​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. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Bomake Market 

All around Swaziland this week, schools are closing for the year. The academic year here is divided into three terms. The school day is typically divided into different lessons with two breaks. The first break is mid-morning, and lasts approximately 30 minutes. The second break is a lunch break, and lasts approximately 50 minutes. 

During these breaks, 2-4 bomake (pronounced bow-mah-gay), or women set up a snack market on the school grounds. The schools don’t have vending machines. In fact, I haven’t seen any vending machines in the kingdom, that I can remember. The bomake sell all kinds of goodies. These goodies include naks (a maize based snack similar to Cheetos that comes in different flavors), lollipops, popcorn, rolls (called buns here), and fatcakes. On really hot days, there are even ice blocks (a flavored, sweetened frozen slushy solid). 

I’ve noticed that the prices for snacks at the bomake market are pretty standardized. For instance, the going rate for a fatcake or an ice block is one lilangeni, pronounced lee-lan-gay-knee (the currency of Swaziland). The prices remain the same at most, if not all, of the school bomake markets in Swaziland. The homemade snacks (i.e., fatcakes) taste very similar all around the country as well. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

​Monday in a Picture – Plowing and Planting 

Everything in life has seasons. Election season in the US is over. American football season is in its prime, while basketball season is just starting. Right now, Swaziland is heading into summer, which is the rainy season. Warm temperatures and rain mean that it’s time to plow and plant. 
The staple crop in Swaziland is umbila (pronounced om-bee-la), or maize. The staple food is liphaleshi (pronounced lee-pa-lee-she), or porridge, which is made from ground maize meal. In my community, all homesteads have some land set aside for crop farming. Many of these families will grow substantial portions of their needed maize during the summer months. Some families may even have extra to sell. But before any growing can be done, the fields have to be readied. This includes plowing the field(s), which is sometimes done by hand with a hoe, shovel, or pick. It can also be done with a tractor pulled plow (as seen in the picture above). 

I spoke with these guys for a bit. They told me that this was a prime season to make money for their respective families. You can hire these guys to plow your field (assuming you live close by). I learned that they work all day, literally. They start working around 4:00 a.m., and work until 7 or 8:00 p.m. That’s a laborious workday that starts before the sun rises, and ends after it sets. They told me not to worry because they had a light on the tractor for working in the dark.  The conversation was brief because there were fields to be plowed and money to be made. Before they left, the driver asked if I could take his picture. Wish granted. 

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. 

An Appreciation

There are some things that I have really come to enjoy and appreciate since arriving in Swaziland almost two months ago. And host family appreciation day is quickly approaching.

For starters, my host family is pretty amazing. They are super kind and considerate. For the first week that I spent in the homestead experience, one of the children brought me hot water for my bath every morning at 6 AM. Like clockwork. With that being said, I appreciate the family culture here. There is also a big community culture here. The community takes care of its own. Family is important. That includes those with and without blood relation.

My family has avocado trees in the yard. I think I’ve eaten more avocados and things made with avocado in the past seven weeks than I have in my entire life. The avocados are abundant and delicious. As I looked at the avocado trees one day, it dawned on me that whoever planned these trees probably never enjoyed these avocados as I am. For that person, and all tree planters around the world, I thank you. Some families in my community have farms. This means that I’m able to walk down the road and find fresh broccoli, carrots, spinach, cauliflower and more. I get to practice my siSwati, support local business, and get high quality produce.

It’s winter in Swaziland right now. Despite this, I am able to walk around my homestead in shorts and a long sleeve shirt most days. On clear nights, I can look up to the sky and see many stars. One of the members of my cohort pointed out Mars one night. I have a newfound appreciation for the galaxy beyond this planet. There’s a certain serene-ness that I experience on those really clear, quiet nights.

I’m thankful for all of these things, and for the amazement yet to be seen.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward. 

Yummy Yummy Yums

One of the things that my Aunt Nae always wants to know is, “how’s the food?” With that in mind, let’s talk about food.

I need to preface this post by saying that although Swaziland is a very small country, I have only been to a very small fraction of the places in the country. Much of my culinary experience in Swaziland comes from my homestead experience. My sikhoni (sister in law, in case you forgot) typically cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I am typically only around for dinner. Sometimes, I cook for myself. Sometimes, I eat with the family.

Breakfast for me usually consists of oatmeal and/or fruit. It’s easy and difficult to mess up for non morning people, like myself. Breakfast for my family is usually sour porridge. It’s made from fermented mealie meal. In case you we wondering, mealie meal is a maize based thick flour. It’s a flavor that I had to get used to, but with some sugar, it’s perfect. I can’t really describe the flavor. As far as its appearance, it looks a lot like grits (which I haven’t seen here).

Lunchtime brings about different things. Sour porridge can be had for lunch as well. Porridge (as in not fermented or sour) can be enjoyed for lunch. Porridge is mealie meal that is added to boiling water and stirred/mixed until it’s very thick. Porridge is typically made in large quantities and serves as a base for lunch and/or dinner. As it’s very thick, it is eaten with the hands and used to pick up meat or whatever else is served with it. My lunch typically consists of a chicken salad sandwich. Canned chicken is readily available and refrigeration is not a concern. Add a bit of bbq garlic seasoning and it’s my own piece of midday paradise between two slices of bread.

For dinner, porridge is the sustaining puzzle piece. I believe that porridge here is the same as pap in South Africa. With our porridge, we’ve had stewed chicken or spinach, sometimes with a butternut squash mash. The porridge really doesn’t have a flavor, so it goes well with anything. We’ve also had rice and beans for dinner. I think the rice and (kidney) beans may be among my favorite meals in the country. It’s definitely my favorite meal at the homestead! One thing to note is that the portions are huge. I have attempted to clear my plate several times, and failed. The food is very filling.

I’ll close with snacks and some of the things that I’ve enjoyed outside of the homestead experience. First, chicken dust. The chicken is grilled on the side of the road, and served with some porridge and salad. The chicken is super flavorful and delicious. Next, there’s fat cakes. One of the other trainees told me about these. I’m forever thankful. Some of the women sell these fat cakes on the side of the road, in addition to other goods. What is a fat cake, you ask? It’s a fried ball of dough. It’s very similar to a funnel cake or beignet, but heavier and without powdered sugar. Talk about next level delicious. Next, one of the folks in my cohort introduced me to sugar cane. Pure succulent sugar cane. I don’t have it as much as I would like, and that’s a good thing. The cane juice is perfect for a refreshing pick me up in the midday’s hot sun. Lastly, there are these lemon cream cookies that we have during tea breaks (former British colony). They are also next level delicious. They may, or may not, be the reason I look forward to going to class. I think I might have a bit of a sweet tooth.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.