, the endless hours searching for leopard only to have three separate sightings close to our campsite on our final big drive, the countless elephant sightings from tiny babies to giant bulls and from solo elephants to herds of nearly 100, and then there were the lions. We saw lions napping, lions prowling, and lions deciding the road was the most attractive location for parading and resting. 

 And then there were the four black-maned brothers walking down the main road as if they owned the joint, strutting their stuff and caring less that there was a truck filled with 23 people staring in awe at the magnificent creatures.  

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What’s cooking: Butternut rice pudding

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.

Having successfully grown a garden-full of butternut, I have needed to find new ways to use it. I could eat butternut bread every day, but a change is good sometimes.

I had not eaten or made rice pudding since my days studying abroad in Austria where I first encountered it in the university cafeteria. Rice pudding is a delicious and easy comfort food, and it is improved with the addition of butternut, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It is an excellent choice for a chilly day served with a cup of steaming tea.


I shared this with my family, and like most of the desserts I bring them, they had never seen it before but were delighted nonetheless. Even my chickens inadvertently enjoyed the leftovers.

Difficulty: Easy
Cost: E20
Time: 2 hours, 1 hour active
Serves: Four

Tools needed:

  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Pot
  • Fork or spoon
  • Measuring cups and spoons


  • 1 cup mashed butternut
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1 liter milk
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg


  1. Slice butternut into one-inch rounds and peel skin off each round. Save seeds for your permagarden. Cut butternut into one-inch or smaller pieces.
  2. Put butternut pieces into pot with one cup of water. Heat on medium-high until pieces are mashable with fork or spoon, about 30 minutes.
  3. Scoop butternut out of pot. Reserve one cup and use the rest for bread, cake, pancakes, or an addition to your dinner.
  4. Add rice and milk to the pot. Heat to boiling, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed in about 30 minutes.
  5. Add reserved butternut, sugar, vanilla, and spices, and mix. Adjust spices and sugar if necessary. Remove from heat once to desired consistency and serve warm.

Recipe is adapted from

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Wednesday photo: Baby elephant

Just because I wanted to share some more elephant love this week before my trip to Kruger, here’s a photo of a darling baby at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust nursery in Nairobi.


To me, there is no place I would rather be in Nairobi that the elephant nursery. If these darling babies cannot bring a smile to your face, than I do not know what will.

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My first elephant experience

This week I will be taking my first vacation away from Swaziland and I am traveling to Kruger National Park. The only traveling I have done in Swaziland has been to see wildlife, so I am quite excited that my first trip is to the land of wild cats and dogs and other exciting creatures too numerous to mention.

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about my first safari in Ghana two-plus years ago. First-of-a-kind experiences really create distinct memories, and I am happy to have such fond memories of my adventures in Ghana.

It is hard not to compare, though, when I can imagine there are few or no other places in Africa where you can have a safari of the likes of what is offered at Mole National Park in northern-central Ghana.


A one-tusk tusker after having his bath.

We arrived earlier than anticipated—much earlier in fact—because the road north from Kumasi was entirely paved.

The drive north was notable for its lack of bathrooms. I remember peeing on the side of the road twice—once in the tall grass on a side road and the other time at the edge of a cocoa tree grove. There was one reststop with functioning toilets and toilet paper, where I wowed the restaurant staff with my rudimentary Twi and ordered spicy jollof rice and chicken. The jollof rice was excellent everywhere. There was also a gas station I used where there was no toilet in the stall but only a concrete slab. This is the worst kind of bathroom there is.

But I digress. Upon arriving at Mole, we checked in, dropped our bags, and went to find out about the safari options. A morning walk was included in our weekend away from the rural communities and our data collection. There were jeeps available with seating on top for late-afternoon drives through the park.

Of course, I wanted to see the elephants. Mole is home to a variety of antelope, monkeys, warthogs, and in theory, lions, though they had not been seen for a long time, but this was my first African safari, and the elephants were what I was dreaming of.

We departed in two groups, sitting on top of jeeps in a slightly precarious fashion, with each group heading in a different direction. While we were watching waterbucks and elands and other antelope, our driver got a message on the walkie that elephants were spotted. The chase started.

We headed to one of the watering holes, were we saw footprints and extremely fresh dung, but we stayed one step behind the elephants the whole time.


Elephant feet are huge!


Fresh dung

We followed the tracks to a woody area, where we were allowed to disembark the jeep and quietly hurry after the elephants on foot. We debated the rest of the night as to whether or not we were able to see the elephants through the trees, but we could all agree that we heard them as they splashed into some unseen water and we all screamed and ran.


Where are the elephants?

The following morning provided the sighting we had all been waiting for. We started with a short walk around the hotel complex to find a massive bull munching on some trees. We approached from behind and worked our way around to the side to see his face.


My first elephant.

The bull finally moved on and so did we. We headed downhill to the watering holes where an elephant family was enjoying the waters. The young elephants were playing in the water, even having a mock fight.


As the bull we saw earlier approach, we watched the matron of the herd and another older female move protectively in front of the young.


Protecting the young playing in the water.


The big bull from earlier finally approached the watering hole.


And then he went for a swim.

We, on the other hand, were just told to stand still and be quiet. The rangers had guns, but I would have hated to see one used to injure an elephant when it was the humans who would have been out of line.

I knew nothing about elephants then, so I could not appreciate how close I was without interfering in their lives. I also did not know how terrifying an elephant could be and was not scared with being so close. I was in awe.


Oh hey there, elephants. We were so close to them.

As a child, I loved my neighbor’s cat Elsa, pandas, flamingos, and orangutans. I do not even remember seeing elephants at the zoo. But now, elephants are my animal. Seeing the orphaned babies at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust definitely helped sway the world’s largest land mammal in my favor.

Flamingos are still second in line and I will reassess once I finally see one in the wild. I went on safari in Kenya so I could see the flamingos at Lake Nakuru and due to excess rain, they had flown the coop. Kenya was still awesome, though.

Since those days of my first safari in Ghana, I have had many other elephant encounters in Kenya and Swaziland. I will always appreciate and cherish the first for its peacefulness and closeness, especially compared to the time I was charged by a bull in Swaziland.



Every wildlife encounter is unique and should be treasured. In a world where humans are increasingly encroaching on the lands of elephants and other wildlife, and when humans are killing these beautiful animals for decorations and trophies, I appreciate every moment an elephant chooses to give its human followers. I look forward to a few over the next week.


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Wednesday photo: Laundry

February was a fun month filled with training, a traditional holiday, and lots of rain. 

The first two weeks were extremely busy and I managed to squeeze in two short, one-hour laundry sessions during that time. 

Then the rain started, not letting up for two weeks. My dirty laundry was already expanding beyond the bag I use for dirty clothes, and with all the rain, the pile just kept growing. 

The rain meant there was no way to dry my clothes. Sure, I could have hung a few pieces to dry in my room, but the humidity was still too high for anything to dry. 

Finally on Saturday I was able to wash and mostly dry about half of the laundry. It finally dried on Monday while I washed the rest of my clothes, towels, and sheets. 


Monday’s laundry hanging to dry.

These three lines full of laundry took about three hours from start to finish. It will be at least another three hours before they dry. 
I would say that I am quite good at rewearing clothing until it is truly dirty, so with that I recommend that future PCVs really should fill one suitcase with clothes of all styles and for all seasons. If you look closely enough at the photo above, you can see that I am drying both pants and shorts because February included all weather options from 100-degree days to chilly, 65-degree days. You need to be prepared for it all in Swaziland. 

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A moment in my life: Winter coats in summer

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. 
I first saw people wearing winter coats in the summer on a beautiful day in Nairobi. It was 70-some degrees and I was wearing a t-shirt. Yet the Kenyans around me were all wearing winter coats. I asked one of them about it, and the response was that it was cold out. I accepted this for what it was and moved on with my life. 

During PST when I first arrived in Swaziland, I never knew the actual temperature so I can’t say how cold it was when I wore my puffy and winter hat to bed. There was frost in the morning, so I feel like my actions were justifiable. 

Since then, though, it has been summertime. 

I will grudgingly admit to wearing my puffy on Christmas when it was a chilly 68 degrees. I haven’t stooped so slow since then, but the Swazis definitely have. 

On a rainy day last week, the parkas and fur coats were out again, protecting the Swazis from a chilly, summer day. 

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