Where Did My Money Go?

Budgets are important. Time, money and other resources are finite so the absence of an accountability method can lead to a very quick draining of those resources. In the age of technology, mobile apps have made it easier. For my COS trip, I was looking for an app that could handle budgeting and expense tracking using multiple currencies.

After some internet searches, I came across Toshl. It can track income and expenses while handling budgeting tasks. The app allows you to set a home currency, while entering expenses (or income) in other currencies. It will automatically show conversions to the home currency at the last updated rate. For example, I can set my home currency to the US dollar and enter Kenyan expenses in Kenyan shillings after entering Swazi expenses in Swazi emalangeni. In my expense tracker, the expenses will show in their respective currencies with the day’s exchange rate for US dollars. The app has premium, paid features that I have not explored. One such feature is the ability to connect bank accounts for automatic syncing.

Overall, the app has been just what I needed. It has allowed me to keep track of my spending during trip. It even reminds me, via mobile notifications, to ensure that I input all of my expenses. Recently, I even got a notification that I’m on track to be slightly under budget (for my trip). I would recommend it if you’re planning on traveling abroad or dealing in currencies outside your home currency.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – Bend and Pick

I love thrift stores. There’s some magical about spending copious amounts of time looking through any and everything. My mother said that I get this trait from my grandmother, who also loved thrifting. Shortly after arriving in eSwatini, I found Thelma who owned a small thrift store in Manzini, eSwatini’s biggest city. Thelma spruced up my wardrobe with a few items. Due to rising business costs, Thelma had to close her store.

Some PCVs in the prior groups told me about a wonderful swap meet known as Bend and Pick. Every Wednesday and Thursday (excluding some Swazi public holidays), vendors from eSwatini and the rest of southern Africa converge on the Manzini bus rank with their wares. Bend and Pick is the largest regular flea market, that I know of, in eSwatini. If it can be worn, you’ll probably find it there. I’ve found several gems there including my super useful fanny pack. The prices are reasonable, even on a PCV budget. I’ve found that prices tend to be better the deeper you go into the market. Unlike most places in eSwatini, you can negotiate at Bend and Pick. Like thrift stores, Bend and Pick is not for folks who are in a rush or impatient. I’ve also found that as a man of size, Bend and Pick tends to be better for finding clothes that fit me. The picture above is from Bend and Pick a few weeks ago.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

​Monday in a Picture – Community Shop

Grocery shopping is an all day task for me from my rural community. It involves taking public transportation to a town that’s approximately 25 kilometers away. Because it’s such a time intensive activity, I try to limit my trips to once or twice a month. I have also started using a grocery list to make sure I get everything that I need. 

Inevitably, there is something that I forgot while on my grocery shopping excursion. For anything that I did forget or didn’t put on my list, there’s the sitolo (pronounced see-toe-low), or shop. At a community shop, you can find essential items like bread, rice, cooking oil, and beans among other things. My community has at least four shops. The shops vary in size. They also vary in their offerings. At least one of the shops in my community sells various cuts of meat and margarine. 

The prices at the community shops are a tad more expensive than prices at larger grocers. Even in Swaziland, stores that are convenient have a price for that convenience. And it’s very convenient to spend a rand or two more for a few items instead of spending an entire day (plus transportation money) to get those same items. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – Fat cakes

So, I’ve mentioned these before. A fat cake is a fried ball of sugary dough. While it definitely isn’t the standard of nutritious meals, it is delicious. 

Within a month of arriving in Swaziland, I was introduced to fat cakes. Bomake (pronounced boe-mah-gay), or women sell them at the markets, schools, and road side stands. After having several magnificent fat cake experiences and seeing the recipe in our Peace Corps cookbook, I decided that I would try to make them myself. 

Here’s the recipe, as written in the cook book:

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Oil for frying
  1. Mix dry ingredients. 
  2. Stir in egg and milk. 
  3. For lumpy mafeti (pronounced mah-fay-tee), or fat cakes, drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. 
  4. For better looks, roll out to about 3/4 inch thickness on a well floured surface and cut into triangles before frying. 
  5. For a chewier texture, knead dough with extra flour for about five minutes and let rest for half an hour before rolling out.

I should probably say that I took a few culinary, creative liberties. Of note, I did not use measuring cups. While mixing, I just added more wet or dry ingredient until the mixture was a consistency between that of pancake batter and bread dough. I also did not have cardamom. It wasn’t in my budget, and it’s not that serious. Instead, I added a generous amount of imitation vanilla extract. When the dough was ready, I heated up my makeshift deep fryer (a pot filled with cooking oil). I scooped out a oversized spoonful, and dipped the spoon in the oil. The deep fried goodness was almost ready for enjoyment. After I removed the cooked fat cakes from the hot oil, I let them rest and cool for a minute or two. The last step is perhaps the most important. I poured some powdered sugar (known as icing sugar here in Swaziland) in a plastic bag, and added the freshly fried (still warm) fat cakes. A vigorous shake ensures that the fat cakes are nicely covered. They are now ready to enjoy! Try out the recipe, and let me know how it goes. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward.