Thursday, July 18, 2013

Close of Service

July 18th, 2013

So I official close my service today… as of midnight I will no longer a PCV, but a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) minus the R for a bit.

Closing your service is numbing, stressful, exciting, and sad all at the same time.  I spent the last week cleaning every inch of my small house, touching everything I own and deciding where it goes and what comes with me (which is not much), and packing it all up.  July 16th, was my pick up day from site.  It was such a weird day.  It feels like normal and everyone goes about there normal business and then Peace Corps shows up, puts your small amount of belongings in a car and officially takes you out of site.  My pick-up day was a Tuesday morning, which is dip-tank day (where the cows and goats go to get dipped in solution for tick control and such).  My host parents were at the dip tank so I had to do my goodbyes with them before hand, so it was just my sister Nosipho and her two year old son Mukelo to see me off.  I was totally numb up until the car came, not sure how I was feeling about all the change, but as soon as it came time to hug my sister and get in the car I couldn’t stop the tears.  I cried all the way out of my community.  I am so excited for the next chapter in my life, but it’s really hard to leave the last.

For the past three days I have been running around Mbabane and the Peace Corps Office completing a huge checklist of things that need to get done before I am allowed to leave the country.  Thankfully there are nine of us COSing this week so we were all in the chaotic mess together.  I finished my checklist yesterday and said all my goodbyes to PC staff and then to make it feel really official that all this was over, we had a farewell PC dinner at our DMO’s house.  All the America staff came and the nine of us COSing this week (everyone there just so happened to be RPCVs) had a really nice home-cooked dinner together to celebrate the end.  It was so great, we shared funny stories of the last two years, shared our travel plans, and just relaxed a bit from the stress of COSing and what is to come once we get back stateside.

Thankfully I have a nice month long COS trip to look forward to starting tomorrow.  I am starting in Cape Town with three other RPCVs (that’s weird to say) and we are driving the Garden Route in South Africa to Durban, then up to Kruger National Park making a few stops on the way, then a few days back in Swaziland, and then finally a brief 5 day visit to Rome, Italy.  It’s going to be great to get to know South Africa more, and a nice reward for us in Italy for surviving the last 26 months.  It’s going to be awesome!  I will fill you all in when I see you back in America!

So this is it, my last blog post.  It’s been such an adventure these past two years.  Thanks for letting me share a bit of it with all of you who are reading.  They say Peace Corps is “the hardest job you will ever love.”  We hear it so often we usually shrug it off as a joke, but its true.  This job is so hard at times, but also the best experience of my life.  I am going to miss the craziness of it all at times, but thankful to be leaving with the happy memory of it.

Until the next big adventure… Sala Kahle (stay well)!!

Goodbyes, Goodbyes, Goodbyes

July 6th-7th, 2013


I had a whirlwind of goodbyes to attend to this weekend. 

It all started Saturday morning when Addy, Ryan, and I went to Umphakatsi (local community government) to say our official goodbye to our community chief.  We waited around until called and then sat with the chief under the official tree in the Royal kraal.  All the men sat on tree stumps and us women arranged ourselves on lihiyas (fabric) on the ground.  We each greeted the chief and his inner council and explained what projects we had completed over the two years and expressed our thanks for being allowed to work within the community.  The chief replied with his own thanks, and we were dismissed.  Then we all relocated into the Umphakatsi building for the community meeting where we officially said goodbye to the community.  Again we all took turns saying our thanks, I am always last of the three to speak, so I tried to make mine funny by thanking the community for teaching me to wash my clothes, cook my food, and weed my garden.  It was a crowd pleaser.  All the official goodbyes were done by noon, so after Addy and Ryan made a quick appearance at my homestead, which is near Umphakatsi, to say goodbye to my host family.

We all then headed over to Mpaka and the Refugee Camp.  Our counterparts and friends at the camp put on a goodbye lunch for us that was such a great surprise.  Mr. Moogie, one of our oldest counterparts who is like a father to us, cooked us a Somalian meal that we all shared and was amazing.  After eating we had some entertainment.  One of the High School kids at the camp wrote us a few farewell songs that he performed on his guitar.  They were so nice and talked about keeping the hope, and staying in touch, and being strong to continue the work we have all done at the camp.  I was so touched.  It’s pretty rare to get real appreciation for the work we do here and these songs and this meal were the best form of thank you we could ask for.  We had another round of speeches, which caused some tears.  We have a special relationship with the refugee camp that is very different from our relationship with our Swazi counterparts.   Its is sad to leave our friends here, but the changed that has happened at the camp over the two years is amazing to see.  We came, we suggested ideas, we worked together, and now we go leaving behind the tools that they need to keep going.  And the best part is that they are using these tools.  They have plans and goals and committees and better communication.  I am excited to keep tabs on the happenings at the camp, to see the progress that I know will continue to happen there.


Afterwards, I made a quick stop at Addy and Ryan’s homestead to say farewell to their family.  Then it was back to my homestead where my host sisters greeted me who all came home to through me a farewell party.  We cooked a great meal and took tons of fun family photos and celebrated being together one last time.  The party lasted into Sunday with another meal, gift exchanges, more photos, and a very chaotic raiding of the things I am getting rid of before I leave.  It felt like Christmas.  But then sadly we had to eventually say our goodbyes to each other too.  Thankfully all my host sisters have whatsapp so we will be able to keep in touch easily. 
It was a very busy, emotional 24 hours.  It’s weird to say goodbye after two years and not know if you will ever be able to say hello again.  I am so thankful to have these people in my life, and they will stay with me forever.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mighty Fine Group 9 Ring Out

July 5th, 2013

For the first time in PC Swaziland history we did a group ring out for closing our service.  Group nine has had it fare share of ups and downs and through the waves we lost 16 members who decided to end their service early.  That left only 23 of us and all but 6 are all closing our service in a two week time span.  We all wanted to celebrate each other’s ring out, which are traditional done one by one as people COS, but since we all leave so close together it would be impossible, and the last six who leave later would have no one to celebrate with them.  So we decided to all ring out together.

On July 5th, the day after our annual Fourth of July celebration at our Country Director’s house, we all met at the Peace Corps office.  PC staff and G10 PCVs all came and we took some time to say a few things about the last two years.  Staff congratulated us and thanked us on our service, and we thanked the staff for all their support and each other for being the family that we needed to survive this experience.

Once all was said, we moved outside the office to the “bell” which is actually a weight lifting dumbbell of sorts that hangs next to the front door.  We each took a turn to “ring” the bell with a metal rod and sign our names.  It was a nice way to feel the end of our service as a group.  It would be the last time I would see many of the PCVs in G9 and G10, and the goodbyes were unreal but heartfelt. 

Now it’s back to site for two weeks until PC comes to pick me up for my official close of Service (COS).

The Magic of Green Bar

Green Bar is the all purpose soap here in Swaziland.  It literally is a green bar of soap (about 18 in long) made of who knows what, but it works magic.  I use it most regularly to wash my clothes and it gets any stain out.  I also use it to make my steel pots and pan shine like new and most people also use it for general washing of hands and bodies.  Literally it can be used for anything.

Recently I experienced a new use for this powerful little product.  I was cooking and got a steam burn trying to get a handle less lid off of a boiling pot of water with nothing but a spoon and hand towel.  I immediately put my hand in a bucket of water but my thumb was still stinging minutes later and I had to resume cooking.  My host sister said put some green bar on it.  I immediately had a movie moment thinking of the Windex in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  I was like what? She took some green bar and rubbed it all over my thumb.  It burned like crazy and I was sure that I was just trapping the heat in and that I would be sorry later.  My sister promised that the pain was because green bar was actually healing my burn and that there would be no blister. 

It stopped stinging after a while and I forgot about it until the next morning.  When I awoke I looked at my thumb and it was red where the burn was but no blister, just as my host sister promised.  It was amazing.  It’s now been 4 days and my thumb is completely healed.  Green bar is some good muti (magic) I can get behind.  Don’t judge me if I arrive home with a suitcase full of it.

COS Med and Xmas in June

June 19th-22nd, 2013

I am officially medically cleared to return to America, unless something happens in the next month.  I had my Close of Service medical exam and I am all healthy.  No HIV, no TB, eyesight is good, BP is good, no cavities, no worms, etc.  I even got a bonus thyroid test done as per protocol for loosing more then 10 lbs during service.  On the record its officially 22 lbs and my thyroid is just fine!!!

After the three day fun of medical, we had our annual all PCV Christmas in June celebration.  It was awesome!!!  There is one other girl who is g-free (and dairy-free) here and between her and me constantly reminding people of what we can and cannot eat, it has finally made a difference.  Everyone pulled together and purposely made g-free dishes so we could have a full meal too.  I made g-free sweet potato cornbread, there was chickpea stuffing, g-free brownies, g-free chicken (aka made without stuffing inside), mashed potatoes made with goats milk, and lots of veggies.  It was so great, and I can’t believe my PC family is so good to me.

We ate our hearts out and then did a white elephant gift exchange.  We all brought random stuff from our huts we don’t want.  G9ers (those of us who are leaving) gave some stellar gifts as we are getting rid of everything, and then there were some really funny, but not so stellar gifts also.  I ended up with goody bag of instant coffee, condiments, a condom, and a moist towelette from South African airlines haha.

