Wednesday photo: A goose

My apartment complex has a menagerie of animals, including a pair of geese. These usually stay in the upper yard, seldom visiting me in the lower yard.

They aren’t too noisy but when they do visit, they love to hiss and sometimes charge.

The goose doesn’t like being photographed.

Recently one has taken to visiting me regularly, first to eat my lettuce and then to eat the chipping paint surrounding my porch. I wonder what tastes so good in the paint.

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What can I buy in eSwatini?

I could not believe there was a frozen section at the grocery stores here. Once again, I was wildly misinformed about what kind of shopping access there would be in eSwatini.

I realized pretty early on that eSwatini was not as isolated as I expected. We were taken to the grocery store after a few days in the country, and my mind was blown. There wasn’t enough time or money to process everything the Matsapha Pick’n’Pay offers, but I knew I would not have to eat rice and beans for every meal every day of my service after that first shopping trip.

Simply stated, you can buy just about anything here, although some things can come at quite the price.

So how does this access affect what you should bring and what you should buy in-country?

What you receive

Every PCV and Response volunteer will receive kitchenware, bedding, a few buckets, and a medical kit upon arrival, and after swearing in as a volunteer, everyone will receive a settling-in allowance that is usually used to furnish the living space you are given (for instance, to purchase a bed [the cheapest beds are from Furniture Warehouse], refrigerator [I bought a mini fridge from OK Furniture], and/or a stoven [the best one I could find was at Jet]). PCVs are unlikely to move into an already furnished space, but it is possible and often dependent upon whether there was a previous volunteer who left her furnishings and if the family did not take them. Response volunteers may or may not move into a furnished space. Response volunteers (and extenders) are at the mercy of their host institution and what the NGO or Peace Corps office can afford. NGOs often have a bigger budget than Peace Corps, and can afford bigger, better furnished, and/or better-located apartments, but this is not always the case.

Toiletries

Everyone, especially PCTs, should bring enough toiletries to get through training (about 10 weeks for PCTs) or be prepared to use personal money to purchase them here. Clicks, the only American-style chain drug store here, has the best deals on toiletries, and often on kitchenware and small appliances, too, especially when items are on sale and when you use the store’s free rewards card. Clicks is not available in the town where PCTs shop, so toiletries will be more expensive at the grocery stores.

A small selection of shampoo available.

All of the most common toothpaste brands are available. “Natural” options are not. It is also more difficult to find soft toothbrushes.

A small selection of recognizable pads and tampons are available. Pay attention to whether or not the product is scented, and nearly all pads have wings. Reusable menstrual cups are not sold.

One of the most common pad and tampon brands available.

Clicks and even the grocery stores have a big selection of all toiletries, and you can buy many recognizable brands here. The biggest product difference is found in deodorants, which are most commonly roll-on. If you are willing to change to that, or to a small selection of sticks, you can purchase what you need here.

Kitchenware

The kitchenware that Peace Corps provides is adequate, but you will likely want to supplement the provided pieces if you enjoy cooking or baking. You can easily buy a non-stick skillet here, but if you have one you are willing to bring, bring it. Oven mitts are harder to find here, as are spatulas like the kind you would use to mix a cake. Baking tins and casserole dishes are plentiful and inexpensive, especially at Pep, a common clothing and home goods store, and at Shoprite, another big grocery store. My favorite kitchen items from home are thin plastic cutting boards, good knives, and a liquid measuring cup that can be viewed from above.

Food

Most basic foods and spices are available here, including an extensive meat section, plus seasonal produce. Tomato, bell pepper, onion, potato, beets, butternut, carrots, greens, apples, bananas, and kiwis are available year-round. Other fruits and vegetables are seasonal.

Most coffee is instant, but the instant varieties have steadily improved in quality since my arrival in 2016.

There are some ground and bean coffees, too.

Nut packages are small and expensive.

There are a few milk alternatives. There is also almond milk at Woolworth’s at a steep price. Coconut milk is available canned.

Cereal choices are either bran or corn flakes. There are plenty of plain oats and many varieties of granola and muesli.

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Tuna is often a PCV staple.

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In addition to the large produce section, there are also lots of canned and frozen vegetables and canned and dry beans, including black beans.

You can find nearly every spice you could want available at either the grocery store or at Spice World. Start out with spices in the glass container and then buy refills from the much cheaper packets.

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Spices for everything.

Pick’n’Pay in Mbabane has a huge selection of meat-free frozen options.

