Monday in a Picture – Bringing in 2018

Around August 2017, I was trying to decide how I was going to bring in the new year. At first, I was pretty set on going to the Vic Falls Fest at Victoria Falls. In case you don’t know, it’s a multi-day music festival. When I started looking at logistics and pricing, I decided that it wasn’t for me. Back to the drawing board. 

I decided that I wanted three things. Amazing, delicious food; beautiful beaches; and a country that I hadn’t been to before. Some folks suggested that I check out Zanzibar in Tanzania. I did, and decided that I wanted to ring in 2018 there. 

My initial plans were foiled by an Airbnb snafu, but I resolved that and ended up staying on a different part of the island (Pajé) than I initially intended (Nungwi). It was pretty great. Many days were spent reading and resting on the beach. I was able to finish Kevin Hart’s book. I was able to eat several delectable delights. I met some friendly PCVs currently serving in Zambia. The new year was celebrated at a party on the beach complete with fireworks. 

If you ever have the chance, I’d highly recommend getting to Zanzibar. The above pictures are (top) the walkway to the beach, (bottom right) red curry prawns with a mango smoothie-and a view, and (bottom left) me eating a traditional Zanzibari soup. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Swazi/Zulu Christmas

I’m writing this on the Saturday before Christmas. There are two times every year when people return to their respective family’s homestead. Good Friday/Easter is one of those times. Christmas is the other. Several extended family members from my host family have returned to my gogo’s (pronounced go-go), or grandmother’s homestead to celebrate Christmas. 

Two days ago, my family slaughtered a cow and sent it to the butcher. My host make (pronounced mah-gay), or mother, told me that I should be a gogo’s homestead on Saturday for a family gathering. My host bhuti (pronounced boo-tee), or brother, asked me to help him braai the meat. I was honored to be asked to assist. 

This morning, my bhuti knocked on my door to let me know that it was time to start the festivities. We went to the store to pick up some spices and beer. When we returned to gogo’s homestead (down the road from my homestead), some people had already arrived. Some of our cousins had started the fire in the braai stand already. I grabbed my apron while my bhuti seasoned the meat. There was at least 10 kilograms of beef to be grilled. It had been a while since I’d been at the helm of a grill, and it was my first time using a braai stand. Luckily, the concept and function is the same. 

As grilling commenced, people slowly gathered around. I spent most of the afternoon on the braai stand, and I was extremely happy. My bhuti made sure that I took breaks so that I could enjoy the food as well. There’s a certain magic that occurs when good people gather for a good time with good food. Imagine a block party meeting a family reunion mixed with Christmas dinner. That was today. The speakers blasted tunes as folks danced after they ate. Home brewed beer flowed freely. Community members, friends of the family, and friends of friends came over for food and fellowship. Today was a good day. It’s one of those days that makes me happy to be a part of this human experience. I’m thankful that I have been welcomed and embraced into my family, community, and all of Swaziland. 

The above picture of me and my bhuti doing/discussing braai things. 

Merry Christmas! 
Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Monday in a Picture – We Painted! 

My host bhuti (pronounced boo-tee), or brother, loves to stay busy. He’s always building something, tinkering with something, or otherwise keeping his hands occupied. Last week, he invited me to join him in one of his tasks. He had decided that it was time to paint our make’s (pronounced mah-gay), or mother’s kitchen. He wasn’t sure if I actually knew how to paint. As I’m free most days now that school has ended, I decided to join him. 

As we were painting, we had progressively fascinating conversations. My bhuti now asks how things are on “that Reddit”. The morning flew by. Many hands make light work. Make made us a delicious lunch and was extremely thankful. The pictures above were taken from the south facing window of the kitchen. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Monday in a Picture – Fresh

Swaziland has a huge agricultural society. In the rural community, almost every family has a field or two for the purpose of growing food. If you happen to live in a more urban setting and/or lack agricultural savvy but still want fresh fruits and veggies, you’re in luck. 

At bus ranks and other places where many people congregate, there’s likely many bomake (pronounced bo-mah-gay), or women who have set up temporary stalls with an abundance of whatever fruits and vegetables are in season. The prices are typically very reasonable and it presents the opportunity to support small business projects. The above photo was taken outside of the Mbabane bus rank last week. As you may see, mangos are now in season! This is reason to celebrate. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Sweet Dreams – Shrimp and Cake

Because I am posted in a country where I might contract malaria, I have been given an antimalarial medication called, “Mefloquine”. One of the side effects of this medication is lucid dreaming. The following is what I dreamt last night (as best I can remember). 

There was a seafood restaurant. They had shrimp. There was another seafood place that only had soft shell crab. But they had run out of soft shell crab. I ordered one, and they somehow managed to get it for me. I had to wait for the long bus ride home. 

A few days later, I found out that I would be moving to a house closer to the seafood places. I was excited. The house was similar to a college dorm suite with two people sharing a room on either side of an elaborate kitchen/dining room setup. I didn’t like my roommate because he walked around with a 25 liter jerry can that served as his personal urinal. We had multiple bathrooms in the house. 

Because I now lived closer to the seafood places, I would go there often. Maybe everyday. One day, I saw that they were supposed to have stuffed shrimp. Of course, they had run out by the time I got there. I had to order the regular shrimp. I went to another shop in the vicinity to order cake, but they didn’t have any red velvet cake left. I walked home slightly disappointed that I didn’t have stuffed shrimp and red velvet cake. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – The Origin of Coffee

I stopped drinking coffee regularly years ago. As I got older, my digestive system grew less tolerant. I decided to limit my intake to special occasions. Being in Ethiopia qualifies as a special occasion. 

There are two things many Ethiopians were happy to tell me. First, Ethiopia is the only country on the African continent to never be colonized. Second, coffee’s origins and the best coffee is found in Ethiopia. 

There are big coffee shops that reminded me of Starbucks, aesthetically. There are small coffee shops that were described to me as micro enterprises. In both coffee shop experiences, the raw coffee beans are roasted and grinded on site. There is incense burning. The coffee is typically made over a wood burning fire in a black clay pot. There have also been instances where I’ve been offered coffee when visiting someone’s residence. 

I am happy to report that my digestive system handled the delicious coffee very well. I haven’t tasted coffee from the various coffee regions around the world, so I can’t say if Ethiopian coffee is the best in the world. I can definitively say that I have enjoyed every cup during my time in Ethiopia. 

The above picture is of a small enterprise entrepreneur named Desta pouring a cup of coffee at her street side coffee shop. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – Last week, I learned that Hawaii is the only US state that grows. 

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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 – School Lunch

The schools in Swaziland serve lunch every school day. The daily menu is minimally varied. Some days, the students are treated to soupy beans with rice. On other days, the afternoon delight is non-soupy beans with rice. 

School lunch costs are included in the annual school fees assessed to secondary school students. All primary school students and some secondary school students are fully funded by government. 

At lunch time, students line up outside of the kitchen with her/his dish and eating utensil. Four or five older students are responsible for serving their classmates. They set up a table with at least two basins filled with rice and at least two basins or buckets filled with beans. After being served, students sit around the school grounds while enjoying lunch. Students can supplement their lunch with snacks from the bomake market. 

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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Getting naked in Cape Town (SFW)

It was Sunday evening. I had returned to Swaziland to attend training. I was on cloud nine after having the most amazing weekend in Cape Town. I had started the weekend with two goals. Eat great food and ride bikes while naked. Cape Town is known for some exquisite cuisine. The World Naked Bike Ride happened to be on the same weekend. Both of my goals were exceedingly accomplished! I ate amazing Thai food and sushi. Other PCVs at the training commented on how refreshed I looked as I shared highlights of the weekend. I smiled. I was extremely rejuvenated. 

One PCV friend asked when I would be writing about this experience on my blog. I responded that I wouldn’t be writing about the naked bike ride weekend. I had reasoned that the weekend was not related to my Peace Corps service, and that this blog was singularly about my service. I had reasoned that I wanted to be a “good” volunteer, and not attract bad publicity or attention to the Peace Corps. 

The World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is a clothing optional bike ride that takes place in more than 70 cities around the world. People from all walks of life join in to celebrate people powered transportation. Most ride bikes. Some ride longboards. Some participate in roller skates. Others choose to run. 

The reasons that people choose to participate, like the participants themselves, are diverse. Some people want to bring attention to our global dependence on non-renewable energy. Others want to highlight the vulnerability of cyclists and remind motorists to share the road. There are naturists, and naturism activists, who use the ride to promote a clothes-free lifestyle and remind the world that nakedness does not equal sex or lewd behavior. 

My first WNBR was 2012 in Philadelphia. A big reason for my participation, at the time, was to be part of an exciting counter-culture. It was thrilling to be around 2500 people in various states of undress. 

To date, I have done the WNBR in six cities on three continents. While it’s still exciting to be naked and ride bikes through the city, I have added to the reasons that I ride. Having struggled with body image issues at various points in my life, I try to fully embrace body positivity, both in practice and thinking. People with all kinds of body types participate in the ride, and all are welcomed and embraced by fellow ride participants and most onlookers. Cape Town was no different. As we rode through the city, people lined the streets to cheer for us. The smiles were plenty. The weather was perfect. I was even gifted some delicious pizza after the 7.5 km ride. I even posed for pictures, and completed some interviews (one of which ended up on Japanese news). Body shaming has been normalized and is commonplace in far too many places. Simply stated, I ride because I refuse to embrace a culture of shame. 

After much internal debate on whether or not I should write about my experience at the Cape Town WNBR, I decided that it was necessary. Yes, this is a blog about my Peace Corps experience. However, that experience isn’t limited to teaching classes, building gardens, and writing grants. Also, I believe in the importance of fully representing the great expanse known as the US of A. Some day, someone will read this while wondering if there is space in Peace Corps for them with all of their unique intricacies. Let this post be a resounding yes! 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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