Wednesday photo: Hyena

I recently took a last minute, weekend trip to Kruger.

It was a successful trip, with leopard, lion and elephant babies, so many hyena, a cheetah, and a honey badger, among others.

A hyena posing for the camera.

Sadly, I wasn’t reunited with any of the wild dog packs, but there’s always next time.

Want to learn more about visiting Kruger, read Why I keep returning to Kruger. And if you would like to read about a funny hyena encounter when I visited Kruger last year, read If hyenas could talk.

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Wednesday photo: Bananas

My neighbor and I realized late into our stay at our apartment complex that the plentiful fruit growing here was ours for the taking. There’s avocado, banana, guava, orange, lemon, and mango trees.

We did a bit of research to know how and which bananas to cut, and we returned home with 60 unripe bananas.

We thought they would ripen at different times, but there wasn’t much time in between the ripe hands. We pretty much had 60 ripe bananas at once.

We needed some help eating them, but we managed to get through all the bananas is about one week. They were delicious!

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How to survive winter in eSwatini

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.

An example of my winter wear. After these layers, I would still need a blanket for any period of time spent sitting outside of my bed.

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.
  • Slippers
    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.
  • Gloves
    My hands are always cold, and I have appreciated warming them up easily with gloves and fingerless mittens.
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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.

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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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