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There are almost as many yogurt choices here as there are in America. Most have added sugar and Greek yogurt has not yet caught on.

I always say you can afford cheese if you want to. Most of it is dyed orange. I stick to feta and white cheddar.

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Meat is plentiful at every grocery store. There are fresh and frozen options. It is common for the chicken selection to be the opposite of what is sold in the US: all the parts are available, plus the whole chicken, and most cuts are bone-in. Some stores don’t even stock chicken breasts.

Notable foods that are mostly unavailable here include trail mix, tofu, boxed meals like mac and cheese, most American candy, and a variety of cereal. The one food item I find cost-prohibitive is nuts. Many other PCVs will say that meat and cheese are cost-prohibitive, but I disagree.

If there is very specific comfort food you like, bring it or have it mailed. I am always asking for Annie’s mac and cheese and nuts, and when I went on home leave, I returned with big bags of trail mix and almonds, along with some crackers and candy.

Clothing

There are plenty of lower-cost clothing stores here, in addition to the used clothing sold weekly at Bend and Pick in Mbabane and Manzini. Tailors are also plentiful if you want to buy fabric and have clothes made. But if you are bigger or taller than average, it may be more difficult to find clothing that fits well.

If you bring cheaply made or old clothing, expect it to not survive two years of hand washing. If you bring clothing you didn’t want to wear in the U.S., you probably won’t want to wear it here (for example, if you didn’t spend time hiking or camping pre-Peace Corps, don’t spend lots of money on gear you probably won’t use here). Relatively nice dress is needed for work at schools and clinics and at Peace Corps trainings. Peace Corps trainings have a specific dress code that usually prohibits females from wearing pants. You could also end up on a homestead where pants are prohibited as I did. Does that mean females need to wear long skirts all the time? Absolutely not, but you need at least one long skirt for visiting the traditional council and attending funerals.

I would recommend bringing what you would wear over two weeks. Being able to mix and match makes it easier to change your outfits, and include clothing you want to relax in at home or in town. It can be difficult to get your laundry to dry during the rainy season, so don’t count yourself short, especially with underwear.

Everything else

Electronics are costly here, so bring what you need from home. Many kitchen appliances are available at the big grocery stores and at Clicks. Many volunteers use Command hooks to hang their bug net, so they are a highly recommended item. Other useful items include a lunch box, food storage containers, a big zippered tote bag, and a reusable shopping bag. If you already own these, you could bring them so you do not have to repurchase here.

If you want to know more about what to bring to eSwatini, check out my posts about what I brought and what my favorite items are.

Posted in Africa, eSwatini, Peace Corps, Swaziland | 3 Comments

Wednesday photo: Koshary

I’ve been in a bit of a food rut and was wondering what I would cook for dinner when I came across this photo of mine of a bowl of koshary, a Cairene staple.

I had lunch at Koshary Abou Tarek, the home of this dish of pasta, lentils, chickpeas, rice, crispy fried onions, tomato sauce, and hot sauce. It’s the only meal on the menu and is available in different quantities.

I don’t think I will make this for dinner tonight, but I will definitely keep it in mind for sometime soon.

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A photo tour of my apartment

Seeing as I have lived in my Mbabane apartment for a year, and am moving out in a month, I thought it was about time to show you my home.

I have loved it here, and can only expect that wherever I move next will not be as nice. I haven’t really minded the lack of furniture or empty rooms, or even the 70s colors.

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My bedroom. I upgraded my bedding and added some art. Of course, I kept my cardboard box night stand.

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My excellent closet.

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The bathroom. The toilet is in a separate room.

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My second bedroom is used for storage and guests.

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The kitchen is quite spacious. It would be better only if it had a stove and a sink with two basins.

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One of my doors, my empty dining room behind the divider, and my sitting room.

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My sitting room and veranda.

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The outside.

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Wednesday photo: Ezulwini view

I went to a funeral today for someone from work. A better description may be calling hours, which are all-day, every day between someone’s death and burial. There was singing, praying, and a few readings from the Bible.

The location was somewhere new to me, high up in the Mdzimba mountains above Ezulwini.

It was a beautiful drive and a beautiful day.

In the center is Execution Rock, with Sheba’s Breast to the right. Below is Ezulwini. The neon green fields are growing sugar cane, and I lived below the mountains in the far back.

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Wednesday photo: Beginning another round of goodbyes

It’s that time of year again when PCVs start going home as they finish their service.

The Fourth of July was the last time everyone is guaranteed to be together.

Nine G14s extended for an extra year in eSwatini

Nine PCVs from my group made it through a third year here, and three of us are staying for year four.

Fortunately, us extenders should see each other one more time, but the G15s will begin departing in two weeks. The end of another year here has come.

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Wednesday photo: Happy early birthday, America

I won a ticket to attend the U.S. Embassy’s official Fourth of July celebration this year.

Happy birthday!

There are plenty of reasons to want to go to the Embassy. There’s drinking fountains and nice (my vote for the nicest in country!) bathrooms at the Embassy, and there was finger food and drinks for this special occasion. There were also homemade brownies!

The ambassador gave a great speech about powerful women and the king’s representative mentioned the Peace Corps.

I also realized I’ve learned a few things about siSwati and was able to tell that the liSwati who sang the Swati national anthem sang it in isiZulu. I was able to confirm this with Peace Corps staff, who noted that she could be from southern eSwatini where isiZulu is much more common, or perhaps she learned the words from a grandfather from the time when school here was taught in isiZulu. But I digress.

It was wonderful to go to a party where I didn’t cook the food, yet I still look forward to the Peace Corps celebration next week!

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Wednesday photo: Pulled pork fail

I know that my friends said the pulled pork was amazing. I, on the other hand, am perhaps jaded from the ridiculousness of the whole matter.

The grocery store didn’t have any appropriate-looking pork, so I went to the butcher. The cashier at the butchery didn’t know what I was talking about. When I called to place my order I asked for a tenderloin. Instead I got loin chops, complete with 50 percent fat and the skin and bones, to boot!

2 kg of pork

I couldn’t trim the skin or fat easily before cooking, so I did that after slow cooking, at which point I was able to shred the remaining bits.

Next time I have to take a photo to the butcher or just stick to chicken the next time I have a pulled pork craving.

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Wednesday photo: Fall or winter?

Determining when seasons begin and end in eSwatini has been tricky. Is it fall or winter right now?

In mid-May fall definitely began in Mbabane. It smelled like fall and the mornings were definitely chillier. The few trees that lose their leaves started dropping them.

Mbabane’s park has a few deciduous trees that now look like fall.

Now, the nights are colder with temps dropping below 50 degree F. Without snow or freezing temps, I wonder what the signal for winter is. Is it that I put all the blankets on my bed, am sleeping in layers of clothing, or that I started wearing two pairs of pants when I get home from work?

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What I have been reading

I have somehow found more time in my day for reading the last few months, which is fantastic. I have not done a good job of keeping up with my reading here, so I wanted to share a list of what I have read in the last six months.

One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo, a collection of short stories about PCVs who served in Africa
Zulu Inspired Beadwork: Weaving Techniques and Projects by Diane Fitzgerald
The Complete Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe
Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsebet Bathory by Kimberly L. Craft
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
Lonely Planet’s Egypt guidebook
The Tutankhamun Deception by Gerald O’Farrell
Cairo Modern by Naguib Mahfouz
Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz
Decoding Egyptian Hieroglyphics by Bridget McDermott
The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession Led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Mystery by Bob Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin
Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Commentary on my reads

The PCV stories really show how the Peace Corps has changed since its inception. I can’t imagine fighting a lion during anyone’s service nowadays.

The beadwork book has been great for learning new styles of beading, and I have many projects from the book still on my list.

Erzsebet Bathory is a wholly fascinating person who may or may not have murdered a whole lot of women and girls.

Howe’s book about Deliverance Dane started my time travelling theme with travels between the Salem-area witch trials and modern times. I really enjoyed this one.

The Outlander books all blend together now, but the story has continued to be good enough and the characters still find plenty of trouble. It is hard to put down, even though each book nears 1,000 pages.

The book about King Tut was fascinating. I could neither confirm nor deny most of the commentary on my trip to Egypt. My guides hadn’t heard of most theories, but nothing in this book seemed implausible. On the other hand, I am 100 percent convinced that Houdin’s theory about pyramid construction is the right one, regardless of what my guides said.

Mahfouz’s books were disappointing.

Zeppa’s book about serving in Bhutan has so many comparisons to life as a PCV. Read it to understand a bit of what our life is like.

And The Alchemist. I easily understand why it is a classic. It was a great read.

What am I currently reading?

The seventh Outlander book, which introduces more characters into the first-person narrative style and helps with preventing the story from dragging.

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