Monday in a Picture – Inspiration from Mother and others

​Everyday before I leave my house, this is what I see. It’s important to stay motivated and inspired while serving. People have sent postcards, greeting cards, and letters from all over the world during my time in Swaziland. I’m extremely grateful to all of those who have taken the time to write kind words and send them to me. 

To make my house feel more homey, I added pictures of those responsible for my being to the inspiration wall. They include my great grandfather, his daughter (my grandmother), and her daughter (my mother). It was on this day seven years ago that my mother passed away. She’s actually (partially) responsible for my serving in the Peace Corps. She pushed us to serve others with compassion. She instilled a sense of exploration. She made sure that we respected and embraced those who might be different from us.

Having these visual reminders has been great for keeping me motivated in the rural community. It makes my service feel a little less lonely. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Cutting Grass

It was the summer of 2006. This was the summer before my senior year of college, and I was spending it with my uncle and his family in Fayette County, Georgia. All of the single family homes seemed to have perfectly manicured lawns. There wasn’t a blade of grass out of place. On one Saturday morning, my cousin, uncle, and I got up early. It was time to cut the grass at our house. 

This was a new experience for me. I had never cut grass, or done any yard work. My cousin and uncle taught me how to start and use the gas powered lawnmower. It was hard work. I wasn’t able to achieve that perfectly manicured look that I saw at the neighbors’ homes, but I got the job done. 

Almost eleven years later, I am responsible for maintaining the grassy area around my home on the homestead. My host mom reminds me of this when my grass grows too high. She warns me that high grass gives snakes places to hide. 

Lawnmowers are a rarity in Swaziland. They are practically non-existent in the rural community. There are two options for cutting grass. There’s an older pair of garden shears, and there’s something called a siheshe (pronounced see-heh-shay), or slasher. It’s smaller than a bush knife and has a modest handle with a thin, long metal blade. When my host brother was home for the Christmas holidays, I saw him using the siheshe to cut grass. I asked him how one cut grass with it. He responded simply, “just beat the hell out of it”. I remembered that on one weekday afternoon as I attempted to cut my grass, Swazi style. Eventually, I found a rhythm. I also found a new appreciation for lawnmowers. The slasher gets the job done and gives you a workout. Luckily, I only have to cut the grass twice a month. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Water from Jojo

Some weeks ago, we experienced the effects of Cyclone Dineo. It brought high winds and an abundance of rain. For a week, rain muddied the roads while rain clouds hid the sun. As a rookie gardener, I have learned to appreciate the rain for what it does to my garden. Swaziland, as a whole, appreciates the rain as southern Africa recovers from a severe drought. 

Water is necessary regardless of where you live. Across the kingdom, different families get water in different ways. Some families have indoor plumbing with running water. Some families take water cans to the river, and fill them before returning home. In some communities, there is a community tap which typically pulls water from a rain caching reservoir. On some homesteads, you find a borehole which extracts water from the ground. I have also seen families divert streams or rivers to deliver water to the homestead. 

On my homestead, we are fortunate to have a jojo tank. The jojo tank sits on a large concrete slab, and has one tap at the bottom. The jojo tank is connected to rain gutters leading into to the jojo tank. Our jojo tank has a capacity of about 5000 liters. When the rains come, the jojo tank fills with water and all is well. When the rains don’t come, there are services that can come out and fill your jojo tank. Our jojo tank provides all of the water used for drinking, cooking, gardening, cleaning, and bathing. I also use the jojo tank to wash my hands after using the pit latrine. 

To get water in my house, I fill a 25 liter water can (as seen in the picture above) to bring inside. Because water access isn’t as simple as turning on a faucet in the kitchen or bathroom, I’m more cognizant of my water usage. I try to conserve water. Now, I can happily add “showering with 5 liters of water” to my skill set. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – The Kraal

Over the course of several weeks, I have featured my homestead and pit latrine. Another integral part of the Swazi homestead dynamic and structure is the kraal (pronounced crawl). The kraal is where a family’s cattle are kept. The kraal is also a symbol in signifying that family’s wealth.

In rural communities, personal bank accounts are less common. It’s not that the money isn’t there. The money takes on a different form. Cows are money. A family with a lot of cows is considered a wealthy family. Some families also invest in cows. When baby calves are born, wealth is increased.

Cows are very much intertwined into Swazi culture. If I want to build a home for myself and my family in a rural community, I am expected to give a certain number of cows to the umphakatsi (pronounced oom-pa-got-see), or local community leadership. If I want to marry, I must pay lobola (low-bow-la), or bride price, to the bride’s family. The lobola is traditionally negotiated between the families, and paid in cattle. For major events in a family or community, a cow may be slaughtered in honor of the occasion.

The cows are released from the kraal daily and taken to graze by a cattle herder. Amazingly, the cows know exactly where their respective kraal is and the cattle herder knows exactly which cows belong in that kraal.

In addition to wealth and food, the kraal also provides plenty of cow manure for to be used as fertilizer during ploughing and planting season.

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 – The Homestead 

In Swaziland, we live with a host family in a rural community for the duration of our service. These communities tend to be very family oriented. Families live together on a plot of land called a homestead. Homesteads vary greatly in size, structures, and composition. There are some common elements with all homesteads around the country. 

I have yet to see a homestead that doesn’t have a farming space to grow crops, typically maize. Most homesteads have multiple buildings on them. On my homestead (pictured above), there’s the main house, my house, a tool house, a chicken house, a guest room, and a pit latrine. Many homesteads also have a kraal (pronounced crawl), which is where the family’s cows live. Some homesteads with many extended family members may have one house for school age female children, and another house for school age male children. Some homesteads have a kitchen house, where food is cooked in a large three legged pot over an open fire. 

There is, of course, a process to acquiring land to build your homestead. It starts with going to the inner council at the umphakatsi (pronounced om-pa-got-see) to ask for land to build your home. The umphakatsi is the local governance structure of a chiefdom. In many rural communities and chiefdoms, only a married man can ask the inner council for land to build a home. It’s expected that you give a number of cows to the umphakatsi for the land you are given. Once the land for your homestead is acquired, you can start building whatever structures you’ll need. I’ve noticed that building homes tends to be a local community and family effort. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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