Santa showed up, we drank lots of eggnog, and celebrated Christmas six months late, American style.  I donated all my xmas decorations that friends and family have sent me from home to make the scene for the party.  I dressed up a tree for all the gifts to go under and the most popular ornament by far was one I received via package that is a snowman holding a star that says “God Bless America.”  We may commercialize everything in America, but its all meant to bring people together, and to me that is what all the holidays are about, celebrating life with friends and family.  We don’t have much as PCVs, but we sure know how to take a little and turn it into a big celebration!

Ngwempisi Gorge

June 15-17th, 2013

I had what is probably my last stay-cation here in the Kingdom and it was beautiful.  I went with eight other PCVs to Ngwempisi Gorge, which is in the middle of nowhere and it’s stunningly gorgeous (get it hahaha).  We stayed at a community run lodge called Khopho Hut that is literally a rock tree fort.  It is built into the rock cliff face and overlooks the gorge.  The kitchen, and toilet, and shower are completely open so you can enjoy the views while you do everything.  You can even climb up onto the rock rooftop and overlook all that the light touches (which, in fact, is our Kingdom…sorry it was the perfect opportunity for a Lion King reference).  We did some stargazing (those fireflies that got stuck in that big bluish black thing… HA did it again) from up there one night that was unbelievable.

Night one we braaied (BBQ) and spent time chasing rats out of the kitchen.  We had to keep shooing them away from our food before we figured out a way to hang our food up in bags from the ceiling.  Turns out rats really like cake, as it was the only thing they actually ate.  Our one full day at the gorge we had a local guy show us the way to the natural hot springs.  We first climbed across the mountains (I love horizontal hiking), then we got to the top of one mountain and took a rest to look out on the entire gorge, which was just an amazing view.  From then on it was a 1.5 hour vertical climb downhill.  Not so bad, but we knew we would have to go back up it eventually.  We progressed down the mountain landscape from large rock faces and no trees, to fern forest and grass, down into thick forests with large trees, and eventually found the river at the bottom.  Once at the river our guide said we must cross it to get to the hot springs.  So we all undressed as much as we felt comfortable (for our guide it was down to his tighty whities, which were actually blue) and forged the stomach deep river.  We thought well fine, the river is freezing, but we will have the hot springs to warm us.  Yeah the hot springs were a pool deep enough to submerge our feet, but still a nice natural wonder.  We didn’t bask long in the warm pools before having lunch by the river and then making our way back up before it got dark.  I hate vertical hiking, but to be honest I am getting so much better at it here.  We made it up the mountain in two hours and I didn’t feel like I was going to die, but we took lots of breaks.

sunset view from the rock rooftop
The gorge

the gang

the outdoor toilet/shower
We walked home at dusk, enjoyed outdoor showers at sunset, and made dinner.  There really wasn’t much kitchenware at the lodge but we made due, thankful for our Swiss army knives.  We made soup for dinner that we ended up drinking out of mugs as there was no silverware.  This stay-cation was to celebrate my friend Emma’s birthday.  I had received some birthday decoration in a packaged that I recently found under my bed so we decorated the tree house and celebrated with drinks by candlelight. 

After two nights at the gorge we emerged from the middle of nowhere and went into town.  For the first time here I was able to feel like I had gone someplace completely away and didn’t have to leave the country.  It’s a small country so the fact that I found a place like this is nice!  In town the celebration continued with pizza, drinks, a blurry movie at the one and only movie theater and ice cream.  Perfect end to a perfect weekend!

Refugee Camp Library

June 13-14th, 2013

The refugee Camp participated in the Books for Africa project this year.  A resident of the camp was trained in January and the books were delivered in May.  The past few days I hopped over to the camp and helped Addy and Ryan (who headed the project) and three of the refugees in cataloguing all of the 1000 donated books. 

The books were split into adult and children’s fiction, non-fiction by topic, and compilation books.  Each book was given a colored sticker to classify its section and then was labeled with its author and its library number so it can be recorded when checked out. 

The library was built in a run down building that was not being used.  Materials to paint and build shelves were donated by a grocery store in town and Ryan has been working with the camp over the past several months to get the room refurbished with new windows and secure doors that lock.  More shelves are scheduled to be built and then the library is ready to be opened on World Refugee Day next week.

Since all my projects are wrapped up, it was nice to get out and do some work for a few days and see my friends at the camp.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bushfire: Bring Your Fire

May 31st – June 2nd, 2013

The fire was for sure brought this weekend at Bushfire!!

Bushfire Music Festival is one of the greatest things about serving in Swaziland.  For those who don’t remember by blog from last year, it is a three-day call to action.  Through celebrating the arts: music, written word, dance, drama, the festival is meant to inspire, encourage, and celebrate efforts in development, education, and outreach to make communities a better place to live.

I decided to camp on the festival grounds this year with the majority of the other PCVs from Swaziland and a group of PCVs from Mozambique.  It was so much fun.  Three days of awesome music and artists representing Africa, South America, and Europe, great food from all over the world, and of course access to buying goods from all the craft stands representing the fair trade handicraft market here in Swaziland.  The refugee camp I have worked with in the past was represented in the food court.  They had a booth that my fellow PCVs Ryan and Addy helped them organize and they sold native food from Rwanda, Burundi, and Somalia. It was awesome and their stand was very popular.

My favorite acts over the three days were Toya DeLazy (popular SA pop artist), Jeremy Loops, The Muffins (an urban indie jazz band), The soil (acapella group), and Guy Buttery (acoustic guitarist).  There was also a really impressive string quartet from Austria that accompanied a Mozambique band mixing Classical and African rhythms.

Bushfire Stage by Day

If anyone is in Southern Africa in late May/early June, Bushfire is a must.  One of my favorite weekends!!  Late nights dancing, lazy days sitting listening to music, good food, good friends, can’t get better than that. 

For more info check out their website at

bring your fire!

Free Sterilization for Disadvantaged Animals

May 12th, 2013

After months and months of trying to find a cheap place to get the family cat neutered, Addy and I responded to a newspaper clipping advertising a free sterilization day that was being sponsored by Swaziland Animal Welfare Society (SAWS), Swaziland Government Veterinary services and local private vets, and all being funded by an insurance company from South Africa.  Can’t get much cheaper than free, so we made an appointment to see what it was all about.

Addy and Ryan’s Host Dad owns a car so he loaded them and their female dog (who has had 16 puppies in the last year) and my cat and I up, and we set off at dawn to the center of the country.  We ended up at an elementary school where makeshift surgery and recovery rooms had been prepared in the classrooms.  With about 40 other dogs and their owners, we waited in a field from 7:30am until 3:30pm before they called our numbers.

They could operate on several animals at a time and since it was in a classroom, we could stand outside and watch from the windows.  Both my cat and Addy’s dog did great, and recovered just fine.  We got to sit in the recovery room as the animals woke up and helped out with the rest of the volunteers who were there.  We were the only white people not volunteering at the event so we kept getting asked to do things by mistake, but we helped anyways.

The day was long, but a really sweet deal.  All for free we got our animals fixed, de-wormed, treated with tick and flea medication, and got their annual vaccinations.  And in true Swazi fashion the event included lunch and a tea break.  Nothing is really free here unless food comes with it.

Overall, this event was awesome.  It was the first of its kind here and much needed.  Animal welfare isn’t a priority here, stray animals are abundant, and malnourished animals are the norm.  By providing this service, the vets were also allowed to talk with owners and educate them.  They were really prepared with information for all ages.  It was nice to see so many people show up to have their animals taken care of, it shows that if available people really do want proper care for their animals, its just not accessible in these rural areas.

COS Conference

May 6th – 9th, 2013

Close of Service (COS) Conference… can’t believe it’s that time in my service already. 

Just one day after Camp GLOW ended, all of the Mighty Fine Group 9 met at our Peace Corps Office.  We were then bused to the nice Forester Arms Hotel, tucked away in the forests of the Hhohho region.

We spent 3 glorious days sleeping in really comfortable beds, loving indoor plumbing (that we only had to share with one other person), eating buffets for breakfast and lunch, and four course dinners.  When we weren’t enjoying these fine things, we were being prepared for what comes next.  How do we rap up two years in Swaziland? How do we go back to America and re-assimilate? How do we get a job?  And how do we talk about Swaziland in five minutes to people who simply don’t care?

To help fuel the excitement about what comes after Peace Corps we were all given our official Close of Service dates.  So here it is…  I am officially COSing on July 18th!!!  I will do a bit of traveling before coming stateside again, but plan to be back in MN mid-August.

For the three days we also reflected on our last two years, hardly believing that we made it through.  Granted we are much smaller then when we came.  We started with 39 in our group and are down to 23 for various reasons, but despite our dwindling numbers we are still mighty fine!  We have become so close over the last two years; it’s hard to think that when I go back to MN I won’t have my G9 PCVs there with me when I get off the plane.  Good thing airtime (cell phone minutes) is much more cheap (see I can’t even speak proper English anymore) in America.

As we left the conference, we celebrated our 23rd month anniversary.  Then it was back to site, after two weeks away.  No matter how integrated you feel, it’s always a transition back to hut life, but I was also returning with the heavy task of having to start packing, getting rid of things, and saying goodbye.  Two months is going to go by very fast.

The Mighty Fine G9!!!