Monday in a Picture – Half Dollar

Living in Swaziland has taught me many things, and reaffirmed others. One of the things that has been reaffirmed is the heavy influence of American culture on Swaziland. In particular, American hip hop culture influences many across the kingdom.

Some of my students want to know my personal familiarity and acquaintance with John Cena, Beyonce, and Rick Ross among others. I’ve helped friends in my community to get updated music from their favorite artists. 

Just outside of the Swazi metropolis known as Manzini, there is a town called Matsapha. While Matsapha is home to an array of businesses and restaurants, one business meshes American hip hop culture and Swazi cuisine. The eatery’s name is 50’s Kitchen. The restaurateur is definitely 50 Cents’ doppelganger. But he doesn’t rest on his resemblance to his famed American twin to garner business. The food is delicious and affordable. 

If you ever find yourself in Matsapha, or even Manzini, definitely stop by and enjoy the culinary delights. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – ​Grow Your Own Food: The Harvest 

Last week, the farm-to-table experience took on new meaning. I was watering my garden when I noticed that some of the crops were ready to harvest. Some crops, namely the cauliflower, had been sacrificed to garden pests. However, there were eggplants and okra that were ripe and ready. I should mention that I had completely forgotten that I even planted eggplant. I’m thankful that the eggplant didn’t forget it had been planted (like my tomatoes did). 

I harvested three beautiful eggplants and some okra. Now, I was faced with a new challenge. What do I do with this produce? I had never cooked fresh okra. I had never cooked (or eaten) eggplant, in any state. Thankfully, there were friends and Google to help me make culinary sense of the harvest. 

I decided to make an eggplant and okra stir-fry. It was delicious! It was hard to believe that I was eating a meal that had been grown by my own hands. In reality, it’s difficult for me to take full credit for the meal. While I planted the crops and watered them (when I remembered), the Earth did most of the work. The garden was much kinder to me than I was to it. For that, I’m thankful. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Marula and Buganu

This past weekend, Swazis and friends in the northern region of the country celebrated the marula festival. The festival celebrates the harvest of the marula fruit, its resiliency, and the resiliency that it symbolizes for all of Swaziland. The tree produces delicious fruit, even in drought stricken summers. The festival happens at one of the royal residences, and the king and queen mother attend along with hundreds of Swazis. 

Swazis celebrate the marula fruit by home brewing buganu (pronounced boo-ga-new), which is a beer made from the fruit. One PCV, who lives in northern Swaziland, agreed (with his host family) to host a number of PCVs so that we could experience the fruit, the beer, and the festival. He and his host family spent considerable time brewing many liters of buganu for this weekend. The inner council of the community leadership came to his homestead to sit and share buganu with the volunteers. They talked about the fruit and beer before explaining how the beer is made. Then, there was a live, hands-on tutorial of home brewing buganu. The picture above is of the hosting host mom preparing to start the buganu brewing process. 

The fruit is removed from its skin, and placed in clean water. After three days, the seeds are removed from the fruit. Then, the mixture sits for another day. At this point, the beer is ready to be enjoyed. We learned that women typically brew the buganu for her husband and the family. Some women also sell buganu. A 25 liter container sells for between 50 and 100 emalangeni (pronounced emma-lan-gay-knee), which is the currency of Swaziland (on par with the South African rand). 

There will be another marula festival in a few weeks in a different region of the country. This is due to the marula fruit ripening at different times in different parts of the country. We learned that the fruit is not to be picked from the tree, as it is not yet ripe. The fruit should be picked up from the ground once it has fallen. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Grow Your Own Food: the Garden

Last week, I finished my garden. I used the techniques that we learned in a training session last month. Read about that training here. Building this garden was a great way to test my own knowledge and skill before leading trainings in my community. I’m still planning the community demonstration gardens with community leadership.

Double digging to depths of 30+ centimeters is hard, tedious work. The Swazi sun made the task even more unappealing. I hyped myself up by watching Ron Finley’s TED talk about guerrilla gardening. While the entire video is extremely motivational and inspiring, one quote stuck out to me.

“Growing your own food is like printing your own money.” – Ron Finley

I like money. I like food. Challenge accepted! It took four days to complete. I’m happy to announce that it’s done. Some of my neighbors came over to learn and help. It felt great to actually understand permagardening well enough to explain it to others. 

I’m sure that I didn’t do everything perfectly. There were measurements that I forgot to take. My idea (and practice) of companion planting is definitely not what we learned. I didn’t add ash or charcoal to the soil because we didn’t have any available. 

For those who may be wondering what I am hoping to grow, I planted seedlings of lettuce, red cabbage, Chinese cabbage, butternut squash, onions, okra, basil, something called rocket (which the sales associate told me is like spinach), broccoli, cauliflower, and eggplant. I planted seeds of chamomile, flowers, tomatoes, and spinach. Now, I’m just hoping that the seeds and seedlings turn into food.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – This is what the space looked like before it became a garden. 

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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. 

​Monday in a Picture – The Head

When a cow, or inkhomo (pronounced inn-co-moe), is slaughtered, there is a lot of meat. The meaty goodness is a carnivore’s dream. After everyone has had some meat, rice or porridge, and cabbage, bobabe (pronounced bo-bah-bay), or men, gather around dishes filled with more meat.

This past weekend when this happened, one of the men invited me to join them as they prepared to eat from the meat filled dishes. On these dishes was something of a Swazi delicacy. It was the cow’s head. The picture above is only half of the cow head meat. 

I had heard stories about the sacredness of the  cow head, how delicious it was, and how women are discouraged from consuming it. According to some beliefs, fertility problems might come to women who eat the cow’s head. I’ve also been told that eating cow head meat increases intelligence and virility in men. 

I sat down with the men and we started to eat. There were no plates, no cutlery, and no napkins. There was a beautiful sense of community as we ate or half of the cow’s head. It I couldn’t tell you if I ate the cheek, tongue, neck, or other part of the cow head. I can guess that most of the meat was grilled, while some was boiled. What I can tell you (with certainty) is that whatever I ate, it was delicious. It was juicy and full of flavor. The cow head is probably the most flavorful and tender meat I’ve tasted since arriving in Swaziland. It did have a slight garlicky aftertaste, but it was nothing compared to the deliciousness. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward.