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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​Monday in a Picture – My Pit Latrine 

I thought about titling this, “My Poopy Place”. Alas, I resisted. Everyone poops. As such, everyone needs some a method and a place to relieve themselves of fecal matter. While some rural homesteads and urban businesses have bathrooms furnished with flushing toilets, many of the homesteads in my community utilize some kind of pit latrine when handling bathroom business. My homestead falls into this category. The above picture is our pit latrine. 

There’s a toilet-like structure that sits over a very large deep hole (pit). All of the waste goes into that hole. Around the toilet-like structure, there are four walls (including one with a door). In my latrine, I have enough space to sit comfortably while handling my business. The door’s lock is a wire that wraps around a nail on the door frame. My latrine also has a ventilation pipe to help mitigate the smell of decomposing waste. 

I’ve never seen a latrine filled. However, I’ve been told that the latrine is considered full when the waste is between 1.5 and 2 meters away from the top of the hole. After a latrine is full, a tree of some variety is planted in that space as the space is now very fertile. Another hole will be dug so that there can still be a place for using the toilet. 

Because there is no light in my latrine, I tend not to use the latrine after dark. I’ve heard stories of crafty, stealthy creatures biting butts in the dark. While I realize that my concern is probably irrational and could be alleviated with a headlamp, I’ll stick to the safety of my pee bucket. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – Here’s a picture of the inside of my latrine. 

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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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Reflections from Madagascar

Recently, I vacationed in Madagascar to celebrate the New Year. Here are five quick reflections from Madagascar

  1. ​Yes, I went all the way to Madagascar and managed not to see one lemur. I didn’t make it to any of the national parks. I guess I have a reason to return, in addition to the beach and tasty stuff. A day on the beach is never wasted. 
  2. Speaking French could be  an (unofficial) prerequisite of visiting the island nation. There are two languages: French and Malagasy. English isn’t spoken with any regularity.  Luckily, a few people who did speak English were there to help me when I needed it. I’m extremely grateful to these language champions! (Side note: After speaking and hearing so much siSwati for the past six and a half months, I found myself greeting and responding in siSwati. Yebo babe would be uttered only to realize that I meant to say Bonjour Monsieur.)
  3. Madagascar is big. It’s the fourth largest island in the world. Navigating the island takes considerable time. I traveled on a taxi-brousse (intercity public transport) from Antananarivo to Tamatave. The journey of about 320 kilometers lasted 8 hours on relatively good roads. 
  4. The food was quite delightful. I enjoyed delicious seafood from traditional restaurants and traditional Malagasy hotelys. I sat in an ice cream parlour and had some peach ice cream that made my taste buds say “thank you”. I was fortunate to try several natural juices. I’m happy to report that they were all refreshing and delicious. There was even good Mexican food at a hostel in the capital. 
  5. During my trip, I was fortunate to meet some PCVs currently serving in Madagascar. They were all wonderful folks. We shared laughs, played games, and ate good food together. I learned that while the Peace Corps experience has some similarities wherever you go, it is just as unique the people who serve. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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

Last week, Peace Corps Swaziland hosted Peter Jensen, a permagardening specialist based out of Peace Corps Ethiopia, to facilitate two workshops on his specialty. Volunteers were invited to participate in the workshop with a counterpart (community-based colleague), with the expectation that the volunteer and counterpart would take what they learned to train others in the local community. 

For those wondering what exactly permagardening is, allow me to share my understanding. Permagardening is a permanent garden that focuses on strict natural water management, double digging, and using locally accessible materials to keep the garden and soil healthy and productive.

I attended one of the workshops with a counselor from my community. She’s an agriculture friendly person who grows various things on her homestead. In contrast, the only plant I’ve managed to grow with any success is ivy, which is extremely difficult to kill. Peter presented permagardens in a way that was accessible and interesting to novices, like myself, and experienced folk, like my counterpart. He made me believe that even I can build a fruitful garden using the permagardening techniques and principles. The workshop inspired a conversation between me and my counterpart about how to take these techniques back to the community. Currently, we are planning on building three demonstration gardens around the community. 

When I returned to my home, I talked with my host mom about the possibility of me building a garden. She excitedly pointed me to a fenced area on the homestead and told me that I could use that space. Now, I have the space, some tools, and the training to practice before co-facilitating a community training. The only thing left to do is the work of actually building the garden. Wish me luck! 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward.